Posts Tagged ‘supreme court’

Suit asks Supreme Court to review campaign finance exemptions for unions

December 10, 2018

A lawsuit is asking the Supreme Court to overturn a Massachusetts rule that prohibits companies from campaign contributions while exempting unions from similar restrictions.

The pro-free market Goldwater Institute and Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance petitioned the high court to review the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s unanimous ruling approving campaign finance restrictions placed on for-profit businesses. The state court ruled in 1A Auto, Inc. and 126 Self Storage, Inc. v. Sullivan that the law did not infringe on the First Amendment rights of employers by preventing them from making contributions directly or indirectly on behalf of state or local candidates. While acknowledging that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a federal ban on independent expenditures inn Citizens United, the Massachusetts justices said it did not overturn the 2003 Beaumont decision affirming limits on corporate contributions.

Image result for U.s. currency, photos, on a pallet

“The Court reaffirmed the key distinction between contributions and independent expenditures, emphasizing that contributions present a special risk of quid pro quo corruption because, unlike independent expenditures, they are coordinated with candidates,” the September ruling says. “Experience confirms that, if corporate contributions were allowed, there would be a serious threat of quid pro quo corruption.”

The plaintiffs urge the Supreme Court to overturn the state court’s decision in light of Citizens United and other federal court rulings since 2003. The filing says the nation’s highest court needs to clarify the First Amendment protections granted to for-profit entities and overturn the Beaumont decision. The Massachusetts ban on corporate contributions directly to candidates, as well as the ban on third party spending through political action committees, violates the same free speech and association rights as the prohibition of independent expenditures in the Citizens United case, according to the suit.

“The Court has spoken clearly on these principles, lower courts nonetheless lack clarity on how they should analyze challenges to certain types of campaign-finance restrictions that the Court’s recent decisions have not directly addressed,” the petition says. “Although this Court has condemned laws that favor some political speakers over others, the lower courts still give discriminatory contribution limits minimal scrutiny for lack of specific guidance from this Court.”

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance—the agency that is party to the suit—declined to comment on the petition, instead directing the Washington Free Beacon to a November newsletter on the suit from Director Michael Sullivan. Sullivan defended the law saying corporate contribution regulations have been in place for more than a century and that unions also face regulations since they are capped at contributions of $15,000 or 10 percent of their General Funds, whichever is less.

“The state’s ban on direct corporation contributions to candidates dates to 1907,” Sullivan said in the newsletter.

The plaintiffs argue that the rules need to be updated to reflect the equal rights of labor organizations and employers. Massachusetts regulators solidified the union exemption in 1986, rather than 1907. The state judgment’s focus on quid pro quo for for-profit enterprises ignored the fact that unions may have similar financial conflicts of interest, according to Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Diego Craney.

“This past September’s ruling was a missed opportunity for advocates of campaign finance reform,” he said in a statement. “Employers and unions are two sides of the same coin, and they should be treated as such. It’s a fundamental issue of fairness, and the time to bring equity to the situation is now.”

Jacob Huebert, a senior attorney at the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, said the Supreme Court needs to weigh in on the case to create equal standards for all political actors. Employers may be able to express their political support for federal candidates, but they are stifled when it comes to electing their neighbors. The rules give labor groups an advantage in seeing their advocates assume office and advance their policies.

“Massachusetts and other states have used campaign-finance rules to tilt the political playing field to favor some groups and ideas over others. And, unfortunately, courts have mostly let them get away with it,” Huebert said in a release. “We’re asking the Supreme Court to take this case to end this unfairness and make sure states respect everyone’s equal right to participate in politics.”

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, which defended the campaign finance law before the state court, did not respond to request for comment.


A Supreme Court Gamble

December 6, 2018

A potential landmark case on state and federal double jeopardy.

For 170 years U.S. courts have let federal and state governments prosecute the same criminal offense under the principle of dual sovereignty. On Thursday the Supreme Court will consider in Gamble v. U.S. whether this doctrine violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection against double jeopardy. There are strong legal arguments on both sides, but the implications of jettisoning longtime precedent counsel judicial restraint.

In 2015 Terance Gamble was arrested for possessing two bags of marijuana and a loaded handgun. A federal grand jury indicted Gamble, who had a record of violent crime, for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Alabama separately charged him with a firearm and two drug offenses.

By pleading guilty in Alabama, Gamble was able to get two state charges dropped and his sentence reduced. He then moved to dismiss the federal indictment, which he says violated the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition that “any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”

By The Editorial Board
The Wall Street Journal
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A federal court dismissed his petition based on dual sovereignty. The Supreme Court ruled three times during the pre-Civil War years that state and federal crimes are not “the same offense.” In Lanza (1922) a unanimous Court again held that “an act denounced as a crime by both national and state sovereignties is an offense against the peace and dignity of both and may be punished by each.”

The Court further explained in Heath v. Alabama (1985) that “an offence, in its legal signification, means the transgression of a law. Consequently, when the same act transgresses the laws of two sovereigns, it cannot be truly averred that the offender has been twice punished for the same offence.”

Gamble argues that the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy is deeply rooted in English common law, which allowed individuals acquitted by foreign courts to raise their acquittals as a defense in British courts. But the Constitution didn’t incorporate English common law wholesale, and the Declaration of Independence even denounced the King for protecting armed British troops from colonial punishment by holding a “mock Trial.”

Under Gamble’s theory, the Fifth Amendment could also preclude the U.S. from prosecuting a crime that has already been charged by a foreign government. But if this were so, foreign governments could override U.S. sovereignty. Vladimir Putin could protect Russian hackers from U.S. prosecution by charging and acquitting them.

Gamble’s strongest argument is that letting federal prosecutions override state decisions undermines federalism. In this case, though Gamble’s state sentence was reduced to 12 months, he received 46 months for his federal crimes.

