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.

Another Reason To Be Glad Rick Perry Won't Be President

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 4:08 PM EST
Texas governor Rick Perry.

Woe is the injured consumer or medical patient in Texas who brings a lawsuit against a big corporation or the government. A new report out from the nonprofit advocacy group Texas Watch has taken a hard look at more than 600 decisions by the Texas Supreme Court over the past decade and found that consumers and plaintiffs are routinely taking it on the chin. And consumers are losing far more often in the court than they were before short-lived GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry became governor.

Since 2005, consumers have lost nearly 80 percent of Texas Supreme Court cases in which a consumer was pitted against a big corporation or the government. Most of the time, the consumer plaintiffs had already prevailed before a jury—the high court overturned jury verdicts in 74 percent of consumer cases, with very little dissent.

Texas Watch attributes the massive scale-tilting to the fact that the court is now dominated by judges who were appointed by Perry starting in 2000. Six of the nine judges on the all-Republican court were initially appointed by Perry. In Texas, the judges are elected, but when a vacancy occurs, a governor can appoint a judge to fill out the remaining term, a move that all but guarantees the judge will prevail in the general election. And in Texas, Republican judges who've wanted to retire have often done so mid-term, allowing Perry to appoint their replacements.

Plaintiffs never did all that well in Texas courts compared with the big companies they were suing, but once Perry took office, the little guy's odds got even worse. See this:

Texas WatchTexas WatchThe trend doesn't help the case of those who suggest the solution to the influence of money in judicial elections is to have appointed judges. The data also don't reflect the fact that since 2003, simply getting a plaintiff's case into court in Texas has become far more difficult, especially in medical malpractice cases. Changes in state tort laws have kept thousands of consumers and injured patients out of court all together. According to the most recent data from the National Center on State Courts, in 2008 (the most recent year available), there were 10,000 fewer tort cases filed in Texas than in 1999. Those numbers fell even though the population of Texas jumped 20 percent over the past decade. 

The decisions made by the Texas Supreme Court in individual consumer cases have wide reach. In one case highlighted by Texas Watch, the court essentially ruled that the state does not have the authority to pass laws creating stricter consumer protections than those that exist at the federal level—a remarkable opinion in a state that is openly hostile to the federal government's rule of law.

The trend doesn't look to end any time soon, Texas Watch notes gloomily:

Justices that Governor Perry has appointed to the bench, and who were subsequently elected, have relentlessly and recklessly pursued an activist ideological agenda focused on immunity for corporate and state wrongdoers, subverting the rule of law from within and effectively turning the granite walls of the court into a mausoleum for plaintiffs.

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Herman Cain Returns!

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 1:54 PM EST

After dropping out of the presidential race in November amidst an avalanche of sexual harassment allegations, Herman Cain has reemerged from his self-imposed exile. On Friday, he appeared on Bill Maher's HBO show, giving one of the first TV interviews since suspending his campaign. (Cain told Maher that Americans need to "lighten up.") He recently announced that he was planning to tour the country in support for his "9-9-9" tax plan. And now, Cain is scheduled to headline a "grassroots" rally on January 28 for congressional candidate and conservative talk show host Martha Zoller, who's running for a seat in Georgia's 9th district. In a press release announcing Cain's appearance, Zoller said:

We are thrilled to have Herman Cain join us in Gainesville for this important and timely rally. Like Herman, I believe that we need to completely transform the U.S. Tax Code, restore common sense and accountability in government, and end 'business as usual' in Washington. It is an honor to have Herman support my campaign for Congress and I look forward to sharing the stage with such a remarkable leader again.

Cain's resurrection is another sign that sex scandals need not be a career-ender. (See Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Sen. "Diaper Dave" Vitter (R-La.), and...well, OK, maybe not former Idaho senator Larry Craig.) But Cain's timing is exceptionally good. His return to the political spotlight comes just as comedian Steven Colbert's SuperPac has started running ads urging voters to cast ballots for Cain in South Carolina's GOP primary. (Despite suspending his candidacy, Cain is still on the South Carolina primary ballot.) The Colbert ads may be a spoof, but as Zoller's embrace of Cain indicates, he still has some extremely loyal followers, many of whom refuse to believe any of the stories about his alleged sexual improprieties. Who knows? Maybe Colbert will manage to fully rehabilitate Cain by boosting his prospects in a primary he's not really even trying to win. You can watch the Colbert ad here:

 

GOP Candidates Promise to Revive War on Porn

| Tue Jan. 10, 2012 3:24 PM EST

Oh thank God. Three of the leading contenders for the GOP presidential nomination have come out strong—against porn.

The nation's men may be suffering from high rates of unemployment, but Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have pledged to ensure that those men aren't spending their involuntary down time surfing the web for smut. All three have pledged that if elected, they will revive intensive federal prosecutorial efforts to enforce the nation's obscenity laws.

The nonprofit Morality in Media has been hounding GOP candidates since October to go on the record with their positions on porn, in part because the group and its allies in the evangelical community are deeply unhappy with the Obama administration on this front. They believe that Obama has abandoned the nation's women to exploitation and even trafficking by disbanding a Justice Department obscenity task force and failing to initiate a single new obscenity prosecution since Obama was inaugurated. MIM didn't have to work hard, it seems, to get a couple of GOP candidates to go on the record against all things X-rated (especially the leading prude of the field, Santorum). After all, what candidate is going to run on a pro-porn platform?

But enforcing obscenity laws is a lot harder than the MIM pledge makes it sound. For all the fury the group has leveled at the Obama administration for failing to go after pornographers, it has also failed to acknowledge that many of the obscenity prosecutions begun during the last Bush administration were a huge bust. Obscenity prosecutions tend to create thorny First Amendment problems that prosecutors would generally rather avoid. Meanwhile, MIM hasn't noted the hypocrisy rooted in Gingrich's promise to enforce obscenity laws. The former House speaker is partly responsible for enabling the explosion of online porn, thanks to his successful opposition to a 1995 Internet censorship law introduced in Congress.

Nonetheless, Patrick Trueman, the president of MIM and the former chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section at DOJ during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, issued a statement congratulating the GOP candidates for taking a stand. "Vigorous prosecution of those who violate our nation's obscenity laws is critical now," Trueman said. "Our nation is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography that is readily available—even to children on the Internet and in other venues. Addiction among adults and even children is now widespread. Pornography is a common cause of the destruction of marriage. It leads to misogyny and violence against women and is a contributing factor in sexual trafficking."

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