Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hawaii Judge Refuses To Back Down, Extends Ruling Against Travel Ban

Judge Derrick Watson grants the state’s motion to turn a temporary restraining order against Trump into a preliminary injunction.

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The Hawaii judge who blocked President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on immigration two weeks ago extended his nationwide stay Wednesday, brushing aside the administration’s argument that the scope of his ruling was too broad.
In a 24-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson ruled that the administration offered no new arguments to change his mind.

“National security is unquestionably of vital importance to the public interest,” Watson wrote. “The same is true with respect to affording appropriate deference to the president’s constitutional and statutory responsibilities to set immigration policy and provide for the national defense. Upon careful consideration of the totality of the circumstances, however, the court reaffirms its prior finding that the balance of equities and public interest weigh in favor of maintaining the status quo.”
The legal question before Watson was whether his temporary restraining order, issued just hours before the travel ban was to take effect March 16, should be turned into a preliminary injunction — a longer-lasting stay that will remain in place until the case is resolved.
Last week, the state Department of the Attorney General filed a request for the longer injunction, noting that the standards for issuing both injunctions are “substantially identical.”
In an hour-long hearing Wednesday, the administration opposed Hawaii’s request, arguing that Watson’s ruling should at least be narrowed.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler, who phoned in from Washington, D.C., urged Watson to exempt key parts of the revised order — one provision that suspends refugee resettlements, as well as several subsections of another provision that temporarily halts the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries.
Readler focused his argument largely on Hawaii’s standing to sue, saying that the state can point to no specific injury for a broader ruling.
Readler told Watson that Hawaii has done too little with refugees to have standing — accepting only 20 out of the 538,297 refugees who have been resettled in the United States during the past eight fiscal years.
The argument didn’t get much traction with Watson, who snapped: “Is this a mathematical exercise? That 20 isn’t enough, but 25 is? … What do I make of that?”
Readler persisted, urging Watson to take into account the narrower rulings from other jurisdictions that exempt the refugee provision.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin told Watson that the travel ban was still “infected” with “religious animus” against Muslims — in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
“The religious animus taints the entire policy,” Chin said, calling attention to Trump’s statements that the revised order is a “watered-down version” of the original travel ban. “It’s as if there’s a flashing neon sign behind them saying ‘Muslim ban, Muslim ban.'”
“We cannot fault the president for being politically incorrect, but we do fault him for being constitutionally incorrect,” Chin added.

