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2001 News Archive

This page is an archive of articles presented on the Current News page of the USConstitution.net site. On this page are articles that were posted in 2001.

12/10/01 Rights of parolees restricted by Supreme Court
The Supreme Court today ruled that if a prisoner agrees to warrantless searches during the course of a probationary period, that any search my be conducted at any time, even if the search is not related to determination of probationary adherence. Mark James Knights was on probation for a drug offense, probation which included an agreement to submit to warrantless searches of his person, his home, property, or car at any time. He was searched by a deputy investigating an arson, and was found to hold tools of arson. Knights challenged his subsequent arrest, arguing that the searches outlined in the probation contract were not to be used for investigations. The Court disagreed unanimously and ruled the search was legal.

12/06/01 Ashcroft blasts critics of Government's tactics
Attorney General John Ashcroft raised eyebrows around the nation when he seemed to indicate, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that critics of the administration were, in effect, aiding the enemy in the war on terrorism. Said Ashcroft, "To those ... who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends." The statement went unchallenged in the committee hearing, but rapidly drew criticism outside the hearing.

11/08/01 Oregon sues United States over assisted suicide reporting rule
After Attorney General John Ashcroft announced new rules that prohibited doctors from prescribing federally-regulated drugs for the purpose of causing or hastening a patient's death. The rule is in direct contradiction to an Oregon law enabling physicians to do just that. The rule does not require that doctors be charged with a crime, but it does remove their license to prescribe such drugs. The rule overturns a rule instituted by Ashcroft's Democratic predecessor that barred federal law enforcement officials from pursuing such cases in Oregon. Oregon has filed suit against the United States over the new rule, calling it an unprecedented intrusion on the state's rights to regulate the practice of medicine within its borders.

11/02/01 Supreme Court returns to its quarters
After hearing oral arguments in the ceremonial courtroom of a nearby federal courthouse for the past several days, the Supreme Court building has been cleared of all anthrax contamination. The contamination forced the Court to convene outside its building for the first time since the building opened in 1935. The search for those responsible for the contamination continues.

10/08/01 President establishes Office of Homeland Security
President Bush issued an executive order establishing the Office of Homeland Security, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was sworn in as its first director. The office's mission is to establish a national strategy to defend the United States against internal and external attack, coordinating the efforts of other departments toward that goal. The following are seen as the main themes: Detection, preparedness, prevention, protection, response, and recovery. The E.O. also established a Homeland Security Council, consisting of the President, Vice President, the Secretaries of the Treasury, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, the Attorney General, the Directors of the FBI, FEMA, CIA, and the director of the new Office, whose official title is Assistant to the President for Homeland Security.

10/05/01 Georgia court rules electric chair unconstitutional
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled today that executions in that state can no longer use the electric chair. Rather, lethal injection should be used. Saying that the electric chair inflicted needless physical violence and mutilation, the Court said that the continued use of the chair would violate both the Georgia and United States constitutions.

09/20/01 Bush prepares nation for "new kind of war"
In an unusual address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush spoke to the Congress, to the American people, and to the world, in reaction to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Bush also divided the world's nations into two groups - those who stand against terrorism and those who stand for it. Vowing to bring all of the financial and military might of the U.S. to bear, Bush issued ultimatums to Afghanistan, thought to harbor Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, and warned members of the network and other global terrorist networks that the U.S. was coming for them. Bush also announced the creation of the Office of Homeland Security, a Cabinet-level position, to be headed by Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania.

09/20/01 Judges nullifies POW restitution law
A U.S. District Court judge ruled that a California law that allowed former prisoners of war from World War 2 to sue their former captors in a California claims court overreached the authority of the state. The law reached too far into the federal government's ability to conduct all foreign affairs. The judge made the ruling in the case of Chinese and Korean former POWs suing Japan. In a concurrent ruling, the judge said that Filipinos could not sue Japan because the Philippines signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan, which forbade such tort claims.

09/14/01 Congress issues approval for action
The U.S. Congress issued an open-ended resolution authorizing the President to retaliate against terrorists for the attacks on New York and Washington. The bill authorizes the President to use "all necessary and appropriate force." The President issued a call-up for 35,000 reserve members of the armed forces. Congress also unanimously approved a $40 billion spending bill to help pay for the rescue and clean-up efforts.

