Snowden warns today's surveillance technology makes 2013 look like 'child's play'

With this week marking 10 years since whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed information to journalists about widespread government spying by United States and British agencies, the former National Security Agency contractor on Thursday joined other advocates in warning that the fight for privacy rights, while making several inroads in the past decade, has grown harder due to major changes in technology.

"If we think about what we saw in 2013 and the capabilities of governments today," Snowden told The Guardian, "2013 seems like child's play."

Snowden said that the advent of commercially available surveillance products such as Ring cameras, Pegasus spyware, and facial recognition technology has posed new dangers.

As Common Dreams has reported, the home security company Ring has faced legal challenges due to security concerns and its products' vulnerability to hacking, and has faced criticism from rights groups for partnering with more than 1,000 police departments—including some with histories of police violence—and leaving community members vulnerable to harassment or wrongful arrests.

Law enforcement agencies have also begun using facial recognition technology to identify crime suspects despite the fact that the software is known to frequently misidentify people of color—leading to the wrongful arrest and detention earlier this year of Randal Reid in Georgia, among other cases.

"Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we've seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies' ability to collect data."

Last month, journalists and civil society groups called for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of spyware like Pegasus, which has been used to target dozens of journalists in at least 10 countries.

Protecting the public from surveillance "is an ongoing process," Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. "And we will have to be working at it for the rest of our lives and our children's lives and beyond."

In 2013, Snowden revealed that the U.S. government was broadly monitoring the communications of citizens, sparking a debate over surveillance as well as sustained privacy rights campaigns from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Fight for the Future.

"Technology has grown to be enormously influential," Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. "We trusted the government not to screw us. But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power."

Last month ahead of the anniversary of Snowden's revelations, EFF noted that some improvements to privacy rights have been made in the past decade, including:

  • The sunsetting of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which until 2020 allowed the U.S. government to conduct a dragnet surveillance program that collected billions of phone records;
  • The emergence of end-to-end encryption of internet communications, which Snowden noted was "a pipe dream in 2013";
  • The end of the NSA's bulk collection of internet metadata, including email addresses of senders and recipients; and
  • Rulings in countries including South Africa and Germany against bulk data collection.

The group noted that privacy advocates are still pushing Congress to end Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits the warrantless surveillance of Americans' communications, and "to take privacy seriously," particularly as tech companies expand spying capabilities.

"Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we've seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies' ability to collect data... or regulate biometric surveillance, or close the backdoor that allows the government to buy personal information rather than get a warrant, much less create a new Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community's overreaches," wrote EFF senior policy analyst Matthew Guariglia, executive director Cindy Cohn, and assistant director Andrew Crocker. "It's why so many cities and states have had to take it upon themselves to ban face recognition or predictive policing, or pass laws to protect consumer privacy and stop biometric data collection without consent."

"It's been 10 years since the Snowden revelations," they added, "and Congress needs to wake up and finally pass some legislation that actually protects our privacy, from companies as well as from the NSA directly."

'Unconstitutional' religious charter school immediately hit by legal challenges in Oklahoma

Within minutes of a state charter school board in Oklahoma approving a plan on Monday to open what would be the first religious charter school in the United States, advocates for the nation's bedrock laws separating church and state announced plans to file a legal challenge against the proposal.

Allowing the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Diocese of Tulsa to open a taxpayer-funded virtual charter school in which religious education would be a key part of the curriculum would mark "a sea change for American democracy," said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Going against the advice of its own legal counsel and disregarding extensive testimony and legal analysis from Americans United regarding why the creation of the school would violate the U.S. Constitution, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 to allow the religious groups to open St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.

The school would be entirely government-funded, but like other charter schools—which have been criticized by public education advocates—it would be independently managed, in this case by the Catholic archdiocese and diocese.

"It's hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing the nation's first religious public charter school," said Laser. "No public school family should fear that their child will be required by charter schools to take theology classes or be expelled for failing to conform to religious doctrines. And the government should never force anyone to fund religious education."

"In a country built on the principle of separation of church and state, public schools must never be allowed to become Sunday schools," she added.

The ACLU said it would join Americans United in challenging the plan.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt applauded the decision of the board—which is made up of his appointees—but state Attorney General Gentner Drummond, also a Republican, said it was "extremely disappointing that board members violated their oath in order to fund religious schools with our tax dollars."

The U.S. Supreme Court has handed down two rulings in recent years signaling that its right-wing majority could rule in favor of the religious charter school if a case reaches the high court. Last year the court ruled 6-3 that the state of Maine was not permitted to exclude religious schools from a state tuition program, and in 2020 it ruled 5-4 that states must allow private schools to participate in state scholarships.

"Not long ago, this would have been [dead on arrival]" at the Supreme Court, said Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist Harry Litman. "But they're banking on the Supreme Court to break down the wall between church and state."

The Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition called the board's decision "a loss for American values, the rule of law, and our Oklahoma Constitution."

"Three unelected voices in the state of Oklahoma have put the separation of church and state in peril for the entire nation," said the group. "Oklahoma's public schools are among the lowest funded in the nation. We cannot afford to divert dollars to unconstitutional religious schools. Public education dollars must be protected for accountable public schools that welcome and serve all students."

Gannett journalists walk out, accusing CEO of decimating local newsrooms

As shareholders gathered at the annual meeting of Gannett, the largest newspaper company in the United States following a 2019 merger, hundreds of unionized employees from across the country walked off the job on Monday to demand investors take action against what the journalists say is corporate greed at the top of the organization.

The journalists, who are represented by the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America (CWA), say CEO and chairman Mike Reed has overseen the gutting of local newsrooms across the country at Gannett's more than 300 publications, jeopardizing readers' access to local news and threatening the livelihoods of reporters while Reed collects a multi-million-dollar salary.

