Kris Kobach, Face of Trump’s Voter Fraud Panel, Is Held in Contempt by Judge


Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, was reprimanded in a 25-page ruling by a federal judge.

John Hanna/Associated Press

Kris W. Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas and face of the Trump administration’s efforts to clamp down on supposed voter fraud, was found by a federal judge on Wednesday to have disobeyed orders to notify thousands of Kansans in 2016 that they were registered to vote.

Mr. Kobach, who served last year as the vice chairman of the Trump administration’s short-lived presidential commission on voter fraud, was reprimanded in a 25-page ruling by Federal District Judge Julie A. Robinson of Kansas, who held him in contempt of court.

Mr. Kobach has championed restrictive laws on voting around the country, warning that voting fraud is rampant and unchecked, despite widespread agreement from election experts that it is extremely rare. But voting rights advocates pointed to the judge’s findings as a counter to Mr. Kobach’s efforts to position himself as a protector of the voting process.

“Secretary Kobach likes to talk about the rule of law,” Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Talk is cheap, and his actions speak louder than his words.”

A law went into effect in Kansas in 2013 that required proof of citizenship to register to vote, one of the strictest such laws in the country. But in May 2016, Mr. Kobach lost a challenge to the law brought by the A.C.L.U., and Judge Robinson ordered him to notify people who had tried to register while renewing or applying for a driver’s license that they were indeed eligible to vote.

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Starbucks Arrests, Outrageous to Some, Are Everyday Life for Others

In fact, statistics show that Rittenhouse Square, with its hotels, boutique museums and upscale shops, has the highest racial disparity in the city when it comes to police pedestrian stops. Although black people account for just 3 percent of the residents in that police subdistrict, they made up two-thirds of the people stopped by the police in the first half of 2017, according to figures collected by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It is clear that African-Americans are not welcomed in that part of the neighborhood, period,” said Jordan A. Harris, a representative in the state house and chairman of the state’s legislative black caucus.

On Tuesday, Starbucks, whose chief executive, Kevin Johnson, has apologized for the incident, said it would close more than 8,000 of its stores on May 29 to conduct anti-racial bias training for nearly 175,000 employees.

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A small group of activists and clergy members met with Howard Schultz, the company’s executive chairman, and the Philadelphia district attorney for about an hour on Tuesday afternoon.

Though most of the attention is being directed toward Starbucks, some activists, politicians and policy experts place the blame for the incident on a system of law enforcement that is disproportionately harsh toward black people.

“I think the cops’ behavior was not only outrageous, but it was par for the course,” said Rashad Robinson, the director of Color of Change, a racial justice organization. “It’s what happens day in and day out in communities around the country.”

But the case also raises tricky questions of law enforcement policies and practices, like when officers should make arrests instead of using other methods to resolve nonviolent disputes.

A manager at the Starbucks cafe called the police, saying that the two men were sitting in the store without purchasing anything and that they had refused to leave.

The eight-minute video clip of the encounter shows three officers in bicycle helmets standing around two black men, who were sitting and calmly responding to the officers’ questions. One of the men told the police that they had a meeting, and the officer told him, “I’ll give you one more chance” to leave.

A few minutes go by, with the officers and the men continuing to exchange words, when a white man who was supposed to meet the men showed up. He began arguing with the officers, saying that they were discriminating against the two black men. Eventually, the white man said they would just go somewhere else, but the officer responded, “They’re not free to leave,” adding that they had already failed to comply.

A short time later the two black men were placed in handcuffs and taken to the police station to be booked.

Initially, the city’s police commissioner, Richard Ross, emphasized that the officers who made the arrest “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.”

But in an interview with a local television station on Monday, the commissioner struck a more conciliatory note and admitted that he wished that Starbucks had never called the police.

“The whole thing is unfortunate,” Commissioner Ross told WPVI, an ABC affiliate. “Wish it hadn’t happened, from start to finish.”

Though he defended the officers and said that it appeared they had not done anything wrong, the commissioner said that the department was now reviewing its procedures. “If we had our druthers, we wouldn’t have came there in the first place,” he said.

Policing experts said that while it was not clear the officers did anything in violation of the law or police policy, the emphasis at many departments would have been on trying to avoid any incident like the one that played out.

Audio of the 911 and dispatch calls, released on Tuesday, also raised questions about how those calls may have affected the officers as they responded to the call.

“Hi, I have two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” said the Starbucks employee who called 911.

But when the dispatcher put out the call to the police, he said: “We’ve got a disturbance there. A group of males refusing to leave.”


