21st Century … or Dark Ages???

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

— Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964

There has been considerable debate about whether Title VII extends protections against discrimination to the LGBT community, and at present, it varies by state and locality, despite the fact that the entire Civil Rights Act is a federal law.  At this time, only 21 states have outlawed discrimination against members of the LGBT community.  A bill, the Equality Act,  was introduced into the House of Representatives in March of this year by Representative David Cicilline. The bill has passed in the House and is now languishing in the Senate committee, but the odds of it becoming the law of the land seem slim at the moment, given the makeup of the current Senate, and the fact that Donald Trump spoke against it after right-wing religious organizations urged the White House to issue an opposition statement to the bill.

There are currently three cases on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court that will be heard on October 8th.  Briefly …

Zarda v Altitude Express:  Donald Zarda was fired from Altitude Express, where he worked as a skydiver. He informed a woman he was gay while they were strapped to each other because he thought it would make her feel more comfortable. She later informed his employer that she wasn’t happy with his sharing his being gay and he was subsequently fired. Zarda died in 2014 but his estate pursued the case.

Bostock v Clayton County:  Gerald Bostock, a child welfare services coordinator, was in a gay recreational softball league. He said his participation in the league and his sexual orientation became a problem with someone at work. Then he was fired for “conduct unbecoming of a county employee,” which he said was tied to his sexuality.

Harris Funeral Homes v EEOC:  Aimee Stephens, a trans woman, was fired from her job at a funeral parlor after she informed the funeral director she worked for that she was transgender. She had worked in funeral services for nearly 20 years and received positive feedback from her employer.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in all three cases on the same day, and according to Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization focused on LGBTQ people …

“This is a momentous occasion. It is a pivotal moment and the public should be paying attention.  These cases will affect the ability of LGBTQ people to be full members of society and to contribute to society by entering the workplace and be free of discrimination.”

Meanwhile, the United States Justice Department under Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General William Barr sent a brief to the Supreme Court two days ago stating that they should find in favour of the employer in the Harris Funeral Homes case, arguing that …

“In 1964, the ordinary public meaning of ‘sex’ was biological sex. It did not encompass transgender status. In the particular context of Title VII — legislation originally designed to eliminate employment discrimination against racial and other minorities — it was especially clear that the prohibition on discrimination because of ‘sex’ referred to unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace.”

Since when is it right and proper for the Department of Justice to tell the Supreme Court how to rule???  The Judiciary is an independent branch that is intended to be apolitical, not influenced by partisan politics.  However, the reality does not always match the intent.  Today, there are 5 justices who lean toward conservative opinions, 4 who are more liberal.  Chief Justice John Roberts is typically the more moderate of the conservative-leaning justices, often casting the deciding vote.  It is likely to come down to his single vote, and there are serious concerns, for he wrote a dissenting opinion in the 2014 case of Obergefell v Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage at the federal level.  And lately he has disappointed us a few times, such as his vote to give state lawmakers virtually unlimited authority to draw district lines (gerrymandering) once every 10 years, pick their voters and entrench their political power.

This is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages.  It is time we learn to accept people … ALL people … for who they are.  If the employers in these three cases are allowed to prevail, it will indeed be a dark day in the United States, and no doubt it will then be only a matter of time until we see cases coming before the court dealing with discrimination in housing, in education, in every aspect of life.  I’m convinced that it is only a matter of time until a case comes before the Supreme Court that challenges Obergefell v Hodges.  And then what?  If we strip the LGBT community of their rights, will we soon see cases attempting to strip African-Americans of their rights by challenging other aspects of the Civil Rights Act, or of the Voting Rights Act?

Keep your eyes on this one, folks, for how these three cases are decided will be the best indicator yet whether or not there is still “liberty and justice for all” in this nation.

The Court Has Spoken

The United States Supreme Court handed down two decisions today that will impact whether next year’s election is a fair and honest election or not.  While one of those decisions was a proper decision, it is only a temporary one.  The other decision basically handed next year’s election to the Republican Party.