With the walkout, the unionized employees are calling on shareholders to hold a no-confidence vote against Reed.

In a letter to investors last month, the NewsGuild-CWA argued that Reed has "failed shareholders" by taking on debt with high interest rates when Gannett merged with GateHouse Media in 2019.

While taking home a $7.7 million salary in in 2021 and $3.4 million last year, Reed has "maintained a compensation policy that is forcing many of our journalists to seek work elsewhere," the union wrote.

"From a shareholder perspective, these cuts to local news reporters and local news don't just weaken civil society, they diminish the future of that company in the community."

"He has reduced local content by relying on wire service and regional stories [and] cut newsroom staff," the NewsGuild said. "As a result, our communities are not being served and our employees are demoralized. Therefore, we believe it is time for a change in leadership: a clear vote of no-confidence in a guy who has weakened our company, forsaken the towns and cities where we have outlets, and impoverished shareholders."

In order to cut costs to service the company's debt, The New York Times reported Monday, Gannett has cut its workforce nearly in half since 2019. The Austin American-Statesman now has 41 newsroom employees, down from 110 before the merger. The Milwaukee Sentinel's staff has been cut from 104 to 83 in that time period; The South Bend Tribune's was cut from 45 to just 14 in South Bend, Indiana; and The Arizona Republic in Phoenix has cut its workforce from 140 to 89.

Gannett has also closed dozens of newspapers entirely, including six weekly publications in the Akron, Ohio area this past February and four papers in Northern Kentucky last year.

Cost-cutting measures have left readers of The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York without a business section; The Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida without dedicated reporters focusing on the environment or city government; and just one reporter at TheAmerican-Statesman covering issues related to City Hall, Travis County, transportation, and public safety.

"We know what happens to communities when the light from news outlets dims," said the NewsGuild last month. "Political extremism can surge, corruption has fewer watchdogs, high school sports have fewer chroniclers, corporate misconduct has fewer witnesses, and municipal borrowing costs can rise. From a shareholder perspective, these cuts to local news reporters and local news don't just weaken civil society, they diminish the future of that company in the community."

The shareholder meeting and walkout come five months after Gannett laid of 6% of its 3,440-employee media division.

Richard Ruelas, a columnist at The Arizona Republic, organized a crowd-sourced fundraiser to support employees as they stage the walkout, which they plan to continue on Tuesday at the newspaper.

While cutting jobs across the company, said the Arizona Republic Guild, Gannett officials have refused to provide remaining journalists with fair wages and working conditions.

"After over three years of bargaining and repeated unfair labor practices, it's also become apparent that asking nicely isn't going to get us fair wages, benefits and protections for our newsroom, and that Gannett has no intention to bargain over these issues in good faith," said the union.

According to Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild, Reed oversaw a "complete farce" at the shareholder meeting on Monday, ending the conference after just eight minutes and refusing to take questions.

"What a complete joke. Mike Reed needs to go," said Schleuss. "He has no ability to lead Gannett and no ability to be accountable to journalists or shareholders."

'Apocalyptic scenes' as unprecedented climate-driven wildfires devastate Nova Scotia

Officials and climate experts in Nova Scotia, Canada on Tuesday pointed to numerous climate-related factors that have contributed to the wildfires that are raging in the province this week, forcing the evacuation of more than 16,000 people and destroying roughly 200 homes and other structures.

The Tantallon fire in the Halifax area and the Barrington Lake fire in the southwestern county of Shelburne have burned through a combined 25,000 acres in the Maritime province, which, as one firefighter told the Canadian newspaper SaltWire, has historically been far less likely to experience such blazes than landlocked western provinces.

"This the worst fire I've ever been on," volunteer firefighter Capt. Brett Tetanish toldSaltWire. "I've been on other large fires in Nova Scotia, Porters Lake, we lost structures there, but you don't see fires like this in Nova Scotia. You see these in Alberta."

Tetanish described a "surreal" scene as he drove toward the Tantallon fire on Sunday evening.

"We're driving on Hammonds Plains Road with fire on both sides of the road, structures on fire, cars abandoned and burnt in the middle of the road," he toldSaltWire.

Other witnesses, including a filmmaker, posted videos on social media of "apocalyptic scenes" showing fires destroying homes and huge plumes of smoke rendering highways nearly invisible to drivers.

"I almost died," said the filmmaker. "The fire is spreading, it's very serious. We couldn't see anything."

Halfway through 2023, Nova Scotia has already experienced more wildfires than it did in all of 2022, according to the National Observer.

Karen McKendry, a wilderness outreach coordinator at the Ecology Action Center in Nova Scotia's capital, Halifax, told the Observer the province has experienced hotter dryer weather than normal this spring, making it easier for fires to spread.

"People haven't always, on a national scale, been thinking about Nova Scotia and wildfires," McKendry said. "What dominates the consciousness, rightly so in Canada, is what's happening out West. But with a warming climate and some drier seasons, this is going to become more common in Nova Scotia. So more fires, more widespread fires, more destructive fires from a human perspective as well."

The province's Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) also warned last Friday that the wildfires were taking hold in the region less than a year after Hurricane Fiona downed what Premier Tim Houston called a "significant" number of trees across Nova Scotia.

"Fires in areas where Hurricane Fiona downed trees have the potential to move faster and burn more intensely, making them potentially more difficult to contain and control," said the DNRR. "At this time, needles, twigs, leaves, etc., support fire ignition and spread. With high winds, the spread can be rapid and intense."

Scientists last year linked warming oceans, fueled by the continued extraction of fossil fuels and emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases, to Fiona's destruction in Eastern Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Monday that the situation in Nova Scotia is "incredibly serious," prompting Saman Tabasinejad, acting executive director of Progress Toronto, to point to Trudeau's support for fossil fuel projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

"This would be a great time to end fossil fuel subsidies and invest in a Green New Deal!" Tabasinejad said on Twitter.

