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The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 7, 2014.

Supreme Court offers more surprises on term's last day

06/29/15 11:06AM

Last week was a rather extraordinary week at the U.S. Supreme Court, with historic rulings that will change millions of lives. But the high court's term didn't end on Friday -- the last three decisions came down this morning. And though the rulings may not generate international attention, today's news matters, too.
 
Let's take these one at a time.
 
In Glossip v. Gross, the justices narrowly endorsed a controversial method of execution. MSNBC's Amanda Sakuma reported:
A controversial sedative can be used as the first in a lethal drug cocktail to carry out the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday, upholding the continued use of a chemical that has been at the center of a series of botched executions that drew increased scrutiny over how states handle capital punishment.
 
In the case Glossip v. Gross, the question before the Supreme Court was whether a sedative called midazolam effectively made an inmate unconscious before executioners administered lethal doses in a three-drug cocktail. Three convicted killers in Oklahoma brought the challenge, their lawyers arguing that there is no guarantee that midazolam will work, creating a substantial risk of causing severe pain or complications.
The 5-4 ruling is available online here (pdf), and the breakdown falls exactly along the lines you'd expect: Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito in the majority; Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan on the other.
 
Many court observers considered oral arguments in this case to be among the most contentious in recent history, and with that in mind, it's worth noting that while Alito wrote the majority decision, Breyer and Sotomayor both read their dissents this morning, only to have Scalia take the unusual step of reading his concurrence, basically to thumb his nose at Breyer, who wants the court to strike down capital punishment as itself unconstitutional.
 
Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was arguably the term's most overtly electoral case. MSNBC's Zack Roth reported:
Jeb Bush, Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign stop outside a residence in Washington, Ia., June 17, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Bush, Walker eye new 'nuclear option'

06/29/15 10:00AM

In his weekly address over the weekend, President Obama made a straightforward vow, intended to set families' minds at ease: the Affordable Care Act is "here to stay." His confidence is understandable, since the King v. Burwell case was effectively the anti-healthcare forces' last real shot to undermine the law and take benefits from millions.
 
But, skeptics might say, what about 2017? What about the not-at-all-fanciful possibility that, a year and a half from now, Americans will have elected a Republican president to work with a Republican Congress? It stands to reason that a GOP-dominated federal government might get to work dismantling the current American health care system.
 
Democrats believe the law is "here to stay," however, because of the legislative process -- Senate Dems would obviously filibuster any attempt to start taking benefits away from families. Unless GOP senators had 60 votes -- an unlikely scenario -- a Republican repeal plan would fail.
 
Unless, that is, Republicans change the rules. Bloomberg Politics reported late last week:
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Friday he's open to eliminating the Senate's 60-vote threshold if it helps Congress repeal Obamacare and enact "free-market oriented" health care reforms.
 
Appearing on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, the former Florida governor was asked if he'd support invoking the "Reid rule" -- also known as the "nuclear option" -- to nix the legislative filibuster to replace the Affordable Care Act.
In fairness, the Florida Republican didn't explicitly endorse this path, but when pressed on the strategy, Bush told Hewitt, "I might consider that." He added that if the GOP plan is strong enough, "then I would certainly consider that."
 
The Washington Examiner reported over the weekend that Gov. Scott Walker (R) was even more enthusiastic about the strategy. Asked if he'd call for the end of legislative filibusters in order to "repeal Obamacare," the Wisconsin Republican replied, "Yes. Absolutely."
Investigators say an arsonist is to blame for a fire which caused a quarter-million dollars in damage to the Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte. (Photo by Charlotte Fire Dept)

Church fires lead to federal investigation

06/29/15 09:20AM

Exactly one week after the deadly mass shooting in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) in Charleston, a fire erupted at a black church 200 miles north. NBC News reported last week:
A predominately black church in North Carolina was intentionally set ablaze, authorities said.
 
Charlotte fire officials are looking into whether Wednesday morning's arson at Briar Creek Baptist Church was a hate crime, NBC station WCNC reported. Although there were no initial indications that the crime was motivated by hate, officials haven't ruled it out, fire investigator David Williams told the station.
Fortunately, no one was killed, though the blaze reportedly caused about $250,000 in damage.
 
