Gorsuch Asserts His Independence: ‘No Such Thing as a Republican Judge’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAR 21 2017, 9:34 AM ET

Gorsuch Asserts His Independence: ‘No Such Thing as a Republican Judge’

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Watch Live: Confirmation Hearing for SCOTUS Nominee Neil Gorsuch

Neil Gorsuch insisted that he would not shy from ruling against President Donald Trump and assured lawmakers during the second day of his confirmation hearings Tuesday that he made no commitments to the president when he was nominated to the Supreme Court.

“I have no problem ruling against a person or any party,” Gorsuch told Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, calling the question of his independence a “softball.”

  • Gorsuch said he would have “no problem” ruling against President Trump or anyone else.
  • The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge said he would have “walked out” if Trump asked him to vote against Roe v. Wade.
  • He called it “grossly improper” to speculate about how he would rule in case about travel ban.

“There is no such thing as a Republican judge, or Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country,” he added.

Gorsuch has used the start to his high-profile confirmation battle to present himself as a consensus building, independent jurist with views well within the mainstream. He repeatedly told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he made no promises to the Trump administration about future rulings, even saying he would have “walked out the door” if Trump asked him to commit to voting against Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.

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Gorsuch Pressed About Legality of Trump’s Travel Ban 3:03

But Democrats prodding him about his opinions on both established Supreme Court precedent and the legality of Trump’s most controversial acts thus far as president, including Trump’s travel bans, received few clues.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge called it “irresponsible” to tip his hand on potential future rulings.

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“It would be grossly improper of a judge to do that and a violation of the separation of powers and judicial independence if someone sitting at this table, in order to get confirmed, had to make promises or commitments about how they’d rule in a case that’s currently pending and likely to make its way to the Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., examined him about Trump’s controversial travel restrictions.

Trump’s revised executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority nations, issued after his first travel order was described as a “Muslim ban” by critics and met with significant legal challenges, was blocked from going into effect by a federal judge last week.

Gorsuch called Roe v. Wade “precedent” that has been “reaffirmed many times” and declined to say whether he agreed with a host of other precedent-setting rulings on issues like gun rights and the power of the executive branch.

“If I indicate my agreement or disagreement with the past precedent of the United States Supreme Court, I’m doing two things that worry me sitting here: The first thing I’m doing is signaling to future litigants that I can’t be a fair judge in their case. Because those issues keep coming up,” Gorsuch told Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee.

Democrats and liberal groups have attacked Gorsuch for his ties to big business, centering on his skepticism of the so-called Chevron Doctrine that allows federal agencies to make rules to clarify areas where the law is ambiguous. His opposition to Chevron could curtail federal agencies ability to tackle issues like climate change and workers’ rights.

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Gorsuch: I Would Have ‘No Difficulty’ Ruling Against the President 2:26

Feinstein asked the nominee for assurances “that you will be for the little man” and stand up to corporate interests.

“If you want cases where I ruled for the little guy as well as the big guy, there are plenty of those, Senator,” he told Feinstein, who asked for examples to be sent to her office.

Democrats also used the hearing to voice their frustrations over Republican efforts to block Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to fill the court vacancy left after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016.

“Do you think [Garland] was treated fairly by this committee, yes or no?” Leahy asked Gorsuch.

“I can’t get involved in politics, and there is judicial canons that prevent me from doing that,” Gorsuch said.

Scalia’s death — and Republicans’ subsequent refusal to allow President Barack Obama to fill the seat, made the Supreme Court one of the top issues in the 2016 race. Trump won 56 percent of voters who said the nominee was important, according to national exit polls.

Outside groups are pushing Democrats to unite in opposition to Trump’s pick, though most have said they will wait for the hearings to conclude before deciding how they’ll vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has painted Gorsuch as an ideological extremist and said he will make his views “very strongly known to them” once the public hearings conclude.

Outside groups have also been working to promote Gorsuch’s confirmation with millions of dollars in undisclosed donations. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked if it was “any cause of concern” for him that a reported $10 million ad campaign was launched to support his nomination.

“There is a lot about the confirmation process today that I regret,” Gorsuch said, including the strain it has put on his family.

“The fact of the matter is, that it is what it is, and it’s this body that makes the laws. And if you wish to have more disclosure, pass a law and a judge will enforce it,” he added.

Even a united front would unlikely be enough for Democrats to stop Gorsuch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not ruled out invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” a parliamentary maneuver that would eliminate the 60-vote threshold required to advance a nominee, and intends to approve the nominee before the Senate breaks for Easter recess.

American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone

When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.

“It just felt like a gross violation of our rights,” said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.

Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.

“One of the officers calls out to me and says, ‘Hey, give me your phone,'” recalled Shibly. “And I said, ‘No, because I already went through this.'”

The officer asked a second time.

Watch Cynthia McFadden on Nightly News for More

Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend’s face turn red as the officer’s chokehold tightened.

Then they asked McCormick for her phone.

“I was not about to get tackled,” she said. She handed it over.

American citizens Akram Shibly, left, and Kelly McCormick had their phones searched as they reentered the U.S. at Niagara Falls, New York on two separate trips in January 2017. They say Shibly was put in a chokehold when he refused to hand over his phone on the second crossing. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Shibly and McCormick’s experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.

The travelers came from across the nation, naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned

What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

“That’s shocking,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She wrote the rules and restrictions on how CBP should conduct electronic searches back in 2009. “That [increase] was clearly a conscious strategy, that’s not happenstance.”

“This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people,” said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. “Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet.”

“This is just going to grow and grow and grow,” said Senator Wyden. “There’s tremendous potential for abuse here.”

What Changed?

What CBP agents call “detaining” cellphones didn’t start after Donald Trump’s election. The practice began a decade ago, late in the George W. Bush administration, but was highly focused on specific individuals.

