The WNBA star and her lawyers had asked for leniency after officials at a Russian airport allegedly found less than a gram of hash oil in her luggage in February, but a Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years, just below the maximum-possible sentence of 10.
Across Russia, there are 35 women’s penal colonies that house an estimated 60,000 inmates, Ivan Melnikov, the vice president of the Russian Department of the International Human Rights Defense Committee, and Yekaterina Kalugina, a Russian human rights activist who observed Griner and her living conditions in March, tell PEOPLE.
The cells have just over 11 feet of private space, with most cells holding anywhere between 40 to 60 women who sleep in bunk beds.
Jim Heintz/AP/Shutterstock Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in the Khimki district court
Melnikov and Kalugina say much of what goes on in the colonies depends on the prison governor, with some being more strict than others. (Both say they cannot reveal which colony Griner is located.)
“Brittney is being held in a detention cell within a penal colony,” Melnikov says. At the detention center, the spaces are cramped and there’s only a small exercise yard, but there is a benefit to staying there — each day counts as two towards a prison sentence.
Kalungina expects that the guards will keep Griner in the detention center until Russia and the U.S. decide if they’ll go through with her prisoner exchange.
Melnikov adds that “she is likely to stay there for the time of her appeal, which might be up to three months if she isn’t pardoned and exchanged before then, but if her appeal fails, she might be sent on to another colony.”
ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Brittney Griner
Inside the colony, there’s more space and Griner will have to work eight hours a day. For most prisoners, this means sewing, cleaning, cooking and serving food, but, because of her career as a WNBA player, Griner can see about coaching women’s basketball. There’s a precedent for such an arrangement — Russian soccer players Alexander Kokorin and Pavel Mamayev coached inmates while they served time in one of the colonies.
Melnikov says that it’s up to the prison governor to decide if Griner can coach.
“I hope that she will be sent to a colony with a lenient governor who allows her to coach basketball in the daytime rather than being a seamstress,” he says. “Prisoners are encouraged to play sports or do yoga and so on, and basketball is popular. I think that would be the best thing for her.”
Ethan Miller/Getty (L-R) Brianna Turner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse and Brittney Griner
Each morning, Melnikov says, the prisoners “are woken at 6 a.m., they wash, dress, make their beds, stand to attention for the register, go to breakfast and then start an eight-hour working day, usually as a seamstresses. But we are trying to encourage governors to use the talents of the inmates. For example, working with art.”
Prisoners in the colony get some free time outside of their work requirements, Melnikov says.
“Their free time is set by the governor, from half an hour to two hours a day and during that time they can just chat with each other, read a book from the library, write letters home, play sports, play board games and call friends and family.”
The prisoners are supposed to get a minimum wage of $180 a month, Melnikov says, which they can spend in the prison shop on items like toiletries, tampons, cigarettes and fresh fruit and vegetables, and they can also pay for the internet to send emails.
Generally, though, the conditions are difficult. Tuberculosis is common in the colonies, many prisoners are malnourished from the limited food and the medical care is poor. Most need friends and family to send them food and basic toiletries, but that isn’t possible for some prisoners.
RELATED VIDEO: ‘Forgotten’ American Woman Jailed in Russia with Brittney Griner Tried to Flee with U.S. Help Before Arrest
For now, though, Griner is again waiting to hear what will happen to her. She’s staying in the detention center, where she can choose to work to get outside and see other people, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist doesn’t know if she’ll be exchanged, have a successful appeal, or if she’ll live out her next nine years in a Russian penal colony.
When Griner heard about the potential exchange, she was “quite happy to know that she’s not been forgotten and that there are some possible developments,” her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, previously told PEOPLE. “But she’s quite realistic about what’s going on.”
Russia’s Trump Raid Tantrum Is a Spectacle You Don’t Want to Miss
Julia Davis – August 9, 2022
The FBI raid on former U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida triggered shockwaves across Russia, with outraged Kremlin propagandists rushing to defend their favorite American president and going so far as to predict that the raid will eventually spark a civil war in the United States.
When Trump lost the last presidential election to Joe Biden, experts and pundits in Moscow worried out loud that his prosecution for a bevy of potential offenses is imminent. They even contemplated offering their beloved “Trumpushka” asylum in Russia. As time went by, Putin’s mouthpieces became convinced that Trump was in the clear, and their fears subsided.
On Monday’s broadcast of The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov, the host and his panelists praised the participants of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and expressed their admiration for Trump and his allies. The same day, appearing on state TV program 60 Minutes, military expert Igor Korotchenko openly called for Russia to support Trump’s candidacy in the 2024 elections.
News of the raid landed in Moscow with a thud, as angry propagandists embellished the search with made-up details, claiming that “one hundred FBI agents” and hordes of police dogs rummaged through Mar-a-Lago. On Tuesday’s broadcast of 60 Minutes, Korotchenko angrily condemned the raid: “There is a straight-up witch hunt happening in America. Trump, as the most popular politician in the United States—who has every chance of prevailing in the upcoming presidential election—was chosen as such a witch,” he raged. “They won’t just be vilifying him, they will be strangling him. These raids, involving dozens of FBI officers and police dogs—this is worse than McCarthyism, my friends! This is a symbol of inordinate despotism.”
