After George Floyd’s death, a groundswell of religious activism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – George Floyd’s death has triggered a groundswell of outrage and activism by religious leaders and faith-based groups across the United States, reminiscent of what occurred during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Conservative and mainstream religious leaders are joining with Black churches, progressive Catholics and Protestants, Jewish synagogues and other faith groups in calling for police reforms and efforts to dismantle racism.

Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25. The officer has been fired and charged with second-degree murder, but protesters and activists around the world are pushing for deeper change.

“We’re seeing it at the grassroots level. We’re seeing rabbis walking alongside Muslim leaders, walking alongside Catholic priests and religious sisters,” said Johnny Zokovitch, executive director of Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic peace and justice group. “We are seeing that race cuts across all religious denominations.”

More than 1,000 rabbis, pastors, imams and other religious leaders held an online conference last week to brainstorm ways to address systemic violence against African Americans.

There is a new “breadth and depth” in the faith-based response, said one participant, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, citing a great hunger for connection after months of social distancing and lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Folks are just so angry. They’re angry about enduring racism, they’re angry about the incompetent response to COVID, they’re angry about bigotry and racism, about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and white supremacy,” he said.

Progressive religious groups had an important role in shaping the emerging movement, much as they did in the civil rights movement, but today’s actions are attracting a more diverse set of participants, Pesner said.

ELECTION ISSUE

Republican Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election with strong support from evangelical Christians and Catholics. But Floyd’s death and Trump’s criticism of protesters may be a factor when members of those religious groups go to the polls in November.

While federal tax rules prevent houses of worship from taking an overt partisan stance, clergy are not banned from expressing their personal opinions.

Trump was sharply criticized by mainstream Catholic and Episcopal leaders after protesters were forcibly cleared for a staged photo of him last week in front of Washington’s historic St. John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House.

Some right-leaning religious leaders have since called him out or joined protests, unlike in the 1960s when some white evangelical leaders, including the Rev. Billy Graham, did not take part in the civil rights movement.

Televangelist Pat Robertson chided the president last week for threatening to send in military troops if governors did not quell violent protests. “He spoke of them as being jerks. You just don’t do that, Mr. President. It isn’t cool!”

Joel Osteen, the senior pastor from Texas megachurch Lakewood, marched with protesters last week in Houston. “We need to stand against injustice and stand with our Black brothers and sisters,” said Osteen.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a Mormon, joined hundreds of Christian evangelicals at a march in Washington on Sunday, and tweeted out “Black Lives Matter.”

Some churches have also stepped up efforts to boost voter registration in recent weeks, much as churches did in the 1960s.

Data collected after Floyd’s death from the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute showed 37% of white Catholics held favorable views of Trump, down from 49% in 2019, and a drop from the 60% who voted for Trump in 2016.

POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN

Religious leaders held an online eulogy for Floyd and interfaith service on Sunday, staged a day of fasting on Monday, and observed eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence to mark the exact amount of time Floyd was held down as he pleaded: “Please, I can’t breathe.”

A June 20 online “assembly” including 16 religious denominations seeks to revive the “Poor People’s Campaign” launched after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Subtitled “A National Call for Moral Revival,” it will also focus on Floyd, organizers say.

“We are in a deep moral crisis,” said the Rev. William Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, who is one of the key organizers.

“What we have to do at this moment is not only address what happened to George Floyd, but the interlocking problems of systemic racism, police brutality, the lack of healthcare, poverty and militarism,” he said.

Najuma Smith-Pollard, a Black pastor and community activist in Los Angeles, said the protests had already triggered action that once seemed impossible – the Los Angeles mayor yanked $150 million from the police department’s budget and diverted it to programs for youth jobs, healthcare and trauma recovery.

“I don’t think it’s a blip,” she said. “Too many things are at stake and too many people are engaged. This is no longer a local matter – it’s national, it’s global.”

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Supreme Court conservatives sympathetic toward Trump census citizenship query

Advertisements for 2020 Census Jobs are posted at a restaurant in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S., February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared sympathetic toward a bid by President Donald Trump’s administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, a plan opponents have called a Republican effort to deter immigrants from taking part in the population count.

