In a brutal loss for direct democracy in Mississippi, the state's supreme court struck down a ballot amendment on Friday that legalized medical marijuana in the state. But the ruling didn't stop there. Invoking a technical flaw in the law, the court invalidated the entire process for amending the state's constitution by popular vote.
"The killing of our ballot initiative process means that Mississippi is, definitively, the state with the least democracy, the most restricted ballot access, and where voters' voices matter least when it comes to the deciding our future," said Ashton Pittman, a reporter at the Mississippi Free Press.
"The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," read a statement from Medical Marijuana MS, which organized Initiative 65 that would legalize the use of the drug. "Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end."
About 73 percent of voters supporter legalizing medical marijuana, according to Pittman.
At the heart of the court's decision is a crucial flaw in the process that gives voters the power to amend the constitution by popular vote. According to the law, organizers for ballot measures have to collect signatures from the five different congressional districts in the state. But since the 2000 census, Mississippi dropped from having five districts to having only four.
So in the court's understanding of the ballot approval process, it's now impossible to legally get an amendment on the ballot, because the requirements demand organizers obtain signatures from a district that no longer exists.
"This is absolutely stunning," said lawyer Tyler Quinn Yeargain. "In the face of an outdated constitutional provision, the Mississippi Supreme Court just threw up its hands, killing the state's voter-initiated amendment process."
In the 6-3 majority's ruling, the court acted as though it was completely bound to reach its conclusion. It even suggested that the drafters of the ballot process may have intended to render it invalid should the state ever lose a congressional district, a claim that strains credulity to the breaking point:
Pursuant to the duty imposed on us by article 15, section 273(9), of the Mississippi Constitution, we hold that the petition submitted to the Secretary of State seeking to place Initiative 65 on the ballot for the November 3, 2020, general election was insufficient. Because Initiative 65 was placed on the ballot without meeting the section 273(3) prerequisites for doing so, it was placed on the ballot in violation of the Mississippi Constitution. Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today's reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.
It said that for the process to be fixed, the state's constitution must be amended. But of course, that's now impossible to do by ballot measure, so it will only happen if the legislature permits it.
Despite the majority's suggestion, this result was not inevitable. The minority argued in a dissent that Mississippi law still has five congressional districts on the books, even though they are not recognized by the federal courts. But since they exist under state law, and the requirement that ballot amendments garner signatures from each of the five districts is also a matter of state law, the dissent argues that it would be reasonable to uphold the ballot process as lawful.
"I respectfully suggest we look to Mississippi law. With this novel approach in mind, I point out that under current Mississippi law—whether we like it or not—there are five congressional districts," wrote Justice James Maxwell in the dissent.
He criticized the majority for doing exactly what it claimed to oppose: "The majority confidently and correctly points out that '[n]owhere therein does the Constitution allow amendment by the Supreme Court.' ...Yet the majority does just that—stepping completely outside of Mississippi law—to employ an interpretation that not only amends but judicially kills Mississippi's citizen initiative process. While the majority admits that our Constitution should not be 'expanded or extended beyond its settled intent and meaning by any court[,]' it actively injects a federal court's injunction into our Constitution—an injunction that was in no shape, form, or fashion aimed at the initiative process."
Pittman, the reporter, noted on Twitter that the decision is already inspiring outrage: "There is A LOT of anger among conservative and liberal Mississippians on my social media feeds right now. I'm not seeing any regular Mississippians who are happy about this. A lot of cross-partisan outrage, though."
Observers worry this decision will completely block hoped-for amendments that would expand voting access and Medicaid eligibility.
New salacious details in the Matt Gaetz scandal were revealed in a bombshell new report by The Daily Beast.
"When Rep. Matt Gaetz attended a 2019 GOP fundraiser in Orlando, his date that night was someone he knew well: a paid escort and amateur Instagram model who led a cocaine-fueled party after the event, according to two witnesses. The Florida congressman's one-time wingman, Joel Greenberg, will identify that escort to investigators as one of more than 15 young women Gaetz paid for sex, according to a source familiar with the investigation," The Beast reported.
The woman was identified by The Beast.