In the days preceding the raid, the host of 60 Minutes, Evgeny Popov, who is also a deputy of Russia’s State Duma, repeatedly referred to Trump as Russia’s “friend,” “protégé”, and a favored candidate, but cautiously added that Moscow is yet to decide on who to support in the upcoming U.S. elections. On Tuesday, Popov said: “As soon as Donald Trump complained that Biden was the worst president in the history of the United States, which is fast becoming a third world country, there was a knock on Donald’s door: “Knock-knock, this is the FBI!” More than one hundred agents stormed in and searched Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.” Popov joked that the agents were said to have found a couple of matryoshka, Putin’s portrait, a pioneer scarf, two icons, a parachute, and a chained bear with balalaika.
Without a hint of irony, the state TV host described the search of the former president’s home as a symptom of political persecution of dissidents in the United States. “Dozens of agents ransacked every office, went through every box, and took every document that was of interest to them. It is thought that the FBI was interested in the Top Secret documents supposedly taken by the ex-president from the White House… Biden, with his dictatorial tendencies, repressions, and persecution of dissidents, is turning America into Ukraine. He already did that, since the opposition is being persecuted by authorities,” Popov said. He fantasized that as the result of the raid, Florida would split from the United States and its new constitution would feature Trump’s assertion that there are only two genders: male and female.
Decorated Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov started Tuesday’s broadcast of his radio program, Full Contact With Vladimir Solovyov, by bringing up the raid of Trump’s Florida digs. He brought on state TV correspondent Valentin Bogdanov, reporting from New York City. “You couldn’t say we didn’t anticipate this turn of events. Machinery, meant to squeeze Trump out of political life, has been activated… They want to deprive him of an opportunity to participate in the upcoming presidential election… All of this is designed to create a nasty aura, to make Trump more toxic.”
Summing up the potential penalties for the suspected removal of top secret government documents, Bogdanov said they weren’t all that bad and were limited to a three-year prison term or a fine. He added: “The scariest consequence is that a person convicted for such a crime can’t be a candidate in the presidential election. Bingo! That’s what his opponents want: to deprive him of the opportunity to take part in this race.”
Assuming that Trump would be knocked out of the upcoming presidential election, Bogdanov speculated that Florida governor Ron DeSantis—whom he described as “Number Two” in the GOP—could easily defeat Joe Biden.
Solovyov asked: “Could this be the beginning of a civil war?” He ominously opined: “This is totally unprecedented, I don’t remember anything like this in American history. If Trump calls on his supporters to come out—and half the states are led by Trump’s allies—there’ll be hell to pay.”
Bogdanov replied: “The civil war is already underway in the United States. For now, this is a cold civil war, but it keeps heating up.”
Only a quarter of Americans have confidence in the SCOTUS, according to a June 2022 Gallup Poll.
US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan ruminated on the legitimacy of the Supreme Court at a conference full of lawyers and judges, warning that a disconnected court and political appointments could be “a dangerous thing for the democratic system.”
“By design, the court does things sometimes that the majority of the country doesn’t like,” Kagan said. “Overall, the way the court retains its legitimacy and fosters public confidence is by acting like a court, is by doing the kind of things that do not seem to people political or partisan, by not behaving as though we are just people with individual political or policy or social preferences.”
The core of the challenge to abortion rights that had been codified for 50 years was a Mississippi law that aimed to ban abortion after 15 weeks – which is stricter than the 24-week standard set by Roe v. Wade.
Within two weeks, the court also expanded gun rights and imposed limits on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to implement greenhouse gas regulations.
She added that the court generally being on the opposite side of public opinion could have grave consequences for democracy.
“I’m not talking about any particular decision or any particular series of decisions. But if, over time, the court loses all connection with the public and the public sentiment, that’s a dangerous thing for democracy,” Kagan told the conference.
‘It’s the accumulation’: The Jan. 6 hearings are wounding Trump, after all
David Siders – July 20, 2022
The conventional wisdom about the Jan. 6 committee hearings was that no single revelation was going to change Republican minds about Donald Trump.
What happened instead, a slow drip of negative coverage, may be just as damaging to the former president. Six weeks into the committee’s public hearing schedule, an emerging consensus is forming in Republican Party circles — including in Trump’s orbit — that a significant portion of the rank-and-file may be tiring of the non-stop series of revelations about Trump.
The fatigue is evident in public polling and in focus groups that suggest growing Republican openness to an alternative presidential nominee in 2024. The cumulative effect of the hearings, according to interviews with more than 20 Republican strategists, party officials and pollsters in recent days, has been to at least marginally weaken his support.
“It is definitely kind of this wet drip of, do you really want to debate the 2020 election again? Do you really want to debate what happened on Jan. 6?” said Bob Vander Plaats, the evangelical leader in Iowa who is influential in primary politics in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. “Frankly, I think what I sense a little bit, even among some deep, deep Trump supporters … there’s a certain exhaustion to it.”
But for many Republicans, the ongoing, backward-looking call-and-response between the committee and Trump may nevertheless be getting old.
“I think what everybody thought was that the first prime-time hearing was such a non-event that that would continue,” said Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who served as Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg. “But over the course of the hearings, the steadiness, the repetitiveness, has had a corrosive effect. You’d have to be oblivious to the way media works, the way reputations work, the way politics works, to not understand that it’s never the one thing. It’s the accumulation.”
