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The Supreme Court Just Rejected the Country's Most Extreme Abortion Ban

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 4:28 PM EST

On Monday, the US Supreme Court permanently laid to rest North Dakota's controversial "fetal heartbeat" law that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The law, approved by North Dakota's state Legislature in 2013, was widely cited as the strictest abortion ban in the country because it would have effectively outlawed abortion after the first detection of a fetal heartbeat, which often occurs at six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. Six-week bans are so extreme that in many conservative states, which have passed large numbers of abortion restrictions, they have failed to gain traction.

In 2013, after the measure was passed, North Dakota's sole abortion clinic, the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, sued the state, and a judge blocked the law just a month before it was set to take effect that summer. After a series of appeals, a federal judge again ruled the law unconstitutional in July. Once more the state appealed the ruling and it went to the Supreme Court. But the court on Monday refused to review the lower court's ruling, effectively overturning the ban.

Arkansas is the only other state that has banned abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. That ban, which outlawed abortion after 12 weeks, was also struck down in court last year. The Supreme Court last week decided not to hear the state's appeal.

Abortion rights advocates are now turning their attention back to the Texas case headed to the Supreme Court this spring. "This utterly cruel and unconstitutional ban would have made North Dakota the first state since Roe v. Wade to effectively ban abortion—with countless women left to pay the price," said Nancy Northup, whose group the Center for Reproductive Rights is behind both the North Dakota and Texas cases. "We continue to look to the nation's highest court to protect the rights, health, and dignity of millions of women and now strike down Texas' clinic shutdown law."

Oral arguments for the Texas case are scheduled to take place on March 2.

 

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The Supreme Court Did Something Great for 1,000 Kids Who Were Sentenced to Life in Prison

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 2:49 PM EST

Juvenile offenders serving a mandatory sentence of life without parole may have a shot at release, following a Supreme Court ruling made on Monday. The case, Montgomery v. Alabama, is the fourth in a string of Supreme Court decisions since 2005 that reduce the harshest penalties imposed on kids, including a 2012 ruling that mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences violated the Eight Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

The decision will affect at least 1,000 people across the country, according to data collected by the Phillips Black Project. This group of inmates disproportionately includes black and Hispanic offenders who committed their crimes as teens.

That includes Taurus Buchanan, a ninth grader who was locked up for life automatically after he threw one punch, killing a younger boy in a neighborhood fight.

Montgomery v. Alabama expands the impact of a 2012 US Supreme Court ruling that banned mandatory life sentences for offenders who committed their crimes as minors. While some states allowed eligible offenders to apply for resentencing after the ruling, lower courts in other states held that the Supreme Court's decision did not affect old cases. In Montgomery, the high court ruled that the 2012 decision was a "new substantive rule" that states were required to apply retroactively.

The petitioner, Henry Montgomery, was convicted of murder at age 17 after killing a deputy sheriff in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, in 1963. Montgomery was sentenced to death, but a Louisiana Supreme Court finding allowed him to be resentenced to life in prison without parole. In his opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:

The sentence was automatic upon the jury's verdict, so Montgomery had no opportunity to present mitigation evidence to justify a less severe sentence. That evidence might have included Montgomery's young age at the time of the crime; expert testimony regarding his limited capacity for foresight, self-discipline, and judgment; and his potential for rehabilitation. Montgomery, now 69 years old, has spent almost his entire life in prison.

Prisoners will not be granted automatic release—some face the prospect of receiving another life sentence when their cases are reheard. However, the court indicates that states could comply with the decision by simply making juvenile lifers eligible for parole:

This would neither impose an onerous burden on the States nor disturb the finality of state convictions. And it would afford someone like Montgomery, who submits that he has evolved from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community, the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition—that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.

Here's What Passes For a Brilliant Jailbreak In Orange County

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 2:40 PM EST

My hometown of Orange County isn't in the news much, so it's a little sad that our latest brush with fame is the escape of three inmates from the central jail in Santa Ana. Here's the long version of how they did it:

And here's the short version: They cut out a vent cover and climbed to the roof. Then they rappelled down by tying together a bunch of sheets. This is what passes for brilliant in Orange County. Sigh.

How Big a Dick Is Ted Cruz? A Quiz.

