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Supreme Court rules in favor of Christian baker

Thomas Clatterbuck



Photo Credit: Flores

The US Supreme Court handed down a decision today ruling that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated the First Amendment rights of a baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. In the 7-2 decision, the majority found that while the equal protection rights of same-sex couples needed to be respected, the Commission had not considered the baker’s beliefs with neutrality when making their decision.


This case focuses on Jack Phillips and his cake shop in Colorado. In 2012, Phillips was approached by a same-sex couple who wanted to purchase a cake for their wedding. At that time, gay marriage was not yet legal in Colorado. Phillips, citing his strong Christian belief, refused. In response, the couple filed a complaint against Phillips with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The Commission rejected the baker’s claim that being forced to create the cake would be compelling artistic expression. They also rejected his claim that he found gay marriage to be offensive to his beliefs.

Today’s ruling

The 7-2 ruling today overturned the decision of the lower courts. Their decision focused on two key elements. First, the Civil Rights Commission has repeatedly ruled that bakers have the right to refuse to make cakes with offensive messages. It had sided with bakers who refused to make anti-gay marriage cakes in the past.

But in this case, Justice Kennedy noted a clear hostility towards the beliefs of Mr. Phillips. When the Commission and then Colorado Court of Appeals, treated his beliefs as illegitimate, they were, “thus sitting in judgement of his religious beliefs themselves.” Going on, “A principled rationale for the difference in treatment of these two instances cannot be based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness.”

“It hardly requires restating that government has no role in deciding or even suggesting whether the religious ground for Phillips’ conscience-based objection is legitimate or illegitimate. On these facts, the Court must draw the inference that Phillips’ religious objection was not considered with the neutrality that the Free Exercise Clause requires.”

Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.

The implications going forward

Although this was a major victory for Phillips and the First Amendment, it was not a sweeping ruling. In the final paragraph, Kennedy writes, “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

This language suggests that the Court may be open to hearing other similar cases in the future. But by affirming that Commissions must be neutral towards religious beliefs, this decision should give considerable protection to those who hold beliefs that are out of favor.

You can read the full decision here.

Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.


Trump: “I’ll be signing something” to “keep families together”

Staff Contributor



President Trump says he will sign an executive order this Wednesday afternoon ending family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Justice Department officials working on executive action to end immigrant family separation of children at border “We still have to maintain toughness or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for and that we don’t want,” Mr. Trump said during a Wednesday meeting with members of Congress at the White House. “So I’m going to be signing an executive order in a little while before I go to Minnesota. But at the same time I think you have to understand we are keeping families together, but we have to keep our borders strong.”

He called the measure “somewhat preemptive” but called on Congress to work towards a more permanent fix on the issue, saying that perhaps a more comprehensive immigration reform bill– one that may tackle the family separation issue, while also addressing security concerns, etc.– may be possible.

“Beyond this one problem of immigration— you can mention the word ‘comprehensive’ or you don’t have to use it,” Mr. Trump said. “A lot of politicians don’t like the word ‘comprehensive immigration reform,’ but I really think we have an opportunity to do the whole immigration picture and that’s what I’m looking to do ultimately. But right now we want to fix this problem and I think we’ll be able to do that.”

With this, he also called on Democrats for support.

“They really would like to have open borders where they can just flow in,” Mr. Trump said of congressional Democrats.

Family separation has seen a recent uptick due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal entry at the U.S.-Mexico border. Because any illegal border crossing is prosecuted, parents and children are separated during the legal process.

The president said child smugglers, which he cited as a major reason behind that parent-child separation policy Tuesday, “use these children as passports to get into the country.”

Addressing Mr. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence spoke publicly on the issue for the first time at the meeting, ultimately echoing Mr. Trump’s call for Congress to address family separation by a more permanent means.

“We don’t want families to be separated,” Pence said. “We don’t want children taken away from parents, but right now under the law, as we sit with these law makers, we only have two choices before us: number one, don’t prosecute people who come into our country illegally. Or, prosecute them and then under court cases and the law, they have to be separated from their children.”

Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were present at the White House meeting as well.

Mr. Trump also announced that he will be cancelling the congressional picnic Thursday, saying that it “didn’t feel right” to host the gathering while lawmakers and the administration work towards a solution on immigraiton.

“We want to solve this immigration problem,” Mr. Trump said.