09/13/01 Congress contemplates declaration of war
In response to the tragic terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., several members of Congress are contemplating issuing a declaration of war against terrorist organizations. The ability to declare war against a non-nation is in question, but many Congress people want to be able to give President Bush the congressional authority to carry out hostilities against terrorist groups as he sees fit.

08/28/01 IRS can confiscate cars parked in plan view
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that a car parked in a driveway, in plain sight from a public road, could be confiscated by IRS agents who had a levy on the car for unpaid taxes. In the case of Rogers v. Vicuna, Richard Rogers of Northborough, MA, had received several notices from the IRS informing him of their intention to levy some of his property to settle back taxes unpaid from 1992 and 1993. Upon failing to respond to the notices, agents Sophia Vicuna and Thomas Kilmartin seized the vehicles. They did not have a warrant. Rogers sued, and his suit was denied in both District and now the Appeals court.

08/17/01 South Carolina's Floyd Spence dies
Republican Floyd Spence of South Carolina died today, after enduring several weeks in hospital after an August 9 brain surgery. Spence was 73. Spence had been active in South Carolina politics since 1956.

08/06/01 Arkansan Asa Hutchinson resigns to head DEA
Republican Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas resigned his seat in the United States House of Representatives today. He has been tapped by the Bush Administration to head the Drug Enforcement Agency. Hutchinson was confirmed as the DEA Administrator on August 1, and is scheduled to transition to the DEA on August 8, 2001.

07/31/01 Commission recommends changes to national election processes
A panel made up of notable former government officials, including former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, recommended several changes to the voting process in America, including making Election Day a national holiday. The commission also called for a moratorium on news reporting on returns until polls in the continental states close, nationwide uniform closure time, federal standards for voting equipment, and federal matching funds for localities looking to upgrade their systems. President Bush accepted the report in a Rose Garden ceremony, saying that the recommendations would "strengthen our electoral system."

07/09/01 Arkansas Supreme Court to review all death penalty cases
Announcing that it will review all death penalty cases decided on August 1, 2001, or after, the Arkansas Supreme Court set criteria it will be looking for the following: 1. Prejudicial error occurred. 2. The trial court failed in its obligation to bring to the jury's attention a matter essential to the jury's consideration of the death penalty. 3. The trial judge committed prejudicial error about which the defense had no knowledge and therefore no opportunity to object. 4. The trial court failed to intervene without objection to correct a serious error by admonition or declaring a mistrial. 5. The trial court erred in failing to take notice of an evidentiary error that affected a substantial right of the defendant. 6. The evidence supports the jury's finding of a statutory aggravating circumstance or circumstances. 7. The sentence of death was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor.

06/28/01 Indefinite alien detention unconstitutional
Rules that allow an alien prisoner to remain in detention even after a set jail term has expired were ruled unconstitutional today by a closely-split Supreme Court. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that alien ex-cons who cannot be deported cannot be held in indefinite detention. The ruling allowed the government six months after the end of a jail term to either deport or release such persons. The issue comes up when an immigrant commits a crime in the U.S. - typically these persons are deported, but the U.S. does not have repatriation treaties with all nations.

06/26/01 Court rules on civil cases against state officials for acts on an Indian reservation
The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 today that a Tribal Court does not have the power to assert jurisdiction in a civil suit against state officials who entered tribal lands to execute a search warrant on a tribal resident thought to have committed crimes off tribal lands. The residence of Floyd Hicks, a resident member of Nevada's Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, sued Nevada officials for entering his home in search of evidence of game violations. Hunting trophies seized were found to not be of restricted animals and were returned. Hicks sued in tribal court for violations of his civil rights in the searches. the Tribal Court agreed that it had jurisdiction, but a federal court disagreed. The Supreme Court agreed with the federal court, noting that the purpose of tribal courts are to maintain tribal self-government, and that the "[t]ribal authority to regulate state officers in executing process related to the off-reservation violation of state laws is not essential to tribal self-government or internal relations."

