3 Inmates in Oklahoma are challenging the use of certain drugs in executions+ READ ARTICLE
A new Supreme Court case could mean a change in the chemicals that prisons use for lethal injections. Watch #TheBrief to find out more.
A new Supreme Court case could mean a change in the chemicals that prisons use for lethal injections. Watch #TheBrief to find out more.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday delayed the execution of three Oklahoma death row inmates who are part of a case that could decide the future of lethal injections nationwide.
The court’s order prevents Oklahoma from using the sedative midazolam to execute Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, who are challenging the state’s current lethal injection protocol. The trio claims that the use of midazolam, which has been criticized by some anesthesiologists as not properly inducing unconsciousness, violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Glossip, who was convicted of having his boss murdered, was set to be executed Thursday. Grant, who was convicted of stabbing a co-worker to death, was scheduled to be executed in February. And Cole, handed a death sentence for killing his 9-month-old daughter, was initially set to be executed in March.
Because the Supreme Court’s order specifically prevents Oklahoma from executing the men with midazolam, it’s possible but unlikely that the state will try to use a different drug to carry out their death sentence before the court rules in their case.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case last week, making it the first time the court will consider whether a specific method of capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment since Baze v. Rees in 2008. That decision upheld Kentucky’s three-drug lethal injection protocol. Since then, drug shortages have forced states to use different drugs, including midazolam.
All eyes have been on Oklahoma’s execution protocol since last April, when the lethal injection of a convicted killer went awry. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by the end of June.
What happened to Jane Roe was, at the time, nothing special.
She wanted an abortion and couldn’t get one. So, like many others, she had a child and gave him up for adoption. But then she did something that was unusual: she sued. The case that bears her name, Roe v. Wade, was decided on this day, Jan. 22, in 1973. As TIME reported in the Feb. 5 issue of that year, under the headline “A Stunning Approval for Abortion”:
Soon after her illegitimate son was born two years ago, “Jane Roe,” a divorced Dallas bar waitress, put him up for adoption. At almost the same time, “Mary Doe,” an Atlanta housewife, bore a child who was also promptly adopted. Both women had asked for abortions and, like thousands of others, they had been turned down. Unlike most of the others, though, Roe and Doe went to court to attack the state statutes that frustrated them. The resulting legal fights took too long for either woman to get any practical benefit. But last week they had the satisfaction of hearing the Supreme Court read their pseudonyms into the annals of constitutional law. By a surprising majority of 7 to 2, the court ruled that Roe and Doe had won one of the nation’s most fiercely fought legal battles. Thanks to the Texas waitress and the poverty-stricken Georgia housewife, every woman in the U.S. now has the same right to an abortion during the first six months of pregnancy as she has to any other minor surgery.
The ruling, the story continued, was “bold and uncompromising.” Even states that already had few restrictions on abortion would have to make their laws more lax (by, for example, eliminating residency requirements). From that point, abortion during the first trimester would be off-limits to government intervention; after that, the state could make certain regulations but, until the fetus became viable, could not prevent the procedure from happening.
The reasoning, as described in an opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun, was traced to the right of privacy, which he held had become part of the liberty protected by the 14th Amendment. A fetus, Blackmun continued, was not a person and thus has no rights that can run counter to the right to privacy. Further, he took into consideration that many of the U.S. statutes restricting abortion had been written when the procedure was much more dangerous to undertake. The opinion was careful to say that states and doctors were under no obligation to perform abortions, but rather that they not make it illegal for those who would otherwise perform the procedures to do so.
But, even from the first, it was clear that Blackmun’s surety was not echoed nationwide.
Not only did two of his fellow justices disagree, but anti-abortion advocates nationwide also spoke up with their unhappiness about the decision. Protests and angry statements were quick to come, and one group even urged excommunication of Justice Brennan, the court’s resident Catholic. Others lobbied for a constitutional amendment that would force the decision into obsolescence. “No one can predict how successful such an effort would be, but obviously the abortion decision, like those on school prayer, desegregation and criminal rights, has once again brought the court under heated criticism,” TIME commented, noting that a poll taken right before the decision revealed that eliminating first-trimester restrictions was favored among Americans by only a single percentage point more than the opposition. “Such a close division of sentiment can only ensure that while the matter has been settled legally,” the piece continued, “it remains a lightning rod for intense national debate.”
