Judiciary

Inslee Suspends Death Penalty in Washington

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said he is suspending the use of the death penalty “over concerns that the punishment is being unfairly applied,” the Washington Post reports.

Said Inslee: “Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility … And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served. The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied.”

“There have been too many doubts raised about capital punishment … There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system.”

An Amnesty International graph shows that murder rates in states that apply the death penalty are actually higher than the rates in other states:

deterrence capital punishment death penalty

Federal Subpoenas Issued in NJ Bridgegate Scandal

Politico: “The U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey has subpoenaed Gov. Chris Christie’s reelection campaign and the state Republican party for documents related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, a lawyer for the two groups confirmed Thursday.”

“The subpoenas indicate the growing seriousness of the controversy for Christie, a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender who has seen his poll numbers sink as the lane closures and subsequent allegations of political retribution have gained public attention.”

Latest Setback for Shell Oil in Offshore Drilling Plans

ClimateProgress: “Shell’s ambitions to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska received another blow Wednesday, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Interior Department had failed to adequately assess the scale of oil production that could result from the 2008 sale of leases in the Chukchi Sea.”

“The appeals court called the estimate ‘arbitrary and capricious,’ and said that under the National Environmental Policy Act, the government must ‘base its analysis on the full range of likely production if oil production were to occur. It did not do so here.’  The case was sent back to U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline in Alaska for additional review.”

Supreme Court May Augment Inequality

The case, Harris v. Quinn, brought before the Supreme Court on Tuesday could threaten the constitutionality of public employee unions and undermine a long line of precedent.

Justice Elena Kagan remarked: “This is … a radical argument. It would radically restructure the way workplaces across this country are—are run.”

Harold Meyerson contends that the Supreme Court will align itself against the “have-nots”:

“With the decline of private-sector unions, ­public-employee unions have become the preeminent organizers of voter mobilization campaigns in working-class and minority communities, the leading advocates of immigration reform, the foremost lobby for raising the minimum wage and the all-around linchpin of the modern Democratic Party.”

“A ruling that neuters the organizations that poor, working women have joined to win a few dollars an hour more would put a judicial seal of approval on the United States’ towering economic inequality.”

Is Anonymity a Right?

Jed Rubenfeld clarifies what personal freedoms are at stake under the NSA surveillance program.

“The NSA program isn’t really about gathering data. It’s about mining data. All the data are there already, digitally stored and collected by telecom giants, just waiting.”

“In the world of data-gathering, the key concept for setting limits on government surveillance is privacy. But in the world of data-mining, the key is anonymity.”

“The question is not whether privacy should be honored but whether anonymity should be protected.”

As Judge Richard Leon cautioned in his ruling against the NSA program, cellphone  “metadata can be mined to produce a live-streaming digital portrait of an individual’s entire life.”

“This is an anonymity problem: The NSA cannot create a dossier on you from your metadata unless it knows that you made the calls the agency is looking at.”

“Today, we need a new jurisprudence of anonymity. We need laws and technologies that can break through anonymity when people commit crimes or torts online. But we also need laws and technologies that will protect anonymity when government engages in 21st-century data-mining.”

Supreme Court Could Nullify Existing Recess Appointments

The Supreme Court on Monday will examine the scope of presidential recess appointment powers. Why is this important?

ScotusBlog: “Both sides in the case – National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning – have tried to fill the void left by a lack of precedent.”

“Going forward, its decision will significantly affect the balance of power between the president and the Senate when it comes to filling vacancies in the government.”

New York Times Editorial Board: “Mr. Obama was simply following long-established practice by both Democratic and Republican presidents faced with an intransigent Congress. Over the last 150 years, presidents have made more than 600 such civilian appointments and thousands of military appointments.”

“The absurdity of the appeals court’s ruling reaches not just into the future but into the past. If Mr. Obama’s recess appointments are ruled unconstitutional, thousands of other such appointments made over the years by other presidents would be called into question, not to mention more than 1,300 rulings made by the “invalid” labor board.”

Court May Still Limit President’s Appointment Authority

The Supreme Court’s ruling on a recess appointment case could have severe consequences for Obama administration appointments, despite the Senate’s elimination of the filibuster rule.

The outcome of the case, National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, which the Supreme Court will hear Monday, “may be deeply consequential next year — and onwards — if Republicans win back the Senate majority,” reports Sahil Kapur.

“It means Obama would have no backup option to staff executive agencies if a hypothetical Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides to blockade nominees — as he has done while minority leader.”

Caroline Fredickson, president of the American Constitution Society: “It’s tremendously important with respect to executive power and the relationship between the executive and legislative branch.”

If the government loses the case, she said, “it’s going to put a real handcuff on the president to be able to fill vacancies as necessary, and add another layer of obstruction to an already broken down process.”

The Search for 'Humane' Execution

Jeffrey Toobin: “The oxymoronic quest for humane executions only accentuates the absurdity of allowing the death penalty in a civilized society. It’s understandable that Supreme Court Justices have tried to make the process a little more palatable; and there is a meagre kind of progress in moving from the chair to the gurney. But the essential fact about both is that they come with leather straps to restrain a human being so that the state can kill him. No technology can render that process any less grotesque.”

Obama Nominee Confirmed to Country's Most Powerful Appeals Court

The New York Times reports that “the Senate confirmed Cornelia T. L. Pillard to the country’s most powerful appeals court in an early-morning vote on Thursday, installing her over the objections of Republicans who, despite their inability to filibuster the nomination, are loudly protesting the way Democrats have stifled opposition.”

“Republicans blocked the nomination of Ms. Pillard, a Georgetown law professor, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit just last month. There is a long list of other nominees for lower courts and executive branch positions awaiting confirmation. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev) plans to call each of them on a continuous basis, no matter the hour, until he works through them all.”