Law

Far-Off State Capitals Are More Corrupt

(Flickr/kmillard92)
A new paper shows that state capitals located in less-populated areas are more likely to breed corruption. The paper , authored by Filipe R. Campante of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Quoc-Anh Doh of Singapore Management University, tested what seems to be a logical idea: when lawmakers are more out of sight, they can get into more trouble. Turns out that in this case, the logical idea is the right one. The authors found "a very robust connection" between corruption and capital location. They used several different measures of corruption and isolation and continued to get the same result. Isolated capital cities tend to pay high salaries to their governors and have smaller media outlets covering political happenings. The connection even has implications for the amount of money in campaigns: We look at how the amount of campaign contributions to state politics correlates to the concentration of population around the capital. As it turns out, we find a...

The War on Contraception Enters the Courts

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Forty-three Roman Catholic plaintiffs—including the archdiocese of New York and the University of Notre Dame—have filed lawsuits alleging that the Obama administration's contraceptive coverage requirements violate the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In case there were any doubts about the political nature of the lawsuits or the unpopularity of this war on contraception, as Salon 's Irin Carmon points out , the Notre Dame lawsuit alleges repeatedly that it would be required to cover "abortifacients” or “abortion inducing” substances although the regulation explicitly excludes them (and the claim that emergency contraception induces abortion is erroneous.) That the lawsuit is cultural warfare, however, does not in itself mean that it is without merit. Should the courts take these claims seriously? Will they? On the first question, I have argued at length elsewhere that both the constitutional and statutory arguments should be rejected. To allow institutions...

Dharun Ravi Goes to Jail

A year and a half ago, Dharun Ravi pulled a stupid, clumsy, and cruel prank. He used his webcam to spy on his male roommate kissing another man, and tweeted about it. Three days later, his roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped off a bridge to his death—and Dharun Ravi's stupid prank became the focus of national outrage about bullying. As I wrote here in March, my fear was that Dharun Ravi would become the scapegoat for a nation that is just awakening to how deadly anti-gay cruelty can be. You know what a scapegoat is, yes? Millennia ago, before the rural Hebrews transformed into the urban Jews—before the Babylonian Exile, in other words, where the Talmud was written, the Jewish equivalent of Christianity's New Testament—those Hebrews annually atoned for their sins by repenting and symbolically putting them all on a goat. The rabbi said prayers making the transfer. The community either killed the goat or sent it off into the wilderness to die. Poof, the community's sins were gone. But with...

A Plan to Privatize a State's Entire Male Prison System

(Flickr/Tim Pearce, Los Gatos)
It's been tough times for the prison privatization industry. The two biggest companies both have extra space thanks to a recent drop in the number of people sent to private prisons. The companies just can't seem to expand their share of the market. The poor guys really lost out when the Florida Senate killed a bill that would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 workers. The lobbying was so aggressive, one senator with health problems actually had to get protection from her colleagues. Then there's the not-so-great press—a two-part series from NPR last year included particularly horrifying tales . All told, these poor private prison company execs have not had much to smile about. So imagine what joy they must have had when New Hampshire put out an RFP to privatize the state's entire prison system. That's right—the entire system. According to the New Hampshire Business Review , previous state debate on privatization didn't exactly win anyone's affection, and the...

Be Very Afraid

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Jamelle's hot-off-the-presses cover story on how Romney will govern as a hardcore right-winger irrespective of what he "really" thinks is a must-read. And what's even worse is that this lesson applies beyond budget policy. To address one particularly important point, consider the Supreme Court. As of 2013, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be an 80-year-old cancer survivor. Stephen Breyer will be 74. Anthony Kennedy will be 76. Replacing even one of these judges with an Alito-style reactionary would have a huge impact on the development of American law that only start with the explicit or implicit overruling of Roe v. Wade , and a Romney who served two terms would probably be able replace all three. Even one term of Romney would probably result in a Supreme Court in which Antonin Scalia—at least until he's replaced with a much younger and even more conservative justice—would have to turn to his right to see the median vote. Trying to downplay the possibility of Romney fixing an ultra-right-...

