Category Archives: Legal

Judge Shira Scheindlin slapped in the face

The decision by a three judge federal appeals court stopping changes to the New York City Police Department’s stop, question, and frisk policy was bad enough. In doing so, they also questioned the integrity of the judge who ruled the policy as practiced by the NYPD was unconstitutional. Judge Shira Scheindlin gave hope to people of color in the city who rightly felt their rights were violated by being stopped when they had done nothing wrong. That hope is now seriously at risk.

cartoon-stop-and-frisk-nyc

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit took the unusual step of removing Judge Scheindlin from the case altogether. Their rationale? The court said she’d compromised the “appearance of impartiality” surrounding the lawsuit aimed at curbing the excesses of stop and frisk. Those excesses are many, and while the appeals court said their action wasn’t a comment on the merits of the lawsuit, it’s hard to look at it as something different.

The cold hard facts are these. Stop and frisk rose geometrically under the tenure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It reached its apex at more than three quarters of a million people stopped in a single year. The overwhelming majority of those stopped were people of color. The overwhelming majority of those were innocent of any wrongdoing.

The city’s argument has been that the tactic is crucial to lowering the crime rate. Yet so far this year, the number of stop and frisks has fallen, and so has the crime rate. In arguments earlier this week before the appeals court, the city asserted that police were now afraid to use stop and frisk for fear of violating the constitution.

This is laughable.

The NYPD has a justifiable reputation as one of the best in the country. The idea that people’s rights have to be violated in order for them to do their job is absurd. The appeals court seems to be saying that a judge whose opinion was formed during the course of the case and said so isn’t worth hearing it.

Should people take the appeals court at its word when it says it hasn’t made up its mind on the substance of the appeal of Judge Scheindlin’s ruling? In the meantime, in addition to assigning the appeal to another judge, the substance of her order on stop and frisk has been stayed.

Does that make innocent New Yorkers of color feel better? It shouldn’t.

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Does the Senate Have the Guts to Pass Healthcare Reform?

This past weekend’s vote to begin debate in the upper House was heartening, but anyone who follows politics knows it’s the first skirmish in a long battle. Credit ought to be given to Majority Leader Harry Reid for having the guts to see the first step through.

I have been critical of his leadership in the past, but I take it all back (can you do that in one post?). Harry Reid came through like a champ, not like some of his colleagues, and I’m not talking about Republicans. You don’t expect them to have any heart when it comes to providing quality affordable care to millions of Americans for whom that’s just a pipe dream now.

senator-harry-reid

I’m talking about  a few Senate Democrats, and that independent who dares to caucus with them. Joe Lieberman should have been tossed out on his ear the day he addressd the Republican National Convention on behalf of John McCain. Now he couldn’t wait until the last echoes of Saturday’s vote to allow debate to go on tv and try to eviscerate the public option. “If the public option is still in there, the only resort we have is to say no at the end to reporting the bill off the floor,” says the Senator from Connecticut. Ben Nelson of Nebraska isn’t much better.

What they’re saying is the next step, after a lot of contentious debate, may be for opponents of the bill to filibuster.  At that point, the only recourse may be the complex and misunderstood procress of reconciliation. Trust me, it’s not nearly as benign as it sounds. Suffice to say that’s how Bush got his two tax cuts through, but would it work for healthcare reform?

Reconciliation is about the only way you can get a bill through the Senate without the 60 votes necessary to bring it to the floor. That is, bypassing the usual obstructive devices, like the filibuster. The jury is still out of whether the health bill fits the criteria necessary to be eligible for reconciliation. Absent that, Harry Reid will have to find a couple of Republicans who will go along with the overwhelming majority of Democrats to get this thing done.

This is usually the cue for political junkies to look to the two senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Snowe, however, has as big a problem with the public option as Lieberman does. Make no mistake. A bill without a public option isn’t acceptable, nor should it be to President Obama (we’ll see).

So you tell me. Does this Senate have the guts to pass a healthcare reform bill with a public option?

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Sex & Lies. Can a Scorned Husband Bring Down a US Senator?

In the television series “The Good Wife”, a woman has to deal with her politically powerful husband going to jail for sexual impropriety. But what happens when in real life the shoe is on the other foot?

Some of you may remember the tawdry affair involving Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign and his dalliance with a staffer. Well, the staffer’s husband in on the warpath, apparently in an effort to shame him into resigning.

Darlene Ensign and Senator John Ensign
Darlene Ensign and Senator John Ensign

Doug Hampton has been interviewed by, among others, the New York Times and ABC’s “Nightline”, and he shows no sign on slowing down. I’m not sure you can blame him. His wife Cindy carried on the affair with Ensign despite the fact that they were family friends. Both worked for him, even as he was a member of “The Promise Keepers”, that group of ultra-religious conservative men who purport tolive more pious lives than the rest of us.

Hampton alleges that Ensign may have engaged in illegal conduct in paying his wife $25,000 in severance after the affair ended. If that money wasn’t properly reported to the Federal Election Commission, Ensign could face a felony charge. Beyond that, it must be downright embarrassing to have this guy dogging your every move.

It also creates a bit of a problem for the Republican Party. Five months after the Ensign affair was exposed, the GOP thought the whole thing was pretty much done with. They’ve since trained their sights on deposing Ensign’s Democratic counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It looks like they think if they don’t say anything about Ensign, the whole thing will just blow over.

Some will argue Doug Hampton’s crusade is nothing ore than that of a cuckolded husband getting even. After all, he and Cindy (or is it Cynthia?) remain married, as do Ensign and his wife. However, John Ensign was the guy who led the charge after fellow Republican Larry Craig was caught up in that bathroom sex sting. Craig stuck around as well.

Funny, you don’t hear the same chest thumping about John Ensign that you hear about Charles Rangel. Like Rangel, Ensign is being investigated by his body’s ethics committee. Almost no one is demanding he step down from the Finance or Homeland Security committees. In fact, the only person making a fuss is Doug Hampton. The question now is whether the Republicans’ wall of silence will make his quest a moot point.

What do you think? Will Doug Hampton, husband scorned, have any impact on the career of Sen. john Ensign? You tell me.

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