By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
In 2010, conservative and libertarian Americans angered over passage of the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) began organizing a political movement we now refer to as the Tea Party.
President Obama began his presidency with a overwhelming Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and 3/5 of the U.S. Senate. Fueled by Tea Party momentum, the Republicans won back control of the House and narrowly lost winning control of the Senate in the 2010 election.
It appeared at the time that President Obama would be a one term President and that the GOP would regain control of the U.S. Senate. Instead in 2012, the Democrats were able to contain the Tea Party’s momentum and successfully re-elected Barack H. Obama, while actually picking up seats in the Senate. Most of this was due to an incredible fund raising and get out the vote effort by the Obama campaign team and the Democratic National Committee. It may not have made any difference to the eventual outcome, but they did have help from an elite team of IRS (Internal Revenue Service) agents coordinated by agent Lois Lerner, who was the director of the IRS’s Exempt Organization Division.
In theory, laws including tax law applies to all Americans equally without regard to whether or not the IRS agrees with your political philosophy. Real life does not work that way and Tea Party organizers including Wetumpka’s Becky Gerritson found themselves targeted by the IRS for their political activities.
Lerner has repeatedly refused to cooperate with Congressional investigations of her taxpayer funded partisan activities. On Wednesday, May 7 Congress responded by making her only the fifth government official in American History to be found in Contempt of Congress by the full House of Representatives.
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery said in a written statement following the vote, “Every year, ordinary Americans play by the rules when paying taxes and interacting with the IRS, and if we step out of line there are consequences. We should demand the same accountability from those serving in the IRS. Lois Lerner was trusted with immense responsibility to ensure the rule of law, and instead it appears she used her position of authority to project a political agenda. Even now she continues to stonewall Members of Congress who are simply seeking the truth.”
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R) from Montrose said, “In the United States of America, we have a democratic system based on the basic freedom of political expression. What transpired at the IRS on this Administration’s watch is simply un-American. I believe the Administration has lost sight of the fact that it is elected to serve the American people, and is entrusted with a responsibility to disclose the entire truth – not just what’s politically convenient.”
The House also passed a resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder (D) and the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate the IRS targeting scandal.
Rep. Roby said, “The Justice Department had a chance to prove it was truly committed to accountability by swiftly and aggressively investigating this issue, and prosecuting those who were responsible. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. It is that lack of accountability that has allowed Lois Lerner to think that she can ‘plead the Fifth’ to Congress without consequence. Today’s vote showed that isn’t the case. Congress has a Constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the Executive Branch and to seek the truth on behalf of the American people. That is a responsibility I take very seriously.”
Congressman Byrne said, “Because the Administration continues to impede Congress from fulfilling its constitutional oversight responsibilities, I support these measures that will restore sanity to the process and allow these investigations to move forward. I will continue working with my colleagues to demand answers on this issue and ensure this blatant abuse of power will never occur again.”
Rep. Roby said that the vote to hold former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress is important towards holding the Executive Branch accountable for its actions.
Since May 2012, Congressional investigators have learned that the IRS had improperly targeted conservative groups applying for the normal tax-exempt status and that the IRS focused increased scrutiny on groups that “criticized how the country is being run” and expressed an interest in public awareness “on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Numerous emails from Lerner, who was director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division at the time, indicated that she intentionally used her position to target groups based on their political beliefs. Lerner exercised her right to avoid self incrimination under the Fifth Amendment at a Congressional hearing last year.
Rep. Roby said, “I wish it hadn’t come to this. I wish Ms. Lerner had been forthcoming from the beginning about why her agency targeted groups and individuals because of their political beliefs. By dodging questions and obstructing the truth, Ms. Lerner has left us no choice but to publicly condemn her behavior and hasten the Justice Department to act.”
The contempt resolution will be referred to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia.
H.Res. 565 is the resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate the targeting of conservative non-profit groups by the IRS. H.Res. 574 recommends that the House of Representatives find Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R) from California said in a written statement, “While I am disappointed that Ms. Lerner decided to face our criminal justice system instead of testifying fully and truthfully before Congress, this vote is a step toward a level of accountability that the Obama Administration has been unwilling to take.”
Rep. Issa continued, “Lois Lerner presided over an effort to deprive Americans of their rights to participate in our political process and failed to meet her legal obligations to answer questions. E-mails and other documents obtained by the Committee have shown that IRS targeting of conservative groups occurred after she felt pressured to act following robust criticism by President Obama and other prominent members of his party about the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case.”
Congressman Issa continued, “To preempt the release of an independent investigation, Ms. Lerner publicly admitted that the IRS division she led had targeted conservatives. After waiving her right to protection from self-incrimination, Lerner had a choice: testify fully and truthfully about what occurred or face criminal contempt. Ms. Lerner refused to testify even after her attorney told Congress she would do so. Unless the President decides to assert executive privilege, there is no precedent for the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to do anything but pursue this criminal case. Absent political interference by the Administration, this legally binding action – as well as a separate resolution calling for a special prosecutor to take over the Main Justice Department’s tainted and dormant investigation – require the Justice Department to take action.”
The House approved H.Res. 574, finding Director Lerner in contempt, on a vote of 231 to 187, with 6 Democrats voting yes. The House approved H.Res. 565, requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS targeting scandal on a vote of 250 to 168, with 26 Democrats voting yes.
Alabama hospitals nearing COVID-19 summer surge levels
Wednesday was the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19.
Alabama hospitals reported caring for 1,483 people infected with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of patients since Aug. 11, when the state was enduring its summer surge. Wednesday was also the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19.
