Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer


Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years 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.

Liberal Lawyer Helping Louisiana Kill That Guy

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 9:28 AM EDT

In one of the more dramatic decisions of the last Supreme Court term, justices voted 5 to 4 to ban the death penalty in a Louisiana child rape case, Kennedy v. Louisiana. The court based its decision in part on the notion that there was a national consensus against executing people for rape, as suggested by the complete absence of any federal statute making child rape a capital crime. As it turns out, though, the court was wrong. There is such a statute under military law, an error pointed out by Linda Greenhouse on her way out the door from the New York Times.

Based on that omission, Louisiana yesterday petitioned the high court to rehear the case. It's still a longshot, but given the nature of the error, not impossible that the court might reconsider. Besides, the state has a good lawyer. Fighting to execute Patrick Kennedy is Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal. Katyal became a darling of the liberal establishment in 2005 after successfully arguing the Hamdan case, in which the Supreme Court found the Bush administration's military tribunals for trying Guantanamo detainees unconstitutional. (Katyal is currently defending Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, in his military trial, which started this week.) The case rocketed the young, telegenic Katyal into the public eye—he was profiled in Vanity Fair, no less--and his name is one of those constantly floating in the ether as a potential democratic Supreme Court nominee.

His role in the Kennedy case suggests that Katyal is not quite the liberal he's been made out to be by the media. Or, he's got tremendous political savvy. His choice to defend the death penalty in a case that even some court conservatives can't stomach brings back faint memories of a young presidential candidate flying home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a retarded man. If you aspire to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, what better way for a liberal to prove political independence (and confirmability) than to get someone executed?

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Minimum Wage Goes Up Thursday

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 10:39 AM EDT

Burger flippers rejoice! The federal minimum wage will go up on Thursday to $6.55 from $5.85. Too bad the minimum wage isn't rising as fast as gas prices. Still, this is an improvement. Congress went nine years without raising the floor for low-wage workers, finally boosting the minimum last year when its value hit a 51-year low. One more bump next year will bring the federal minimum wage up to $7.25, a far cry from the $10.50 an hour paid in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but a step in the right direction. Another decade, the minimum wage might actually lift someone above the poverty line.

Right now, 25 states have minimum wages higher than what the feds set, so the hike won't have as much impact as it otherwise might, but it's a boon to low-wage workers in stingy states like Louisiana and Alabama that have no state minimum. Now that Congress has come this far, the next step ought to be indexing the damn thing to inflation like many of the states do. I've never understood why poor working people should be made to suffer so much from political gridlock. Making sure that work pays ought to be one thing people in both parties can agree on.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Back On The Bench!

| Fri Jul. 11, 2008 10:11 AM EDT

150px-O%27connor%2C_Sandra.jpgMaybe former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor just got sick of arguing with Scalia when she decided to quit her lifetime appointment in 2005. Clearly she didn't step aside because she didn't like being a judge! At 78, no one would knock O'Connor for spending more time on the links, but instead, last week, O'Connor made news in Boston when she not only heard an appeal in a federal money-laundering case, but wrote the opinion, too. Oddly enough, her ruling now allows federal prosecutors to proceed with a case against the only Republican running to fill a state legislative seat being vacated by a Democrat. (You can read more about the case here.) Even in retirement, it seems, O'Connor is redefining "judicial independence."

Rove Is a No-Show

| Thu Jul. 10, 2008 9:52 AM EDT


Members of the House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law didn't even wait until the 10 a.m. mark to declare former presidential adviser Karl Rove a no-show this morning. The committee had subpoenaed Rove to appear to discuss the politicization of the Justice Department and allegations of selective prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman. But Rove, through his lawyer, asserted that "as a close advisor to the President," he is "immune from compelled Congressional testimony."

Committee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) was having none of that, saying, "I hereby rule that Mr. Rove's claims of immunity are not legally valid, and his refusal to comply with the subpoena and appear at this hearing to answer questions cannot be properly justified." In her official statement, she pointed out that if Rove wants to assert executive privilege, he still has to show up and do it before the committee, not in some lame letter from his lawyer. Sanchez observed that the Judiciary Committee has already seen a parade of witnesses from the White House who have not made this argument, most notably, David Addington, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who, while clearly hostile, did actually make the trip up the Hill to testify recently on the administration's torture and interrogation policies. Scott McClellan, the former press secretary, even testified without a subpoena!

Rove's arrogance has clearly irked Sanchez, who disparaged him for failing to cite a single court precedent that would back up his claim to absolute immunity from testifying. Quoting the Supreme Court, Sanchez said, "[n]o man in this country is so high that he is above the law," and "[a]ll the officers of the government, from the highest to the lowest, are creatures of the law and are bound to obey it."

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