Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Michigan

SCOTUS allows mercury regulations to remain in effect

Good.

Martin Lake coal plant

Martin Lake coal plant

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request from Texas and 19 other states to block a landmark federal rule requiring power plants to slash emissions of mercury, acid gases and other toxic metals — a setback for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a case where he saw earlier success.

Without offering an explanation, Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday denied the states’ request for a stay on the rules, according to media reports.

That decision followed a Supreme Court ruling last June — hailed by Texas Republicans — that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not properly weigh the cost of compliance for coal-fired power plants against the benefits to public health while setting the new standards.

The June ruling sent the Obama Administration back to the drawing board on the regulations, which had already gone into effect. But it did not halt them.

The states, led by Michigan, had asked the justices to block the rules during the revision process. Roberts said no.

See here, here, and here for the background. Any day where Ken Paxton loses a fight to enable pollution is a good day. Think Progress has more.

We’re not #1 any more!

Looks like we’re going to need some new applause lines for our elected officials.

NumberOne

When it comes to job growth, some Rust Belt states are gaining an edge on Texas amid the fallout from plunging oil prices.

In January, Texas lost its spot as the nation’s top job creator. The state ranked No. 4 with 20,100 new jobs that month, trailing California (67,300 jobs) and the Rust Belt states of Ohio (25,100) and Michigan (24,200), according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What’s going on?

Texas vs. Michigan is an example of an oil-price-induced shift happening in U.S. regional growth patterns, said Robert A. Dye, chief economist for Dallas-based Comerica Bank.

“In the last five years coming out of the Great Recession, the energy sector has driven growth in the oil-producing states from Texas to Wyoming, and that’s where the bulk of new jobs have been generated,” Dye said. “Now, what we’ve been seeing is those oil-producing states losing momentum and other states gaining momentum as they benefit from lower energy costs.”

Michigan, for example, recently has seen strong growth in manufacturing, gaining 5,000 jobs in January.

[…]

Michael Wolf, a Wells Fargo economist, isn’t too worried about Texas.

“The glaring negative comes from the [energy] industry,” he said. “Is it just the beginning of worse to come with low oil prices staying low? I’m not sure. But there’s a lot more going on in Texas than just oil.”

I’m sure that’s true, but let’s be honest. It was the oil and gas boom that led to such good job creation numbers in Texas to begin with. Without it, we’re just another big state. As long as our population keeps growing rapidly, we’ll continue to add jobs at a healthy pace regardless of what the energy sector does, but with relocations likely to slow down as oil and gas cut jobs and with the continued demagoguery about the border, who knows? Maybe the population growth will slow down, too. We’re in for some interesting times.

SCOTUS will take up same sex marriage

This is it.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will take up four cases challenging state bans on same-sex couples’ marriages — a long anticipated move that could lead to nationwide marriage equality.

The cases ask the justices whether Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee bans on same-sex couples’ marriages and bans on recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages from out of state violate the Constitution’s due process and equal protection guarantees.

The two questions granted by the court for argument are: 1) “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?” and 2) “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”

There will be 90 minutes of argument on the marriage question and 60 minutes of argument on the marriage recognition question, per the court’s order.

The coming showdown before the justices over same-sex couples’ marriage rights has quickly become seen as inevitable following the Nov. 6, 2014, decision of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The ruling set up a disagreement with other appeals courts to have considered the issue; the 4th Circuit, 7th Circuit, 9th Circuit, and 10th Circuit courts of appeals all have struck down such bans on various grounds.

[…]

The same-sex couples plaintiffs’ briefs will be due by 2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27. The states’ briefs will be due by 2 p.m. Friday, March 27. The reply briefs from the plaintiffs will be due by 2 p.m. Friday, April 17.

Then, likely in late April, the justices will hold arguments over the issue — which would mean a decision, and possible nationwide resolution of the issue, would be expected by late June.

Freedom to Marry has reactions from many of the people that have been directly involved in the litigation, while TPM reports that the Obama administration will formally ask SCOTUS to rule in favor of same sex marriage. This is what we’ve been waiting for, and while I suppose it could all go horribly wrong it’s hard not to feel optimistic. I look forward to seeing the analyses of the case as the briefs get filed and replied to and whatnot. In the meantime, I wonder if this will spur the Fifth Circuit to issue its ruling prior to SCOTUS, or if they’ll be happy to let the Supremes take that task out of their hands. The Trib lists some possibilities:

  • At the very least, the Supreme Court’s ruling — which will likely come in June — will make the 5th Circuit’s decision in the Texas case less consequential, said Aaron Bruhl, an associate law professor at the University of Houston. The 5th Circuit could issue its decision in the case in a few weeks.
  • The Supreme Court’s action on Friday could also delay the 5th Circuit’s decision in the Texas case. “It is possible that at this point [the 5th Circuit] could say, ‘Whatever we say, the authoritative decision is going to come not too much later than we would rule anyway. Maybe we should just wait,'” Bruhl said.
  • Lawyers for each side in the Texas case have said they hope the 5th Circuit rules before the U.S. Supreme Court. Bruhl said it’s possible the parties in the case will ask the court to issue a ruling even though the Supreme Court has taken up the issue again.

