TIME Courts

Supreme Court Ruling Won’t Stop Search for Execution Drugs

Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014 file photo
Sue Ogrocki—AP The death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., shown on Oct. 9, 2014. The Supreme Court upheld the state's lethal injection protocol on June 29, 2015

States still have problems with controversial sedative

The search for more-effective lethal-injection drugs and execution methods won’t end following the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday upholding Oklahoma’s use of a controversial sedative, legal experts and death-penalty opponents say.

In a narrow 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, finding that a group of three Oklahoma death-row inmates failed to prove that the sedative leads to a significant risk of severe pain. The sedative has been a drug of last resort for many states under pressure to carry out lethal injections, and it will likely still carry the stigma of being involved in three executions widely considered botched.

“Right now, if somebody offered something other than midazolam, states would jump on it,” says Richard Dieter, senior program director at the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death-penalty organization. “They will definitely be looking around at other drugs, but the question is whether they’ll find anything.”

For years, states used barbiturates such as sodium thiopental and pentobarbital in lethal injections that would render an inmate unconscious before additional drugs were administered. But a nationwide drug shortage and pressure on overseas pharmaceutical companies supplying states with drugs led to a search for alternatives and combinations that had never been used before. Last year, the prolonged executions of Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Joseph Wood in Arizona all experienced serious problems involving proper sedation following the use of midazolam. Lockett’s execution was at the heart of the Supreme Court case, Glossip v. Gross.

Four states currently use midazolam, which has come under scrutiny from anesthesiologists for not being strong enough to knock out an inmate before other drugs that cause severe pain are injected.

“I think many states will still shy away from it,” Dieter says, referring to the sedative. “Most states don’t want to use it.”

There is some precedent for states tinkering with their protocols even after the Supreme Court upheld specific drug combinations. In 2008, the court ruled in Baze v. Rees that Kentucky’s three-drug protocol at the time was constitutional. But the court’s Justices also wrote that it was possible for a lethal-injection method to be deemed unconstitutional if there were alternatives available that were considered more humane. That pushed states to continue their search for other drugs and methods, something that could happen again following Monday’s ruling.

“Legally, the court has given its stamp of approval,” says Deborah Denno, a Fordham University law professor who studies capital punishment. “But as an ethical issue, there still appears to be problems in using it. All of its problems were discussed in the case. Many states just have to use it out of desperation.”

Following the ruling, Oklahoma announced that it would resume lethal injections, which were put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision. Florida has also lifted its stay of execution.

“I think this ruling will make states feel a little more comfortable moving forward with different drugs and different methods,” says Doug Berman, a law professor at the Ohio State University. “But states will still have their own challenges securing the drug, even though the constitutional issue is out of the way.”

Death-penalty opponents, however, found one thing to applaud on Monday. In a lengthy dissent written by Justice Stephen Breyer and joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Justices called into question the entire death-penalty system and whether it violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Breyer wrote that the delays involved in actually executing death-row inmates along with the arbitrariness of sentences over the past few decades may have led to the practice of capital punishment in the U.S. to be unconstitutional.

Thanks to lawsuits and difficulties states have had obtaining drugs, the U.S. last year executed the fewest inmates in almost two decades. Only 35 death row inmates were executed in 2014, compared with 98 in 1999, and at least one anti-death-penalty group looked to Monday’s decision as a potential harbinger.

“Justice Breyer asked, ‘How long are we going to have this conversation?’ By any measure, we’ve essentially abandoned the death penalty as a society,” says Diann Rust-Tierney, the executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, referring to the few executions that are now carried out in the U.S. “Some are clinging to this practice, but I’m convinced that the public won’t continue to support this.”

TIME Supreme Court

Why Conservatives Are Nervous About Church Tax Breaks

Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Gay Marriage
Mark Wilson—Getty Images People celebrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after the ruling in favor of same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week guaranteeing same-sex marriage in all 50 states was a cause for celebration for many across the country.

But many social conservatives saw the ruling as a threat to religious institutions like churches and schools, whose tax-exempt status as non-profits they believe could be at risk.

Why are conservative groups nervous? In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled that a fundamentalist Christian university in South Carolina that barred interracial marriage and dating, Bob Jones University, could not hold onto its tax-exempt status.

That case came up in an exchange during the same-sex marriage arguments between Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. in April.

Justice Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax-­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?

General Verrilli: You know, ­­I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is –it is going to be an issue.

Many conservatives argue that churches and other religious institutions that hold marriage is between a man and a woman could be subject to scrutiny. They could have their tax-exempt status revoked by the same standard as Bob Jones—for violating a “fundamental national public policy.”

