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Even federal judges are referencing far-right conspiracy theories to overturn our laws

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In a Friday night news dump, a California judge issued a ruling announcing that the state’s assault weapon ban, in place since 1989, was unconstitutional because reasons. It caused a stir primarily for using language that sounded conspicuously like what the National Rifle Association and American militia groups have long been spouting in their newsletters and pamphlets, and mostly for Judge Roger Benitez’s comparison of weapons designed explicitly for mass murder to a “Swiss Army Knife.” An AR-15 rifle “is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” Benitez said in his ruling. Whether he had his pants on while writing that sentence is unknown; whether he cribbed it exactly from a gun manufacturer’s ad is … probably worth exploring.

That is not, however, the only bit of bizarre editorializing in the ruling. Judge HasAHead also took it upon himself to opine that assault weapons actually are far less dangerous than … the COVID-19 vaccine. “The evidence described so far proves that the ‘harm’ of an assault rifle being used in a mass shooting is an infinitesimally rare event. More people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California.”

If I were head dictator of judgeships this one would be off the bench in five seconds flat for putting the “harm” of assault-rifle-assisted mass shootings in scare quotes, but I ain’t and he’s not. The part that’s getting more heat is that U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez appears to be flat-out lying in that second sentence, and that’s us saying it nicely.

The Washington Post fact-checks Benitez on this one, but to anyone who does not live entirely inside Tucker Carlson’s inflamed colon the problem here should be obvious. The number of people who are believed to have died from the COVID-19 vaccine is, at this time, approximately zero. There has been some very public speculation as to whether some of the vaccines might cause an extremely rare form of blood clot, one that may have killed three people in this country after millions and millions of doses, but the data is not conclusive and the clots seem to appear in the unvaccinated general population at roughly similar rates.

Meanwhile, mass shootings continue to be a regular occurrence in California, just as they are elsewhere. Even if you presume all three deaths suspected of being vaccine linked were indeed caused by a vaccine, it’s not even close.

All we can assume here is that this particular judge is referring to far-right conspiracy theories about the vaccine from the dark nether regions of the American political psyche. It’s possible we can attribute the blatant factual error to Fox News and to Tucker Carlson’s white nationalist conspiracy show, but the suggestion that lifesaving, normality-saving vaccines are killing people in greater numbers than AR-15s does feels more like something plucked more directly from the Q crowd, from frothing far-right militias, or both.

Unfortunately, there’s no particular recourse for this sort of judicial conspiracy peddling. For particularly grotesque behavior on the bench, the House and Senate can remove a federal judge via impeachment, but that is reserved for only the most egregious of cases and “is factually wrong when issuing weirdly premised opinions” isn’t it. This is why, in fact, the Republican-held Senate was so obsessive in filling as many judicial vacancies as possible with hard-right ideologues while blocking nominees from a Democratic administration: stuff the benches with hard-right conspiracy theorists, hard-right conspiracy theories become the stuff that governs us. The judge’s ruling is absolutely certain to be appealed, but the Supreme Court is itching to undo a century of laws itself and will probably not let the unending goofiness of this written opinion stop it from writing a more dignified goofy version that scrubs out the most embarrassing parts.

So far, though, there’s been no ruling from hard-right judges declaring that making fun of bad judicial opinions kills more people each year than AR-15 “freedom bringers” do, so we can at least point and shake our heads here. Maybe it’s cathartic. Maybe it’s whistling past the graveyard.


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One woman killed and three people injured as vehicle rams into protesters in Minnesota

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Police said that alcohol or drugs may have been a factor in the driver’s actions, but this must not be treated as an isolated incident: Last summer, according to USA Today, there were “at least 104 incidents of people driving vehicles into protests from May 27 through Sept. 5.” In eight of those cases, police were the drivers.

And Republican lawmakers have rushed to offer protections to drivers who injure protesters in this way. Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida have all reduced or abolished penalties for such drivers, with the Iowa and Florida laws offering civil immunity and the Oklahoma law protecting drivers from criminal penalties when they “unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual” while “fleeing from a riot” and “under a reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary to protect the motor vehicle operator from serious injury or death.” Which just means every driver who does this will claim they were fleeing under a reasonable belief that their life was at risk. 

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump likens such laws to “stand your ground” laws, writing, “A Rand Corp. study found that states with ‘stand your ground’ laws allowing residents to use firearms in self-defense were states that had more firearm homicides. Allowing people to use guns to kill in some circumstances correlated with more people using guns to kill.”

The laws letting drivers off the hook for injuring or even killing protesters came amid a wave of state-level legislation targeting protesters in other ways. In a sense it’s similar to the Republican push to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” (by which they mean “anything about racism”) from schools. Republicans are trying to criminalize any effort to change U.S. culture and society to make it less racist or less unjust. In this case, they are actively encouraging murder.