Evans said, “This is all undoubtedly starting to take a toll — how much, I don’t know. But the bigger question is whether it starts to eat through the Teflon. There are some signs that maybe it has. But it’s too early to say right now.”
For more than a year after Trump lost the presidential election, his political durability was not even in question. But the committee hearings appear to have had an effect on Trump’s enormous fundraising operation, which has slowed in recent months. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who may run in 2024, has been gaining on Trump in some polls, including in New Hampshire, the first primary state, where one recent survey had DeSantis statistically tied with Trump among Republican primary voters. Republicans are still poring over a New York Times/Siena College poll last week that showed nearly half of Republican primary voters would rather vote for a Republican other than Trump in 2024.
In a series of focus groups with 2020 Trump supporters from across the country since the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2001, Sarah Longwell, a moderate Republican strategist who became a vocal supporter of Joe Biden in 2020, for more than a year found about half of participants consistently said they wanted Trump to run again. But that number has fallen off since the hearings began, she said.
“We’ve had now three focus groups where zero people have wanted him to run again, and a couple other groups where it’s been like two people,” Longwell said. “Totally different.”
The Trump supporters in her focus groups are still dismissive of the hearings, Longwell said, “and I don’t think people are sitting down and being persuaded” by them.
However, she said, the hearings have “turned the volume up on the Trump baggage.”
“The other thing,” she said, “is I cannot tell you how much these Republican voters want to move on from the conversation of January 6th.”
One reason that the hearings are resonating now is that even if Republicans don’t agree with the committee’s findings, they read polls. The percentage of Republicans who say Trump misled people about the 2020 election has ticked up since last month, while a majority of Americans say Trump committed a crime. Perhaps most problematic for Trump, 16 percent of Republicans in the Siena College survey said they would vote for someone else in the general election or aren’t sure what they will do in 2024 if Trump is the nominee.
That’s a relatively small segment of the Republican electorate, but a critical one in competitive states that will decide which party controls the White House.
“I think you’re starting to see the impact of the hearings, and just overall his behavior since he lost the election,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican Party chair and longtime party strategist.
“He’s got a hard-core base, and there’s no doubt about that,” said Wadhams. “I voted for him twice, I loved his accomplishments. But I do think he’s compromised himself into a situation where it would be very difficult for him to win another election for president.”
Electability concerns may loom especially large this year for Republicans, who view Biden as a beatable incumbent. His cratering public approval ratings, now hovering below 39 percent, are worse than Trump’s at this point in his presidency. One senior House Republican aide described the resonance of the Jan. 6 committee hearings as in part a product of the contrast they are drawing between “a golden opportunity to win back the White House in 2024 and the only person who might not be able to do it.”
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Trump has regularly criticized the committee’s work as a partisan exercise. And because most other Republicans view it that way, too, it’s unlikely that many of Trump’s opponents will leverage the committee’s revelations explicitly in the run-up to 2024.
Still, the Republicans who may run against Trump in 2024 are increasingly breaking with him as the midterm year drags on.
As much has anything, those midterm primaries – coinciding with the Jan. 6 committee hearings – have laid bare the willingness of Republicans in at least some cases to disassociate their adoration for Trump with support for him politically. Trump’s endorsement has pulled Republicans across the line in competitive primaries in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, but his chosen candidates have flopped in other races, including in Georgia and Nebraska.
“The effect of the hearings will be negligible on Trump’s favorable ratings among Republicans,” said Whit Ayres, the longtime Republican pollster. “The ‘Always Trumpers’ and the ‘Maybe Trumpers’ are resolute in their insistence that they are paying no attention whatsoever to the hearings. It’s almost an article of faith among Republicans to say, ‘I am not paying attention to these hearings’.”
However, Ayres said, “The way it translates is that they believe that other candidates will carry less baggage … and that gets reinforced by what seeps into the political water from these hearings.
And as the Jan. 6 committee prepares for another hearing on Thursday, the ongoing focus on Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6 is now in the political waters.
John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country, said that in recent conversations with state party chairs and Republican activists in numerous states, “almost to the T, and I don’t really care what state it’s in, they all say, ‘Love Trump, love his policies, wish he would just be a kingmaker.’ And that’s really a shift, because six months ago, a year ago, it was, ‘Trump’s got to run again, he’s the only one who can fight the swamp, drive the policy agenda.’”
“It’s not Trump hatred,” Thomas added. “It’s Trump fatigue. I think [the Jan. 6 committee hearings] reminds people to the degree that they’re tuning in that, eh, is this that important of an issue? No. But damn … And then Trump goes on his rants and it’s like, ‘We’re tired of it.’”
The 18 House Republicans who voted against a resolution to support Finland, Sweden joining NATO
Mychael Schnell – July 18, 2022
More than a dozen House Republicans voted against a resolution on Monday that expressed support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
The House passed the measure, which had bipartisan sponsorship, in a 394-18 vote, with all the opposition coming from the Republican Party. Two Democrats and 17 Republicans did not vote.
Eighteen House Republicans objected to the measure: Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Dan Bishop (N.C.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), Ben Cline (Va.), Michael Cloud (Texas), Warren Davidson (Ohio), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Morgan Griffith (Va.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Mary Miller (Ill.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.), Chip Roy (Texas) and Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.).