First the (sort of) good …

The Court put on hold Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce) and Donald Trump’s attempt to intimidate voters by adding a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census form that every household is required to complete.  The Court said that the administration had presented a ‘contrived’ reason for adding the question, but rather than strike down the measure, they merely put the ball back in the administration’s court and told them to come up with a better reason, a more defensible justification.

What happens next with this is anybody’s guess, but the Department of Commerce will begin printing the census forms this summer, so there is not much time to make a final decision.  No doubt the government, such as it is, will find a way around it and make up some seemingly legitimate reason for adding the question.  Stay tuned …

The second decision handed down by the Court was a travesty of justice.  The issue was gerrymandering and whether the courts have the authority to order states to re-draw district maps that are currently drawn in such a way as to diminish the votes of the poor and minorities.  For a simple explanation of how gerrymandering works, see my post from February 2018.  Gerrymandering is a large part of how Donald Trump came to sit in the Oval Office, for in many states he lost the popular vote, but because of the way votes were apportioned, he won enough districts to nullify the votes of many.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, concluding …

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissenting opinion …

“For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”

The Court understandably walks a fine line here, for it is intended to be non-partisan, and this is a highly partisan issue.  But, there is no fine line when it comes to fairness!  There is no grey area here!  States whose citizenry is majority republican have drawn their district maps to ensure that republicans will receive the largest number of electoral votes.  It isn’t debatable, it is simply WRONG!

The ramifications of this decision go beyond the obvious.  Think about this.  If you are a democrat in a predominantly republican state, and your state’s districts are heavily gerrymandered, skewed to ensure that minority votes are diluted, doesn’t that dim some of your enthusiasm for even voting?  One of the biggest problems we have on election day is getting people out to vote.  This is especially true of the poor and the minorities, for whom voting has been intentionally made more difficult than it needs to be by unfair voter I.D. laws, closing or reduction of polling places in lower-income neighborhoods, and other cheap tricks.  I can easily picture the single mom who has to take an hour-long bus ride after work to reach her polling place on the other side of town just throwing her hands up and saying, “Forget it!  I don’t have time for this when my vote isn’t going to count fairly anyway!”

What’s next?  Will the Court find a way to rule that voter harassment is not unconstitutional, so men in white robes and hoods can stand in front of polling venues?  Might just as damn well!

So much rides on next year’s election, folks.  On November 3rd next year, We the People are supposed to make a choice between turning this nation over to a madman who represents only a minority of the people for the foreseeable future, or a person who will safeguard our Constitution, who will represent ALL the people who reside in this nation, not just the chosen few.  Due to outside influences in our election process, and due to lack of voter education, the odds are already stacked against sanity reigning.  This is just one more blow to the possibility of having a fair and honest election … possibly a death blow.

Many times, I have said that we must hope the one completely independent branch of our government, the courts, would stop Trump from completely destroying this nation.  The Court has spoken.supreme court justices

The Supreme Court Has Lost Its Way …

The Supreme Court, the branch of the federal government that is supposed to be most independent, that is intended to hold the executive and legislative branches accountable, has made two major decisions today that indicate they have fallen and landed squarely in the camp of Donald Trump.  I am beyond disappointed … I am incensed, and I see our rights as citizens of this plutocracy going down the drain. supreme court justices

Supreme Court revives Trump’s transgender military ban

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Trump administration to go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender people while court challenges continue.  The court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court’s five conservatives greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they would not have.

Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender. That changed under President Barack Obama. The military announced in 2016 that transgender individuals already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017 as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.

Trump, of course, had to undo that, for two reasons:  a) it was a decision made during the Obama administration, and Trump has a goal to undo every single thing Obama did, and b) because Donald Trump and his supporters are homophobic bigots.  There is no viable reason to ban transgender people from the military, and this decision does not reflect the feelings of the majority in this nation!