Read the full 1973 story here in the TIME Vault: A Stunning Approval for Abortion
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to be divided on Tuesday over whether elected judges should be allowed to directly solicit campaign contributions in the latest campaign finance case to come before the high court.
Central to the case, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, is the question of whether Florida’s ban on judicial candidates from personally soliciting contributions is a lawful infringement on their free speech rights. If the court strikes down the ban, the decision could upend similar limits in 29 other states.
Proponents of the ban argue it protects the judiciary against quid pro quo exchanges between judges and the lawyers and litigants who donate to their campaigns, then appear before them in court.
Critics suggest that in the 39 states that elect judges, judicial candidates should be given the same free speech protections as candidates for legislative and executive offices where such personal pleas for assistance are standard.
The case stems from the 2009 campaign of Lanell Williams-Yulee, who signed a mass-mailed letter asking for contributions as she sought a county court judgeship. The Florida Supreme Court disciplined her with a reprimand and fine after The Florida Bar argued that her letter violated the state judiciary’s personal solicitation ban.
A majority of the justices seemed to agree that personal solicitations from judges and judicial candidates had a greater impact than financial requests from a separate campaign committee — an argument that may favor limiting what judges can do.
“When the judge says, ‘Can you please [give money to my campaign]?’ the answer is yes,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. “And if it’s the campaign manager, perhaps the answer is ‘no.’”
Representing Williams-Yulee, Andrew Pincus argued Florida’s ban amounted to hairsplitting. Thank-you notes from judges to donors, for example, are permissible.
“Once Florida says thank-you notes are okay, it can’t ban solicitations,” said Pincus.
However Breyer appeared to disagree. Writing a thank-you note, Breyer said, did not “put pressure” on an individual to the same degree as the initial ask for funding.
Pincus argued that Florida’s $1,000 contribution limit to candidates is an adequate protection against the type of corruption that could result from a judge directly asking a donor for money.
On the other side, Barry Richard, arguing for The Florida Bar, said that the Florida ban provides a vital block to the “direct link that threatens quid pro quo corruption,” coercion and judicial impartiality.
Richard said the law did not significantly impede judicial candidates’ First Amendment rights. The only speech restriction judicial candidates face, Richard said, was that the law says: “You can’t say to me, ‘Give me money.’”
Justices Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared sympathetic to the state’s efforts to insulate judicial candidates from the influence-peddling faced by candidates for legislative and executive offices.
Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Antonin Scalia appeared sympathetic to the First Amendment arguments presented on behalf of Williams-Yulee. Justice Clarence Thomas, a member of the court’s more conservative-leaning bloc, did not ask any questions during oral arguments.
Roberts said that The Florida Bar was “under a great burden” to make its case without compromising the First Amendment.
Scalia also suggested that if lawyers were among the largest donors to judicial candidates that didn’t necessarily show corruption. Lawyers’ tendency to give in judicial races could show that “lawyers care more about electing good judges than the average citizen.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could become the swing vote, also appeared to support that side.
Though at one point in the proceedings, Kennedy challenged Pincus for conceding to Ginsburg that a rule banning face-to-face solicitations — a more specific prohibition than the Florida code in question — would be valid under the First Amendment.
“It seems to me when you make the initial concession, you have a real problem in determining how to make this not over- or under-inclusive.”
A decision is not expected until spring at the earliest.
Michael Beckel contributed to this story.
The wording in the Constitution is simple and straightforward: the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.” There’s nothing in there about the Supreme Court justices and, accordingly, there’s nothing simple and straightforward about their attendance.
This year, six justices were in attendance, while three of the most conservative members of the court, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, were noticeably absent. In the modern era, custom has held that the justices would show up in their official robes and sit impassively. But in recent years, they’ve become more resistant to the tradition.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s absence is no surprise. It was the 19th State of the Union in a row that he’s skipped since he considers the speech a “childish spectacle.”
