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.

Constitution Day: Not Just for Tea Partiers Anymore

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Back in May, tea party groups began urging their members to "adopt a school" and pressure it to teach students about the Constitution—tea party-style. They set up webinars and provided helpful form letters addressed to school superintendents and principals reminding them of the congressional mandate that requires any school receiving federal money to teach students about the Constitution during the week of September 17. And they offered up kits complete with teaching materials from the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a nonprofit founded by Glenn Beck's favorite "historian," the late W. Cleon Skousen, author of The 5,000 Year Leap.

When word got out that the tea party wanted to give America's impressionable kids a civics leson, liberal lawyers fulminated. "To qualify to teach America's children about the Constitution you need to do more than dress up like James Madison," snipped the Constitutional Accountability Center's Doug Kendall.

After thinking about it, though, I wondered if the tea partiers might be on to something. After all, it's really hard to argue against teaching kids about the Constitution. So I decided to take up the tea party challenge. Or at least, I ordered the school kit.

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Liberals Fight Tea Party on Constitution Day

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 6:25 AM EDT

You probably didn't know it, but today is Constitution Day, a federally designated holiday created in 2004 by the late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd (D). While no one gets the day off, the law does require all public schools to devote some time to teaching the Constitution on this day each year. The law, impossible to enforce in already overstretched schools, might have died with Byrd if it weren't for the tea party movement. Tea partiers have seized on the congressional mandate to try to force public schools to introduce the movement's version of constitutional history to impressionable youth.

The Tea Party Patriots especially have been working hard over the past six months to pressure school boards and school officials to teach constitutional history as written by Glenn Beck’s favorite author, W. Cleon Skousen, a rabid anti-Communist Mormon whose texts have been knocked for including white supremacist dogma and racist commentary. In Skousen's view, the US was founded as a Christian nation, possibly by descendants of a lost tribe of Israel, a view that might run into trouble in a public school.

It's unclear how many schools have actually taken the plunge, but the tea partiers have been successful in one respect: they've energized a bunch of liberal legal types who have been horrified at the way the tea party and its favorite legislators have been interpreting the Constitution.

To that end, this week, the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center and the People for the American Way Foundation, among others, launched a new project called Constitutional Progressives, with the intent of trying to correct the record. Doug Kendall, one of the main instigators of the project and head of the CAC, said in a conference call this week that they've decided to fight back because, "It seems tea party thinks the entire 20th century is unconstitutional."

The Constiutional Progressives certainly have plenty of material to highlight.

More Ethics Trouble for Clarence Thomas

| Wed Sep. 14, 2011 12:54 PM EDT
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

If Clarence Thomas was hoping that liberals might just forget about his cozy ties to a Dallas real estate developer, or his failure for a decade to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars his wife earned from a conservative think tank, well, he would be wrong. As President Obama's health care reform bill gets closer and closer to a hearing before the high court, liberal groups are continuing to press for some sort of disciplinary action against Thomas, or at least to force him to recuse himself from hearing the health care case.

To that end, on Tuesday, the left-leaning Alliance for Justice and the good-government group Common Cause asked the Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversees the federal courts, to investigate whether Thomas violated the Ethics in Government Act. The groups allege that Thomas may have violated the act when he failed to disclose his wife Ginny Thomas's compensation—upwards of $700,000—from the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.

The groups also are asking the Judicial Conference to investigate whether Thomas may have failed to report travel paid for by the Texas real estate developer Harlan Crowe, as reported by the New York Times. The Judicial Conference was holding its semi-annual meeting in DC this week when the advocacy groups sent their letter. If the Conference concludes that the allegations have merit, federal law requires that if it "has reasonable cause to believe has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported" it must refer the case to the attorney general. Common Cause president Bob Edgar said in a statement Tuesday:

In America, no one is above the law, including Supreme Court justices. For more than a decade, Justice Thomas omitted information about his wife’s income, clearly required by the Ethics in Government Act, from his annual financial disclosure report. Surely such a repeated violation, by someone entrusted to apply laws far more complex than the Ethics Act, at least deserves a formal review by the Judicial Conference and the Attorney General.

Odds are slim that even the Judicial Conference is going to ask Eric Holder to investigate Thomas. But you can't really fault them for trying. Thomas's lapses seem egregious enough for some higher authority to take a second look.

Unfortunately, thanks the the separation of powers doctrine, there really isn't a higher authority when it comes to the Supreme Court. Some members of Congress are trying to change that. Also this week, the Alliance for Justice has been trying to rally support for congressional hearings on a bill introduced earlier this year that would force Supreme Court justices to be covered by the code of conduct that applies to other federal judges and create new procedures for when a justice may have to recuse from hearing a case. Given that virtually no Republicans have signed on, this law, too, has no hope of going anywhere, at least not any time soon. But the Democrats behind it get points for trying anyway.

*As a completely unrelated side note, Thomas came to mind as I was reading this article earlier this week about how NASCAR has started installing solar panels and recycling and employing flocks of sheep to mow the track lawns. I have to wonder whether Thomas, a former Monsanto employee, might have second thoughts about his anti-environmental positions now that even NASCAR has gone green. A little-known fact about Thomas is that in his spare time, he and Ginny drive their gas-guzzling, 40-foot custom-built bus to NASCAR races, where they hang out with ordinary Americans who often don't even recognize the Supreme Court's most bitter member. Perhaps some of NASCAR's new-found environmental consciousness will rub off.

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