During an extended, 80-minute argument session, the court’s liberal justices voiced skepticism over the need for the question to enforce a federal voting rights law – the administration’s stated justification.

Lower courts have blocked the question, ruling that the administration violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution in seeking to include it on the census form.

The court has a 5-4 conservative majority, and conservative justices signaled support toward the administration’s stance.

Chief Justice John Roberts challenged New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, whose state sued the administration over the plan to add the question, saying citizenship is critical information for enforcing the Voting Rights Act.

A ruling is due by the end of June.

The case comes in a pair of lawsuits by a group of states and localities led by New York state, and a coalition of immigrant rights groups challenging the legality of the question. The census forms are due to be printed in the coming months.

The official population count, as determined by the census, is used to allot seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and distribute some $800 billion in federal funds.

Opponents have said inclusion of the question would cause a sizeable undercount by frightening immigrant households and Latinos from filling out the census, fearful that the information would be shared with law enforcement. This would cost Democratic-leaning areas electoral representation in Congress and federal aid, benefiting Republican-leaning parts of the country, they said.

Trump, a Republican, has pursued hardline immigration policies. His administration said the citizenship question would yield better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects eligible voters from discrimination.

The Supreme Court, with includes Trump’s conservative appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, has handed the Republican president victories on some major policies, including last year allowing his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.

Business groups and corporations such as Lyft, Inc, Box, Inc, Levi Strauss & Co and Uber Technologies Inc also opposed the citizenship question, saying it would compromise census data that they use to make decisions including where to put new locations and how to market products.

Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman on Jan. 15 ruled that the Commerce Department’s decision to add the question violated a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act. Federal judges in Maryland and California also prohibited the question’s inclusion in subsequent rulings, saying it would violate the Constitution’s mandate to enumerate the population every 10 years.

In November, when the Supreme Court allowed the trial before Furman to proceed, three of the court’s conservative justices – Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – said they would have blocked it, indicating they may be sympathetic to the administration’s legal arguments.

Furman found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department includes the Census Bureau, concealed his true motives for his March 2018 decision to add the question.

The Census Bureau itself estimated that households corresponding to 6.5 million people would not respond to the census if the citizenship question is asked, leading to less accurate citizenship data.

Citizenship has not been asked of all households since the 1950 census. It has featured since then on questionnaires sent to a smaller subset of the population. While only U.S. citizens can vote, non-citizens comprise an estimated 7 percent of the population.

 

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Reluctant U.S. Supreme Court on collision course with Trump

FILE PHOTO: The Supreme Court is seen ahead of the start of it's new term in Washington, U.S., October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s reluctance to take up new cases on volatile social issues is putting it on a collision course with President Donald Trump, whose Justice Department is trying to rush such disputes through the appeals system to get them before the nine justices as quickly as possible.

That tension could come to head in 2019 if the court continues to avoid cases that the Republican president’s lawyers are aggressively trying to bring to the justices. The court’s 5-4 conservative majority includes Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

While Trump has suffered a series of setbacks in lower federal courts since taking office last year, he has collected major victories at the Supreme Court. Most notably, the court in June upheld in a 5-4 ruling Trump’s travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries, with Gorsuch casting a pivotal vote after lower courts had blocked the policy.

But since Kavanaugh joined the bench in October after a bitter Senate confirmation fight, the court has declined to take up appeals by conservative-leaning states seeking to deny public funds to women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, while postponing action on a dispute over federal employment protections opposed by Trump’s administration for gay and transgender people.

At the same time, the administration has been seeking to leap-frog more liberal-leaning lower courts to get cases on divisive questions over immigration, transgender rights and the U.S. census before the justices more rapidly.

“The court seems to be in go-slow mode at the moment when it comes to big cases. The court appears content to focus on meat-and-potatoes cases rather than blockbuster ones,” said Kannon Shanmugam, a lawyer who regularly argues cases before the justices.

Trump has frequently railed against the lower courts, especially the liberal-leaning San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, that have ruled against him in some major cases including the travel ban.