Justice Clarence Thomas’s empty seat was also unsurprising. In 2012, Thomas said he doesn’t attend the annual event because “it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there.”
Thomas’s remark gets to the heart of why the State of the Union has become a painful event for the justices: the address has become a “political pep rally,” according to Chief Justice John Roberts (who still attends nonetheless), as the justices are forced to sit calmly while the President and members of government around them cheer and crow about the politics of the moment.
For years, attendance among the justices has been declining: From 1965 through 1980, the attendance rate was 84 percent. Over the next two decades, the number dropped to 53 percent. Since 2000, the rate has fallen to 32 percent, according to a study by Todd Peppers of Roanoke College and Michael Giles of Emory University.
This tension between the speech and the highest court in the land came to a head in 2010, when President Obama directly criticized a conservative Supreme Court decision.
“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections,” he said of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which allowed corporations to donate to political candidates. Justice Samuel Alito then shook his head and whispered, “not true.”
This was a clear breaking point in the years of simmering discontent between the justices and the annual speech. After the 2010 State of the Union, Alito said the speeches have become too awkward and that the justices have to sit there “like the proverbial potted plant”and he hasn’t been to a State of the Union since.
Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal, is the only justice that attends every year (in fact, three times in recent history he has been the only justice in attendance), but his defense was hardly inspiring: “People attend if they wish to attend. I do wish to attend, so I go,” he said in 2005.
Tonight there probably won’t be any public controversy between between the President and the justices in the vein of 2010’s “not true.” But the grim faces of the six in attendance speak volumes.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could undo state laws around the country that limit judicial candidates from asking potential donors for campaign contributions.
The Florida case, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, stems from a 6-year-old ethics violation in a county court race that predated the high court’s 2010 Citizen’s United decision, which, along with a handful of other rulings, have upended many traditional limits on money in politics.
Unlike federal judges, who are appointed to lifetime tenure by the president, voters in Florida and 38 other states elect judges. Thirty of those states limit judicial candidates’ ability to personally raise money for their campaigns. Instead, “the ask” must come from a separate campaign committee, a system designed to insulate judges from bias toward the lawyers and litigants who donate — or choose not to — and then come before them in court.
At the heart of the case is the 2009 campaign of Lanell Williams-Yulee, who signed a mass-mailed letter asking for contributions as she sought a Hillsborough County trial court judgeship. The Florida Supreme Court disciplined her with a public reprimand and a $1,860 fine after The Florida Bar argued that her letter violated the state judiciary’s personal solicitation ban. Now, Williams-Yulee brings the case to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue the ban infringed on her free speech.
If the court rules in favor of Williams-Yulee, her disciplinary record with The Florida Bar will be wiped clean, according to her attorney Ernest Myers. Yet the court’s decision may be more far-reaching: if it finds the Florida ban unconstitutional, Myers said, the bans in states with similar rules will likely be invalidated.
“It’s a blanket prohibition on speech, including some speech which is fairly innocuous and probably doesn’t rise to the level of the concerns that were the reasons it was put in place to begin with,” Myers said.
Proponents of the ban fear such a ruling could mean judicial candidates in Florida and 29 other states may find themselves directly asking the lawyers and corporate executives who appear before them in court for cash ahead of each election cycle.
Williams-Yulee’s fundraising letter failed to yield any contributions. She also lost the election, and never sat on the bench, making the case an imperfect test of whether asking for campaign contributions threatens a judge’s impartiality.
So, why did the court even take the case?
Six lower federal circuit courts and four state courts are split on the constitutionality of such bans. Williams-Yulee’s opponent, The Florida Bar, even urged the court to accept the case and resolve this clash.
The high court’s recent campaign finance decisions suggest that Williams-Yulee could win inside the marble-columned, frescoed walls of One First Street, making it even easier for judicial candidates around the country to pad their campaign coffers.
Judicial elections — once sleepy contests removed from the blood sport of politicking — have become multi-million dollar contests in recent election cycles.
