Friday, January 14, 2005

This week in law and policy

Each week, I'll be posting a brief rundown of some of the week's major law and policy developments. Comments welcome!

Supreme Court decides US v. Booker and US v. Fanfan

From the SCOTUS Blog: "The Supreme Court ruled today that the Sixth Amendment, as interpreted by the Court's ruling in Blakely v. Washington, does apply to the federal Sentencing Guidelines. Justice Stevens, writing for a 5-4 majority, established that basic constitutional point. But, in a separate opinion written by Justice Breyer for a different 5-4 majority, the impact of the Stevens' opinion is merely that the Guidelines can no longer be mandatory, although judges must consult them, subject to an appeals court's review based on a standard of 'reasonableness.'" For more, see http://www.goldsteinhowe.com/blog/.

Death penalty for minors?

The only decision remaining from the October session is Roper v. Simmons, which will determine the constitutionality of the death penalty for minors. The United States currently stands alone as the only nation in the world that still actively executes minors.

Stickers singling out evolution as a "theory" not permissible, federal court rules

In a case filed by the ACLU of Georgia and concerned parents, a federal court has ruled that stickers identifying evolution as a "theory" to be studied critically are unconstitutional. Because creationism (or "intelligent design") is currently the only viable alternative to evolution, the sticker unfairly advocates religion, the judge ruled. Additionally, the stickers single out evolution as a "theory," though the curriculum presents hundreds of scientific theories (like gravitation and relativity) without informing students that they should be evaluated critically. Read more at http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Evolution-Stickers.html.

Defense rests in trial of Spec. Graner; Justice Dept. opens abuse investigation

The defense concluded its case in the first contested court-martial to follow allegations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. While the prosecution presented Spec. Mark Graner as a maverick who refused to follow orders and exceeded his authority--and military policy--by abusing detainees, the defense claimed that Graner was following orders. In a related development, the Justice Department has opened a major investigation into FBI reports of detainee abuse in both Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. The investigation was prompted in part by the ACLU's successful FOIA lawsuit, which released more than 20,000 documents relating to prisoner abuse. The Justice Department's inquiry follows a military inquiry already in progress. Human Rights Watch criticized the proceedings, arguing that a special prosecutor should be appointed to maintain the objectivity and credibilty of the investigation.


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