Current Events: Crime, Punishment and the Courts
Well hello there everyone! I have to say, this week’s news holds a LOT of interest for me because we’re dealing with a ton of Supreme Court stuff, and, well, let’s just say I’m the mock trial type. Let’s jump right in!
First of all, a brief introduction to the Court. There are nine justices: the conservatives being head justice Roberts, Thomas, Scalia and Alito; the conservative-swing-vote, Kennedy; and the liberals, Ginsberg, Sotamayer, Breyer and Kagan. In recent years, justices have sometimes split along both ideological lines and political ones; and (arguably) sometimes along both. Now on to the cases at hand.
The justices recently voted 5-4 to ban mandatory life without parole sentences for minors. This was spurred by two specific cases, both involving fourteen-year-olds who were involved in but not directly responsible for murders; one was abused at home. The justices ruled that it fell under the heading of “cruel and unusual punishment” to sentence a minor to mandatory life without parole, and therefore violated the Eighth Amendment.
The second major decision had to do with Arizona state immigration law. The Court shot down three parts of the law: that it’s a state crime to be in Arizona without legal documentation, that it’s a state crime for an illegal alien to apply for a job, and that state law enforcement can, without a warrant, arrest someone who may have committed a deport-able offense but is in the country legally. The court decided that these powers rest with the federal government. The Court chose to leave in place the most controversial part of the law: that police must check the immigration status of everyone they arrest. The justices decided that it did not preempt federal law and is therefore legal, but there is concern that it could lead to racial profiling and lawful citizens being detained unnecessarily or even illegally.
Finally, on Monday, the justices released an informal decision not to revisit the Citizens United verdict of 2008, which paved the way for Super PACs (those pesky little organizations allowing unlimited campaign donations from unspecified sources). That link is the statement from the majority (who also happen to be the conservatives) decision not to revisit the case, and the dissent from the minority (mostly the liberals). Guys, it looks dense, but it’s worth reading the justices’ own words; it’s only two paragraphs, and it’s really interesting and informative.
This one bugs me. The typical right-wing justification for Super PACs is something along the lines of “It’s people’s money to do with as they choose; that’s not the government’s business. People have the right to vote with their dollars.” Except. The whole point of a democratic system is that everyone gets one, exactly one, vote that counts the same as everyone else’s. When people “vote with their dollars,” it undermines the whole system.
And we’re done with the Supreme Court for today; on to a different verdict. On Friday, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually assaulting ten boys he met through the charity he operated. He was found guilty on 45 of the 48 counts of rape, sodomy, and other assault charges he was accused of after only two days of jury deliberation.
Those are the facts, but this is a heartbreaking story of young boys from disadvantaged homes who were taken advantage by a trusted figure in the community. Only ten pressed charges, but this happened for years. Allegedly, his wife and many others knew what was going on, literally heard the screams for help coming from the basement, and did nothing. Sandusky had been accused of misconduct in the past; his accusers were dismissed as disgruntled kids. It was a joke in Penn State football circles that you don’t drop your soap in the shower around Jerry. Those abused young boys, now men, who hopefully found justice last week aren’t laughing.
Some attention has been focused recently on the halfway house system of New Jersey. In case you don’t know, halfway houses are (supposed to be) small, closely supervised residential houses where people make the transition from jail to freedom, get drug treatment, and get job placements and other services.
In New Jersey, the government has been able to cut the cost in half by privatizing such institutions. However, since 2005, there have been over 5000 escapes, some by people who went on to commit violent crimes. The screening process appears to be negligent; individuals who in other states would certainly not qualify for placement in a halfway house are being let through. Conditions are often as bad as prison, with hundreds of inmates, drug use, gang action, and violence present. However, they have far less security.
Let me just add this: NJ governor Chris Christie, among other politicians in the state, has received large sums of money (in legal ways) from the companies receiving the contracts for the halfway houses. Food for thought.
What are your thoughts on this week's news?
Post by Dianamer!