Defiant U.S. sheriffs push gun sanctuaries, imitating liberals on immigration

A view of the Cibola County Sheriff's Department sign in Grants, New Mexico, U.S., February 28, 2019. Picture taken February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – A rapidly growing number of counties in at least four states are declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, refusing to enforce gun-control laws that they consider to be infringements on the U.S. constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Organizers of the pro-gun sanctuaries admit they took the idea from liberals who have created immigration sanctuaries across the United States where local officials defy the Trump administration’s efforts to enforce tougher immigration laws.

Now local conservatives are rebelling against majority Democratic rule in the states. Elected sheriffs and county commissioners say they might allow some people deemed to be threats under “red flag” laws to keep their firearms. In states where the legal age for gun ownership is raised to 21, authorities in some jurisdictions could refuse to confiscate guns from 18- to 20-year-olds.

Democrats took control of state governments or widened leads in legislative chambers last November, then followed through on promises to enact gun control in response to an epidemic of mass shootings in public spaces, religious sites and schools.

Resistance to those laws is complicating Democratic efforts to enact gun control in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Illinois, even though the party holds the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature in all four states.

The sanctuary movement is exposing the rift between rural and urban America as much as the one between the Republican and Democratic parties, as small, conservative counties push back against statewide edicts passed by big-city politicians.

“If they want to have their own laws, that’s fine. Don’t shove them on us down here,” said Dave Campbell, a member of the board of Effingham County, Illinois, about 215 miles (350 km) south of Chicago.

Backers of the sanctuary movement say they want to take it nationwide. Leaders in all four states where it has taken hold have formed a loose alliance, sometimes sharing strategies or texts of resolutions. They also say they are talking with like-minded activists in California, New York, Iowa and Idaho.

As it grows, the rebellion is setting up a potential clash between state and local officials.

In Washington, nearly 60 percent of the voters in November approved Initiative 1639, which raises the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle to 21, enhances background checks and increases the waiting period to buy such guns to 10 days.

The law is due to take effect in July, but sheriffs in more than half of Washington’s 39 counties have pledged not to enforce it, pro-gun activists say, and five counties have passed resolutions to the same effect.

Governor Jay Inslee has firmly backed I-1639 and Attorney General Bob Ferguson has advised sheriffs “they could be held liable” if they allow a dangerous person to acquire a firearm later used to do harm.

Sheriff Bob Songer of Klickitat County, population 22,000, called Ferguson’s warning a “bluff” and said he would not enforce I-1639 because he considered it unconstitutional.

“Unfortunately for the governor and the attorney general, they’re not my boss. My only boss is the people that elected me to office,” Songer said.

GAINING MOMENTUM

Support for Second Amendment sanctuaries has gained momentum in recent weeks, especially among county boards in New Mexico and Illinois.

Sixty-three counties or municipalities in Illinois have passed some form of a firearms sanctuary resolution and more are likely to, Campbell said.

Twenty-five of New Mexico’s 33 counties have passed resolutions to support sheriffs who refuse to enforce any firearms laws that they consider unconstitutional, according to the New Mexico Sheriffs Association. In some cases hundreds of pro-gun activists have packed county commissioner meetings.

Grants Mayor Martin Hicks speaks during the county commission meeting in Grants, New Mexico, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

Grants Mayor Martin Hicks speaks during the county commission meeting in Grants, New Mexico, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

In Oregon, voters in eight counties approved Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances last November that allow sheriffs to determine which state gun laws to enforce.

Organizers in Oregon plan to put even more defiant “sanctuary ordinance” measures on county ballots in 2020 that will direct their officials to resist state gun laws.

Such sanctuary resolutions could face legal challenges but backers say they have yet to face a lawsuit, in part because the Washington initiative has yet to take effect and the Illinois and New Mexico legislation has yet to pass.

The chief counsel for a leading U.S. gun-control group questioned the legality of the sanctuary movement, saying state legislatures make laws and courts interpret them, not sheriffs.

“It should not be up to individual sheriffs or police officers deciding which laws they personally like,” said Jonathan Lowy of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “This attitude shows a disrespect for the way our system of government is supposed to operate.”

In New Mexico, the legislature is moving forward with a slate of gun-control bills. One would enhance background checks and another would create a red-flag law keeping guns out of the hands of people deemed dangerous by a judge.