The same night, God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, was set ablaze. Around the same time, the Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina caught fire. Last week, College Hill Seventh Day Adventist burned in Knoxville, Tennessee.
 
A report in The Atlantic pointed to some other fires at churches over the last two weeks, though in those cases, the circumstances appear to be less suspicious, and in one instance, the church does not have a predominantly black congregation.
 
Nevertheless, given the number of incidents, and the possibility of arson in some of the cases, federal investigators are taking an interest. BuzzFeed reported yesterday:
This Aug. 9, 2014, file photo shows Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as he speaks during an event in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Huckabee sees merits of civil disobedience

06/29/15 08:40AM

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R) grasp of constitutional law has long been a little fuzzy. In January, the Republican presidential candidate said Supreme Court rulings don't set the law of the land because decisions need to be enshrined by lawmakers through "enabling legislation."
 
The problem, of course, was that this was gibberish.
 
Huckabee's argument was presented in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, which arrived on Friday. Right on cue, the former governor made a similar argument to ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So are you calling for civil disobedience?
 
HUCKABEE: I don't think a lot of pastors and Christian schools are going to have a choice. They either are going to follow God, their conscience and what they truly believe is what the scripture teaches them, or they will follow civil law. They will go the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, who in his brilliant essay the letters from a Birmingham jail reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all. And I do think that we're going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision.
He added moments later, "I'm not sure that every governor and every attorney general should just say, well, 'It's the law of the land,' because there's no enabling legislation." When Stephanopoulos asked if he would enforce federal law if elected president, Huckabee said it would depend on Congress passing "enabling legislation."
 
Just as a basic matter of how the American government works, what the GOP candidate is saying simply doesn't make any sense.
U.S. Republican Presidential candidate and Senator of Texas Ted Cruz speaks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's forum in Waukee, Iowa, April 25, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Ted Cruz isn't taking the marriage ruling well

06/29/15 08:00AM

At an event over the weekend, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was asked about last week's Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality. The right-wing Iowan, not surprisingly, wasn't pleased, calling the court decisions "the heaviest one-two punch delivered against the Constitution and the American people that we've ever seen in the history of this country."
 
Of course, Steve King is expected to say things like this. When presidential candidates go over the top in the same way, it's a little more alarming. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) went so far as to call for a constitutional convention to overturn the court's decision while campaigning in Iowa, according to CNN. In an interview with Sean Hannity he called the back-to-back rulings on health care and gay marriage "some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation's history."
Hannity, incidentally, found Cruz's rhetoric quite compelling, responding, "I couldn't say it more eloquently."
 
For what it's worth, it's not hard to think of some genuinely tragic 24-hour periods in American history. The Lincoln assassination comes to mind. So does the time British troops burned the White House. There were days during the Civil War in which tens of thousands of Americans died on the battlefield. Just in the last century, we witnessed the JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, and a corrupt president resign in disgrace.
 
For the Republican presidential hopeful, learning that Americans will have health benefits and loving couples will get married belongs on the same list.
 
To be sure, while much of the country will probably find that odd, it's equally important to appreciate what Cruz intends to do with his outrage.

Biden visits Mother Emanuel and other headlines

06/29/15 07:59AM

VP Joe Biden attends Sunday services at Emanuel AME Church. (Charleston Post and Courier)

Are black churches being targeted by arsonists? (New York Magazine)

Texas AG: state workers can deny licenses to gay couples. (Dallas Morning News)

Chris Christie unveils his presidential campaign website. (Bloomberg Politics)

John Kasich sets his announcement date. (Politico)

NY State manhunt ends after 22 days when a local State Trooper shoots fleeing prisoner. (Plattsburgh Press-Republican) 

Global markets slump as Greece closes banks and debt talks falter. (USA Today)

Whitey Bulger writes teens in a letter: 'my life was wasted.' (AP)

High schoolers' experiment lost again in 2nd failed rocket launch. (AP)

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With this antenna at Kokee Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, NASA makes regular VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) measurements that are used in the time standard called UT1 (Universal Time 1).