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Federal judge dismisses anti-vaxxers’ lawsuit, sides with Texas hospital

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Despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission supporting policies that employers could require “all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19,” at least 117 employees of the company attempted to sue the hospital claiming it violated state policy and made them “human guinea pigs.” 

According to the plaintiffs, federal law prohibits employees from being required to get vaccinated without full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines. While the lawsuit was filed in Texas state court, it was moved to federal court at Houston Methodist’s request. As a result, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled Saturday that federal law does not prevent employers from issuing that mandate because the law in question did not apply to private employers. 

“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Hughes wrote. “They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and staff members. The hospital has not applied to test the COVID-19 vaccines on its employees.”

He continued that the mandate was a way to make the environment safer for both employees and patients. “This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”

Hughes’ ruling addressed each and every one of the plaintiffs’ arguments including the vaccination requirement violating Texas law and a comparison to forced medical experiments in Nazi Germany. “Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” Hughes wrote. “Nazi doctors conducted medical experiments on victims that caused pain, mutilation, permanent disability, and in many cases, death.”

Ultimately Hughes concluded that the plaintiffs “misconstrued” the law and “misrepresented the facts” and “will take nothing” from the hospital. If they had an issue with the policies in place, they should seek employment elsewhere, he wrote.

Upon hearing the ruling, lead plaintiff Jennifer Bridges noted that she would continue to fight her case. “This doesn’t surprise me,” she told USA Today. “Methodist is a very large company, and they are pretty well-protected in a lot of areas. We knew this was going to be a huge fight, and we are prepared to fight it.” Bridges has also started a petition against mandatory vaccinations by employers.

In response to the ruling, attorney and conservative activist Jared Woodfill who represents her and the other 116 plaintiffs said: “We took the position that it shouldn’t be dismissed for a whole host of reasons and we believe that forcing an individual to participate in a vaccine trial is illegal.”

“This is the first battle in a long fight,” Woodfill continued. “There are going to be many battles fought. Not just in this courtroom, but in courtrooms all across the state. There are battles that are going to be fought in the higher courts, the 5th Circuit, the Texas Supreme Court, even the United States Supreme Court. So this is just one battle in a larger war. It’s the first round, if you will.”

Woodfill confirmed that they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court “if necessary.”

So despite the judge noting and clearly addressing that they had no case, the plaintiffs refuse to back down.

The employees who were suspended from their roles made up only 1% of the hospital’s total number of employees, according to Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom. Boom noted that many other hospitals are working on similar initiatives but were only waiting on this case’s verdict to take action. “We can now put this behind us and continue our focus on unparalleled safety, quality, service and innovation,” Boom said after the ruling. “Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do.”

According to CBS News, as of this report, nearly 25,000 Houston Methodist employees had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and at least two employees who worked in management chose to leave rather than receive the vaccine.


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Distress signals already emerging within GOP over sticking with Trump

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Nothing but unicorns and rainbows, folks. 

But the truth is, Trump’s toxic effect on party politics at the state and federal level is already roiling the GOP, and we’re starting see signs of that everywhere. Just over a week ago, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri reverted to a practice that Republicans developed during the Trump-era amid efforts to reach a leader who never listened to his advisers—he made an entreaty to Trump on the airwaves.

“He could be incredibly helpful in 2022 if he gets focused on 2022 and the differences in the two political parties,” Blunt said of Trump, on NBC’s Meet The Press.

And who could miss Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week telling Fox News that Trump “has his own agenda” when it comes to the midterms?

Then there’s the GOP candidates who are clearly scared out of their wits over what Trump could do to the party’s electoral hopes in 2022 given that he continues to be obsessed with relitigating his 2020 election loss, which he called “the crime of the century” just last month.

“He should have learned from what happened in Georgia,” said one GOP lawmaker, who represents a purple district but obviously didn’t want to risk Trump’s ire by going on the record. “He cost us Georgia by focusing on the election.”

The words “should have” appear to be the operative part in that sentence.

“If Trump focused on Pelosi and Biden’s policy failures, he would help us. If it’s about election fraud and sour grapes from 2020, it will hurt us,” the GOP lawmaker added. 

Again, the word “if” is telling and not particularly hopeful from a Republican lawmaker who was likely speaking more frankly based on being granted anonymity. 

The lawmaker acknowledged that Trump’s 2020 grievances animate the base, but said it’s not particularly helpful when it comes to retaking the majority—presumably in more swingy districts.  

“We may be able to still win the majority, but I think it makes the hill harder to climb.”

In other words, in the eyes of a purple-district House Republican, Trump could be more of a liability to the GOP in the midterms than a boon.

Not exactly unicorns and rainbows, folks.


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