In a setback to social and religious conservatives who strongly support Trump, the high court on Monday declined to take up appeals by Kansas and Louisiana to deny Planned Parenthood public funds under the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

Three of the court’s five conservatives voted to hear the matter, but with conservatives Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts declining to join them they fell a vote short of the required four needed to take up a case.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas accused his colleagues of ducking the case because of its controversial nature.

Last week, the court put off action in another divisive case involving whether federal employment law outlaws discrimination against gay and transgender people. There are three appeals on the issue begging attention from the court, but the justices have not yet acted.

The court also has delayed action in a case concerning Republican-drawn U.S. congressional districts in North Carolina that were struck down by a lower court that found the boundaries were drawn to ensure lopsided electoral victories for their party against rival Democrats.

FILE PHOTO: Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court including (L-R) Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito await the arrival of the casket of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, U.S., December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court including (L-R) Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito await the arrival of the casket of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, U.S., December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool/File Photo

‘BEING VERY CAREFUL’

“It does appear they are being very careful based on their actions so far. They don’t seem eager to take on avoidable, potentially controversial cases. It may be that they have a heightened sensitivity right now,” Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights advocacy group, said of the justices.

The court early next year must decide whether to hear two high-profile appeals by Trump’s administration. One involves the president’s bid to end deportation protections for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants known as “Dreamers” who were brought into the United States as children. The other involves his proposed limits on transgender people serving in the military.

Both policies were blocked by lower courts.

In an unusually aggressive strategy, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, a conservative lawyer who is Trump’s top Supreme Court advocate, sought to bypass lower appeals courts by asking the justices to take up both cases early in the appellate process.

Of the two cases, the court may be more likely to hear the immigration dispute, according to Nicole Saharsky, a former Justice Department lawyer now in private practice. The transgender case “seems like more of a reach,” Saharsky added.

Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said Trump’s lawyers are in a delicate position.

“On the one hand, if they overplay their hand on a regular basis, they risk alienating the justices. On the other hand, there are some cases … in which they have legitimate complaints. In a sense, they don’t want to cry wolf, but there are wolves out there,” Adler said.

The justices have agreed to hear an administration appeal in a case in which a group of states has challenged the Commerce Department’s decision to add a contentious citizenship question to the census to be conducted in 2020.

But in doing so, the justices sent mixed messages by refusing to block a trial on the issue in New York, as the administration requested. The case will be argued before the justices on Feb. 19.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham)

Twitter tumbles on fear of conservative backlash

A 3D printed Twitter logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration picture made in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Shares of Twitter Inc tumbled 6 percent on Thursday after reports that Fox News had not tweeted for three weeks sparked fears of a backlash by conservatives protesting a perceived liberal bias by the company.

Twenty-First Century Fox Inc’s Fox News has not tweeted to its 18.3 million followers since Nov. 8, an apparent boycott of the social network, Politico reported on Wednesday.

It stopped tweeting after activists used Twitter to post the home address of prominent news host Tucker Carlson, media news site Mediaite reported on Nov. 9. Demonstrators targeted Carlson’s home in Washington with a protest and shouted threats, he told the Washington Post.

Fox News and Twitter declined to comment.

Facebook and other social media networks are facing calls for increased regulation and criticism of their handling of user data and the role their platforms have played in a divisive U.S. political climate in recent years.

Still, analysts viewed Thursday’s stock drop as an over-reaction.

“I think the people who want to be alarmist will say this is the first step toward losing the conservatives, and that this could snowball. But at this point, I think that’s overly alarmist, and I don’t see it as a big deal. So I see this as a buying opportunity,” said FBN analyst Shebly Seyrafi, who has an “outperform” rating on Twitter’s stock.

Last month, Twitter posted quarterly results that far exceeded Wall Street’s estimates even after it purged millions of fake accounts used for disinformation and other abuses.

Conservatives in the past have complained about having their accounts unfairly closed by Twitter, and about alleged political bias in the California company’s rules.

Twitter this week reinstated the account of conservative commentator Jesse Kelly after U.S. Senator-elect Josh Hawley said that Congress should investigate the company after it closed Kelly’s account, and the account of Canadian feminist Megan Murphy.

