On Monday morning, the Supreme Court didn't issue any of the highly anticipated rulings on the remaining marquee cases of the session (including the cases on same-sex marriage and Obamacare). But the first opinion issued by the court this morning carried an eye-catching name: Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, a.k.a. the Spider-Man case.
The case revolved around the narrow—and let's be honest, snooze-inducing—question of patent licensing fees. But the majority opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan is full of delightful zingers.
Here's how Kagan describes the toy at the center of the case:
In 1990, petitioner Stephen Kimble obtained a patent on a toy that allows children (and young-at-heart adults) to role-play as "a spider person" by shooting webs—really, pressurized foam string—"from the palm of [the] hand."
The problem was that Marvel never set an expiration date for when the royalties Kimble was owed would expire, with Kimble wishing to still collect after the patent had run out. "The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can)," Kagan wrote, referencing the Spider-Man theme song. That contradicted prior case law, and a lower court ruled that Kimble was no longer owed royalties. The Supreme Court agreed because, as Kagan writes, "patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time."
In the end, Kagan wrote, the court had to stand by prior precedent. "[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility," she wrote, letting Uncle Ben's famous words from Amazing Fantasy No. 15 close out her verdict.
The Confederate flag with the dome of the South Carolina capitol in the distance.
The death of nine innocent worshippers may achieve what decades of civil rights activism failed to do: Force South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag from grounds of its capitol building.
The Confederate battle flag flew over the capitol dome in Columbia, S.C., from 1962, when the legislature hoisted it as a symbol of defiance against integration, to 2000, when huge protests convinced state lawmakers to move it elsewhere. But it didn't go far: The flag has flown over a Confederate soldiers' memorial on the capitol grounds ever since.
Now we've also seen some tentative hints that figures on the right may actually be willing to let that happen:
The South Carolina governor infamously called a non-issue during her re-election campaign last year because she "had not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag" during calls with business leaders. She also rejected at least one previous call by the NAACP to remove the flag.
But during an interview on Friday with Reuters, Haley seemed open to re-examining the deal that moved the Confederate flag to its current spot
"If they want to have this conversation again, they will," Haley said of the state legislature. "They had it 15 years ago. They came to [a] consensus, that's where it was. I think they'll have another conversation, and we'll bring people together."
Many people, including us, blasted the South Carolina senator and Republican presidential candidate when he told CNN on Friday morning that the flag is "part of who we are" in his state. But he also said he was open to changing the capitol's awkward compromise on the flag.
"It's time for people in South Carolina to revisit that decision," he said. "It would be fine with me."
During the 2012 GOP primaries, Graham called the use of the flag at the Confederate War Memorial a "bipartisan" solution and advised candidates to avoid the topic altogether. “Any [candidate] who brought that up wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors," he said to The Hill.
The National Review
Writers at the conservative magazine—which firmly backed the South's mantra of states' rights during the civil rights era—debated the use of the flag on Thursday. Executive Editor Reihan Salam came out firmly against it:
It could be that the Confederate battle flag has come to mean something entirely different in 2015 than it did in the mid-1950s, when it was closely tied to resistance to federal desegregation efforts. But is its value such that we ought to continue giving it quasi-official status, even when doing so alienates the descendants of enslaved southerners, who have just as much claim to deciding which symbols ought to represent southern heritage as the descendants of Confederate veterans? I don’t believe so.
Others were more skeptical: Ian Tuttle argued that "objections to [the flag] are not raised in good faith" but rather for political gain. But even he then acknowledged that the flag can cause serious harm and offense.
One can recognize, understand, and sympathize with the revulsion symbols of the Confederacy occasion in some quarters, particularly among black Americans — and a compromise should be possible. If reducing the visibility of these symbols would offer relief to those genuinely hurt, and would remove an object of contention keeping persons of different races from cooperating to advance true racial justice, that is something supporters of Confederate symbols should be able to do.
The pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Massachusetts governor is hardly an arch-conservative, but his experience on Thursday shows how the shock of the shooting may be acting on politicians. Baker told Boston's WGBH early on Thursday afternoon that while he was against the flag personally, it was a "tradition" of South Carolina. "My view on stuff like this is that South Carolinians can make their own call," he said.