A State-Federal Standoff over the Death Penalty

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
A principled governor invoking “state’s rights” to defy federal policy. Aggressive local officials overriding state decisions. A federal court angrily affirming its own power. An anguished dissent attacking a power-hungry Congress. United States v. Pleau has all the elements of a great federalism battle (including, by the way, largely symbolic stakes). But don’t expect to see Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee’s “state’s rights” stand hailed by Republican conservatives: Chafee is blocking the federal government in order to show his disapproval of the federal death penalty. The result, decided May 7 by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, is now in the Supreme Court’s in-basket. Pleau deals with important issues of policy, morality, and history. But because this is the United States, the language of the dispute is that of federalism—a pastime that Professors Edward L. Rubin and Malcolm Feeley once dubbed “a national neurosis.” The case began on September 20, 2010, when Jason Wayne...

The Unecessary Radicalism of Citizens United

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One of the many striking things about the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision is how poorly the facts of the case fit the extremely sweeping holding. The potential First Amendment issues involved with campaign finance regulation exist on a spectrum. Political editorials, even when published in corporate-owned media and attempting to influence the campaign, are obviously "pure speech" that can be restricted only in extraordinary circumstances. Direct donations to candidates, on the other hand, are further removed from pure speech and also raise serious problems of democratic equality, so the leeway that can be given to government to restrict them might be greater. Political advertising falls somewhere in the middle. Citizens United involved the suppression of a political campaign documentary about Hillary Clinton—something that doesn't neatly fit into the categories, but is closer to "pure speech" than being a campaign expenditure. While many progressives disagree, I...

Keyboard Jihadist?

(John Ritter)
I t’s unusual for a domestic terrorism suspect to have a fan club. But every morning of Tarek Mehanna’s eight-week trial late last year on federal terrorism charges, supporters packed the domed, ornate courtroom in downtown Boston, smiling and waving whenever Mehanna turned to face them. Their support was unflagging, even though Mehanna was charged with crimes prosecutors called “among the most serious a person can commit,” including material support of terrorism and conspiracy to kill American soldiers in Iraq. The government had been collecting information on Mehanna, a 29-year-old second-generation Egyptian American, for more than eight years. In court, prosecutors provided transcripts from online chats in which Mehanna had praised Osama bin Laden, calling him “my real father,” and invited friends over for “movie night” to watch a video of a beheading in Iraq that he called “Head’s Up.” Most damning, the government also claimed that Mehanna had gone to Yemen to find a terrorist...

Supporters of Marriage Equality Need to Quit Whining

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You know how I felt about President Obama declaring himself in favor of same-sex marriage. I was gobsmacked . It’s politically risky . It’s symbolically powerful , in ways that Melinda Hennenberger noted sharply at the Washington Post . It pushed Senator Harry Reid, the next-highest-profile Democratic laggard on the issue, to support marriage equality, making full marriage rights pretty much the official platform of the entire Democratic Party. So I've been surprised by the number of people declaring that the announcement was too little, too late. Maybe, yes, it would have been better for him to have made his declaration a few days before, when his opinion might have influenced the appalling vote in North Carolina, which on Tuesday joined all the rest of the former Confederate states—and, actually, most of the country —in writing its opposition to marriage equality into its constitution . Okay, it's worse than that: The North Carolina law bans any recognition of same-sex partners or...

“Inspired” But Not Read

(Flickr / Rhubarble)
“I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired,” Mitt Romney told a town-hall meeting in Euclid, Ohio, on Monday. It may be that, like many who like to thump sacred texts, he has simply never read it. Media commentary has focused on Romney’s flat-footed refusal, or inability, to talk back to a questioner who suggested that President Obama should be “tried for treason” because he is “operating outside the structure of our Constitution.” But it’s worth taking a moment to note that “treason” is a term Americans seem to take lightly these days (Witness Rick Perry’s remark that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, a former George W. Bush staffer, would be “almost treasonous,” and perhaps guest of honor at a Texas necktie party, if he used the Fed’s legal authority to try to prevent the economy from falling back into recession). The Framers didn’t take the term lightly, and their care is reflected in one of the Constitution’s most important, though little-...