Week in Geek: leap second edition

06/28/15 11:01AM

This Tuesday, you will get a little extra time added to your day. NASA is adding a leap second on June 30th to account for changes in the Earth's rotation that are causing it to slow down.

The length of a day is 86,400 seconds in theory, but in practice day's last slightly longer, averaging 86,400.002 seconds instead. In fact, over the past several hundred years, the length of a day has been increasing between 1.4-1.7 milliseconds per century. While that might not seem like a lot, when you add up all the additionally milliseconds over a year or more, they start to matter - especially in the era of atomic clocks.

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Former Boise Minister Bryan Fisher stands inside the Idaho Statehouse rotunda in downtown Boise, Idaho on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2007.

This Week in God, 6.27.15

06/27/15 08:37AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at the religious right movement's reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality -- which can roughly be described as this generation of the movement's worst nightmare.
 
To put it mildly, the religious right isn't altogether pleased. Right Wing Watch pulled together a collection of reactions yesterday from some of the movement's more notable groups and leaders, all of whom are apoplectic. But only one religious right figure compared the ruling to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor -- and then kept going.
Following the Supreme Court ruling striking down state bans on gay marriage this morning, American Family Radio's Bryan Fischer had a bit of a meltdown on Twitter, which he subsequently cobbled together into a column that he then read on his radio program this afternoon.
 
In the span of two minutes, he managed to compare the ruling to 9/11, slavery, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Sodom and Gomorrah.
 
"From a moral standpoint, 6/26 is the new 9/11," Fischer declared, "because it was on this day that five justices of the United States Supreme Court became moral jihadists. They became rainbow jihadists and they blasted the twin pillars of truth and righteousness into rubble. And they did this by imposing sodomy-based marriage on the United States through an act of judicial tyranny."
Fischer quite literally referred to June 26, 2015 as "a date which will live in infamy. On this day, the United States became Sodom and Gomorrah."
 
Stick it in a time capsule. Future generations won't believe it.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

Friday's Mini-Report, 6.26.15

06/26/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* New York: "Richard Matt, one of the two killers who escaped an upstate New York prison three weeks ago, was shot and killed Friday, two senior New York state officials told NBC News. The whereabouts of the second escapee, David Sweat, were also not immediately known."
 
* Tunisia: "At least 37 people were killed and dozens wounded when gunmen opened fire on a beach popular with tourists in Tunisia on Friday, officials said."
 
* Not just Tunisia: "Terrorists launched horrific attacks across three continents Friday, killing dozens of people just days after ISIS urged supporters to unleash "a month of disaster" during the Muslim holy period of Ramadan. A man was decapitated in an apparent Islamist attack on a U.S.-owned gas factory in southeastern France, while 25 worshipers were killed and 200 wounded during Friday prayers at a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait."
 
* A story to keep an eye on: "Some couples who wished to get married immediately after the Supreme Court lifted the bans on same-sex marriage in the 14 states that prohibited it Friday were met with roadblocks."
 
* The other big ruling today: "In the case Johnson v. United States, the Supreme Court just struck down a provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act that says that someone's past crimes count as "violent" if they involve a risk of serious injury to another person -- even if the crime didn't actually involve violence."
 
* Congress: "Two measures were discussed in the House chamber Thursday: one pertaining to Confederate Battle Flag imagery in the U.S. Capitol, and another banning the iconography from the South Carolina Capitol and any government property."
President Barack Obama speaks in front of the casket of Rev. Clementa Pinckney during funeral services for Pinckney in Charleston, South Carolina June 26, 2015.

President Obama warns against 'a comfortable silence'

06/26/15 04:48PM

When Barack Obama's presidency is over, I have a strong hunch people will still be talking about the eulogy he delivered in South Carolina today for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
 
Because the president's remarks today were about Pinckney and other victims of last week's mass murder in Charleston, but it was also about much, much more.
 
It was about the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina capitol.
"The flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.
 
"Removing the flag from this state's capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.
 
"It would be one step in an honest accounting of America's history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.
 
"By taking down that flag, we express God's grace."
It was about the criminal justice system.
"Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system's not infected with bias -- that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure."
It was about race and the economy.

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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