The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.

DHS has published 24 reports detailing its extensive technological capability to forensically extract data from mobile devices, regardless of password protection on most Apple and Android phones. The reports document its proven ability to access deleted call logs, videos, photos, and emails to name a few, in addition to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps.

But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.

“The shackles are off,” said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people’s rights.”

And multiple sources told NBC News that law enforcement and the Intelligence Community are exploiting a loophole to collect intelligence.

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals.

“The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn’t apply at the border,” said Callahan. “That’s under case law that goes back 150 years.”

Customs and Border officers can search travelers without any level of suspicion. They have the legal authority to go through any object crossing the border within 100 miles, including smartphones and laptops. They have the right to take devices away from travelers for five days without providing justification. In the absence of probable cause, however, they have to give the devices back.

CBP also searches people on behalf of other federal law enforcement agencies, sending its findings back to partners in the DEA, FBI, Treasury and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.

Callahan thinks that CBP’s spike in searches means it is exploiting the loophole “in order to get information they otherwise might hot have been able to.”

On January 31, an engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was pulled into additional screening upon his return to the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile. Despite being cleared by the Global Entry program, Sidd Bikkannavar received an “X” on his customs form. He is not Muslim, and he is not from any of the seven countries named in President Trump’s original “travel ban” executive order. Half his family comes from India but he was born and raised in California.

Bikkannavar was brought into a closed room and told to hand over his phone and passcode. He paid particular notice to the form CBP handed him which explained it had the right to copy the contents of the phone, and that the penalty for refusal was “detention.”

“I didn’t know if that meant detention of the phone or me and I didn’t want to find out,” said Bikkannavar. He tried to refuse but the officer repeatedly demanded the PIN. Eventually he acquiesced.

“Once they had that, they had everything,” Bikkannavar said. That access allowed CBP officers to review the backend of his social media accounts, work emails, call and text history, photos and other apps. He had expected security might physically search any travelers for potential weapons but accessing his digital data felt different. “Your whole digital life is on your phone.”

The officers disappeared with his phone and PIN. They returned 30 minutes later and let him go home.Sidd Bikkannavar poses for a portrait in 2014. Takashi Akaishi

CBP also regularly searches people leaving the country.

On February 9, Haisam Elsharkawi was stopped by security while trying to board his flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. He said that six Customs officers told him he was randomly selected. They demanded access to his phone and when he refused, Elsharkawi said they handcuffed him, locked him in the airport’s lower level and asked questions including how he became a citizen. Elsharkawi thought he knew his rights and demanded access to legal counsel.

“They said if I need a lawyer, then I must be guilty of something,” said Elsharkawi, and Egyptian-born Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen. After four hours of questioning in detention, he unlocked his smartphone and, after a search, was eventually released. Elsharkawi said he intends to sue the Department of Homeland Security.

The current policy has not been updated since 2009. Jayson Ahern, who served in CBP under both Bush and Obama, signed off on the current policy. He said the electronic searches are supposed to be based on specific, articulable facts that raise security concerns. They are not meant to be random or routine or applied liberally to border crossers. “That’s reckless and that’s how you would lose the authority, never mind the policy.”

The Customs & Border Patrol policy manual says that electronic devices fall under the same extended search doctrine that allows them to scan bags in the typical security line.

“As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

Since the policy was written in 2009, legal advocates argue, several court cases have set new precedents that could make some CBP electronic searches illegal.

Several former DHS officials pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California that determined law enforcement needed a warrant to search electronic devices when a person is being arrested. The court ruled unanimously, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.

“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” wrote Roberts. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

Because that case happened outside of the border context, however, CBP lawyers have repeatedly asserted in court that the ruling does not apply to border searches.

For now a Department of Justice internal bulletin has instructed that, unless border officers have a search warrant, they need to take protective measures to limit intrusions, and make sure their searches do not access travelers’ digital cloud data. The ‘cloud’ is all content not directly stored on a device, which includes anything requiring internet to access, like email and social media.

Former DHS officials who helped design and implement the search policy said they agreed with that guidance.

Wyden Pushes to Change the Policy

On February 20, Sen. Wyden wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding details on electronic search-practices used on U.S. citizens, and referred to the extent of electronic searches as government “overreach”. As of publication, he had yet to receive an answer.

Now Sen. Wyden says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords.

“The old rules … seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can,” said Senator Wyden. “I think it is time to update the law.”

Akram Shibly at home in Buffalo, Sunday March, 12, 2017. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Asked about the Shibly case, a CBP spokesperson declined to comment, but said the Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating. The spokesperson said the agency can’t comment on open investigations or particular travelers, but that it “firmly denies any accusations of racially profiling travelers based on nationality, race, sex, religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs.”

Explaining the sharp increase in electronic searches, a department spokesperson told NBC News: “CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence.” A spokesman also noted that searches of citizens leaving the U.S. protect against the theft of American industrial and national security secrets.

After repeated communications, the Department of Homeland Security never responded to NBC News’ requests for comments. Nonetheless, the Homeland Security Inspector General is currently auditing CBP’s electronic search practices.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also has filed two dozen complaints against CBP this year for issues profiling Muslim Americans. CAIR and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are considering legal action against the government for what they consider to be unconstitutional searches at the border.

A new, liberal tea party is forming. Can it last without turning against Democrats?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

A new, liberal tea party is forming. Can it last without turning against Democrats?

Angry Utahns pack Chaffetz’s home state town hall
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Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) got a frosty reception in his home state on Feb. 9, at a town hall. Angry constituents packed a high school auditorium, grilled the high-ranking congressman with questions and peppered him with boos and chants while protesters amassed outside.(Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
February 11 at 4:50 PM
Grass-roots movements can be the life and death of political leaders.It’s a well-worn story now about how John A. Boehner, then House minority leader, joined a rising star in his caucus, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, in April 2009 for one of the first major tea party protests in the California Republican’s home town of Bakersfield.