State supreme court candidates attracted at least $18 million in contributions during the 2014 election cycle, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of available state data collected by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Candidates for state high courts spent at least $5.2 million on television ads, with Michigan candidate Richard Bernstein spending an estimated $1.3 million for his successful election campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
The Florida rule in question only narrowly limits candidates’ speech, according to Matthew Menendez, a lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank that filed a brief supporting the ban. Judicial candidates may still discuss their credentials and legal philosophy and send thank-you notes to donors, he said.
“The only thing a judge can’t say is ‘Please give me money,’” Menendez said.
But in a friend-of-the-court brief, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote that “campaign speech by candidates for judicial office, like campaign speech by candidates for other offices, is entitled to the highest degree of First Amendment protection.”
Such a view was underscored by Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in the 2002 ruling on The Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, which allowed judicial candidates to publicly share their opinions on controversial legal and political matters.
Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely be the swing vote in this case, said Tracey George, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School who studies the effect of campaign contributions on judicial decision-making. Though the court’s decision is likely months away, she predicts Kennedy will join the four conservative justices — Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito — to find the Florida code unconstitutional.
Such a ruling would be an additional incremental push by the court’s majority toward campaign finance deregulation, George said. The decisions in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC cases both expanded freedoms for donors to give to candidates, parties and outside groups in elections.
Ed Whelan, a former clerk to Justice Scalia and director of the conservative Ethics & Public Policy Center, said it’s possible that the court could leave the First Amendment question unresolved yet decide that Williams-Yulee did not actually violate Florida’s ban. The mass mailing was a decidedly impersonal solicitation and did not yield contributions, let alone the quid pro quo exchanges that judicial campaign donations may invite.
It’s also possible the court could dismiss the case entirely, Whelan said. However, he noted, the court takes on cases “to resolve these grander issues, not to engage in error correction.”
The Supreme Court announced Friday that it would review an appeals court case upholding bans on same-sex marriage in four states.
The Court will consider four cases that have been consolidated and will be heard together, from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. In each case, families and individuals are challenging the gay marriage bans in their respective states. These are their stories:
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse: DeBoer and Rowse’s lawsuit against the state of Michigan was inspired by a close call on a snowy Ohio road that could have been a fatal car accident. That’s when they realized that if anything ever happened to one of them, their children would be split up and sent to live with distant relatives. Even though the Detroit-area nurses have adopted four special-needs kids together (ages 2-5,) they’re not legally a family. DeBoer and Rowse each have legal custody of two of their brood, but they can’t adopt together because Michigan doesn’t allow unmarried couples to adopt, and they can’t marry because same-sex marriage is illegal in that state. They filed their lawsuit in 2012.
Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon: Bourke and DeLeon have been together for more than 30 years and have two adopted teenagers together. Even though they married in Canada in 2004 and their marriage was recognized by the federal government in the 2013 DOMA decision, Kentucky still doesn’t recognize them as a married couple, which means that only one of them can be the official parent of their children. The couple filed their lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Kentucky’s gay marriage ban in 2013. “There’s no reason why we should be second-class citizens,” De Leon said in an interview. “We should be at the table with everybody else.”
Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty: Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty have made history even before their case was selected to be heard before the Supreme Court. Their daughter, Emilia Maria Jesty, was the first baby born in Tennessee to have a woman listed as her “father” on her birth certificate. Tanco and Jesty were legally married in New York, but then moved to Tennessee, which does not recognize gay marriage. Both Tanco and Jesty are veterinary professors at the University of Tennessee, and they filed a lawsuit in 2013 to ask that the state recognize their marriage. “It affects my rights because I actually don’t have any legal rights as her parent at this time and that’s why we’ve been fighting so hard, so many families, like ours, can have the legal acknowledgement of their real relationships,” Jesty said.
James Obergefell: While the other three cases were inspired by the birth and adoption of children, James Obergefell and John Arthur’s lawsuit was inspired by death. Arthur suffered from ALS, so when the Supreme Court overturned DOMA the couple chartered a private medical jet to go to Maryland to get married after more than 20 years together. When they returned to Ohio, they filed a lawsuit to get their marriage recognized so that the couple could be buried together, in a family plot of a cemetery that allows only spouses and relatives. A judge ruled that Arthur, who died in Oct. 2013, could be listed as “married” on his death certificate. But Ohio appealed that ruling, and if the appeal stands, Arthur’s death certificate will be amended to remove his marriage to Obergefell.