"But what distinguishes this woman, Megan Zalonka, is that she turned her relationship with Greenberg into a taxpayer-funded no-show job that earned her an estimated $7,000 to $17,500, according to three sources and corresponding government records obtained by The Daily Beast. On Oct. 26, 2019, Gaetz attended the "Trump Defender Gala" fundraiser as the featured speaker at the Westgate Lake Resort in Orlando. Two witnesses present recalled friends reconvening at Gaetz's hotel room for an after-party, where Zalonka prepared lines of cocaine on the bathroom counter. One of those witnesses distinctly remembers Zalonka pulling the drugs out of her makeup bag, rolling a bill of cash, and joining Gaetz in snorting the cocaine," The Beast reported.
The hotel room was paid for by Gaetz's campaign.
"While The Daily Beast could not confirm that Gaetz and Zalonka had sex that night, two sources said the pair had an ongoing financial relationship in exchange for sex. 'She was just one of the many pieces of arm candy he had,' said one source familiar with the encounters between Gaetz and Zalonka. The congressman—who has declared that he 'never paid for sex' —wrote off the stay at the hotel as a campaign expense, with his donors picking up the tab," The Beast noted.
We can place Matt Gaetz in a hotel room snorting cocaine with an escort, according to two sources. A source also s… https://t.co/8foOTOsuzb— Matt Fuller (@Matt Fuller)1621032431.0
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Stephen Farrell
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli planes renewed air strikes in Gaza early on Saturday and Hamas militants responded by firing rockets into Israel as their battle entered a fifth night and U.S. and Arab diplomats sought an end to the violence.
Palestinian medics said at least two people were killed in one of several air strikes in northern Gaza. Residents said Israeli naval boats fired shells from the Mediterranean though none may have hit the strip.
The Palestinian religious affairs ministry said Israeli planes destroyed a mosque. A military spokesman said the army was checking the report.
Sirens sounded in two major southern Israeli cities warning of incoming fire from Gaza. Hamas claimed responsibility for launching rockets.
With no sign of an end to the fighting, casualties spread further afield, with Palestinians reporting 11 killed in the occupied West Bank amid clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces.
At least 128 people have been killed in Gaza since Monday, including 31 children and 20 women, and 950 others wounded, Palestinian medical officials said.
Among eight dead in Israel were a soldier patrolling the Gaza border and six civilians, including two children, Israeli authorities said.
Ahead of a session of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday to discuss the situation, Biden administration envoy Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs, flew in on Friday.
The U.S. Embassy in Israel said the aim was "to reinforce the need to work toward a sustainable calm."
Israel launched day-long attacks on Friday to destroy what it said were several kilometers (miles) of tunnels, launch sites and weapons manufacturing warehouses used by the militants in an effort to halt the rocket attacks.
Across central and southern Israel, from small towns bordering Gaza to metropolitan Tel Aviv and southern Beersheba, people have adjusted to sirens wailing, radio and TV broadcast interruptions and the beeps of cellphones bearing red alerts that send them rushing for cover.
Cross-border hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have been accompanied by violence in mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel. Synagogues have been attacked and street fights have broken out, prompting Israel's president to warn of civil war.
Egypt was leading regional efforts to secure a ceasefire. Cairo was pushing for both sides to cease fire from midnight on Friday pending further negotiations, two Egyptian security sources said, with Egypt leaning on Hamas and others, including the United States, trying to reach an agreement with Israel.
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan discussed efforts to end the Gaza confrontation and to prevent "provocations" in Jerusalem, Egypt's foreign ministry said.
"The talks have taken a real and serious path on Friday," a Palestinian official said. "The mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations are stepping up their contacts with all sides in a bid to restore calm, but a deal hasn't yet been reached."
The United Arab Emirates on Friday called for a ceasefire and negotiations while offering condolences to all victims of the fighting, citing the promise of September accords that made the UAE and Bahrain the first Arab states in a quarter century to establish formal ties with Israel.
State news agency WAM quoted Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the foreign minister, as offering his country's support to bring tensions to an end.
Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, launched the rocket attacks on Monday, in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, in East Jerusalem.
The Israeli military said more than 2,000 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel since the start of the conflict, around half of them intercepted by missile defence systems and 350 fell into the Gaza Strip.
Civil unrest between Jews and Arabs in Israel itself dealt a strong blow to efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opponents to unseat the Israeli leader after a series of inconclusive elections, giving rise to expectations Israelis will go to the polls for an unprecedented fifth time in just over two years.
(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub, Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Israel; Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Aidan Lewis in Cairo, Nandita Bose and Steve Holland in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Howard Goller; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
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