The U.S. Supreme Court June 25 ruled on juvenile sentencing, immigration and campaign finance cases -- but not on the nation's controversial health insurance plan backed by the Obama administration. A ruling on the latter is scheduled June 28, the last day of the court's term.
Meanwhile, the court's rulings are coming under increasing public criticism, especially in what appear to be bloc partisan voting in 5-4 decisions. New public opinion surveys show diminished respect for the court, prompting calls for reform. But critics are also attacking the Executive Branch and Congress for aloof decision-making.
Among Monday's decisions, the court ruled 5-4 that mandatory life sentences for juvenile convicts violated the constitution's bar on "cruel and unusual punishment." The ruling thus voided a life sentence for Kuntrell Jackson, left, who was 14 when he participated in the robbery of a video store in Arkansas in which one of his accomplices killed a clerk. "By making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment," Justice Elena Kagan, a Democrat, wrote for the court.
Separately, the court partially upheld the Obama administration's challenge to Arizona's harsh immigration law. The court rejected some provisions but upheld the central one, which permits Arizona authorities to demand immigration papers from anyone stopped, detained or arrested and reasonably suspected as being in the United States without authorization.
Also, the court announced that it voted 5-4 to void Montana's century-old limits on corporate political spending. This ended the state's resistance to Citizens United and in effect broadened that 2010 ruling to affect state and local elections. The unsigned majority decision by five Republicans is already proving to be especially controversial. Details on the decisions are below.
As the court wraps up its 2011-2012 term, several unusual factors are increasing public criticism. For one thing, the court for the first time in modern times -- and perhaps ever -- has all of its most conservative members in one political party (and vice versa, of course).
The working majority of five Republicans on the nine-member court means that the institution is politicized in a virtually unprecedented ways when it makes a major decision, especially by a 5-4 vote that exactly matches party affiliation. Such a division occured in two of the decisions June 25, those involving juvenile justice and campaign reform. The third decision on campaign finance almost followed the same pattern but was complicated by splits on different parts of the Arizona law. Although 5-4 decisions are a relatively small percentage of the court's overall docket they tend to include a disproportionate number of high-profile cases.
There is scant realistic possibility of any major changes on the court's procedures aside from personnel transitions but concern over public confidence in the court's reputation is prompting considerable commentary along with its major rulings.
The Montana decision exemplifies the dispute: In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court ruled 5-4 in January 2010 to strike down Congressional limits on corporate political spending by corporations and unions. The court ruled that such limits violated the First Amendment. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote on behalf of his four fellow Republicans: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
They said that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption," and therefore "[n]o sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations." But the Montana Supreme Court disagreed in 2011 and found that the state's history of business-driven corruption justified the state's Corrupt Practices Act. Voters passed the law in 1912 to forbid corporations from making "an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party."
The drama -- and criticism -- involved in such innovative U.S. Supreme Court decisions is heightened when they are issued by a Republican "conservative" majority that claims to base its rulings on established legal principles -- not activist interpretations. We at the Justice Integrity Project follow such arguments closely, although they do not ordinarily arise in routine news stories. I plan to attend a speech by Justice Clarence Thomas on June 28 to our Yale Law School alumni regional group a few hours after the health care decision is announced. I have no idea of his topic but there is always something illuminating in seeing such proceedings even if remarks themselves are private.
I first heard a Supreme Court justice speak precisely three decades ago when then-Chief Justice Warren Burger hosted a half dozen Yale Law students for lunch in his chambers. The occasion was particularly interesting for me since I had interviewed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong for 90 minutes regarding their best-seller, The Brethren, a then-sensational and unprecedented insider account of the Supreme Court. Burger told us he hadn't read it and had no intention of reading it.