This meeting marks Mr. Trump’s second meeting with Congress this week, following his meeting with House GOP members Tuesday, in the midst of a backlash over the separation of immigrant children from their parents who enter the country illegally through the southern border.

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Republican Congressmen Caution Against Pardon of Former Governor Rod Blagojevich

Staff Contributor



President Donald Trump has been discussing the idea of commuting former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. But seven Illinois congressmen have said that would not be a good idea. Congressmen Rodney Davis (13), Darin LaHood (18), John Shimkus (15), Peter Roskam (06), Randy Hultgren (14), Adam Kinzinger (16), and Mike Bost (12) published a letter laying out why they opposed leniency for the former governor:

Dear President Trump,

We write with a unified message as Republican Members of the United States House of Representatives for the State of Illinois to express our concern regarding your recent comments contemplating the pardon and/or commutation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. We ask that you give thoughtful attention to our fear that granting clemency for the former governor would set a detrimental precedent and send a damaging message on your efforts to root out public corruption in our government.

As you know, Illinois has gone through a difficult period of public corruption in the past, with several of our recent governors falling to corruption charges and convictions. This trend reached its pinnacle with the impeachment, and later criminal conviction, of former Gov. Blagojevich on 18 counts of public corruption including lying to federal agents, wire fraud, extortion, and bribery.[1] The events leading up to his impeachment, conviction and sentencing to 14 years in prison grew out of a series of actions by the former governor that showed a consistent pattern of public corruption – both within the State of Illinois and it’s agencies – culminating in the ultimate act of public corruption attempting to sell a United States Senate seat.

We believe that it is important to outline why facts from the case of former Gov. Blagojevich show a much larger problem and underlying pattern of public corruption. During his tenure in the governor’s office, Rod Blagojevich participated in several pay-to-play practices in which he attempted to solicit money in exchange for official public acts. Two examples include withholding $8 to $10 million in reimbursement money from Children’s Memorial Hospital until they agreed to contribute over $50,000 to his campaign and withholding the signing of a piece of legislation beneficial to race tracks until one of the race track owners agreed to a $100,000 campaign contribution.[2]

This type of quid pro quo behavior was further exemplified by Gov. Blagojevich’s attempt to sell an appointment to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. First, he failed to convince then President-elect Barack Obama to either nominate him to a cabinet position or encourage a foundation to hire him at a large salary in return for appointing Valerie Jarrett. Next, he offered the seat to Rep. Jessie Jackson Jr. in exchange for a $1.5 million campaign contribution.[3] Negotiations for the sale of the seat only ended when the former governor learned of federal wiretaps on his phone just days before his eventual arrest.[4]

We believe it is important to take into account both the findings of his impeachment trial by the Illinois General Assembly, as well as his lengthy criminal trials, appeals, and ultimate denial by the United States Supreme Court.[5] After Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, the Illinois House of Representatives, led by members of his own political party, passed legislation authorizing a Special Investigative Committee (SIC), with the purpose of investigating the conduct of Gov. Blagojevich, including any misfeasance or nonfeasance, and providing a recommendation and findings for impeachment under the Illinois Constitution.[6] The report from the SIC recommending an Article of Impeachment was signed by all 21 members, including 12 Democrats and nine Republicans. The Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan, filed the Article of Impeachment with 13 counts articulating Gov. Blagojevich’s abuse of power which passed the Illinois House of Representatives by a near-unanimous vote of 114-1-1.[7] It is also important to recognize that, following the start of a new legislative session, legislation to reaffirm the actions of the previous General Assembly to impeach Gov. Blagojevich was passed by a vote of 117-1-0 with the only no vote coming from the governor’s sister-in-law, Rep. Deborah Mell.[8]

After passage in the Illinois House of Representatives, the Illinois Senate passed legislation to organize into an Impeachment Tribunal to try the governor as required under the Illinois Constitution.[9] After the impeachment trial was complete, wherein the governor appeared and testified on his own behalf, the Illinois Senate voted unanimously 59-0 to sustain the Article of Impeachment, to immediately remove the governor from office, and to prevent him from holding Illinois office in the future. A clear, nearly unanimous decision from the Illinois General Assembly shows that, in a bipartisan manner, members found overwhelming evidence to impeach the governor for his actions.