In his ruling, Watson rejected the administration’s argument that he shouldn’t “look beyond the four corners of the executive order” to assess whether it violates the First Amendment.
“No binding authority … has decreed that establishment clause jurisprudence ends at the executive’s door,” Watson wrote. “In fact, every court that has considered whether to apply the establishment clause to either the executive order or its predecessor (regardless of the ultimate outcome) has done so.”
Watson sided with Chin, observing that the “historical context” of the travel ban is “full of religious animus, invective and obvious pretext.”
“It is no wonder that the government urges the court to altogether ignore that history and context,” Watson wrote. “The court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has.”
Waton also concluded that it “makes little sense” to narrow the scope of his ruling.
“That is because the entirety of the executive order runs afoul of the establishment clause where ‘openly available data support a commonsense conclusion that a religious objective permeated the government’s action,'” Watson wrote.
The ruling essentially leaves the administration with two options — either to appeal it to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld an injunction issued by a federal judge in Seattle against the original travel ban, or let it stand while defending the revised order on the merits.
In a statement, Chin hailed Watson’s ruling:
This is an important affirmation of the values of religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution’s First Amendment. With a preliminary injunction in place, people in Hawaii with family in the six affected Muslim-majority countries — as well as Hawaii students, travelers, and refugees across the world — face less uncertainty. While we understand that the President may appeal, we believe the court’s well-reasoned decision will be affirmed.
Read Watson’s ruling here:
their burden of establishing a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their
Establishment Clause claim, that irre...
President issued another Executive Order, No. 13,780, identically entitled,
“Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terroris...
Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. 8 U.S.C. § 1187(a)(12); Exec. Order § 2(c). The
suspension of entry applies to nationals of the...
Section 6 of the Executive Order suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions
Program for 120 days. The suspension applies both ...
According to Plaintiffs, the Executive Order results in “their having to live in
a country and in a State where there is...
demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of succeeding on their claim that the Executive
Order violates the Establishment Cl...
I. Plaintiffs Have Demonstrated Standing At This Preliminary Phase
The Court previously found that Plaintiffs satisfied ...
Townley v. Miller, 722 F.3d 1128, 1133 (9th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 907
(2014)). On the record presented at...
permitted to return if they leave. And we have no difficulty concluding that the
States’ injuries would be redressed if...
question, in plain English, is whether adherents to a religion have standing to
challenge an official condemnation by t...
The final two aspects of Article III standing—causation and
redressability—are also satisfied with respect to each of t...
balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.”
Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Coun...
merits, and a hearing both prior to entry of the original TRO and prior to
consideration of the instant Motion.
For the...
The Court determined in its TRO that the preliminary evidence demonstrates
the Executive Order’s failure to satisfy Lem...
offered in Washington. There, citing Lemon, the Ninth Circuit clearly indicated
that the Executive Order is subject to ...
F.3d at 1167 (“It is well established that evidence of purpose beyond the face of the
challenged law may be considered ...
removed the preference for religious minorities provided in Executive Order No.
13,769. Mem. in Opp’n 21, ECF No. 251. ...
injury in the absence of a preliminary injunction. See TRO 40 (citing SAC ¶¶ 88–
90; Elshikh Decl. ¶¶ 1, 3).
V. Analysi...
VI. Scope of Preliminary Injunction: Sections 2 And 6
Having considered the constitutional injuries and harms discussed...
religious objective permeated the government’s action,” and not merely the
promulgation of Section 2(c). McCreary, 545 ...
The Court is cognizant of the difficult position in which this ruling might
place government employees performing what ...
Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs’ Motion to Convert Temporary Restraining
Order to A Preliminary Injunctio...
Dated: March 29, 2017 at Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
State of Hawaii, et al. v. Trump, et al.; Civ. No. 17-000...


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FBI Director James Comey attempted to go public as early as the summer of 2016 with information on Russia’s campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election, but Obama administration officials blocked him from doing so, two sources with knowledge of the matter tell Newsweek.
Well before the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence accused the Russian government of tampering with the U.S. election in an October 7 statement, Comey pitched the idea of writing an op-ed about the Russian campaign during a meeting in the White House’s situation room in June or July.

