Texas is experiencing a considerable uptick in confrontations with anti-government extremists, mirroring a troubling nationwide phenomenon, reports the Houston Chronicle. Law enforcement agencies are witnessing the resurgence of a dangerous anti-government movement that peaked with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported so-called "patriot" groups, including militias and sovereigns, skyrocketed from 149 in 2008 to 1,274 in 2011, the highest it has ever been. Texas topped the list with 76 groups, up from six in 2008.
Mark Potok, who tracks extremist groups for the center, called the growth "astounding." Fueling the rise is a long list of grievances: the shoddy economy; the foreclosure crisis; Barack Obama's presidency; income inequality; concerns about the Second Amendment; fear Hispanics will overtake whites as the majority; and unease about the role of white working-class men in the U.S.
A proposal to abolish capital punishment and replace it with a maximum sentence of life without parole qualified for the Nov. 6 ballot this week, so Californians voters going to the polls in November will again decide the fate of the death penalty, reports the Sacramento Bee. Supporters of the repeal say that capital punishment, which voters added to the state's books in 1978, costs California more than $130 million a year while leading to very few executions because of the time it takes to go through the appeals process.
The measure would apply to the more than 700 inmates currently on death row. The coalition created to oppose the measure, including the California District Attorneys Association, argues that repealing the death penalty would harm public safety. It said in a statement that the problem is "frivolous appeals, endless delays and the ongoing re-victimization of California," not the death penalty itself. Proponents collected 800,000 petition signatures in support of the measure earlier this year. It officially made the cut after a random signature check conducted by counties projected that at least 555,236 of those signatures were valid.
Change has come slowly, but Texas is among a number of states where courts are converting from a paper-intensive to a paperless operation, reports Stateline. The new electronic system in Texas uses a fee-based model in which private sector providers act as electronic couriers and a centralized service provider is a sort of electronic post office. Around the country, private sector companies are willing to pay many of the upfront costs of building electronic court filing systems in the hopes of eventually making their money back — and then some — through fees.
Most state judiciaries are now moving toward electronic filing, although with dramatically varying degrees of speed and sophistication. Some electronic systems simply allow litigants to email files to the court. Others automate a host of judicial functions, such as sending notices to other involved parties when a document has been filed or a judge has taken action on a case. According to the National Center for State Courts, statewide electronic filing is up and running in Delaware, Colorado, Alabama, Utah and Nebraska, with a number of other state judiciaries phasing in systems that are intended to go statewide eventually. In Nebraska, the state estimates that electronic filing in 2011 saved more than 12,000 hours of administrative court staff time.
Two New Jersey troopers have been suspended and a commander reassigned after the law enforcers led a high-speed escort of sports cars to Atlantic City on March 30. The Newark Star-Ledger said two troopers led a caravan of dozens of Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris--all with their license plates covered with tape--in excess of 100 mph down the busy Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway.
The paper said the escort was requested by former New York Giants football star Brandon Jacobs. The Star-Ledger also posted video of a similar, trooper-led caravan in 2010. "We will not tolerate any conduct by a member of the State Police that puts the public in jeopardy, as this unauthorized caravan had the potential to do," Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said in a statement. He added those responsible "will face serious discipline." New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the escort "dumb."
A group calling itself "The Threateners" has declared an end to what it claims is its emailed bomb-threat campaign against the University of Pittsburgh because Pitt officials have met its demand: withdrawal of the university's promised reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the bomb threats, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The university authorities at Pitt have withdrawn the $50,000 reward they offered, and, as our only demand has been met, our campaign is over with immediate effect," according to an emailed statement.
The series of more than 100 bomb threats since March 30 has disrupted life on the campus. A Cambria County transgender couple, Seamus Johnston, 22, and Katherine Anne McCloskey, 56, have been under investigation in connection with the threats. On Wednesday, FBI agents served the couple with a search warrant and seized a personal computer, laptop, cell phone, computer router and some CDs from their apartment.
Writing for The Daily Beast, commentator David R. Dow says last week's landmark ruling on a racist application of the death penalty in North Carolina indicates "we’re finally beginning to have an honest discussion about how we justify legally killing people." In the first invocation of North Carolina's Racial Justice Act, a judge ordered that a death-row inmate’s sentence be reduced to life in prison, after finding that his trial had been so irreversibly tainted by racism that executing him would violate the Constitution.
Twenty-one years ago, Marcus Robinson shot and killed 17-year-old Erik Tornblom. He stole Tornblom’s car and took $27 from his wallet. But Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks concluded that despite Robinson’s horrendous crime, there was no doubt that racism infected the state’s criminal-justice system—specifically, that prosecutors intentionally kept blacks off of capital juries—and that this same racism presumptively infected Robinson’s trial too. He ruled that even abhorrent crimes do not nullify the Constitution’s guarantee of racial equality.
Senate Democrats are making plans to force a floor vote on legislation that would invalidate Arizona’s controversial immigration statute if the Supreme Court upholds the law this summer, reports the Washington Post. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is announcing the fallback legislation today, a day before the Supreme Court hears arguments in a suit to determine whether Arizona had the authority to enact the 2010 state crackdown.
The legislation would have little chance of passing in a stalemated Senate or being approved by a GOP-held House, but it would allow Democrats to push their electoral advantage with Latino voters just as the presidential campaign heats up in July. The plan is to allow Democrats a route to express displeasure with the Arizona law if the court allows it to stand, and it would force Republicans to take a clear position on the law during the height of the presidential campaign. The immigration law is deeply unpopular with Latino voters, who could be key to the outcome of the presidential and Senate races in several Western states. “If the court upholds the Arizona law, Congress can make it clear that what Arizona is doing goes beyond what the federal government and what Congress ever intended,” Schumer told the Post.
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