A little more than six years later, after they surfed that wave into power, the movement consumed both of them. Boehner was driven out of the House speaker’s office and McCarthy’s expected succession fell apart, leaving him stuck at the rank of majority leader.

Democrats are well aware of that history as they try to tap the energy of the roiling liberal activists who have staged rallies and marches in the first three weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

What if they can fuse these protesters, many of whom have never been politically active, into the liberal firmament? What if a new tea party is arising, with the energy and enthusiasm to bring out new voters and make a real difference at the polls, starting with the 2018 midterm elections?

Boycotts and outrage: A new normal on Capitol Hill?

Republicans were forced to reschedule votes for key cabinet picks after Democrats intensified their opposition to President Trump’s nominations. (Video: Alice Li, Whitney Leaming/Photo: Getty/The Washington Post)

The women’s marches that brought millions onto streets across the country the day after Trump’s inauguration — spurred organically through social media — opened Democratic leaders’ eyes to the possibilities.

With a 10-day recess beginning next weekend, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has instructed her members to hold a “day of action” in their districts, including town halls focused on saving the Affordable Care Act. The following weekend, Democratic senators and House members will hold protests across the country, hoping to link arms with local activists who have already marched against Trump.

“It was important to us to make sure that we reach out to everyone we could, to visit with them, to keep them engaged, to engage those that maybe aren’t engaged,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters at a Democratic retreat in Baltimore that ended Friday. The trick is to keep them aiming their fire at Republicans and Trump, not turning it into a circular firing squad targeting fellow Democrats.

“Now we want people to run for office, to volunteer and to vote,” Luján added.

It’s too early to tell which direction this movement will take, but there are some similarities to the early days of the conservative tea party.

In early 2009, as unemployment approached 10 percent and the home mortgage industry collapsed, the tea party emerged in reaction to the Wall Street bailout. It grew throughout the summer of 2009 as the Obama administration and congressional Democrats pushed toward passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Many of the protesters were newly engaged, politically conservative but not active with their local GOP and often registered as independents. Their initial fury seemed directed exclusively at Democrats, given that they controlled all the levers of power in Washington at the time; the protesters famously provoked raucous showdowns at Democratic town halls over the August 2009 recess.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s first brush with the anti-Trump liberal movement came in a similar fashion to Boehner and McCarthy’s Bakersfield foray in 2009. Originally slated to deliver a brief speech at the women’s march in New York, Schumer instead spent 4 1/2 hours on the streets there, talking to people he had never met. By his estimate, 20 percent of them did not vote in November.

That, however, is where Schumer must surely hope the similarities end.

By the spring and summer of 2010, the tea party rage shifted its direction toward Republican primary politics. One incumbent GOP senator lost his primary, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defeated the Kentucky establishment favorite, and three other insurgents knocked off other seasoned Republicans in Senate primaries (only to then lose in general elections).

One force that helped the tea party grow was a collection of Washington-based groups with some wealthy donors, notably the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity, who positioned themselves as the self-declared leaders of the movement. For the next few years, they funded challenges to Republican incumbents, sparking a civil war that ran all the way through the 2016 GOP presidential primaries.

Boehner could never match the rhetorical ferocity of the movement. He was perpetually caught in a trap of overpromising and under-delivering. Republicans never repealed Obamacare, as they derisively called the ACA, and they could not stop then-President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Boehner resigned in October 2015.

Democrats want and need parallel outside groups to inject money and organization into their grass roots. There are signs it is happening: The thousands of activists who protested at a series of raucous town halls hosted by Republican congressmen over the past week were urged to action in part by sophisticated publicity campaigns run by such professional liberal enterprises as the Indivisible Guide, a blueprint for lobbying Congress written by former congressional staffers, and Planned Parenthood Action.

What is less clear is whether such energy and resources will remain united with Democratic leaders — or will be turned on them, as happened with the tea party and the Republican establishment, if the activist base grows frustrated with the pace of progress.

There have been some signs of liberal disgruntlement toward Democratic leaders. Pelosi and Schumer (D-N.Y.) were jeered by some in a crowd of more than 1,000 that showed up at the Supreme Court two weeks ago to protest Trump’s executive order travel ban. Marchers showed up outside Schumer’s home in Brooklyn, demanding he “filibuster everything” and complaining that he supported Trump’s Cabinet members involved in national security.

But there are two key differences between the conservative and liberal movements: their funding, and their origins. Some anti-establishment liberal groups have feuded with leaders, but they are poorly funded compared with their conservative counterparts. And the tea party came of age in reaction not only to Obama but, before that, to what the movement considered a betrayal by George W. Bush’s White House and a majority of congressional Republicans when they supported the 2008 Wall Street bailout.

There is no similar original sin for Democrats, as the liberal protests have grown as a reaction to Trump, not some failing by Schumer and Pelosi.

Schumer remains unconcerned about the few protesters who are angry at Democratic leaders. “I think the energy’s terrific. Do some of them throw some brickbats and things? Sure, it doesn’t bother me,” Schumer said in a recent interview.

How the liberal activists respond to early defeats may be the next sign of which direction the movement takes. Their demand that Schumer block Trump’s Cabinet is impossible to satisfy, because a simple majority can confirm these picks. All Schumer can do is drag out the debate, which he has done to an unprecedented degree.

The stakes will be even higher for the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, whose lifetime appointment still requires a 60-vote supermajority to reach a final confirmation vote. A Trump victory on Gorsuch might deflate the liberal passion, and some think that was the main ingredient missing for Democrats in 2016.

“We just didn’t have the emotional connection,” Pelosi told reporters in Baltimore. “He had the emotional connection.”