The New Mexico Sheriffs Association is leading the resistance, saying the red-flag law would violate due process rights and was unnecessary given current statutes.

Tony Mace, sheriff of Cibola County and chairman of the statewide group, said the background check law would impose regulations on hunting buddies or competitive shooters every time they share guns, and he refuses to spend resources investigating such cases.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham accused the rebellious sheriffs of falsely promoting the idea that “someone is coming for their firearms,” saying none of the proposed laws infringe on Second Amendment rights.”It’s an exhausting charade,” Lujan Grisham said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Grant McCool)

Centrist Democrats stray on votes, roiling House majority party

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Freshman Democrats determined to walk a centrist path in the U.S. House of Representatives are testing party harmony between moderates and liberals, just as work on major issues including gun control and healthcare policy is getting underway.

Democrats took control of the House from President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in Jan

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-PA) poses for a picture before his interview for Reuters on Capitol Hill, February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-PA) poses for a picture before his interview for Reuters on Capitol Hill, February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

uary thanks in part to party moderates who won seats formerly held by Republicans in November’s midterm elections.

But these centrists already have upset some Democratic elders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the party’s liberal wing by voting on occasion with the Republicans during their first couple of months in office. Republicans are in the minority in the House, but control the Senate.

Tensions flared this week after House Republicans managed to successfully amend a gun control bill with votes from 26 Democrats. Many of the Democrats who broke with the party line on Wednesday represent swing districts that had voted for Trump in 2016.

“How did Nancy Pelosi let this happen?” Justice Democrats, a liberal political action committee that helped elect new Democratic star Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York in November, asked on Twitter after the vote.

The episode highlights the political tightrope being walked by several dozen freshman who helped to clinch the House majority for Democrats in November by expanding into Republican territory. There currently are 235 Democrats, 197 Republicans and three vacancies in the 435-seat House.

The centrists have not gotten as much attention as Ocasio-Cortez during their first months in office, and their differing positions from the party’s liberals on policies such as government-run healthcare have at times put them at odds.

They also already have Republicans on their backs for the next election in 2020. Many of the 55 seats Republicans plan to target next year are held by freshman Democratic lawmakers who captured a previously Republican-held seat last year or prevailed in districts Trump won in 2016.

Representative Joe Cunningham, 36, did both when he won a South Carolina district in November that had not elected a Democrat to the House since before he was born. Cunningham defeated Republican rival Katie Arrington by less than 2 percentage points in a district Trump won by 13 percentage points in 2016.

On Wednesday, Cunningham was among the Democrats who supported the Republican amendment calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency criticized by liberals like Ocasio-Cortez, to be notified when an illegal immigrant in caught trying to buy a gun.

Cunningham, a gun owner, said the next day he saw the amendment as minor. He added that it should not detract from the fact that the House had passed a gun control measure for the first time in two decades, calling for universal background checks on gun purchases.

In an interview on Tuesday, Cunningham was unapologetic for sometimes siding with Republicans. He has done it around a dozen times since January, mostly on procedural votes.

“I will be an independent check and not toe the party line whenever I disagree,” Cunningham told Reuters. “I’m not going to let the national party or the national message drive my message at home.”

Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, another Democratic freshman, said, “I just do what I think is right,” after straying from his party’s line on a previous Democratic proposal banning funding for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall. Van Drew also supported the Republican gun amendment.

‘JUST VOTE NO’

The House Democratic leadership was divided this week on members breaking with the party line. Pelosi told reporters on Thursday she did not approve, even on procedural votes.

“Just vote no, because the fact is, a vote yes is to give leverage to the other side,” Pelosi said.

Other Democratic leaders took a more relaxed view.

“It’s OK to vote your district,” said Representative James Clyburn, a member of the House Democratic leadership who, like Cunningham, represents a South Carolina district.

“We have a very diverse caucus,” Clyburn added. “I wish people would not compare us to the Republicans, where everybody looks alike. We’ve got varied backgrounds and experiences that we have to take into account.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director, Corbin Trent, said the congresswoman believes Democrats who have broken with the party on such votes “are putting themselves on a list for Republicans, to divide the party.”

At a closed-door party meeting on Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez, who describes herself as a “democratic socialist,” said Democrats who voted for the Republican gun amendment had put her in a difficult spot because the measure endangered some in her community, Trent said.

