The Passing of Justice Scalia: A New Era for the SCOTUS?

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away yesterday while vacationing in Texas during hunting trip. Justice Scalia arrived to the Cibolo Creek Ranch the past Friday for a private party event. Attendees at the event stated that the Justice retired from the party rather early, and returned to his private room. The following day, when he wasn’t present for breakfast service, another guest went to his room to check up on the situation. It was then that the Justice was found deceased, apparently from natural causes. Early speculations believe the death was caused by a heart attack.

Scalia’s body is scheduled to return back to Washington D.C. He will be escorted by Supreme Court Police and Federal Marshalls. As of the last report, his body remained in a funeral home in Texas until the proper arrangements could be made for transportation, and until it was determined whether the autopsy would be performed in the state of Texas. Either Scalia’s family or a local court official will decide whether the autopsy will go forward pursuant to local procedure.

How the Unfortunate Death Affects an Election Year

Saturday’s Republican debate did not shy away from the theme of Scalia’s death. All candidates, exccept for Bush, urged the Republican led Senate to refrain from approving a presidential appointment to the bench until the next president takes office. However, Democrat Patrick Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee recently remarked that it would be a dereliction of duty for the Senate to not consider an appointment in a reasonable amount of time. Even Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders supports finding a replacement as soon as possible. It looks like the situation will end in a heated debate among party lines in the near future.

A Look at Scalia’s Legacy

Scalia was known for being the hardline conservative on the bench. He was responsible for keeping the balance on the Court, and is known for many controversial remarks. Fairly recently, his opinion in the gay marriage case went as follows:

“The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

Scalia was also a main force behind many of the landmark criminal law cases. In 2006, the High Court reviewed the constitutionality of Kansas’ death penalty. As part of the majority opinion holding that the state’s form of capital punishment was lawful, Scalia expressed doubt that any prisoner who had undergone execution was truly innocent of the capital offense. He noted that the “dissent does not discuss a single case — not one — in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit.” Indigent defense counsel like one criminal lawyer in Sacramento points out that this rhetoric is coming into question now as DNA evidence is more frequently used to exonerate inmates unjustly charged with crimes. Many prisoner rights groups feel that some inmates very well may have been excecuted unjustly and that the absence of specific cases to prove the point was merely due to the lack of available scientific methods at the time.

Where the Court is Headed

Many analysts express doubt that the President will be able to appoint a justice during his lame duck tenure. However, one only has to remember that Justice Kennedy was appointed under a similar scenario. Kennedy was appointed in 1987, and confirmed by Reagan in February of 1988, an election year. This situation provides a sharp contrast to Sen. Ted Cruz’s assertion at Saturday’s debate that there is a long precedence of exiting Presidents leaving SCOTUS appointments to the newly elected president. It seems that Obama is intent on getting the job done, and his decision may have the Court leaning to the left for years to come.

Things to Come

The death of Justice Scalia is sad, but it is also allows for a significant change to occur in the Court. We are sure to see a highly debated process as Obama attempts to pass through an appointment in what is already a highly charged election year. It’s possible that the end of the year will not only bring a new President to the White House, but also a new Justice to the Supreme Court.

Fact Checking the Gun Crime Debate

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The Gun Crime Debate In General

The gun control debate has been at the forefront of the upcoming presidential elections. However, it has been in the headlines for a while now. President Obama’s administration has had gun control in its sights for several years now. At the heart of the debate is the question of whether stricter gun laws (or getting more guns off the street) will reduce the rate of violence in U.S. cities and neighborhoods. As you might guess, the Democrats have largely supported more restraint in gun licensing while the Republicans and the NRA lash back with 2nd Amendment arguments. Both have offered many facts to support their respective positions, but who is the American public to believe? Here, we’ll look at some of the alleged facts to see if it sheds any light on the gun debate.

Stricter Gun Laws Mean Less Deaths

The above statement has been made the current president’s administration and is echoed by many of his party members. Yet, this is a hard thing to measure statistically. If we look at the states that have the most gun related death rates, we are left with AK, LA, MS, AL and AK in the top 5*. The presence of these states in the top 5 seems kind of odd. One would assume that states with large inner cities would top the list, such as CA, NY, FL, or TX. However, it must be remembered that this is a very general way to measure the impact guns have on livelihood. For one,  this list also includes gun deaths that resulted from suicide. The gun debate, however, usually focuses on intentional crimes of violence against other people.

The next logical step would be to look at murder rates where guns were used. In the year 2013, there were over 33,000 gun deaths (again including suicides) across the country. One statistic estimates that that seventy percent of the homicides occurring that year involved the use of a gun. The list of the highest rates includes LA, MS, AL, AK and MD*.

Data from a USA Today study seems to support the overall theme that weak gun laws mean more violence. A reporter by the name of Thomas C. Frohlich examined the lists mentioned above. He found that the states that topped the list also had more lax gun purchase laws. In many cases, buyers did not have to register weapons or obtain a permit to purchase and own a gun. His work was later supported by the Brady Campaign which confirmed that those states high up on the list also had weak gun regulations.

These research projects seem to support the left’s claims at first glance, but they do not tell the whole story. Logically speaking, just because there is a correlation of data doesn’t mean that there is actual causation between one factor and another. In other words, just because these states have more access to firearms doesn’t mean that people are taking advantage of the opportunity to go out and kill others.