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 1:14 PM EST

Against my better judgment sometimes, I have focused most of my campaign reporting energy on making the case against Donald Trump. But there are other candidates out there who are plenty loathsome in their own way, and when you say the word "loathsome" Ted Cruz comes immediately to mind.

Over at the mothership, Tim Murphy and David Corn make the case that Ted is really one of the all-time huge pricks. Take this quiz first to test your knowledge of Cruzology, and then go read it.

  1. Did one of Ted's former pastors say that "he pretty much memorized the Bible, but I think he did it mostly so that he could humiliate kids who got quotes wrong"?
  2. Did a veteran of the 2000 George Bush campaign say that "the quickest way for a meeting to end would be for Ted to come in"?
  3. Did Ted's wife once admit that Ted "can be a bit of a jackass sometimes, but at least you know where he's coming from"?
  4. Did Bob Dole say that Ted "doesn't have any friends in Congress"?
  5. Did Mitch McConnell respond that "I'm pretty sure Dole is wrong, but I can't figure out who his one friend is"?
  6. Did a John McCain advisor say that his boss "fucking hates Cruz"?
  7. Did President Obama once get overheard asking Joe Biden "what in God's name is that asshole's problem, anyway"?
  8. Did Rep. Peter King say about a possible Ted Cruz nomination, "I hope that day never comes; I will jump off that bridge when we come to it"?
  9. Did John Boehner quip that Ted was "a great American resource; when we threatened to deport him back to Canada, they suddenly agreed to drop their softwood lumber subsidies"?
  10. Did Lindsey Graham say the choice between Trump and Cruz was like having to choose between "death by being shot or poisoning"?
  11. Did a former high school teacher just shake his head and close his door when a reporter knocked and asked what he remembered about Ted?
  12. Did a former law school acquaintance say that when she agreed to carpool with Ted, "We hadn't left Manhattan before he asked my IQ"?
  13. Did Ted's torts professor remark that "I don't think there was a single question I asked the entire year where Ted didn't instantly raise his hand and practically wet his pants pleading to be called on"?
  14. Did his Princeton freshman roommate call Ted "a nightmare of a human being" and claim he would get invited to parties hosted by seniors because the upperclassmen pitied him?
  15. Did a college girlfriend of Ted's say "he was pretty smart, but sex with him once was enough—if you can call it sex"?
  16. Is it true that in interviews with four of Ted's college acquaintances, "four independently offered the word 'creepy'"?

Answer: All statements whose ordinal number takes the integer form 2n+1 or 2n-1 have been invented. The rest are real

How to Throw Shade

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 12:23 PM EST

President Obama sat down with Politico's Glenn Thrush for an interview about the 2016 election. He was effusive in his praise for Hillary Clinton. Here is what he said about Bernie Sanders:

But when I asked him if Sanders reminded him of himself in 2008, he quickly shot me down: “I don’t think that's true.”

Bern.

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This New Yorker Cover Perfectly Explains the Problem With Donald Trump

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:58 AM EST

For the third time since he entered the presidential race last summer, Donald Trump is the subject of a New Yorker cover:

That's Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln looking on in disbelief at the mess Trump is making of the American presidential election. It's pretty funny, at first glance, but the problem with this cover is that the only thing many of those ex-presidents would find confusing about Trump is the television he's on.

Where to start? Teddy Roosevelt backed a racist imperial war and said white women using birth control were committing "race suicide" by turning their country over to less-fair-skinned hordes. FDR, the architect of Japanese internment, actually did the thing that people are calling Trump a fascist for defending—and kept the internment camps open long after they'd been deemed unnecessary in order to win a presidential election. I don't know what else to say about JFK other than that his personal life makes Trump look like Ned Flanders, and he started a land war in Asia we're still recovering from. George Washington owned people and bought an election by getting people drunk. All four were born into privilege. And Abe Lincoln—okay, let's not speak ill of the dead; that man slayed vampires.

The point here is that what is distasteful about Trump is not that he offends old-fashioned American values; Trump is distasteful because he taps into certain old-fashioned American values—nativism, brash tough talk, slow-burning authoritarianism; family dynasties—that have played a not-inconsequential role throughout our history.

The worst-case scenario for a Trump presidency is that he will do the very things those horrified ex-presidents did.