Striking Down the PPACA: Still Not A Desirable Outcome

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Jon Rauch has an imaginary dialogued with the late Ted Kennedy in which he argues that a Supreme Court decision striking down the Affordable Care Act (a k a the PPACA) might actually be good for liberals. "If the Supreme Court guts another important law and conservatives cheer even louder," Rauch argues, "their credibility as advocates of [judicial] restraint will be shot.” And, in addition, striking down the PPACA would put us on the path to national health insurance. Perhaps, then, striking down the PPACA is something that progressives should secretly wish for? Racuh's argument is a little bit different than contrarian arguments based on the legitimacy of the Supreme Court , but I don't find them any more convincing. First, Rauch's argument is a variant of the argument that judicial decisions produce a unique amount of backlash, which means an inevitable reference to Roe v. Wade : You bet. Remember Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that made abortion a constitutional right? At the time, it...

In Voter ID Case, Court Tells Texas to Quit Stalling

(Flickr/whiteafrican)
In what read like a pretty clear smack-down, the federal court hearing the Texas voter ID case yesterday ordered the state to get its act together and quit stalling—or lose all hope of implementing a voter ID law by the November elections. The situation is somewhat ironic. Texas is suing the the Department of Justice since it did not approve the latest effort the state's voter ID law, among the most stringent in the nation. The DOJ argues the law will disproportionately impact minority voters. The state is racing against the clock, hoping to implement the law in time for the November elections—with the rather obvious subtext that this law will benefit Republican candidates by suppressing turnout among poor and minority voters who are likely to vote Democratic. The DOJ tried to delay the court date, set for July 9, but the court refused. Since then, however, the order said, "Defendants have worked tirelessly in discovery so that this case may be tried the week of July 9, 2012." The...

A Black Cloud Over the Ballot Box

The battle over voter ID

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Americans who care about the right to vote are faced with an ugly reality as the 2012 elections come into view: no matter how many courts rule that voter identification laws will disenfranchise eligible citizens and no matter how many states U.S. Department of Justice analysts determine—using data supplied by the states themselves—that strict voter ID laws discriminate against people of color, voter identification laws will be in place in a number of states throughout the country in November. Numerous articles written over the last few months have presented the incredibly sad stories of Americans, particularly the elderly, who, unable to obtain the necessary identification, won’t be able to cast a ballot . We know from comparisons of voter registration lists and state Department of Motor Vehicle records that hundreds of thousands of citizens don’t have the ID needed to vote. What does this mean? Quite simply, we must redouble our efforts to protect American voting rights. While we...

Face It: SB 1070 Is about Race

“Before you get into what the case is about,” Chief Justice John Roberts told Solicitor General Donald Verilli at the beginning of the government’s argument in United States v. Arizona, “I’d like to clear up at the outset what it’s not about. No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it? I saw none of that in your brief.” A non-lawyer might be puzzled. The case, argued Wednesday, is testing the constitutionality of part of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, a statute that seeks to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state by rigid law enforcement. S.B. 1070, passed in a state that borders Mexico, will bring about many more stops and detentions of brown-skinned people, citizens or not. But the government chose not to argue that issue in its brief, and Verilli agreed that the profiling issue was off the table. The government’s argument, taken as a whole, is this: The Constitution gives the federal government exclusive authority over immigration and naturalization...

Shooting Blanks

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
In many ways, this presidential election features a reversal of a pattern we've gotten used to in recent campaigns. More often than not, it's the Republican who is self-assured and ideologically forthright, while the Democrat apologizes for what he believes, panders awkwardly, and generally acts terrified that the voting public might not like what he has to say. This time around, Barack Obama is the confident candidate, and Mitt Romney is the worried one (which says far more about these two men than it does about this particular historical moment). But there is one major exception to this pattern, on an issue that has re-emerged after being dormant for a decade and a half: guns. It isn't that Romney isn't pandering unpersuasively on the issue. What's different is that Barack Obama's campaign seems frightened of its own shadow and is trying hard to convince Americans that Obama is actually some kind of pro-gun president. Which, for all intents and purposes, he is. A week and a half ago...

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