More than 200 crews have been sent by government agencies from across the province, and Nova Scotia officials said Tuesday that both the Tantallon and Barrington Lake fires were still "out of control" two days after they began and were "rapidly moving."

Halifax Fire and the DNRR are investigating the cause of the fires.

McKendry pointed out that a number of anti-conservation activities may be linked to increased wildfires.

Roads being built "deep into our forests" have allowed more people opportunities to accidentally set fires, while the government has been "emptying our urban areas of wetlands," making it easier for blazes to spread widely.

"Do not delude yourself into thinking this is a one-off," journalist John Vaillant toldSaltWire on Monday. "The world is more flammable than it has ever been."

Texas GOP passes bills allowing Abbott appointee to take over Democratic county's elections

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Sunday warned that Republican state legislators had made a "shameless power grab" by passing a pair of bills aimed at allowing the state government to take control of elections in the Democratic stronghold, which includes Houston.

Senate Bill 1933 passed on Sunday as the state's legislative session came to a close, with lawmakers sending to GOP Gov. Greg Abbott's desk a bill that could give Secretary of State Jane Nelson—who was nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate—the authority to run elections under circumstances in any county with more than 3.5 million residents.

The legislation was passed two days after Senate Bill 1750, which also applies to counties above that population threshold and would abolish the nonpartisan county elections administrator position.

Harris County, which President Joe Biden won by 13 points in 2020, is the only county is Texas with a population above 3.5 million, making both bills apply only to its elections.

Hidalgo denounced the legislation as two "election subversion bills" and warned that they will set a "dangerous precedent" for Republican governors who wish to take control of voting in heavily Democratic counties.

"These bills are not about election reform," said Hidalgo at a press conference last week, as the legislation was advancing. "They're not about improving voters' experience. They are entirely about suppressing voters' voices. The reasoning behind these bills is nothing but a cynical charade."

Hidalgo and other officials said at that event that they plan to file a lawsuit against Abbott's administration if the governor signs the bills into law. The Texas Constitution bars state lawmakers from passing laws that apply only to specific jurisdictions, but Republicans' use of a population threshold instead of naming Harris County itself in the legislation may be used at their defense if the lawsuit moves forward.

S.B. 1750 requires Harris County to change how its elections are overseen starting September 1, when Houston will be two months away from voting for its next mayor. Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth and County Assessor Ann Harris Bennett will oversee elections in the county starting in September.

If, after Hudspeth and Bennett take over, Nelson finds "good cause to believe that a recurring pattern of problems with election administration or voter registration exists in the county," the secretary of state would be permitted to take legal action to remove the two women from office and to install members of her staff in the county's election offices.

Republicans have said Harris County didn't have enough poll workers in the March 2022 primary and that polling locations opened late and ran out of ballots during the November 2022 general election.

"The fact of the matter is, there has not been a single successful lawsuit that proves that there were any kind of problems," said Hidalgo on Sunday. "And I hope that anybody talking about this understands that you are amplifying exaggerations and rumors when you repeat the excuses that these folks are using."

The legislation was passed two-and-a-half months after Abbott's administration announced its takeover of the Houston Independent School District, which has made recent improvements in academic performance that were achieved despite chronic underfunding.

"Houstonians," Emily Eby French, a staff voting rights attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said last week, "will soon live in a different Texas than the rest of us."

'Go to hell, Shell!': Climate campaigners take over oil giant's annual meeting in London

About 100 climate campaigners on Tuesday demanded the attention of executives and shareholders at Shell's annual general meeting, refusing to be silenced as they spent several hours disrupting the profits-focused gathering to condemn the oil company for its continued planet-heating fossil fuel extraction.

Dozens of advocates gathered outside the Exhibition Center London (ExCeL) with banners reading, "We mourn the lives Shell has taken" and "Shell Profits Kill," while others entered the meeting and refused to allow the event to begin for more than an hour.

The campaigners sang, "Go to hell, Shell" to the tune of "Hit the road, Jack" and chanted, "Shut down Shell" before about 20 of the activists attempted to occupy the stage.

"As Shell continues to cause climate chaos, we will continue to do everything in our power to shut down Shell," said Fossil Free London.

Several people who headed toward the stage were stopped by security officers and carried or dragged out of the venue.

Shell reported its highest profits in its 115-year history last year, raking in 36 billion euros (nearly $40 billion). Meanwhile, the End Fuel Poverty Coalition in the U.K. toldEuronews, more than seven million people in the country are struggling to afford essential energy services as prices have soared amid the war in Ukraine.

"People are struggling under swelling energy bills, yet Shell continues to rake in billions of pounds by profiteering from fuel poverty and war in Ukraine," Joanna Warrington of Fossil Free London toldEuronews. "If we want a safe climate and affordable energy, then we have to stop new oil and gas. That's why we're calling on [Shell CEO] Wael Sawan and the bosses of Shell to look beyond their fat paychecks and to shut down Shell. If they don't, an avalanche of protest will do it for them."

The International Energy Agency and climate scientists have been unequivocal in their increasingly dire warnings regarding fossil fuel extraction, with the former admitting in 2021 that policymakers must ensure the world begins an immediate transition away from oil, gas, and coal and toward renewable energy sources in order to avoid planetary heating well above 1.5°C, the threshold targeted by the Paris climate agreement.

One campaigner stood up at the company's annual general meeting on Tuesday and told shareholders and executives a number of deadly disasters that have already been linked to the fossil fuel extraction of firms including Shell, which is committed to continuing its development of drilling sites.

"Wildfires across Europe, famine in Madagascar, harvest failures, crop failures," said the woman as security officers approached to stop her speech. "People are already impacted by the effects of climate breakdown."