Why the Supreme Court special education case about a boy with autism is so sickening

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF  THE WASHINGTON POST)

Why the Supreme Court special education case about a boy with autism is so sickening

January 12 at 3:42 PM

There is something sickening about a case the Supreme Court just heard about a boy with autism and what level of public education he — and other students with disabilities — deserve.

Here’s some background: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law requiring public schools to provide children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education.” Students in special education get “individualized education programs, or IEPs, or blueprints that spell out supports and goals for each child. The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that IEPs must lay out plans that provide some educational benefit, but it didn’t set a benefit standard, and lower courts have been divided over what it should be. Some have required a substantial — or “meaningful” educational benefit — while others require only a de minimis — or anywhere above trivial — educational benefit.

Now the Supreme Court — which held a hearing in the case Wednesday — is being asked to decide on a standard, which is essentially the same as deciding whether the United States really cares about providing all students a free and appropriate public education, and whether it is wholly committed to helping families that have children with disabilities.

These are the facts of the court case, which could affect millions of children with disabilities and the public schools they attend:

A boy named Drew was diagnosed with autism at age 2, affecting his cognitive functioning, language and reading skills, and his social and adaptive abilities. From preschool through fourth grade, he received special education services in schools in Colorado’s Douglas County district.

By fourth grade, his parents saw his behavior get increasingly worse. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which got involved in this case, said fourth grade was “especially rocky.”

Drew exhibited multiple behaviors that inhibited his ability to access learning in the classroom. In the past, he has climbed over furniture and other students, hit things, screamed, ran away from school, and twice removed his clothing and gone to the bathroom on the floor of the classroom.

Drew’s parents said that although they saw some progress in Drew, it was minimal, so they pulled him from the public school system and placed him in a private school that used interventions that experts consider effective for many children with autism. Reports about his progress under an intervention called ABA were very positive, with “great” behavioral gains that led to an ability to pay more attention in class, complete math and verbal skills work  and interact with peers and teachers.

Under the federal law called the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents can seek tuition reimbursement from the school district and can win if several conditions are met. One of them is that their son wasn’t getting enough “educational benefit” from the public schools. Drew’s parents applied for reimbursement — arguing that the public district had not provided him with a free and appropriate public education. They were denied by the school system. That started a trek through the courts, leading to the Supreme Court, which is reviewing a 2015 decision by the 10th Circuit, which upheld the school system’s decision, using a very low standard for educational progress.

What is enough educational benefit? That’s what the Supreme Court is being asked to consider, and that, when you think about it, is where this case gets ugly.

Remember that we are talking about young people with disabilities — some of them so severe that a child might, for example, have the intellectual capacity of a 6-month-old, or have frequent disruptive seizures  — and their families, some of whom have daily burdens that others can’t begin to imagine.

So is minimal educational benefit enough? You may not know exactly what “minimal” is, buy by definition, you wouldn’t want that to be the standard for your child. Is “some” benefit — which courts have said means progress that is barely above trivial — enough for your child — or somebody else’s? Or do students with disabilities deserve a standard requiring “meaningful” benefit and if so, what does “meaningful” mean? Should the standard be “appropriate”? During the Wednesday hearing, nine different standards were mentioned in the proceedings within a half-hour period.

Should children with any disability be at the mercy of a standard that depends on the federal appellate jurisdiction in which his school district is located?

The Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed to be dissatisfied with the 10th Circuit’s ruling that public schools can meet IDEA requirements by providing an education to students with disabilities that is more than trivial, but there was no seeming direction indicated about what standard they do think makes sense.

It is understandable that school districts have a difficult time trying to appropriately implement IDEA, not only because of the nebulous standards but also because it has never been fully funded. According to the New America Foundation’s EdCentral (footnotes removed):

In the IDEA legislation, Congress set a maximum target for the federal contribution to special education spending equal to 40 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities. Thus, if the program were “fully funded,” the states would receive their maximum grants, calculated at 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure (APPE) times the number of children with disabilities served in the school year 2004-2005, adjusted for population changes. Under the act, the count of children with disabilities cannot exceed 12 percent of the state’s total school population.

For FY 2014, IDEA federal funding covered 16 percent of the estimated excess cost of educating children with disabilities, less than in FY 2008 when federal funding covered 17 percent of the cost and well below FY 2009 when additional funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act covered 33 percent of the cost. IDEA Part B “full funding” for FY 2014 would have amounted to approximately $28.65 billion, or roughly $17.17 billion more than was actually appropriated. The shortfall in IDEA funding has been assumed by the states and local school districts.

Yet there is something chilling about some of the debate about this issue. The debate is being played out in legalese — there’s  lots of talk about “procedure” — in the world of words rather than people. As Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said in Wednesday’s hearing: “What is frustrating about this case and this statute is we have a blizzard of words.”

A blizzard of words that seem to fly right over the actual people being affected. As Gary Mayerson, a civil rights lawyer and board member of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, said in this article by my colleague Emma Brown: “I can’t even believe that this is really a question for the court to wrestle with.”

Britain’s top court hears case that could delay European Union exit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

Britain’s top court hears case that could delay European Union exit

BRITAIN’S Supreme Court yesterday began a historic hearing to decide whether parliament has to approve the government’s Brexit negotiations, in a highly charged case that could delay the country’s EU exit.

For the first time, all 11 Supreme Court judges convened to hear a challenge by the government against a ruling that Prime Minister Theresa May must seek lawmakers’ approval before starting the process to leave the European Union.

The High Court ruled last month that the government did not have the executive power alone to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, formally starting exit talks which could take two years.

The decision enraged Brexit supporters and some newspapers who accused judges of thwarting the will of the 52 percent who voted “Leave” in the June 23 referendum.

