Amazon Prime’s new show Hunters was called out by the Auschwitz Memorial on Sunday for “dangerous foolishness and caricature” for creating a scene that is historically inaccurate. The show, which stars Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Jerrika Hinton and Tiffany Boone, follows a group of Nazi hunters in New York City in 1977. The scene in question takes […]
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‘Tarnished image’: Gallup releases devastating SCOTUS poll – as conservative Justices snipe at Kagan’s warning
Ever since December of 2021, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case that six months later would overturn Roe v. Wade, a 49-year old precedent – "settled law," Americans were assured by the Court's Justices in their confirmation hearings – ensuring women have the constitutional right to abortion, Chief Justice John Roberts has been accused of losing control of his justices.
On Thursday, just days before the high court begins its new term, as one of the Justices' spouses delivers testimony on her role in the coordinated efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, amid sniping by the Chief Justice and a conservative justice at their liberal colleague, and anger across the nation so virulent the midterm elections appear to be rapidly swinging back to Democrats, the right-leaning Gallup organization has released a new poll that's absolutely devastating for the Chief Justice and the Court he was entrusted to lead – not to mention American democracy itself.
"Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historical Lows," Gallup's damning headline reads.
"47% trust the judicial branch; previous low was 53%," "40% job approval of U.S. Supreme Court is tied for record low," and "Record-high 42% say Supreme Court is too conservative."
Translated, that means the legitimacy of the court is in question, despite entreaties from Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the Dobbs opinion that discarded nearly five decades of settled law to achieve a desired goal: rescinding the constitutional right to abortion, and with it, quite possibly not far down the road, the constitutional right to contraception, same-sex intimacy, and same-sex marriage.
"'Less than half of Americans say they have ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of trust in the judicial branch of the federal government, representing a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago, including seven points since last year,'" Politico reports, quoting an advanced copy of Gallup's findings.
"This represents a 20-percentage-point drop from two years ago," Gallup's own report reveals, "including seven points since last year, and is now the lowest in Gallup's trend by six points. The judicial branch's current tarnished image contrasts with trust levels exceeding two-thirds in most years in Gallup's trend that began in 1972."
Respect for the Supreme Court was such a non-question that from 1976, when Americans' "trust and confidence" in the nation's highest court stood at 63%, Gallup, it appears, did not even ask the question again in polls again until 1997, when the answer came back at 71%.
Today, under Chief Justice Roberts, it is a mere 47%.
Also today, Ginni Thomas, the far right wing activist spouse of one of the Court's most right-wing jurists, Clarence Thomas, is testifying before the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack regarding her role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
This week Justice Alito, also a far-right conservative, delivered a thinly-veiled attack against Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, in a rare public forum.
So did the Chief Justice, just weeks earlier.
“The very worst moments [in the court’s history] have been times when judges have even essentially reflected one party’s or one ideology’s set of views in their legal decisions," Justice Kagan said recently, sparking anger from the right. "The thing that builds up reservoirs of public confidence is the court acting like a court and not acting like an extension of the political process.”
“Judges create legitimacy problems for themselves when they don’t act like courts,” she also said, and “when they instead stray into places that looks like they are an extension of the political process or where they are imposing their own personal preferences.”
“If, over time, the court loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that is a dangerous thing for democracy,” Kagan warned.
Chief Justice Roberts later delivered a terse retort.
“Simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for questioning the legitimacy of the court.”
Bloomberg Law columnist Vivia Chen, citing the well-respected constitutional scholar and retired Harvard Law professor of law, Laurence Tribe, recently wrote: "Chief Justice Roberts Is Officially Irrelevant."
“Having had both John Roberts and Elena Kagan as my brilliant students in constitutional law, and having watched each of their careers unfold, I can’t help thinking that one of them, Justice Kagan, has grown into her role as a wise jurist,” Tribe told Chen in response to the Roberts-Kagan flap.
“Chief Justice Roberts has dwindled in stature as his cliches have lost their power and even their relevance,” Tribe added.
Justice Alito entered the sparring match this week, telling The Wall Street Journal: “It goes without saying that everyone is free to express disagreement with our decisions and to criticize our reasoning as they see fit. But saying or implying that the court is becoming an illegitimate institution or questioning our integrity crosses an important line.”
It was a clear swipe at Justice Kagan.
"It’s embarrassingly obvious that recent decisions rendered by the conservative supermajority hew to a certain political agenda," Bloomberg's Chen noted, asking: "where does one start? I guess Dobbs was a biggie because it destroyed almost 50 years of reproductive rights for women."
"Then," she added, "there’s the decision that crippled New York’s gun-control law and the one that severely cut back climate change regulations. And let’s not forget how the court keeps siding with religion, as if the separation of church and state is an optional part of the Constitution."