06/25/01 Limits on "coordinated spending" are OK
In a 5-4 close call, the Supreme Court ruled today that so-called "coordinated spending" can be constitutionally limited. Federal election law allows an individual to donate up to $2000 to a specific campaign, and up to $20,000 to a specific party. The limit is designed to prohibit a person from contributing to a party with a tacit understanding that the $20,000 is to benefit a particular candidate. The decision has no effect on so-called "soft money," or dollars spent on the behalf of a candidate without the candidate's cooperation. The line between coordinated spending and soft money is a fine by constitutionally important one.

06/18/01 Idaho Indian lands belong to the United States
In another of a series of original jurisdiction cases, the Supreme Court today ruled that lands ceded to the United States by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe are held in trust by the United States for the benefit of the tribe, and not by the state of Idaho. From 1873 until 1891, the Government negotiated a series of treaties with the tribe, which ceded vast tracts of land to the U.S., including the submerged lands under Lake Coeur d'Alene and the St. Joe river. The treaties were not formally ratified by Congress until after Idaho's statehood petition was granted by Congress. The Court ruled that despite the timing of the bills and of executive orders issued regarding the lands, the intent if the U.S. was clearly to bar passage of the title on the lands to Idaho. The case was decided on a 5-4 vote, with the Court's conservative bloc in the minority.

06/12/01 Colorado must pay Kansas interest on water
In a 6-3 decision in a rare original jurisdiction case, the Supreme Court ruled that Colorado must pay Kansas interest on monetary damages awarded earlier by a Supreme Court special master. The case, over water rights to water from the Arkansas River, awarded damages to Kansas. The special master recommended interest be paid dating back to 1969. Colorado wanted to pay no interest and Kansas demanded interest back to 1950. The Court settled on 1985, the year Colorado should have known it was in violation of the 1949 Arkansas River Compact. The ruling will reduce the damages from about $61 million to $40 million.

06/11/01 Mothers and fathers are not the same for citizenship, Court rules
U.S. citizen mothers confer U.S. citizenship upon their children from the moment of birth, but fathers must formally claim and apply for citizenship for their children. So said a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court today. In the case of Tuan Ahn Nguyen, born out of wedlock to an American father and a Vietnamese mother, the fact that Tuan had lived with his father in the U.S. since he was six years old was irrelevant in deportation hearings, because his father, Joseph Boulais, did not formally apply for citizenship before Tuan's 18th birthday. The opinion recognizes basic biological differences in the relationship of mother and child and father and child. Women's groups denounced the opinion, saying that it gave legal approval to American men impregnating foreign women with abandon, with one spokes person saying that "mothers are drafted and fathers are volunteers." Other groups praised the decision, speculating that it would prohibit claims of U.S. citizenship from children fathered by American sperm donors.

06/11/01 Religious group must be given access to school resources
Voting 6-3, the Supreme Court ruled today that a Christian youth group called the Good News Club must be allowed to use school property if such use is allowed for other non-religious groups. The ruling resolved opposite rulings in several U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals by overturning the 2nd Circuit's ruling that the Club could not use school property. According to the majority opinion, written by Justice Thomas, "When [the] Milford [New York School District] denied the Good News Club access to the schools limited public forum on the ground that the Club was religious in nature, it discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment."

06/11/01 Thermal scanning of a home requires a warrant
In a close 5-4 decision that saw a mixing of the traditional liberal and conservative wings of the Supreme Court, the court today ruled that thermal scanning of a home requires a warrant. In 1991, the home of Danny Kyllo was scanned by police for evidence of possible indoor marijuana cultivation. When the scan showed possible indoor growing lights in use, a warrant was issued and Kyllo was arrested when over 100 plants were found. The decision struck down lower court rulings that the scan was not an unreasonable search. More importantly, perhaps, the decision sets new guidelines for determining when a search does require a warrant. In the majority opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Court said that the use of any device not generally available or in use by the public used to peer into a private home and able to see things previously unseeable without a physical search, constitutes a warrantable search. Scalia was joined by Justices Thomas, Breyer, Ginsberg, and Souter.

06/06/01 Senate power shift
With the conversion of Vermont's James Jeffords from Republican to Independent complete, the Democrats today took control of the Senate in a rare mid-term power shift. South Dakota's Tom Daschle became the new majority leader, and West Virginia's Robert Byrd became the new President Pro Tempore. New committee chair assignments were also doled out to Democrats, and to Jeffords.

05/29/01 Supreme Court rejects New Hampshire's attempt to annex Piscataqua River and Portsmouth Harbor
The Supreme Court reject an attempt by New Hampshire to overturn a 1977 consent decree entered into by itself and Maine that its common border should be the middle of the navigable channel of the Piscataqua River. New Hampshire wanted to make the border be the Maine shore of the river, in effect placing the entire river, and the whole of the Portsmouth Harbor inside New Hampshire. The Court enforced "judicial estoppel," a doctrine that essentially says that once two parties agree to something, one party cannot reject the agreement simply because it suits it to do so. The Court accepted Maine's motion to dismiss by a vote of 8-0, with Justice Souter (of New Hampshire) abstaining.

05/29/01 Martin can use golf cart on PGA Tour, Court rules
In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court decided today that Casey Martin, former player in the PGA Tour, should be able to use a golf cart on the course of a PGA tournament. Martin, who did not qualify to play in the Tour this year, has a congenital circulatory problem that can literally make it deadly for him walk a full course. The Court ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act does apply to the PGA because their rule that golfers walk the course is not fundamental to the game. Pointing out that carts are allowed in other PGA events, such as the Senior's Tour, Justice John Paul Stevens rejected the PGA's argument against the use of a cart. Reaction in the sports world was mixed, ranging from doom-and-gloom predictions to blase resignation.

05/24/01 Senator leaves Republican party, shifts balance of power
Vermont's Republican Senator James Jeffords announced today that he intends to drop out of the Republican Party to become an independent. The move breaks the 50-50 tie in the Senate, giving the Democrats control over the body, with a 50- 49-1 split. Jeffords, who has clashed with his party's leadership for years over his maverick views, noted in a speech that he felt he had no choice but to disassociate from the party. Jeffords pledged to not make his change official until after a crucial vote on the President's budget - a budget many believe was the last straw in Jeffords' fight with the conservative party leadership. While defections are no unheard of, rarely do they have such an effect on the structure of the Senate.

05/21/01 Right to know trumps right to privacy
News organizations may air illegally obtained tape when such an airing is in the public's interest, the Supreme Court said today in a 6-3 decision. In the case, an illegally intercepted cell phone call was taped by persons unknown. The tape, which captured two union officials speaking during a 1993 teacher's union negotiation. The conversation, clearly thought to be private by the participants, caught one official suggesting that the front decks of school board members could be blown up to coerce them. The tape was delivered to, and repeatedly played by, a Pennsylvania radio station. The Court noted that the 1st Amendment protected the disclosure of the contents of the tape. The case is Bartnicki v. Vopper.

05/14/01 No exception for medical marijuana
In a unanimous 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court today affirmed that federal law does not permit an exemption to its illegal drug rules for ill patients prescribed the drug by doctors. Noting that the Court was presented with no evidence of an accepted medical use, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that aside from the federally-accepted research projects anticipated in the statute, no exception for medical marijuana use was warranted.

04/30/01 Tribe cannot reverse contractual obligation
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a contract signed by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma contained an arbitration clause that the tribe cannot ignore by claiming sovereign immunity. The tribe was accused of reneging on a deal to roof a tribe-owned building. The contract, the Court said, contained a clause requiring arbitration of any disputes arising from the contract. That clause was entered into willingly by the tribe and cannot be ignored.

04/30/01 Nader suit rejected
A suit brought to the Supreme Court by 2000 presidential candidate Ralph Nader was rejected by the Court today. The suit sought to end corporate underwriting of presidential debates. Nader's case, against the Federal Election Commission's rule that corporate sponsorship is permitted as long as a non-profit organization runs the debate, was filed in October, 2000. Two federal courts had denied Nader's claims prior to the appeal to the Supreme Court.