“He had a draft of it or an outline. He held up a piece of paper in a meeting and said, ‘I want to go forward, what do people think of this?’” says a source with knowledge of the meeting, which included Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson and the national security adviser Susan Rice.
The other national security officials didn’t like the idea, and White House officials thought the announcement should be a coordinated message backed by multiple agencies, the source says. “An op-ed doesn’t have the same stature, it comes from one person.”
The op-ed would not have mentioned whether the FBI was investigating Donald Trump’s campaign workers or others close to him for links to the Russians’ interference in the election, a second source with knowledge of the request tells Newsweek. Comey would likely have tried to publish the op-ed in The New York Times, and it would have included much of the same information as the bombshell declassified intelligence report released January 6, which said Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to influence the presidential election, the source said.
“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report stated, adding that the U.S. intelligence community had “high confidence” in its judgments. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
While news outlets reported in June that Russian hackers accessed Democratic National Committee emails, U.S. intelligence agencies didn’t confirm that the Russian government was trying to influence the election until months later. On March 20, Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI has, since July, been investigating Russian interference in the election and whether there was collusion between Moscow and associates of Trump.
Comey has previously written to a major news outlet. In 2014, when the FBI was facing criticism because an agent had posed as an Associated Press reporter as part of an investigation, Comey wrote a letter for publication in The New York Times defending the agent.
“It falls in line with his willingness or his determination to be transparent,” says Frank Montoya Jr., a former special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle division and the former head of national counterintelligence.
For supporters of Hillary Clinton, news of the op-ed adds to the frustration over Comey’s public disclosure of details about the investigation into her emails, including at a July press conference, but not about the probe involving Russia and Trump, which began that same month.
“This raises a lot of questions,” says Jarad Geldner, a senior adviser for the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which filed a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility over Comey’s disclosures about the Clinton investigation. “That raises the question of why Comey or [the Department of Justice] or the White House felt that it was OK to hold that [July] press conference on Hillary Clinton’s emails but not to go public with this.”
But the source with knowledge of Comey’s request says that the FBI director wanted the Russian interference made public earlier and that it was a sluggish White House that denied Comey and delayed the announcement. “The White House shut it down,” that source says. “They did their usual—nothing.” Both sources spoke to Newsweek on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press.
Asked about Comey’s push to write an op-ed over the summer, a spokesperson for the FBI said by email, “In general we have not been adding to the director’s comments regarding Russia at the March 20 hearing.” A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. A spokesman for Barack Obama could not immediately be reached.

Future of WikiLeaks' Assange to be Decided in Ecuador Elections

Political analyst Nicolas Reyes told teleSUR that ending Julian Assange's asylum would have regional and global ramifications for information freedom.

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As Ecuadoreans head to the polls on Sunday, the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living in Ecuador's London embassy since receiving asylum from the South American nation in 2012, will also de decided.

Presidential candidate and former banker Guillermo Lasso, of the right-wing CREO party, said earlier this month that if he wins the election, he will revoke Assange's assylum saying it's “no longer necessary.” He said he would ask Assange to leave “within 30 days,” alleging the costs of keeping him at the embassy are a financial burden.
“The Ecuadorean people have been paying a cost that we should not have to bear,” Lasso said during an interview in Quito.
Political analyst and writer Nicolas Reyes recently told teleSUR that pulling Assange's asylum could have global ramifications. 

"This would be a totally unwise decision because we know that what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have done is reveal how the big powers attempt to control the world through war, the economy and intervention in countries," Reyes said. "So this would also be a serious blow to the sovereignty of information and for the issue of transparency of information."
He added that kicking Assange out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London would have both regional and global repercussions. 
"Here in Ecuador there are already groups that have demonstrated against (Lasso's) position, groups that have confirmed that Ecuador demands that Julian Assange's asylum continues because it is a fundamental issue in geopolitical disputes at this moment," he said. 
One such group raising its voice in Ecuador for Assange is, the Free Software Association, which, along with other cyber activists, recently announced they were worried about Assange's situation in light of the upcoming elections.
"We don't only ask for respect to the already given asylum, but also for it to be complete," said David Ochoa, president of the association.
Lenin Moreno, from the governing Alianza Pais party, said he would uphold Assange's asylum status.
The left-wing government of president Rafael Correa granted Assange asylum over concerns over political persecution and his potential extradition to the United States, where he could face decades in jail for WikiLeaks' publication of 500,000 secret military files related to U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Before receiving asylum, he was detained by U.K. authorities over allegations of sexual assault in Sweden. 
Brazilian intellectual, theologian and Dominican friar Frei Betto said last week while visiting Ecuador that he hoped the new government maintains the asylum.
"I hope that whatever the government of Ecuador is, it continues to assure Julian Assange the right to asylum," said Betto during a news conference in Quito.
Betto also said that people "must fight" to end the need for his asylum, but since that it's not possible in the immediate term, his asylum should be guaranteed. 
"It's a scandal that this man is persecuted for speaking the truth", said Betto.