"That the Supreme Court lurched so far to the right in less than a year is breathtaking," Chen observes. "It’s like we’re suddenly transported to a country where Wayne LaPierre, Christian fundamentalists, corporate polluters, and the ghost of Phyllis Schlafly are calling the shots."
(For those looking fore even more justification of how the Supreme Court is undermining its own legitimacy, this video clip offers an additional answer.)
All this turmoil, turbulence, and trouble comes days before the Court begins its new term.
"The Supreme Court will return to work on the first Monday of October, after a three-month summer break, with all the determination of a Renaissance-era explorer looking for new lands to conquer," snarked – or warned – The Nation's Elie Mystal. "Last term, the court’s conservative supermajority showed it was willing to ignore precedent (overturning Roe v. Wade), reality (issuing rulings that will lead to more gun violence and climate pollution), and facts (making up evidence in the praying-football-coach case) to arrive at its preferred judicial outcomes."
"This term, the high court will cement its grip on political life in America, overturning affirmative action and other critical protections along the way," he says.
"The conservative Supreme Court has been willing to suppress the vote or let Republican-controlled state legislatures gerrymander district maps to the point where the popular vote is all but meaningless, but so far, the court has been unwilling to throw away enough votes after the fact to change the outcome of an election. We’ll see if there’s a first time for everything."
How bad could it be?
A picture's worth a thousand words.
Warden of West Texas immigration detention center arrested in migrant’s death was previously accused of abusing detainees
Sept. 29, 2022
EL PASO — Two men shot two migrants, killing one and injuring another, earlier this week while the two victims stood along a West Texas road getting water, authorities said. One of the alleged shooters is reportedly a warden for a privately run immigration detention center.
Two brothers were arrested in connection to the shooting that occurred Tuesday on FM 1111 in Hudspeth County, approximately four miles south of Sierra Blanca, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. They were identified as Mike Thomas Sheppard and Mark Edward Sheppard, both 60.
The San Antonio Express-News reported that Mike Sheppard was the warden of the West Texas Detention Center, run by the Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections, a company that operates jails, prisons and immigration detention centers. Sheppard began working as a warden in 2015 at the West Texas facility, which has been the subject of several allegations of violence against immigrants, according to The Intercept.
The brothers, who were charged with manslaughter, were in a truck when they pulled over and shot at a group of migrants, according to DPS. Agents from the U.S. Border Patrol’s Sierra Blanca checkpoint were also called to help the Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office “locate a female gunshot victim” around 9:15 p.m., a spokesperson for the federal agency said.
Hudspeth Sheriff Arvin West did not immediately return an email Thursday.
The vehicle linked to the shooting belonged to LaSalle Corrections, according to the Express-News. Border Patrol helped trace the truck and investigators discovered the vehicle was assigned to Mike Sheppard, according to the newspaper.
Scott Sutterfield, a spokesperson for LaSalle Corrections, said in a statement that Sheppard no longer worked for the company.
“The warden at the West Texas Detention Center (WTDC), Sierra Blanca, TX has been terminated due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment,” Sutterfield said.
A 2018 report found officials at the Sierra Blanca facility had grievously abused 80 men who were detained at the center. Over a week, the men faced beatings, racial taunts and sexual abuse at the hands of the center’s officials who were under the leadership of Mike Sheppard at the time. The Intercept reported the allegations more than four years ago.
Mike Sheppard was accused of punching a man in the face and kicking him while he was handcuffed on the ground in solitary confinement, according to The Intercept.
Before the 2018 incident, the West Texas facility came under scrutiny from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Detention Oversight, citing health services deficiencies and a lack of training on how to use nonlethal weapons. Inmates at the time resorted to using plastic bags for toilets and had to kill a rattlesnake found in their sleeping quarters when officials failed to respond.
Sutterfield did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Thursday about those previous allegations or Mike Sheppard’s continued employment after they were made.
As The Intercept reported in 2018, a report from three entities detailed African detainees’ allegations of abuse. It found that officers used racist epithets and engaged in hate crimes. It was unclear late Thursday what, if any, action federal officials took after the report was released and published in The Intercept.
It was not clear why Mike Sheppard and his brother were accused of manslaughter as opposed to another potential criminal charge this week. A DPS spokesperson referred further questions about the shooting to prosecutors in El Paso, where jail records show the two brothers were being held.
Court records, however, did not show either of the men had been formally charged as of Thursday afternoon with a crime.
A county court clerk in El Paso said there were no documents available yet because the men were recently booked.
The wounded individual, identified by DPS only as a female, was taken to Del Sol Hospital in El Paso, where she was recovering.
Jeanette Harper, an FBI special agent in El Paso, confirmed the agency had provided resources to Texas Rangers for an evidence recovery scene but deferred further comment to DPS as it was the leading investigative authority.
The New York Times, citing “affidavits filed by investigators,” reported the group was walking around 7 p.m. when they stopped at a water tank. The group hid when a truck approached.