The measure specifically demonstrates support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO — which they applied to do in May — and urges member states to formally support their push to join the alliance.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-10-1/html/r-sf-flx.html
Additionally, the resolution opposes any attempts by the Russian Federation to adversely react to the decision by the two Nordic countries to join the military alliance and urges NATO countries to fulfill their 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) defense spending pledge that was agreed to at the 2014 Wales summit.
Passage of the measure came exactly two months after Finland and Sweden applied to become members of NATO and less than three weeks after the military alliance invited the pair of countries to join the group.
The push for Sweden and Finland to join NATO ramped up after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Moscow has since continued its offensive.
Massie said on Twitter on Monday following the vote that “America can’t afford to subsidize socialist Europe’s defense, nor should we. Tonight, I voted against the House Resolution urging NATO’s expansion into Sweden and Finland.”
His tweet included a link to a Newsweek article from March that said only eight of the 30 NATO countries met the guideline of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2021 — a fact that was reflected in the NATO secretary general’s annual report.
Massie and other GOP lawmakers who objected to Monday’s resolution have voted against measures related to the Russia, Ukraine and the invasion in the past.
In May, Massie and Greene voted “no” on three bills connected to the invasion. One compelled foreign entities and individuals under U.S. authority to comply with sanctions on Russia and Belarus. Another called for making it U.S. policy to bar Russian officials from participating in meetings and activities in the Group of 20 and other financial institutions. The third would forbid the Treasury secretary from taking part in transactions related to the exchange of special drawing rights that Russia or Belarus possesses.
Belarus has supported Russia throughout its invasion of Ukraine.
The lawmakers also joined 54 Republicans that day in voting against a bill to suspend multilateral debt payments Ukraine owes.
In April, Massie, Greene, Cawthorn and Roy joined with four progressive lawmakers in opposing a measure urging President Biden to seize assets from sanctioned Russian oligarchs and use the money to help Kyiv amid its battle with Moscow.
Also in April, 10 GOP House members — including Massie, Greene, Biggs, Bishop, Davidson, Gaetz and Norman — voted against the Ukraine lend-lease bill, which sought to make it easier for the U.S. to send military assistance to Ukraine during Russia’s invasion.
Brett Kavanaugh’s Right to Dine Shall Not Be Infringed
Jack Holmes – July 8, 2022
Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to become a member of our nine-person SuperCongress by a president who took office despite earning the votes of millions fewer Americans than his opponent did. That president never enjoyed the support of a majority of citizens and got spanked in the popular vote by an even larger margin—7 million—in the next election. He then tried to overthrow the government to stay in power. Only one of the five other right-wing justices was nominated by a president who took office having secured the support of a majority of actual Americans.
Brett Kavanaugh was then confirmed by 50 senators who represented just 44 percent of the American population. The 48 senators who voted “nay” represented tens of millions more citizens. Kavanaugh secured the crucial 50th vote of Senator Susan Collins based on her publicly stated belief that he considered Roe v. Wade to be “settled legal precedent.” In the public hearings into the question of his confirmation, where he testified under oath, Kavanaugh said this:
Senator, I said that it is settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court, entitled the respect under principles of stare decisis. And one of the important things to keep in mind about Roe v. Wade is that it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years, as you know, and most prominently, most importantly, reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.
And as you well recall, senator, I know when that case came up, the Supreme Court did not just reaffirm it in passing. The court specifically went through all the factors of stare decisis in considering whether to overrule it, and the joint opinion of Justice Kennedy, Justice O’Connor and Justice Souter, at great length went through those factors.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, Kavanaugh voted with the five other Republicans on the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
If you have a problem with any of this—unelected judges selected by presidents who got fewer votes and confirmed by senators who represent a minority of citizens making policy without regard for legal precedent or their own previous statements under oath—you don’t seem to have much recourse.
You can’t vote the superlegislators out. It is unreasonable to expect any will be impeached thanks to the entrenched advantages that allow Republicans outsize control of the Senate. Even the House of Representatives is dangerously skewed, thanks to gerrymandered redistricting maps and the hyperpolarization they help to generate. The reason Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and others worked so hard to seize control of the judiciary was precisely because so many other institutions have ceased to function properly. Even if you do succeed in electing representatives to make policy through the legislature—after this same Court savaged the Voting Rights Act and unleashed an avalanche of money in our elections—the courts can throw out whatever they choose.
You cannot protest at the steps of the Supreme Court, as they’ve walled that shit off. You can’t protest at the justices’ houses, and there’s some merit to the idea that private residences—where spouses and children are in the mix—should be off-limits. (Of course, in the case of Clarence Thomas, his spouse has very much been in the mix.) But you can’t protest in neutral public venues, either, even if you’re on a city street outside a restaurant. We learned that this weekend, when Mr. Kavanaugh was disturbed during a meal at a Washington, D.C. steakhouse, as reported by the Beltway encyclical known as Politico Playbook:
On Wednesday night, D.C. protesters targeting the conservative Supreme Court justices who signed onto the Dobbs decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion got a tip that Justice BRETT KAVANAUGH was dining at Morton’s downtown D.C. location. Protesters soon showed up out front, called the manager to tell him to kick Kavanaugh out and later tweeted that the justice was forced to exit through the rear of the restaurant.
