- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 6

U.S. Supreme Court decision opens door to simple fairness in marriage

We’d still prefer a clear affirmative ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional across the country, but Monday’s decision is still a historic moment in affirming the rights of all Americans to enjoy the benefits of marriage.

The court Monday rejected without comment appeals from five states, including Wisconsin, of lower federal court rulings that had struck down those states’ bans against same-sex marriage. That means gay marriage is legal again in Wisconsin, and perhaps as many as 30 other states, and the marriages performed earlier this year will stand. It also means the state will cease its stand in favor of discrimination.

“Today’s action by the U.S. Supreme Court allows (same-sex unions) to take effect,” said Dana Brueck, a spokeswoman for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who had fought to uphold the state’s constitutional ban on such marriages. “The department, having made every effort to fulfill its duty to defend the state constitution, will now work with its state agency clients to implement the order.”

And Gov. Scott Walker had this to say about the issue: “For us, it’s over in Wisconsin.”

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, hailed the decision in an email to the Journal Sentinel. The ACLU brought the case on behalf of eight same-sex couples in the state.

“Wow. I think I’ll be attending some weddings of some very, very happy couples soon,” Dupuis said.

The state’s position was untenable and discriminatory, just as bans against interracial marriage were half a century ago. Yes, a majority of Wisconsin voters approved the constitutional ban in 2006, but this was not in the end a question of majority rule, although it should be noted that popular opinion has made a dramatic swing in favor of same-sex marriage in the intervening years. And that swing may have had some influence on the court rulings.

In the end, this was a simple matter of fairness. Federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner wrote in his 40-page decision that “a degree of arbitrariness is inherent in government regulation, but when there is no justification for government’s treating a traditionally discriminated against group significantly worse than the dominant group in the society, doing so denies equal protection of the laws.”

He also noted that the legal argument presented to support the bans was so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.

By rejecting Wisconsin’s appeal of Posner’s decision, it appears that the U.S. Supreme Court agrees.

“I’m blown away by this,” James Esseks, a lawyer who heads the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal efforts concerning gay marriage, told The Washington Post. “It is a watershed moment for the entire country.”

The move surprised more people than Esseks. Even though no appeals court had ruled that state prohibitions were constitutional - and such disagreements between federal circuit courts usually are precursors to Supreme Court review - most thought the court would not let such a significant change happen without their input, The Post reported.

But Esseks argued to The Post that Monday’s action indicates that it doesn’t matter whether an appeals court now rules that state prohibitions are constitutional.

“If that happened, the court will clearly take the case and decide the issue,” Esseks said. “But (Monday’s decision) is more than a hint about what the court will do.”

The issue may not be completely resolved. Theoretically, the court still could accept another appeal and rule against same-sex marriage. But that would only create confusion, as University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias noted.

“The Supreme Court does not want to look stupid or foolish. So why would they do that?” Tobias asked. “My sense is this is resolved. They know where they want to go.”

And where they apparently want to go is in the direction of fairness and equality for all Americans.

___

Green Bay Press Gazette, Oct. 8

Loaded comments drown out legitimate debate

We have a suggestion for politicians and those involved in politics: Save your overkill, your bluster, your vitriol and your faux-righteous indignation, and stick to the facts.

We have examples from both sides of the aisle:

. Last month, Democratic National Committee Chair and Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said Gov. Scott Walker’s record on issues relating to women was like domestic abuse, saying he has “given women the back of his hand.”

. Last week, Eric O’Keefe, director of the conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth, said the reactions of several homeowners whose houses were raided as part of the John Doe investigation into Walker’s 2012 recall campaign were “similar to a rape victim.”

Both Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke and Walker’s campaign office backed away from the respective comments while the other side went into attack mode.

The point is, the statements were made. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. It’s kind of like those courtroom dramas when someone on the stand says something outrageous and the judge admonishes the jury to disregard that outburst. Can they really disregard it? Isn’t the damage done?

You have to wonder whether this isn’t the strategy. Say something outlandish, then backtrack and apologize while the person you support distances him- or herself from you.