"With every new well, every new gas field, every minute that you ignore the warnings of science, people die!" said activist and author Ashok Kumar, who also stood up to address the gathering.

The company has begun to face some internal backlash from investors, including the Church of England's retirement fund and the U.K. government pension fund, the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). Both have said they plan to vote against the re-election of Shell's chair, Sir Andrew Mackenzie, and NEST said it opposes Shell's "energy transition" plan, which includes a pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

"High energy prices produced huge profits at oil and gas companies last year—a golden opportunity to invest very significantly in the transition to a low carbon economy, and one that was comprehensively missed," Olga Hancock, acting head of responsible investment at the Church of England Commissioners, which manages the $12 billion retirement fund, told Euronews.

Chinese immigrants sue Florida over DeSantis's discriminatory law banning home purchases

Accusing Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of enacting an unconstitutional law that would not have been out of place at the turn of the last century, a group of Chinese American immigrants on Monday filed a lawsuit against the state over S.B. 264, which restricts most Chinese citizens from purchasing homes in Florida.

The law is set to take effect on July 1, but the plaintiffs and the groups representing them—including the ACLU, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Chinese American Legal Defense Alliance (CALDA), and the ACLU of Florida—hope to block the measure in the courts.

"Florida's discriminatory property law is unfair, unjustified, and unconstitutional," said Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. "Everyone in the United States is entitled to equal protection under our laws, including citizens of other countries. If S.B. 264 goes into effect, it will profoundly harm our clients and countless other immigrants in Florida."

DeSantis has said the law is meant to protect the state from the Chinese Communist Party, even though, as the ACLU said, "there is no evidence of national security harm resulting from real estate ownership." Citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Iran, and North Korea would also be restricted from purchasing homes in Florida.

The law is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Fair Housing Act, said the ACLU. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing due to national origin and race as well as religion, sex, gender identity, and disability.

The plaintiffs also warned that the law will "cast an undue burden of suspicion on anyone seeking to buy property whose name sounds remotely Asian, Russian, Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan, or Syrian," and is likely to prompt harassment of Asian American people seeking to buy property.

"All Asian Americans will feel the stigma and the chilling effect created by this Florida law, just like the discriminatory laws did to our ancestors more than a hundred years ago," said Clay Zhu, co-founder of CALDA. "We shall not go back."

Despite DeSantis's claims that the law is meant to protect the state, "The reality will be that any seller, when they see a Chinese name... will think, 'Too much trouble,' and they'll refuse to sell," Echo King, a Chinese American attorney based in Orlando, Florida, toldVox last week.

S.B. 264 harkens back to the so-called "alien land laws" of the early 1900s, which prohibited Chinese and Japanese immigrants from becoming landowners. In addition to harming these communities financially, the laws "severely exacerbated violence and discrimination against Asian communities living in the United States" before they were finally struck down by courts and legislatures across the country.

"We have repeatedly seen how policies in the name of national security have harmed Asian Americans—from immigration restrictions, to the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans in camps, and post-9/11 surveillance," said Bethany Li, legal director for AALDEF. "Failing to call out the discriminatory impacts means our community will continue to experience racism, violence, and the erosion of rights."

DeSantis is the first Republican governor to sign a discriminatory housing bill targeting Chinese people into law, but more than a dozen state legislatures have proposed similar bills.

'An inflection point': Planned Parenthood applauded for backing Supreme Court expansion

Justice advocates marked what they called a "huge" development in the fight for court reform on Monday as Planned Parenthood joined a national coalition that's pushing for the expansion of the U.S. Supreme Court, with the president of the reproductive rights organization saying the court's "capture" by the far right calls for "structural" change.

Alexis McGill Johnson, who leads the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Monday that the group is joining Just Majority, a coalition including more than 35 groups that are currently on a nationwide tour highlighting ethics violations at the Supreme Court and how reforms including expansion could help protect democracy and secure justice on the highest judicial panel in the country.

"We should be able to make our own decisions about our lives, bodies, and futures," said Johnson in a statement Monday. "The unrelenting attacks on our basic freedoms—including through the courts—demand that we reform our federal court system. Abortion rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, our democratic institutions, and so much more are at stake."

Johnson spoke toMSNBC's "Inside With Jen Psaki" on Sunday about Planned Parenthood's decision to join the court expansion movement, as other rights groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Latino Victory, and Newtown Action Alliance have in recent weeks.

The group was pushed toward its decision, she said, as U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled last month that mifepristone, a pill used in medication abortions, should be taken off the market.

"The reality is, the court now has been fully captured in so many areas," Johnson said. "The fact that you have, again, this lone Texas judge, that can now bring cases, you can form shop there, bring cases to the Fifth Circuit, which is also conservative and up to the Supreme Court now, which has a conservative supermajority... And that is a way to circumvent the way in which popularly elected decisions are made."

"We need to see expanded courts, from the lower courts all the way up to the Supreme Court," she added. "We need to see term limits. We need to see ethical reforms."

Planned Parenthood's decision to join the court expansion movement, which has been led by groups including Demand Justice and Take Back the Court, comes as right-wing Supreme Court justices, particularly Justice Clarence Thomas, have faced intense criticism over alleged ethics violations. Recent reports have pointed to evidence that Thomas has for years received financial gifts from Texas Republican megadonor Harlan Crow without disclosing those financial ties as required by federal law, and Justices Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts have also faced scrutiny about their failure to disclose financial transactions and payments.

"It's really important to call for structural reforms that sustain progress," said Johnson. "It would be one thing to call for a justice to step down for whatever reason, but the reality is that the way in which the system has been captured requires us to engage in structural reform in a different way."

On social media, Johnson said Planned Parenthood's "expanded position" on the courts reflects an expansion of its "commitment" to protecting reproductive rights.

