Attorney General Eric Holder stepping down, with Iowa reaction

President Barack Obama announced today that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will resign as soon as a successor is confirmed. Carrie Johnson reported for National Public Radio,

Holder already is one of the longest-serving members of the Obama Cabinet and currently ranks as the fourth-longest tenured AG in history. Hundreds of employees waited in lines, stacked three rows deep, in early February 2009 to witness his return to the Justice Department, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general – the second in command – during the Clinton administration. […]

Holder most wants to be remembered for his record on civil rights: refusing to defend a law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman; suing North Carolina and Texas over voting restrictions that disproportionately affect minorities and the elderly; launching 20 investigations of abuses by local police departments; and using his bully pulpit to lobby Congress to reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. Many of those sentences disproportionately hurt minority communities.

Republicans in Congress have long clashed with Holder over many issues, notably the “Fast and Furious” gun trafficking scandal and Holder’s original plan to prosecute the alleged plotters in the 9/11 attacks in federal court in New York City. (Eventually those cases were moved to military courts.)

I had very high hopes for Holder when Obama appointed him, and while he’s far from the worst in the current cabinet, he’s probably the most disappointing from my perspective. As Eric Posner explains well here, “Holder’s Justice Department has helped suppress civil liberties that interfere with what the Bush administration called the ‘war on terror,’ the currently nameless global operation to confront Islamic terrorism wherever it appears.” Although Holder doesn’t explicitly condone torture, the Department of Justice failed to prosecute CIA officials involved in torturing suspects.

Any comments about Holder’s legacy are welcome in this thread. I’ve enclosed below Senator Chuck Grassley’s comment on the attorney general’s plans to step down, and will update this post as needed with other Iowa reaction to the news.

P.S.-Although an early 2009 speech by Holder is now considered a “stumble” or gaffe, there was some truth in his observation, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Continue Reading...

Grassley among senators seeking memos on targeted killings (updated)

A bipartisan group of senators including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley sent President Barack Obama an open letter this week asking for access to "secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations."

UPDATE: The Obama administration will provide “classified Office of Legal Counsel advice” on this issue to members of Congressional intelligence committees. I agree with Grassley that judiciary committees should be included as well, since they oversee the U.S. Department of Justice.

Continue Reading...

Another Obama cabinet discussion thread

President Barack Obama announced today that his Chief of Staff Jack Lew is his pick to replace Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary. I have low expectations, since Lew has been a "central player in two failed attempts at a grand bargain on deficit reduction with House Republicans." The "grand bargain" would have paired token tax hikes on the wealthy with significant benefit cuts for middle-class and low-income Americans. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama did not rule out filibustering Lew’s nomination.

I was surprised to hear that Hilda Solis is leaving as Labor secretary. She was one of Obama’s better cabinet picks, but White House officials have undermined her on several issues, notably efforts to regulate child labor at agricultural facilities. Brad Plumer posted a good summary of Solis’ record.

According to the White House, the following cabinet members will stay on for now: Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. I’m concerned that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was not on that list.

Any comments about Obama’s cabinet and/or the “embarrassing as hell” lack of diversity in the president’s “inner circle” are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: I did not realize that the Commerce secretary position has been vacant for almost six months.

Obama ditches DOMA and other marriage equality news

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in court. Section 3 defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes. It has been challenged in court multiple times, and last July a federal judge ruled the provision unconstitutional. The DOJ appealed that ruling, but Holder announced yesterday that President Barack Obama

has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny.   The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.   Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases.   I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit.   We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.   I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option.   The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.

I’ve posted Holder’s complete statement after the jump. It notes, “Much of the the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA.” While some conservative commentators were outraged by the announcement, it’s important to remember that the Obama administration hasn’t stopped enforcing the DOMA despite the president’s opinion of the law.

Linda Hirshman argues that Obama has laid a trap for Congressional Republicans, who will look foolish in federal court if and when they defend Section 3. I think she is way too optimistic that the federal appeals process will uphold last year’s district court opinion. Hirshman and I may find the legal arguments supporting the DOMA weak, but it would not surprise me to see a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of Section 3.

I was surprised to see so little Iowa reaction to Holder’s announcement. The outcome of this federal litigation will affect thousands of legally married Iowa same-sex spouses, who would be eligible for some federal benefits if the law is struck down. As far as I know, Senator Chuck Grassley is the only Iowan in Congress to issue a statement on yesterday’s news. He’s the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he criticized the Obama administration’s decision as “clearly based more on politics than the law.” He stopped short of promising to help with the DOMA legal defense, but presumably Congressional Republicans who are attorneys will handle that. I posted Grassley’s complete statement after the jump.

Republicans in the Iowa legislature continue to fight marriage equality. A constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman passed the Iowa House last month but will not reach the floor of the Iowa Senate. A short-lived legislative effort to legalize discrimination against married same-sex couples was backed by many Republicans and at least one Democrat, but House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Anderson tabled that bill before it received a subcommittee vote.

A new bill, House File 330, would prevent Iowa county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples “until such time as an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman is submitted to the electorate for ratification.” The same bill would block the Iowa Supreme Court from considering its constitutionality. There are some pretty big problems with that idea, though:

That outcome: Iowa families could appeal a recorder’s decision in trial courts but those decisions would not be able to be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

It would make the lower courts ruling final and it would also set up the likelihood that Iowa would have pockets of the state were the law was recognized and others were it was thrown out.

“I think the result is that you would have a hodgepodge of rulings across the state,” Bartrum said. “It would depend on whatever the local district judge thought because were would be no uniform appeal.”

