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New Death Penalty Ruling Highlights Tension in the Supreme Court

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  • The Supreme Court ruled that an inmate in Missouri could be put to death via lethal injection, despite the fact that he claims it would be cruel and unusual due to a medical condition he has.
  • This decision comes in the midst of public criticism over other recent Supreme Court death penalty rulings.
  • In February, the Supreme Court denied a Muslim inmate the right to have an Imam with him at the time of execution, but last week voted in favor of a Buddhist man making a similar case.

Case in Missouri

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Monday, agreeing that a man in Missouri could be put to death via lethal injection, despite his claim that it would cause him severe pain due to a rare medical condition.

Inmate Russell Bucklew has a disease called cavernous hemangioma, which means he has blood-filled tumors in his neck, throat, and head. Bucklew and his lawyers say that the chemical compounds in a lethal injection would cause the tumors to rupture, meaning he would bleed from those areas, and be in extreme pain. They argue that because of this, lethal injection would be a cruel and unusual punishment, and suggest using a gas chamber instead.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled against this, citing that the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, does not prohibit painful punishments.

“The Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death—something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes,” Justice Niel Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

He also cited that Bucklew had postponed his sentencing twice, once in 2014 and once in 2018, and claimed he was merely trying to delay it again. Gorsuch also wrote that Bucklew and his lawyers did not make a case for the gas chamber, saying they “failed to present colorable evidence that nitrogen would significantly reduce his risk of pain.”

Similar Cases in Alabama and Texas

This case is the most recent in a slew of cases regarding the death penalty that have caused tension within the Supreme Court.

In early February, the court heard the case of Domineque Hakim Ray. Ray requested that his Inam, a Muslim religious leader, be present during his execution. However, the Alabama prison he was in denied his request. The prison would only allow their Christian minister to be present and said his Imam would be allowed to watch from behind a glass window in the next room.

Ray claimed this case violated the First Amendment by giving rights to those who follow Christianity, but not to others. However, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Ray’s execution could be carried out without his Imam. They claimed he did not bring the matter up in a timely manner, as he brought the issue up 10 days before his sentencing. A few days later, Ray was executed.

A case in March tackled a similar issue. Patrick Henry Murphy, an inmate in Texas, requested a Buddhist leader be present while his death sentence was carried out, and was denied this by his prison. On March 28, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to allow him a stay of execution, hours before his scheduled sentencing.

These two different rulings on two similar cases have left many confused. However, there are differences in state laws that could have factored into these desicions.

Alabama states that only Department of Corrections employees are allowed in the chamber, and those employees include a Christian minister.

Whereas in Texas, an inmate is allowed to be accompanied by a religious leader, but the state interpreted the law to mean a religious leader who works for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The TDCJ has both a Christian and Muslim leader, but not a Buddhist. However, the Supreme Court ruled this interpretation to be unconstitutional.

Even with this, many argue that the core arguments in each case were very similar. So, do these split rulings mean anything for the future of the Supreme Court?

Some legal experts say that this shows the shift the court will now have due to Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment, which gave the conservatives a stronghold in the court.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, told CNN that particularly in death penalty cases, stakes are very high, and stronger rifts come out.

“The stakes do not get higher than they do in death penalty cases,” she said. “And the arguments between the justices and rifts in the court may only get louder and deeper.”

See What Others Are Saying: (NPR) (Slate) (The Los Angeles Times)

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NYC Mayor Declares Public Health Emergency After Measles Outbreak

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  • New York City has declared a public health emergency following a severe measles outbreak, largely in Brooklyn.
  • Residents of the Williamsburg neighborhood will be required to be vaccinated against measles, or else they will have to pay a fine.
  • This has received some backlash, but Mayor Bill De Blasio maintains that this is both legal, and the only way to combat the issue.

Public Health Emergency in NYC

Mayor Bill De Blasio declared a public health emergency in New York City in response to the recent measles outbreak.

The measles outbreak began in the city in October, and since then there have been 285 confirmed cases of the disease. This is a very large increase, as there were only two cases of the diseases in New York City throughout all of 2017.

The outbreak is most severe in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where a vast majority of the cases have been reported. De Blasio is mandating that every one in four zip codes in and near the area get the MMR vaccine, which according to the disease, is 97% effective. Those who do not will have to pay a $1,000 fine.

During a press conference in Williamsburg, De Blasio insisted that vaccines were the only way to stop the measles from spreading throughout the city.

We cannot allow this dangerous disease to make a comeback in New York City. We have to stop it now,” he said. “The only way to stop this outbreak is to ensure that those who have not been vaccinated get the vaccine. It’s crucial for people to understand that the measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time tested.”

The Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, specifically children, have experienced the most cases of the measles. In December, the city mandated that schools, daycares, and yeshivas, which are Orthodox Jewish schools, had to turn away kids who were not vaccinated. Forty patients alone have come from one yeshiva that did not follow this order.

According to the Commissioner for New York City’s Department of Health, Dr. Oxiris Barbot,  leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community largely approve of vaccines. However, anti-vax beliefs have still spread, causing lower vaccination rates.

Dr. Barbot blames this movement for the outbreak.

“This outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods,” she said in a statement. “They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science. We stand with the majority of people in this community who have worked hard to protect their children and those at risk.”

Measles Parties on the Rise

Dr. Barbot also spoke out against “measles parties,” which are situations where parents of unvaccinated children expose their kids to someone who already has measles. This was a popular practice before vaccines were widespread, as many think that by exposing their child to the disease, they will build their immunity.

However, this has not actually been scientifically proven to be effective. In fact, this can actually just result in your child getting the measles, as the disease is highly contagious. Health officials are concerned that this fad is coming back into fashion for New Yorkers.

“We are concerned about families having measles parties,” said Dr. Barbot. “I know that parents may be afraid of getting their child vaccinated, but as a pediatrician, I know that getting vaccinated is far safer than getting measles.

The CDC’s Disease Detectives

New York City will be using “disease detectives” from the CDC to both enforce this mandate and to stop the spread of measles throughout the city.

Like their quirky name suggests, disease detectives investigate the spread of measles through various stages of questioning, and other kinds of research. On their site, the CDC describes their role by saying, “Like investigators at the scene of a crime, these disease detectives begin by looking for clues.”

They work to anwer four main questions: Who is sick?; What are their symptoms?; When did they get sick?; And where could they have been exposed to the illness? They then try to learn who else could have been exposed, and figure out if these people have been vaccinated.

Reactions to Plans

The city’s plan to prevent the spread of measles had been met with mixed opinions. Donna Lieberman, the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, questioned whether or not this was withing Mayor De Blasio’s power.

“The city’s order provides that people will be vaccinated without their consent, an extreme measure which is not provided for in the law and raises civil liberties concerns about forced medical treatment,” she said in a statement.

In addressing this public health crisis, the government is required to pursue the least restrictive means possible to balance individual autonomy with the public health risk. In this case, measures such as a quarantine or penalties for non-vaccination may be permissible, but forced vaccination is not.”

A spokeswoman for City Hall, Marcy Miranda, countered this idea and told the New York Times that they will not be physically forcing anyone to get the MMR vaccine.

“We will not be forcibly vaccinating individuals,” she said. “(Officials) will work with people to educate them about the safety and importance of vaccines and will issue necessary fines as needed.”

De Blasio also maintained his right to mandate vaccinations during his press conference, saying, “We are absolutely certain we have the power to do this.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (ABC 7) (The Hill)

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Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman, and Others Could Face Prison Time for College Admissions Scam

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  • Fourteen people involved in the massive college admissions scandal have agreed to enter guilty pleas for their role in the scam.
  • Actress Lori Loughlin and her designer husband Mossimo Giannulli are not part of that group.
  • According to TMZ, all 37 remaining defendants including Loughlin and Giannulli, have been offered pleas, but prosecutors will only accept ones that include prison time.

Huffman Pleads Guilty

At least fourteen individuals, including actress Felicity Huffman and one coach, have agreed to plead guilty for their participation in a scheme to get students into elite schools.

Last month, 50 people, including wealthy parents, celebrities, tech executives, college coaches, and test proctors from across the county, were indicted as part of the Justice Department’s massive investigation dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”

The admissions scheme centered on William “Rick” Singer, owner of a for-profit Newport Beach college admissions company. Parents are accused of paying Singer and his firm to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and falsify athletic records. The bribes and falsified records allowed their children to secure admission to elite schools like UCLA, USC, Stanford, and Yale.

Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 in bribes so that her daughters SATs could be corrected by a Harvard graduate, giving her a 400 point boost. She agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to federal prosecutors.

The maximum sentence for those charges is 20 years in prison and three years of supervised release and fines. However, in exchange for a plea, prosecutors are recommending incarceration at the “low end” of the sentencing range. This means she will likely face anywhere from four to 10 months in prison.

Along with that recommendation, prosecutors will also recommend a $20,000 fine and 12 months of supervised release.

In a statement Monday, Huffman said, “I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions,”

“I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”

Huffman went on to apologize for betraying her daughter, who she said knew “absolutely nothing about my actions.”