But states rightly argue that dual sovereignty also lets them tailor prosecutorial decisions when they have different interests than the feds. Some states with high violent crime may choose to enforce gun laws more strictly than the federal government does. If the feds drop charges, states can still vindicate their police powers.

Allowing a state to pre-empt a federal prosecution, or vice versa, would also trigger a race to the courthouse. Federal and state prosecutors would rush to file charges first, and defendants would have an incentive to plead guilty to whatever carries a lighter punishment.

Civil-rights groups supporting Gamble say the U.S. penal code has grown too vast. They have a point, and individuals charged by both state and federal governments face lengthy prison terms. Yet dual sovereignty also allowed the feds to prosecute Ku Klux Klan members acquitted by state juries during Jim Crow.

Excessive prison sentences are best addressed by states and Congress. Judges already enjoy substantial discretion to suspend sentences for successive prosecutions. In Gamble’s case, the federal judge ordered his 46-month sentence to run concurrently with his state sentence so he faced no more time in prison from the dual prosecutions.

The Justice Department has a policy of not prosecuting crimes that have already been charged by a state except when the state case has “left [a] substantial federal interest demonstrably unvindicated.” Thirty-five states also limit prosecutions for crimes adjudicated by another sovereign.

Congress could codify Justice’s policy, and states could shield defendants from successive prosecutions. But vitiating dual sovereignty by judicial fiat would reshape America’s legal system in ways that are best left to the political branches.

Appeared in the December 6, 2018, print edition.

Poland’s fight with Brussels backfires

November 27, 2018

Image result for Jaroslaw Kaczynski,photos

Warsaw has pulled back from plans to reshape the supreme court after pressure from the EU

By James Shotter in Warsaw 3 HOURS AGO Print this page6

As Poland was rushing to complete a controversial overhaul of its judiciary earlier this year, Jaroslaw Gowin, the deputy prime minister, issued the EU a blunt challenge. If the bloc’s top court tried to thwart Poland’s changes, he warned, it would be “the first step towards the auto-destruction of the EU”.

In the end it was the Polish government that blinked. Following an order from the European Court of Justice, deputies from the ruling Law and Justice party, headed by conservative ideologue Jaroslaw Kaczynski, last week pushed through a bill allowing two dozen supreme court judges to return to work after they had been forced into early retirement this year.

Even by the topsy-turvy standards of Polish politics, it was a remarkable turn of events.

Rushed through the lower house of parliament in just a day, the bill undid one of the most high-profile elements of a judicial reform that sparked protests in Poland, and concern in Brussels that Poland is drifting away from its democratic moorings. Once signed into law, the reversal will give the EU, which is fighting a rearguard action against creeping illiberalism from Budapest to Bucharest, a rare, if partial, success in its battle to enforce its fundamental values.

“It’s a very symbolic climbdown,” says Michal Szuldrzynski, a political commentator at Rzeczpospolita, one of Poland’s main newspapers. “Law and Justice invested an enormous amount of its political credibility in this reform. For a year and a half, they were fighting, struggling, doing everything to succeed in the reform of the supreme court.

Kaczynski has said many times that it is the last bastion of former communists in Poland. And now they have decided to back down.” The plans to shake up the Polish judiciary have become one of the set-piece battles of modern European politics.

They bring to a head two very politically different visions, pitting Law and Justice’s view that electoral victory gives it a mandate for a radical re-shaping of the Polish state against Brussels’s faith in the separation of powers. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in Warsaw.

They have both been highly critical of the EU In an era of growing political populism, the EU has often found itself under pressure — whether dealing with Viktor Orban’s Hungary, Italy’s new government or the challenge from Brexit.

But Law and Justice’s partial climbdown shows that, despite the bloc’s troubles, the European idea still has the capacity to shape political debate within its member states.

The roots of the supreme court reversal lie in Poland’s political cycle. Although Law and Justice remains comfortably the most popular party, with elections looming next year, the country’s pro-EU opposition has begun to gain traction with an argument that mobilises many Poles: the idea that Law and Justice could lead the central European country — long seen as one of the great success stories of the EU’s 2004 eastern expansion — out of the bloc.

According to Donald Tusk, Poland’s former prime minister and Mr Kaczynski’s political nemesis, one of the lessons of Brexit is that countries can leave partly by accident.

“For me it doesn’t matter whether Jaroslaw Kaczynski is planning an exit from the EU, or only initiates certain processes that result in this. I have experience with [UK] prime minister [David] Cameron,” he said earlier this month. “He came up with the idea of a referendum and then did everything to keep Britain in the EU, but [in the end] he led [the UK] out.”

The bitter feud between Brussels and Warsaw over Law and Justice‘s judicial reform plays into this narrative. The ruling party insists that its changes are necessary to overhaul an inefficient and dysfunctional system that has not been sufficiently purged since Poland returned to democracy.

A Law and Justice election rally in Krakow in October. The party did well in the countryside but badly in the cities in the local elections But officials in Brussels deem them a calculated assault on judicial independence, and the European Commission has launched an array of initiatives to stop them.

One was the so-called Article 7 procedure, a political process that can lead to a member state being stripped of its voting rights if it is found to breach the bloc’s core values. It has also challenged Poland’s reforms at the European Court of Justice. Law and Justice officials dismiss the idea that they want to take Poland out of the bloc as nonsense.

“It’s a lie, a lie, and again a lie,” Mr Kaczynski said last month. More than 70 per cent of Poles support EU membership. For many Poles, joining the bloc was, along with Nato accession, a key step towards anchoring the country in the west after four decades behind the Iron Curtain.