Guns Used in Crimes

The typical gun related homicide in the criminal court system may shed more light on this issue. As one may suspect, your average defendant in a murder case (involving a gun) didn’t kill someone with a firearm registered to him or herself. One Sacramento criminal lawyer noted that a lot of the gun crime cases involve gang members or other criminals that get their firearms from an illegal, black-market source. Therefore, if most of the guns involved in violent crimes are illegal in the first place, stricter laws probably won’t make much of a difference. Theories like this make the gun debate that much harder to figure out.

The GOP’s Stance: People Kill People

You may have heard the phrase: “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This pretty much sums up the Republican mindset when it comes to gun control. The right will quickly point out that there are hordes of legal gun owners who do not commit crimes merely due to the fact that they have purchased a gun. It is also true that there are many people, such as ranchers and hunters, that use legal firearms on a daily basis and do not end up in some sort of killing rampage.

The interesting situation in Chicago seems to support the pro-gun lobby. Illinois has some of the more stringent gun regulations in the country. Furthermore, the city of Chicago even prohibits owning a handgun since 1982. However, we all know that Chicago has proven to be one of the most violent cities in the U.S. It is a prime example of a place where strict gun laws clearly failed. This example has allowed some Republicans to argue that enough laws are in place already, and that the real problem lies in the lack of enforcement.

Aside from pointing out the lack of logic in the Democrats’ gun arguments, Republicans look at the matter at as constitutional issue. It is often stated that the nation’s forefathers intended for the citizenry to remain armed to protect against tyranny and invasion. As such, attempting to limit the average citizens access to firearm ownership tramps on the constitution and leaves our communities vulnerable. It is also suggested by some pundits that more legal guns are needed in the hands of law abiding citizens to help quell the violence in the streets. The thinking is that if criminals know citizens are armed, they will be a lot less likely to go out and commit crime for fear of being killed themselves.

Unloading the Gun Debate

As you can see from above, there are various arguments to each side of the story. Overall, it is hard to make sense of deaths and violence resulting from gun use by examining the statistics alone. What does seem to be clear is that low income areas seem to suffer the most. However, the crimes committed in these areas are usually done with illegally purchased firearms that fall outside the purview of enforcement statutes. In summary, perhaps the real way to quell gun violence in the U.S. is to address poverty and social ills in order to convince would be shooters that firearms are not the answer to their problems.

-RB

 

*Statistics as compiled by the CDC.

Republicans v.s. Republicans

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In most presidential races, the front runners of each party are clear from the early stages. When it comes around to December, most people are comparing one party’s candidate to the other’s. The 2016 presidential race is proving to be an exception to this. While the Democratic side seems to be sewed up by Clinton, the Republicans are still duking it out to find out who will get the nomination.

The Trump Card

Donald Trump proved to be a real surprise this election season. Most people did not take him seriously at first, and many statements he made along the way seemed to give credence to that thought. Trump broke out from the gates with his controversial stance on immigration, and later hit hard on Muslim refugees. Although the “average Joe” might think that Trump’s statements were way too “out there” to gain any real support, Trump has steadily held the lead in early polling. Whatever Trump’s strategy is, it seems to be working so far.

The Others

I would be willing to bet that the large majority of Americans do not even know who the other Republican candidates are, with the exception of Jeb Bush. The names Christie, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Fiorina and many others are sure to be lost on the ears of the average citizen. Many of these candidates have expressed bewilderment at Trump’s poll numbers. It is probably due to the fact that they can’t believe such a rough around the edges, often loudmouth candidate has taken the conservative camp by storm.

Trump has frustrated the other candidates with his success, this is clearly evident at many of the debates. He is such a wild card that the others don’t know what to do with him. Trump recently stated that he will not run independent if he doesn’t get the nomination, and this is a double edged sword. While it may ensure that the GOP is not split among two conservative candidates, it also means that the current crop of candidates will have to deal with Trump well into 2016.

Why Trump May Trump Them All

Trump is doing well simply because he portrays a sense of honesty and straightforwardness. In 2015, Americans are tired of wishy washy politicians that say one thing and do another. Many Americans feel they were blatantly lied to during the George W. Bush years, and continue to be misled by the Obama administration’s empty promises. Many citizens just want to hear what a politician is really thinking, whether it be good or bad.

Others just want a real conservative in office. With Bush, Rubio and others supporting a more liberal inclined immigration policy, Trump has stated he will take a hard-line stance and enforce the laws on the books. He has gone as far as to suggest he will work to deport anyone currently here illegally. With many Americans still struggling to find a steady job at a fair wage, the talk about getting rid of the often lower paid competition strikes a special chord. Many citizens also simply feel that the immigration laws should be enforced regardless of the humanitarian aspect. Trump gave a true conservative answer to this issue and people seem to respect that.

Many voters are also looking for someone who is not a career politician. Due to the reasons discussed above, we are living in a time when people do not want to put their trust in politicians. Much like the time when Ross Perot ran as an independent, voters nowadays are looking for an alternative. Trump is a political outsider. Although he is perceived by many to be a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth rather than a true self-made businessman, his outside status is an attractive characteristic. It may also help him beat Clinton if he is nominated. Clinton exhibits practically all of the classic traits of a politician, and voters may not appreciate that.

Looking Forward to 2016

The next presidential election will be very interesting to say the least. The main question we will be looking to answer is: will the Republicans overlook Trump in favor of a more centrist candidate? Doing so is a risky proposition for the GOP. No other candidate has had the draw that Trump received. Trump is on a hot streak, and passing him over could be akin to political suicide. We’re not sure what will happen yet, but we will update you here once the smoke clears!