The company said on Wednesday that it had suspended an account for impersonating Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

For Trump supporters, elections a battle for his vision of America

Supporters applaud U.S. President Donald Trump as he arrives to attend a campaign rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, Georgia, U.S., November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Maria Caspani, Julia Harte and Ned Parker

MACON, Ga. (Reuters) – For many Americans, Tuesday’s congressional midterm elections are a referendum on President Donald Trump’s divisive persona, hardline policies and pugnacious politics.

But at a Trump rally on Sunday in a crowded airport hangar in Macon, Georgia, and at other such events, the elections are a far different proposition: a vote to protect a leader supporters see as under siege, whose inflammatory rhetoric is a necessary price for a norm-shattering era of change.

“He is putting people back to work,” said Barbara Peacock, 58, a retired postal worker from Macon, Georgia, as she perused Trump 2020 merchandise. “He is telling it like it is.”

At rallies overflowing with red-hatted, mostly white supporters in conservative pockets of the country, she and many other Trump supporters credit the president with making the country – and their lives – better.

Rallying together, bedecked in Trump shirts and waving “Make America Great Again” and “Finish the Wall” signs, they hope to make Trump’s ideas the dominant force in American political life for decades to come.

They face strong headwinds. Nationally, about 52 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance. More people say they would vote for a Democratic candidate than a Republican in Tuesday’s congressional elections, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.

But pro-Trump Republicans are eager to defy expectations, just as the president did with his 2016 victory.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, pro-Trump activist Ben Hirschmann, 23, sees Tuesday’s elections as decisive for Trump’s vision of America.

“Trump’s not on the ballot, but he is on the ballot,” he said at a phone-bank event at the local Republican headquarters. “Everything we voted for in 2016 is on the line in 2018.”

Hirschmann is part of a group that organizes flash mobs at busy intersections in the Grand Rapids area, drawing 30 to 40 people about twice a week to hold campaign signs for Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James.

‘NOW WE’RE LIVING GOOD’

Trump has a clear strategy: drive Republican turnout by focusing on illegal immigration, as a caravan of migrants moves through Mexico toward the U.S. border, while playing up gains in the economy and casting his Democratic opponents as an angry, liberal and dangerous “mob.”

“The choice could not be more clear,” he told supporters at a rally in Missoula, Montana. “Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs.”

It is unclear if the strategy will work. Republicans are expected to keep control of the Senate. But Democrats are widely favored to win the 23 seats they need to assume control of the House of Representatives, where Republicans are defending dozens of seats in largely suburban districts where Trump’s popularity has languished and Democrats have performed well in presidential races.

Trump’s rallies have focused mostly on Senate and gubernatorial battles in states he won in the 2016 presidential race – from Florida and Missouri to West Virginia and Ohio. A Trump adviser, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters: “These are places where data and polling information tells us that the president is of best use.”

At a rally in Johnson City, Tennessee, in early October, Jessica Lotz, 33, and her fiance, Chad Lavery, said Trump’s immigration policies resonated with them. During the 2008 economic downturn, Lotz and Lavery said they saw construction, landscaping and house painting jobs go to illegal immigrants while they struggled financially.

As the economy rebounded, so, too, did their fortunes.

“Now we’re living good,” Lavery said, crediting their ability to find work and better wages to Trump, who inherited an economy that was already in one of the longest recoveries and gave it an additional boost with tax cuts.

‘FRUSTRATED’

After a Trump rally in September in Springfield, Missouri, pro-Trump activist Brenda Webb sat for a late dinner at a restaurant with five friends who had driven to the rally from the St. Louis suburbs.

Webb and her friends had joined protests against former President Barack Obama in St. Louis in 2009 that were part of a broader conservative“Tea Party” movement centered on calls for smaller government, lower taxes and fewer regulations.

But the energy fizzled, she said. The group became animated talking about how Trump had given new focus to those early Tea Party goals of reclaiming government for ordinary citizens, not just the “elites” in Washington.

“We feel like he’s working to resolve all the problems that we are so frustrated by,” Webb said.

At the Springfield rally, Brian Whorton, who drove a few hours to see the president, confessed he voted for Obama twice before becoming a Republican. “I was not politically aware and awake. I thought, oh he’s cool and he’s a good speaker and an African-American guy,” Whorton said.