But as the fight between Warsaw and Brussels has intensified, so have the barbs directed at the EU by senior Polish officials. Mr Gowin said Warsaw would ignore adverse ECJ rulings on its judicial reform. President Andrzej Duda branded the bloc “an imaginary community” from which Poland gains little.

Last month, Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister, asked Poland’s constitutional tribunal to rule whether EU law was superior to Polish law. Each time, the opposition pounced, accusing Law and Justice of inching the country towards “Polexit”. “How the EU fight plays out in Polish public opinion really depends on how it’s framed.

If it is framed as Poland standing up for its interests in the EU — particularly on something like enforced migration quotas where Poles are uncomfortable with what the EU is doing — then that is a winner for Law and Justice,” says Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics at the UK’s University of Sussex.

“But if it is framed in terms of whether Poland is a member of the EU or not, or if there is a direct threat to the material benefits that Poland gets from the EU, that’s the moment at which it becomes politically very dangerous for them.” Local elections last month bore this out. Law and Justice won overall, and made gains in the countryside.

But it was trounced in Poland’s big cities, and even some smaller towns, as centrist voters worried by the stand-off with Brussels turned out in huge numbers for the opposition. Government officials say Mr Ziobro’s decision to question the supremacy of European over Polish law just days before the vote was particularly unhelpful.

“If it hadn’t been for [this], the result would not just have been better for Law and Justice, it would have been worse for the opposition. This really mobilised their voters,” says one official. With both European elections — traditionally a difficult battleground for Law and Justice — and Polish parliamentary polls due next year, party officials are keen to kill the Polexit narrative before it can damage their hopes of a second term.

“The conflict over the judiciary is not helpful, but if you put it in the context of Polexit, then it’s a problem, and it was a problem in the local elections. We understand that,” says one senior Law and Justice official. The incentive for the government to defuse the fight with the EU has been heightened by the eruption of a scandal over alleged bribery at Poland’s financial regulator, which has left Law and Justice fighting on yet another front, says Daniel Tilles, assistant professor at the Pedagogical University in Krakow.

“This scandal has the potential to [damage] Law and Justice’s image, perhaps even more than the fight with the EU, because it could undermine their image of cleaning up corruption at Polish institutions.” Whether Law and Justice’s U-turn on the supreme court is enough to deprive the opposition of its Polexit line of attack depends on how the European Commission reacts.

Its vice-president, Valdis Dombrovskis described the volte-face as a “positive opening”. But EU officials say that while the move is a more substantial concession that anything Law and Justice has offered so far, it is not, on its own, enough to end the stand-off. Although the fight over the supreme court has become the most high-profile part of the feud between Warsaw and Brussels, Law and Justice’s judicial changes are far broader.

The government has passed laws giving politicians sweeping powers over Poland’s lower courts, the constitutional tribunal, and also the National Judicial Council, the body that appoints judges. EU officials say this means the decision to let supreme court judges return will merely postpone the politicisation of Poland’s top court.

“It’s a foregone conclusion that the composition of the supreme court will be very much in line with the government, because they can appoint judges and so with time they will dominate the supreme court,” says one European official. “It’s not a solution to the whole problem.”

Law and Justice officials say abandoning the shake-up of the judiciary is not an option. But though some hardliners oppose further compromises, others think progress should be possible. “The [promise to reform the judiciary] was one reason we won in 2015. It cannot be completely withdrawn . . . It is very important for Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It’s one of the main things he wanted to be in power to do,” says the senior Law and Justice official. “[But] time is on our side . . . We can be very pragmatic on this. We have many possible scenarios.”

How the battle plays out will be closely watched across the EU, with concerns over breaches of the rule of law multiplying. In September, the European Parliament voted to launch an Article 7 procedure against Hungary over its crackdown on civil society. This month, the commission accused Romania of undermining the fight against corruption through a series of changes to its legal system.

In its stand-off with Poland, the European Commission’s initial weapon of choice was the Article 7 procedure.

But as the fight has dragged on, it has become clear that this approach has reached stalemate. Imposing sanctions on Poland would require unanimity among other member states, and Hungary, Warsaw’s close ally, has insisted it would use its veto.

Some observers say that the fact that the EU has now managed to extract concessions from Poland by using the ECJ could prompt officials to re-use this approach in future. Recommended Global Insight Miles Johnson Italy’s populists learn virtue of patience in EU budget row “For sure it’s a new opening.

The EU, which could have been perceived as weak, now seems stronger. This could be a turning point in the whole rule of law crisis,” says Marcin Matczak, a lawyer and professor at the University of Warsaw, who has been a vocal opponent of Law and Justice’s reforms.

“We are now thinking about putting some pressure on the European Commission to start another infringement procedure concerning the National Judicial Council [the body which appoints Polish judges] . . . because we think this will be much more effective.” Others are more sceptical. “I think the commission has realised that Article 7 isn’t very useful as an instrument of pressure, and that the Court of Justice is probably more activist than many of us thought,” says Agata Gostynska-Jakubowska, from the Centre for European Reform in Brussels.

“But the jury is still out on whether the commission will now be keener to use the ECJ to address democratic backsliding in other member states.” For the moment, however, after a year during which it seemed that Law and Justice would not make any substantial amendments to its judicial changes, opponents of the Polish reforms see a glimmer of light. “We still have a chance. We are still in a process,” says Mr Matczak.

“It’s not the end of the crisis. We can still win.”


EU funds have transformed Poland

Despite the political tensions between Warsaw and Brussels, the EU remains overwhelmingly popular among Poles.

A survey published by the newspaper Rzeczpospolita on Monday found that 84 per cent of Poles wanted their country to stay in the union, while only 8 per cent wanted to leave.

After a 20th century during which the country endured war, destruction, and subjugation, for many Poles accession to the EU offered both security, and the chance of a better quality of life. EU membership has allowed Poles to travel, live and work around the continent, and EU funds — Poland received more than €100bn in the bloc’s last budget period — have helped transform the country’s infrastructure.