Supreme Court returns to gun rights for 1st time in 9 years

The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will take up its first gun rights case in nine years, a challenge to New York City’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun outside the city limits.  The court’s decision to hear the appeal filed by three New York residents and New York’s National Rifle Association affiliate could signal a revived interest in gun rights by a more conservative court. The case won’t be argued until October.

New York’s ordinance allows people licensed to have handguns to carry them outside the home to gun ranges in the city. The guns must be locked and unloaded.  The city residents who filed suit want to practice shooting at target ranges outside the city or take their guns to second homes elsewhere in New York state.  The city’s top lawyer, Zachary Carter, urged the court to reject the case, arguing that the restrictions allowed New York police to reduce the number of guns carried in public.

Just about the last … the very last … thing we need in this country is an expansion of 2nd Amendment ‘rights’!  The NRA has already nearly ensured that gun deaths in the U.S. will continue to be the highest per capita on the globe.  What do we want … are we shooting for some sort of record here … “let’s see if we can top last year’s gun deaths”?

Both of these issues are beyond merely concerning on their own merit, but the even greater concern is the trend that is appearing.  It is a trend we all feared when first, Neil Gorsuch, then Brett Kavanaugh were seated on the Supreme Court.  It is deeply disturbing that the Supreme Court appears to be making decisions strictly along partisan lines rather than considering issues on Constitutional merit.  The real concern, however, lies on the path ahead.  There are two prior Supreme Court rulings that ultra-conservative republicans, evangelicals, Trump’s base, want to see overturned:  Roe v Wade, and Obergefell v Hodges.  The first guarantees a woman the right to make decisions about her own body, her own life.  The second guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.  Both were long, hard-fought battles and are, in short, about human rights … civil rights.

In addition to those, it is highly likely that the Supreme Court will soon be asked to hear cases involving gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement.  Our constitutional rights … all of them … may be in jeopardy if the Court cannot manage to overcome it’s partisanship.  After Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation, Chief Justice John Roberts, in an effort to quell growing concerns of partisanship on the Court, made the following statement:

“… We do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle, we do not caucus in separate rooms, we do not serve one party or one interest. We serve one nation. And I want to assure all of you that we will continue to do that to the best of our abilities, whether times are calm or contentious.”

Prove that to us, please, Chief Justice.

A Thumb-Up For The Chief Justice

In the past week, since the November 6th mid-term elections, we have seen the very worst of Donald Trump.  He has acted alternately like a madman and a two-year-old, determined, it would seem to do as much damage to the nation, the government, and the Constitution as he possibly can before the 116th Congress is seated on January 3rd.  It has been, frankly, de-moralizing and we have had a forewarning of the tyranny Trump might yet inflict upon this nation.  But just in the past couple of days, a few people have slowly begun waking up … people in power are beginning to push back against Trump, to say, “No, sir, you cannot do that”.

One such person is Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who has finally had enough.  I have had concerns that Roberts was letting the Supreme Court be turned into a partisan arm of the government, that he was turning out to be yet another of Trump’s boot-lickers.  But, yesterday he seems to have found his cojones and spoke out after Trump denigrated yet another federal judge.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar of San Francisco issued a nationwide restraining order barring enforcement of the policy Trump announced Nov. 8.  Trump’s policy would have allowed only people who cross at legal checkpoints to request asylum, a transformation of long-established asylum procedures, codified both at the international level and by Congress.

“Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” ruled Judge Tigar. The ruling is in effect until December 19th, at which point it will be argued before the courts.

And predictably, Trump threw one of his tiresome tirades …

“That’s not law. Every case that gets filed in the Ninth Circuit we get beaten. It’s a disgrace. This was an Obama judge. Everybody that wants to sue the United States, they file their case in the Ninth Circuit, and it means an automatic loss no matter what you do, no matter how good your case is. I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore. The Ninth Circuit is really something we have to take a look at because it’s not fair. People should not be allowed to immediately run to this very friendly circuit and file their case.”