The migrants later told federal agents they had heard one of the men shout in Spanish for them to “Come out,” according to the Times’ report. Eventually, the driver revved the truck’s engine, fired a gun, climbed back into the truck and drove away.
The men, per the Times, said in interviews with law enforcement that they had been out looking for animals to shoot.
Mark Sheppard said that they had stopped the truck because they believed they had spotted a javelina, according to the Times. He denied yelling anything.
In an unsigned email response Thursday evening, the El Paso district attorney’s office told the Tribune to contact DPS for the affidavits.
A DPS spokesperson said they did not have copies of the records to release.
Robert Downen contributed to this story.
Disclosure: New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/29/texas-migrant-shooting-arrests/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.
Li'l Marco's big loan: The tale of a senator, his private-equity pal and an inexplicable appointment
Last year, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida appointed his longtime friend and financial adviser Bernie Navarro to an advisory committee that helped select potential nominees for federal judgeships, even though Navarro had no law degree and no legal experience. Just three months earlier, Navarro — who runs a private equity mortgage lender — extended Rubio a short-term "bridge loan" of $850,000 that allowed the Republican senator to purchase a house.
This article first appeared in Salon.
To be clear, there is nothing inherently unethical or suspicious about taking out a bridge loan. As the name suggests, they are often used in business or real estate transactions to bridge the gap between more conventional and permanent forms of financing. Homeowners can use bridge loans, for instance, to complete the purchase of a new home while they wait for their current home to sell, as was apparently the case with Rubio.
But this case seems noteworthy for a number of reasons, starting with the long, close personal and financial relationship between Rubio and Navarro. Furthermore, Rubio received his loan from Benworth Capital, Navarro's company, on Jan. 18, 2021, but did not disclose it publicly for more than a year and a half, until his most recent financial disclosure form on Aug. 30, 2022. In April of 2021, after receiving the loan from Benworth but long before disclosing it, Rubio appointed Navarro to the Southern District Judicial Advisory Commission, which was responsible for picking finalists for several important federal appointments in south Florida, including U.S. district judges, U.S. marshals and the U.S. attorney.
Rubio got his $850,000 loan in January 2021, but didn't disclose it for more than a year and a half. During that time, he appointed the lender to a commission that recommended federal judges.
Adam Bozzi, vice president for communications at the advocacy group End Citizens United, said he saw a clear "threat of conflict of interest" in Rubio's relationship with Navarro. "It becomes worse when you actually are in debt to the person and you put them on a board that gives them special access [to give] advice to you," he added, "and it becomes even worse when you don't disclose it."
Navarro has extensive career experience in real estate finance, investment, development and construction, but has no evident qualifications to serve as an adviser on judicial appointments. According to the Benworth Capital website, the company offers bridge loans with "a less stringent approval process" for real estate buyers with "less than perfect credit."
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Those transactions have led to a certain amount of controversy over the years. In 2017, Benworth foreclosed on the family home of a 14-year old girl with cerebral palsy. Her parents had stopped making monthly payments, saying they had been "misled into taking out a high-interest, short-term loan ... that they could not afford to pay back," the Miami Herald reported. Ultimately, the family was allowed to stay in their home, after Benworth agreed to a settlement of $240,000 — nearly $100,000 more than the original loan amount.
In 2020, Navarro registered Benworth as a "woman-owned business," in an attempt to fast-track receipt of emergency COVID relief funds under the Paycheck Protection Program. Salon was unable to determine whether one or more women own at least 51% of the company, which is the federal government's definition of that term.
Navarro's two companies, Benworth Capital and Presto Payday, received at least $308,000 in COVID relief while his firm processed PPP loans. Benworth has continued to expand, opening an office in Puerto Rico, and donating more than $56,000 to Republican candidates and PACs, along with $14,200 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Rubio and Navarro reportedly met in Florida Republican circles, and became friends long before the former entered politics. In April of 2015, Navarro hosted an intimate gathering for Rubio and a group of friends, family members and political allies at Navarro's suburban Miami home, trumping the senator's announcement by introducing him as "the next president of the United States."
Navarro hosted several fundraisers for Rubio, first for his short-lived presidential campaign and then for his 2016 re-election to the Senate, serving as finance chairman for both campaigns. Navarro has personally contributed over $25,500 to Rubio's campaigns and associated PACs throughout his career.
There is nothing manifestly illegal about Rubio's personal or financial relationship with Navarro, although it points toward a number of unanswered questions. But as Adam Bozzi of End Citizens United sees it, this is a textbook example of how shadowy backstage deals involving money and influence have contaminated American politics.
"Giving these types of people influence where they can advocate for judges that will help corporations or help themselves rather than consumers or Florida families," Bozzi told Salon, "that is the kind of quid pro quo corruption that hurts people and turns off voters."