Author Archives: Shawn Carter

To unconquerable souls.

By Shawn Carter

Protesters hold an LGBT rights flag outside the US Supreme Court in support of marriage equality on April 25, 2015.

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”

Invictus, by William Ernest Henley

Yesterday, as we celebrated another long-overdue affirmation of our LGBTQIA+ brothers, sisters, friends, loved ones and co-workers, the Pittsburgh Comet dares to take this moment to show our appreciation for a Supreme Court supermajority who got one right, but, just as we did seven years ago, continue to draw attention to what the high Court got wrong, what it consistently gets wrong, and why we have so much work left to do.

Most of us, if we’re intellectually honest, saw the Supreme Court’s 32-page opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, as something of a no-brainer. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, an arch-conservative Trump appointee and member of the Federalist Society, managed to sum up the obvious in the first sentence of the third paragraph of the opinion:

Few facts are needed to appreciate the legal question we face.”

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Almost exactly seven years ago, when last we celebrated, the issue was the Court’s takedown of the heinous federal Defense of Marriage Act on the basis of “states’ rights”, and now comes the Court again, telling America this time that employment discrimination on the basis of “who you are” or “who you love” must also be eliminated, as these bases, too, are patently unconstitutional. This time, however, states’ rights wouldn’t suffice as a valid intellectual or legal basis for this action, so the Court’s supermajority reached for another hallmark of conservative legal ideology: textualism.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) talks with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during the Inaugural Luncheon in Statuary Hall after U.S. President Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Benjamin Myers (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

I’m sure wherever the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia is, whose seat on the Court Associate Justice Gorsuch was handed after it was stolen from the then-Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Merrick Garland, he must be roiling in his grave. Gobbledygook.

And, for 4 years, all we could muster the strength to say was:

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Civil Rights Act of 1964

Justice Gorsuch reminds us that regardless of whatever might have inspired the imaginations of the old, White (and almost all), men who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, irrespective of the fact that questions of who one is or who one loves were nowhere to be found, WORDS. MATTER. When the plain language of a statute is clear, the Court needn’t look to the “intent of the Framers” or whatever other originalist legal fallacies this Court has sometimes reached for to justify some of its other past sins (Dred Scott, Plessy, Heller, we could go on for centuries here…)

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But as was stated in the lede, while we are truly, truly grateful that many of our friends, loved ones and co-workers have, finally, had more of their Constitutional birthright affirmed, we would be horribly remiss if we didn’t remind ourselves (and you), as we did seven years ago, that the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s established several other protected classes, and one, in particular, expressly written into the Acts, has, far too often, received very short shrift, or in many cases, none at all.

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The very same Court which, in June 2013, first struck down DOMA as a federal intrusion into the states’ right to regulate the marital function, and two years later, removed all doubt by decreeing same-sex marriages legal across the fruited plain, put out the bunting, declared “Mission Accomplished”, and struck down § 5 (and by implication, § 4) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the legislative implementation of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Prior to the Court’s holding in Shelby County v. Holder, whenever a Southern state (and a handful of Northern counties) wanted to or was legally required to (read: redistricting) change any process or structure that might have an effect on the right or ability of African-Americans to vote freely, those changes had to be approved, in advance (“pre-cleared”) by the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. The mere existence of that mandatory review prevented many bad acts from being considered.

Political Cartoon on 'Court to Decide Voting Rights' by Ben ...

As was observed at the time, not 24 hours after that Court ruled in favor of striking down the preclearance provisions in the VRA, the law that provided any protection for the right of African-Americans to vote (because things were ‘better’ in the old Confederacy, America elected an African-American as its President), many of the very states the law was enforced against went right back to their racist old ways. Oh, you don’t believe us, just ask Stacey Abrams.

And so we resolve to keep the spotlight focused on our friends, loved ones and co-workers who haven’t had much success in recent years getting the Court to vindicate their rights. What they have seen has been the persistent, pervasive contraction of those rights, and that is what African-Americans have suffered for several decades now.

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Yesterday, the Court declined to review a number of cases which hinge on, perhaps, one of the most insidious Court-created shields to government liability most lay observers have ever seen: qualified immunity.

What is qualified immunity?

“ Qualified immunity means that government officials cannot be held accountable for violating the Constitution unless they violate a “clearly established” constitutional rule. In practice, that means that government officials can only be held liable if a federal court of appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court has already held that someone violated the Constitution by engaging in precisely the same conduct under precisely the same circumstances.”

For example, if a pregnant African-American woman is pushed down a flight of stairs by a police officer, all the while hurling out the “n-word” and the “b-word”, she couldn’t maintain a civil action against that officer in the federal Courts unless the Supreme Court or the appellate circuit where the District Court she attempts to file her civil rights lawsuit ruled in favor of a pregnant African-American woman who had the exact same thing happen to her. Such a rule strains credulity, but for almost as long as the Civil Rights Act has been a law, this Court-created limitation has existed.