Take It Easy on Hillary Clinton and the 1994 Crime Bill

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:51 AM EST

A few days ago Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that he was disappointed in Bernie Sanders' opposition to reparations, which I thought was unfair given Coates' own equivocal position in his epic 2014 Atlantic cover story. However, I didn't bother suggesting that it was unfair to pick on Sanders and not Hillary Clinton. Coates made it clear that he was disappointed in Sanders because Sanders is a radical and still doesn't support reparations. Fair or not, that made sense, so I skipped it.

I was largely alone in this. By far the biggest criticism leveled at Coates has been precisely the fact that he didn't mention Clinton even though she plainly doesn't support reparations either. In a campaign season, I suppose that's inevitable, and Coates defends himself here. But this goes too far:

Voters, and black voters particularly, should never forget that Bill Clinton passed arguably the most immoral “anti-crime” bill in American history, and that Hillary Clinton aided its passage through her invocation of the super-predator myth.

There are two big problems here. First, the 1994 crime bill was supported by most black leaders at the time.1 It was addressing a real problem, and no one at the time knew that violent crime was already starting a historic two-decade drop. Despite that, both Bill and Hillary Clinton now acknowledge that the crime bill was flawed, especially the carceral aspects. I don't imagine this is an argument that's ever going to be resolved, but for all the bill's faults, I think it's (a) unfair to use hindsight and hyperbole ("most immoral in American history") to vilify the actions of people 20 years ago who had legitimate reasons to think they were in the middle of a huge social problem, and (b) even more unfair to suggest the bill was central to the problem of mass incarceration. The vast majority of the carceral state had been put in place long before.

Second, suggesting that Hillary Clinton aided the passage of the 1994 crime bill via a speech she gave in 1996 speaks for itself. Hate Clinton all you want, but she hasn't invented time travel.

1And, as several people have reminded me, by congressman Bernie Sanders.

Here Is Today's Viral Correction

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 11:11 AM EST

I don't usually go in for funny corrections, but this one in the Daily Beast deserves the attention it's getting:

Correction: A previous version of the story indicated that Liz Mair would prefer a “dry dog turd” for president over either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. She would only prefer the turd to Trump.

Glad we got that cleared up. It makes sense, given this author squib at the end of the most recent piece she wrote for the Daily Beast:

Liz Mair is an advocate for immigration reform, an opponent of ethanol mandates and subsidies, and an opponent of Donald Trump.

You could say that. More here and here. Normal Monday blogging will commence shortly. Then again, Maybe this is normal Monday blogging these days.

In Solitaire Confinement With Donald Rumsfeld

| Mon Jan. 25, 2016 10:16 AM EST

At the ripe old age of 83, Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of defense under Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, just announced he's the architect of a whole new venture: a solitaire iOS game or, as he describes it in a fresh Medium post, an "incredibly devilish version" of the classic card game known as "Churchill Solitaire." He writes:

One of the best ways to stay young is to keep learning.

That's one of the reasons I've spent the better part of the past two years trying my hand at developing a mobile app. To be more precise, I've been working with a team of developers to bring into the digital age a card game that dates back to at least the Second World War, and perhaps earlier. Starting this week, I'm pleased that it is now going to have a new life thanks to modern technology.

According to Rumsfeld, the new game is a take on the version of solitaire Churchill taught his protégé André de Staercke during World War II.

Up until a few years ago, there were probably a dozen or so people in the entire world who knew how to play this game. These were mostly people I taught the game to — my wife, Joyce (the second best living Churchill Solitaire player I know), our children, and some assorted colleagues and friends. That was it. Winston Churchill was gone. André de Staercke, as well. And I knew I wouldn't be around forever. There was every chance the game Churchill so enjoyed could be lost to the ages.

Then I was approached about turning this game into an "app."

Rumsfeld himself did not contribute to any of the actual coding. Instead, he adopted his familiar role of mastermind, communicating his vision to a team of developers using "snowflake" memos—the infamous flurry of notes Rumsfeld was known for sending to his staff.  This was the same approach he employed when communicating with the Pentagon and the White House on such matters as the need to "keep elevating the threat" and "link Iraq to Iran."

Intrigued? Watch the video explainer he just released below: