Saying that life sentences for juveniles who don't kill anyone "means a denial of hope," the Supreme Court today struck them down as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
The 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy will affect 129 juveniles serving life sentences without parole -- 77 of them in Florida -- and invalidate laws of 37 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government.
But in his opinion, Kennedy said the practice is "exceedingly rare" and that "a national consensus has developed against it." He noted that currently 11 only states and the federal government have juveniles serving life without parole.
In her private meetings with Senators, Elena Kagan is making a point that's pretty hard to dispute. But in doing so, she's turning up the pressure -- on herself.
Kagan, the no-nonsense solicitor general, is criticizing past Supreme Court hearings as lacking in substance -- and the performance of at least one justice now on the Court, according to senators who talked to her.
"She identified a specific justice who she thought was not appropriate in responses," said Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter after he met with Kagan. "I'm not going to tell you who it was, but I'm going to take a look at that record in preparation for the questioning."
Hers is a widely shared view: Senators pontificate; nominees stonewall.
"The last several hearings have been, as she has indicated, pretty superficial," said Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, who met with Kagan yesterday.
Kagan tackled the problem in a 1995 University of Chicago Law Review article. She said the hearings had become a "farce" and a "vapid and hollow charade." Not since Robert Bork, she wrote, had any nominee candidly discussed his or her views.
Of course, perhaps there's a reason for that: The Senate rejected Bork. But her article became an issue in her hearings last year for solicitor general.
"I wrote that when I was in the position of sitting where the staff is now sitting and feeling a little bit frustrated that I really wasn't understanding completely what the judicial nominee in front of me meant," Kagan explained last year.Continue »
Unlike his selection last year of Sonia Sotomayor, Kagan is not an overtly political pick -- she will be something of a fight with Republicans, she doesn't appease the liberal base, she's not a Washington outsider and she doesn't bring ethnic or racial diversity.
What she brings is intellectual heft and a keen analytical mind, with a proven track record of consensus building. This is a pick that shows the president is thinking long-term. At 50, Kagan could serve on the Court for a generation and become one of its most effective voices on the Left.
She was the frontrunner from the beginning, and this nomination was hers to lose. Bob Schieffer reminded me this morning that I made two predictions on the very first Face the Nation of 2010. One was that Mr. Obama would tap Kagan for the Supreme Court this year. The second was that the Alabama Crimson Tide would win the national championship.Continue »
CBS News has learned that President Obama will nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Multiple White House sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the pick late Sunday night. The president is expected to announce the pick Monday morning from the White House.
Some early conservative reaction is honing in on Kagan's opposition to military recruiting at Harvard because of "don't ask, don't tell" and her lack of judicial experience.
Rick Garnett, professor of law and associate dean of University of Notre Dame Law School, and former law clerk for Chief Justice Rehnquist: "Elections matter, and the election of President Obama has turned out to matter a great deal for the future decisions and direction of Supreme Court. With the nomination of Solicitor General Kagan, the President has taken a significant step toward reshaping the Court and its work for generations."Continue »
Elena Kagan (far left in the picture above), 50, the current solicitor general and former dean of Harvard Law School. She is considered the leading candidate, in part because of her reputation as a consensus builder at Harvard and her outreach to conservatives. She is widely viewed as an intellectual heavyweight, and has youth on her side. She also would be the Court's third woman justice. But the left is lukewarm on her nomination because she is not believed to be solid on issues of executive power. Republicans would portray her as a Washington insider, and slam her for refusing to allow military recruiters at Harvard because of its "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Merrick Garland (second from left in the picture), 57, federal appeals court judge on the DC Circuit. With Kagan, he is also considered a leading contender and would be the easiest to confirm, because he would get significant conservative support. He's considered the most moderate of the bunch and, in replacing liberal leader John Paul Stevens, would actually move the Court to the right. The left would see his nomination as a crushing disappointment, with 59 Democratic votes in the Senate. His nomination would mean Mr. Obama is unwilling to expend an iota political capital on the Supreme Court and instead wants to focus on his legislative agenda.Continue »
Wood, a highly respected jurist on the Chicago-based appeals court, was on Mr. Obama's short list last year.
A White House source says the president is not necessarily done with the interviews.