Trump’s policies, he said, were making a difference for him: He said his factory manager had credited Trump tariffs with raising profits at his plant.

In Ohio, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mandi Merritt referred to pro-Trump enthusiasts as a “grassroots army” that could be harnessed and dispatched to boost Republican voter turnout.

On a sunny day in October, Trump supporter Kimmy Kolkovich joined a friend on the sidewalk at a busy intersection near the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus to urge people to register and vote.

“Even if I’m registering people who are going to vote for the other party, they’re seeing us out here in our hats, and that’s what’s important, all the little interactions and conversations we’re having,” Kolkovich said.

For all Reuters election coverage, click: https://www.reuters.com/politics/election2018

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in Macon, Ga., Julia Harte in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Columbus, Ohio, and Ned Parker in Springfield, Mo., and Johnson City, Tenn.; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Jason Szep, Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)

Kavanaugh heads toward final Senate vote for Supreme Court post

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh took a step on Friday toward joining the Supreme Court when the U.S. Senate approved him in a preliminary vote, despite accusations of sexual misconduct against the judge.

After a bitter partisan fight that gripped the country, lawmakers backed Kavanaugh by 51 to 49 in a procedural vote that moved the Republican-controlled Senate toward a definitive decision on whether to confirm him.

The full confirmation vote could take place as early as Saturday.

Given the result of Friday’s vote, federal appeals court judge Kavanaugh looked on track to get the lifetime job on the Supreme Court. But a change of heart by some lawmakers in the final vote would mean his confirmation could still be derailed.

Confirmation would hand Trump a clear victory and tip the balance on the court to a 5-4 majority in favor of conservatives in possible legal battles ahead over contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, and Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from the U.S. military.

The Kavanaugh fight has riveted Americans just weeks before Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats are trying to take control of Congress from the Republicans.

What was already a sharply partisan battle became an intense political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school in Maryland in 1982. Two other women also made accusations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh in the 1980s.

He denied the allegations.

Kavanaugh’s fate might still be in the hands of a few key

senators in a chamber where Republicans hold only a razor-thin majority.

One of them, Republican Susan Collins, voted in favor of advancing the process on Friday, but said she would announce later in the day whether she would support Kavanaugh in the final vote still ahead.

Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Jeff Flake voted to advance Kavanaugh, but neither has stated his position on a final vote.

Further complicating matters for the Republican leadership, Senator Steve Daines was set to be at his daughter’s wedding on Saturday and has said he will not miss the ceremony. That may require a delay in the final vote.

FLASHPOINT

Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee was broadcast live on television last Thursday and captured the attention of millions watching.

In an angry rebuttal later that day, Kavanaugh said the accusations were part of a “political hit” by Democrats.

His nomination became a flashpoint in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault. Trump mocked Ford on Tuesday during a political rally in Mississippi, further angering Democrats and women campaigning for an end to sexual violence.

Trump, himself accused by numerous women during the 2016 presidential election of sexual misconduct, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that an FBI report showed that the allegations against Kavanaugh were “totally uncorroborated.”

The FBI sent Congress documents detailing additional interviews about Kavanaugh that the agency conducted at the request of some Republican and Democratic senators.

While the documents have not been made public, Republicans said they did not back up sexual assault allegations by Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California.

Similarly, Republicans said the FBI found nobody to support assault claims by Deborah Ramirez, who was a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University in the 1980s.

Democrats called the FBI report a whitewash and said the White House placed constraints on the FBI, which did not speak to many potential witnesses.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Morgan, Ginger Gibson, David Alexander, Lisa Lambert and Kevin Drawbaugh; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Abortion looms over Senate fight on Supreme Court nominee

FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh pictured at his office in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – When a U.S. appeals court last week rejected an Alabama abortion law, one of the court’s judges bemoaned having to base the decision on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, calling it an “aberration of constitutional law.”

The views of 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Ed Carnes, a Republican appointee to the Atlanta-based court, are shared by many conservatives opposed to the landmark 1973 ruling.

The big question is whether conservative U.S. appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, is one of them.