The vote for Britain to become the first country to leave the 28-nation bloc sent shockwaves across the world and emboldened populists in Europe and the United States.

Supreme Court President David Neuberger said people involved in the case had received threats and abuse and stressed that the judges would rule without any political bias after criticism from Brexit backers.

A parliamentary vote on Article 50 could open the door to pro-EU lawmakers delaying or softening Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.

Neuberger said the judges were “aware of the strong feelings” surrounding Brexit but “those wider political questions are not the subject of this appeal.”

He told the court: “This appeal is concerned with legal issues, and, as judges, our duty is to consider those issues impartially, and to decide the case according to the law. That is what we shall do.”

He said some parties involved in the case had received threats of “serious violence and unpleasant abuse,” warning that there were “legal powers” to deal with such threats.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright, the government’s chief legal adviser, outlined the government’s case at the start of the four-day, live-broadcast hearing, with a judgment expected in January.

In his opening statement, he said there was a “universal expectation” that the government would implement the referendum result.

He argued that the government had constitutional authority over foreign affairs, including the right to withdraw from treaties, under so-called “royal prerogative powers.”

The royal prerogative is “not an ancient relic but a contemporary necessity,” he said.

If it loses, the government is expected to introduce a short bill — reportedly comprising just three lines of text — which it will then seek to push rapidly through parliament to authorize the triggering of Article 50.

May, who became prime minister after the Brexit vote, has insisted a parliamentary vote on the legislation would not disrupt her plans to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.

However, the opposition Labour Party delivered a blow to the government on Saturday when it announced it would seek to amend any bill, potentially delaying the process.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the amendment would ensure Britain retains access to the European single market and protect workers’ and environmental rights.

May faces a further potential complication from representatives of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who will argue Article 50 also needs to be approved by the UK’s devolved parliaments.

Jewish Culture Surviving In The Amazonian Rain Forest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

After their ancestors journeyed across an ocean from the edge of the Sahara to the center of the Amazon, their current numbers have dwindled in the wake of grim economic prospects and geographic isolation. Yet the pulse keeps beating for the Jewish community of Iquitos, Peru.

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“We as a community in Iquitos are trying to create a Jewish life, which is not easy, because the conditions for it do not exist,” said community leader Rebecca Abramovitz in an interview in Spanish.

Located in Loreto, Peru’s northernmost region, Iquitos is the largest city in the world unreachable by road. Visitors must either fly in or arrive by boat along the Amazon River.

Jews constitute only a fraction of a percent of the city’s population, which numbered just under 440,000 last year. The Jewish community of Iquitos consists of about 70 individuals, led by president Jorge Abramovitz, Rebecca’s husband. (There is also a smaller population of under 40 Jews in the city of Pucallpa to the south.)

The Iquitos community does not have a rabbi, and meets for worship in the Abramovitz house. Its members represent a fraction of the hundreds of people who once practiced Judaism by the banks of the Amazon.

Yet if their numbers are small, their story is compelling. They are the descendants of entrepreneurs who left Morocco for the promise of riches in the Amazon rubber boom in the late 19th century. Their Judaism has been revived by visits from rabbis elsewhere in Peru, as well as Argentina, the United States and Israel. Some have even undertaken another journey, to Israel, where they have made aliyah or are striving to do so.

Rebecca Abramovitz, wife of the president of the Jewish community of Iquitos, Peru, prepares a traditional Peruvian pastry called ‘bolitas’ as members of the community watch, in this April 2015 photo. (Facebook)

Earlier this year, a media report had forecast a bleak future for the community. But those members who stay in Iquitos continue to practice Judaism together, and regularly convene for events such as High Holiday services. In so doing, they preserve their ties with their ancestors who arrived in the Peruvian Amazon almost 150 years ago.

The first Jew to immigrate to Loreto was Alfredo Coblentz, a German Jew who arrived in the city of Yurimaguas, southwest of Iquitos, in 1880. In 1885, the first year of the Amazon rubber boom, the Pinto brothers — Moses, Abraham and Jaime — immigrated to Iquitos itself. While they only lived there for five years, “they opened the road for the arrival of new immigrants,” Abramovitz said.

The rubber boom caused a mass migration of people representing different countries and religions.


Rabbi Ruben Saferstein, of Buenos Aires. (Facebook)

“It brought businessmen and rubber workers from distinct regions of the world [to Iquitos], and among them, Jews from Morocco came,” said Rabbi Ruben Saferstein of Buenos Aires, who has been assisting the Jews of Iquitos for 15 years.

It was not an easy journey. Jews from Rabat, Tetuan, Tangier and Casablanca arrived in the Brazilian coastal city of Belen do Para and trekked along the Amazon — the second-longest river in the world, after the Nile — further inland to Manaus.

From there, Abramovitz said, “they scattered throughout the Peruvian Amazonian rainforest.”

Iquitos: Peru’s rubber boom town

“There was a tremendous amount of money to be made there, in the rubber industry in the Amazon, in Peru and Brazil,” said Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Jerusalem-based director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel for the Masorti Movement, who visited Iquitos last Pesach.

Luxurious mansions soon lined the streets of Iquitos, including the Casa Fierro (Iron House) designed by Gustave Eiffel, whose namesake tower in Paris earned architectural immortality. The Casa Fierro remains an Iquitos landmark.

But the rubber boom also had adverse effects. One Iquitos-based company with a British board of directors, the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC), was the subject of critical reports by Roger Casement, the British consul in Peru. Casement found that the PAC abused its indigenous workers. After public outcry, the company closed in 1913.

The Amazon rubber boom itself had collapsed by 1912, owing to several factors, including a drop in the price of rubber; the emergence of larger zones of production, such as Indonesia; and the arrival of synthetic rubber.

Many Jews in Iquitos returned to their countries of origin — but not all.

By January 1909, enough Jews had begun residing in Iquitos to establish a formal community, the Sociedad Beneficencia Israelita de Iquitos.

In Iquitos, Jews achieved success in both business and public life. Several became mayors of the city, including Victor Israel (who was also the first community president) and Joseph Dreyfus. Some founded businesses — La Casa Israel, Khan, and Cohen, along with Solomon Joseph and E. Strasberger.

The Jews who stayed after the boom were in an uncertain position. The rubber industry that fueled their commerce with Europe had vanished, and their legacy as Jews was in question.

“The great majority of Jews who came [to Iquitos] were men who could not leave Jewish descendants because they could not take Jewish women as wives, and settled down with women of the region,” Abramovitz said. However, she added, “they undoubtedly tried to keep their Jewish identity and pass it on to their children.”


The community celebrates Purim, 2016. (Facebook)

Each year, she said, the Jews of the region celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with religious services.

But their numbers plummeted.

Abramovitz said that emigration to the capital of Lima was “massive” in the 1950s, and by the 1960s, centers of Jewish life in almost every Peruvian province had disappeared.

“Our community stayed dormant for many years,” she recalled.

A sleeper community awakens

It was not until the 1980s that the community of Iquitos was able to reawaken.
When several community members traveled to Lima, Peru’s capital, for medical treatments in 1987, they made contact with Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein, chief rabbi of the Asociacion Judia. Lima has the largest population of Peruvian Jews (3,000), and with about 223 families, Bronstein’s synagogue is the largest in the capital.

In a Skype conversation from Lima, Bronstein told The Times of Israel he felt “curiosity” and that he exchanged letters with the community of Iquitos before deciding to visit in 1991. Then, Bronstein found a community of people who wished to identify as Jews but were not recognized as Jews.


The community lights Hanukkah candles with Rabbi Ruben Saferstein. (Facebook)

As Sacks described it, “there is a large percentage of people in that town who have a Jewish grandparent or great-grandparent, [and are now] practicing Catholics, who have recently connected to a Jewish community or to the Jewish world.”

When Bronstein made his first visit to Iquitos, he laid the groundwork for the community to formally confirm its Judaism — individually and collectively. Members organized themselves as a kehila, a Jewish community of partners recognized by the Republic of Peru. They achieved this status about a year and a half later, in 1994.

Bronstein then helped the kehila prepare for a formal conversion by a beit din, or rabbinical court. This process took much longer.

“It was 11 years after [my first visit],” he said. “It was very difficult. I couldn’t visit there [more than] two or three times in 11 years. I sent them materials, siddurim [prayer books]. They wrote to me with their [preparation] work.”


Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein speaks at a 70th anniversary gathering of the Peruvian Biblical Society. (Facebook)

These were not the only challenges.

“Circumcision was the hardest of all,” Bronstein said. “The adults did not have a mohel [circumciser].” And, he added, a mohel he located in Lima “was not going to go for less than a month for 40 to 50 people.”

‘Circumcision was the hardest of all’

By August 2002, Bronstein had found a qualified mohel willing to travel to Iquitos. A beit din followed, assisted by Rabbi Claudio Kupchik of Temple Beth El of Manhattan Beach.

“If we had not had the help of Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein, the community of Iquitos would not still exist,” Abramovitz said.

About a century after Jews had first arrived in Iquitos, the kehila and its members were formally recognized. Over the next few years, the congregation benefited from outreach by rabbis from other countries.


Rebecca Abramovitz holds the Iquitos Torah scroll in 2010. (Facebook)

In December 2004, Bronstein presided over a second beit din with his brother Marcelo, who serves as a rabbi in New York, as well as Saferstein, of Buenos Aires. Over three days, they evaluated around 180 candidates from Iquitos and neighboring regions.

In February 2009, the kehila received a Torah scroll over 100 years old from Rabbi Fabian Zaidemberg of La Asociacion Israelita de las Pampas in Argentina. David and Nilma Igdaloff, an American Jewish couple, had donated the Torah to Zaidemberg after it had been rescued from Nazi Germany.

A third beit din was held in 2011. And, as the Jews of Iquitos continue to rediscover and reconnect with their roots, there is an increasing interest in making aliyah.

Obstacles toward immigration to Israel

The story of the Amazonian aliyah is an unfolding one and includes community members now living in Israel as citizens, members who would like to make aliyah, and individuals in Israel who are not currently recognized as Israeli citizens.


The historic Jewish cemetery in Iquitos, April 2013. (Facebook)

The Interior Ministry has recognized Iquitos as a Jewish community and its members as eligible for aliyah, but it took a “long battle,” said Sacks, the director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.

The majority of olim from Iquitos live in Ramla.

“The mayor was happy to receive them,” Sacks said. “There were social, employment programs. They were absorbed in order to be more successful.”

However, Sacks is unhappy with the Interior Ministry and its treatment of Jews from Iquitos who wish to join their fellow Iquitenos in Israel.

“The pace of aliyah has slowed to a trickle,” Sacks said. “There have been all sorts of excuses. I found it to be a problem.”

 

Petitioning the Supreme Court

The Legal Aid Center for Olim, a project of the Israel Reform Movement, has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case involving two sisters from Pucallpa who converted to Judaism in Iquitos in 2011. They have been in Israel since February 2014.

“At the moment one of the two sisters from Pucallpa has a working visa after she began a serious relationship with an Israeli and in fact has given birth to his child,” said Nicole Maor, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Center for Olim. “The other sister is here with no status at all, under the protection of a Supreme Court order preventing her deportation.”

The Interior Ministry “has argued that the community in Pucallpa was not a ‘recognized’ community at the time of the conversion and therefore although the conversion itself was performed in Iquitos, they refuse to recognize them,” Maor said.

‘The great majority of Iquitenos have gone to live in Israel’

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the petition in January 2017.