Within hours, Baker was backtracking hard. "What were you thinking?" was the message he received from friends, he told the Boston Globe that evening. “I just want to be clear: I abhor the symbolism and the history of that flag as much as anybody, and I am more than cognizant of the fact that literally millions of Americans died over what it represents in the Civil War,” he said. “I think they should take the flag down."
As Dylann Roof, the gunman accused of killing nine people inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina, appeared in court on Friday to formally hear the charges against him, representatives of the victims' families came forward to deliver a powerful message of forgiveness.
"You took something very precious away from me," a family representative for Ethel Lance, the 70-year-old grandmother who died in Wednesday's massacre, told Roof on behalf of Lance's loved ones. "I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you."
Some of the victims' family members also invited Roof, who attended his bond hearing through a video conference, to join them in bible service to repent and to "change your ways no matter what happened to you."
Felicia Sanders, who survived the shooting by pretending to be dead, also spoke about losing her son in the attack. "Tywanza was my hero….May God have mercy on you.” Another family member, Bethane Middleton-Brown, whose sister was killed on Wednesday, told Roof, "For me, I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I’m very angry. We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul."
"Love is always stronger than hate, so if we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won't be anywhere close to where love is," Singleton said. "We've come together as a community to try to get past these things. A tragedy has happened, but life is going to go on and things are going to get better."
"This church is such a family," he continued. "'ve been going there since sixth grade when I moved here. Feels like they're all older than me, but it's like I'm everybody's grandson."
Roof, who appeared emotioneless during the hearing, was charged with nine counts of murder. His bond is set at $1 million.
The Guardian's Paul Lewis wrote a great profile of Sen. Bernie Sanders' years as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, including excerpts from Sanders' correspondence with foreign heads of state, but let's cut right to the chase: Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem for Bernie Sanders in 1986.
Following the mass shooting inside a black church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, one flag was conspicuously not lowered to half-mast in tribute to the nine lives lost in the deadly attack—the Confederate flag, which regularly flies on the grounds of the state capitol, despite countless calls for its removal because of its racist roots.
The rebel flag's presence in Columbia was especially disturbing this week after images surfaced showing the suspected gunman's embrace of the flag, which was on his license plates. (Dylann Roof also wore patches baring the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, the racist symbolism of which was evident.)
While other GOP politicians, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, are criticizing the flag's enduring presence, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who hails from South Carolina and is now running for president, has come to the rebel flag's defense. According to Graham, the Confederate flag is an integral "part of who we are."
This isn't exactly surprising, considering Graham appeared on "The View" yesterday to promote his new e-book and brushed aside the obvious racial overtones of the attacks, suggesting that suspected shooter Dylann Roof was seeking to massacre Christians. "This guy's just whacked out," he said. "It's 2015—there are people who are looking for Christians to kill them."
Although Graham acknowledged to CNN the flag has been used to push racist agendas in the past, he said "the problems we have in South Carolina and throughout the world" do not stem from symbols, but because of "what's in people's heart."
"How do you go back and reconstruct America?" he asked hopelessly.
Update, June 29, 11 a.m. PT: Fires have been reported at six black churches in five southern states since the mass shooting in Charleston. Two of the fires are thought to have been from electrical or other unintentional causes, but at least two other are being investigated as arson. (See timeline below.) According to BuzzFeed, the FBI and ATF are investigating the incidents. For more, including an interview with a pastor at a church that burned in South Carolina, see this NPR story.
Churches have long been hubs of organizing and advocacy in the black community, which was one reason they were so often attacked during the civil rights movement. But the violence didn't end there—attacks and threats against black churches and institutions still take place at a greater frequency than you might think. Here is a partial list of church incidents in the past two decades alone:
January 8: Eighteen Molotov cocktails are thrown at Inner City Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The phrases, "Die N----- Die" and "White is Right" are painted on the church's back door.
Rep. Larry Hill looks over the remains of Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church. Chuck Barton/AP Photo
January 11: Mount Zoar Baptist Church and Little Zion Baptist Church, two black churches within six miles of each other, are burned to the ground on the same night in rural Alabama.
