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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Neil Gorsuch Confirmed by Senate as Supreme Court Justice

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch
Judge Neil M. Gorsuch
WASHINGTON — Judge Neil M. Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on Friday to become the 113th justice of the Supreme Court, capping a political brawl that lasted for more than a year and tested constitutional norms inside the Capitol’s fraying upper chamber.

The development was a triumph for President Trump, whose campaign appeal to reluctant Republicans last year rested in large part on his pledge to appoint another committed conservative to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. However rocky the first months of his administration may have been, Mr. Trump now has a lasting legacy: Judge Gorsuch, 49, could serve on the court for 30 years or more.

“As a deep believer in the rule of law, Judge Gorsuch will serve the American people with distinction as he continues to faithfully and vigorously defend our Constitution,” the president said.

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the final vote on Friday, a show of force for the White House on a day when his tiebreaking vote as president of the Senate was not necessary. The final tally was 54-45 in favor of confirmation.

The confirmation was also a vindication of the bare-knuckled strategy of Senate Republicans, who refused even to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Judge Merrick B. Garland, saying the choice of the next justice should belong to the next president.

Yet the bruising confrontation has left the Senate a changed place. Friday’s vote was only possible after the Senate discarded longstanding rules meant to ensure mature deliberation and bipartisan cooperation in considering Supreme Court nominees. On Thursday, after Democrats waged a filibuster against Judge Gorsuch, denying him the 60 votes required to advance to a final vote, Republicans invoked the so-called nuclear option: lowering the threshold on Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority vote.

The confirmation saga did not help the reputation of the Supreme Court, either. The justices say politics plays no role in their work, but the public heard an unrelentingly different story over the last year, with politicians, pundits and well-financed outside groups insisting that a Democratic nominee would rule differently from a Republican one.

Judge Gorsuch possesses the credentials typical of the modern Supreme Court justice. He is a graduate of Columbia, Harvard and Oxford, served as a Supreme Court law clerk and worked as a lawyer at a prestigious Washington law firm and at the Justice Department. He joined the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, in 2006, where he was widely admired as a fine judicial stylist.

During 20 hours of questioning from senators during his confirmation hearings last month, Judge Gorsuch said almost nothing of substance. He presented himself as a folksy servant of neutral legal principles, and senators had little success in eliciting anything but canned answers.

But neither side harbored any doubts, based on the judge’s opinions, other writings and the president who nominated him, that Judge Gorsuch would be a reliable conservative committed to following the original understanding of those who drafted and ratified the Constitution.

Judge Gorsuch will be sworn in on Monday, in two ceremonies: a private session at the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will preside, and a public event at the White House, where Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will administer a second oath.

A week from Monday, he will put on his robes, follow the court’s custom of shaking hands with each of his colleagues and ascend to the Supreme Court bench to hear his first arguments. A ninth chair, absent since the spring of 2016, will be waiting for him.

He is not a stranger to the court, having served as a law clerk in 1993 and 1994 to Justice Byron R. White, who died in 2002, and Justice Kennedy, who continues to hold the crucial vote in many closely divided cases.

He will be the first former Supreme Court clerk to serve alongside a former boss. And he may recall Justice White’s observation about how transformative a new addition to the bench can be. “Every time a new justice comes to the Supreme Court,” Justice White liked to say, “it’s a different court.”

The court has been short-handed since Justice Scalia’s death on Feb. 13, 2016. Within hours, the Republican majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said the seat would not be filled until a new administration came to power.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: The New York Times, Adam Liptak, Matt Flegenheimer, April 7, 2017

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