Experienced litigators and adjunct law professors Scott Horton and James Hirsen, two of my recent radio guests on the weekly public affairs show, provided starkly different commentaries on the court's rulings. Horton, a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and a longtime critic of the federal prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, wrote:
The Supreme Court rejected Don Siegelman's efforts to secure review on the issue of quid pro quo bribery. However, today the Supreme Court struck down a Montana law, refusing even to allow oral argument, holding that the First Amendment precluded state-law efforts to restrict corporate politicking on corruption grounds. Justice Breyer in dissent pointed out the obvious: the Supreme Court's majority was issuing a green light to quid pro quo bribery--as long as it was carried out by corporations (and generally involved donations to the G.O.P.)
The ruling is preposterous; but juxtaposed against the Siegelman case it points to one of the most clear-cut cases of juridical schizophrenia I've ever seen. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court concluded that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” … I disagree with the Court’s holding… As Justice Stevens explained, “technically independent expenditures can be corrupting in much the same way as direct contributions.” Indeed, Justice Stevens recounted a “substantial body of evidence” suggesting that “[m]any corporate independent expenditures . . . had become essentially interchangeable with direct contributions in their capacity to generate quid pro quo arrangements.”Hirsen is a best-selling author who writes the Hirsen on Hollywood column for Newsmax. He focused on the immigration ruling. He said that the decision's reasoning bodes well for opponents of Obama's Affordable Care Act who hope the court overturns it June 28. Also, Hirsen said that the immigration decision will be popular with most voters, helping Republicans prevail in November. Hirsen is the co-founder and chief legal counsel for InternationalEsq.com, a legal think tank and educational institute for the study of law in the media.
Health Care Preview?
FireDogLake, Chaos Lurks in Potential SCOTUS Rulings on Obamacare, David Dayen, June 26, 2012. I do want, at some point, to get into what the world will look like after the Supreme Court ruling on health care, and the implications for where progressives go – and where the political class will be willing to be taken – in the aftermath. But I do want to highlight just what a mess this could turn out to be if the Court tries for the maximal decision, and invalidates the entire Affordable Care Act because of the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Because of the lack of a standard severability clause in the law, and the desire on the part of at least some of the conservative faction to bury the law entirely, including good elements like the Medicaid expansion and funding for community health centers, this is entirely possible. And it would provoke utter chaos. The thing is, some standard health-related policies were reauthorized or changed inside the Affordable Care Act. So if it all goes down, Congress would have to scramble quickly.
Critics of All Branches
Criticism of the court finds parallels also in a steady stream of attacks on Congress and the Executive Branch, as illustrated below. The Washington Post and CBS 60 Minutes, for example, this month published major investigative reports attacking Congressional leaders for profiting in effect on "insider trading" regarding profiteering in the stock markets on the basis of their inside knowledge of legislation and relevant background that can affect stock prices.
Additionally, human rights advocates are harshly criticizing the Executive Branch for policies incompatible with United States traditions of advocating for freedom and democratic institutions at home and abroad. Former President Jimmy Carter (1977 to 1981) published an op-ed in the New York Times June 15 to that effect. His column entitled “A Cruel and Unusual Record“ focused on the acts of President Obama, like Carter a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Carter wrote:
"Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues. . . . . It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the [Declaration on Human Rights'] 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald promptly underscored the importance of Carter's criticism of his fellow Democrat. Beyond that, Greenwald described how the Obama administration has embarked on a dangerous campaign of cybe-warfare against Iran, at the minimum, that opens the door for retaliation by rogue actors through the world in ways difficult to defendand against, especially if our contry initiates such attacks unilaterally on others. He writes:
It is one thing to write viruses and lock them away safely for future use should circumstances dictate it. It is quite another to deploy them in peacetime. Stuxnet has effectively fired the starting gun in a new arms race that is very likely to lead to the spread of similar and still more powerful offensive cyberweaponry across the Internet. Unlike nuclear or chemical weapons, however, countries are developing cyberweapons outside any regulatory framework. . . .Stuxnet was originally deployed with the specific aim of infecting the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Iran. This required sneaking a memory stick into the plant to introduce the virus to its private and secure “offline” network. But despite Natanz’s isolation, Stuxnet somehow escaped into the cyberwild, eventually affecting hundreds of thousands of systems worldwide.