A luxury hotel on Rittenhouse Square in downtown Philadelphia. Police officers in the area have been much more likely to stop black pedestrians than whites.

Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Ronal Serpas, a former police chief in New Orleans and Nashville, said it was “troublesome that an arrest occurred,” given the tremendous discretion officers have to handle such situations.

“Using every available alternative to a physical arrest, within department policy, should be the goal in a case like this,” said Mr. Serpas, who is now a professor at Loyola University New Orleans.

Jim Bueermann, the president of the Police Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization, said that the incident reflected a systemic problem with how the police deal with such episodes.

“This is a very typical example of the difficult place police officers find themselves in every day, where a business is on one side, saying, ‘We want you to enforce the law, because these people are being uncooperative and are technically violating the law,’ ” Mr. Bueermann said. “And on the other side, officers are trying to be sensitive because of the nature of the situation and everyone involved.”

This city has struggled for years to curb discriminatory police stops. The police department entered into a consent decree with the A.C.L.U. after the organization sued the city in 2010.

Since the election two years ago of Mayor Jim Kenney, who campaigned partly on an agenda of curbing unjustified police stops, the total number of pedestrian stops has fallen by half. The proportion of unjustified stops has also dropped sharply, according to Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the Pennsylvania A.C.L.U., crediting the mayor’s efforts.

But the racial disparity in pedestrian stops has not budged, and one in five stops are still made without any justification, she said.

Black residents say that those stops are acutely felt in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood in the center of the city, the site of the now infamous Starbucks. The area was quiet on Tuesday afternoon. A few birds chirped in the cold. Tulip tree blossoms crowned in pink the park that is at the center of the neighborhood.

The neighborhood was the part of town where African-Americans were driven because of riots started by white residents in the mid 1800s, according to Marcus Anthony Hunter, the chairman of the Department of African-American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. The rise of housing projects, and later urban renewal, eventually led to a decrease in the black population, he said. And over the past 20 years, the neighborhood has become almost all white because of gentrification.

Linda Richardson, a 71-year-old black woman, lived just off Rittenhouse Square in 1967, with her white husband and their young daughter, when the neighborhood had become majority white. People often mistook her for her daughter’s nanny. Even back then, she said, she remembered that little black boys who wanted to play in the square were often asked to leave.

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Escapes, Riots and Beatings. But States Can’t Seem to Ditch Private Prisons.

Private prison companies can be found at every level of government, housing 9 percent of the nation’s prisoners. They emerged in the 1980s, when the number of inmates was quickly outstripping capacity, and they have an outsize influence in certain states, including Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi and New Mexico.

Despite hundreds of lawsuits, findings that private prisons save taxpayers little to no money, and evidence of repeated constitutional violations, the number of privately housed inmates has risen faster since 2000 than the overall number of prisoners. In 2016, the number rose by about 1.5 percent, according to Justice Department figures.

Last week, Frank Shaw, a warden for Management & Training, or MTC, at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, was called to testify in a federal trial claiming that the prison routinely failed to shield inmates from beatings and left them so desperate for medical attention that they lit fires in their cells. Mr. Shaw had also been the warden in Arizona during the riot.

Even states that have sworn off private prisons, or tried to cut back on their use, have found it difficult to extricate themselves. After the prisoners escaped in Arizona, the state tried to reduce the number of inmates held in that prison. But MTC claimed the state was violating its contract, which guaranteed a certain number of beds would be filled. Arizona had to pay the company $3 million. MTC still operates a facility in the state.

States that use private prisons can find themselves limited to a few big players. The largest are GEO Group, based in Florida; CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), based in Tennessee; and MTC, based in Utah. Two of the past four directors of the Federal Bureau of Prisons were later hired by CoreCivic.

George Zoley, chief executive of GEO Group, made $9.6 million in 2017 — almost double his 2016 earnings, according to S.E.C. filings. Damon T. Hininger, CoreCivic’s chief executive, earned $2.3 million in total compensation in 2017, according to the records.

GEO Group and CoreCivic, which are publicly traded, had revenues last year of $2.3 billion and $1.8 billion. Much less is known about MTC, which is privately held. A company spokesman declined to answer a number of emailed questions about its operations and revenues, but said the company was dedicated to helping “at-risk individuals” gain the tools for success.

The companies employ a variety of strategies, including hiring former corrections officials in high-level positions and giving what are sometimes enormous campaign contributions. GEO Group and CoreCivic gave close to half a million dollars to support Mr. Trump’s candidacy and inauguration. After he was elected, their stock prices soared.