February 8: The Department of Justice launches an investigation into a string of arsons at black churches in rural Tennessee and Alabama.
June 7: Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church is set on fire in Charlotte, North Carolina.
March 22: Two men burn down Macedonia Baptist Church in Ferris, Texas. Asked why they did it, according to the US Attorney General's Office, one of the men responded, "because it was a n----- church."
June 30: Five white men and women, all between the ages of 18 and 21, burn down St. Joe Baptist Church, a small church of 21 worshippers in Little River, Alabama.
January 12: Two white men in Roanoke, Virginia, cause $77,000 worth of damage to the inside of Mount Moriah Baptist Church after breaking into and vandalizing the premises.
July 11: A cross is burned outside a predominantly black church in Richmond, Virginia.
Firefighters work at the scene of a fire at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ. Mark M. Murray/AP Photo
November 5: The morning after President Obama's first election, three white men set alight Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts. The church was under construction.
December 28: A white man firebombs Faith in Christ Church in Crane, Texas, in an attempt to "gain status" with the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang.
June 23: The FBI investigates a cross burning on the lawn of St. John's Baptist Church in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.
November 17: Vandals break into Cedar Hill AME Zion Church in Ansonville, North Carolina. They throw chairs through the stained glass windows, burn a cross, defecate on an alter, and dig up the tombstone of a child buried in the church's historic slave cemetery.
February 25: Vandals break into a day care center housed within a church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; spray paint swastikas on the inside; and set the building alight. One church member said that, several weeks earlier, the church had received a call saying, "We need these n----- to get out of here."
Members of the destroyed Flood Christian Church hold service in a tent in Country Club Hill, Missouri. J.B Forbes/AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch
November 26: Federal officials open an investigation into the arson of Flood Christian Church, the church attended by Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The fire was set the same night the prosecutor in the case announced he would not bring charges against officer Darren Wilson for killing Brown.
July 22:A cross is burned in the parking lot of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. David Goldman/AP Photo
June 17: Dylann Roof kills nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
June 24: Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., went up in flames in the early morning. A wing of the church used as an education center was nearly completely destroyed, and the sanctuary and gymnasium sustained extensive smoke damage, with damages totaling an estimated $250,000. The fire is being investigated as arson.
June 28: Bales of hay and bags of dirt were set on fire and left against the front doors of College Hill Seventh Day Adventist church in Knoxville, T.N. Separately, a church van was also set on fire and destroyed. The fires are being investigated as arson.
Thousands of pro-democracy protestors occupy Hong Kong's streets on September 30th, 2014.
Last fall, the streets of Hong Kong filled with protestors demonstrating for greater autonomy after China proposed an election system that would undermine their right to vote for the city's highest official. Students and concerned citizens camped outside of government buildings and blocked major thoroughfares for weeks on end wielding umbrellas to protect against police tear gas (leading to the name "Umbrella Revolution"). Eventually the demonstrations lost steam and protestors acquiesced to government demands to evacuate the streets. Many feared that the end of the protests meant a win for China and a blow to democracy in Hong Kong.
However early Thursday, Hong Kong's legislature voted down the Chinese proposal that instigated the massive demonstrations. Pro-democracy supporters are calling it a major legislative victory. In order to understand why, we have to back up a bit.
Hong Kong becomes part of China...sort of: In 1997, the United Kingdom handed over control of Hong Kong to China. Under an agreement known as "one country, two systems," however, China promised that Hong Kong would maintain political autonomy and many civil liberties that are not afforded to mainland Chinese (Vox does a good job laying out this confusing transition). One right citizens of Hong Kong did not get was the ability to directly vote for the city's executive chancellor. Instead, a mostly pro-Beijing 1,200-member election committee has chosen the leader through simple majority every 5 years. In 2007, though, China told Hong Kong it would be allowed to elect its leader by popular vote in 2017.
Fall 2014, protests begin: But then, in August of 2014, the Chinese Communist Party released a proposed election plan outlining their version of a popular vote. In it, a special committee controlled by the Chinese Communist Party would choose up to three candidates for whom Hong Kong's 5 million eligible voters could cast a ballot. Hong Kong's current chief executive, Leung Chun-Ying, supported the proposal but thousands of Hong Kong citizens viewed this system as a "sham democracy" that would allow China to continue exercising control over Hong Kong. They took to the streets flooding the area surrounding Hong's Kong's government buildings for weeks before finally going home.