. . . .
The United States has long been a commendable leader in combating the spread of malicious computer code, known as malware, that pranksters, criminals, intelligence services and terrorist organizations have been using to further their own ends. But by introducing such pernicious viruses as Stuxnet and Flame, America has severely undermined its moral and political credibility.
Today's column, however, is focused on Supreme Court decision-making. We saw in the opinions starkly different views of even long-litigated issues. Here are two segments from the campaign finance reform decisinon. "Montana's arguments in support of the judgment below," the majority wrote, "either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case."
But the four Democrats wrote to dissent, as Horton noted, especially in the majority's reversal without even a hearing. "Montana's experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court's decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court's supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so," Breyer wrote. "Were the matter up to me, I would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case."
Three Decisions June 25
• Arizona v. United States: Constitutionality of Arizona’s SB1070 “papers please” anti-immigrant law.
• Miller v. Alabama: Constitutionality of sentencing juveniles who commit homicide crimes to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
• American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock: Constitutionality of Montana’s century-old ban on corporate money in elections.
Related News Coverage
Los Angeles Times, Did Justice Antonin Scalia go too far this time? David G. Savage, June 27, 2012. Some say the tone of Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent targeting President Obama and illegal immigrants was too strident and partisan, even for the high court's longtime conservative firebrand. Some say it was highly unusual, and perhaps out of line, for Justice Antonin Scalia, pictured in October, to use his dissent on Arizona’s immigration law to attack President Obama’s reprieve for young illegal immigrants. Justice Antonin Scalia has never been shy about saying what he thinks and never reluctant to criticize those he disagrees with. His targets Monday included illegal immigrants and President Obama. Dispensing with what he called the "dry legalities" of the Arizona immigration case, he spoke of its citizens being "under siege" and states feeling "helpless before those evil effects of illegal immigration."
Washington Post, Robed Politicans, Harold Meyerson, June 26, 2012. On the eve of the Supreme Court’s much anticipated ruling on Obamacare, here is a simple test for detecting the politics behind a decision: When reading the rulings, look for the double standards and answers to questions not posed by the cases themselves. By those measures, the Supreme Court’s record in the past week fairly reeks of the justices’ politics. Exhibit A is Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000....
Alito’s ruling struck at the heart of American unionism....The club champion for double standards, however, is not Alito but Antonin Scalia. Dissenting from this week’s decision striking down major provisions in Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, he argued that Arizona has the sovereign rights of a nation in protecting its borders — a right he gleans through such a bizarre reading of the Constitution that not one of his fellow conservatives signed on to his dissent. Yet the same day, Scalia signed on to a Gang of Five decision declining to hear Montana’s case that its century-old law banning corporate contributions to political campaigns should take precedence over Citizens United. In the world according to Nino, Arizona has the rights of a nation-state, but Montana must submit to the Gang of Five. You’re sovereign when Scalia agrees with you; you’re nothing when he doesn’t.
Washington Post, Cruel and Usual, George F. Will, June 26, 2012. The Eighth Amendment, ratified in 1791, forbids “cruel and unusual punishments.” Originalism holds that the Constitution’s language should be construed to mean what the words meant at the time to those who wrote and ratified the Constitution. On Monday, a Supreme Court ruling about punishment vexed the four justices (John G. Roberts Jr., Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.) most sympathetic to originalism, who dissented. The majority held that sentencing laws that mandate life imprisonment without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate the Eighth Amendment.