Damage at the state prison in Kingman, Ariz., after inmates rioted in 2015. The facility was run by Management & Training Corporation, a major private prison operator.

Arizona Department of Corrections

Industry officials say they provide cost-effective ways to house inmates, and that they continue to expand into rehabilitation programs as more states seek alternatives to prison. CoreCivic says about 10,000 people in its facilities have obtained high school equivalency diplomas in the past five years, reflecting the company’s efforts to improve the ability of inmates to re-enter society.

But some lawmakers say the claims of cost savings and other benefits do not check out. “There is no convincing argument of why we should have private prisons,” said Mike Fasano, a former Republican state senator from Pasco County, Fla., who voted against a 2012 measure to privatize much of Florida’s prison system.

GEO Group, which did not respond to a request for comment, gave more than $1 million to state candidates and parties in Florida in the two years leading up to the vote, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. But the proposal was narrowly defeated, Mr. Fasano said, over fears about jeopardizing public safety and hurting public corrections workers, as well as concerns that the promised cost savings would not materialize.

In Mississippi, the state’s three private prisons were once operated by GEO Group and are now run by MTC.

A fourth, Walnut Grove, was closed in 2016, four years after a federal judge wrote that the prison “paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world,” and placed the prison under federal oversight.

But the state is still paying for it. In the 1990s, Mississippi issued bonds to pay for prison construction, including some facilities intended to be privately run. It still owes $91 million for Walnut Grove, according to state documents.

In a related case, both companies are being sued by the state attorney general for racketeering in connection with a corruption scandal that led to the conviction of Christopher Epps, a former state corrections director. In 2017, he was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison after receiving some $1.4 million in bribes and kickbacks from companies vying for state prison contracts.

Cecil McCrory, a former state legislator, was also convicted in the scandal. He did consulting work for both GEO Group and MTC, which paid him $12,000 a month, according to the indictment.

Both companies have denied wrongdoing in the case.

The state declined to settle a separate lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates at the East Mississippi facility by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. For the past two months, the resulting trial has presented evidence of rampant violence and chronic neglect amid shortages of guards and medical staff. Although four out of five inmates there are mentally ill, East Mississippi has not had a psychiatrist on its staff since November.

Inmates have testified that rival gangs were the prison’s de facto rulers, even deciding which cells new inmates were allowed to occupy. Last year, an inmate with a mobile phone — available on the prison’s black market for $800 — filmed himself beating another inmate and posted the video on Facebook. MTC gives guards less pay and training than government correction officers receive.

Still, Pelicia E. Hall, the state prison commissioner, testified that she had no plans to cut ties to MTC.

Some states have found themselves with few alternatives when they have tried to curb their use of private prisons.

Hawaii, which sends a quarter of its prisoners to a private prison in Eloy, Ariz., sought to bring them home after the murder of two Hawaiian inmates and allegations of abuse in 2010. One inmate had been stabbed 140 times.

Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat who was governor of Hawaii at the time, declared that the policy of sending prisoners away “costs money, it costs lives, it costs communities.” But Hawaii’s largest prison is filled to capacity, so the state has continued to send inmates to Arizona.


A photo of a shower area introduced in evidence at a civil rights trial over conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, Miss., run by Management & Training.

Southern Poverty Law Center

Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the prospects for a privatization plan in his state dimmed after the state sold a prison to a private company and assaults on prison staff and other inmates rose sharply. The frequency of assaults declined in subsequent years.

Much of the industry’s power, critics say, is linked to campaign donations. GEO Group and CoreCivic have given nearly $9 million over the past fifteen years to state candidates and parties across the United States, with the overwhelming majority to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The two companies have also spent between $3 million and $4 million annually on lobbying, according to data from the institute and from the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

Steve Owen, a CoreCivic spokesman, said the magnitude of lobbying and campaign contributions was not unusual for an industry of its size.

The industry also promises savings. But such claims have been disputed, partly because many contracts allow the private prisons to cherry-pick the healthiest inmates while leaving those who need more care to publicly run facilities, making private prisons appear to be cheaper to run, critics say.

The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in 2016 that it could not accurately compare costs, partly because of “the different nature of the inmate populations and programs offered in those facilities.”

The department ordered a phasing-out of private facilities that year, saying they “compare poorly” with government prisons and citing a lack of substantial cost savings. One month after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, the department rescinded the decision.

