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 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.

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New Poverty Numbers Likely To Be Bad

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 5:03 AM EDT

The Census Bureau is slated to release the latest figures on some critical national indicators early Tuesday morning. Both poverty rates and the number of uninsured Americans will be included in the data dump, and neither figure is likely to be good.

The poverty rate has been creeping up for years. Between 2001 and 2007, poverty rose from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent, and that was before the unemployment rate skyrocketed over 9 percent after the financial crisis and burst of the housing bubble. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities projects that 2010 may set a new record for the number of people living in deep poverty—that is, on income below half the federal poverty level (about $11,000 for a family of four). In 2009, the country got close to that mark when 6.3 percent of the country was living that close to the edge. It won't take much for deep poverty to claim a share of the population the country hasn't seen since 1975, according to CBPP.

The numbers of uninsured people aren't likely to look any more rosy, given that unemployment has remained stubbornly high. In 2009, 51 million people lacked health insurance—one out of every 6 people—and CBPP predicts that the number for 2010 will be even higher.

The Census figures will be released at 10 a.m. Tuesday, when we'll find out for sure. But even if nothing changes much from last year, the numbers will continue to paint a gloomy financial picture for the country's most vulnerable people. As CBPP points out, the only real way to help these folks in the short term is for the government to take more action, including extending the unemployment benefits and payroll tax holiday policies that are set to expire at the end of the year. But with the congressional "supercommittee" only looking at ways to cut federal spending, it's hard to see any of that happening any time soon, regardless of what the Census has to say about just how much people are suffering.

Health Care Ruling Takeaway: Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli Is a Bad Lawyer

| Thu Sep. 8, 2011 2:52 PM EDT
Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general of Virginia.

Tea partiers love Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. A rock star who frequents their events, he speaks the tea partiers' language, especially when it comes to invoking the Constitution as the basis for opposing everything from President Obama's health care reform law to environmental regulations on climate-changing emissions. But Cuccinelli seems to have studied the Constitution the way most tea partiers have—in someone's living room. Because when it comes to actually practicing law, in real courts where the Constitution is really put to the test, Cuccinelli is a bit of a disaster.

Today, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, threw out Cuccinelli's lawsuit challenging Obama's Affordable Care Act and its individual mandate. The 4th Circuit never really got to the constitutional issues of the health care law because it found that Cuccinelli and the state of Virgina did not even have standing to bring the case. The individual mandate, the court found, "imposes no obligations on the sole plaintiff, Virginia," meaning that Virginia had no injury nor future harm that might be remedied by the intervention of a federal judge.

It's a classic example of something Cuccinelli should have learned in Civil Procedure 101: Just because you don't like a law doesn't mean you have the right to go to court and get it struck down. You have to be affected by the law somehow, and it was clear from the very beginning that Cuccinelli and Virginia were not. And if Cuccinelli is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court might come to his rescue on this one, he's probably dreaming. While you never know with the Roberts court conservatives, who have proven far more political than consistent, stalwart conservatives like Antonin Scalia.  Roberts himself has been extremely harsh with plaintiffs on standing issues. (See Robert's dissent in Massachusetts v. EPA, a case challenging the EPA's inaction on climate change.)

But Cuccinelli's legal work isn't, of course, about the law. It's about politics. His concern with constitutional issues is rather selective. Otherwise, how to explain his office's defense of local law enforcement officials in the state arresting gay men under sodomy laws the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional eight years ago? Or his legal opinion that state universities have no legal right to protect students and staff against anti-gay discrimination, despite the 14th Amendment's promises of equal protection under the law? Or what of his waste of taxpayer dollars suing over the health care bill in a case he had no legitimate right to bring? The health care lawsuit won Cuccinelli fans across the country, who will no doubt come in handy when he needs to raise money when he runs for senator or governor down the road. All of that might make him a good politician, but it still makes him a bad lawyer.

Tea Party Takes On Utah's Last Congressional Dem

| Mon Sep. 5, 2011 5:23 AM EDT

Utah is one of the nation's most conservative states. Barack Obama won only 34 percent of the vote there in 2008. The Mormon-dominated western outpost, which also happens to be my home state, hasn't had a Democratic senator in about 40 years. It hasn't had a Democratic governor since 1985. So in that climate, Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson is a bit of an outlier. He has had a few things going for him—mainly his name. In a state with few Democratic scions, the Matheson family is practically synonymous with Democrat in Utah; Jim's father Scott Matheson, served as the state's last Democratic governor. But for the past decade, Republicans have been trying hard to oust the younger Matheson, namely by redistricting him out of office.

In 2002, Republicans redrew the boundary of Matheson's 2nd district, which had been mostly confined to the more liberal Salt Lake City area, and extended it so that it was glued to some ultra-right wing rural counties in far southern Utah near the Nevada border. The change made him famous as the Democrat representing the most Republican district in the country. (To see how bad this is, take a look at the map of his district here.) Republicans are targeting his district again this year for another boundary change.

So far, Matheson, a member of the Dem's centrist Blue Dog contingent, has managed to survive the gerrymandering and stay in office for a remarkable 12 years,calibrating his votes carefully to acknowledge the precariousness of his situation. He was one of a handful of Democrats, for instance, who voted against Obama's health care bill and raising the debt ceiling.

But even those sorts of hedges may not save him in the next election. Things have changed significantly in a state that I didn't think could get any more conservative. Last year, angry tea party activists managed to bump off Republican establishment figure Sen. Robert Bennett, whose father also represented the state in the Senate. Bennett was a rockribbed, popular Republican, but still not conservative enough for the tea partiers, who ended up electing tea partier Sen. Mike Lee (R).

Two weeks ago, one of the tea party candidates who was among those challenging Bennett in the GOP primary last year, Cherilyn Eagar, threw her hat into the ring and announced that she planned to challenge Matheson. Eagar is an example of the marriage of the tea party with traditional evangelical political groups. She's a longtime activist with Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, where she serves as the national chairman for constitutional studies. Schlafly has endorsed her, along with immigration foe Tom Tancredo (Eagar cut her anti-immigration chops working for Pat Buchannan in 1992.) She's also been active with and endorsed by the founder of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the kooky doctor's group that opposes vaccinations, thinks it's immoral for doctors to participate in Medicare, believes abortion causes breast cancer but that HIV does not cause AIDS, and has speculated that Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters through "neurolinguistic programming." AAPS gained notoriety in 2009 after one of its members circulated a photo of Obama dressed in tribal gear with a bone through his nose. 

A graduate of Brigham Young University, Eagar has worked with the school as a parent adviser to its academic freedom committee after she helped root out "pornographic" masters theses, and she's been an outspoken anti-gay activist (despite having a drama degree and having run a musical theater program in New York for a while). Sorry Jim, but with that kind of record in Utah, she's probably a shoe-in.

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Tue Sep. 9, 2014 6:30 AM EDT | Updated Tue Dec. 16, 2014 10:10 AM EDT