Maryland Passes Ban Bill, Will Become Third State to Block Fracking

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By Sharon Kelly

In a historic vote Monday night, Maryland's Senate passed a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — expected to be signed into law by the state's Republican governor — making the state the third in the U.S. to reject the controversial technique. The 35–10 Senate vote came shortly after the state's House of Delegates approved the ban in a 97–40 vote.
Crucially, the state's governor, Republican Larry Hogan, recently announced that he was no longer convinced that fracking could be done safely if properly regulated and that a ban was necessary. Hogan said he will suuport the ban, making his state the first state with shale gas reserves to enact a fracking ban through legislation.
New York banned fracking in 2015, after a seven year review concluded the risks were too great and could not be adequately avoided, though that decision was made under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive branch authority, not through the legislature. Vermont's fracking ban was signed into law in 2012, but was mostly seen as symbolic as the state generally lacks shale gas reserves.
By passing the fracking ban, Maryland lawmakers rejected a proposal to simply extend the state's moratorium on fracked well permits, scheduled to expire in October, by another two years.
“Science has spoken,” State Delegate Kumar P. Barve, head of the House environmental committee, told the Washington Post earlier this month, “and we should terminate this practice here in Maryland.”
For years, Don't Frack Maryland, a coalition of environmental, public interest, faith, and business organizations, had campaigned for the ban, citing the litany of problems like flammable drinking water, earthquakes, and air pollution that the shale gas rush brought to other states.
“We have learned from and worked with our neighbors whose health has been compromised for years,” said Natalie Atherton of Citizen Shale, a member of Don't Frack Maryland. “Already Citizen Shale is being approached by communities in other states, hoping to learn how they can ban fracking where they live. This has become a movement of people, and it won't stop with Maryland.”
“We are relieved and overjoyed that the state Senate has said NO to fracking,” added Elisabeth Hoffman, Howard County Climate Action. “In Maryland, every email and phone call, every Facebook post and tweet, every meeting and march has led to this moment.”
The ban drew immediate national attention.
“Fracking is a danger to our water supply. It’s a danger to the air we breathe,” former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in a Facebook post yesterday. “Congratulations to Maryland for passing a ban on fracking!”
“Most importantly, on climate change, Maryland is now poised to keep a dangerous pool of fossil fuels in the ground forever,” said Chesapeake Climate Action Network executive director Mike Tidwell. “Scientists say this is what states across America and countries around the world need to do to solve global warming.”
Regulations Not Enough, Republican Governor Concludes
The ban comes just weeks after the state's governor announced that he could no longer support fracking. “The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits,” Gov. Hogan said at a March 17 news conference announcing his support for the ban.
“Our administration proposed the toughest fracking regulations of all 50 states,” the governor added. “The regulations that we proposed would have made it virtually impossible for anyone to ever engage in fracking in Maryland. However, the legislature has failed to enact these tough regulations. That's why I've decided that we must take the next step and move from virtually banning fracking to actually banning fracking.”
The governor's move was especially striking given that Maryland Republicans were one of the only groups in the state that supported fracking in a Washington Post–University of Maryland poll conducted last fall. Roughly two thirds of Independents and Democrats opposed fracking, but only one third of Republicans (generally a minority in the heavily Democratic state) opposed the process, with just shy of 50 percent indicating their support.
Nationally, polls show strong public opposition to fracking. A Gallup poll earlier this month found that 53 percent of Americans oppose fracking, compared to just 35 percent that support it (12 percent lacked an opinion) — a strong shift from 2015, when Americans were equally divided (40 percent pro, 40 percent opposed, and 19 percent without an opinion, Gallup reported).
“We commend the Maryland General Assembly for this bipartisan victory, and we thank Governor Hogan for his support,” said Sierra Club Maryland Chapter director Josh Tulkin in a statement, “but the real congratulations go [to] the thousands of people across the state, particularly those in Western Maryland, who stood up for their beliefs, who organized, lobbied, and rallied to get this legislation passed.”