Last week, Mr. Obama interviewed federal appeals court Judges Merrick Garland and Sidney Thomas, as well as Solicitor General Elena Kagan.
Today is the last day that visitors to the Supreme Court will be able to walk up the majestic marble front steps and pass under the stirring words, "Equal Justice Under Law," to enter the imposing building. As part of a major renovation, the Court has decided for security reasons to close the front doors to the public and make visitors and lawyers use a side door.
If that strikes you as ridiculous, you're not alone. Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote a "dissent" of sorts, calling the decision "unfortunate," "dispiriting," and unjustified by security concerns.
Breyer did his research. He traced the history of the Court's design and its 44 marble steps, which he called a "symbol of dignified openness and meaningful access to equal justice under the law." Closing the front doors, he said, would "undervalue the symbolic and historic importance" of allowing visitors to enter the Court up its famed front steps.
"To many members of the public, this Court's main entrance and front steps are not only a means, to, but also a metaphor for, access to the Court itself," Breyer wrote.
He also did some reporting. "To my knowledge, and I have spoken to numerous jurists and architects worldwide, no other Supreme Court in the world--including those, such as Israel's, that face security concerns equal to or greater than ours--has closed its main entrance to the public," Breyer wrote.
Breyer said that he recognized the concerns identified in two separate security studies, which led to the decision, but said "potential security threats will exist regardless of which entrance we use."
Visitors will still be able to exit through the front doors and walk down the steps as they leave the building. But that, Breyer said, is not the same.
All have been confirmed by the White House, but some are highly unlikely to make the final cut. Williams, for example, will be 61 this summer. And although she has a compelling life story as a former Detroit school teacher and was the first African American on the Chicago-based federal appeals court, she is generally not considered a judicial superstar.
And chances are slim that an elected official -- someone who's been through the rough-and-tumble world of politics -- will get the nod, administration sources say. In this hyper-charged political environment, the White House doesn't want the risk of potential distractions from even minor ethics allegations because of a candidate's campaign contributions, fundraising or political allies. Leah Ward Sears, for example, was hit with ethics charges after she accepted improper contributions during her 2004 campaign for the Georgia Supreme Court.Continue »
It's important to keep in mind that some of the people are on the list as a courtesy or as a nod to one group or another and are not likely to be selected.
Of the top three, 49-year-old Kagan is seen as ably portraying the storyline the White House wants to see out of these hearings: That she can take on a conservative-dominated Supreme Court which President Obama says is out of touch with everyday Americans.
Kagan, as solicitor general, defended campaign finance reform laws in arguments in the Supreme Court last fall. The Court ruled against her, on a 5-4 vote, allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds on political ads, with Stevens writing a scathing dissent. That ruling is what prompted Mr. Obama's shot at the justices in his January State of the Union address, and what he was referring to on Friday, when he said he would look for a nominee who was on the side of regular people.
Kagan also is widely viewed as being a strategic force on the Court, in light of her experience as dean of Harvard Law School, where she hired bright conservative law professors and brought faculty factions together.
Garland's narrative is that he left a high-paying partnership at a Washington law firm to serve as the public interest as a federal prosecutor. A Chicago native, he has wide support inside the beltway and is seen as the easiest confirmation.
Conservatives like Ed Whelan, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, are saying he would be acceptable, and he is friends with Chief Justice John Roberts. But he is more moderate than some progressives would like, and he's a 57-year-old white guy -- and there have been calls for another woman or minority on the high court.Continue »
President Obama will be looking for a Supreme Court nominee to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens who will "affect the Court in a strategic way," with CBS News Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford said today on "Washington Unplugged."
While Mr. Obama's first nominee to the Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was largely political, the president will now think about "how the nominee and the new justice would affect the internal dynamics of the Supreme Court," Crawford told Unplugged host Bob Orr.
Stevens sent a letter to the president this morning announcing his retirement. While Stevens retirement has been expected for several months, the timing of his announcement was strange for the Justice that Crawford described as "independent" and "eccentric."
"He decided on his own that this was the time to go," said Crawford, "and he was going to do it on a Friday morning."