I also wonder what the backlash from the bad guys will look like. If all goes well, this ruling could do a lot of good for a lot of people in Texas, but as we have seen, marriage is only a piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot more to be done, and it’s not clear yet who will be more energized by a nationwide defenestration of anti-gay marriage laws. But that’s a thought for another day. For now, let’s celebrate coming this far. SCOTUSBlog and Hair Balls have more.

Sixth Circuit stands up for inequality

It was bound to happen eventually.

RedEquality

Remember the big no-decision decision the Supreme Court issued on same-sex marriage just a month ago? The justices were asked — in five separate cases no less — to weigh in on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage. The Supreme Court demurred on the question, which was a significant move in and of itself.

By declining to review any of the cases before it, the justices effectively blessed lower-court rulings that had struck down state gay marriage bans in five states. Circuit courts had been unanimous on the subject. So what more was there to say? Barack Obama even told Jeffrey Toobin recently that he thought this was the best Supreme Court decision of his tenure: a silent statement on the importance of letting cultural change spread across the country, one state at a time.

Well, so much for the power of silence. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit just reversed rulings striking down gay-marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. This means that four circuit courts have now struck down gay marriage bans, while one has upheld them. We no longer have unanimity. The Supreme Court, eventually, will have to step in.

The 6th Circuit decision is here. A lot of people had been waiting to see what the Fifth Circuit would do, if they would be the court that provided the circuit split that forced SCOTUS to act, but they took too long. They will still get a chance to have their say, of course, and perhaps now that they wouldn’t have to be the trailblazer for upholding this particular injustice they’ll feel more free to let their colors show. One hopes that in the end neither this ruling nor the one the Fifth Circuit is expected to make will matter. Daily Kos and Freedom to Marry have more.

Lots of same sex marriage appeals about to happen

Busy times in the federal appeals courts.

RedEquality

Federal appeals courts soon will hear arguments in gay marriage fights from nine states, part of a slew of cases putting pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a final verdict.

If the appeals judges continue the unbroken eight-month streak of rulings in favor of gay marriage, that could make it easier for the nation’s highest court to come down on the side of supporters.

If even one ruling goes against them in the four courts taking up the issue in the coming weeks, it would create a divide that the Supreme Court also could find difficult to resist settling.

“We’re going to be racking up more courts of appeals decisions, and every one we get puts more pressure on the Supreme Court to weigh in,” said Douglas NeJaime, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine. “It’s very likely the Supreme Court ultimately settles this question. Given how quickly things have moved, it’s hard for the court to avoid this in the short term.”

[…]

Arguments similar to those [that were] heard Wednesday will take place Aug. 26 in the 7th Circuit in Chicago, for bans in Wisconsin and Indiana, and for Sept. 8 in the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, for bans in Idaho and Nevada. The 5th Circuit in New Orleans is expected to soon set a date to hear arguments on Texas’ ban.

The flurry of arguments means an upcoming spate of rulings, possibly all issued this autumn, that could profoundly alter the nation’s marriage laws.

If the four federal circuit appeals courts rule in favor of gay marriage, then nine states with pending appeals stand to have their bans stricken down altogether or ordered to recognize out-of-state gay marriages: Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Idaho and Nevada, though the decisions likely would be put on hold for a Supreme Court ruling.

Five additional states under those four circuit courts have gay marriage lawsuits awaiting decisions by federal judges: Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana.

Observers say the 6th or 5th circuits could deliver the first victory for gay marriage opponents.

We know about the Sixth Circuit, in which arguments were heard this week. We still don’t know when the Fifth Circuit will hear arguments there, but we do know that 63 Texas legislators have signed a brief in the appeal in which they declare that same sex marriage is icky and they totally have Greg Abbott’s back. Hey, remember when something like that would have been bipartisan? This one was an all-R effort, with the TDP and these troglodytes’ two LGBT colleagues firing back. I’m so glad those days are over, even if there are still a few laggards on the issue. In any event, the national picture will almost certainly be a lot clearer, or a lot more complicated, in the next few months.