Even if his pattern of behavior and unanimous impeachment are not sufficient, the judicial history of his criminal conviction provides additional insight as to the need for his full 14-year sentence. During the course of his two trials, multiple appeals, and a denied writ of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court, his 14-year sentence was continually upheld. During the course of his legal battles, there was never any alleged wrongdoing or nefarious intent by the judges or juries; and on appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit determined the sentence to be within the proper guidelines. Over the course of two trials, he was convicted of 18 total counts of public corruption. On appeal, the court upheld 13 of these counts, articulating that the evidence on appeal against Rod Blagojevich remained overwhelming[10] and remanded the case back to the lower court where his sentence of 14 years was reinstated in full and then upheld again on further appeal.[11] The 7th Circuit Court of appeals confirmed that the District Court judge was within the sentencing guidelines for his convictions.[12] This 14-year sentence was also not at the maximum end of the applicable guideline range.

Commuting the sentence now would actually ensure the governor served less than the low end of the applicable guideline range. The sentencing judge had over 30 years of state and federal experience and knew precisely the damage pay-to-play schemes have on the public, which was recognized with his appropriate sentence. The evidence against Rod Blagojevich was gathered through the diligent efforts of law enforcement professionals in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. To now excuse him would be demoralizing to those committed agents and officials who work hard every day in Illinois to fight public corruption and defend the rule of law.

On Blagojevich’s last appeal to the United States Supreme Court, not only was his petition for writ of certiorari denied, but Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who your administration appointed, asked the court not to take up what he termed an “unwarranted” appeal.[13] We also believe it is important to point out that, up until the possibility of clemency was reported in the media, Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers had not filed a request to your administration, doing so only after your remarks. From this background, we feel that it is clear that at all levels of the government and judiciary, the correct decision was made given the volume of corruption Rod Blagojevich participated in over the course of his two terms. We hope you will continue to recognize the full scope of his criminal conviction and the personal pattern of corruption and uphold his full 14-year sentence.

While we understand that, as president, you have the privilege and right under our Constitution to grant pardons and clemency as you determine fit,[14] we ask that you consider very carefully the precedent this may set and the impact it will have on acts of public corruption in the future. As you well know, the integrity of our democracy and the core of American values depend on our elected officials being honest in upholding the trust given to them by the American people. Granting clemency to Rod Blagojevich would go against this trust.

We thank you for your consideration of our concerns against granting clemency and the message it would send to the American people.



[1]U.S. v. Blagojevich, 594 F. Supp. 2d 993 (N.D. Ill. 2009).
[2] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[3] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[4] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[5] Blagojevich v. U.S., 854 F.3d 918 (7th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 86 U.S.L.W. 3523, 86 U.S.L.W. 3526 (U.S. Apr 16, 2018) (No. 17-658).
[6] H.R. 1650, 95th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2009).
[7] H.R. 1671, 95th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2009).
[8] H.R. 5, 96th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2009).
[9] S.R. 6, 96th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ill. 2009).
[10] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[11] United States v. Blagojevich, 854 F.3d 918 (7th Cir. 2017).
[12] United States v. Blagojevich, 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015).
[13] Mitchell Armentrout, Fed lawyer urges Supreme Court to ignore Blagojevich’s latest ‘unwarranted’ plea, Chicago Sun Times, Mar. 1, 2018,
[14] U.S. Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 1.

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Pentagon Announces Change in Travel Policy for Family of Fallen Non-Combat Service members

Staff Contributor



The Pentagon has changed its rules for travel arrangements for the families of fallen service members. If a service member falls in a combat zone, the Department of Defense (D0D) provided travel arrangements for the family automatically. But previously, if that death happened outside of a combat area, the family had to go through a difficult process to get the same arrangements. Today, the DoD announced it was changing that policy to include all families of fallen service members.

This issue was highlighted last year by the struggle of Petty Officer Logan Palmer’s family. They ultimately had to rely on outside assistance to reach Dover Air Force Base for their travel arrangements. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-13) filed a bill last week that would give families of service members who died outside of combat the same access to travel arrangements.

In a statement, Davis said, “I’m glad the Pentagon has made this change so we can immediately eliminate some of the bureaucratic red tape for families who have just lost a loved one serving our country overseas. To ensure other families won’t have to jump through the same hoops the Palmer family had to, my provision in the NDAA makes this change permanent. I hope the Senate takes up this bill soon. I will continue to work to hold the DoD more accountable to servicemembers of all ranks and improve communication with our servicemembers and their families.”

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