It was the part where he called Judge Tigar an “Obama judge” that raised the hackles of Justice Roberts …

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

I have not always been pleased with Justice Robert’s decisions, especially in the last two years, but I give him a thumbs up on this, for it is important for all to remember that the courts do not answer to either Congress or the president but are indeed intended to be a fully independent branch.  Trump appears not to understand that, and in truth, now that Brett Kavanaugh holds a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court, I am seriously concerned about the independence of the judiciary.

But then, of course, the fool on the hill had to hit back …

“Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country. It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an ‘independent judiciary,’ but if it is why are so many opposing view cases filed there, and why are a vast number of those cases overturned. Please study the numbers, they are shocking. We need protection and security — these rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!”

There seems to be, among some of Trump’s loyalists, a prevailing notion that if he is the president, he can say and do anything he wants.  Funny, but when Obama was president, these same people took the opposite view, that if Obama did virtually anything, he was overstepping his bounds.  At least as of today, 22 November 2018, Trump is only a president, not a dictator, and no, he cannot do whatever he pleases.  He does not have the right to change the law to suit his whims, he does not have the right to do as he has already done and send troops on a costly fool’s mission to the southern border to “defend the nation” against old men, women and children!  Donald Trump is not, at least at this time, above the law and his position gives him only limited privileges.  It’s time that he and his loyalists realize and accept that, for the rest of us are sick and tired of his mouth.

No, America Has Not Changed

In 2013, the Supreme Court repealed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because, as Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”  Justice Roberts clearly felt that racism was no longer the problem it was in 1965 when the law was originally passed.  Well, guess what folks … it is every bit as big a problem today.  Two stories from this past week prove the point.

Two men entered a Starbucks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  They did not immediately place an order, for they were waiting for their friend, Andrew Yaffe, to join them before ordering.  Mr. Yaffe would arrive in just a few minutes, only to find his friends being arrested by Philadelphia police.  Why?  They were being arrested for ‘defiant trespassing’, according to police.  Mr. Yaffe explained to police that the two were his friends and were waiting for him, but the men were, nonetheless, handcuffed and taken to the police station.  Nine hours later they were released without being charged.

How often have you arranged to meet friends for lunch, dinner, or just coffee, and on arriving first, declined to order until your friend arrived?  It is not a crime, people!  Oh … unless you are black, that is.  When the men first entered the Starbucks, they told the employee at the counter that they would order shortly, that they were waiting for their friend.  The white, female employee nonetheless called police.

Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, issued the following statement:Meanwhile, police commissioner Richard Ross supported his officers, saying, “These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy; they did what they were supposed to do. They were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen. And instead, they got the opposite back.”

You be the judge …

In Rochester Hills, Michigan, 14-year-old Brennan Walker missed his school bus and had to walk to school.  Not exactly sure of the best route, Brennan knocked on the door of the home of Jeffrey Zeigler and his wife to ask directions to Rochester High School.  Zeigler’s wife answered the door and immediately began yelling at Brennan, asking him why he was trying to ‘break into’ her house, as he tried to explain.  And then, along came Mr. Zeigler with his shotgun.  Brennan did exactly what any of us would have done … he turned around and ran.  And as he ran, he heard the gunshot.  Fortunately, Zeigler is a bad shot and Brennan was petrified, but not hit.

Jeffrey Zeigler, a retired firefighter who is white, was charged with assault with intent to murder and a felony firearm charge, and his bond was set at $50,000.  During his arraignment, Zeigler said …

“There’s a lot more to the story than what’s being told, and I believe that will all come out in court. I was in bed yesterday morning when my wife started screaming and crying … ”

And at that point, the judge stopped his diatribe.

A surveillance camera mounted on the house caught the incident on tape, and Ms. Zeigler can be heard saying, “Why did these people choose my house?”  These people?  Who are ‘these people’?

Brennan’s dad, by the way, is currently deployed in Syria as a part of the U.S. Army Special Forces.

In a similar case in Dearborn, Michigan in 2013, a young black woman was shot and killed by a homeowner when she knocked on his door to use the phone after an auto accident.

