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Driving while nervous

Mar, 16/12/2014 - 14:59

IN AN unusual 8-1 split, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the lone dissenter, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on Monday that whittles away at the Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The case, Heien v North Carolina, involves a questionable traffic stop. Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the majority opinion, lays out the facts with characteristic crispness:

On the morning of April 29, 2009, Sergeant Matt Darisse of the Surry County Sheriff’s Department sat in his patrol car near Dobson, North Carolina, observing north-bound traffic on Interstate 77. Shortly before 8 a.m., a Ford Escort passed by. Darisse thought the driver looked “very stiff and nervous,” so he pulled onto the interstate and began following the Escort. A few miles down the road, the Escort braked as it approached a slower vehicle, but only the left brake light came on. Noting the...Continue reading

Unequally enforced

Vie, 12/12/2014 - 15:49

MERE hours before the midnight deadline last night, the House narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion federal budget agreement to fund the government through most of next year. The plan now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass in a matter of days. But this budget has a few questionable odds and ends lurking in its 1,600 pages (which we will cover in more depth in the coming week). One provision in particular has many in Washington, DC, wondering whether the city’s plan to legalise small amounts of marijuana—which seven out of ten voters backed in November—is about to go up in smoke.  

Pot is “potent stuff,” argues Continue reading

The perils of fast-tracking

Mié, 10/12/2014 - 17:27

LIKE Plato's early dialogues inquiring into the meaning of justice or piety, Monday’s oral argument at the Supreme Court ended with no clear answer to the central question: what, exactly, is Amtrak? In the case of Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads, for which oral arguments were heard on December 8th, the justices grappled with whether the nationwide passenger train service is or isn't part of the government, and whether it unconstitutionally steps on the toes of other train companies.

Amtrak, it appears, is an inscrutably indeterminate entity. But some facts are clear. With the rise of the automobile and commercial aviation in the 20th century, passenger rail service took a huge hit; by the late 1960s the Pullman Company and the Penn Central,...Continue reading

Crooning for votes

Mié, 10/12/2014 - 06:01

WITH the midterm elections done and dusted, everyone’s eyes are now on 2016. Aspiring presidential candidates are already jockeying for position—making bold speeches, raising big money and, lord help us, releasing campaign songs. “Stand With Hillary”, a political action committee (PAC) supporting Hillary Clinton, recently entered the fray with a YouTube video featuring what some are gleefully describing as the worst campaign song ever.

It’s “time to stand up with Hillary,” croons a dreamy young cowboy with a scruffy beard, soulful eyes and white Stetson. Wearing snug jeans and an unbelievably earnest expression, this sun-kissed rancher offers some down-home praise for the former secretary of state. “She’s a mother, a daughter and through it all she’s a loving wife,” he warbles, and then encourages listeners to “put your boots on and let’s smash this ceiling.” (To drive this subtle point home, our fair crooner dons a hard hat and swings a sledgehammer through a sheet of glass.) No American cliché goes unparaded: the video features fleeting images of farmers, a red barn, cattle, construction workers and the Statue of Liberty....Continue reading

A hard pill to swallow

Mar, 09/12/2014 - 23:14

JOHN MCCAIN, the senior Republican senator from Arizona, spent time in a Hanoi prison camp after fighting for his country in the 1960s and early 1970s. His speech, which followed the publication earlier today of the Senate intelligence committee’s report into torture by the CIA in the years after September 11th 2001, is thus worth paying attention to. Torture, he said, “compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies”; the CIA agents who used it “stained our national honor”.

That is a bold statement, but not necessarily a hyperbolic one. The Senate’s report, which looks into the use of torture roughly between the 9/11 attacks and the end of the Bush presidency in 2008, is devastating stuff for the agency. What is shocking is not only the sorts of things that CIA officers were apparently getting up to, but also the brazen way in which they recorded it, with limited oversight from either the Senate or the executive branch of government.

According to the report, which is based on thousands of internal CIA documents, the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a...Continue reading