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.

Will Rove Show?

| Wed Jul. 9, 2008 3:57 PM EDT

Karl Rove has already gone on TV to blab about the Justice Department's prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. Now, the House Judiciary Committee just wants him to come up the Hill to talk to Congress. The committee was nice enough to include a subpoena with its invitation. Tomorrow, the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law will assemble in the Dirksen Office Building at 10 a.m. to see of Rove actually shows up. His lawyer has basically told Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers to fuck off, Rove's not coming. The legendary political consultant has already dissed the Senate Judiciary Committee, looking into similar matters, so the odds of anything exciting happening tomorrow aren't worth the trip up Independence Avenue for the live show. But Conyers has shown a little more moxie than his colleagues in the Senate. He's already suggested that if Rove isn't sitting in front of him tomorrow morning, he will take further legal action to compel his testimony, which he's done for other recalcitrant White House witnesses. It's entirely possible that Rove will one day, years from now, have to sit in the congressional hot seat. The question, of course, is whether anyone will still care what he has to say?

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Embattled Judicial Nominee Also Landlord To Sketchy Methadone Clinic

| Wed Jul. 9, 2008 12:59 PM EDT

No doubt Gustavus Adolphus Puryear IV rues the day that he dissed jail-house lawyers in print. The patrician Tennessee Republican who once prepped Dick Cheney for his campaign debates should have been a shoe-in for an appointment to the federal bench.. But as the general counsel of the country's largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, Puryear has drawn fire from a relentless adversary in his quest for confirmation: Alex Friedmann, a former CCA inmate and one of those jail-house lawyers Puryear once bashed in an interview for allegedly filing frivolous lawsuits.

Friedmann has gotten revenge by flooding the press and the Senate Judiciary Committee with a host of negative information about Puryear, reminding the Senators of Puryear's membership in an exclusive all white country club that doesn't allow women to become members, among other things. The latest installment comes via the Tennessean, which reports on Friedmann's discovery that Puryear is landlord to Nashville's only methadone clinic, which was recently caught throwing out patient records without shredding them first, leaving all their pertinent digits in the trash for anyone to find. Puryear is only the landlord, and he's not implicated in any misdeeds, but clearly the story can't help his fight for confirmation, which looks dimmer and dimmer by the day.

House Judiciary Committee To Subpoena Mukasey

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 2:43 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."

Supreme Court Overturns DC Handgun Ban

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 11:28 AM 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 9:59 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.

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