I have to disagree with Chief Justice Roberts – our country has not changed.  Racism is very much alive and well, and while I would agree that we shouldn’t need to legislate fairness and equality, the ugly truth is that we still very much do need to.

Why anybody should think they are superior to another based on the colour of their skin remains beyond me, but in this, the 21st century, it is obvious that far too many do.  Since the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, there is increased activity by white supremacist groups, some of whom have openly stated that their goal is to “secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”  Since the appointment of a proven racist to the position of U.S. Attorney General, we have seen a rollback in programs that were implemented to monitor police departments and provide training to defeat racist attitudes.

No, Justice Roberts, America has not changed.

Idiot of the Week – Wayne Allyn Root

Idiot of the Week medalThey walk among us.  They generally look close enough to pass for human.  They reproduce.  And once they open their mouths, one is given to understand almost immediately that one has come into contact with a not-so-rare breed, an idiot.  Idiots have been around since the beginning of time, but today’s are more dangerous, for they have become adept at appearing to be perfectly ‘normal’.  It would be so much easier if they were born with a little ‘i’ stamped into their forehead.

root-bookSo, without further ado, allow me to introduce Wayne Allyn Root.  Root is many things … a wise man is NOT one of them.  He is or has been at one time or another, a politician, entrepreneur, television and radio personality, TV producer, political commentator and author. Root has published nine books, and according to his bio page, he is a ‘bestselling author’.  This is a bit of a stretch.  The book he claims was a bestseller, The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide, published in 2013, has only a 4.2/5 rating on Amazon and a mere 3.9/5 on Goodreads.  Amazon currently has the book marked down from $27.95 to $6.95 for the hardcover.  Almost unheard of in only its fourth year.  It has a very low ranking on Amazon, and I did not go to the trouble to find the total sales for the book, but suffice it to say that it was never a #1 bestseller.  Anyway, now that Obama is out of office, that book would be a moot point … or would it?

Mr. Root has formulated a number of conspiracy theories about President Obama, most during Obama’s second term in office:

  • Root and Obama both attended Columbia University at the same time. Root first claims that Obama did not attend, as he says he never saw him, so he must be lying about attending.  31,000 students and he should have seen and remembered Obama?  But then he says that Obama attended as a foreign exchange student.  When asked for evidence, he proclaimed “Call it ‘gut instinct’ but my gut is almost always right …”  And then he claimed that during his time at Columbia, Obama learned his strategy to impose socialist control on the U.S.

  • Root said that Obama “cut his afro” in order to infiltrate the political class and become a “Manchurian candidate” meant to take down America from within.

  • Root has diagnosed Obama as an “arrogant, egomaniacal sociopath” who is either “mentally ill” or committing treason and must be removed from office “before he kills us all” with Ebola-ridden terrorists. (Okay, now folks … who is the mentally ill sociopath here???)

  • Root contends that America’s troubles with race were in the past until Obama came along to divide everyone, saying that the president “didn’t come in to help us end the specter of racism, he brought it back.”

Root also has a new book that was released last August, titled Angry White Male

root-book-newWhat set off the radar today, however, was that last Friday on his radio program, WAR Now: The Wayne Allyn Root Show, he said …

“All the liberal, unhinged, wackos who think it’s a sure thing that there is a Trump-Russia connection and that Trump will be impeached—whether it’s Russia, or whether it’s obstruction of justice, or whether it’s giving classified information to Russia—they’re wacko. Trump will never be in trouble for any of it. Trump will never be impeached for any of it. Not going to happen.”

And then, regarding the incident where candidate for a House seat from Montana, Glen Gianforte, beat up a reporter from the Guardian, he said …

“I guarantee you this reporter for The Guardian was being vicious and the guy running for Congress in Montana, Gianforte, just had enough of it and finally snapped and just knocked him down and jumped on top of him and then they pulled him away. And so the little wussy ran away crying and called the police. If you put me in a cage with a real liberal, I will beat the living daylights out of them. They’ll have broken ribs and a black eye.”