We have returned, inevitably, to Red-Henghazi. Do public figures who make the rules we all have to live by get to do whatever they want at all times without any social repercussions? Do they have some right to privacy in public spaces, despite choosing to wield huge power over others in a democratic republic? Morton’s seems to think so.
“Honorable Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh and all of our other patrons at the restaurant were unduly harassed by unruly protestors while eating dinner at our Morton’s restaurant. Politics, regardless of your side or views, should not trample the freedom at play of the right to congregate and eat dinner. There is a time and place for everything. Disturbing the dinner of all of our customers was an act of selfishness and void of decency.”
The right to eat dinner shall not be infringed. (Particularly by the Unduly Unruly.) Which, according to Politico‘s Daniel Lippman, it was not.
While the court had no official comment on Kavanaugh’s behalf and a person familiar with the situation said he did not hear or see the protesters and ate a full meal but left before dessert, Morton’s was outraged about the incident.
The right to tiramisu shall not be infringed. Seriously, though, at this point we’re talking about what appears to be a complete non-incident. He went out the back because he heard secondhand there were some folks out front?
But even if the honorable justice had to hear the urban rabble outside—described by Politico as “D.C. protestors”—tell him to fuck himself while he chowed down on a ribeye, what exactly is the problem here? The protesters are exercising their rights to speech and “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Kavanaugh and the others may fashion themselves as blind arbiters of the law, but in reality they are agents of state power, representing the Government. And they have generated some grievances.
Meanwhile, we’re hearing about Brett the Honorable’s right to dine, what we can only assume is an unenumerated one under the Ninth Amendment. It also sounds more than somewhat related to the right to privacy—also rooted in the Ninth—which undergirded Roe and Casey before these six luminaries threw those decisions out. Justice Clarence Thomas has signaled they’re interested in going after the right to privacy itself with a so-called reconsiderationof Griswold v. Connecticut, a move that would go way beyond contraception. Although the prospect of this Republican Court empowering states controlled by their ideological allies to restrict women’s access to the pill in the Year of Our Lord 2022 does have a particular resonance.
And if that happens, you can expect the same bullshit routine from these same people. The work of working the refs is never done, and the self-victimization will never stop. This is the same impulse undergirding much of the Cancel Culture debate: while social-media mobs and a lack of due process are real problems, many of the fiercest Free Speech Warriors actually see free speech as their right to say whatever they want without getting criticized or made fun of. Similarly, these right-wing superlegislators believe they should be able to nakedly advance the policy priorities of the conservative movement by reverse-engineering decisions to meet preordained conclusions, all the while battering the lives of powerless people, without ever getting called an asshole while they drink a $300 bottle of wine. There are consequences for behaving badly in public office, at least until these people are finished savaging the foundations of this democratic republic. Or until the Democratic Party finds the stones to nix the Senate filibuster, expand the Supreme Court, reform the judiciary, and restore the people’s means of translating their will into the law we all are bound to live by.
SCOTUS Justices ‘Prayed With’ Her — Then Cited Her Bosses to End Roe
Kara Voght and Tim Dickinson – July6, 2022
At an evangelical victory party in front of the Supreme Court to celebrate the downfall of Roe v. Wade last week, a prominent Capitol Hill religious leader was caught on a hot mic making a bombshell claim: that she prays with sitting justices inside the high court. “We’re the only people who do that,” Peggy Nienaber said.
This disclosure was a serious matter on its own terms, but it also suggested a major conflict of interest. Nienaber’s ministry’s umbrella organization, Liberty Counsel, frequently brings lawsuits before the Supreme Court. In fact, the conservative majority in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which ended nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights, cited an amicus brief authored by Liberty Counsel in its ruling.
In other words: Sitting Supreme Court justices have prayed together with evangelical leaders whose bosses were bringing cases and arguments before the high court.
Nienaber is Liberty Counsel’s executive director of DC Ministry, as well as the vice president of Faith & Liberty, whose ministry offices sit directly behind the Supreme Court. She spoke to a livestreamer who goes by Connie IRL, seemingly unaware she was being recorded. “You actually pray with the Supreme Court justices?” the livestreamer asked. “I do,” Nienaber said. “They will pray with us, those that like us to pray with them.” She did not specify which justices prayed with her, but added with a chortle, “Some of them don’t!” The livestreamer then asked if Nienaber ministered to the justices in their homes or at her office. Neither, she said. “We actually go in there.”
Nienaber intended her comments, broadcast on YouTube, to be “totally off the record,” she says in the clip. That’s likely because such an arrangement presents a problem for the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, which not only weighed in on the Dobbs case as a friend of the court, but also litigated and won a 9-0 Supreme Court victory this May in a case centered on the public display of a religious flag.
The Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment. Liberty Counsel’s founder, Mat Staver, strenuously denied that the in-person ministering to justices that Nienaber bragged about exists. “It’s entirely untrue,” Staver tells Rolling Stone. “There is just no way that has happened.” He adds: “She has prayer meetings for them, not with them.” Asked if he had an explanation for Nienaber’s direct comments to the contrary, Staver says, “I don’t.”
