Law & Politics

Speaker Points: 2013 State of the Union Address

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Recently, President Obama gave his annual State of the Union address and his first since being re-elected.

Pundits have since debated the political ramifications of the event. But in this first “Speaker Points” piece, I want to examine whether it was an effective speech, and what lessons you can learn for your own speaking lives. The President has always been a powerful orator, and this time was no exception. For another solid job, I give him 8 speaker points (out of 10).

Let’s start with what the President did well. 

Chief Justice John Roberts Speaks Up for Judicial Independence

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

Count me among the many surprised people this week when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, John Roberts, proved his belief in judicial independence.   Though nominated by a Republican president, he delivered votes in favor of Democratic positions in two major cases – striking down key components of Arizona’s oppressive immigration enforcement law and upholding President Obama’s health care reform act.  With those two decisions in a single week, the Chief Justice demonstrated that judges can in fact set aside politics when ruling on ideologically-charged issues.  Roberts has voiced the need for an autonomous judiciary since he was nominated to the Supreme Court and even before.  But his rulings last week speak loudly, and prove that he walks his own talk.

Aung San Suu Kyi: The Nobel Speech 21 Years in the Making

Aung San Suu Kyi

On June 16, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi finally delivered an acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize bestowed on her 21 years ago.  To her people, Suu Kyi has long been the symbol of the freedom movement against Myanmar’s military dictatorship.  Her push for democracy and iconic status as daughter of General Aung San, an independence hero of the country, led to her being kept under house arrest for many years.   Becoming one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners, she won the Nobel award in 1991. But Suu Kyi was detained and unable to accept the prize.   Today, finally freed from detention, she is an elected member of Parliament and leader of Myanmar’s opposition party – as her country slowly tries to march towards democratization.   Her recent Nobel speech in Oslo, Norway – while 21 years late – is a powerful reminder that when even a single voice speaks up, the world may listen.

LGBT Organizations Must Avoid Debates on Non-LGBT Issues

LGBT Organizations and Non-Gay Issues by Jimmy NguyenLGBT groups are gaining political influence.  And they exert hard-won political muscle to fight for full equality and support LGBT and LGBT-friendly elected officials.  But given so much work left to accomplish on equal rights and limited resources, gay groups should not be so quick to enter debates on non-LGBT issues.

This past January, one gay political group did so during debate over SOPA and PIPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act.  Pushed through Congress by the entertainment industry, those bills were intended to give copyright owners more ways to fight online piracy, especially against foreign websites that facilitate infringement of digital entertainment content.  Opposing the legislation as censorship, Wikipedia and other Internet companies led a “blackout” of certain web services on January 18.  The move created enough public pressure to stop SOPA and PIPA, at least in the forms proposed.

The DREAM Act: Dream To Live Out Loud

The DREAM Act: Dream To Live Out LoudEvery year in the United States, some 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from high school. But they are then stuck – unable to attend college, join the military, get a legitimate job, or otherwise contribute meaningfully to American society. Even worse, they often feel compelled to hide their undocumented status, unable to be open about who they are. What can help them, however, is a DREAM. The proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would create a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants if they attend college or serve in the military. With Congress soon to become more conservative, there is greater urgency now to pass the legislation during 2010’s remaining “lame-duck” Congressional session. But no matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in power, the DREAM Act is the right thing to do. It will give thousands of deserving young adults the ability to pursue their own American dream… and to live out loud while doing so.

The Lady Is Liberated

The Lady Is Liberated: What The Release Of Aung San Suu Kyi Should Teach Americans About Democracy

The Lady of Burma is free again. On November 13, Nobel Peace Prize winner and pro-democracy heroine Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – also known to her people as simply “The Lady” – was freed from house arrest (again). For 15 of the past 21 years, she has been confined to her lakeside home in Yangon by the ruling military junta of the country (now known as Myanmar). Now free, Suu Kyi can hopefully use her iconic status to one day give her homeland a government by and for the people. For Americans, the Lady’s release should serve as a reminder about why we need to be vigilant in honoring the ideals of democracy.

Bench Strength

Advocate contributor and award-winning lawyer Jimmy Nguyen says the Election Day ousting of three pro-marriage equality Supreme Court justices in Iowa marked a sad day for judicial independence. First Posted on

Election Day 2010 will go down in history as a sad day for judicial independence. On November 2, Iowa voters removed three justices from the state’s Supreme Court because they supported the court’s landmark 2009 decision recognizing the right to same-sex marriage in the Hawkeye state. Chief Justice Marsha Temus and fellow justices David Baker and Michael Streit were up for a routine retention vote, but became victims of a vicious campaign launched by opponents of marriage equality. Their ouster threatens one of the fundamental reasons why our country has an independent judiciary – to protect the rights of minority groups. It should also serve as a powerful reminder for why the LGBT community must help ensure the independent strength of the judicial bench.

Calling For A President Who Follows His Heart

Should Obama Be Defending in Court Anti-LGBT Laws that He Believes are Unconstitutional?

Should our President defend in court laws that, in his heart, he believes are incorrect? That is the compelling question raised in the past two weeks, which saw the Obama administration decide to appeal two court rulings favorable to the LGBT community.

Election 2010 In California

A Pivotal Race For Marriage Equality On November 2, California voters will elect a new governor and attorney general. Their selection will have a monumental impact on the future of marriage equality in California.

In Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal case challenging Proposition 8, California’s current Governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Attorney General (Jerry Brown) have proudly chosen not to defend the discriminatory law in court. Their successors will significantly affect what ultimately happens in the case as it goes through the appeal process.

CHINAPHOBIA: An Unsavory Political Campaign Weapon in 2010

China is evil! And any politician who does anything to help China or its economy is evil too! Or at least that’s what you’re led to believe if you’ve been watching political campaign commercials for the upcoming 2010 midterm elections. Candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties have turned fear of “Big Red” into an election weapon – hoping to court voters by painting their opponent as sympathetic to China. The trend is disturbing, regressive and bordering on racism. In today’s multicultural America, politicians should evolve past such blatant xenophobia.