The fight for same-sex marriage rights in the United States has reached its final round. On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments on whether state laws that ban these unions violate the constitution.
There’s not much question which way the decision will go: same-sex couples are going to prevail. The logic is plain:
In 2013, the court—the very same nine justices—struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The plaintiff was a lesbian spouse whose marriage was recognized under New York law. The court ruled that the Constitution bars the federal government from treating traditional marriages differently from same-sex marriages in states that legalize both.
Now the court will apply the same reasoning to state laws. Does the constitution allow states to discriminate when Congress cannot? Can the 14 states that still ban same-sex unions refuse to recognize marriages lawfully performed in other states?
In other words: suppose that two couples lawfully married in, say, Utah both move to Ohio. Can the authorities in Ohio refuse to recognize one of the marriages—the two-husband marriage—while recognizing the union of husband and wife?
Justice Anthony Kennedy, the deciding vote on same-sex marriage in 2013, left no doubt about his thinking in his majority opinion: “No legitimate purpose” exists to justify a law “to disparage and injure” same-sex couples. And that’s what these laws do, he concluded. DOMA “instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”
Lower federal courts pretty clearly agree on this point. Even some of the most conservative courts of appeal have ruled that state laws against same-sex marriage are in conflict with the 2013 ruling. Earlier this term, the Supreme Court declined to take up the issue, for the simple reason that the lower court judges were all arriving at the same decision. Where there was no dispute, the high court saw no need to step in.
But last fall, a panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals—with jurisdiction over Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee—upheld state laws against same-sex marriages. With lower courts now in conflict, the Supremes have a role to play.
Given Kennedy’s long history as a defender of the dignity and rights of homosexuals, it defies belief to think that he has been sitting in Washington, watching couples in one state after another gain the freedom to wed, if he doesn’t in fact believe that freedom exists. For the Court to uphold the 6th Circuit opinion, Kennedy would have to join the court’s conservatives in a ruling that would potentially invalidate thousands of marriages across the country.
Polls now show that a majority of Americans believe in the right to marry. The shift of public and judicial opinion on this issue in a single generation has been startling. But it is less controversial with each passing day.
Now the issue will be resolved once and for all.
The Supreme Court has yet to review any same-sex marriage cases this term, but that will soon change. The nation’s highest court announced Friday that it will review an appeals court decision upholding bans on gay marriage in four states.
That puts the next phase of the fight over gay marriage squarely in the court’s crosshairs, but it doesn’t mean the issue will be settled once and for all. Here are the broad outlines of two possible outcomes.
The Court Rules Definitively on Gay Marriage
Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, but what happens in the remaining states will depend on how the court rules. Given the momentum surrounding the issue of it’s hard for many analysts to see the session ending without the justices affirming that gay couples have the right to marry. If they do, it would play right into the strategy of Freedom to Marry, the national campaign for marriage equality, which has been working to build pressure around the issue so the Court feels obligated to act.
“It is clear that America is ready for the freedom to marry,” Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry said in a statement to TIME. “Every day that marriage is denied is a day of injury, indignity and injustice…it is urgent that the Court affirm the freedom to marry and equality under the law nationwide without further delay and without leaving any family or state out.”
The Supreme Court’s review could mean gay marriage expands to all states by the summer. But if the court finds no constitutional right, it would mean that states do not have to honor same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The Court Punts on the Issue
Just because the Supreme Court has decided to take up the gay marriage case, it does not automatically follow that they will make a definitive ruling. The court could choose to overturn the bans without finding that there is a constitutional right to gay marriage. Alternately, it could uphold the bans without necessarily finding that there is not a constitutional right to gay marriage.
As an example of how that might play out, consider the court’s decision in the 2013 case overturning a ballot initiative banning gay marriage in California. After agreeing to hear an appeal on the case, the court simply decided that the lower courts were wrong about whether the plaintiffs had standing to pursue a case. The decision did not take a stance on gay marriage itself.
Even though the court has decided to revisit the issue this term, the justices have a number of ways that they can rule on the case without deciding whether there is a right to gay marriage. That would leave the issue to be fought out at the state level and in lower federal courts, continuing the piecemeal fight.
