Tag Archives: US Supreme Court

Death Penalty. If At First You Don’t Succeed-Execute ’em Again?

I don’t know exactly where I got this idea from, but I always thought if any state botched an execution, they didn’t get a second chance. The condemned man (or woman), or so I believed, would be consigned to life in prison. I guess I was wrong on that one!

The state of Ohio tried to execute a convicted murderer/rapist named the other day. In fact, they spent two solid hours trying to find a vein suitable to inject a lethal cocktail of drugs. No luck.

So, they’ve decided to try again next week.

There is precedent for this. Back in 1946, the state of Louisiana tried and failed to electrocute convicted murderer Willie Francis. They succeeded the following year, after the Supreme Court ruled in essence that once is not enough in the case of execution attempts.

Ohio itself has had it’s share of problems with lethal injection protocols. Twice before, executions were delayed for more than an hour because the executioners couldn’t find a suitable vein. As you might expect, a number of civil liberties groups like the ACLU want to stop Ohio from taking a second shot at Romell Broom. One of his lawyers, who watched the attempt Tuesday on a closed circuit television screen, said Broom was in obvious pain during the botched procedure.

Romell Broom
Romell Broom

The question then becomes whether pain inflicted during an unsuccessful execution becomes cruel and unusual punishment. For me personally, the answer is simple. I am opposed to capital punishment. I don’t believe the state has the right to murder any more than any citizen does, period. However, I have many friends, good people, who disagree with me on this.

They point to the pain and suffering of the victim, who, in the case of Romell Broom, was a 14 year old girl named Tryna Middleton. She was abducted, raped, and murdered by this man back in 1984. If she were alive, she’d be one year shy of her 40th birthday. There is a case to be made for taking into account the fact that her life was cut short by the senseless act of a lowlife.

Bessye Middleton holds a painting of her daughter, Tryna, in Cleveland Heights on Sept. 8. Romell Broom was to be executed Tuesday for raping and murdering Tryna in 1984, but the fatal drugs could not be administered.
Bessye Middleton holds a painting of her daughter, Tryna, in Cleveland Heights on Sept. 8. Romell Broom was to be executed Tuesday for raping and murdering Tryna in 1984, but the fatal drugs could not be administered.

And yet, what is gained by trying to kill Romell Broom next week? The state of Ohio obviously doesn’t have its act together when it comes to executions. Cold comfort comes from Terry Collins, director of the state’s corrections department. “ I have confidence that my team will be able to do its job.”

Like he’s talking about a bunch of Starbucks baristas.

Legal experts say they doubt a second execution attempt will take place as scheduled next Tuesday. Legal appeals are almost certain to derail that. Yet in the end, Ohio seems bound and determined to take a second shot here. What do you think?

Should Ohio make a second attempt at executing convicted murderer Romell Broom?

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Will Sotomayor Choreography Change Outcome?

For the record, there are 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They’re the ones holding hearings on Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the US Supreme Court.

sonia_sotomayor

The Republicans know going in that, absent some bombshell revelation, she’ll be confirmed. That means the hearings, which will likely last the rest of the week, are about the pageantry and stage managing the Beltway is famous for.

Republicans own no franchise here. It wasn’t that long ago (was it?) that Democrats played about the same role when Samuel Alito was confirmed.

Justice_Alito_official

For the 19 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the televised hearings represent a chance  to show their rhetorical chops to the folks back home. Take my word for the fact that none will mentioned that all but two of them are white men. Regardless, each will play their role.

Chief among the antagonists is Jeff Sessions of Alabama. He’s been honing his act for the past several weeks, most recently on “Meet the Press”. Problem is, his blathering about justices not having empathy based on their life experience flies in the face of what Justice Alito himself has said on more than one occasion. Someone is sure to b ring up the fact that of five cases Judge Sotomayor ruled on that went to the Supreme Court, three were reversed.

Again, the Republicans will be forced to look at Alito’s record, which shows both cases he ruled on that went to the High Court were reversed . We already know the lead plaintiff in the infamous New Haven firefighters case will testify for the GOP. Former Yankee pitcher David Cone is set to testify as well. And all this for an outcome that, barring an earth shattering development, is pre-ordained.

Say what you will about President Barack Obama. In picking Sonia Sotomayor he got it right. The Republicans know it. So do the Democrats. The hearings are merely a formality. So that brings up the question of what Judge Sotomayor’s appointment to the court actually means. If people think it will change its fundamentally conservative nature, they’re in for a disappointment. The nucleus of Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, Alito, and Kennedy remains intact. Of this quintet, only Kennedy is an occasional wild card.

So what do the Republicans really fear? Is it the nominee herself, or is it her potential powers of persuasion? Sonia Sotomayor is no doctrinaire progressive. Her seven minute speech Monday was designed not to grate. “The task of a judge is not to make law. It is to apply the law”, says the nominee. Maybe so. Yet we all know the application of law changes over time. Otherwise, we’d still be living under Plessy vs. Ferguson, wouldn’t we? We ought to remember that the decision that found separate but equal to be constitutional was 7-1.

Anyway, that’s another argument for another day. The question as these hearings move forward is this. Can the Republicans stop Sonia Sotomayor? Should they even try?

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Who's Afraid of the Voting Rights Act?

Monday’s Supreme Court Decision on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act seems to have caught the civil rights community by surprise. The high court affirmed, for the time being, the validity of Section Five of the Act, which requires a pre-clearance before a municipality covered by it can bail out of it. The decision, however, seems to have raised as many questions as it answered.

The court allowed a Texas jurisdiction covered by the Voting Rights Act to opt out, largely because it had no past history of discrimination against black voters.

voting-rights-act-m

At the same time, they punted on the constitutionality of the Act itself. Maybe that’s because Congress passed an extension back in 2006, and  an 8-1 majority decided they didn’t want to be the ones that struck it down. The ruling did allow for challenges in the future, and make no mistake, those will come, and come quickly.

There are those who would argue that the election of Barack Obama makes the Voting Rights Act obsolete (knock wood, the court wasn’t one of them).

What nonsense! One need only look at various attempts (mostly by Republicans) to pass voter ID laws to realize that attempts to disenfranchise people of color and the poor are alive and well.

voting-rights-act-2

Chief Justice Roberts was right when he said “The South has changed”. That, however, would mandate an update of Section 5, not gutting the Act itself.

Isn’t it ironic that some of the same politicians who criticize President Obama for not being forceful enough in speaking out about elections in Iran want to gut a law that provided for free and fair elections here?

And what specific harm has the Voting Rights Act done to America?

Has it disenfranchised Americans, as was the practice of many jurisdictions prior to 1965? Has the Justice Dept. been accused of using Section Five (or any other section for that matter) in an arbitrary manner?

No, the effort here, and on the part of some conservatives in Congress, was to eviscerate the Act before the redistricting that will come with next year’s census. Some states, free of the Act and on the brink of passing voter ID laws, could draw legislative lines that could make it that much more difficult to elect people of color. Some of those places are not in the South. But then, the Voting Rights Act didn’t just cover the South.

I’ve posted my personal mea culpa on this blog in the past to those who sounded the alarm about the Act back before Congress extended it. It wasn’t that I thought it wasn’t needed, I just never thought Congress would let it lapse without renewal. I may have been right about that, but I was wrong about the need for continued vigilance. If the recent p;ast has taught us anything, it’s that taking rights for granted can sometimes lead to them vanishing before our eyes.

What do you think? Was Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act a victory?

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