But the founder of the ministry, who surrendered its operations to Liberty Counsel in 2018, tells Rolling Stone that he hosted prayer sessions with conservative justices in their chambers from the late-1990s through when he left the group in the mid-2010s. Rob Schenck, who launched the ministry under the name Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, described how the organization forged ministry relationships with Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and the late Antonin Scalia, saying he would pray with them inside the high court. Nienaber was Schenk’s close associate in that era, and continued with the ministry after it came under the umbrella of Liberty Counsel.
Louis Virelli is a professor at Stetson University College of Law who wrote a book about Supreme Court recusals. He’s blunt in his assessment: “Praying with a group that filed an amicus brief with a court,” he says, “is a problem.”
In the shadow of the high court, across the street from its chambers, sits a cluster of unassuming row houses known only to the initiated as “Ministry Row.” The strip is host to evangelical political groups that have spent the past several decades pushing Beltway conservatives to embrace the religious right’s political causes — and, most of all, reverse Roe v. Wade. The street view offers few clues as to what transpires behind the painted brick facades, save for a granite slab inscribed with the Ten Commandments planted in the grassy patch before a modest cream-colored Victorian with maroon trim.
The home serves as Faith & Liberty’s headquarters. The Ten Commandments statue had been placed there by Schenck, an evangelical minister famous for orchestrating high-profile anti-abortion stunts, such as shoving an aborted fetus in a plastic container into the face of former President Bill Clinton during the 1992 campaign. Schenck had opened the ministry in the 1990s as Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, a nonprofit dedicated to ending federal abortion rights. The organization operated on a “utopian ‘trickle-up’ theory” of influence: building access “higher and higher up within the government, until we got to the top, my ultimate target — members of Congress, U.S. senators, cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices — even presidents,” Schenck wrote in his 2018 autobiography.
The group established a strong foothold in both chambers of Congress and, eventually, the White House. But Faith and Action ultimately directed its energies toward the judicial branch. “There were no pro-life groups directly approaching the judges and justices, who shaped abortion law simply by their precedent-setting decisions,” Schenck wrote. “We knew we were stuck with members of the federal bench — they were appointed for life — so why not convert them while in office?” (Schenck has since reversed course: He is now a fierce critic of evangelical politicking and says Liberty Counsel assumed Faith and Action’s operations in 2018. He says he has no knowledge of the group’s inner workings after he left.)
At first, the high court regarded Faith and Action and its peer organizations as nuisances, according to Schenck. “Justice Thomas would say to me, ‘You know those groups outside? Are they crazy or are they good people?’” Schenck recalls in an interview with Rolling Stone. When Schenck first began his approach in 1994, prayer activities on the Supreme Court’s property was considered an act of demonstration, and therefore illegal. Eventually, Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas would embrace Schenck, he says, and pray with him in various corners of the high court’s grounds — including, occasionally, in their chambers. (Chief Justice John Roberts, meanwhile, remained more guarded and skeptical of such groups’ influence.)
To pray with the justices was to perform a sort of “spiritual conditioning,” Schenck explains. “The intention all along was to embolden the conservative justices by loaning them a kind of spiritual moral support — to give them an assurance that not only was there a large number of people behind them, but in fact, there was divine support for very strong and unapologetic opinions from them.” Prayer is a powerful communication tool in the evangelical tradition: The speaker assumes the mantle of the divine, and to disagree with an offered prayer is akin to sin. “It’s just not common to interrupt or challenge a prayer,” Schenck explains. “That’s not something a devout Supreme Court justice would ever consider doing.” That was true even for the devout Catholic justices, such as Scalia, who joined the evangelical Faith and Action members in prayer, Schenck says.
Sometimes the prayers would be general; other times, on specific subjects, such as ending abortion, according to Schenck. He says Faith and Action took assiduous care to avoid speaking blatantly about cases in the Supreme Court’s pipeline, discussing the political agenda only in broad strokes. Even so, under the time period Schenck describes, prayers with the justices occurred as Faith and Action signed onto several amicus briefs for landmark SCOTUS cases such as Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, which ultimately upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
Schenck walked away from his life on the Hill after receiving a late-career doctorate on the teachings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who questioned the collaborative relationship between Adolf Hitler and 1930s German evangelicals. He drew parallels between the Republican Party and American evangelicalism, concerned that he’d weaponized worship to fuel a hate-filled agenda. No longer an anti-abortion activist, Schenck views his past efforts with regret. “Prayer is a positive exercise, until it’s politicized — and too many prayers that I and my colleagues offered in the presence of the justices were political prayers,” he explains. He also believes the work “contributed to the internal moral and ethical corruption of the justices at the court,” he says.
“I was sure, while we were doing it, it would be a positive contribution to our public life,” Schenck says. “It didn’t have the effect I thought it would. In some ways, it set the stage for the reversal of Roe, which I now think of as a social catastrophe.
When Liberty Counsel absorbed Faith and Action in 2018, Peggy Nienaber, who had worked alongside Schenck since at least 2005, continued with the group. In a July 2021 conversation with Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder, Nienaber described the group’s new incarnation as similar to Faith and Action’s mission. It’s “the ministry right here on Capitol Hill,” she said, devoted to “changing the hearts and minds of not only our elected officials, but the staffers all the way down.” Nienaber highlighted Faith & Liberty’s proximity to the court by pointing to the window of the conference room where the justices decide their cases. ”When you’re sitting in that conference room, you cannot miss those Ten Commandments,” she said. (Faith & Liberty sits so close to the Supreme Court, in fact, that it has been included in the “buffer zone” surrounding the high court, shut off to protesters and the public. There’s irony here, given that Liberty Counsel has for decades litigated to abolish buffer zones near abortion clinics.)
