Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

House Judiciary Committee To Subpoena Mukasey

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 3:43 PM EDT

Rep. John Conyers is the quintessential congressional Democrat. He's polite and gracious and knows how things work on the Hill. For the past year, he's been patiently sending off a variety of polite and gracious letters to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking if, please, he wouldn't mind handing over to the House Judiciary Committee a bunch of documents related to various investigations it's conducting on such topics as the New Hampshire phone jamming case or the enforcement record of the Justice Department's civil rights division. Not so graciously, Mukasey has all but told the elder statesman to blow away.

So in May, Conyers got serious and told Mukasey that if he didn't respond to some of these document requests by the 16th, Conyers was going to have to issue a subpoena. The 16th came and went and still no documents. Conyers sent one last letter on June 18 making basically the same request, and once again, Mukasey ignored him. So now Conyers, it seems, is going to make good on his threat. The subcommittee on commercial and administrative law, chaired by Rep. Linda Sanchez, voted today to authorize the full Judiciary Committee to issue the subpoenas, the first step in forcing Justice to be overseen by Congress. Sanchez said in a statement, "The Department of Justice is trying to run out the clock on congressional investigations of possible misconduct. We have taken this step because the Department has indicated that it will not voluntarily comply with Congress' constitutionally mandated oversight role. There are questions in various investigations that the American people deserve to have answered."

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Supreme Court Overturns DC Handgun Ban

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 12:28 PM EDT

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So much for that vaunted era of good will on the Roberts court. The media have been suggesting all year that after all its splintered, contentious decisions in 2007, the Supreme Court's conservative majority has been working hard to find some common ground with the liberals and to just get along better for the good of the country. The story line seemed to hold up all term, as the court issued one 6-3 or 7-1 decision after another. But today, the court issued a whopper of a 5-4 decision that split entirely on ideological grounds. Saving the biggest case for last, the court ended the term by releasing its opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court upheld a lower court ruling invalidating the District's strict ban on handgun ownership.

The case was unusual in large part because the court hasn't ruled on a Second Amendment case in 70 years, but also because the Solicitor General—the legal arm of the Bush administration at the court—supported the District, while the Vice President entered into the case on his own to recommend overturning the city's gun ban. During the oral arguments in the spring, the justices spent a great deal of time mulling over whether early settlers in this country would have needed guns to protect themselves from grizzly bears or for hunting, a sign that the right to bear arms extended beyond the well-regulated militia identified in the language of the Second Amendment. So it's no surprise that hunting figures prominently in the majority opinion, written by Justice Scalia, who has, of course, spent a great deal of time hunting with the vice president.

Supreme Court Overturns Exxon Valdez Verdict

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 10:59 AM EDT

Exxon today has proven the benefits of the endless appeal. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars fighting the $5 billion punitive damage award handed down by an Alaska jury in 1994 for its role in the massive oil spill in Prince William Sound, Exxon today landed a major victory at the Supreme Court. In a 5-3 ruling, with Alito sitting out, the court overturned a lower court decision that had reduced the verdict to $2.5 billion, and sent the case back saying that the punitive damage award was excessive and should not exceed about $500 million, the same as the compensatory damages.

The decision strikes yet another blow against what is essentially the capital punishment of the civil justice system, in a long-running campaign by Exxon and other big companies to try to abolish these sorts of awards entirely. Punitive damages are the extra damages added to a jury verdict to punish especially egregious conduct by a civil defendant. As the former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely once wrote, punitive damage awards aren't given out for innocent mistakes, but are generally reserved for "really stupid defendants, really mean defendants, and really stupid defendants who could have caused a great deal of harm by their actions but who actually caused minimal harm." Punitive damages put the real teeth in the legal system, and serve as an ad-hoc form of regulation by standing as a potential deterrent to all sorts of egregious behavior. That, of course, is why business really hates them.

A Right-to-Lifer and the GOP's Nursing Home Dilemma

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 12:27 PM EDT

Connor_sm.jpgWhen Ken Connor was on Capitol Hill earlier this week, it was clear that people in his party deeply wish that he would go back to worrying about the unborn. The conservative Christian Republican trial lawyer had come to Washington to testify in support of a bill that would ban the use of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. Most nursing homes today, as a condition of admission, require vulnerable elderly people and their families to waive their right to sue a facility in the event of a dispute. Instead, they must take any complaints about medical malpractice or abuse to a private arbitrator, chosen and paid by the nursing home, in secret proceedings where any awards are much lower than they would be from a jury. The arbitration agreements are often buried in a stack of complicated paperwork, where in some cases, they have been signed by blind people and those suffering from Alzheimer's.

The nursing home arbitration bill is one of nearly a dozen Democratic-backed measures introduced in Congress over the past year that would ban mandatory arbitration in everything from new car contracts to meatpacking company agreements. With the backing of the powerful AARP, it's also the most likely of the lot to pass, and thus, pave the way for Congress to ban mandatory arbitration altogether. After all, if Congress deems the practice unconscionable for seniors, businesses will have a tough time arguing that it still ought to be forced on everyone else. That's why Republicans really, really don't want to vote for the nursing home bill, and one reason Connor's advocacy is making them squirm.

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