Demand Justice called Planned Parenthood's decision "an inflection point for the Supreme Court reform movement."

"The endorsement of key groups in the progressive ecosystem like Planned Parenthood shows just how far this campaign has come," said Brian Fallon, executive director of the group. "The public has awoken to the dangers of a captured, corrupt judiciary and is demanding solutions. The composition of the court will obviously not be changed overnight, but the consensus about the need for bold, sweeping reforms is growing by the day, and the salience of the court as a political issue has never been higher."

Sarah Lipton-Lubet, president of Take Back the Court, said Planned Parenthood's joining of the movement shows how court expansion has become "a mainstream progressive policy goal with the support of more than 60 members of Congress and some of the most respected and powerful abortion rights champions in our movement."

"A few short years ago, we were told court expansion was a pipe dream," said Lipton-Lubet. "With support from groups boldly advocating at the state level to leading national organizations, our movement is growing stronger every day. The right-wing extremists on the Court can try to rip our rights away, but we're fighting back even stronger—and we're going to win."

The Supreme Court has been expanded seven times in the past. Reform advocates also called for an addition of seats of lower federal courts to reflect growth in population, diversity, and the number of cases that judges hear.

"It won't be easy and it won't happen overnight but we WILL expand the Supreme Court," said Doug Lindner, senior director of judiciary and democracy for the League of Conservation Voters. "We WILL protect our abortion rights and our climate from these extremists. And we WILL pass on a vibrant, multiracial democracy to the next generation."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Feinstein inflicting 'great harm on the judiciary' and should resign

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday night rejected claims that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is being targeted by "anti-feminist" attacks as calls mount for the 89-year-old lawmaker's retirement.

On the social media platform Bluesky, the New York Democrat said Feinstein (D-Calif.) "is causing great harm to the judiciary" with her prolonged absence from the Senate due to her recovery from shingles. Feinstein, who sits on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, has not been present since late February.

Her absence leaves Democrats without a majority on the panel, and therefore unable to advance President Joe Biden's judicial nominees without the support of Republicans.

Ocasio-Cortez noted that Feinstein's indefinite absence has come as right-wing federal courts are gutting reproductive rights. As of last month, there were 18 judicial nominees for circuit and district courts pending in the Senate.

Feinstein asked in April that she be temporarily replaced on the Judiciary Committee, as calls for her resignation intensified among Democratic lawmakers.

The request required unanimous consent from the Senate, and was denied after Republicans including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) refused to support removing Feinstein from the Judiciary Committee. Collins suggested she was doing so out of respect for the senator, who has served for more than 30 years.

But by keeping Feinstein tied to the committee in her absence, Collins made it less likely that judges who oppose forced pregnancy will be able to be confirmed and help to secure abortion rights—which both senators say they support and which Feinstein has counted among her signature issues.

Feinstein's absence has also left committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) without the power to subpoena Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts regarding questions about ethics on the court in the wake of revelations about the financial ties of right-wing Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has suggested that advocates and lawmakers who have called on Feinstein to step down are being sexist and applying a double standard, saying "I've never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way."

The idea that calls for Feinstein to resign are anti-feminist, said Ocasio-Cortez on Monday, "are a farce," considering that proponents of her early retirement are seeking to protect the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people across the U.S. through the judiciary.

Feinstein has said she will not seek reelection next year and plans to leave the Senate when her current term ends in January 2025. She has faced questions about her health for cognitive health in recent years, before her bout with shingles.

U.S. Reps. Katie Porter, Barbara Lee, and Adam Schiff have all launched campaigns to replace the senator.

Watchdog sends mobile billboard to Roberts' country club demanding: 'Clean up court'

As the latest polling showed a majority of Americans believe U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should step down from his lifetime appointment, government watchdog Accountable.US deployed several trucks to Capitol Hill Saturday to display mobile billboards plastered with Thomas' and other right-wing justices' images and recent headlines regarding allegations of ethics violations.

An image of Thomas was shown alongside a headline reading, "America's Supreme Court Faces a Legitimacy Crisis," while Chief Justice John Roberts was displayed with the message: "Justice Roberts: Clean Up Your Court."

"It's never a bad day to remind SCOTUS Chief Justice Roberts of the rampant corruption and scandals that plague his Court," said the group, which also sent a mobile billboard to Roberts' country club.

The campaign took place a day after progressive think tank Data for Progress published survey results showing that 53% of respondents believed Thomas should resign following revelations that he's financially benefited for years from trips and other gifts given to him by Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, as well as from a property sale to Crow.

Seventy percent of people told Data for Progress the previously undisclosed property sale was unethical and 64% said the same about his vacations and gifts.

Thomas was the first right-wing judge to come under scrutiny for his failure to disclose his financial ties—a violation of federal law, according to legal experts.

Earlier this week Politico reported that Justice Neil Gorsuch sold a property to a law firm CEO days after being confirmed to the court—but didn't disclose the name of the buyer on federal forms. The CEO's firm has been involved in nearly two dozen cases that have gone before the court since Gorsuch was appointed.

On Friday, whistleblower documents sparked renewed interest in the earnings of Roberts' wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, who made $10.3 million in commissions from a legal recruiting firm she worked at between 2007 and 2014, placing lawyers at firms—including at least one that argued a case before the high court. Roberts did not specify that his wife had earned that money in commissions from law firms in his federal disclosure forms.

"In addition to Clarence Thomas and his issues, we have Justice Gorsuch and his issues, and we've got the chief justice's wife and her issues," said U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) on Saturday. "It tells you that unaccountability leads to corruption. The American people need and deserve a fair and ethical Supreme Court."

Watson Coleman also called for an expansion of the court, which has been endorsed by numerous progressives in Congress and legal advocacy groups.