“There’s a lot of things that Faith & Liberty does — and that you do — that obviously we can’t put in an email, can’t put in a newsletter, can’t put in a press release,” Staver said to Nienaber during their chat, “because it’s private relationships that are spiritually transformative.” Nienaber’s social media accounts show her hobnobbing with high-profile Republicans such as Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and former Vice President Mike Pence. She hung close to the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018: She posted photographs from inside the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room, as well as a screenshot of her invitation to Kavanaugh’s swearing-in ceremony.
Nienaber told Rolling Stone, “I do not socialize with the justices.” Yet she has posed for photos with Justices Kavanaugh and Thomas, calling the latter a “friend” in a Facebook post, praising him for “passing by our ministry center to attend church and always taking time to say hello.”
In addition to her proximity to conservative power players, Nienaber has championed the plaintiffs who have brought right-wing religious causes before the Supreme Court. Ahead of oral arguments, she prayed with Joe Kennedy, the football coach who recently succeeded in his suit to allow prayer during football games. Liberty Counsel also filed an amicus brief in that case, calling on the court to rule that the school district “engaged in viewpoint discrimination against Coach Kennedy’s private speech.”
Nienaber was recorded telling the livestreamer that she prayed with Supreme Court justices on June 27, the Monday after the high court issued the Dobbs ruling. She was at a celebration she helped organize with Sean Feucht, a prominent Christian-worship musician. Nienaber identifies herself only as “Peggy” in the footage, but she references the ministry she runs behind the court and its 850-pound replica of the Ten Commandments. For most of the interview, Nienaber is not on camera. But when the video pans on her briefly, she can be seen wearing the same dress and necklace she has on in a selfie with Feucht posted to Faith & Liberty’s website.
Last week, Rolling Stone spoke to Patty Bills, the director of constituency affairs at Faith & Liberty. Bills did not want to discuss Faith & Liberty’s ministry practices, citing privacy concerns. Bills would not, however, deny that Faith & Liberty ministers to Supreme Court justices. “I never said we didn’t — I just said we provide privacy,” she said.
Staver, in denying that members of Faith & Liberty prayed with Supreme Court justices, says that such prayers would have been inappropriate, especially given Liberty Counsel’s litigation efforts. “That’s why we wouldn’t do that,” he says. “And especially on cases that are pending before the Supreme Court, we would make a very clear firewall. We just would never do something like that.”
In a written statement to Rolling Stone, Nienaber says of her hot-mic comments: “I do not recall making such a statement. I listened to the livestream, and I did not hear such a statement.” She adds that Covid restrictions have limited public access to the Supreme Court: “The public has not been allowed access, and I am no different.” When she has had access to public areas of the court, she says, “I will generally silently pray for the justices, their staff, and the Court.”
But after this story was published, Nienaber acknowledged her remarks and conceded she has prayed personally with Supreme Court justices. Despite speaking in the present tense on the livestream, Nienaber asserted, “My comment was referring to past history and not practice of the past several years.” Nienaber added: “During most of the history up to early 2020, I met with many people who wanted or needed prayer. Since early 2020, access to the Supreme Court has been restricted due to COVID. It has been many years since I prayed with a Justice.”
Liberty Counsel was founded in 1989 by Staver. The organization is an uncommon hybrid of religious ministry and legal practice, dedicated to “advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the family through strategic litigation.” Staver is the organization’s senior pastor as well as its top litigator. This mix of law and religion is central to Staver’s career; he previously served as dean of the law school at Liberty University, founded by the televangelist Jerry Falwell.
Staver has argued numerous cases in front of the Supreme Court. He started in 1994 in a case that struck a blow against protest-limiting buffer zones near abortion clinics. In the court’s most recent term, Staver argued and won a 9-0 judgment in Shurtleff v. Boston, a case in which the court ruled a Christian flag couldn’t be excluded from a public flagpole that displayed a rotating assortment of secular flags.
Staver also wrote an amicus brief in the Dobbs case that purports to tie abortion and birth control to eugenics. Calling Roe “the low watermark in this Court’s history,” it argued that Dobbs was ”an ideal vehicle for the Court to finally overrule Roe v. Wade and its progeny, which have constitutionalized eugenic abortions as a fundamental right.”
In the Dobbs majority opinion written by Justice Alito, he cited this brief to impugn the motives of pro-abortion-rights advocates, arguing that “some such supporters have been motivated by a desire to suppress the size of the African American population,” adding, “it is beyond dispute that Roe has had that demographic effect,” because “a highly disproportionate percentage of aborted fetuses are Black.”
When Roe v. Wade was reversed, Staver was triumphant: “I have dedicated my life to defend life and overturn the bloody decisions of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” he wrote. “This global earthquake will impact the world.”