A statue of King Sigismund in Warsaw is dressed up with a T-shirt with the slogan Constitution

“The countryside started to change after we joined the EU. I’ll even say that it just became colourful,” says Hanna Reszeter, from Jezierzyce, a small farming village in north-west Poland. “There was greyness here before — the buildings, everything. But when we joined the EU, I don’t know, maybe it was that there were more materials, maybe it was the access to [the EU], more started going on.” Some aspects of the EU — such as the bloc’s attempts to share around the task of accommodating migrants — have little support in Poland.

But Jacek Kucharczyk, head of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Polish think-tank, says that such concerns are not enough to dent overall support for the EU. “There is a sense of belonging to a community to which we want to belong, even though many people have doubts about aspects of the community. It’s still way more attractive than the world we see outside the EU,” he says. “Basically people see EU membership as a success . . . It is largely a continuation of this feeling that joining the EU is a fulfilment of Poland’s desire to be part of the west.”

Additional reporting by Evon Huber

Trump fires off tweet criticizing Chief Justice John Roberts

November 22, 2018

President Trump took time off from his long holiday weekend on Wednesday to slam Chief Justice John Roberts, who earlier in the day had rebuked the president for his attacks on the federal judiciary.

“Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country. It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an ‘independent judiciary,” the commander-in-chief tweeted from Mar-a-Lago after a round of golf with the legendary Jack Nicklaus.

“[B]ut if it is why are so many opposing view (on Border and Safety) cases filed there, and why are a vast number of those cases overturned. Please study the numbers, they are shocking. We need protection and security – these rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!”

Roberts had earlier criticized the president for his scathing criticism of the federal judiciary — praising the longstanding American tradition of judicial independence.

Roberts specifically pushed back against the president’s description of a judge who ruled against his new hardline migrant asylum policy as an “Obama judge.”

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them,” Roberts said in a statement. “That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

It’s the first time that the leader of the federal judiciary has offered even a hint of criticism of Trump, who has repeatedly blasted federal judges who ruled against him.

Federal Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order this week saying Congress has clearly allowed immigrants to apply for asylum regardless of how they entered the country.

Trump wanted to limit asylum seekers to authorized entry points.

“This was an Obama judge, and I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore,” a furious Trump said about Tigar’s ruling on the migrant caravan.

The Justice Department on Tuesday said it was “absurd” that Tigar allowed civil rights groups “to stop the entire federal government from acting so that illegal aliens can receive a government benefit to which they are not entitled.”

Trump also ripped a California-based appeals court, which has consistently overturned his policies.

“It’s a disgrace what happens in the 9th Circuit,” he said.

“We get beaten, and then we end up having to go to the Supreme Court. Like the travel ban that we won. The 9th Circuit, we are going to have to look at that.”


Pakistan Must Not Surrender to Mob Rule

November 17, 2018

AN inflammatory video filmed just after the Aasia Bibi verdict has received well over five million views. Therein you can watch the TLP leadership calling for the murder of the three Supreme Court judges who dismissed blasphemy charges against Aasia; hear that officers of the Pakistan Army should revolt against COAS Gen Qamar Bajwa; see the country’s prime minister being called a “yehudi bacha” (‘Jewish child’); and listen to the call for overthrowing the PTI government.

The orator is Pir Afzal Qadri, but next to him is the founder-leader of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Husain Rizvi. Famed for his foul mouth and colourful Punjabi expletives, Rizvi does not speak here but periodically raises both hands in enthusiastic endorsement. Once an unknown small-time madressah operator, he rocketed into national prominence last November after paralysing Islamabad for three weeks. He draws his strength from heading khatm-i-nabuwat demonstrations across Pakistan.

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Image result for Khadim Hussain Rizvi, photos,

The founder-leader of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Husain Rizvi

Had a call for murder and mutiny been made by any other members of Pakistani society, unimaginable punishment would have been meted out. Similarly for other countries: in the United States instigators of bloody insurrection would be locked up for years; in Iran or Saudi Arabia they would be hanged or beheaded; and in China they would mysteriously disappear. And in India? Similar, I suppose.

A similar open call for murder and mutiny by other Pakistanis would meet extreme punishment.

But we in Pakistan are apparently nicer, kinder people. Our normally voluble, judiciary suddenly lost its voice. Unlike with errant politicians, the Supreme Court did not dock TLP leaders for contempt of court. The ever-vigilant ISPR also somehow missed hearing the call for mutiny against the army’s top leadership. Instead, it pleaded for “an amicable and peaceful resolution” of the Asia Bibi matter because it “does not want the army dragged into the matter”.

And the prime minister? Against the ‘enemies of the state’ his fighting words and body style initially drew wide approbation. Some liberals bravely termed this Imran’s finest hour. But the hour lasted an hour and no more; what started with a roar ended with a whimper. The TLP’s flaccid half-apology was accepted, ignoring the lives lost and property damaged by the rioters.

Imran Khan now wants to fight fire with fire. His current talking points are fulfilling ‘Allama Iqbal’s dream’, and remaking Pakistan as the seventh-century state of Medina. His information minister has just announced unprecedented celebrations of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday next week, and a grand khatm-i-nabuwat conference in Islamabad. Invitees will include the imam of the Holy Ka’aba, the mufti of Syria, and various high clerics.

With these new battle plans, Imran hopes to take the wind out of the TLP’s sails by showing its followers and others that he loves the Holy Prophet even more than them. But will it work in the Aasia Bibi case? And will it also work once the next crisis starts (assuming the present one somehow ends)?