The Supreme Court is not bound by a code of ethics, as other federal courts are. Forty-eight percent of respondents told Data for Progress that they supported binding rules, including 67% of Democrats.

"These revelations have renewed pressure on the court to follow an explicit code of conduct," said the think tank. "While all nine justices have so far been resistant to the idea, voters clearly support ensuring that the Supreme Court justices are held to an ethical standard, and also support consequences for justices who fail to do so."

Oklahoma woman told to wait in hospital parking lot until 'crashing' for abortion

Mounting news reports since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year have detailed the experiences of pregnant people who have been denied lifesaving abortion care, and in the case of one woman in Oklahoma last month, the state's abortion ban effectively barred her from receiving cancer treatment.

Jaci Statton, a 25-year-old mother of three, experienced heavy bleeding in February after feeling nauseous, dizzy, and weak for several weeks. Her doctor informed her that she had a molar pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg has too many chromosomes that keep it from ever developing into a viable fetus.

Statton's molar pregnancy was among 15% of cases which become cancerous, putting her at risk for more hemorrhaging, kidney and liver failure, stroke—and potentially death.

Over the course of a week, though, Statton and her husband were told by doctors at three different hospitals that she could not get the treatment recognized by doctors as the standard of care for molar pregnancies: a dilation and curettage or D&C, which is a surgical abortion procedure that clears pregnancy tissue from the uterus.

"The criminalization and penalization of abortion care—even with an exception for medical necessity—is fundamentally inconsistent with evidence-based, ethical, and patient-centered healthcare."

At the last hospital she went to before deciding to get care three hours away at an abortion clinic in Kansas, Statton was told to wait in the parking lot until her symptoms became worse than the heavy bleeding and illness she had already experienced.

"They were very sincere; they weren't trying to be mean," Statton told NPR. "They said, 'The best we can tell you to do is sit in the parking lot, and if anything else happens, we will be ready to help you. But we cannot touch you unless you are crashing in front of us or your blood pressure goes so high that you are fixing to have a heart attack.'"

Statton's experience illustrates "what 'pro-life' laws look like on the ground," said MSNBC news anchor Chris Hayes.

Doctors were reluctant to treat Statton due to three separate anti-abortion laws that are in effect in Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Heartbeat Act, which prohibits physicians from 'knowingly' providing an abortion after 'detect[ing] a fetal heartbeat' and allows any individual to bring a civil action against anyone who provides care or helps someone obtain it, and which contains an exception for "medical emergencies" and to "save the life" of the pregnant person; H.B. 4327, which applies to pregnancies from the moment of fertilization; and a ban dating back to 1910, which went into effect on June 24, 2022 as soon as Roe v. Wade was overturned and prohibits abortion at any point in pregnancy.

Statton's case was reported by NPR as Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice published research showing that hospitals across Oklahoma are hesitant to provide abortion care for people facing a medical emergency, even though the state's abortion ban contains an exception for such cases.

The groups had several women call 37 hospitals across the state, saying they were pregnant and wanted to know the hospitals' policies for providing abortion care in the case of complications or a medical emergency.

At one hospital, a staff member consulted with a doctor before telling the caller, "Nowhere in the state of Oklahoma can you get an abortion for any reason," despite the exceptions.

Three hospitals said they would "just never provide abortions," Dr. Michele Heisler, a professor at the University of Michigan and medical director of PHR, toldNPR. Four facilities said they had an approval process in place to provide an abortion that was deemed "medically necessary," and 14 hospitals "provided unclear and/or incomplete answers about whether doctors require approval to perform a medically necessary abortion."

"One representative, for example, claimed that doctors at that hospital are not allowed to perform certain procedures for 'ethical reasons,' but would not clarify what those procedures or ethical concerns are," the report reads.

Heisler told NPR that "one of the most frightening statements, which was at one of the hospitals, the person was trying to be reassuring and she said, 'Oh, well, you know, in the case of a medical emergency, we would try to use the woman's body as an incubator to just try to keep the pregnancy going as long as possible.'"

The survey results "reflect how Oklahoma's abortion bans threaten the health and well-being of pregnant people and violate their human rights," said PHR. "These violations include individuals' rights to life, health, equality, information, freedom from torture and ill-treatment, and to exercise reproductive autonomy."

"These findings," the group added, "further affirm what has been recognized by the World Health Organization: that the criminalization and penalization of abortion care—even with an exception for medical necessity—is fundamentally inconsistent with evidence-based, ethical, and patient-centered healthcare."

Along with Statton, women in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida have shared their stories in recent months about how abortion ban "exceptions" have placed their lives in peril as doctors and hospital legal teams assessed whether they were facing a grave enough medical emergency to warrant providing care.

'Relentless' GOP push leads to nearly 1,500 book bans in first half of school year: report

New laws imposed by right-wing state legislatures have been a driving force behind a rise in book bans since the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, a national free expression group reported Thursday.

PEN America's new report, Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools, reveals that 874 unique titles were pulled from public school library shelves from July-December 2022, the result of 1,477 individual book bans.

That represents a 28% rise from the first half of 2022, and the group said the escalation is largely due to state-level "stringent policies that schools must abide by when reviewing existing library collections."

The states that have banned the most books include Texas and Florida—where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed legislation to restrict teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ issues in classrooms and where some schools were directed to empty or cover bookshelves in order to comply with the new laws.

Just seven districts in Texas were behind 438 individual book bans and 13 school districts in Florida were responsible for 357 bans.

In previous years schools have removed books as the result of complaints by individual parents or community members, but 74% of book bans this school year have been linked to organized efforts by pro-censorship groups like Moms for Liberty, pressure from elected officials, or newly enacted state laws.

Nearly a third of the school book bans since the beginning of the school year, said PEN America, have been the direct result of laws passed in three states: Utah, Florida, and Missouri.