Mark Glantz, assistant professor of communications and media studies at St. Norbert College, says “surrogate” speakers can often do the dirty work for candidates they support without fear of backlash. In the Wasserman-Schultz case, “It’s OK if her credibility is destroyed with Wisconsin voters because her name is not on the ballot.”

That leaves the candidate in an awkward position of not wanting to perpetuate the same position but not wanting to alienate the surrogate speaker and those who like the speaker.

“What they’re really trying to do is to motivate people and reinforce already existing beliefs,” Glantz said.

The lasting impression, though, is the crass statement. That’s why, sadly, this won’t be the end of such utterances.

We hope that politicians and officials who stoop to this level wouldn’t use such devastating actions as metaphors.

Domestic abuse and rape are both horrible crimes that are not remotely like the events with which they were compared. In fact, it does a great injustice to be so trivial and hyperbolic about these crimes and, in turn, their victims. It adds nothing to the conversation and detracts from the message because afterward all we focus on is the inappropriate comment and not the case each person was trying to make.

Does anyone remember Wasserman-Schultz’s criticism of Walker’s policies outside of the “back of the hand” remarks? Does anyone remember O’Keefe’s criticism of the early morning raids outside of the “rape” comment?

Probably not, and that’s too bad because legitimate criticism and conversation about issues are what we need. We don’t need any more hyperbolic, over-the-top bluster and rhetoric.

If this is a political ploy, it’s cheap and sick, and it turns off voters.

We hope campaigns can stay above such a low standard.

___

The Journal Times of Racine, Oct. 6

Time for Congress to act against inversion

In August in this space, we criticized the practice of inversion, which is American companies finding a way to avoid paying taxes as their American customers are legally obligated to do. We gave some faint praise to Walgreen Co. for changing its mind about its plans to acquire a Swiss company and move its headquarters to Switzerland, thus avoiding payment of U.S. corporate taxes.

On Sept. 22, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew outlined steps that the Treasury Department will take to discourage corporations from moving their tax addresses overseas to avoid paying taxes.

Corporations will no longer enjoy the benefits of “creative loans,” or “hopscotch loans,” where a company repatriates capital back to the U.S. from its foreign branch without paying U.S. taxes, U.S News reported.

The new rules would also make inversions more difficult by strengthening the current requirement that foreign shareholders own at least 20 percent of the merged firm’s stock. The new stipulations will do away with “skinnying down,” or the practice of reducing a company’s size before inverting by offering dividends to meet the 80 percent threshold.

But Lew’s powers as a Cabinet secretary are limited under the law, so he also called on Congress to pass legislation to close the inversion loophole. We agree that the time has come for just that.

Democrats in Congress took action earlier this year to stem that tide of lost tax revenue. On May 20, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., introduced a bill to close a loophole that makes inversions legal. Democratic U.S. senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sent a letter to President Obama on Aug. 5 urging him to take action on the issue.

We urge Congress to give these bills serious consideration. We also think a revision of U.S. tax code could go a long way toward making inversion less attractive to American companies. For example, Canada’s corporate tax rate is between 11 percent and 15 percent, and Ireland’s is about 12.5 percent. Both countries have been targets for U.S. companies seeking inversion. America’s rate is 35 percent. It is a relic of 1993, the year it was signed into law; at the time, it was on par with other nations, Fortune magazine reports. In the ensuing 21 years, it has clearly become easier elsewhere to make par.

Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the 35 percent rate into law in 1993, recently called for the corporate rate to come down. He told CNBC’s Becky Quick that the Treasury Department is doing what it is legally obligated to do, which is collect what money is due under American law. The real problem needs to be solved on the floor of Congress, and it demands a bipartisan solution, he said.

“We’re bailing water out of a leaky boat,” Clinton said. “This is practical economics and practical politics.”

Until the corporate tax rate is brought down, Congress must provide either incentive for American companies to stay or disincentive for them to leave. Closing the inversion loophole is one of the best starting points for this work.

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