The possibility he could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade will be a top line of questioning when Kavanaugh appears before a U.S. Senate panel for his confirmation hearing, starting on Tuesday.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last month found that 68 percent of Democrats believed abortion should be legal, while 61 percent of Republicans said the procedure, in general, should be illegal.  The issue has come to highlight the deep divide between the two parties.

Yet, some on both sides question whether Roe v. Wade could easily be overturned, given the Supreme Court’s tradition of standing by its older decisions. Under a principle known as stare decisis, the court tries to protect its credibility by avoiding politicization and keeping the law evenhanded.

During an Aug. 21 meeting, Kavanaugh told Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who favors abortion rights, that Roe v. Wade was “settled law,” she said afterward.

The court is currently split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals. Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh would replace if he is confirmed by the Senate, disappointed fellow conservatives by affirming abortion rights in two key cases.

Still, precedents can be cast aside. For instance, just two months ago, the conservative majority, including Kennedy, overturned a major 1977 labor law precedent. The ruling came after two earlier rulings that undermined it.

“Rarely if ever has the court overruled a decision – let alone one of this import – with so little regard for the usual principles of stare decisis,” liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communication at the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, poses on a residential street where local activists from her organization were canvassing in favor of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., August 29, 2018. Picture taken August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mana Rabiee

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communication at the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, poses on a residential street where local activists from her organization were canvassing in favor of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., August 29, 2018. Picture taken August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mana Rabiee

ROAD MAP FOR ROE

The stakes are high in the Senate battle over Kavanaugh because, if confirmed, he could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade.

Doing that would likely prompt many conservative-leaning states to take steps to outlaw abortion altogether.

In the run-up to the Kavanaugh hearings, abortion rights groups have held rallies nationwide, while opponents of Roe v. Wade are optimistic that Kavanaugh will be on their side.

“I hope that there will be a future majority to overturn Roe, and I hope Kavanaugh would be among them,” Clarke Forsythe, a lawyer with anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, said in an interview.

Abortion opponents could use the recent labor case decision as a road map to overturning Roe by taking up a series of abortion cases that would also criticize Roe’s validity.

“Five years of decisions questioning (Roe) – that could change things,” said John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Most analysts expect a steady weakening of Roe as opposed to a quick reversal. “They probably won’t do it instantly, but they will probably get there eventually,” said Carolyn Shapiro, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Trump pledged during the 2016 election campaign to appoint judges hostile to Roe v. Wade, a stance that won over social conservatives who helped him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The president’s fellow Republicans narrowly control the Senate and can ensure Kavanaugh’s confirmation if they avoid defections from their ranks.

NO DIRECT RULING

When Trump named him in July as his Supreme Court nominee, Kavanaugh emphasized his Catholic faith. In a decade as a judge, he has not ruled directly on abortion, although he has signaled sympathy for legal arguments by anti-abortion advocates.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the Supreme Court could soon wade back into the abortion debate. Legal battles over state bans on the procedure in early pregnancy are working through the courts.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which manages abortion clinics in several states, said she had spent her whole career working with the fate of Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance.

Her clinic won the last major Supreme Court ruling on abortion in 2016, when the justices struck down strict regulations in Texas.

“This time I think Roe could fall,” she said. “But you have to stand up for what’s right even when the odds are against you.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

Majority of Americans think social media platforms censor political views: Pew survey

FILE PHOTO: A young couple look at their phone as they sit on a hillside after sun set in El Paso, Texas, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK (Reuters) – About seven out of ten Americans think social media platforms intentionally censor political viewpoints, the Pew Research Center found in a study released on Thursday.

The study comes amid an ongoing debate over the power of digital technology companies and the way they do business. Social media companies in particular, including Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, have recently come under scrutiny for failing to promptly tackle the problem of fake news as more Americans consume news on their platforms.

In the study of 4,594 U.S. adults, conducted between May 29 and June 11, roughly 72 percent of the respondents believed that social media platforms actively censored political views those companies found objectionable.

The perception that technology companies were politically biased and suppressed political speech was especially widespread among Republicans, the study showed.

About 85 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the survey thought it was likely for social media sites to intentionally censor political viewpoints, with 54 percent saying it was “very” likely.