Okay, so what just happened: Hong Kong's Legislative Council voted today on whether or not it would enact the the election system proposed by China. It was struck down with only 8 lawmakers out of 70 voting for the proposal, a big hit to the Chinese Communist Party and victory for the pro-democracy camp.
What's next: Pro-democracy activists are praising the legislature's move, but also point out there is a long way to go before real democracy is achieved. Because China's election plan was voted down, the current system will stay in place until at least 2022. Some believe a more productive short-term approach to reforming Hong Kong's election system would be pushing the current election committee to better represent the people of Hong Kong instead of Chinese interests.
On Thursday, President Obama spoke about the mass shooting that killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
"Any death of this sort is a tragedy," Obama said in the televised address. "Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship. Emmanuel is more than church. It is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshippers worked to end slavery."
He then addressed the problems of gun violence and urged Americans to take action.
"Let's be clear—this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," he said. "It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. It is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. At some point it is going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it and shift how we deal with gun violence collectively."
This time last year, Obama called the nation's political failure to act on guns the "biggest frustration" of his presidency.
Shortly before the president's press conference on Thursday, the suspected gunman behind the attack, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina.
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the right of the state of Texas to reject a specialty license plate featuring a Confederate flag. The case featured an unusual alliance in which Justice Clarence Thomas, known for his rigid ideological conservatism, teamed up with the court's four liberal justices in a 5-4 majority.
The central issue in this case was whether a message displayed on a license plate is personal speech or government speech.
A Texas board had denied a request by the state chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for a license plate that displayed the group's name, founding date, and the Confederate flag. The state of Texas argued that license plates are government speech, so the state has the right to censor it. The Sons of Confederate Veterans claimed the plates are private speech, and that the government's decision not to approve its license plate request was discrimination based on viewpoint and a violation of its free-speech rights.
While the government can't engage in viewpoint discrimination of private speech, "[w]hen government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says," Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion states. "Texas license plates are, essentially, government IDs. And issuers of ID 'typically do not permit' the placement on their IDs of 'message[s] with which they do not wish to be associated.'"
The four dissenting justices argued that the majority "passes off private speech as government speech and, in doing so, establishes a precedent that threatens private speech that government finds displeasing."
Although Texas is now free to deny the Sons of Confederate Veterans a license plate with a Confederate flag, some state governments still embrace the controversial Civil War symbol. In South Carolina, where a shooting Wednesday night in a historic black church left nine people dead, the Confederate flag still flies on state capitol grounds.
Pro-flag demonstrators at the South Carolina Capitol after the flag was removed from the dome in 2000.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will almost certainly order flags across the state to be flown at half-mast this week in honor of the black parishioners murdered Wednesday night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. But one flag will continue to fly as it always has—the Confederate flag in front of the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia. In a photo posted by the New York Times, the alleged gunman, Dylann Storm Roof, is seen posing in front of a car with a license plate bearing several iterations of the flag. (In an odd twist, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas could refuse to offer specialty Confederate flag license plates that had been requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.)
The flag, a symbol of the struggle by a white minority engaged in an armed insurrection to preserve its right to violently enslave the black majority, has long been a divisive issue in the state, and criticism of its continued display flared up again after Wednesday's shooting. It was removed from the Capitol dome after massive protests in 2000, and as part of a compromise, relocated to the Confederate memorial. But the flag's origins in Columbia are a remnant of segregation, not the Civil War—it was first flown over the Capitol in 1962 in response to the civil rights push from Washington.
Despite the most recent incident of racial violence, don't expect the flag to come down any time soon. When Republican Gov. Nikki Haley was asked about it at a debate during her 2014 re-election campaign, she argued that it was a non-issue:
What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag...We really kinda fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor, when we appointed the first African American US senator. That sent a huge message.
Given that less than 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOS are black (compared with 28 percent of South Carolinians), they may not be the best focus group.