Despite the ongoing debate, the party has said it will work hard to defend Democrats in swing districts.

Representative Cheri Bustos, who chairs the committee that works to elect Democrats to the House, has announced a list of 44 lawmakers including Cunningham in the party’s “frontline” program that helps the most vulnerable Democrats with fundraising and campaign guidance. The list includes 41 first-term House members.

“We want to make sure that our members come back,” Bustos, a fourth-term congresswoman who represents an Illinois district won by Trump in 2016, said in an interview. “We want them to be successful, and they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to be successful.”

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Will Dunham)

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)

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)

More anti-Trump rallies planned in U.S. cities

Day Without Immigrants protest

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A second consecutive day of protests against U.S. President Donald Trump’s month-old administration will unfold on Friday in cities across the country, with activists urging Americans to skip work and school in a show of dissent.

Strike4Democracy, one of the groups organizing what it calls the #F17 General Strike, said more than 100 public protests were expected. About 16,000 people responded to a Facebook page for a march at New York’s Washington Square Park on Friday.

“This is how we stop Trump and the entire corrupt political establishment before they destroy us and the planet we call home,” the F17 Facebook page said.

Protests also were planned in large and small cities across the country, including Chicago, New Orleans and Mason City, Iowa.

Strike4Democracy urged Americans to stay away from work if possible and take part in a community service. It suggested people refrain from making purchases and instead donate their lunch money to a worthy cause and contact congressional representatives about the strike.

Michelle Rodino-Colocino, an organizer for Strike4Democracy, told NBC News that after the idea of a “general strike” was floated online, it took off on its own, with dozens of organizers working independently to stage events.

The Strike4Democracy website said the protest was aimed at halting “the authoritarian assault on our fundamental, constitutional rights” and the victimization of women, Muslims, immigrants and others.

The planned actions follow the Day Without Immigrants nationwide protest on Thursday against Trump’s immigration policies. Businesses shut their doors, students skipped class and thousands of demonstrators gathered to highlight the importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy.

Trump, who took office last month, has signed an executive order temporarily banning entry to the United States by travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees. Federal appeals court judges have temporarily blocked the travel ban.

Since his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump has faced a steady stream of protests and marches, highlighted by a series of mass rallies that drew hundreds of thousands of people on the day after he was sworn in.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott)

Trump threatens U.C. Berkeley after protests stop far-right speech

A worker surveys the damage to a vandalized Starbucks after a student protest turned violent at UC Berkeley during a demonstration over right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, who was forced to cancel his talk, in Berkeley, California.

By David Ingram

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to cut funding to the University of California at Berkeley after protesters smashed windows and set fires at the liberal-leaning school, forcing the cancellation of an appearance by a far-right Breitbart News editor.

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” Trump wrote on Twitter at 6:13 a.m. EST (1113 GMT). He did not elaborate.

Representatives for the university, which has 38,000 students and a long history of activism, could not immediately be reached for comment outside of the school’s business hours.

Like other major U.S. research universities, Berkeley depends on federal agencies for scientific grants and other support. It was not immediately clear, however, what action Trump could take without authorization from Congress, or without risking legal action.

Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, previously headed Breitbart News.

Hours before Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos was to give a speech at Berkeley’s student union on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters clashed with police at the campus.

Demonstrators tossed metal barricades and rocks through the building’s windows and set a generator on fire near the entrance, footage from news outlets showed. Police ordered the crowds to disperse, and the school was put on lockdown.

“We shut down the event,” one protester told CNN. “It was great. Mission accomplished.”

In a statement, the university blamed about 150 “masked agitators” for the violence during the otherwise mostly peaceful demonstration by about 1,500 people.

The school “is proud of its history and legacy as home of the free speech movement” in the 1960s, the statement said.

Many of the protesters voiced opposition to Trump, CNN reported. The president’s executive orders and proposed policies, including his suspension of the U.S. refugee program and temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, have triggered largely peaceful demonstrations by tens of thousands of people across the United States.

Yiannopoulos, whose Twitter account was suspended last year after he was accused of participating in the online harassment of a black actor, told Fox News he was rushed to safety by his security guards and police after protesters began throwing rocks.

“Obviously it’s a liberal campus so they hate any libertarians or conservatives who dare to express an opinion on their campuses,” he said. “They particularly don’t like me.”

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Von Ahn)