Sixty-four percent of Republicans also thought major technology companies as a whole supported the views of liberals over conservatives.

A majority of the respondents, or 51 percent, said technology companies should be regulated more than they are now, while only 9 percent said they should be regulated less.

(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Republicans’ push to roll back Obamacare faces crucial test

President Donald Trump (C) gathers with Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican healthcare plan, May 4, 2017.

By Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A seven-year Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare faces a major test this week in the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers will decide whether to move forward and vote on a bill whose details and prospects are uncertain.

The Senate will decide as early as Tuesday whether to begin debating a healthcare bill. But it remained unclear over the weekend which version of the bill the senators would ultimately vote on.

President Donald Trump, after initially suggesting last week that he was fine with letting Obamacare collapse, has urged Republican senators to hash out a deal.

“Republicans have a last chance to do the right thing on Repeal & Replace after years of talking & campaigning on it,” Trump tweeted on Monday.

Republicans view former President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health law, known as Obamacare, as a government intrusion in the healthcare market. They face pressure to make good on campaign promises to dismantle it.

But the party is divided between moderates, concerned that the Senate bill would eliminate insurance for millions of low-income Americans, and conservatives who want to see even deeper cuts to Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The House in May passed its healthcare bill. Senate Republicans have considered two versions but have been unable to reach consensus after estimates showed they could lead to as many as 22 million fewer Americans being insured. A plan to repeal Obamacare without replacing it also ran aground.

If the Senate approves a motion to begin debating a healthcare bill, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will determine which proposal has the most Republican support and move forward to a vote, Republicans said.

Republicans hold 52 of 100 Senate seats. McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes as Democrats are united in opposition.

Senator John Barrasso, a member of the Republican leadership, acknowledged on Sunday that there remained a lack of consensus among Republicans.

“Lots of members have different ideas on how it should be best amended to replace what is really a failing Obama healthcare plan,” Barrasso said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The Republican effort has also been complicated by the absence of Senator John McCain, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer and is in his home state of Arizona weighing treatment options.

 

(Reporting By Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Caren Bohan and Nick Zieminski)

 

May Day rallies across U.S. to target Trump immigration policy

U.S. President Donald Trump appears on stage at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Labor unions and immigrant advocacy groups will lead May Day rallies in cities across the United States on Monday, with organizers expecting larger-than-usual turnouts to protest the immigration policies of President Donald Trump.

The demonstrations could be the largest by immigrants since Trump’s inauguration on January 20, activists say, and some immigrant-run businesses plan to shut down for some or all of the day to protest the administration’s crackdown on immigrants living in the country illegally.

“To me, it’s offensive the policies this president is trying to implement,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president of the Service Employees International Union’s 32BJ affiliate, which represents cleaners and other property service workers in 11 states.

“It’s a nation of immigrants, and separating immigrant families because of their immigration status, it goes against what we love about this wonderful country.”

May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, has typically been a quieter affair in the United States than in Europe, where it is a public holiday in many countries.

In New York City, immigrant-run convenience stores and taxi services in upper Manhattan will close during the morning rush hour between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., in a protest reminiscent of those staged on “A Day Without Immigrants.”

At lunchtime, fast-food workers will join elected officials at a rally outside a McDonald’s restaurant in midtown Manhattan, calling for more predictable work schedules.

In the early evening, organizers expect thousands of demonstrators to gather at a rally in Manhattan’s Foley Square for musical performances and speeches by union leaders and immigrants living in the country illegally.

In Los Angeles, organizers expect tens of thousands of people to gather in the morning at MacArthur Park before marching downtown to a rally before City Hall.

Heightened precautions were also in place in Seattle, where officials were on the lookout for incendiary devices and gun-carrying protesters after a January shooting outside a political event and an incident during May Day 2016 when a protester threw an unlit Molotov cocktail at police.

Some Trump supporters said they would also turn out on May Day. Activist Joey Gibson said he and other conservatives will travel to Seattle to defend against what he described as communist and anti-fascist groups who have in the past faced off with police in the evening, after the conclusion of the usually peaceful daytime marches.

“We’re going to go down there to help build courage for other people, especially conservatives,” Gibson said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Frank McGurty and Mary Milliken)