04/24/01 Court OK's arrests for minor offenses
An unusual team voted 5-4 to allow a state law that allowed arrest for a relatively minor traffic offense. A Texas woman, arrested when a police officer found her and her two children unbelted in their car, appealed her arrest. But the Supreme Court ruled that the state law that allowed such an arrest is not unconstitutional... in fact, to change the law, the Court noted that the election of representatives serves as the people's voice on issues such as the seat belt law. In the decision, Justice Souter, normally a more liberal judge, sided with a conservative bloc, and normally conservative Justice O'Connor sided with a liberal bloc.

04/18/01 Prisoner-lawyers do not have right to give legal advice
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to provide legal information to each other. The argument of a Montana prisoner that his legal advice constituted speech which should be free of restriction was rejected by the Court. Writing for the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas said that prisoner law clerks often create more harm than good, by inciting prisoners to file frivolous suits, or by using documents marked as legal and privileged to pass bomb- or drug-making instructions. Kevin Murphy had actually been trained by Montana prison officials to offer legal advice to prisoners. Murphy wrote to a prisoner in a maximum security unit, which is against prison rules. Murphy sued over the incident and a federal judge agreed with Murphy. The Court overturned the federal judge's order.

04/17/01 Back pay subject to current tax law, Court says
In a case stemming from a 1980's labor dispute, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously for the IRS, saying that back pay paid today must be taxed according to today's tax law, and not the tax law at the time the pay would have been paid. In 1994, the Cleveland Indians professional baseball team paid $2.7 million to 22 players, and paid the taxes in a lump sum based at the time, but requested a refund based on what would have been owed on that same money from 1986 and 1987. The Indians, and two lower courts, based their decision on a 1946 Supreme Court case concerning Social Security benefits. But the 2001 Court disagreed that back benefits and back taxes must be calculated the same way.

04/02/01 Right to have a lawyer present during questioning limited
A highly split Supreme Court decided today that the right to have a lawyer present during questioning for one offense does not automatically extend to questioning done on related offenses. In the 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court overruled an appeals court ruling that overturned a murder conviction. In 1995, Raymond Cobb was interrogated about a murder he had been suspected of two years earlier. In 1993, Cobb's attorney in a robbery case had given police permission to ask Cobb about the murder, but the interviews led nowhere. In 1995, Cobb confessed to the murders. He appealed after being convicted, saying that his lawyer should have been notified about the 1995 interview. In the opinion of the Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that he did not think that this new ruling would have an extensive effect on rights, as many other protections are in place.

03/28/01 Bush signals rejection of global-warming treaty
President Bush's spokesman today announced that an international treaty signed by the U.S. in 1997 would not be supported by the administration. The Kyoto Treaty, named after the Japanese city where it was hammered out, would have allowed stiff fines on nations that produced too large a percentage of the world's greenhouse gases. The treaty, signed by President Clinton but never sent to the Senate for ratification, could have been devastating to the U.S. economy, according to Bush. Pacific island nations and European nations lamented the decision, which comes in the middle of separate talks aimed at the implementation of the treaty.

03/21/01 Drug testing on new moms unconstitutional
The Supreme Court today ruled 6-3 that drug tests could not be conducted on mothers after giving birth to new babies, without their consent. The case revolved around the 1989 policy of the Medical University of South Carolina, which conducted drug tests post-partum on patients that exhibited symptoms of drug abuse. The results, if positive, were reported to local police. The hospital argued that the patients consented to the tests in the paperwork signed upon entry to the hospital. The hospital ended the policy in 1994. The policy required positive-testing women to accept drug counseling or a criminal charge.

03/19/01 Marine who refused vaccination has appeal rejected
Lance Corporal Matthew Perry's bid to defy military orders to submit to an anthrax vaccination ended today when the Supreme Court rejected his case without comment. Perry maintains that the government violated his civil rights when a military judge ruled pre-trial that the military order to be vaccinated was lawful. He argued that the pre-trial finding violated his 5th and 6th Amendment rights of due process. Perry has been convicted of refusing to obey the order of a superior.