Who’s nervous about it? Some members of Congress, churches, and religious schools. Earlier this month, officials from more than 70 schools sent a letter to congressional leaders warning that a Supreme Court ruling would endanger tax-exempt status for all schools “adhering to traditional religious and moral values.” Among the signatories were Catholic high schools and colleges, evangelical universities and associations of Christian schools.

In anticipation of the ruling, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced a bill that would “clarify and strengthen religious liberty protections.” He told leaders of conservative Christian groups recently that “if the government recognizes a right to same-sex marriage, you could at some point have a move by the government, a move perhaps by the IRS, to remove the tax exempt status of any religiously affiliated educational institution.”

The Home School Legal Defense Association’s chairman and chancellor of the conservative Patrick Henry College, Michael Farris wrote in an op-ed published Friday that the IRS implications won’t stop with colleges: “religious high schools, grade schools and any other religious institution will face the same outcome. And this includes churches,” he wrote.

Are the fears exaggerated? In his majority opinion for the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy assured people of faith that they would still be allowed “to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

Legally, it’s unclear that the Bob Jones decision from 1983 could be applied broadly beyond race. At the time of the case, discrimination based on race was enshrined in federal law and constitutional interpretation. Today, discrimination based on sexual orientation has not been banned by federal law.

Gender discrimination, on the other hand, is prohibited by federal law. Even so, gender-based religious discrimination is often permitted: the government doesn’t force Catholic Churches to ordain women as priests, for example.

TIME Civil Rights

Dunkin’ Donuts Franchise Takes Down Help Wanted Sign Asking for Men Only

Operations Inside A Dunkin Donuts Inc. Restaurant Location
Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg/Getty Images Signage is seen on a cup of coffee at a Dunkin Donuts Inc. restaurant in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2014.

Such a limitation would violate employment law

A Dunkin’ Donuts location in Brooklyn has taken down a help wanted sign that incited outrage for specifying “Male staff only.”

According to neighborhood news outlet Ditmas Park Corner, it all began when an angry 8-year-old saw the sign and insisted her father take a photograph of the discriminatory posting, which violates employment law. Dunkin’ Donuts responded to the complaint in a statement to Ditmas Park Corner:

The franchisee informs us this sign has been taken down, it does not reflect his policies and he has followed up with his employees. Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants are independently owned and operated by individual franchisees who are solely responsible for making their own business decisions, including employment decisions such as hiring practices. Franchisees are required to comply with all applicable state, federal and local laws, including but not limited to those governing hiring and non-discrimination.

Women: You, too, can serve Coolattas this summer in Brooklyn.

[Ditmas Park Corner]

TIME Supreme Court

The Last Holdout Has Now Issued Gay Marriage Licenses

gay marriage Louisiana
Kathleen Flynn — The Times-Picayune /Landov A rally was held in reaction to the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states by the Forum for Equality, the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU in Jackson Square on June 26, 2015.

Louisiana, in which only 42% of residents approve of same-sex marriage, was the last to do so

The last state holding out on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after Friday’s historic Supreme Court ruling has relented.

Louisiana officials issued a marriage license to two men, Michael Robinson, 41, and Earl Benjamin, 39, in New Orleans, who are believed to be the first same-sex couple married in Louisiana, ABC News reported. The two have been together for 14 years.

The state’s attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, released a statement on Friday expressing disappointment in the ruling and stating that he “found nothing in today’s decision that makes the Court’s order effective immediately.” Echoing Caldwell’s sentiments, the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association advised parish and city clerks to wait 25 days, the period of time for states to file an appeal of the decision, before issuing licenses.

Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court John Geggenheimer disagreed. Geggenheimer told ABC News that the office’s attorney, after carefully examining the ruling, found that there was no reason for delay. Benjamin and Robinson then received the license in Jefferson Parish and were married in New Orleans—which is in neighboring Orleans Parish—in front of 40 friends and co-workers during lunchtime.

Although licenses were issued in Texas on Friday, the state’s attorney general Ken Paxton released a statement Sunday saying that county clerks and judges can refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if it opposes their religious beliefs. However, Paxton acknowledged that “any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said Sunday that the state would comply with the decision, which he has argued will erode religious liberty.

Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriages in 2004. Only 42% of Louisiana residents support same-sex marriage, according to a 2015 poll by Louisiana State University, lagging far behind the national average of 57%.

[ABC News]

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Keeps Texas Abortion Clinics Open for Now

Blocks restrictions from going into effect until the court decides whether to hear appeal

The Supreme Court voted Monday to temporarily block several abortion restrictions in Texas until the court decides whether to take the case on appeal.

