Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:
The Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, a landmark bill to provide federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages.
- The law will require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, and it also requires states to recognize any legal marriage from another state. However, the bill stops short of codifying the protections from the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision. The law does not compel a state to issue a marriage license, such as for a same-sex marriage, that is contrary to state law.
- The bill passed by a vote of 61-36, with 12 Republicans joining nearly all Democrats to support the measure. (One Democrat and two Republicans did not vote.) Republican Senators who voted in favor of the bill included Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Rob Portman. The bill gained some bipartisan support after the writers included an amendment to clarify protections for religious liberties. On the Senate floor before the vote, Senator Susan Collins, one of the authors of the bill, said that she “thank[s] all of the Republicans who have supported this. I know that it’s not been easy, but they’ve done the right thing.”
- The bill now returns to the House of Representatives for approval before it would reach President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The House passed a similar measure earlier this year.
A jury convicted Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes of seditious conspiracy for his involvement in the January 6th attack at the Capitol.
- Rhodes, a Yale-educated lawyer, is the highest-profile defendant to stand on trial for his involvement in the attack on the Capitol thus far. And, now, he has become the first January 6th defendant to be convicted of a conspiracy charge at trial. In addition to seditious conspiracy, Rhodes was also convicted of obstructing an official proceeding. Both convictions carry up to 20 years in prison.
- At trial, prosecutors portrayed Rhodes as a “general overlooking the battlefield” — he did not breach the Capitol on January 6th. Prosecutors also said that even after January 6th, Rhodes “continued to plot to stop the transfer of power” from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden. Prosecutors relied heavily on audio and video footage to present their case to the jury. In one recording, Rhodes said that if the election results were not overturned, a “bloody civil war” would be necessary to keep Trump in power.
- In his defense, Rhodes argued that his group came to Washington, D.C. on January 6th to take part in a private militia if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that authorizes the president to deploy troops within the United States. Trump never invoked this power in relation to January 6th or the 2020 presidential election. On the stand, Rhodes said that he did not plan to breach the Capitol. “All my effort was on what Trump could do,” he testified.
- Kelly Meggs, a leader of the Florida Oath Keepers, was also convicted of seditious conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding. In addition, three other members of the Oath Keepers were also convicted of obstructing an official proceeding. Another group of Oath Keepers, as well as members of the Proud Boys and leader Enrique Tarrio, are facing seditious conspiracy trials later this month.
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