"The heavy-handed tactics of state legislators are mandating book bans, plain and simple," said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. "Some politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have tried to dismiss the rise in book bans as a 'hoax.' But their constituents and supporters are not fooled. The numbers don't lie, and reveal a relentless crusade to constrict children's freedom to read."

Public school districts across Missouri acted swiftly last year to pull 313 book titles from school library and classroom shelves after Senate Bill 775 was passed in August. The law was originally written to create new protections for survivors of sexual assault, but an amendment made it a Class A misdemeanor for librarians or teachers to provide students with so-called "explicit sexual material."

"The unfortunate reality of Senate Bill 775 is that, now in effect, it includes criminal penalties for individual educators," said one school administrator after the law was passed. "We are not willing to risk those potential consequences and will err on the side of caution on behalf of the individuals who serve our students."

Tennessee Republicans have passed a law requiring school libraries to catalogue books based on age-appropriateness, resulting in "wholesale bans" of books, the Thursday report says, as teachers and administrators "decided to remove classroom library collections rather than put themselves at risk of punishment."

Such wholesale bans are an "emerging feature" of the quickly escalating trend, said PEN America.

"We had one librarian who began pulling absolutely everything because the fear became so overwhelming," one library official in Missouri toldCoda. "Others wound up shutting down their library for periods of time just so they could ensure they had gone through everything."

The group's report follows another analysis by the American Library Association, which revealed in March that across public libraries in the U.S., an unprecedented 2,571 unique titles were challenged in 2022, a 38% increase from the previous year.

Also driven by pro-censorship groups and politicians, libraries recorded 1,269 demands to censor books last year, compared to 729 demands in 2021.

In the second half of 2022, 30% of the titles banned in school libraries were about race, racism, or characters of color, while 26% of the books had LGBTQ+ themes or characters.

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and Flamer by Mike Curato—both including LGBTQ+ themes—are the most banned titles so far this year, having been prohibited in 15 school districts. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins and The Handmaid's Tale: the Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault were banned in 13 and 12 districts, respectively.

"This book ban movement erupted precisely as many schools had begun to diversify the literature they make available to young people," said Kasey Meehan, the Freedom to Read program director at PEN America. "Now, those books are being ripped away from students who need access to diverse ideas, information, characters, and stories. They should not be deprived of the opportunity to see themselves reflected in literature and to learn from different perspectives."

'He must be impeached': Calls for ouster of Clarence Thomas grow after latest bombshell

New revelations about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's business dealings with Texas Republican megadonor Harlan Crow on Thursday led to intensified calls for the right-wing justice's impeachment, as ProPublicareported on a previously undisclosed real estate transaction between the two men.

A week after the first report on Crow's funding of Thomas' travel was published, ProPublica revealed that Crow purchased two vacant lots and the home where Thomas' mother lived, all owned by Thomas and his family, in Savannah, Georgia in 2014.

The purchase, completed for $133,363, marked "the first known instance of money flowing from Crow to the Supreme Court justice," the news outlet reported.

Federal disclosure laws state that in most cases, Supreme Court justices and other government officials must disclose real estate transactions over $1,000.

"Thomas did not disclose the purchase as required by law. He must be impeached," said Democratic strategist Sawyer Hackett.

Exceptions to the law include cases in which someone sells "property used solely as a personal residence of the reporting individual or the individual's spouse," but legal experts confirmed to ProPublica that the sale of the Savannah properties did not meet the criteria for any of the exemptions.

"He needed to report his interest in the sale," Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told ProPublica.

The news outlet's previous reporting on Crow and Thomas revealed that the billionaire paid for Thomas to travel on a Bombardier Global 5000 jet, to Crow's ranch in Texas, and to his private resort in the Adirondacks—all of which was left off federal disclosure forms.

"Given the role Crow has played in subsidizing the lifestyle of Thomas and his wife, you have to wonder if this was an effort to put cash in their pockets," Canter said of the real estate sale in Savannah.

Crow released a statement on Thursday saying he had purchased Thomas' family home—which he still owns and where the justice's mother continued living until at least 2020, according to public records—to "one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation's second black Supreme Court Justice."

"I approached the Thomas family about my desire to maintain this historic site so future generations could learn about the inspiring life of one of our greatest Americans," said Crow.

Critics suggested the statement raised more questions than it answered.

"Clarence Thomas previously said that free flights on Harlan Crow's private jet counted as 'hospitality' and thus did not have to be disclosed," saidSlate journalist Mark Joseph Stern. "That made no sense, but this is even worse. How is a covert real estate deal that enriched Thomas 'hospitality'? This is pretty brazen."

Brett Edkins, managing director of policy and political affairs for Stand Up America, said the new reporting offers clear evidence that "Justice Thomas' vote on the Supreme Court is bought and paid for by right-wing billionaire Harlan Crow."

"Crow is not, as Thomas claims, his 'dearest friend' so much as his corrupt benefactor," said Edkins. "Thomas is unfit to serve on any court, let alone our nation's highest court. His failure to disclose his close financial dealings with a GOP billionaire has single-handedly destroyed what little credibility this MAGA Court had left."

"Failing to hold Justice Thomas accountable, hold hearings, and pass a Supreme Court code of ethics," he added, would be a dereliction of duty by federal lawmakers.

Demand Justice released polling data showing that 70% of Americans would back a federal investigation into alleged ethics violations of Supreme Court justices.

"This shady land deal amounts to a payoff of a sitting Supreme Court justice, plain and simple. Senate Democrats need to announce a thorough investigation into the details of Clarence Thomas' ties to Harlan Crow, including calling witnesses to get to the bottom of their financial relationship and Thomas' apparent lawbreaking," said Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon.