Over a dozen other individuals also agreed to enter guilty pleas to charges of fraud and conspiracy, including Los Angeles marketing guru Jane Buckingham, Bay Area real estate developer Bruce Isackson, and former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas Michael Center.

Loughlin and Giannulli Could Face At Least 2 Years in Prison

Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were not part of the group accepting pleas.

However, according to TMZ, they still likely to face prison time. TMZ reported that the remaining 37 people charged in the case, including Loughlin and Giannulli, have all been offered plea deals. but prosecutors will only accept deals with prison time attached.

Each deal includes varying recommendations for prison sentences, which are determined by the amount they paid in bribes, among other factors.

While Huffman’s plea may reportedly allow her to serve as little as four months in prison, Loughlin and Guilianni, who allegedly paid $500,000 in bribes, could face a minimum of two to two and a half years.

According to TMZ, “Our sources say prosecutors have given all defendants an ultimatum … reach a plea deal QUICKLY or else they will go to a Federal Grand Jury and add charges, including money laundering, which significantly raises the low end of prison time.”

Shortly after TMZ’s report, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced a new wave of indictments. Loughlin, her husband, and 14 others were indicted on fraud and money laundering charges.

Netflix Shelves Huffman’s Film

Netflix responded to the news of a planned guilty plea by postponing the release of “Otherhood”, a romantic comedy that was due to be shown on the streaming service on April 26.

The movie, which features Huffman alongside Patricia Arquette and Angela Bassett, does not currently have a new release date scheduled, however, Deadline reported that it may stream in August.

The Central Park Five miniseries, “When They See Us,” in which Huffman stars as a prosecutor, is still set to be released May 31 on Netflix.

See what others are saying (CNN) (The Los Angeles Times) (NBC News)

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Baltimore City Council Asks for Mayor’s Resignition

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  • The Baltimore City Council is asking for Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign after a report showed that she had been working on book deals with the University of Maryland Medical System while she was on its Board of Directors.
  • The State Prosecutor opened an investigation into the incident.
  • Pugh is currently on a leave of absence for medical reasons but says she intends to return when in good health.

Pugh’s Book Deal controversy

Members of the Baltimore City Council signed a letter on Monday requesting the resignation of the city’s mayor, Catherine Pugh.

Pugh is currently embroiled in a scandal surrounding book deals she made with the University of Maryland Medical System, a group she was on the Board of Directors of. Between the years 2011 and 2018, UMMS paid Pugh $500,000 for 100,000 copies of her children’s book “Healthy Holly.” They then distributed them to locals schools and daycares.

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According to the Baltimore Sun, who first reported on the controversy in March, Pugh also sold copies of Healthy Holly to Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities.

When these deals started, Pugh was a state senator. During this time frame, Pugh signed onto legislation that aided UMMS. Kaiser Permanente was also working on a contract with the city of Baltimore for employee benefits.

Since the controversy has unfolded, Pugh has stepped down from the board at UMMS. She also returned her most recent payment of $100,000, as the books in that order had yet to be published.  The Maryland State Prosecutor has also opened an investigation into her various book deals, as not disclosing these deals on ethics forms could count as perjury or misconduct.

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“I sincerely want to say that I apologize that I have done something to upset the people of Baltimore,” she said issuing an apology at a public appearance. “I never intended to do anything that could not stand up to scrutiny.”

On April 1, Pugh announced she would be taking a leave of absence from her role as mayor, but cited reasons unrelated to the scandal. Instead, she said the leave was to recover from pneumonia, which she had recently been hospitalized for. Her spokesperson said that she plans to return to the job when her health allows it.

Pugh’s Resignation is Requested

Fourteen councilmembers signed the resignation request. The only member who did not sign was Jack Young, who is serving as the acting mayor while Pugh is out.

The letter is a brief two sentences, and states that her resignation would be in “the city’s best interest.”

With the letter, Councilmember Eric Costello released a statement claiming that the ongoing investigations make it “impossible for Mayor Pugh to govern effectively.”

Peter Franchot, Maryland’s Comptroller, has also asked that Pugh resign. On Sunday, he made an appearance on WBAL-TV saying that this scandal has harmed the city’s reputation and that the first step in repairing it is her leaving office.

“Now (Baltimore) is kind of a laughing stock around the country because of this crazy scandal that the mayor is involved in,” he said during an interview. “We need to emphasize that this kind of disgrace is not what we’re known for in Maryland or in Baltimore. And we need to recover from it. But at a minimum, she has to step aside.”

See what others are saying: (The Baltimore Sun) (CBS Baltimore) (PBS)

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