As mullah power rises, one cannot be too optimistic. Clerics now believe they can take on any politician or, if need be, generals as well. There is good reason for their confidence. After all was said and done, in 2007 Islamabad’s destroyed Lal Masjid — now grandly reconstructed — defeated the generals.

Consider that the insurrectionists lost about 150 students and other fighters, but head cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz lives more comfortably in 2018 than in 2007. No charges were ever levied against Aziz or others for killing 11 SSG commandos. Meanwhile, Gen Musharraf, the then army chief, glumly passes his days in Dubai. Among other charges, he is accused of quelling an armed insurrection against Pakistan and killing one of Lal Masjid’s ring leaders.

The state’s reluctance to confront clerical power makes its earlier promises ring hollow. Take, for instance, madressah reform. Forgotten is the anti-terrorism National Action Plan that called for financial audits of madressahs, uncovering funding sources, curriculum expansion and revision, and monitoring of activities. That’s a dead duck. Try auditing TLP-associated madressahs.

The security establishment must now ask itself hard questions: has its mainstreaming of religious extremism gone too far? Can extremists actually be moderated by bringing them into the political fold? On the political chessboard, was it a good move to try balance ‘hard’ Deobandi power with ‘soft’ Barelvi power?

Blowbacks do happen: whereas a year ago Imran Khan had cautiously welcomed Rizvi into the anti-Nawaz Sharif camp, others who wanted Nawaz defeated went a step further. They allowed themselves to be recorded on video while handing out Rs1,000 notes to the rioters. Politically, this is very embarrassing because Rizvi and his wild eyed boys have gone their own way.

Certainly, the TLP turned out to be a bad investment. Contrarily, there appears to be a good investment. The largely Deobandi LeT/JuD was encouraged to launch its own political party, the Milli Muslim League (MML). In August 2017, its debut in national politics via the Lahore NA-120 by-elections gained it the fourth position, a surprising show of strength for a new party. MML election posters denounced Nawaz Sharif as a traitor for seeking peace with India and carried aloft pictures of Hafiz Saeed.

Another apparent plus: LeT/JuD has threatened neither army nor government. Its spokesman explained away its low profile during last week’s violent protests saying that JuD has appealed against the Supreme Court decision to free Asia Bibi and would await the conclusion of the legal process before taking to the streets. What a relief!

Some parts of the establishment might see this good behaviour as vindicating its mainstreaming doctrine. But injecting religious leaders and ex-militants into the political mix is a bad idea. When large masses of people react unthinkingly to emotive slogans, everyone is endangered by an explosive, unstable configuration. Ultimately political leaders — and those who secretly engineer political outcomes — also become unsafe. Have we not suffered enough tragic blowback since Soviet times? Pakistan must firmly reject the rule of religiously charged mobs. Instead it should aspire towards becoming part of civilised, cosmopolitan world society. Surrender is not an option.

The writer teaches physics in Islamabad and Lahore

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2018

Donald Trump Sends Offensive Tweets and Talks Too Much — But When Democrats Gave Up On Civility They Hurt Their Own Cause — Rage Is Never the Answer

November 6, 2018

Prior to the 2016 election, critics raised a genuine question that fueled much of the Right’s concern about Donald Trump: With zero political experience and a capricious nature, would Trump’s whims and most unhampered flaws threaten the civic norms that make our republic function?

Between his goading that he would pay the legal fees of his supporters if they “knock the crap” out of political dissidents and his flagrant hatred of the political press, Trump gave legitimate cause for concern that he would abuse his executive power to the worst possible excesses. But for the most part, he didn’t.

Trump has said other terrible things in his presidency, most egregiously his remarks after the fatal violence in Charlottesville, Va., and at the Helsinki podium with Russian President Vladamir Putin. He certainly hasn’t become more reserved in his visceral castigation of the press, and his Twitter feed has remained a political minefield for Republicans.

By Tiana Lowe
The Washington Examiner

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But Trump hasn’t destroyed the republic. His Department of Justice hasn’t surveilled or threatened any journalists as Obama Attorney General Eric Holder did to Fox News correspondent James Rosen. Even though he’s mused about more inflammatory policies, such as barring transgender Americans from the military or ending birthright citizenship, on Twitter or in interviews, the so-called “adults in the room,” notably his national security apparatus, have done a pretty fantastic job. We were supposed to suffer horrible defeats in the Middle East or enter nuclear war with China. Instead we’re defeating Islamic State, killing bad Russians, and maintaining a significant, albeit fragile, peace with North Korea.

Democrats, meanwhile, decided to become the image they painted of Trump. They responded to a rude and brash president with calls to mob political adversaries in restaurants. Just weeks ago, Holder, widely considered a potential Democratic presidential nominee, declared, “When they go low, we kick ’em.” Pre-emptively covering for a weaker blue wave than expected by publicly contemplating bringing back court-packing, abolishing the Electoral College, delegitimizing the Supreme Court, or even ignoring court rulings completely doesn’t help their case that Trump is a uniquely undemocratic president.

Just today, founder Ezra Klein attempted to redefine significant aspects of our voting system, writing on Twitter, “I don’t think people are ready for the crisis that will follow if the Democrats win the House popular vote but not the majority.” The House popular vote is not a thing. You have to win your local district, not the nation’s largest, left-wing cities.

I happen to recall article after article fearmongering that Trump would refuse to accept the results of the election, but it was ultimately Hillary Clinton who refused to publicly concede the night he won and Democratic celebrities calling for faithless electors to vote for Clinton. Even as Trump embellishes the problem of voter fraud, it’s the Democrats who are pre-emptively looking for concrete reasons to delegitimize the results of the midterm elections if they don’t go their way.

Trump routinely says things beneath the office of the presidency, and I have major gripes with significant portions of his agenda. But the people threatening the civility and function of our basic democratic and social processes aren’t in the White House; they’re in the “Resistance.”