Oooooohhhhh …. Tough dude! (bastard)


Now, that was the one that got me, but never fear, Mr. Root has proven his idiocy in many other ways also!  He was born into a Jewish home, but in June 2016, Root described himself as a “Jew turned Evangelical Christian.” Okay … people do convert from one religion to another … I get that.  BUT, five short months later, in November 2016, Root described himself as Jewish, and says he considers Donald Trump to be the first Jewish president!  Huh???

Just as with his religion, he cannot quite make up his mind about his party affiliation.  He was a long-time republican until 2007, when he switched to the libertarian party, and ran for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination in the 2008 election. He finished third at the 2008 Libertarian National Convention. But five years later, in September 2012, he switched back to the republican party in order to support republican candidate Mitt Romney.  Most recently, of course, he supported Little Donnie Dark.

He recently came up with a “brilliant” plan for Donald Trump’s wall.  I’ll let him tell you his idea …

“Congress is not going to pay for it, but the people will. First, go to the American people. Ask all the patriots of America to donate the money to build the wall. I know the 62 million American patriots who voted for you Mr. President will respond. Tell them “it’s for the future of your children.” For $100 each donor will get their name on a brick on the wall. Here’s the bonus. Not only will the wall get built, but the American people will realize Congress is a useless group of cowards (Republicans) and traitors (Democrats), and no longer necessary. The American people can get things done without Congress.”

You all remember the King v Burwell case in 2015, right?  Oh … you don’t?  Well, long story short, it was one of the cases where the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA, alias Obamacare) against a challenge brought by a group of conservative activists led by a man named David King. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of upholding ACA in a 6-3 decision, led by Chief Justice John Roberts.  Now Mr. Root, never one to miss an opportunity for a good conspiracy theory, tweeted …

“Time to question Justice Roberts’ decisions. Just like John Boehner, I now believe Justice Roberts has been blackmailed or intimidated.”

Oh for Pete’s …

And what, do you think, is his take on arguably the most important issue facing us, climate change?  Well, this screenshot from his Facebook page sums it up

root-2.pngBut wait … just three months earlier, in September 2015, he said …

“I admit it. Global warming is real and is warping brains. Either that or Democrats are really really dumb. They voted for Barack Obama…twice. They think our economy is in “recovery.” Now they are getting ready to vote for Hillary Clinton. It must be global warming.”

Did I mention that he writes for Breitbart, Fox, and his program airs on Fox News? Surprised, aren’t you?

There is more … much more … that proves this man to be an idiot, but I know my readers do not have four hours to spend reading this post, so I shall stop now and present the award.  Ahem … Mr. Wayne Allyn Root … for exhibiting signs of idiocy far beyond the norm, and for being a conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, for being a man of violent tendencies and a hater of all thinking people, I hereby award you the coveted Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week award!!!  I know you must be excited, and I’m sure you will want to give it a place of honour in your home or office!  No … really … no need to thank me … you have earned it!

The Snake-Oil Salesman and the Governor

Jonnie-WilliamsMr. Jonnie R. Williams Sr. of Virginia has a very shady past.  In the 1970’s after a single year of college, he sold cars for a living.  For a while.  Then he got into real estate.  For a while.  Then he opened an eyeglass and contact lens shop called Colonial Opticians. For a while.  It went bankrupt shortly after he was fined for fitting people for contact lenses with no license, not to mention no opthalmic background.  But by this time, somehow, Mr. Jonnie R. Williams was driving around town in a gold Mercedes convertible, despite an unpaid balance on a $45,000 Small Business Administration loan.

Jonnie went back to selling cars, Mercedes as it were, this time in Massachusetts.  His former boss remembers him as “the best salesman we ever had.”  Soon, however, he moved on and started one business that lasted three years before bankruptcy, then another that produced a medical product, an eye ointment, that eventually led to legal claims that cost Jonnie some $300,000.  Next, a series of investments in various medical-related companies where Jonnie made money, not from sales, but from investments amid rising stock prices.