"[Former Supreme Court Justice] Abe Fortas resigned under threat of impeachment for less," he noted, "and while impeachment may not be possible here with Republicans in control of the House, Thomas needs to face real accountability for his likely illegal behavior. Polls show that if Senate Democrats act, the public will strongly support them."

Nearly 270 state lawmakers denounce 'anti-democratic' expulsion effort by Tennessee GOP

Lawmakers from 35 states on Thursday signed a letter condemning the Tennessee Republican Party as it prepared to expel three Democratic representatives who joined a protest demanding gun control legislation in the State Capitol, with the letter accusing the state GOP of racist and "anti-democratic" conduct.

Tennessee Reps. Gloria Johnson (D-13), Justin Jones (D-52), and Justin Pearson (D-86) joined Nashville students and their supporters on Monday as they poured into the Capitol building, demanding that lawmakers ban weapons like the ones used in a mass shooting at a Christian school in the city last week, which killed three children and three adults, and pass other broadly popular gun control legislation.

Republicans have accused the three Democrats of bringing "disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives" by speaking without recognition during a protest on the chamber's floor last week, a technical violation of the House rules, and of taking part in an "insurrection."

"There is nothing 'disorderly' about courageously standing in solidarity with the people we are elected to serve, in opposition to the gun lobby that continues to profiteer off of an epidemic they have fueled," reads the letter. "The Tennessee State Capitol is the people's house, and Representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson exemplified leadership on the House floor this week by standing up for what's right. Any attempts to silence these elected leaders for exercising their constitutional right to protest are anti-democratic."

The Republicans passed three resolutions to hold votes on expelling the lawmakers on Monday, with each passing 72-23 on a party line vote. The vote on expulsion is expected to take place Thursday.

The letter, organized by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), accused the GOP of exemplifying the "robust and racist connection between fighting against gun safety and dismantling our democracy." Pearson and Jones are Black, and the lawmakers pointed out that people of color are disproportionately impacted by gun violence in the United States.

"Let's be clear, the vote to expel Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson is just another anti-democratic effort to silence the American people for speaking out against the devastating consequences of gun violence," said Neha Patel, co-executive director of SiX. "Calling for gun safety within the people's house is an example of our democracy in action, expelling lawmakers for standing for what they believe in is not.

"Gun violence impacts all of us, especially the Black and brown communities many legislators in Tennessee represent," she added. "Ultimately, these kinds of actions present clear and present danger to our country and our democracy, and we must not allow it."

March for Our Lives, the national group that was formed in 2018 by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, announced it would hold a rally outside the State Capitol on Thursday in support of the Johnson, Jones, and Pearson.

"We will not be silenced or intimidated," said advocacy group Gen Z for Change, addressing state Republicans. "As elected officials, your power is derived from the people and we will make it painfully obvious when you decide to work against us."

'Unconscionable': Hochul backs proposal to gut New York's landmark climate law

Climate action groups and scientists are denouncing an effort by New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul to gut the state's signature emissions reduction law—one of the most ambitious in the United States—as the governor's office claims the move is aimed at saving money for consumers and attempts to disguise it as a technical accounting change.

The proposal Hochul is backing has won approval from state Republicans and energy companies that are among the governor's top donors, and would change how state agencies determine the harmful effects of a project's emissions before approving it under the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).

The landmark law requires New York to reduce fossil fuel emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 85% below those levels by 2050. New York is one of two states that has required officials to consider the effects of emissions over a 20-year period—a metric that scientists say more accurately accounts for the impact of methane emissions, which trap more than 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in their first 20 years in the atmosphere.

Hochul's office has said in recent days that it supports a metric that would account for emissions over a 100-year period instead—an accounting methodology used by most other states and countries but one that makes "methane emissions appear much less damaging than they actually are," Shiv Soin, co-executive director of climate action group TREEage, toldThe Washington Post Tuesday.

"What appears to be a dorky accounting change is in fact a severe weakening of the climate law," Pete Sikora, climate and inequality campaigns director for New York Communities for Change, told the outlet.

The governor's office has told news outlets this week that the provision, which Hochul supports including in New York's $230 billion budget, is aimed at lowering costs for consumers as state agencies craft a cap-and-invest program.

Cap-and-invest would set an overall limit on emissions for New York and require companies to purchase emissions "allowances."

The Hochul administration says large polluters would pass on the costs of complying with the law to consumers, costing households 61% more in gas expenses.

As The Leverreported Tuesday, Hochul received nearly half a million dollars in donations in the last election cycle from energy companies that are pushing for the 100-year metric, including $117,000 from the CEO of oil and gas giant Hess Corp and $94,000 from the CEO of United Metro Energy.

Those companies would benefit from the provision, which would allow them to "include more natural gas in their energy mix while still complying with the state's climate law," The Lever reported.

Groups including Earthjustice and Food & Water Watch joined climate advocates in the state Assembly on Monday in a press conference where they denounced the two bills (S.6030 and A.6039) pushing for the change to the CLCPA.

"Gov. Hochul's attack on the state's landmark climate law is unconscionable," said Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director for Food & Water Watch. "At a time when scientists are begging governments around the world to move faster, our governor seems intent on bending to the will of the fossil fuel lobby... It's time for Gov. Hochul to wake up and reject this proposal to weaken our most important climate law."

The proposal would deliver "a body blow to the nation-leading law," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

"The governor and legislature should immediately reject this special interest scheme to undermine New York's science-based law which currently allows decision makers to accurately access the harms of methane-based fuels and provide the basis for urgently needed climate action," added Horner.

Sikora told The Lever that the proposal "is indistinguishable from something a [Republican] Gov. Lee Zeldin would have tried to get away with."

"This isn't really that complicated," he said. "Instead of trying to gut the law on behalf of the gas lobby, she should implement it."