Trump’s Republican Populism — Much of his record is easily lost amid the Trumpian tweets and excesses

November 6, 2018

Why he succeeds where Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura failed.

Image result for photo, President Trump with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan at the White House, Sept. 5. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM
President Trump with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan at the White House, Sept. 5. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Long before he was president, Donald Trump was a celebrity, a walking, talking jumble of political incorrectness who rode his billionaire populism all the way to the Oval Office.

But a funny thing happened to Mr. Trump once he became president. At some point he understood that if he was not to fizzle out like so many populists before him—think pro wrestler turned governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura in Minnesota or Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger in California—he would need to tether his populism to the Republican policy agenda. And, mostly, he has.

This record is easily lost amid the Trumpian tweets and excesses. Even so, it remains a record most Republicans cheer: a major overhaul of the tax system that has brought the economy roaring back to life, two stellar jurists seated on the Supreme Court and a record number of nominees confirmed for the district and appellate courts, a thoroughgoing regulatory overhaul courtesy of what had been the largely unused Congressional Review Act, not to mention a long overdue defense buildup.

These are precisely the kind of victories that losing even one chamber of Congress would render next to impossible going forward. Judging from the president’s many rallies—and his new bromances with old opponents—he knows it too.

Take Ted Cruz, a rival in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. During the primaries Mr. Trump routinely referred to the Texas senator as “Lyin’ Ted.” At one point, he embraced a National Enquirer report claiming Mr. Cruz’s father had associated with JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald not long before the shooting.

As president, Mr. Trump now appreciates that in a tight Senate he can’t afford to have a Democrat take Mr. Cruz’s seat. That’s why the president was in Houston last week holding a monster rally for the senator he now calls “Beautiful Ted.”

It could have turned out much differently. After the Senate failed to repeal ObamaCare in 2017, finger pointing was the order of the day, with Mr. Trump complaining about Mitch McConnell’s Senate leadership. No one on the GOP side was getting anywhere—until the Senate changed the focus by pushing through something that did pass, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Likewise in the House. Mr. Trump can boast about “so much winning.” But without the considerable legislation Speaker Paul Ryan and his Republican caucus have sent to the president’s desk for his signature, the winning words would remain hollow.

Give the president his due as well. Yes, he’s stocked his White House with gadflies (Steve Bannon), troublemakers (Omarosa Manigault), loudmouths (Anthony Scaramucci), and appointees with Pat Buchanan-like hostility to free trade (Robert Lighthizer). But he’s also filled key Trump administration posts with strong conservatives who would have been equally at home in a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio White House (Larry Kudlow at the National Economic Council, Don McGahn as White House counsel, John Bolton at the National Security Council).

Mr. Trump has likewise known where to look for advice. In 2016, Sen. Cruz challenged him on Supreme Court picks, saying Mr. Trump was likely to chose a nominee like his sister Maryanne Trump Barry, a Clinton appointee to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals whom Mr. Cruz described as a “hard-core pro-abortion liberal judge.” Mr. Trump responded by having Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society come up with what conservatives regard as a dream team list of jurists from which Mr. Trump said he would choose. Again, he has.

In other words, for all the talk about how Mr. Trump’s populism is changing the Republican Party, his most significant achievements have come when he’s hitched his populism to traditional conservative priorities and then worked with his fellow Republicans to make good on his promises.

That’s why the stakes are high Tuesday. Losing the House may not be the end of the world for the president—Mr. Trump may even regard a Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a gift in the run-up to 2020—but it would almost surely mean an end to the big legislative achievements like those we’ve seen these past two years.

Losing the Senate would be even worse. Democrats are still smarting from Mr. McConnell’s decision two years ago not to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, during a presidential election year. If Democrats get control, they will use it to thwart many of Mr. Trump’s nominees, whether for the federal courts or his own cabinet. And if a Democratic House manages to impeach the president, Mr. Trump will want as large a GOP majority as possible in the Senate.

For all the bumps and bruises, the Trump-Republican collaboration has yielded large achievements for the American people. But if these midterms take their normal historical course, the GOP will lose one or both chambers of Congress. And that in turn would test how effective Mr. Trump’s populism can be without his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill driving the agenda.

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Pakistan blasphemy protests to end after deal struck — Protesters hold out hope for a public hanging

November 3, 2018

Hardline Islamists have been baying for blood after the Supreme Court overturned a woman’s blasphemy conviction. Thousands of protesters had shut down major transport throughout the country.

Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious political party, chant slogans during a protest on the blocked Faizabad bridge

Pakistan’s hard-line Islamists called off nation-crippling protests on Friday after striking a deal with the government on the legal future of a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy.

Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party (TLP) had held three days of sit-ins and demonstrations after the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned mother-of-five Asia Bibi’s blasphemy conviction, ending her eight years on death row.

Read more: Islamists block roads in Pakistan over Asia Bibi blasphemy case

What is the deal?

Government ministers and TLP officials confirmed to news outlets they had struck a deal, under which:

  • protests will end
  • arrested protesters will be released without charge
  • the government will not block a review of the ruling
  • Bibi will be banned from leaving the country

‘Not unexpected’

Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Mulook, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the outcry by Islamists was “unfortunate but not unexpected.” He however criticized the government’s inability to stem the violence and disorder, calling the official response “painful.”

Mulook has left Pakistan for Europe, saying it was impossible for him to live in the country at present, citing threats to his life.

“I need to stay alive as I still have to fight the legal battle for Asia Bibi,” he said.

Why are Islamists angry?

Blasphemy is a serious offense in the Islamic Republic. Bibi was originally sentenced to death for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad when a Muslim neighbor objected to her drinking from their glassware as she was not a Muslim.

The Supreme Court overturning her conviction was seen as a capitulation to foreign pressure and an affront to Islamic sensibilities.