FRIDAY UPDATE: According to Troy Price of One Iowa, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has communicated by e-mail that House File 330 is going nowhere. KCRG reports,

Top Republicans on Thursday said they have no plans to debate the issue, viewing it a nod to the party’s social conservative wing. […]

Backers say introducing the measure is one more opportunity to voice their displeasure with how the marriage issue has been handled.

Republican Rep. Betty De Boef says the issue has been handled badly and that some lawmakers want to take every opportunity to make that point.

In related news, Maryland is likely to become the sixth state to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples. A bill on marriage equality is advancing in the Maryland Senate and has substantial support in that state’s House of Delegates. Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Washington, DC has recognized same-sex marriages since December 2009. Some U.S. House Republicans are pushing a bill to reverse that policy. If a same-sex marriage ban for the nation’s capital cleared the House and the U.S. Senate, Obama would probably veto it given his decision to stop defending DOMA.

Hawaii’s new Democratic governor Neil Abercrombie signed a civil unions bill yesterday, bringing the number of states that recognize same-sex civil unions to seven. Republican Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a similar bill in Hawaii last year.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports,

Some opponents of same-sex marriage said the administration’s decision could end up helping to preserve the law in court.

“The previous efforts of the Obama administration and DOJ to defend the law were so inadequate as to raise the suspicion that the Justice Department was deliberately throwing the case,” said Robert George, a political science professor at Princeton University who opposes same-sex marriage. “Chances are the law will get a robust defense, and I suspect it will withstand constitutional scrutiny.” […]

In his letter to [House Speaker John] Boehner, Holder criticized portions of the congressional debate leading up to the law’s passage, saying they had undermined the prospects for defending the measure. “The record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships – precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus that the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against,” Holder wrote.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Food and farm policy edition

Share anything that’s on your mind this weekend in the comments below.

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Justice jointly hosted a workshop in Ankeny devoted to concentration in agriculture, antitrust issues and market practices. After some controversy over the speakers scheduled initially, more farmers and producers were able to speak during the workshop. Lynda Waddington covered a panel including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The Des Moines Register covered a session concerning Monsanto’s dominance in the biotech seed industry:

Monsanto has generated controversy because of its leading role in the biotech revolution in corn, soybean and cotton seeds since the mid-1990s. About 90 percent of the corn and soybean fields in the Midwest now are planted with seeds genetically altered to resist herbicides and pests.

“Biotech seeds have given farmers better yields and improved their lives,” said farmer Pam Johnson of Floyd County.

Monsanto, Pioneer and other seed companies license their traits under the auspices of a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing life forms to be patented.

Iowa State University professor emeritus Neil Harl said that Supreme Court decision radically changed the seed business from a collaborative, collegial enterprise among land grant colleges, farmers and companies.

“Before 1980, seed germplasm was considered something in the public domain,” said Harl. “Seed was developed in the field and everybody shared. Now seeds are developed in the laboratory and are patented and licensed.”

Holder said the high court decision 30 years ago wouldn’t block antitrust action, if it was deemed necessary.

“The antitrust authority is there,” Holder said. “The question is what the patent holders are doing with their patents. If they are using it to preserve monopolies, that is unfair behavior.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey noted that farmers are spending twice as much on seed as they did a decade ago, but also are getting better yields.

“There is tension about the cost of inputs,” Northey said. “But we don’t want to lose the innovation.”

The food blog Cooking Up a Story published this short backgrounder on “Hybrids and the Emergence of Seed Monopolies.”

The night before the DOJ/USDA workshop, Iowa CCI, Food and Water Watch, the National Family Farms Coalition and Food Democracy Now organized a town-hall meeting to raise awareness of excessive levels of concentration in agriculture. Lynda Waddington was there for Iowa Independent.

Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture Francis Thicke has long been concerned about the loss of competition in agricultural markets. He attended the workshop in Ankeny and praised the DOJ and USDA for investigating antitrust issues related to agriculture:

“Antitrust enforcement by the federal government has been ignored for so long that it will take Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting to bring competitive markets back to agriculture,” said Thicke, who plans to participate in the first of a series of five workshops planned by the two federal departments this Friday in Ankeny. […]

“The effects of excessive market power by a few firms has been studied for years,” said Thicke. “It has been shown that if four or fewer firms control 40% or more of a market, then it no longer functions as a competitive market.” He pointed out that, as of 2007, four firms controlled 85% of the beef packing market, four firms controlled 66% of the pork packing market, four firms controlled 59% of the broiler market, and four firms controlled 55% of the turkey market.

“Clearly we are beyond the point of open competition in our agricultural markets,” Thicke asserted. “When there are so few large firms in a market, controlling firms begin to act in concert whether or not they are directly communicating pricing with each other.”

Speaking of food policy, I heard some good news this week. The Iowa Center on Health Disparities at the University of Northern Iowa has received major grants for two important projects:

The focus of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation grant is to launch an Iowa Food Policy Council, a diverse statewide cooperative to develop and make research, program and policy recommendations for a food system to support healthier Iowans, communities, economies and environments. Over the next year, the Iowa Food Policy Council will conduct a comprehensive statewide assessment of food systems, food access and health indicators.

The focus of the Leopold Center grant is to convene key food security and public health stakeholders from across Iowa who will examine the disparities in food access and health among Iowans. The Food Access and Health Working Group will address programs and policies that increase access to fresh, nutritious and affordable local food for all Iowans, including vulnerable children and their families.

More details on the grants are after the jump. I was hoping Governor Culver would revive the Food Policy Council, but I’m glad another way was found to get this project going.

Continue Reading...
View More...