Prayer unto itself in no way presents a conflict of interest for the justices, says Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, not even with a group like Faith & Liberty that has business before the court. Justices are allowed to visit there with whomever they’d like in their private chambers, and have socialized with interested parties throughout the court’s history. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example, routinely played cards with the high court’s magistrates, and Scalia went duck hunting with former Vice President Dick Cheney. What would amount to an ethical concern would be if they’re discussing those cases as they pray — “or if the prayer sessions would influence how justices rule in a particular case,” says Adam Winkler, a Supreme Court expert at the University of California Los Angeles.
But even among legal experts troubled by the court’s ties, they acknowledge there are few remedies to address ethical conflicts. A federal statute governs when judges and justices should step away from cases, but the Constitution leaves questions of partiality to the justices themselves. Their general unwillingness to step aside isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Virelli, the Stetson law professor, says: When justices recuse themselves from a case, no one replaces them, a scenario that can create more problems than it solves. “The court changes shape,” he explains. “That makes the decision to recuse difficult.”
That the justices are their own keepers in regard to those rules creates complications, however, says Steve Vladeck, a constitutional-law expert at the University of Texas Law School. The relationship between Faith & Liberty and Liberty Counsel, as described by Rolling Stone, “could make a reasonable observer worry about the appearance of partiality,” he says. But the concerns the scenario raised shouldn’t be about recusal. “What that really reveals is how problematic it is that there isn’t an objective mechanism to resolve these sorts of questions.”
For Winkler, the greater concern is not prayers, but the “religious-themed” decisions he’s seen come down from the high court this term, pointing to not only the Roe reversal but also opinions that permit unchecked free exercise of First Amendment rights. “The problematic aspect isn’t whether they’re praying,” Winkler says, “but that several justices seem committed to reading their religion into the Constitution.”
The petition description cited Thomas’s vote to overturn Roe v. Wade as reasoning for his removal.
“Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—who sided with the majority on overturning Roe—made it clear what’s next: to overturn high court rulings that establish gay rights and contraception rights,” the petition read.
The description also mentioned Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, and her role in encouraging members of the Trump administration to continue to challenge the 2020 election results.
The Supreme Court earlier this year rejected a request by former President Trump to prevent the release of documents related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Thomas was the only justice to dissent on the matter.
“He has shown he cannot be an impartial justice and is more concerned with covering up his wife’s coup attempts than the health of the Supreme Court.”
“He must resign — or Congress must immediately investigate and impeach,” the petition concluded.
The petition garnered more than 1.1 million signatures and urges Congress to either investigate or impeach Thomas for his actions.
The student-led petition came after the high court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that determined a woman’s right to abortion was constitutional.
In a school-wide letter, GWU officials said they don’t have plans to remove Thomas as an adjunct instructor in their law school, stating that he did not violate the school’s policy on academic freedom.
“Just as we affirm our commitment to academic freedom, we affirm the right of all members of our community to voice their opinions and contribute to the critical discussion that is foundational to our academic mission,” school officials wrote in their letter.
Adam Kinzinger and his family are getting so many death threats over his Trump criticism that his office put together a 3-minute audio clip
Camila DeChalus – July 5, 2022
Rep. Adam Kinzinger says he’s been getting threatening calls to his office in Washington, DC.
People have also threatened to go after him and his family.
Kinzinger is a member of the House committee investigating the insurrection.
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger on Tuesday released a three-minute audio clip of recent threatening calls his office has received, highlighting the increased harassment he and his family have faced in light of his participation in the House committee investigating the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
“Threats of violence over politics has increased heavily in the last few years. But the darkness has reached new lows,” Kinzinger tweeted. “My new interns made this compilation of recent calls they’ve received while serving in my DC office.”
In one call, a person threatened to come to Kinzinger’s house and go after his wife and his newborn baby.
“I’m going to come to protest in front of your house this weekend,” the caller said. “We know where your family is, and we’re going to get you … We’re going to get your wife, going to get your kids.”
Another caller said, “I hope you naturally die as quickly as fucking possible.”
Some of the callers alluded to Kinzinger’s involvement in the House committee, accusing him of lying and going against former President Donald Trump during recent hearings.
Last month, Kinzinger said he and his family had received a death threat over his sitting on the committee. He shared the letter, which was addressed to his wife, Sofia, on Twitter. “That pimp you married not only broke his oath, he sold his soul,” it said, adding, “Therefore, although it might take time, he will be executed.”
Citing data from the US Capitol Police, Axios reported late last month that threats against lawmakers had significantly increased in the past five years. The report said that in the first three months of the year, the Capitol Police opened cases into more than 1,800 threats.
Kinzinger and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming are the only two Republicans sitting on the House select committee investigating the insurrection and Trump’s involvement in attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Following the recent testimony from the former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, Kinzinger, who’s been highly critical of the former president, said Trump and his allies including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were “scared.”
“The right-wing rigged Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, effectively taking away the right to privacy and bodily autonomy that’s been considered legal precedent for the past 50 years,” the petition said.
“Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—who sided with the majority on overturning Roe—made it clear what’s next: to overturn high court rulings that establish gay rights and contraception rights.”
“Thomas’ failure to recuse himself warrants immediate investigation and heightened alarm. And it’s only the latest in a long history of conflicts of interest in the service of a right-wing agenda and mixing his powerful role with his conservative political activism,” the petition continued. “He has shown he cannot be an impartial justice and is more concerned with covering up his wife’s coup attempts than the health of the Supreme Court.”