Marriage equality’s legal winning streak may be on the line this week

And it’s not even the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that might bring a halt, however temporary, to the march of progress.

RedEquality

Marriage equality has had a very good run in the federal courts ever since the Supreme Court declared the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2013. Every single federal court to consider the question has sided with marriage equality, although two federal appellate judges have dissented from this consensus view in the United States Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and the Tenth Circuits.

Nevertheless, equality is likely to face more skeptical judges as more of these cases advance to the court of appeals level. As ThinkProgress warned last June, “appointments to federal circuit courts have historically been much more politically charged than appointments to the lower-ranking district courts, so litigants are far more likely to encounter a judge who was selected for their loyalty to a particular ideology.” We also predicted that the Sixth Circuit, with a strong Republican majority and a history of partisan acrimony, was especially likely to treat a marriage equality case with skepticism.

Next Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit will convene in Cincinnati to hear several marriage equality cases arising out of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee — and the GOP-dominated panel that will hear these cases is unlikely to bring joy into the hearts of equality’s supporters.

If the Sixth Circuit really wants to accept a bunch of ridiculous and widely discredited arguments on behalf of discrimination, there’s not much anyone can do to stop them. History will remember them unkindly, but I suppose we’ll all be dead by then, so YOLO and all that. As the story notes, there’s a chance it might not go down this way, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the end, even a bad decision just means that the Supreme Court will have to take it up sooner rather than later.

Michigan, come on down

You are the next state to have your anti-same sex marriage law thrown out by a federal judge.

RedEquality

In a historic ruling that provided a huge morale boost to the gay-rights movement, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman today struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, making it the 18th state in the nation to allow gays and lesbians to join in matrimony, just like their heterosexual counterparts.

And unlike other federal judges who have decided similar cases across the country, Friedman did not stay his ruling, prompting Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to file an emergency stay request to prevent gay couples from marrying right away. That includes the two plaintiffs in the case: Hazel Park nurses April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who fought for the right to marry and adopt each other’s special needs children.

“It’s just amazing,” said DeBoer, who wiped tears and hugged her parnter after learning of Friedman’s ruling. “This is what we’ve wanted for our family and families like ours…we are just so happy … We got our day in court and we won.”

Rowse was overwhelmed.

“We’re going to actually be a legalized family, a recognized family by everybody,” she said.

In his 31-page ruling, Friedman heavily criticized the state’s position that the will of the voters should have been upheld, noting that just because voters approve something doesn’t make it right, especially when it violates the Constitution.

“In attempting to define this case as a challenge to ‘the will of the people,’ state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people.

“No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples,” Friedman wrote.

“It is the court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up to ‘understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.’

“Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.”

[…]

Unlike most federal judges who have taken up the gay-marriage issue, Friedman opted last fall to hold a trial and give both sides the chance to present their arguments and scientific evidence – the bulk of which focused on same-sex parenting studies and child outcomes of children raised in such family structures.

The state’s experts said that their studies show that children of same-sex couples have poorer outcomes than kids raised by married moms and dads.

Friedman didn’t find the state’s experts credible, stating in his ruling that the testimony of one state witness was “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” He said the states four witnesses “clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majroity of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.”

You can read a copy of the ruling here. You may have heard of one of the state’s witnesses:

University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, who authored a 2011 New Family Structures Study, testified during the trial that children are better off being raised by a mother and father. Regnerus testified that the “odds are against” gays and lesbians raising children and that the state of Michigan should be “prudent” before changing its law because research into the area is too new.

This is why you might have heard of Mark Regnerus.

Opponents of same-sex marriage say [the Regnerus study is] the best evidence yet that children raised by gay parents suffer a disadvantage. Most experts take a different view—like Darren Sherkat, the sociologist who was tasked with completing a definitive review in 2012, they think “It’s bullshit.”

The study’s formal title is “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?”—and it set off a storm of criticism almost immediately upon publication in 2012. The New York Times’ Erik Eckholm summarized it neatly on Friday, but the story is worth revisiting here—primarily because, no matter how many times and ways other scholars try to discredit the study, it continues to shape policy in state legislatures and amicus briefs. Michigan is only the latest example.

It’s been the same bullshit used by defenders of these awful laws in case after case, and in case after case they’ve gotten their rear ends handed to them. Couldn’t have happened to be a better bunch of people. As this ruling wasn’t stayed, expect a whole lot of couples to show up at their county clerks’ offices on Monday seeking marriage licenses. I wish them all the very best. Daily Kos and Freedom to Marry have more.