The Court voted 5-4 to grant an emergency reprieve from the restrictions, which would have forced many Texas abortion clinics to close. Earlier this month, a lower court upheld the two restrictions, which would have required abortion clinics to meet the same building, equipment and staffing standards that surgery hospitals must meet, and required physicians who administer abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. If upheld, the restrictions would force half the abortion clinics in Texas to close, leaving the state with fewer than a dozen clinics. Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the five majority votes, according to SCOTUSblog.

The Fifth Circuit Court previously sided with the Texas legislature, writing that the restrictions “protect the health and welfare of women seeking abortions,” and adding that “there is no question that this is a legitimate purpose that supports regulating physicians and the facilities in which they perform abortions.” Major medical groups like the American Medical Association say that the restrictions “impede, rather than serve, public health objectives,” and reproductive rights advocates say they’re expressly designed to restrict access to abortion.

“We are grateful the Supreme Court has stepped in to protect women’s access to safe, legal abortion, for now. Restricting or banning abortion blocks women from getting safe medical care,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “This dangerous law never should have passed in the first place — which is why we need to elect leaders who will champion women’s health and rights.”

The Supreme Court decision does not strike down the restrictions—it merely prevents them from going into effect until the Court decides whether or not to hear an appeal from the clinics. If the law stays as it is, the abortion regulations in Texas will be among the most restrictive in the country.

The Court is also hearing a similar case from Mississippi, involving the requirement that doctors get admitting privileges at a local hospital. If the Court upholds that restriction, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi may be forced to close. The Court may issue a decision on that case as early as Tuesday.

TIME technology

Federal Agency Announces Temporary Shutdown of Hacked Database

Katherine Archuleta
Susan Walsh — AP Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Katherine Archuleta testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The federal personnel agency whose records were plundered by hackers linked to China says it has temporarily shut down a massive database used to update and store background investigation records.

Hackers linked to China are believed to have stolen records for as many as 18 million current and former employees

(WASHINGTON) — The federal personnel agency whose records were plundered by hackers linked to China announced on Monday the temporary shutdown of a massive database used to update and store background investigation records after newly discovering a flaw that left the system vulnerable to additional breaches.

There is no evidence the vulnerability has been exploited by hackers, agency spokesman Samuel Schumach said in a statement, adding that the Office of Personnel Management took the step protectively. He said the system could be shut down for four to six weeks.

Hackers suspected of working for the Chinese government are believed to have stolen records for as many as 18 million current and former federal employees and contractors last year. Detailed background investigations for security clearances of military and intelligence agency employees were among the documents taken.

The shutdown announced Monday is expected to hamper agencies’ ability to initiate investigations for new employees and contractors, as well as renewal investigations for security clearances, Schumach said.

But, he added, the federal government will still be able to hire, and in some cases grant clearances on an interim basis.

The database is known as e-QIP, short for Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing.

TIME Crime

New Jersey Man Charged With Plotting to Support ISIS

Alaa Saadeh tried to provide material support to ISIS, authorities said

(NEWARK, N.J.) — FBI agents on Monday arrested another New Jersey man who is accused of plotting to support the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Authorities charged Alaa Saadeh, 23, of West New York, with conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic militant organization and witness tampering. They said he tried to persuade a witness to lie to the FBI.

Saadeh was scheduled to appear before a judge in federal court in Newark on Monday afternoon. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney.

The FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force have been investigating several people in New York and New Jersey amid heightened concerns of terrorist attacks surrounding the July Fourth holiday. Samuel Rahamin Topaz, 21, of Fort Lee, was charged earlier this month with conspiring to join the Islamic State group.

And a Rutherford man who is Saddeh’s brother traveled to the Middle East in May to join the group and was arrested in Jordan, authorities said.

The criminal complaint alleges Topaz had numerous meetings and exchanged text messages and phone calls with Saddeh, his brother and 20-year-old Munther Omar Saleh. The New York City college student was arrested this month and charged with conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Prosecutors claimed Saadeh told another individual that he suspected that Saleh or Topaz had “snitched” on his brother and caused his arrest overseas, and that, if true, Saadeh thought he would have to “kill someone.”

TIME Crime

Escaped Prisoners Initially Planned to Drive to Mexico

Joseph D'Amico
Mike Groll — AP New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico, left, speaks during a news conference as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo listens, following the capture of fugitive David Sweat on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Malone, N.Y.

But the destination changed when their getaway ride backed out

(MALONE, N.Y.) — Two convicted murderers who escaped from prison and eluded a massive manhunt for three weeks had initially planned to drive to Mexico but headed toward Canada on foot when their ride backed out, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

David Sweat, 35, was running from a state trooper Sunday afternoon when he was shot twice in the torso less than 2 miles from the Canadian border. Sweat was in serious condition Monday at a hospital.

