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.

Florida Congressman Arrested on Cocaine Charges Has History With Sex-Themed Websites

| Tue Nov. 19, 2013 4:00 PM PST
Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.)

Who could have anticipated that the former owner of sexguideonline.com might get into trouble as a congressman? On Tuesday, Politico broke the news that freshman congressman Henry "Trey" Radel (R-Fla.) was arrested on cocaine possession charges in DC last month and is scheduled for arraignment Wednesday. (DC Superior Court records on the charges can be found here.)

Radel, a tea party favorite and a Fox News radio host, came to office with an unusual background, having run a business that bought somewhat pornographic sex-themed domain names in both English and Spanish, as Mother Jones reported last year. Radel's business snagged all sorts of un-family-friendly domain names, including www.casadelasputas.com ("whorehouse") and www.mamadita.com ("little blow job").

During the campaign he brushed aside whispers of "domaingate," but eventually admitted to buying the site names after Mother Jones reported their existence. (After our story, he sent an email to supporters attacking Mother Jones as an "ultra-liberal San Francisco rag" whose "attack" on him he wore like a "badge of honor.") Tea partiers I interviewed at the time insisted that the business was no reflection on Radel's family values, and said they were behind him completely. From that story:

Radel supporter George Miller, the president of the Cape 9/12 group, a conservative tea-party-type organization inspired by Glenn Beck, says that he doesn't believe Radel would register raunchy web sites to begin with. "I stand by him 100 percent," he says. "He's an honest guy. He's a family guy. He's the kind of guy I want representing me."

Radel was hand-picked by former Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) to fill Mack's seat when Mack challenged Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) for Senate in 2012. Radel won a crowded Republican primary. Among those he defeated: establishment candidate Chauncy Goss, son of former CIA director Porter Goss. Chauncy Goss was endorsed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Tea partiers dismissed Goss as too much of an insider and threw their weight behind Radel, who had never held elected office before.

Just weeks ago, Radel won some accolades for becoming one of the few Republicans to support drug sentencing reform. He cosponsored the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would provide an exception to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws to allow shorter sentences for nonviolent, low-level offenders. Radel may get a chance to see how such a law works first hand. He was arrested in DC, which has a special drug court that is designed to funnel low-level addicts into rehab rather than long-term jail time.

Tuesday night, Radel released a statement apologizing to his family and blaming his troubles on alcoholism, a problem he said he would be able to get help with thanks to his arrest. He hasn't said whether he'll try to keep his seat.

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The New GOP Plan to Block Obama's Judicial Nominees

| Wed Oct. 30, 2013 3:37 AM PDT
The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit

Second only to the Supreme Court, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals is considered the most important federal court. It's the body that hears the challenges to every unpopular regulation proposed by a federal agency. For instance, the court of appeals is currently hearing a spate of lawsuits from private companies arguing that they should be exempt from providing contraception coverage to workers because of their religious views. Right now, this key appellate court has more vacancies than it's had in a decade—and congressional Republicans are hoping to keep it that way. 

Authorized for 11 judgeships, the court presently has only eight judges. Republicans claim that the court is "evenly divided" among judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats. But the court also has six semi-retired senior judges who still hear cases. When they're included, Republicans have a 9-5 majority. Many of those GOP nominees are also hardcore conservative ideologues. Among them: Janice Rogers Brown, who almost didn't get confirmed during the George W. Bush administration because of her extreme libertarian views. An Ayn Rand fan, Brown considered Supreme Court decisions upholding minimum-wage laws "the triumph of our socialist revolution."

The Republican majority on this court has been able to advance aspects of the GOP's anti-regulatory agenda that the party has failed to accomplish legislatively. Last year, for instance, the DC Circuit struck down a set of environmental rules 20 years in the making that would have held states responsible for pollution that leaked across their borders. The DC Circuit's conservative majority would shrink considerably should Obama succeed in getting all of his nominees confirmed. That's why Republicans have been blocking Obama from filling those three slots. (Overall, Obama's judicial nominees have waited an average of 277 days before getting a confirmation vote, compared with 175 during the George W. Bush administration.)

Along with trying to filibuster Obama's nominees, the GOP has come up with a clever scheme to shrink the number of judges on the appeals court to deny Obama vacancies to fill. Congressional Republicans have claimed that the DC appeals court is under-worked and thus the shrinkage is justified. And they have repeatedly accused Obama of "court packing" simply for trying to fill the existing vacancies on the DC Circuit, comparing the president unfavorably to F.D.R., who attempted to expand the number of Supreme Court seats to shift the balance of power. The talking point is a nifty dodge for Republicans who can't really come up with a good reason why they won't confirm Obama's otherwise uncontroversial and qualified nominees. It allows them to say to the nominees whose judgeships they're holding up, "Hey, we really think you're great. The court just doesn't need any more judges." 

With Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) leading the charge, the Senate took up a bill, the Court Efficiency Act, to downsize the DC Circuit earlier this year. (Kevin Drum has covered this extensively here.) That legislation has been co-sponsored by the party's newest stars, Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), along with other tea party Republicans including Utah's Mike Lee. The House held a hearing on Tuesday to consider its version of this bill, introduced by Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), which is called the Stop Court-Packing Act. The idea that nominating judges for ordinary federal vacancies is a form of court-packing is a disingenuous claim that has been dismissed even by conservatives. Fox News contributor Byron York, author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, tweeted in May, "It doesn't strike me as 'packing' to nominate candidates for available seats."

One of the co-sponsors of Grassley's bill is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). While Hatch and his fellow Republicans are now trying to shrink the appeals court, in 2003 he gave a speech decrying the number of DC Circuit vacancies. Hatch noted then that the court was down to only eight judges (which at that time hadn't happened since 1980), and he called the judicial vacancies "a crisis situation" because of the court's workload. 

As the House and Senate versions of the appeals-court-shrinking legislation wind their way to a vote, Senate Republicans are resorting to more tried and true methods for obstructing the president's nominees. On Monday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved to bring the nomination of Patricia Millet to the DC Circuit to the floor for a vote, a move Senate Republicans are vowing to filibuster. (South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham even promised to hold up every judicial nomination until Democrats present Benghazi survivors for congressional questioning.) Millet's prospects don't look particularly good, though even Ted Cruz has acknowledged her "fine professional qualifications." The last woman Obama nominated to the DC Circuit, Caitlin Halligan, finally withdrew her name in March after waiting almost two and a half years for the Senate to confirm her. 

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