Asked how strong the current desire is to make aliyah among the Jews of Iquitos, Sacks said, “Almost all of the young ones desire to leave. The opportunity to advance professionally and socially is very limited. They seek a second chance everywhere in Latin American countries. Many have gone, and in fact would go, to Israel.”

“The jungle is not a pleasant place to live,” he said. “The opportunities are rather limited. People realize, they are the third generation of a Jewish grandfather, grandmother, and eligible to make aliyah. Many did, many converted to Judaism and ultimately made aliyah. About 150 left for Israel.”

Indeed, he noted, the current community in Iquitos is “much reduced, owing to aliyah.”

“The great majority of Iquitenos [people from Iquitos] have gone to live in Israel,” Saferstein said. “There are some other people who are waiting for their conversion process, and desire to go to Israel, as well, to live there.”


The Jews of Iquitos wave an Israeli flag. (Facebook)

Saferstein expressed hope for another beit din to visit Iquitos in January 2017, but said that economic assistance is needed for this.

Despite gloomy predictions for the future of Iquitos’s Jews due to their shrinking population, Bronstein, who led the first beit din 14 years ago, is more hopeful.

‘They will continue with their Jewish identity. Even if three, four, five people remain, they have the structure, the community’

“They will continue with their Jewish identity,” he said. “They already have an organization. They are smaller, but I believe they will continue. Even if three, four, five people remain, they have the structure, the community.”

Last year, Sacks experienced this community firsthand.

“When I arrived at the airport, probably most of the community, around 40 people were there, with Israeli flags, singing, welcoming me,” he said.

Asked whether the community identifies as Sephardic, he said, “Many of them have a great-grandparent who was Sephardic (usually from Morocco), but the Jews are removed from many of those traditions. They have been Jewishly educated, primarily by Masorti rabbis. So, while they have some Sephardic tunes, it is very much a mix.”

On Shabbat, he said, “The davening was identical to pretty much any other synagogue.”

He joined the community for a Passover seder in the Abramovitz house, with fish and vegetarian options, “no bread on the table” and locally-flavored charoset.


The community gathers for holiday dinner this past Rosh Hashanah. (Facebook)

“They kashered everything,” he said.

He noted a community custom. An Israeli flag is displayed atop a table “every year till the last Jew from Iquitos who wishes to make aliyah is able to do so,” he said.

More recently, the community has been busy again, this time for the High Holidays.

In an October 3 photo of the Rosh Hashanah dinner, over 30 community members are sitting down to eat at tables, welcoming the new year 5777. There are national and international symbols — Peruvian and Israeli flags — as well as religious and cultural decorations such as cutouts of shofars and a glowing Star of David.

As the Jews of Iquitos celebrated the new year, it showed that even in the isolation of the Amazon, a Jewish community can survive. Though its numbers may be diminished, inextinguishable sparks of communal life continue to be stoked on the edge of the rainforest.

India Supreme Court Tells Government To Clean Up New Delhi’s Air: If People Can’t Breathe All Industry Will Stop

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

SC okays Centre’s action plan to tackle air pollution in Delhi-NCR

INDIA Updated: Dec 03, 2016 01:02 IST

Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times
The grading system will ensure that certain steps can be automatically introduced. When air quality dips, the odd-even car rationing formula will kick in, along with closure of schools, a four-fold hike in parking fee, ban on entry of trucks, and halt in construction activities.The order came after the top court approved the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) “graded response action plan” that outlines measures based on air quality — moderate to poor, very poor, severe, and severe-plus or emergency. A separate set of action plan has been suggested for each category.

A bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur asked the board to install real-time and manual pollution monitoring stations in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to check air quality for the graded response.

Smoke from farm fires, construction dusts, exhaust fumes from vehicles and factories, and firecrackers combined to shroud New Delhi and its satellite cities in their worst smog for 17 years after Diwali in November. The government was forced to take emergency steps such as closing schools and halting construction, while the judiciary too chipped in with stinging remarks against administrative inaction to clean up the Capital’s foul air.

“Do you want to wait till people start dying? People are gasping for breath,” a bench headed by Chief Justice Thakur said then.

The board, which the top court had pulled up for failing to make a roadmap to reduce air pollution, said severe and very poor air quality are common during winter: November to February.

The air quality index is measured on the basis of PM2.5 and PM10 in the atmosphere, which are tiny particles of dust that can cause grave respiratory disorder and damage the lungs.

The situation becomes severe or emergency when PM2.5 level is above 300 microgram per cubic meter or PM10 crosses the 500-mark. In such a scenario, authorities will close schools, stop the entry of diesel trucks into the Capital, halt construction activities, introduce the odd-even scheme for private vehicles, and hike parking fees.

The graded response fixes responsibility on the agency that has to enforce the measure.

Ban on diesel generators, construction and burning of garbage on landfill sites will kick in if the air index is very poor, with PM2.5 between 121 and 250.

When air quality is moderate or poor, the steps to be taken are ban on garbage burning, watering of fly ash ponds, closure of brick kilns and polluting industries, and mechanised sweeping of roads.

Iran’s Khamenei: Americans Are Liars

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE INTERNATIONAL FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIANS AND JEWS)

Iran’s Khamenei: Americans Are Liars

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei(Photo: wikicommons/Mahmoud Hosseini)

With the U.S. presidential elections less than a week away, Iran’s Supreme Leader has weighed in with his thoughts on America and its leadership. The Jerusalem Post reports that while celebrating the anniversary of the 1979 siege of the U.S. embassy, Ayatollah Khamenei lashed out at D.C., calling American leadership unworthy of his trust:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rebuffed the prospect of thawing relations between his country and the US, calling the American leadership “liars, untrustworthy, deceitful and back stabbers.”