Crawford listed the prospective favorites to replace Stevens, including two women President Obama may consider. Crawford said Seventh Circuit Federal judge Diane Wood and Solicitor General Elena Kagan are potential female candidates, while Washington, D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland is a strong candidate to ascend to the bench.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' announcement this morning that he will retire at the end of the Court's term was a surprise only in the sense that it came today.
It's been widely expected that the 89-year-old Justice would step down at the end of the Court's term this year-- the only question was when he would tell us.
I'll be reporting this much of the day, for a piece for tonight's Evening News that looks at
Stevens' legacy on the Court and the prospects to replace him. And I'll keep you updated here.
In the meantime, here's a discussion Bob Schieffer and I had on Face the Nation about Stevens and possible replacements--and whether or not the White House really wants a fight after a bruising health care battle.
You can watch it here or below:
Here is the transcript:
SCHIEFFER: Well, I'm going to start with you, Jan Crawford, because suddenly, according to both the New York Times and The Washington Post today were interviews were given by Justice John Paul Stevens, who's approaching 90 years old. He's talking about when is he going to step down?
I mean, there's every indication from these interviews -- he doesn't say he's going to step down, but it sounds like his retirement is imminent.
So, in the midst of all the other things that are going on in this election year, it appears that President Obama is going to nominate somebody to fill a vacancy on the court. And does the White House really need or want that fight right now?
CRAWFORD: Well, I think the White House has been expecting this. We've long suspected that Justice Stevens was going to step down this year, and he said he's going to retire in Obama's -- President Obama's first term. So that means either this year or next year. Justices don't like to retire during a presidential election season. They don't want to inject the court into politics.
So the White House is ready for this. I mean, remember, they went through this last year when they replaced Justice Souter. They looked at these nominees. They've got a pretty good working short list.
If they want a fight, now's the time to have it. They've got a solid majority in the Senate. They're going to lose, probably, four to six votes in the upcoming midterm. So if they want a fight, now's the time to have it.Continue »
Whether the White House has a short-term or long-term strategy or no strategy at all, it's flat-out absurd and ill-advised for the administration to think it should always have the last word. It's like my 6-year-old: "I don't LIKE your idea. I like MY idea."
It wasn't enough that Mr. Obama, for the first time in modern history, took a direct shot at the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address, when he slammed the justices for their recent campaign finance reform decision. Six of them looked on -- including the author of the opinion, key swing vote Anthony Kennedy -- while Democrats jumped up to whoop and holler.
All that, of course, was too much for Justice Samuel Alito, who shook his head and silently mouthed, "not true."Continue »
Lower courts had ruled against them, and Roberts said he saw no reason for the Supreme Court to step into such a local matter involving the referendum process.
As a result, gay couples can start applying for marriage licenses in D.C. tomorrow. Opponents still can pursue a ballot initiative to overturn the same-sex marriage law.
In a five-page, single-spaced letter today to Senate Republicans, Holder took full responsibility for the decision to charge Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab with federal crimes. And he took full aim at critics who've argued it cost the United States valuable intelligence because the young al Qaeda operative promptly lawyered up and stopped talking.
In the letter, Holder adamantly defended his decision—and himself. "As Attorney General, I am guided not by partisanship nor political considerations," he said, but by a commitment to "protect the American people, defeat our enemies and ensure the rule of law." He managed to set himself up as a shining knight of principle and a guardian of the law, while calling into questions the motives of anyone who deigned to criticize him.
Holder said a contrary approach ignoring the role of the criminal justice system in fighting terrorism would be "foolish" and "dangerous." But that's exactly what critics have called the decision to stop questioning Abdulmutallab.
The decision was made in chaos on Christmas Day, after FBI agents questioned the severely wounded young Nigerian for a mere 50 minutes before he was rushed into surgery. There was no consultation with top intelligence officials, and the director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who was out of the loop, questioned in Senate testimony whether it was the right call.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen (at left) are announcing today that the military will no longer pursue allegations from third parties that a service member is gay. And they're say they're going to begin the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" so that gays can serve openly in the military.
Mr. Obama said in last week's State of the Union address that he would end "don't ask, don't tell," the law, as he put it, that "denies gay Americans the right to serve in the country they love because of who they are." (Watch the video.)