What is “qualified immunity,” and how does it work? - The ...

The fact is that this legal loophole frustrates the very laws designed to bring some measure of justice to African-Americans who are mistreated under color of law by a government employee.

Title 42 of the United States Code (42 U.S.C. § 1983). Section 1983 provides an individual the right to sue state government employees and others acting “under color of state law” for civil rights violations. Section 1983 does not provide civil rights; it is a means to enforce civil rights that already exist.

Most notably, this federal law has another name. In fact, the law bears the name of the racist, terrorist group at the very heart of the reason the Reconstructionists who controlled Congress after the Civil War had to pass it in the first place:

Robed members of the KKK marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., with American flags and the U.S. Capitol in the background.

The Ku Klux Klan Act.

So effective a shield qualified immunity has become, many potential litigants (read: African-Americans mistreated by government officials, and tragically, the estates of many of them) decide not to seek justice in the courts altogether. And since civil rights lawyers, promised by 42 U.S.C. § 1988, to payment of their reasonable fees for taking these cases, which, of necessity, Congress had to enact, lest no lawyer in private practice could afford to take these cases, only get paid if the lawsuit ends in a judgment or settlement, these attorneys get nothing if the case is dismissed by a federal court on the grounds of qualified immunity. So for many African-Americans who need any form of justice when a state government employee (which includes employees of local governments) violates their rights too often find the doors to the courthouse effectively padlocked.

Congress can, and must, amend the Ku Klux Klan Act to remove the doctrine of qualified immunity. If not, as Congress refused to do with DOMA, same-sex marriage and employment discrimination against our LBGTQIA+ friends, loved ones and co-workers, then only the Court can remedy this tragic injustice. Even if Congress refuses, which it has proven itself wont to do, the Court should reverse itself anyway.

It is worth noting that, even as many Americans found themselves dancing in the streets in jubilation last night, many more Americans have taken to the streets, day after day, marching for the very rights which were, in fact, the reason that in 1868, the Constitution had to be amended to add the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in the first place, and why the secessionist states were required to ratify the Amendments as a condition of readmission into the Union. These Amendments are the Constitutional authorities Congress relied upon in passing the Civil Rights Acts of 1871, 1964, 1965 and 1968.

Ever wonder how exactly it is that corporations became “people”?

The Fourteenth Amendment.

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In the 152 years since the ratification of these Constitutional Amendments, corporations, foreigners, people (now including the LBGTQIA+ community) and almost every other distinct group of persons, who felt that their Constitutional rights had been deprived or abrogated, sought remedy in the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court listened and if it found that their rights had, in fact, been violated, gave them relief. But time and time again, when the one group for whom the Amendments were framed and the statutes were enacted, says to the Government, “What about us?”, more often than not, the Court has responded with, “We know you’ve been mistreated, that your rights have been deprived you, but you have to take that grievance down the street and ask Congress for help. That is not our job.”

For irony’s sake, Utah Senator Mitt Romney and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, in reaction to Bostock, said exactly this very thing about the Court’s ruling yesterday, which finally extended the Civil Rights Act’s protection against employment discrimination on the basis of sex to those who had previously been discriminated against because of who they are or who they love not conforming to some archaic, conjugal view of the world.

The time for the affirmation of everyone’s rights faces us. No longer can we allow any among us to hide behind their privileges while the innocent are harmed, starved, murdered or assassinated, especially not by some government.

Time has proven, from 1619 to this very day, that the souls of our African-American friends, loved ones and co-workers are, indeed, unconquerable.

But the time for bloodied heads, tears shed and horrors endured must end. The time for half-measures and talk are over.

A young James L. Farmer, Jr. said, in his debate performance against the vaunted Harvard debate team in 1934, this:

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If the Constitution doesn’t hold the same meaning for each and every one of us, then many of our young people are beginning to show America that mere civil disobedience is no longer enough, which leaves but one logical, inexorable conclusion…

Minneapolis police precinct burned to ground in third night of ...

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Dems Correct Course, Will Replace Danko in District-Wide Vote

Rank and file Democratic Committee men and women representative of individual Allegheny County Council District 11 neighborhoods all will get to vote for the successor to Barbara Daly Danko.

Danko died of illness during her campaign, yet the voters of that District reelected her by a comfortable margin.

“After careful consultation with attorneys and members of Allegheny County leadership, I am pleased to announce that we are able to grant voting privileges to all committee members within this district,” Ms. Mills said in the release. “We know this is the most democratic — and most fair — way of conducting this election.” (P-G, Early Returns)

All’s well that ends well.  Continue reading

Transforming the ‘Burgh: Riding this Beast

Nova Place. The old Allegheny Center. Feast with your eyes, upon the drawings!

Super that we’re doing something about Allegheny Center after all these years. In the depths of 20th century American “urban renewal”, that was somebody’s idea of a classical Athenian paradise adjoining an indoor mall. A wide public crossroads, planned centrally, a lot of tall apartments for residential density, with cultural resources and libraries and sculptures within, and tables for chess and enlightened sociability.