Khamenei made the comments Wednesday on the Iranian calendar date marking the 37th anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran, the Tehran Times reported.

Despite the easing of sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program under a nuclear agreement between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 world powers – the US, UK, China, France and Russia plus Germany – Iran’s hard line top leader adamantly rejected the idea of further negotiations with Washington.

Khamenei charged that engaging in dialogue with the United States would be prone to failure and bring further problems to the Islamic Republic. He also lashed out at the administration in Washington, saying it is not trustworthy.

“Negotiation with the Americans would not resolve our problems because firstly they are liars, untrustworthy, deceitful and back stabbers, and secondly, the US is in crisis itself, and how would a crisis-ridden country be able to solve the problems of another country?” he asserted.

Brexit: In The UK, Just like In The U.S. The Vote Of The People Means Nothing?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME MAGAZINE)

UNITED KINGDOM

What to Know About the Brexit Ruling Against the U.K. Government

BRITAIN-EU-POLITICS-COURT-BREXIT
Niklas Halle’n—AFP/Getty ImagesGina Miller, co-founder of investment fund SCM Private and the lead claimant in the case, reads a statement outside the High Court in central London after winning the legal challenge that Article 50 cannot be triggered without a decision by parliament, on November 3, 2016. The High Court in London ruled on Thursday that parliament, not the government, must approve the start of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, in a landmark decision that could delay Brexit.

High Court decision has thrown a wrench in the gears of Theresa May’s government

The United Kingdom’s High Court ruled on Thursday the British government must receive approval from parliament to begin the process of withdrawal from the European Union, a move that could significantly disrupt the progress of so-called ‘Brexit.’

The ruling comes as a bitter blow to the government of Prime Minister Theresa May, which had argued the triggering of the mechanism that puts Brexit into motion did not need to be approved by lawmakers. Lawyers for the government will now appeal the ruling in the U.K.’s Supreme Court.

Here’s a quick guide to the biggest obstacle yet placed in Brexit’s path:

Does this mean Brexit is doomed?

No. The ruling merely makes it harder for the government to trigger ‘Article 50,’ the section of the relevant E.U. treaty that allows for countries to leave the 28-nation bloc. May said in October that the government would notify the E.U. of Article 50 before the end of March next year, formally starting a two-year process of leaving. This ruling throws that timeline into doubt, and threatens to undermine May’s negotiating position with E.U. leaders over the terms of departure.

What was the nature of the legal challenge?

The British government had argued that Article 50 could be triggered under the so-called “royal prerogative,” by which it has exercised executive power on issues of foreign policy for centuries.

Lawyers for the anti-Brexit campaigners who brought the case argued that, since withdrawing from the E.U. would affect their domestic legal rights, the royal prerogative should not apply, and lawmakers in parliament should be asked for approval.

The court sided with the plaintiffs, concluding that the government “does not have power under the Crown’s prerogative to give notice pursuant to Article 50 of the [E.U. treaty] for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.”

So now MP’s will get to vote on Brexit?

Yes, if the ruling survives the appeal process. The Supreme Court will rule on the government’s appeal in early December. If that fails, the government could escalate its appeal to the European Court of Justice—but that would be a supremely ironic move, given Britain is currently seeking to escape its jurisdiction. If the Supreme Court ruling goes against the government, May will face enormous pressure to drop the challenge and give parliament a vote.

How will lawmakers vote?

That’s an interesting question. In the buildup to the E.U. referendum, a large majority of members of parliament (MPs) across the various parties were in the ‘Remain’ camp. If the parliamentary vote had been held before the referendum, it undoubtedly would have been in favor of staying in.

But the public has now spoken, and MPs will be under pressure to reflect the will of their constituents as opposed to what they personally feel about Brexit. This is especially the case for the opposition Labour Party, whose constituencies voted 70-30 to leave the European Union in spite of the party’s near-unanimous support for ‘Remain.’

Lawmakers could, however, use a requirement for a vote to pressure the government to seek a “softer” Brexit—maintaining access to the European single market, for example, or even allowing free movement across borders. This would certainly undermine the position of the Conservative government, which wants a clean, sharp break from the economic and political bloc.

What’s the reaction been like to the ruling?

The government issued a terse statement saying it would appeal the ruling. Elsewhere, it has provoked sharply different reactions from ‘Remainers’ and ‘Leavers.’ Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, warned on Twitter the ruling would open the door to a “betrayal” of the popular vote:

Venezuela: Does An Incompetent Tyrant Ever Willingly Give Up The Presidency?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

In escalation of crisis, Venezuela congress to put Maduro on trial

Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly on Sunday vowed to put Nicolas Maduro on trial for violating democracy, days after authorities nixed a recall referendum against the unpopular socialist president.

The measure is unlikely to get traction given the leftist government and a compliant Supreme Court have systematically undermined the legislature, but it further heightens tensions in the crisis-hit OPEC nation.

“It is a political and legal trial against President Nicolas Maduro to see what responsibility he has in the constitutional rupture that has broken democracy, human rights, and the future of the country,” said opposition lawmaker Julio Borges during a special congressional session on Sunday.

The opposition coalition, seeking to end 17 years of socialism in the South American nation, says Thursday’s suspension of its drive for a plebiscite against Maduro shows Venezuela has abandoned democracy.

Ruling party officials have accused the opposition of fraud in their signature drive and say the coalition is seeking a coup to gain control of Venezuela’s vast crude reserves, the world’s largest.

Despite that oil wealth, Venezuela has plunged into an unprecedented economic crisis, with many people skipping meals due to shortages and soaring prices.

Many Venezuelans fear that preventing a the referendum increases chances of social unrest in the already volatile and violent country.

The opposition coalition has called for a major peaceful protest on Wednesday, dubbed “The takeover of Venezuela” to keep pushing for the plebiscite.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer

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