Let’s face it: 2014 was no 2008. As far as politics goes, this year won’t go down in American history as one of the more notable ones.
But sometimes it’s the things that didn’t happen that are more interesting. And some very big things didn’t happen this year, even though pundits and commentators once thought they might.
Here’s a look at the seven biggest things that didn’t happen in Washington in 2014.
The House never passed an immigration reform bill.
What might have happened: In June of 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. The House could have voted on that bill or passed its own version.
Who thought it would happen: Some Republicans. Many party leaders thought Republicans needed to put the immigration issue behind them in order to win the White House in 2016.
Why it didn’t happen: House Republicans sat the issue out. Speaker John Boehner never brought the Senate bill to the House floor or offered an alternative.
Could it happen next year? Not likely. When President Obama deferred deportation for millions on his own in November, Boehner argued that he had poisoned the well.
There was no big Supreme Court nomination fight.
What might have happened: With four justices born in the 1930s, one could have retired, following in the footsteps of former Justices David Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens.
Who thought it would happen: Some liberal court-watchers suggested that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 81, should step down to ensure a Democratic-appointed successor.
Why it didn’t happen: They weren’t interested. For her part, Ginsburg noted that she’s still capable of doing the work and she seems to be having the time of her life.
Could it happen next year? Unlikely. The combination of a Democratic president and a Republican Senate would give both liberal and conservative justices pause.
Republicans never settled on an alternative to Obamacare.
What might have happened: Republicans in Congress could have gotten serious about the “replace” in “repeal and replace” and introduced an official alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
Who thought it would happen: Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In January, he said the party would “rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House.”
Why it didn’t happen: Election-year politics. An official Republican alternative would have been a sitting target for Democratic candidates.
Could it happen next year? Not likely. Republicans may now control all of Congress, but as long as they can’t get their plan past the president’s desk, there’s little incentive to produce one.
Congress didn’t debate tax reform.
What might have happened: The House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp’s tax reform plan, unveiled in February, could have sparked a serious effort to reform the tax code.
Who thought it would happen: Camp. He argued that Congress has an “obligation to debate the big issues of the day.” His plan was also praised by Rep. Paul Ryan, who called it a “terrific first step.”
Why it didn’t happen: Election-year politics. Passing tax reform would mean picking fights with a number of special interests and handing the president a win.
Could it happen next year? Probably not. Political observers now think the tax reform debate probably won’t begin in earnest until at least 2017.
The government didn’t shut down.
What might have happened: Conservatives angry over President Obama’s immigration and liberals angry over the repeal of some Wall Street oversight could have shut the government down.
Who thought it would happen: After last year’s bruising shutdown, no one thought it would happen again, but Congress came pretty close in December.
Why it didn’t happen: Both sides punted. The trillion-dollar spending bill passed earlier this month funded the government through September, but it left open a fight over immigration funding.
Could it happen next year? It’s unlikely. Even if conservatives pick a fight over immigration next year, it would only affect one federal agency, Homeland Security.
Obama didn’t become a powerless lame duck.
What might have happened: President Obama could have coasted into the final, lame-duck years of his presidency, wary of taking risks that might hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Who thought it would happen: Some commentators and pundits already said that it had, slamming him for being passive and uninspiring.
Why it didn’t happen: Obama got energized. After Democrats lost the midterms, Obama took bold steps on immigration and reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Could it happen next year? Certainly. There’s only so much the president can do on his own, so at some point he’ll be stuck either vetoing or approving Republican plans.
Congress didn’t find an intelligence failure on Benghazi.
What might have happened: The House Intelligence Committee could have unveiled dramatic, damning findings after a two-year investigation into the Benghazi attacks in Libya.
Who thought it would happen: Republicans. Despite multiple investigations into the attacks, many conservatives have been certain they’ll find a smoking gun.
Why it didn’t happen: The House committee didn’t find anything. The report, which was pushed out quietly on a Friday, found “no intelligence failure prior to the attacks.”
Could it happen next year? Unlikely. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Benghazi Committee, has promised more hearings, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll find anything new.