The oil and gas industry condemned the state's ban. “Denying Maryland consumers, businesses, and job-seekers the benefits that come with in-state energy production through hydraulic fracturing shuts the door on an important share of the American energy renaissance and western Maryland's future economic growth,” Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, told the Associated Press.
But many have questioned to what extent Maryland's economy would have been impacted by drilling — especially given the potential harm to the state's tourism and agricultural industries. “Obviously we're opposed to  [the ban],” Cobbs, told InsideClimate News. “Though probably more than anything else it's a symbolic gesture since it's only a small part of western Maryland that could be developed.”
The state had two counties — Garrett and Allegany — that had drawn the eye of drillers as the Marcellus shale gas rush struck the Eastern region of the U.S about a decade ago. Drillers leased over 100,000 acres in the state, but as Maryland's moratorium kept fracking at bay, those leases began to expire.
“We are the only state in the nation that sits on shale gas that hasn't put a drill in the ground,” former state delegate and gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, who fought fracking in her state for seven years, told a crowd of hundreds at a demonstration at the state capital earlier this month.
“I never doubted once that this day would arrive,” she told the Baltimore Sun when Gov. Hogan threw his weight behind the ban. “I just didn't think we'd have Larry Hogan standing next to us — a change of heart on the most meaningful of issues.”
States a Bulwark Against Trump's Rollbacks?
The state's ban came just before a major federal setback for the environment — one of many that have been dealt by the new Trump administration.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced the federal government would drop the legal defense of rules for fracking on federal lands that were written by the Obama administration. He moved to unwind Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fuel standards, bringing down the standards for gas mileage for U.S. cars and trucks, with massive impacts for U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. And the day after Maryland's ban passed its Senate, Trump issued an executive order unraveling the country's Clean Power Plan, a move expected to make it all but impossible  for the U.S. to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement.
That last announcement was met with strong pushback from a coalition of 16 state attorneys general (plus the attorney general for Washington, D.C.) and top legal officers from 6 major metropolitan areas, including New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, who said that they would fight the rollback in court.
We won’t hesitate to protect those we serve — including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change,” they said in a joint statement. 
But while states may represent a bulwark against federal reversals on the environment, state environmental regulators are expected to face massive cuts to federal funding. Under the budget announced by the Trump administration, state assistance would be slashed — and “more than half of state environmental agencies receive at least one-quarter of their funding from federal sources,” a Center for American Progress report recently concluded.
That means that states will have smaller budgets as they seek to police drillers and prevent accidents, illegal dumping, and other harmful acts, which adds fuel to the call for state-wide bans, activists say, because state regulations on the books designed to mitigate the worst impacts of drilling and fracking may become even less enforceable.
Like Gov. Cuomo before him, Gov. Hogan became persuaded of the need for a fracking ban after years of study convinced him that even the strongest state regulations would be insufficient to protect citizens.
“Governor Hogan’s support of a fracking ban in Maryland draws a stark contrast with several Democratic Governors who claim to have green credentials, but have been unwilling to listen to their constituents and stand up to the oil and gas industry,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, citing Pennsylvania's Tom Wolf and California's Jerry Brown as examples.
“But with Republicans nationally denying climate change and several leading Democrats refusing to take meaningful action to leave fossil fuels in the ground, it’s critical that we continue to organize and build political power in legislative districts across the country to fight for what we really need for the future of the planet: A ban on fracking, rejection of related infrastructure, and a quick transition to 100 percent renewable energy future.”
On the heels of this victory, environmental groups are setting their sights on Florida next. In January, Republican lawmakers introduced bills calling for statewide bans, which drew bi-partisan support.
Maryland's ban is expected to fuel that effort. “It says to Republicans: This is the direction we need to be going in,” Thomas Meyer, a Maryland Food & Water Watch organizer told The Baltimore Sun. “More importantly, it says to Democrats: You can't call yourself a progressive on climate issues if you're supporting fracking.”