ABA Journal, Poll Finds Declining Approval for Supreme Court, Opposition to Lifetime Tenure, Debra Cassens Weiss, June 8, 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court is suffering from public perception problems, as a new poll shows declining public approval and opposition to lifetime tenure. Sixty percent of those surveyed by the New York Times and CBS News said they believe that appointing Supreme Court justices for life is a bad thing because it gives them too much power. Thirty-three percent, on the other hand, said lifetime appointments were a good thing because it keeps the justices independent. The poll (PDF) also showed declining approval for the Supreme Court. Only 44 percent of the respondents approve of the job being done by the U.S. Supreme Court, while 76 percent said they believe the justices sometimes let personal or political views influence their decisions. Only 13 percent said the justices decide cases based on legal analysis, without regard to their personal or political views. Survey respondents had their own personal opinions on how the court should rule on the health care law. Forty-one percent said the court should overturn the entire law, and 27 percent said the court should strike down the health insurance mandate. The findings “are a fresh indication that the court’s standing with the public has slipped significantly in the past quarter-century,” according to the New York Times. A poll taken earlier this year by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press also found a low favorability rating for the court.
British Broadcasting Corp., US Supreme Court bans life-without-parole for youths, June 25, 2012. The court threw out a life sentence that was handed to Kuntrell Jackson, left. Mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders violate the US constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled. The court on Monday threw out the life sentences of two men convicted as boys of murders in Arkansas and Alabama. In both cases, state law mandated judges to impose life without parole. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled mandatory life sentences for juvenile convicts violated the constitution's bar on "cruel and unusual punishment". "By making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court.
Huffington Post, Supreme Court Reversed Anti-Citizens United Ruling From Montana, Mike Sacks, June 25, 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down Montana's century-old limits on corporate political spending, putting an end to the state's resistance to Citizens United and effectively expanding that controversial ruling to the state and local elections. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, decided in January 2010, struck down federal limits on campaign spending by corporations and unions as violations of the First Amendment. Justice Anthony Kennedy, left, writing on behalf of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, reached the bold conclusion that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption," and therefore "[n]o sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations." In December 2011, the Montana Supreme Court disagreed. It found that the state's Gilded Age history of business-driven corruption was sufficient to justify the state's Corrupt Practices Act. Passed by voter referendum in 1912, the law decrees that a "corporation may not make ... an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party."
Huffington Post, Arizona Immigration Law Ruling: Supreme Court Delivered Split Ruling, Mike Sacks, June 25, 2012. The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a split decision in the Obama administration's challenge to Arizona's aggressive immigration law, striking multiple provisions but upholding the "papers please" provision. Civil rights groups argue the latter measure, a centerpiece of S.B. 1070, invites racial profiling. Monday's decision on "papers please" rested on the more technical issue of whether the law unconstitutionally invaded the federal government's exclusive prerogative to set immigration policy. The justices found that it was not clear whether Arizona was supplanting or supporting federal policy by requiring state law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone stopped, detained or arrested in the state who officers reasonably suspect is in the country without authorization. The provision that was upheld -- at least for now -- also commands police to check all arrestees' immigration status with the federal government before they are released. The court gave the Obama administration a victory by striking three other challenged provisions as stepping on federal prerogatives. Two of them made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to be present and to seek employment in Arizona, while a third authorized police officers to make warrantless arrests of anyone they had probable cause to believe had committed a deportable offense.
Politico, Supreme Court Arizona immigration ruling: Justices clear key part, Josh Gerstein, June 25, 2012. The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a constitutional challenge to a central provision of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law, clearing the path for similar legislation to take effect in other states and potentially angering Latinos in a way that could give President Barack Obama an added boost from Hispanic voters in November. That provision, requiring police to conduct immigration checks on individuals they arrest or merely stop for questioning whom they suspect are in the U.S. illegally, does not appear to violate the Constitution by intruding on the federal government’s powers to control immigration, the court said.