Read more: Opinion: Bibi verdict avoids Pakistan’s blasphemy problem

What do they want?

Protesters want the case reviewed — an often  yearslong process — and her eventual public hanging. Despite the lengthy process however, the court rarely reverses its own rulings.

aw/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)


Pakistan Govt finally found a solution to end violent protests by extremists — give in to their demands

November 3, 2018
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious political party, chant slogans during a protest on the blocked Faizabad bridge
Yet another govt has capitulated to violent religious extremists who neither believe in democracy, nor the Constitution. — Photo/File

AFTER three days of protests, destruction of property, closure of roads and highways and massive disruptions to the daily life of citizens, the government appears to have found a solution: agree to the protesters’ demands.

Seemingly already consigned to the dustbin of history is Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech on Wednesday; yet another government has capitulated to violent religious extremists who neither believe in democracy, nor the Constitution.

Updated November 03, 2018

Take a look: Khan’s finest hour

Perhaps the PTI government will argue that an agreement negotiated with the protest leaders does not make illegal concessions and the government has only pledged to let the law — and the appeals process — take its course.

But the law had already taken its course and an innocent woman was to be set free after a hellish, near-decade-long ordeal. It is the protesters against whom the law now needed to take its course.

Yet, the woman expressly declared innocent by the highest court in the land is to be kept in legal limbo, while the protest leaders have had to issue a half-hearted, one-line apology seemingly added as an afterthought to the agreement reportedly signed last night.

Perhaps Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government decided that, despite Mr Khan’s nationally televised address this week, a hands-off approach that allowed the protesters to vent their rage would allow the country to return to a semblance of normality quicker than a confrontational approach and potentially bloody clashes between the protesters and law enforcement. And perhaps the murder, possibly assassination, of Samiul Haq last evening caused some in the government to panic and recommend a swift end to the original protests before JUI-S supporters possibly took to the streets.

But what is already apparent is that the first-time governments of the PTI at the centre and in Punjab are struggling to coordinate, decide policy and implement decisions.

The days ahead will reveal whether the dysfunction and uncertainty at the heart of government are carrying the country deeper into the morass of extremist violence. Other institutions will also have to look at their own conduct in recent days.

Image result for God man protests, photos, pakistan

Despite the shocking and unacceptable allegations made by the protest leaders against the military leadership and blatant calls for mutiny in the armed forces, the institution remained, at least publicly, on the sidelines.

Yesterday, when the DG ISPR at last addressed the ominous security situation in the country, he spoke in relatively soft words and urged the protesters to follow a lawful course.

Meanwhile, and in stark contrast to recent times, the superior judiciary appears to have decided that it would speak only through written judgements and took no suo motu action against those who called for the execution of superior court justices.

Image result for God man protests, photos, pakistan

Protest responding to alleged torture and sexual abuse of two Christian youths by investigating officials

Pakistan, it would seem, was a country with no real leadership while chaos and anarchy spread in the streets once again. The repercussions could quickly manifest themselves in the days ahead.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2018

See also:

Uproar in Pakistan over ‘torture and sexual abuse’ of Christian youths


(Before they capitulated)

Image Credit: AFP
A Pakistani supporter of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a hardline religious party, holds an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi during a protest rally


Pakistan’s hardline Islamists called off nation-crippling protests on Friday after striking a deal with the government on the legal future of a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy.

Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party (TLP) had held three days of sit-ins and demonstrations after the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned mother-of-five Asia Bibi’s blasphemy conviction, ending her eight years on death row.

Read more: Islamists block roads in Pakistan over Asia Bibi blasphemy case

What is the deal?

Government ministers and TLP officials confirmed to news outlets they had struck a deal, under which:

  • Protests will end.
  • Arrested protesters will be released without charge.
  • The government will not block a review of the ruling.
  • Bibi will be banned from leaving the country.

Why are Islamists angry?

Blasphemy is a serious offense in the Islamic Republic. Bibi was originally sentenced to death for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad when a Muslim neighbor objected to her drinking from their glassware as she was not a Muslim.

The Supreme Court overturning her conviction was seen as a capitulation to foreign pressure and an affront to Islamic sensibilities.

Read more: Opinion: Bibi verdict avoids Pakistan’s blasphemy problem

What do they want?

Protesters want the case reviewed, an often-years-long process, and her eventual public hanging. Despite the lengthy process however, the court rarely reverses its own rulings.

aw/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Pakistan: These 7 points explain the Supreme Court’s decision to free Asia Bibi

November 1, 2018

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued its much-anticipated judgement in the ‘Asia Bibi v. The State, etc‘ case, reversing earlier judgments handed down by the Lahore High Court as well as a trial court and thereby overturning the conviction of Asia Bibi in the blasphemy case against her.

The three-judge bench subsequently ordered the 50-something mother-of-four’s immediate release from jail, where she had been languishing for 9-odd years.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, has been on death row since 2010. — File
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, has been on death row since 2010. — File

The Supreme Court’s judgement — a seismic event in the country’s history, judicial or otherwise — heavily references Islamic teachings and tradition, but ultimately relies on an assessment of facts and evidence to support the overturning of the earlier conviction.

Below are a few of the key points shared in the judgment.

1. Over 25 witnesses but only two accusations

What the SC judgement said:

“There were 25-30 ladies present at the spot when the appellant allegedly passed blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Hum), however, none of the other ladies except Mafia Bibi (Prosecution Witness 2) and Asma Bibi (Prosecution Witness 3) reported the matter to anyone… At this stage, it is to be noted that the said ladies did not appear before the Court to support the prosecution case.”

