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.

Gun Control Survives The Supreme Court

| Tue Jun. 28, 2011 12:19 PM EDT

In 2008, the US Supreme Court overturned a DC law banning city residents from owning handguns. The decision in District of Columbia v Heller was unprecedented because the sharply divided court found—for the first time—that Americans have an individual right to own guns outside of the "well regulated militia" described in the Second Amendment.

Critics warned that the decision amounted to a death blow for all sorts of reasonable laws regulating gun ownership, and the National Rifle Association seemed to agree with them. The gun group's vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said at the time that the Heller ruling would be "the opening salvo in a step-by-step process" to kill off most of the nation's gun control laws.

Well, three years later, gun control is alive and well despite more than 400 legal challenges based on Heller, according to a new report (PDF) by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The NRA as well as dozens of criminals have attempted to invoke Heller in court to challenge everything from bans on carrying concealed weapons in public to restrictions on gun ownership by people involved in domestic violence. Almost all of those challenges have failed, according to the Brady Center, including a second lawsuit filed by Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the original Supreme Court case, who sued again to try to invalidate restrictions on semi-automatic weapons in the nation's capital.

The failed lawsuits have also produced some surprisingly strong language from judges who don't want to use Heller to implement the NRA's vision of "any gun, any person, anywhere." For instance, in finding that there is no constitutional right to carry a gun in a car or national park, the 4th Circuit court of appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the country, declared: "This is serious business. We do not wish to be even minutely responsible for some unspeakably tragic act of mayhem because in the peace of our judicial chambers we miscalculated as to Second Amendment rights."

The gun lobby's initial failure to use the Supreme Court's ruling to kill off gun control hasn't stopped it from trying. The Brady Center notes that many Heller-based legal challenges are still pending. One, for instance, takes aim at a North Carolina law that would prevent people from carrying weapons into a riot.

Another lawsuit attempts to allow teenagers in Texas to carry concealed weapons in public. The original plaintiff in that case was this kid, who filled his Facebook page with photos of himself dressed up like John Dillinger, holding assault weapons. He posted status updates like "After hunting men, nothing can compare," and "There is no redemption, There is no forgiveness. I will stare into your eyes as I pull the trigger and laugh as you hit the ground with your last, pathetic breath." After his rantings were publicized, he eventually dropped out of the case, but the NRA is still pushing the lawsuit. The Brady Center calls on the courts to make sure that these cases, like the 400 before them, are dead in the water. 

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Supreme Court Kills Off AZ Public Financing Law

| Mon Jun. 27, 2011 11:17 AM EDT

Score another one for James Bopp, the veteran conservative lawyer who has helped kill off much of the country's campaign finance regulatory system. On Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down an innovative Arizona public financing law that would have provided extra public money to candidates who were being outspent by privately funded candidates and independent expenditure groups. The drafters of the law had hoped that by using public funds to generate more speech, not less, they might be able to avoid many of the free speech issues that have bedeviled other attempts to level the campaign playing field.

The Roberts Court, though, was having none of that. In a 5-4 ruling (PDF) in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom PAC v Bennett, the court sided with Bopp, who represented one of the self-financed candidates who were the plaintiffs in the case. The court found that the law would force well-funded candidates to decide between spending more money and thus speaking out more, or spending less to avoid helping their opponents earn more public money for their campaigns. The court found the position untenable with constitutional guarantees of free speech.

The opinion, written by Roberts, draws heavily on its previous ruling in Davis vs FEC, in which the court struck down the "Millionaire's amendment" to the McCain-Feingold law, which had allowed candidates to avoid campaign contribution limits if they were running against a wealthy self-financed candidate. That was partly Bopp's case, too. More significantly, though, one of the only reasons that the court could even hear the Arizona law is because of a case Bopp won back in 1994 in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which invalidated a public financing scheme in Minnesota. That decision created the circuit court split that allowed the high court to step in and decide this case. 

When I talked to Bopp last year about the Arizona case, he was pretty sure he was going to win. He told me:

Public funding, he argues, suppresses speech because it sets spending limits for candidates who accept it. "The problem is, the reformers are hoisting themselves on their own petard," he explains. "Their real goal [with public-financing schemes] is to restrict expenditures."

That, in a nutshell, is what the Supreme Court said today, too.

Did the Tea Party Convert David Mamet?

| Tue Jun. 21, 2011 5:01 AM EDT
David Mamet.

The new book out this month by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright David Mamet isn't winning any rave reviews from the mainstream press. No doubt that's because the MSM is dominated by a bunch of liberals, and Mamet, formerly a liberal himself, has come out as a Fox-News-watching right-winger. This weekend, his book was panned in the New York Times by Christopher Hitchens.

Like Mamet, Hitchens has moved far to the right of his liberal roots, but he still wasn't finding much to love about The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture. He calls it "an extraordinarily irritating book." Reviewers, including Hitchens, have noted that Mamet credits such right-wing talk show hosts as Glenn Beck and Hugh Hewitt for putting him on the path to righteousness. But could it be possible that the tea party movement had something to do with his conservative conversion as well?

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