Monthly Archives: February 2011

Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago

Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff, form...

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Tuesday, Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago. Emanuel, a former congressman, had previously worked for President Obama as Chief of Staff until he left Washington, D.C. to run in the mayoral race.

Today marks a new day for Chicago, a city that has been led by one man, Richard M. Daley, for twenty-two years.

Via The New York Times.

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The Times They Are a-Changin': Government Drops DOMA Defense

Seal of the United States Department of Justice

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The Obama administration announced today that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Eric Holder said President Obama made the decision. He added that the congressional debate during passage of DOMA “contains numerous expressions reflecting  moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships – precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the [Constitution's] Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.”

In fact, Holder said, the law fails to meet “a heightened standard of scrutiny” and is therefore “unconstitutional.”

“Much of the legal landscape has changed in the fifteen years since Congress passed” DOMA, Holder said. The Supreme Court ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional and Congress repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Via Towleroad and  Washington Post.

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Republicans To Support Solar Energy, Withdrawal of Troops from Afghanistan (Just Kidding)

John Boehner

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Last month, Speaker of the House John Boehner told the new Congress, “The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin to carry out their instructions.”

Well, Mr. Speaker, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll, here are some of the people’s instructions:

  • Pass an energy bill that provides incentives for using solar and other alternative energy sources (83% of those polled were in favor)
  • Overhaul the federal tax code (76% of those polled were in favor)
  • Withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan (72% of those polled were in favor)

When can we expect you to begin?

Via Grist.

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On This Day…

Twenty-five years ago, The Legend of Zelda was first released.

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Voir Dire by Search Engine

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One of my favorite parts of a trial is voir dire. Okay, so I’ve never actually done voir dire; I’ve just done it in law school for mock trials. But, still, voir dire is fun, and it’s about to get a lot more interesting.

Voir dire is the process of picking a jury. Lawyers want to pick people out of the jury pool who will be sympathetic to their side. To do this, each lawyer gets to ask the potential jurors questions to figure out where their sympathies might lie. Then the lawyers get to exclude certain people from the jury.

Now that we have social networking sites, though, answers to some of the lawyers’ questions can be found online. Lawyers are conducting online searches and compiling the information they find about potential jurors into large databases. Some of this searching is happening in courtrooms, as lawyers and jury consultants check laptops and smartphones for insight into their jury pool.

Internet research is directly affecting lawyers’ decisions whether to keep potential jurors. For example, in a case with a black defendant, a defense attorney would be more likely to keep a white juror who had photos on Facebook with black friends. A juror who cites “Erin Brockovich” as a favorite movie will probably be likely to sympathize with people suing corporations and therefore might be favorable to the plaintiff. On the other hand, people whose profiles link to those of conservative politicians are more likely to be sympathetic to corporations.

There are concerns that this online vetting may be unfair. Lawyers are not allowed to ask jurors certain questions such as their political affiliations, and searching online for them may be a way for the lawyers to get around this rule. Because there are no rules yet regarding online juror vetting, lawyers usually try to hide their activity.

However, one appellate court has stated that a lawyer using online research has no disadvantage over his opponent: it’s a level playing field, the court stated, because both sides can go online to conduct voir dire, even if they choose not to.

Via Westlaw News.

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Former Khmer Rouge Leaders Request Release


A sign from the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by Lindsay.

Top Khmer Rouge officials Nuon Chea, Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary, and Khieu Samphan have requested the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to  release them from pre-trial detention.

They face charges of genocide for their roles in the deaths of two million Cambodians.

The four defendants have been held in pre-trial detention since 2007.

The appeals will likely be unsuccessful, and the four former Khmer Rouge officials will spend several more months in detention before their trials begin. The date for their trial has not yet been set, but it is scheduled to begin later this year.

The ECCC was established in 2006 and has so far tried one person, Duch. The former S-21 prison chief was found guilty in July of crimes against humanity.

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Illegal Logging Threatens Indigenous Tribe

Survival International, an indigenous rights organization, has released photographs of a tribe it says is threatened by illegal logging. One photo shows five tribe members standing in front of a hut and looking up at the camera.

The Brazilian tribe is likely to get into conflict with Peruvian tribes who are fleeing their land because of logging. Several nongovernmental organizations have urged Peru for years to stop the logging.

Via Impunity Watch.

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Real Life Lois Lane Dies

Joanne Siegal, the model for Superman’s love Lois Lane, passed away Monday at age 93.

Siegel used to delight in telling the story of meeting the Superman co-creators when she was a teenager in Depression era Cleveland, Ohio. She placed an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer offering to model. Joe Shuster answered her ad, and she became the model for Lois Lane.

Siegel also found her own Superman: Jerry Siegel, who created the Superman character with Shuster. Jerry and Joanne Siegel married in 1948.

Via The Plain Dealer.


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Drug Combinations Have Fatal Effects on Troops

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

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This weekend, the New York Times reported a tragic problem with drugs many troops have when they return from service.

Over 300,000 troops have returned from Afghanistan or Iraq with depression, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or a combination of those afflictions. The Pentagon has largely treated these problems with prescription drugs. An Army report released last year stated that one-third of the force was on at least one prescription medication.

Use of psychiatric and narcotic drugs is being linked to a number of other problems, including accidents, drug dependency, and suicide. Accidents involving fatal mixtures of prescriptions are increasingly common. Over 100 soldiers died from mixing prescriptions between 2006 and 2009. All of these deaths were ruled accidents, not suicides.

The dangers of overmedicated troops has prompted the Department of Defense to better monitor and restrict prescription medications. The Army and Navy are also offering a broader spectrum of non-drug treatments such as acupuncture, therapy, and yoga. However, shortages of mental health professionals has hampered their efforts of providing adequate therapy.

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Justice Thomas’ 5 Years of Silence from the Bench

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One week from Tuesday, it will have been five years since Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken during a Supreme Court argument. His last question from the bench was February 22, 2006.

As the New York Times reports, no other Justice has gone a single term without speaking once during oral arguments. Justice Thomas has remained silent for five terms.

Justice Thomas has given several reasons for his silence. Frankly, they’re all unsatisfactory.

He has said that he is self-conscious about the dialect with which he speaks. He has complained about the difficulty he has getting a word in edgewise, as the current court is the most talkative bench to date. He has said he finds the courtroom distressing. (Isn’t he in the wrong profession, then?) He has also said he remains silent out of courtesy: “If I invite you to argue your case, I should at least listen to you,” he once said.

Still, since his job is to listen, understand the litigants’ points as well as possible, and analyze their answers to his questions, wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask those questions? Keep in mind that when he hears a case, he has already read both lawyers’ briefs. If the Justices do not ask lawyers questions during oral argument, the litigants will merely repeat the arguments in their briefs aloud.

Of course, I don’t want to give the impression that Justice Thomas never speaks from the bench. He does, when it’s his turn to read majority opinions. He reads from a prepared statement, and he takes no pains to explain the legalese to the courtroom, as his colleagues do.

Justice Thomas does, however, often address in his opinions and dissents issues that did not arise during oral argument. If these are the issues he finds important, he should raise them during oral argument!

I know I’m not alone in my opinion that Justice Thomas is a waste of a Supreme Court seat. I just wish he would acknowledge his apathy for his profession and resign. I’m sure he can get by on his wife’s lobbying salary, right?

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