Next President Will Shape Supreme Court

One of the most momentous and least-discussed topics in the presidential campaign is the likely departure in the next four years of as many as three of the more liberal justices on a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court.

When the subject of judicial appointments was raised during Wednesday’s debate, Democrat Barack Obama observed that Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, “probably hangs in the balance” on the outcome of the election.

Obama, who supports the ruling, and Republican John McCain, who wants it overturned, then took pains to deny that they would use the case as a “litmus test” in choosing a future justice – denials that their own words appear to contradict.

As McCain put it, he doesn’t believe anyone who backs Roe vs. Wade “would be part of those qualifications” he will require for judicial nominees, such as “a history of strict adherence to the Constitution.” Obama, for his part, has said he favors nominees who support the constitutional right of privacy, the legal underpinning of the 1973 ruling.

But abortion is only one of many issues in which the court’s moderate-to-liberal bloc of four justices has joined with the moderately conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy to form a precarious majority – one that would probably be undone by a McCain appointee.

Details here from Bob Egelko of the San Fransisco Chronicle.

Two Federal Judges Hold Key to California Prison Reform

Two veteran jurists may find themselves reluctantly stepping in where there is a political vacuum to address inmate overcrowding.

SACRAMENTO — Both are past 70, with creaky limbs, gray beards and an eye on retirement after long careers in the black robe.

But like it or not, federal judges Thelton E. Henderson and Lawrence K. Karlton hold the power to help California fix a catastrophic failure: its broken prison system. It is a task neither man covets.

Karlton has had heart surgery and carries a full load of cases aside from his prison work. Henderson suffers an autoimmune disorder that is attacking his muscles. He says he’d be enjoying his golden years already if not for his desire to see inmate medical care improve.

“I want to retire and go fishing and hang out with my grandson,” Henderson said in a recent interview. “But Larry and I feel an obligation, a duty, here.”

Now the judges’ long-running role in California corrections is taking on new urgency. Each is poised to decide a potentially far-reaching question: whether crowding in the state’s floundering prisons has become so severe that a cap on the inmate population is warranted. Hearings are set for June.

Details here from the Los Angeles Times.

“Shedding the Unreality”

Duped by Neocons

This entry’s title is from The Washington Post, quoting “a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion [of Iraq].”

Let me give you the full quotation:

“We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we’re in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning.”

My translation: The neocons who dominate the Bush Administration are finally having to wake up and smell the coffee. They thought there would be no resistance and few casualties, that the Iraqi people would welcome our soldiers with flowers, that the war would be over in weeks, and that democracy and peace would spread throughout the Middle East like a virus. Turns out, they were wrong.

Sane people – and all the lessons of history – told them they were impossibly wrong from day one. They wouldn’t listen. They huffed and puffed and bragged and denied for more than three years, while over 1,800 Americans died, countless others were maimed and wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed.

Now, while things continue to worsen, Bush takes a five-week vacation, while “a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion” says: “We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we’re in and shedding the unreality1 that dominated at the beginning.”

Second translation: “We were full of shit from day one. We’ve pretended we weren’t for three years, but now the jig is up. We are desperate and trying to figure out how the fuck to save face. Help!”

Maureen Dowd sums it up nicely in a New York Times op-ed column here. Sleep tight.

1 Wishful thinking, but does “shedding the unreality” include hanging Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld by thier ankles from lamp posts? It should.

Sports Make IP Play

The professional sports industry has become entangled in an emerging web of intellectual property litigation over issues ranging from who owns player statistics in fantasy leagues to who possesses the view of a baseball park.

Legal experts say technology-specifically the Internet-is revolutionizing the way fans view and participate in sports while simultaneously creating a host of new legal headaches for the sports industry. In the last two years alone, more than a dozen copyright infringement and other IP-related suits have popped up in the sports world.

And the sports industry, attorneys note, is struggling to keep pace with technology, claiming that numerous copyright violations are occurring through new media they can’t control.

The leagues have complained about Fantasy sports websites using player statistics; “real time” webcasting of games; and even TiVo. And get this:

“Player statistics are in the public domain. We’ve never disputed that,” [Jim] Gallagher[, senior vice president, corporate communications for MLB Advance Media,] said. “But if you’re going to use statistics in a game for profit, you need a license from us to do that. We own those statistics when they’re used for commercial gain.”

Actually, no, Jim. It’s either in the public domain (for all purposes), or it ain’t. Details here from The National Law Journal.

Law Schools Seek to Regain Ability to Bar Military Recruiters

An organization of law schools and a group representing hundreds of legal scholars sued the Department of Defense and five other federal agencies yesterday, seeking to help universities and colleges that want to keep military recruiters off their campuses because of the department’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay men and lesbians.

The suit challenges the constitutionality of a federal law that punishes universities with loss of some federal money if they use their antidiscrimination policies to exclude military recruiters.

It follows a successful campaign by the Defense Department to force some of the nation’s most prestigious law schools to allow military recruiters on campus. In recent years, the department has advised Harvard, Yale, Columbia and 20 other universities that they could lose federal aid if they did not allow recruiters at their law schools. For some universities, the dispute put at risk hundreds of millions of dollars for research on everything from weapons systems to the humanities.

Get the whole story here from The New York Times.

A Broken Body, a Broken Story, Pieced Together

Want to know what really happened to Private Jessica Lynch, the now-famous American POW “rescued” from an Iraqi hospital? Chances are, you never will. It’s not clear that anyone ever will.

But in this exhaustive investigative piece, The Washington Post suggests that her injuries were most likely sustained in a car crash during an ambush, and may not have resulted from deliberate abuse at the hands of Iraqi combatants. In fact, it seems that Iraqi civilians probably did their utmost to care for her under the circumstances, and almost certainly saved her life. And other parts of the story we’ve all been told appear to be dubious, if not outright fabrications.

The main thing I distilled from The Post‘s story is a sense of the utter confusion and chaos of combat. Particularly the sporadic and random combat that occurred throughout Iraq in the early days of the “war.” It’s a good report, and worth the read.

(UPDATE: Looks like TalkLeft beat me to the punch on dissecting (blawgsecting?) the WashPost’s article.)

Judge Removed for Moral Turpitude

“The Commission on Judicial Conduct has determined that Calvin M. Westcott, a town court judge in Hancock, Delaware County, should be removed for having sex with a mentally retarded woman entrusted to his care, the New York Law Journal reports” here.

Pagefucker Update

They’re not just from Florida anymore:

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday ordered the state Senate to suspend an investigation into accusations that one of its members fondled an 18-year-old legislative page.

The order, sought by Sen. Dan Sutton‘s lawyers and signed by state Circuit Judge David Gienapp, said the Senate must stop disciplinary proceedings against the Democrat until a court hearing Jan. 19 in Sutton’s hometown of Flandreau.

At that time, lawyers will present arguments on whether the Senate has the legal authority to investigate or discipline Sutton.

Sutton is accused of fondling a male high school student during last year’s session. Sutton has not talked publicly about the allegations, but his lawyers have said he did nothing wrong.

Details here from the AP via the New York Times.