Then in 1990, Jonnie launched a company called Star Scientifics, a maker of discount cigarettes.  One thing led to another … I won’t bore you with all the details, as they have no bearing on this story … and soon Jonnie was once again losing business, so he dropped cigarettes and started selling throat lozenges and ‘dietary supplements’ called Anatabloc.  His product launch was in 2012 at a luncheon held in the governor’s mansion.

Star Scientific is now, just like those that went before, in trouble.  The company’s stock price has taken a serious hit; the FDA has warned that the company was marketing Anatabloc illegally; and shareholders have filed suit.  So you now see what Jonnie R. Williams is like … at least one person has referred to him as a “snake oil salesman” … I think that sounds about right.  But … and now I come to the point of my story … in return for a bit of help in launching, testing and perhaps promoting his faux dietary supplement, Mr. Williams provided the following ‘favours’ to then Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his family:

  • A trip to Cape Cod for Robert and his wife, Maureen
  • An engraved Rolex watch for Maureen
  • A 2011 NYC shopping trip for Maureen
  • Dinner at La Grotta for Robert and Maureen
  • Flight to Final Four for Robert and Maureen
  • Various yard work and landscaping
  • Florida vacation for daughter Rachel
  • Plane tickets for daughters Rachel and Cailin
  • $15,000 wedding catering for daughter Cailin
  • Trip to Williams’ lake home for Robert, Maureen and all four children
  • Golf trip for Robert and son Sean
  • Five additional golf trips for Robert and sons Sean & Bobby
  • Private plane flight for sons Sean and Bobby, and daughter Jeanine
  • Plane tickets for daughter Jeanine
  • $10,000 engagement check for daughter Jeanine
  • $150,000+ in loans (some estimates say upward of $175,000, but I find verifiable evidence only of $150,000)

Robert McDonnell drives Williams’ Ferrari

On January 21, 2014, McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted on federal corruption charges for receiving improper gifts and loans from none other than Jonnie Williams.  They were convicted on most counts by a federal jury on September 4, 2014. McDonnell, the first Virginia governor to be indicted or convicted of a felony, was sentenced on January 6, 2015 to two years in prison, followed by two years of supervised release. He has been free on bond during the appeals process, which upheld his convictions on July 10, 2015.  On February 20, 2015, his wife was sentenced to twelve months and a day in prison, also followed by two years of supervised release. She is free on bond.

Yesterday, 27 June, the Supreme Court that has been deadlocked on so many important cases since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, voted unanimously to overturn Robert McDonnell’s conviction.  Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, narrowed the definition of what sort of official act can serve as the basis of a corruption prosecution.  Prosecutors must prove, the chief justice continued, that the defendant made a decision or took action on the matter, or agreed to do so (in exchange for gifts).  The alternative, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, would be to criminalize routine political courtesies.  I agree in theory, but let’s face it, ‘routine political courtesies’ need not be of the caliber listed above.  To me, a $4,000 – $6,000 wristwatch, and $10,000 – $15,000 wedding gifts sounds more like a bribe than a simple ‘thank you’ for a small political favour.

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns,” Roberts wrote. “It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”  Apparently, there was little or no evidence that, apart from the luncheon in the Governor’s Mansion, any favours were ever extended to Jonnie Williams, thus the Supreme Court ruling.  Under these circumstances, the ruling likely could have been no different, however … common sense tells us that all those ‘gifts’ I listed above were somehow in exchange for something.  If there is blame to be leveled here, I would point the finger at prosecutors who perhaps did not dig deeply enough.

Undoubtedly this goes on more than any of us know, and to some extent it is business as usual.  But with yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, it just got even harder for prosecutors to bring charges of corruption in the future, and that is my complaint.  The Supreme Court sets precedent for future cases, and this time they set one that will ultimately lead only to more corruption in government.