The seven-day average of hospitalizations was 1,370 on Wednesday, the 36th straight day of that average rising. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 2,453 new cases Wednesday. The 14-day average of new cases was — for the eighth day in a row — at a record high of 2,192.
Across the country, more than 80,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Tuesday, a record high and the 15th straight day of record hospitalizations nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a coronavirus tracking website.
The CDC this week recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“The only way for us to successfully get through this pandemic is if we work together,” said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a message Tuesday. “There’s no one subset of the community that’s going to be able to carry the weight of this pandemic and so we all have to take part in wearing our masks, keeping our distance, making sure that we’re washing our hands.”
Kennedy said the best way she can describe the current situation is “Russian Roulette.”
“Not only in the form of, maybe you get it and you don’t get sick or maybe you get it and you end up in the ICU,” Kennedy said, “but if you do end up sick, are you going to get to the hospital at a time when we’ve got capacity, and we’ve got enough people to take care of you? And that is a scary thought.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported an increase of 60 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. Deaths take time to confirm and the date a death is reported does not necessarily reflect the date on which the individual died. At least 23 of those deaths occurred in November, and 30 occurred in other months. Seven were undated. Data for the last two to three weeks are incomplete.
As of Wednesday, at least 3,532 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, according to the Department of Public Health. During November, at least 195 people have died in Alabama from COVID-19. But ADPH is sure to add more to the month’s tally in the weeks to come as data becomes more complete.
ADPH on Wednesday announced a change that nearly doubled the department’s estimate of people who have recovered from COVID-19, bringing that figure up to 161,946. That change also alters APR’s estimates of how many cases are considered active.
ADPH’s Infectious Disease and Outbreak team “updated some parameters” in the department’s Alabama NEDSS Base Surveillance System, which resulted in the increase, the department said.
Judge reduces former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence
The trial court judge ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.
Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker on Wednesday reduced former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence from four years to just more than two.
Walker in his order filed Wednesday noted that Hubbard was sentenced to fours years on Aug. 9, 2016, after being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges for misusing his office for personal gain, but that on Aug. 27, 2018, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed convictions on five of those counts. The Alabama Supreme Court later struck down another count.
Hubbard’s attorneys on Sept. 18 filed a motion to revise his sentence, to which the state objected, according to court records, arguing that “Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency.”
Walker in his order cited state code and wrote that the power of the courts to grant probation “is a matter of grace and lies entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court.”
“Furthermore, the Court must consider the nature of the Defendant’s crimes. Acts of public corruption harm not just those directly involved, but harm society as a whole,” Walker wrote.
Walker ruled that because six of Hubbard’s original felony counts were later reversed, his entrance should be changed to reflect that, and ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday said Walker’s decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence was the wrong message to send.
“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” Marshall said in a statement. “Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law. Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”
Nick Saban tests positive for COVID-19, has “mild symptoms”
It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.
University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Iron Bowl and has mild symptoms, according to a statement from the university on Wednesday.
“This morning we received notification that Coach Saban tested positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Jimmy Robinson and Jeff Allan, associate athletic director, in the statement. “He has very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a false positive. He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home.”
Saban had previously tested positive before Alabama’s game against Georgia but was asymptomatic and subsequently tested negative three times, a sign that the positive test could have been a false positive. He returned to coach that game.
It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn, given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for quarantining after testing positive and with symptoms. Neither Saban nor the university had spoken about that possibility as of Wednesday morning.
Civil rights leader Bruce Boynton dies at 83
The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.
Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton died from cancer in a Montgomery hospital on Monday. He was 83. The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.
“We’ve lost a giant of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama. “Son of Amelia Boynton Robinson, Bruce Boynton was a Selma native whose refusal to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant led to the landmark SCOTUS decision in Boynton v. Virginia overturning racial segregation in public transportation, sparking the Freedom Rides and end of Jim Crow. Let us be inspired by his commitment to keep striving and working toward a more perfect union.”
Boynton attended Howard University Law School in Washington D.C. He was arrested in Richmond, Virginia, in his senior year of law school for refusing to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant. That arrest and conviction would be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Boynton and civil rights advocates prevailed in the landmark case 1060 Boynton vs. Virginia.
Boynton’s case was handled by famed civil rights era attorney Thurgood Marshal, who would go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1960 7-to-2 decision ruled that federal prohibitions barring segregation on interstate buses also applied to bus stations and other interstate travel facilities.
The decision inspired the “Freedom Rides” movement. Some Freedom Riders were attacked when they came to Alabama.
While Boynton received a high score on the Alabama Bar exam, the Alabama Bar prevented him from working in the state for years due to that 1958 trespassing conviction. Undeterred, Boynton worked in Tennessee during the years, bringing school desegregation lawsuits.
Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said on social media: “NAACP LDF represented Bruce Boynton, who was an unplanned Freedom Rider (he simply wanted to buy a sandwich in a Va bus station stop & when denied was willing to sue & his case went to the SCOTUS) and later Bruce’s mother Amelia Boynton (in Selma after Bloody Sunday).”
His mother, Amelia Boynton, was an early organizer of the voting rights movement. During the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965, she was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She later co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum and annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. His father S.W. Boynton was also active in the Civil Rights Movement.
Bruce Boynton worked for several years at a Washington D.C. law firm but spent most of his long, illustrious legal career in Selma, Alabama, with a focus on civil rights cases. He was the first Black special prosecutor in Alabama history and at one point he represented Stokely Carmichael.
This year has seen the passing of a number of prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders, including Troy native Georgia Congressman John Lewis.