Hobby Lobby Redux
July 4, 2014

The Supreme Court on Thursday evening unveiled its latest ruling around birth control and religious freedom — and if you disliked the Hobby Lobby decision earlier this week, you're going to hate this one.

The latest ruling allows Wheaton College to skirt ObamaCare's contraceptive provisions as long as the evangelical school informs the government of its religious objections to providing its staff and students with any type of birth control. Previously, the government required a non-profit with religious objections to sign a form handing over responsibility of providing contraceptive coverage to its insurer or health care plan administrator — now, presumably, the government would handle the hand off.

Saying the decision "undermines confidence in this institution," Justice Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent, accusing the court of backtracking key elements of its Hobby Lobby decision. "Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word," Sotomayor wrote. "Not so today."

She said the ruling set up unworkable regulations that risked "depriving hundreds of Wheaton's employees and students of their legal entitlement to contraceptive coverage" and allowed "hundreds or thousands of other objectors" a similar way out.

She was joined in her dissent by the court's two other female justices. In fact, the decision broke down completely across gender lines — the court's male justices comprised the majority opinion — suggesting that the court's battle over religious freedom and reproductive rights is only going to get more contentious. Nico Lauricella

11:29 a.m. ET
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Clear Channel

Nicki Minaj is known for calling people out — despite the press blitz that arises whenever she picks a fight with her fellow pop stars. But while Minaj goes ahead and clarifies why she went after Miley Cyrus at the VMAs in her latest interview with The New York Times Magazine, a much more revealing feud — one that says a lot about the state of entertainment media today — arises.

Here's how it unfolds: the Times' Vanessa Grigoridis is struggling to get Minaj to answer questions when she dips into asking about a beef between Minaj's boyfriend, Meek Mill, and Drake, Lil' Wayne, and Bryan Williams. Minaj replies: "They're men, grown-ass men, it's between them."

Grigoridis asks, "Is there a part of you that thrives on drama, or is it no, just pain and unpleasantness—"

That's the end of the interview:

"What do the four men you just named have to do with me thriving off drama?" she asked. "Why would you even say that? That's so peculiar. Four grown-ass men are having issues between themselves, and you're asking me do I thrive off drama?"

She pointed my way, her extended arm all I could see other than the diamonds glinting in her ears. This wasn't over yet. "That's the typical thing that women do. What did you putting me down right there do for you?" she asked. "Women blame women for things that have nothing to do with them. I really want to know why — as a matter of fact, I don't. Can we move on, do you have anything else to ask?" [The New York Times]

"To put down a woman for something that men do, as if they're children and I'm responsible, has nothing to do with you asking stupid questions, because you know that's not just a stupid question. That's a premeditated thing you just did," Minaj added. She finished by telling Grigoridis, "I don't care to speak to you anymore."

Another feud, or a fair point about how women are covered in the media? Read it all in The New York Times Magazine. Jeva Lange

one state, two state, red state, blue state
11:14 a.m. ET

If it feels like American politics have become more polarized in recent years, that's because they have. A new study from researchers at Princeton, Georgetown, and the University of Oregon finds that red states have been getting redder and blue states bluer over the past two decades:

(Washington Post)

At the state level, Republicans are moving to the right and Democrats to the left, but of the two trends the leftward swing has been more significant. Meanwhile, voters have tended to replace moderate Democrats with Republicans in recent elections, meaning state legislatures have shifted slightly right on balance while hosting Democratic representatives who more fiercely oppose that consensus.

The researchers connected increased polarization with greater income inequality, finding that moderate Democrats were most likely to be ousted in favor of Republicans in places where income inequality is rising most quickly. Bonnie Kristian

war crime?
10:54 a.m. ET
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Charging that the American bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was a war crime, humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is calling for an independent probe of the attack to determine whether it will file criminal charges. "If we let this go, we are basically giving a blank check to any countries at war," explained Doctors Without Borders International President Dr. Joanne Liu.

"The facts and circumstances of this attack must be investigated independently and impartially, particularly given the inconsistencies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened over recent days," Liu said in a statement published Wednesday. "It is unacceptable that the bombing of a hospital and the killing of staff and patients can be dismissed as collateral damage or brushed aside as a mistake."

At least 22 people were killed in the strike, including three children, and another 37 or more were injured. Doctors Without Borders has announced it will not reopen the hospital, which was the only facility in the area capable of treating serious injuries, after the bombing. Bonnie Kristian

2016 election
10:36 a.m. ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio quietly met with Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders in September, The Wall Street Journal reports, the latest reminder that the liberal mayor has yet to endorse a candidate in his party's primary. The Journal also reports that de Blasio wants to preside over a candidates' forum in Iowa in 2016, a sign that his ambition to become a national leader on progressive issues has not abated despite criticism that de Blasio is ignoring problems at home.