2. First Information Report (FIR) registered suspiciously late

What the SC judgement said:

“There is no denial of the fact that the FIR was registered with a delay of 5 days… it is to be noted that in absence of any plausible explanation, this Court has always considered the delay in lodging of FIR to be fatal [to the case] and castes a suspicion on the prosecution story, extending the benefit of doubt to the accused… Furthermore, FIR lodged after conducting an inquiry loses its evidentiary value.”

“Another important aspect of the matter is that the complainant (PW-1) in his statement admitted that the application for registration of FIR was drafted by an Advocate; however, he could not mention his name. This also cast doubt on the truthfulness of the story narrated in the FIR.”

3. Witnesses in the case gave contradictory statements

The contradictions in the witnesses’ statements as noted by the Court are listed below:

Mafia Bibi (PW.2)

  • She stated during cross examination that there were “more than 1,000” present in the public gathering where Asia Bibi had allegedly ‘confessed’ to committing blasphemy. However, she never mentioned this fact in her initial statement.
  • She stated during cross examination that this public gathering took place at her house. However, this was again never mentioned in her initial statement.
  • She stated during cross examination that “many Ulema” were present at the public gathering. However, she never mentioned this in her initial statement.

Asma Bibi (PW.3)

  • During cross examination, she stated that the public gathering took place in the house of her neighbour, Rana Razzaq. However, she did not mention this in her initial statement. Also notice that her own had sister testified that the gathering took place in their own house.
  • She said during cross examination that “more than 2,000” people were present in the public gathering. She never mentioned this in her initial statement. Also notice that her own sister had testified that 1,000 people were present at the gathering

Muhammad Afzal (PW.4)

  • During his examination in chief, he said that he was present in his own house when Mafia and Asma, along with Qari Muhammad Salam (PW.1 and the complainant in the case) and Mukhtar Ahmad came to inform him of the incident. He never mentioned this in his initial statement.
  • He said in his examination that the public gathering took place at the house of Mukhtar Ahmed, which he did not mention in his initial statement. Also notice that he contradicted both Asma and Mafia regarding where the public gathering was held.

Qari Muhammad Salaam (PW.1, complainant)

  • He first said that Mafia, Asma and a third witness had informed him as well as other people of the village about Asia’s alleged blasphemy. However, he later said they had only informed him, Muhammad Afzal and Muhammad Mukhtar, who were present at the occasion.Notice that this contradicts Muhammad Afzal’s statement, who said he was in his house when Mafia, Asma, Salam and Mukhtar came to inform him of the incident.
  • After not mentioning anything in his initial statement, he said during his cross examination that the public gathering in which Asia had ‘confessed’ was held at Mukhtar Ahmed’s house. This contradicts the statements given by the two female witnesses who had different versions of where the gathering was held.

“These material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses are tantamount to cast further doubts on the coherence of the evidence.”

4. Complainant unsure about date of crime

What the SC judgement said:

“A further conflict also prevails between the other PWs and the complainant. Other PWs stated that the matter was brought to the notice of complainant on the same day i.e. 14.6.2009; however, the complainant during his cross-examination stated that he was informed of the occurrence on 16.6.2009.”

5. Glaring discrepancies regarding FIR and arrest

What the SC judgement said:

“At the bottom of the FIR, the place of registration of the FIR has been mentioned that the FIR was registered by Mehdi Hassan, SI [Sub Inspector] at “bridge canal Chandar Cot” and the time of registration is given as ‘5:45 pm’… Conversely, the complainant (PW.1) in his statement has mentioned that the FIR was registered by delivering the application to the SHO concerned. However, Muhammad Rizwan, SI (PW.5) stated that the complainant presented before him the complaint upon which he formally registered the FIR.”

“With regard to the arrest of the accused, further contradictions exist in the statement of Muhammad Arshad, SI (PW.7); inasmuch as, he [Arshad] stated in his examination-in-chief that the accused was arrested by him with the help of two lady constables, presented to the Judicial Magistrate and sent to judicial lockup… It was then stated in the cross-examination that the accused was arrested by him on 19.6.2009 from her house situated at Village Ittanwali at about 4/5pm; however, at a subsequent point of time it was stated by him that he reached the Village Ittanwali at about 7 p.m. and remained there for one hour.”

6. Lying about not fighting with Asia Bibi

The court noted that the two sisters, Asma and Mafia Bibi, who were key witnesses, had both denied that any altercation took place between them and Asia Bibi over the fetching of water.

However, it pointed out that a police officer who investigated the case and the owner of the plantation where the incident took place — both unrelated and independent witnesses — “admitted in their statements that an altercation/quarrel took place between them [Asma, Mafia and Asia], thus the factum of quarrel is proved from the record”.

Noting that the prosecution had not declared the police officer as a ‘hostile witness’ — that is, questioned his statement that the fight took place — the sisters Asma and Mafia “could not be termed as truthful witnesses and the death sentence could not be inflicted on the testimony of such eyewitnesses”.

“All these contradictions are sufficient to cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution’s version of facts, which itself entitles the appellant to the right of benefit of the doubt.”

7. Extra-judicial confession

What the SC judgement said:

“This Court has repeatedly held that evidence of extra-judicial confession is a fragile piece of evidence and utmost care and caution has to be exercised in placing reliance on such a confession… It is always looked at with doubt and suspicion due to the ease with which it may be concocted. The legal worth of the extra judicial confession is almost equal to naught, keeping in view the natural course of events, human behaviour, conduct and probabilities, in ordinary course.”

“In this very instant case, the appellant was brought to a gathering of potentially hundreds of people, she was alone at the time, tensions were running high, and it was an intimidating environment, the appellant may well have felt threatened and vulnerable; thus, the alleged extra-judicial confession made by the appellant, even if presumed to have been made by her before such public gathering, cannot be termed as a voluntary action and nor it can be relied upon to form the basis of a conviction, especially for capital punishment.”