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.

Chart of the Day: Clarence Thomas' Non-Disclosure Form

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is under fire from Democrats and liberal advocacy groups who contend that he may have violated the Ethics in Government Act by failing to disclose the sources of income for his wife Virginia Thomas. Places like the Heritage Foundation, which has been a vocal opponent of the Obama health care reform law, were paying Virginia Thomas large amounts of money during the years that her husband reported she had no income. (The health care law, of course, is likely to come before the Supreme Court in the next year.)

Initially, the liberal watchdog group Common Cause estimated that Virginia Thomas had made about $700,000 in the years her husband was claiming she made nothing. But the group has recently come up with new figures showing Virginia Thomas actually earned around $1.6 million—more than twice as much as the original estimate. That's a decent chunk of change the Thomas family was earning from a party with an interest in what could be one of the court's biggest cases in years.

Thomas has amended his disclosure forms to correct the omissions and has claimed that he misunderstood how to fill out the forms. But Common Cause noticed that Thomas had actually filled the forms out properly for many years before he suddenly stopped recording his wife's employers. "There is now more than enough evidence to merit a formal inquiry as to whether Justice Thomas willfully failed to make legally required disclosures, perhaps for as long as 13 years," Common Cause president Bob Edgar said in a statement. "Given that we now know he correctly completed the reports in prior years, it's hardly plausible—indeed it's close to unbelievable—that Justice Thomas did not understand the instructions."

Common Cause provides a breakdown of the missing income here: Courtesy Common CauseCourtesy Common Cause

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House Dems Call For Hearings on Clarence Thomas

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 11:37 AM EDT
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

This October marks the 20th anniversary of the infamous confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in which he almost didn't make it to the high court due to allegations that he'd sexually harassed Anita Hill at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. House Democrats would apparently like to commemorate this event by subjecting Thomas to a new round of hearings on the Hill. On the steps of the Supreme Court this morning, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and others held a press conference calling on the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings investigating some of Thomas's alleged ethical lapses. These include allegations that he failed to disclose at least $1.6 million in income earned by his wife Virginia, who worked for the conservative Heritage Foundation and has been an active opponent of the Obama health care law. Thomas has also been accused of taking unreported free trips on a corporate jet and a yacht from real estate magnate Harlan Crow.

Blumenauer wrote to the House Judiciary committee members:

"Reports of potential ethical lapses by Justice Thomas’s actions give rise to concerns about conflicts of interest undermining appellants’ rights of due process and also raise substantive questions about Justice Thomas’s ability to retain his seat. We urge that your committee hold hearings regarding the nature of these questions, their factual basis, and their potential to undermine the public’s trust in the Supreme Court."

The request comes on the heels of demands by 19 House members that the US Judicial Conference, which oversees the federal courts, ask the Justice Department to investigate Thomas's alleged violations of the Ethics in Government Act for all of the omissions on his financial disclosure forms. Thomas has said it was simply an oversight and that he misunderstood how to fill out the forms. He has since amended the forms to include the missing income.  (In a statement, Slaughter has dismissed his explanation saying, "To believe that Justice Thomas didn't know how to fill out a basic disclosure form is absurd.")

None of the congressional grandstanding is likely to amount to much, given how difficult it is to remove a sitting Supreme Court justice from the bench. Besides, House Republicans would have to agree to any hearing on Thomas's conduct, and that's never going to happen. But liberal activists and their partners in Congress aren't necessarily looking for Thomas to step down. They want him to recuse himself from voting on the Obama health care reform law that the court is likely to hear before the next presidential election. Of course, conservatives are doing the same thing. They're waging a concerted campaign to pressure new Justice Elena Kagan to also recuse herself from the health care case based on her service in the Obama administration as solicitor general. In the end, both justices will probably ignore all the background noise. But the fight will certainly make for interesting political theater along the way.

Chart of the Day: Recession-Induced Homelessness About To Skyrocket

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 2:55 PM EDT

There's more dismal news on the economic front. Earlier this month, the US Census Bureau released the latest poverty data, revealing that the poverty rate is at a record high and the number of Americans living in deep poverty has been steadily increasing. (The Census Bureau defines deep poverty as living below half the annual federal poverty line, or about $11,000 for a family of four. About 7 percent of the country now falls into this category.)

Now comes the news that as larger numbers of people fall into deep poverty, they're increasingly landing on the streets. The National Alliance to End Homelessness projects that the number of homeless Americans will increase by five percent over the next three years. That would mean an additional 74,000 people homeless people, pushing the national total towards 1.7 million. Homeless numbers tend to lag behind unemployment and poverty indicators, but the Alliance notes that all the warning signs for increased homelessness are there—most notably an 11 percent increase in the number of people who are "doubling up" and living with relatives or other people. That's often just one step from landing in a shelter. Here's the depressing chart of the day: 

Chart courtesy of the National Alliance to End Homelessness

Schools Say No To Tea Party's Constitution Lessons

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 10:59 AM EDT

Earlier this year, tea party groups sparked a bit of an uproar when they announced plans to pressure public schools into teaching their version of constitutional history during the federally mandated Constitution week that began September 17. Led by a large umbrella group, Tea Party Patriots, activists planned to pressure local school officials into using controversial curriculum developed by the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). The NCCS was founded by Glen Beck's favorite pseudo-historian, W. Cleon Skousen, who argued in his book The 5,000 Year Leap that the creation of the US was a divine miracle. When the news got out, liberal legal groups expressed outrage and urged schools to reject the plan.

As it turns out, many schools weren't that keen on having tea partiers in their midst. There have been only scattered reports of the Tea Party Patriots successfully getting their curriculum into schools, but there have also been a number of complaints from educators who say tea party activists have been trying to intimidate them. In northern California's Nevada County, a hot-bed of tea party activism, tea partiers were giving out their materials and surveying local schools to ensure compliance with the federal mandate to teach the Constitution. One educator told the local paper that she didn't appreciate the meddling. The Union reported last week:

When Tea Party Patriots starting demanding proof of lesson plans, suggesting instructional materials and even informing administrators that the media would be notified about their level of compliance, some area administrators felt attacked.

“It seems that we aren't being believed for some reason,” said Debra Sandoval, superintendent of Pleasant Valley and Ready Springs School District, which was singled out by local Tea Party Patriots as being the only district that did not respond to their inquiries.

Then, this week, two districts in Florida rejected donations of pocket Constitutions distributed by local tea party and Glenn-Beck-associated 9/12 groups. The booklets were stamped with tea party information and included some language that the district found either too religious or too political to make them suitable for public schools. Many of the booklets came from NCCS. And the St. Petersburg Times reported that while the booklets contained things like the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, the foreword stated, "Unless Americans remember and preserve our rich heritage of liberty, a new Dark Age of tyranny could lock the majority of mankind into the harsh chains of totalitarian slavery." Other donated Constitutions came with propaganda from the libertarian Cato Institute, which claimed that the Constitution has been misinterpreted, leading to "a government that's effectively unlimited … and increasingly unaffordable."

The school districts said no thanks and send the booklets back. As one of the superintendents told the Times, "When you add all of those things together, it's not just a simple Constitution. You've got to be real careful when you're passing out information to the kids."

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