Washington Post, For Obama, a tough year at the high court, Robert Barnes, June 24, 2012. The Supreme Court this week will conclude its term by handing down much-anticipated rulings on health care and immigration, President Obama’s remaining priorities before the justices. It is a finale that cannot come quickly enough for the administration, which has had a long year at the high court. In a string of cases — as obscure as the federal government’s relationships with Indian tribes and as significant as enforcement of the Clean Water Act — the court rejected the administration’s legal arguments with lopsided votes and sometimes biting commentary.
Washington Post, For SCOTUSblog, one goal: ‘Beat everybody’ and break news of health-care ruling, Sarah Kliff, June 27, 2012. Lyle Denniston is an 81-year-old retiree with six grandchildren, two sailboats and one ambitious goal: breaking the news of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on the health-care law, possibly to the president himself. Denniston is a reporter for SCOTUSblog, a small Web site dedicated to covering the Supreme Court. He regularly live-blogs the release of Supreme Court opinions for a following of about 1,500 lawyers, maybe 3,000 on a good day.
Washington Post, Class War at the Supreme Court, Harold Meyerson, June 27, 2012. Washington Post, How Republicans made it possible for the Supreme Court to rule against the mandateEzra Klein, June 25, 2012. Over the past two years, the Republican Party has slowly been building a permission structure for the five Republicans on the Supreme Court to feel comfortable doing something nobody thought they could do: Violate the existing understanding of the Commerce Clause and, in perhaps the most significant moment of judicial activism since the New Deal, overturn either all or part of the Affordable Care Act. The first step was, perhaps, the hardest: The Republican Party had to take an official and unanimous stand against the wisdom and constitutionality of the individual mandate. Typically, it’s not that difficult for the opposition party to oppose the least popular element in the majority party’s largest initiative. But the individual mandate was a policy idea Republicans had thought of in the late-1980s and supported for two decades. They had, in effect, to convince every Republican to say that the policy they had been supporting was an unconstitutional assault on liberty. But they succeeded.
Washington Post, Agent who started ‘Fast and Furious’ defends gunrunning operation, Sari Horwitz., June 27, 2012. The “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking operation has been widely condemned by Republicans, Democrats and even top officials at the Justice Department as a failed sting. The case has led to the ouster of the U.S. attorney in Phoenix, President Obama’s first use of executive privilege and a probable vote of contempt Thursday against the attorney general. But in the eyes of the man who started and oversaw Fast and Furious, the operation remains an example of smart law enforcement — an approach that has simply been misunderstood. “It was the only way to dismantle an entire firearms-trafficking ring and stop the thousands of guns flowing to Mexico,” said William D. Newell, a veteran federal agent who spent five years as the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix.Washington Post, Justice Scalia’s partisan discredit to the court, Editorial Board, June 27, 2012. In dissenting from a court ruling that struck down all but one part of Arizona’s law on illegal immigrants, Justice Scalia strayed far from the case at hand to deliver animadversions on President Obama’s recent executive order barring the deportation of people who entered the country illegally as children. Based on nothing more than news reports, Justice Scalia opined that this policy would divert federal resources from immigration enforcement, thus creating “the specter” of a “Federal Government that does not want to enforce the immigration laws as written, and leaves the States’ borders unprotected against immigrants whom those laws would exclude.”
Executive Branch Criticism
New York Times, A Cruel and Unusual Record, Jimmy Carter, left, June 24, 2012. The United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights. Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.