Mr. de Blasio's forum will focus on income inequality and other issues he wants to be a part of the presidential campaign. The mayor's camp has zeroed in on early December as a likely time and Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, near Des Moines, as a likely venue.

The mayor wants politicians of both parties to attend. Representatives for Mr. Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination, and Democratic former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley have expressed interest in attending. [The Wall Street Journal]

No word yet on whether Hillary Clinton will sign up. De Blasio pointedly did not even attend the official launch of Clinton's campaign in New York in June, despite the fact that de Blasio ran her successful 2000 Senate campaign.

Will he or won't he eventually endorse the Democratic frontrunner? And will it sway Democratic primary voters who are on the fence? Only time will tell. Ryu Spaeth

army of people
9:44 a.m. ET

Celebrity gossip rag People isn't normally the kind of place you find political calls to action. That's all about to change in their newest issue on the Umpqua Community College shooting, which "[pays] tribute to the nine Oregon victims, as well as 22 other men, women, and children who've lost their lives in mass shootings [...] in the U.S. during the past 12 months." It's not just a tribute People is using its pages for, however. From editorial director Jess Cagle's note:

As President Obama said, our responses to these incidents — from politicians, from the media, from nearly everyone — have become "routine." We all ask ourselves the same questions: How could it happen again? What are we doing about gun violence in America? There are no easy answers, of course. Some argue for stricter gun laws, others say we should focus on mental health issues, some point to a culture that celebrates violence.

But this much we know: As a country we clearly aren't doing enough, and our elected officials' conversations about solutions usually end in political spin. [People]

Cagle goes on to urge readers to contact their representatives by devoting two entire pages of the magazine to a list of all 535 phone numbers of the voting members of the House and the Senate. That could mean a whole lot of phone calls: People is the 10th most circulated magazine in the United States, reaching 3.5 million subscribers.

"We need to know that our representatives in Washington, D.C., are looking for solutions and not giving up, and they need to know if we agree or disagree with their strategies," Cagle said. "Let's make sure they know from now on that routine responses just won't cut it." Feeling moved? You can find your own representative's number here. Jeva Lange

Presidential polling
9:29 a.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, things might not be looking so bad for Democrats. A new Quinnipiac University poll out Wednesday reveals that while The Donald still leads his party's primaries in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, he doesn't fare nearly as well against Democrats in hypothetical match-ups. Against all three Democrats that Quinnipiac tested — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden, who has not announced a presidential run — Trump loses in a hypothetical general election face-off.

"Trump, despite his strong showing in mock Republican primaries, fares worst among the GOP candidates matched against the three Democratic aspirants — giving some credence to pundits who say the billionaire could be every Democrats' favorite GOP nominee," Quinnipiac assistant director Peter Brown said in a statement. Against Clinton, Trump loses 46 percent to 41 percent in Florida, 43 percent to 42 percent in Ohio, and 44 percent to 42 percent in Pennsylvania.

And those are Trump's closest margins against the Democrats. In a match-up with Biden, Trump loses 46-42 in Florida, 46-37 in Ohio, and 45-42 in Pennsylvania. Sanders beats out Trump by five percentage points in Florida and Pennsylvania and by three percentage points in Ohio.

The survey's margin of error in Florida and Ohio is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. In Pennsylvania, it's plus or minus three percentage points. Becca Stanek

grab the tissue box
9:08 a.m. ET

Everyone is tapping their toes waiting to see if Vice President Joe Biden is going to declare a third campaign for president, but perhaps no one has made their impatience more public than the Draft Biden super PAC. On Wednesday, Draft Biden began running a national, 90-second video ad in which viewers hear Biden talking about the death of his wife and daughter — a snippet of his Yale University Class Day address last May. The ad features pictures of Biden both at work and with his family, including images of his late son, Beau:

"My dad's definition of success is when you look at your son and daughter and realize that they turned out better than you," Biden says. "And they did."

"We are on the cusp of some of the most astonishing breakthroughs in the history of mankind — scientific, technological, socially," Biden continues. "It will be up to you in this changing world to translate those unprecedented capabilities into a greater measure of happiness and meaning, not just for yourself but for the world around you." The words "Joe, run" appear on the screen before asking for a donation to help keep the ad on the air.

The super PAC likely needs it, too: According to Politico, Draft Biden claims the national ad cost six figures. And while it's an elegant video, there's only one flaw to their plan — you probably don't want to watch it much more than once if you want to avoid blubbering every time it comes on. Jeva Lange

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