Allegheny Center has long been regarded as a disappointment. It is known. Whether that is fair or not may turn out to be a bit more nuanced.

But now the City is doing away with much of that. The Peduto administration is proposing turning it into an innovation works, a 21st century technology hub, a high-end campus, featuring the “right kind of office space” Continue reading

Loading: A pop punk rejoinder…

Fitz down, Lamb up, Wagner up, Machine resurgent, Peduto weakened.

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Don’t believe that just because there are now 4 or more bosses, the Machine is “gone”. At the same time, don’t expect it to stick around any longer than four more years.

There are loads of light at the end of these tunnels…

Stay tuned during our editing process.

BREAKING/UPDATE:

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BACKGROUND: P-G, Lord and Born; and previously Molly Born.

That’s a wrap. Roll Footage!

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Chelsa remains County Controller. Lamb remains City Controller, winning lopsided. Discussion of these results and more go in the comments here. A more formal analysis coming later in the week!

Election Day! Get out, Vote for School Board officers, too…

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For the City School Board, the Pittsburgh Comet endorses WRENN, KALEIDA and CARTER. So, how can that be?

Continue reading

The Burgh’s Greatest Voter Guide: 2015 Historical Edition

It falls to the Comet again!

Welcome to the 2015 Voter Guide essay, which is in 3 parts.

In Part I after this introduction, we list our eight (8) endorsements, so you see them!

In Part II, we begin with President Lincoln and attempt to cruise methodically through the last 150 years of Pittsburgh political history.

In Part III, we reflect on our particular endorsements in this Tuesday’s local races, issue some honorable mentions, and recall how the political “machine” Pittsburgh is still singular, no longer of much practical use and generally malign. Our endorsements will demonstrate additional valid reasons to fulfill its effective dismantling at long last.

Ready? Okay.

YOUR PITTSBURGH COMET 2015 PRIMARY ENDORSEMENTS:

County Controller: Chelsa WAGNER

County Court of Common Pleas: Judge Hugh MCGOUGH

County Council, north: Dan CONNELLY

County Council, east: Barbara DALY DANKO

City Controller: Natalia RUDIAK

City Council, north: Bobby WILSON

City Council, east: La’Tasha MAYES

City Council, northeast: Andre YOUNG

See our latest blog post for City School Board endorsements, Comet Maniacs!

And here we launch into Part II: The History, which begins in the administration what would later be called the Grand Old Party, or GOP, of Abraham Lincoln.

Encountering an increasingly burgeoning metropolis on what was recently a frontier crossroads, the legendary politician who would later be known as the Great Emancipator enjoyed friendly receptions amidst the industrious, immigrant and Northern-elite voting precincts at the twin cities of the Forks: Pittsburgh, and Allegheny City, on what is now Pittsburgh’s North Side. Abe Lincoln’s Secretary of War Simon Cameron would become our first political boss. Continue reading

Loading, Election Week: On Stranger Tides…

Put on your thinking hats…

Education: It will take a little bit of work…

If you think that education is an important piece to readying Pittsburgh for this economy and the next, then you’ll want to read the new Null Space.

Now brood for a while.

And note that Pittsburgh is more fragmented than most, and that our last attempt to consolidate governments probably tried to bite off too much, too quickly.

Now let’s look at a School Board race in Pittsburgh proper, in District 8, which spans three rivers to encourage a majority-minority disposition:

In the May 19 primary, one of the three has cross-filed: Rosemary Moriarty, 64, of the Central North Side, who worked as a teacher and administrator for Pittsburgh Public Schools for more than 35 years. She was principal of the Miller African-Centered Academy in the Hill District when she retired in 2008.

Two other candidates are on only the Democratic ballot: Kevin L. Carter, 26, of Manchester, who is founder and CEO of the nonprofit Adonai Center for Black Males based in Downtown, and Patricia Rogers, 49, of the Mexican War Streets, who is a legislative assistant for state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, and a former substance abuse unit supervisor for a county Juvenile Court program.

Ms. Moriarty has two grown children who attended Pittsburgh Public Schools. The other two candidates do not have children. (P-G, Eleanor Chute)

Based on this, Moriarty clearly seems Continue reading

On History: How we are doomed to learn from it…

Thanks to writer Salena Zito and Mayor Bill Peduto for some thought-provoking historicizing this week.

This need for change was not what many of America’s Founders believed, especially those who worked the land and tended to view history as cyclical, according to Curt Nichols, political scientist at the University of Missouri.

He explained their philosophy: “Things tend to go from good to bad to worse before they get better again. And things only got better if a virtuous citizenry worked hard and was willing to sacrifice to make things better.”

Timing was everything for these “country” thinkers. They believed, as Shakespeare’s Brutus did, that “there is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” (Trib, Salena Zito)

The “country” people who worked the land and made sacrifices were slaves. This point takes nothing away from Zito Continue reading