Salon, Collapsing U.S. credibility, Glenn Greenwald, June 25, 2012. Condemning foreign governments for abusive acts while ignoring one's own is easy. But the U.S. leads the way. Two Op-Eds in The New York Times this morning both warn of the precipitous decline of American credibility on matters of human rights and peace ushered in by the Obama presidency. Taken together, they explain much of why I’ve been writing what I’ve been writing over the last three years. The first is from Columbia Professor and cyber expert Misha Glenny, who explains the significance of the first ever deployment of cyberwarfare — by the U.S. (first under Bush and accelerated under Obama), along with Israel, against Iran: "The decision by the United States and Israel to develop and then deploy the Stuxnet computer worm against an Iranian nuclear facility late in George W. Bush’s presidency marked a significant and dangerous turning point in the gradual militarization of the Internet. Washington has begun to cross the Rubicon. If it continues, contemporary warfare will change fundamentally as we move into hazardous and uncharted territory." The second is from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, an actually meritorious Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Washington Post, The high cost of Justice’s bad decisions, Abbe D. Lowell, June 21, 2012. Some might say the system ultimately worked because the Edwards and Clemens juries fixed the problem. But before the juries spoke, the government had wasted enormous resources that could have been directed toward serious crimes — not to mention the time, money and emotion spent by defendants and their families. Even if the government had obtained convictions of Edwards and Clemens, would an objective review have concluded that exposing an admitted adulterer and an alleged cheater to federal prison had been worth the effort or was a good use of taxpayer dollars?
'Insider Trading' Allegations Against Congress
CBS 60 Minutes, Insiders:The road to the STOCK Act, Steve Kroft, June 17, 2012. Steve Kroft reports on how America's lawmakers could legally buy stock based on non-public information simply because they wouldn't pass a law against themselves - a law they finally passed after this story first ran. Ira Rosen and Gabrielle Schonder are the producers.
Washington Post, High-Level Talks, then Changes to Holdings, Kimberly Kindy, Scott Higham, Davis S. Fallis and Dan Keating, June 23, 2012. Legislators traded million in stocks they could impact. In January 2008, President George W. Bush was scrambling to bolster the American economy. The subprime mortgage industry was collapsing, and the Dow Jones industrial average had lost more than 2,000 points in less than three months. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner became the Bush administration’s point person on Capitol Hill to negotiate a $150 billion stimulus package. Boehner is one of 34 members of Congress who took steps to recast their financial portfolios during the financial crisis. The period covered by The Post analysis was a grim one for the U.S. economy, and many people rushed to reconfigure their investment portfolios. The financial moves by the members of Congress are permitted under congressional ethics rules, but some ethics experts said they should refrain from taking actions in their financial portfolios when they might know more than the public. “They shouldn’t be making these trades when they know what they are going to do,” said Richard W. Painter, who was chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. “And what they are going to do is then going to influence the market. If this was going on in the private sector or it was going on in the executive branch, I think the SEC would be investigating.”
Washington Post, Legislators traded million in stocks they could impact, Dan Keating, Davis S. Fallis, Kimberly Kindy, and Scott Higham, June 23, 2012. One-hundred-thirty members of Congress or their families have traded stocks collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars in companies lobbying on bills that came before their committees, a practice that is permitted under current ethics rules, a Washington Post analysis has found. The lawmakers bought and sold a total of between $85 million and $218 million in 323 companies registered to lobby on legislation that appeared before them, according to an examination of all 45,000 individual congressional stock transactions contained in computerized financial disclosure data from 2007 to 2010. Almost one in every eight trades — 5,531 — intersected with legislation. The 130 lawmakers traded stocks or bonds in companies as bills passed through their committees or while Congress was still considering the legislation. The party affiliation of the lawmakers was almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, 68 to 62. U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama is at left.
Weekly Standard, Retiring Dem: 'The People Have Gotten Dumber,' Daniel Halpers, June 21, 2012. Retiring congressman Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, reflects on his time in Congress. "Congressman Ackerman, you’ve been here 30 years. Can you define comity as it existed when you arrived versus how it exists now?," Bloomberg Businessweek asks. Ackerman responds: " Your premise is that comity exists now. It may not be entirely accurate. It used to be you had real friends on the other side of the aisle. It’s not like that anymore. Society has changed. The public is to blame as well. I think the people have gotten dumber. I don’t know that I would’ve said that out loud pre-my announcement that I was going to be leaving. [Laughter] But I think that’s true. I mean everything has changed. The media has changed. We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment. People who project themselves as journalists on television don’t know the first thing about journalism. They are just there stirring up a hockey game."