Cuomo told the Capitol Pressroom radio program that Sweat was starting to relay information to police about his escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora on June 6 with fellow inmate Richard Matt, who was killed Friday afternoon.

Prosecutors have said prison tailor shop employee Joyce Mitchell got close to the men and agreed to be their getaway driver but backed out because she felt guilty for participating in the escape. Cuomo provided new details Monday.

“They would kill Mitchell’s husband and then get in the car and drive to Mexico on the theory that Mitchell was in love with one or both of them,” Cuomo said. “When Mitchell doesn’t show up, the Mexico plan gets foiled, and they head north toward Canada.”

Matt had previously spent time in Mexico.

Cuomo said the two men split up about five days ago. Matt had blisters on his feet and Sweat felt his 49-year-old escape partner was slowing him down, Cuomo said.

After Sweat was shot, he was arrested, stabilized at a nearby hospital in Malone and then airlifted to the trauma center at Albany Medical Center.

Sweat was upgraded from critical to serious condition after doctors determined overnight that he didn’t need immediate surgery. He’s expected to stay at the hospital for a few days while his condition stabilizes, according to hospital officials.

Cuomo told CNN that Sweat had a bag containing maps, tools, bug repellent and Pop Tarts when he was shot by Sgt. Jay Cook in a farm field in Constable, about 30 miles northwest of the prison. Sweat was unarmed at the time.

Matt was killed Friday afternoon in Malone, just south of Constable, while holding a shotgun.

Sweat had been serving a sentence of life without parole in the killing of a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County in 2002. Matt was serving 25 years to life for the killing and dismembering of his former boss.

The prisoners used power tools to saw through a steel cell wall and several steel steam pipes, bashed a hole through a 2-foot-thick brick wall, squirmed through pipes and emerged from a manhole outside the prison. On a cut steam pipe, the prisoners left a taunting note containing a crude caricature of an Asian face and the words “Have a nice day.”

Mitchell and another prison worker have been charged with helping them.

Clinton correction officer Gene Palmer, charged with promoting prison contraband, tampering with physical evidence and official misconduct, is due in court Monday. His attorney has said he will plead not guilty.

Officials said Palmer gave the two prisoners frozen hamburger meat that Mitchell had used to hide the tools she smuggled to Sweat and Matt. Palmer’s attorney said he had no knowledge that the meat contained hacksaw blades, a bit and a screwdriver.

Mitchell pleaded not guilty June 15 to charges including felony promoting prison contraband.

Sweat’s capture ended an ordeal that sent 1,300 law enforcement officers into the thickly forested northern reaches of New York and kept residents on edge for weeks.

“The nightmare is finally over,” Cuomo declared at a Sunday news conference.

Cook, a 21-year veteran, was alone and on routine patrol when he stumbled upon Sweat. He gave chase when Sweat fled and decided to fire fearing he would lose Sweat in the trees, state police said.

State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said the men may have used black pepper to throw off their scent from the dogs that were tracking them; he said Sweat’s DNA was recovered from pepper shakers found at one camp.

Sweat will be charged with escape, burglary and other charges, said Andrew Wylie, Clinton County district attorney. He and Matt are suspected of breaking into some of the region’s many cabins during their time on the lam. Wylie said prosecutors would wait for Sweat to recover before charging him.

___

Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York, and Deepti Hajela in New York City contributed to this report.

TIME faith

Global Jewish Population Approaches Pre-Holocaust Levels

Roughly 70 years after the close of World War II, global Jewish population returns to 16.5 million

The global Jewish population is nearly as large as it was before the Holocaust, according to a new tally released by an Israeli think tank on Monday.

A report by the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute estimates that the global Jewish population has reached 14.2 million people. If accounting for people with one Jewish parent and people who identify as partially Jewish, the number reaches close to pre-Holocaust levels of 16.5 million, the Associated Press reports.

The report says that the rise is due to natural growth, mainly in Israel. In addition, 59% of adult children in the U.S. who have one Jewish parent say they identify as Jewish.

About 6 million Jewish people were killed during the Holocaust.

[AP]

TIME Accident

Plane Crashes Into Massachusetts Home Killing 3 Passengers

Plane into House
Mark Stockwell — AP A firefighter moves a hose into position outside a house into which a small plane had crashed in Plainville, Mass., June 28, 2015.

All 4 people inside the house were able to escape safely

Four people safely escaped after a small plane slammed into their house in Plainville, Massachusetts, but the three people in the plane were killed, state police said Sunday night.

The plane, a Beechcraft BE36 that had departed from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, crashed into the house about 5:45 p.m. ET, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Massachusetts State Police confirmed that all three people on the plane were killed. The NTSB said it has launched an investigation.

State police said that the house became engulfed in flames before it was extinguished after almost three hours.

But somehow, all…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

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