Mr. Owen of CoreCivic said his company never insists on terms allowing it to cherry-pick inmates, that its contracts reflect what states want, and that they provide ways for states to withdraw from the arrangement, as some have done.

In some communities, private prisons have become such large taxpayers and employers that backers have forecast economic doom in arguing against their closing.

Perhaps no town is now as dependent as Eloy, Ariz., where four private prisons pay $2 million of the town’s $12.5 million annual operating budget, according to the city manager, Harvey Krauss.

One unit, which houses people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has come under scrutiny for inmate deaths.

In 2015, The Arizona Republic found that at least five people had committed suicide at that facility since 2003, while none of the almost 250 other detention centers across the country had had more than one suicide in that time. Overall, the newspaper reported, 9 percent of all deaths in detention during that period had occurred at the Eloy center.

While there can be a stigma attached to prison towns, the fiscal impact cannot be overstated, Mr. Krauss said.

“We would be in a world of hurt without them,” he said.

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Judge Temporarily Stops U.S. From Blocking Undocumented Teenagers’ Abortions


A detention center in McAllen, Tex., for undocumented minors.

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

A federal judge in Washington issued a sweeping order on Friday that temporarily prevents the government from blocking access to abortion services for undocumented, pregnant minors who have been detained in federal immigration custody.

In issuing the preliminary injunction, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of United States District Court barred the government from interfering with hundreds of teenagers’ access to medical appointments, counseling, abortion procedures or other care, writing that the government’s practice of doing so infringed on the teenagers’ constitutional rights.

Judge Chutkan also allowed the case to proceed as a class action that will include four plaintiffs whose high-profile cases date to October 2017.

Since March 2017, the Office of Refugee Resettlement had instructed employees at federally funded shelters to not take “any action that facilitates an abortion without direction and approval from the director of O.R.R.,” court documents say. The Trump administration has argued that their policies do not create a so-called undue burden because undocumented teenagers seeking an abortion can obtain one by finding a sponsor or voluntarily deporting themselves to their home country.


Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

United States Courts

“This court does not find that either of these ‘options’ mitigates the undue burden that O.R.R.’s policy imposes on the young women in its custody,” Judge Chutkan wrote, calling the government’s proposal a “Hobson’s choice.”

While the Office of Refugee Resettlement and its director “are certainly entitled to maintain an interest in fetal life,” and even to prefer that pregnant teens in their custody choose one course over the other, federal officials “may not create or implement any policy that strips” the undocumented children “of their right to make their own reproductive choices,” Judge Chutkan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, continued.

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Editorial: An Ohio Bill Would Ban All Abortions. It’s Part of a Bigger Plan.


Sally Deng

While Donald Trump once said he was “very pro-choice,” since the start of his presidential campaign his stance on abortion has been consistent: It should be banned, no matter the consequences to women. At times, he has even veered to the right of the mainstream anti-abortion movement, as when he said during a primary season town hall event that women who seek abortions should face “some form of punishment.” Most anti-abortion politicians profess to want to protect women, even when they pass laws that harm them.

Now legislators in one state want Mr. Trump’s cruel vision to become reality. Ohio lawmakers have proposed legislation to ban all abortions, period, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life.

Carrying to term a pregnancy against one’s will is punishment enough — in fact, it can amount to torture, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council. But the Ohio bill would not only cut off access to the procedure, it would also open the door to criminal charges against both abortion providers and women seeking the procedure. One of the Republican co-sponsors of the legislation, State Representative Ron Hood, said it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to charge a woman or a doctor, and what those charges would be. But they could be severe. Under the bill, an “unborn human” would be considered a person under state criminal homicide statutes. Thus, a prosecutor could decide to charge a woman who ended a pregnancy with murder. In Ohio, murder is punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.

How’s that for pro-life?

If this all sounds legally unsound, that’s because it is. The Ohio bill is “blatantly unconstitutional,” said Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, which has challenged anti-abortion laws in the state. “This isn’t a hard one.”

That’s because the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal up to the point of fetal viability, which has shifted over time due to medical advancements in treating premature babies, but now occurs at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. Any ban on abortion before that time — say, at 15 weeks, as would be the case under a law that was passed and legally blocked in Mississippi last week — is generally considered unconstitutional.

This rash of radically unconstitutional bills is appearing by design. The anti-abortion movement has been trying to pass pre-viability abortion bans, like the Ohio bill, hoping that efforts to overturn them would lead to a challenge of Roe v. Wade that would end with the 45-year-old decision’s reversal in the Supreme Court.

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