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
OpEd News, Election Fraud in Egypt, Michel Collins, June 21, 2012. The Egyptian presidential election was rigged to produce a winner that the military could manipulate. After removing the two leaders from the ballot, the military engineered an election that had only 15% turnout and no legitimacy. It is an example of pure election fraud. One goal of Egypt's 2010 union inspired Tahrir Square protests was fulfilled during the December, 2011 parliamentary elections. Nearly 65% of the nation's fifty million eligible voters turned out to vote. Turnout for the June 16 and 17, 2012 presidential election dropped to an estimated 15%* according to local and press observers. What happened? Three factors contributed to the exponential decline in voting. Egypt's courts took leading candidates off of the final presidential ballot. The disappeared candidates had the support of 68% of the electorate according to a major preelection poll in early May. Egyptian courts also disqualified one third of the recently elected parliament. Just a day before the election, military commander Mohamed Hussein Tantawi announced that the constitution had been annexed. This was a nice way of saying that the military was assuming most of the powers of the presidency, leaving the newly elected chief executive with little to do. The entire foundation of the election vanished in plain sight. There was no point in voting. The preelection actions by the courts and military represented the most fundamental form of election fraud by making the elections meaningless.
Houston Chronicle / Chron.com, Air Force base commander removed amid sex scandal, Sig Christenson, June 21, 2012. The Air Force on Wednesday relieved the commander of a basic training squadron in which three instructors have been accused of illicit sexual contact with recruits. Lt. Col. Mike Paquette lost his position as commander of the 331st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. An Air Force lawyer said the decision by Col. Eric Axelbank, commander of the 37th Training Wing, wasn't driven by disciplinary violations or misconduct allegations. "Col. Axelbank, based upon a whole bunch of factors, has lost confidence in (Paquette's) ability to lead that squadron, and he has removed him," said Col. Polly Kenny, staff judge advocate for the 2nd Air Force. The dismissal of Paquette, who did not respond to requests for comment, is the latest development in a growing sex scandal involving instructors on the base. Four instructors have been accused of improper sexual contact with recruits in basic and technical training. One of the four, Staff Sgt. Luis A. Walker, accused of having sexual contact with 10 women and raping one of them, could face life in prison. A former staff sergeant, Peter Vega-Maldonado, admitted that he had sexual contact with 10 women.
CNN, New Louisiana law: Sex offenders must list status on Facebook, other social media, Michael Martinez, June 21, 2012. A new Louisiana law requires sex offenders and child predators to state their criminal status on their Facebook or other social networking page, with the law's author saying the bill is the first of its kind in the nation. State Rep. Jeff Thompson, a Republican from Bossier City, Louisiana, says his new law, effective August 1, will stand up to constitutional challenge because it expands sex offender registration requirements, common in many states, to include a disclosure on the convicted criminal's social networking sites as well. The new law, signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal earlier this month, builds upon existing sex offender registration laws, in which the offender must notify immediate neighbors and a school district of his or her residency near them, Thompson said. The law states that sex offenders and child predators "shall include in his profile for the networking website an indication that he is a sex offender or child predator and shall include notice of the crime for which he was convicted, the jurisdiction of conviction, a description of his physical characteristics... and his residential address."
FireDoglake / Dissenter, Targeted Killings: Obama’s Pragmatic Solution to Failing to Close Guantanamo, Kevin Gosztola, June 24, 2012. When President Barack Obama was elected president, he and his administration planned to overhaul Bush detention policies and repair America’s image in the world. This specifically included ending torture, ensuring terror suspects were given due process and no longer indefinitely detained, and closing the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. However, the politics of pushing for reforms to counterterrorism policies, which would ensure America was abiding by the rule of law, were detestable to Republicans. The Obama administration had no political will to create a counter-narrative to fear mongering by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The options for closing Guantanamo became limited and people the administration knew to be innocent remained imprisoned at Guantanamo.