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.

Al Sharpton Under Investigation. Again

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 10:35 AM EST

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Federal agents issued a half-dozen subpoenas yesterday to associates of the Rev. Al Sharpton ordering them to appear this month before a New York grand jury. The feds are also looking for documents relating to Sharpton's failed bid for president in 2004 and some related business entities. Sharpton seemed surprised by it all, but his lawyer, Michael Hardy, provided the best quote of the day yesterday when he told the AP that no one was especially concerned. "I can't think of a time when the Rev. Sharpton wasn't under investigation," he said.

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New U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Crack Penalties: A Campaign Issue?

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 1:03 PM EST

Call it a trend. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court gave judges the OK to issue more lenient sentences to drug dealers than those mandated in the official federal sentencing guidelines. Last month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the disparity in prison sentences given for possession of crack versus powder cocaine, a problem that has had a disproportionate impact on African-American defendants. Tomorrow, the commission will vote on whether that change ought to apply retroactively. If it says yes, nearly 20,000 prison inmates stand to have their sentences reduced.

All of this is good news for the small-time drug addicts who've been given excessive prison sentences for piddly little drug offenses. It's bad news, though, for Democrats, as it's about to turn crime into a major campaign issue, and it's not their strong suit. No surprise, then, that the biggest opponents of retroactively reducing drug sentences, according to the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, are the Bush Justice Department, Republicans on the House judiciary committee, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Yes, Hillary has thrown her lot in with the law and order types in the GOP, largely on the advice, apparently, of her pollster Mark Penn. Penn told The Politico last week that former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani was already using the change in sentencing to bash the other Democratic candidates, all of whom support retroactivity.

Insurance Industry Now Thinks Texas Needs More Litigation

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 10:59 AM EST

In 2003, Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed state legislators to cap pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice lawsuits at extremely low levels. The insurance industry lobbied heavily for the measure, helping to promote a false vision of Texas as a "judicial hellhole," where doctors were fleeing the state over an "epidemic" of frivolous lawsuits. Since then, malpractice lawsuits have plummeted.

Now, though, the insurance industry is wondering if its campaign worked too well—not because malpractice victims can't get justice (which they can't) but because tort reform is cutting into insurance company profits. Defense lawyer Gary Schumann told a group of insurance execs recently that tort reform had worked so well in Texas that judges were trying cases that might otherwise go to mediation just to stay busy. Not only that, but Texas nursing homes (among the worst in the nation) have become so unconcerned about getting sued that many have stopped buying private liability insurance.

Schumann said he was worried about the industry's future. "We want a little bit of litigation out there, don't we? We want a little bit of risk. We need risk or we're all out of business. … We'll see what happens but tort reform has worked. I just hope for all of our sakes it hasn't worked too well."

Internet Sales Taxes: Just in Time for Christmas?

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 1:45 PM EST

A U.S. House committee today is hearing the pros and cons of a bill that would finally allow states to collect sales taxes on stuff bought online. The states desperately need the money. Sales taxes account for a third of all state revenue, and the bulk of it goes towards public education, but that tax base is eroding thanks to a proliferation of online sales outlets. One study estimates that by 2008, the states will be losing $33 billion in revenue on "remote" sales, $18 billion of which comes from virtual stores.

Internet retailers have successfully batted down such proposals in the past, arguing that they would infringe on interstate commerce. But the states have gotten smarter and in recent years many have banded together to create uniform tax codes and a voluntary agreement to tax these companies, hoping to get around the constitutional issues. The bill, introduced by Massachusetts congressman William Delahunt, would let those states bound by the agreement tax remote companies.

At the hearing today, the bill got support from retailer J.C. Penny, which has to collect sales taxes on its Internet business because it also has bricks-and-mortar stores in many states. It wants to level the playing field to make it easier to compete with companies that are solely online. Opposing the bill, though, is the Direct Marketing Association, once known as the junk-mail lobby but which now represents catalog sales companies and electronic merchants. Not surprisingly, the DMA is opposed to the legislation, and DMA rep George Isaacson insisted that state legislators have vastly overestimated how much money they're losing in sales tax revenue. He says the figure is more in the range of $145 million as opposed to the many billions claimed by the state legislators. Still, that's a nice chunk of change that could put a few new teachers in the classroom without causing too much pain to the general public. No word yet on the bill's prospects, but no doubt it will create a nice fundraising vehicle for legislators on both sides of the aisle.

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