02/28/01 Poll "branding" found unconstitutional
A Missouri state law that required candidates to elective office to declare on the ballot whether or not they supported term limits was ruled unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court. The Court called the rule an attempt to dictate electoral outcomes. The law was passed after the Supreme Court struck down congressional term limit laws in 1995.

02/28/01 Welfare recipients can sue for benefits with government lawyers, Court rules
In a 5-4 split decision that grouped the justices outside their normal liberal/conservative split, the Court ruled that welfare recipients can use government-funded lawyers to sue for welfare benefits. Calling a 1996 law that barred such use of the lawyers an unconstitutional gag order, Justice Kennedy wrote that the law placed free-speech burdens on both litigants and the attorneys. The law targeted lawyers of the Legal Services Corp., which received federal dollars, restricting them from challenging federal law even using private funds.

02/28/01 Unanimous Supreme Courts upholds Clean Air Act
In a blow to industry interests, even the most conservative of the members of the Supreme Court upheld one of the nation's premier environmental laws. The Court rejected arguments that the rules of the Environmental Protection Agency must take cost into consideration when they are set. The way the law is currently written, only science is to be taken into consideration, and not cost. The Court did reject a current set of ozone and soot rules, but in doing so did not strip the EPA of its rule-making power. The law requires the EPA to set standards required to ensure the health of the population without regard to how much it will cost to implement the standard. Justice Scalia, writing for the Court, said that the law is clear in its mandate that cost considerations not be taken into account. The ruling also denied the contention that the delegation of powers to the EPA was too great.

02/20/01 Supreme Courts rules in detention case
Suspects can be kept from entering their home while police obtain a search warrant, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 today. The Court ruled that the facts of case warranted the police action. Tera McArthur requested police assistance when she moved out of her home - upon leaving, she informed the officers that her estranged husband had marijuana in the home. Police detained Charles McArthur outside the home for two hours, until a search warrant could be obtained. McArthur's argument was that the police should have let him go back into the home unsupervised. The Court agreed with the police that the likelihood that he would have destroyed the evidence made the brief detention constitutional.

02/18/01 Clinton defends pardons
President Clinton, writing in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, defended his 11th-hour pardons, including that of fugitive financier Mark Rich. Clinton has been criticized for some pardons granted the last day of his presidency. Rich has been a fugitive from U.S. authorities since 1983. In the piece, Clinton defended the Rich pardon, insisting that there was no quid pro quo for the pardon - that it had been affected out of a sense of justice, and based on pleas from Israel and Jewish Americans who concentrated on Rich's philanthropic efforts over the past 20 years.

02/08/01 Congress holds hearings on Clinton pardons
The House Committee on Government Reform held hearings today concerning President Clinton's pardon of Mark Rich, a fugitive from U.S. authorities living in Switzerland. He was found to have evaded more than $48 million in taxes. The Committee focused on who knew what, and when - the pardon apparently bypassed the normal pardon channels and was taken directly to the President by Rich's attorney Jack Quinn. Rich's ex-wife is an active fund raiser for the Democratic Party and helped raise funds for the Clinton Presidential Library. Some of the testimony focused on whether Rich had formally renounced his U.S. citizenship, and if so, whether the President's broad pardon power could reach that far.

02/01/01 Bush's cabinet complete
In the closest confirmation vote so far, President Bush's final cabinet-level appointment was confirmed today. The Senate voted 58-42 to confirm former Senator John Ashcroft as Attorney General, head of the Justice Department.

01/30/01 All but one of Bush's cabinet secretaries now confirmed
With all of his cabinet secretaries but one confirmed by the Senate, and in his second week of office, President Bush prepared to get into the full swing of governance. After devoting his first week in office to the subject of education, Bush prepared a controversial plan to use faith-based charities to help distribute welfare services. He and his cabinet also talked up the $1.6 trillion tax cut Bush wants to put into place. But the Senate was still debating Bush's choice for Attorney General, former Senator John Ashcroft. After squeaking through his committee hearings, Ashcroft was expected to be confirmed, but several Democratic Senators vowed a fight on the floor. Bush prepared to call his first cabinet meeting without Ashcroft's confirmation and without HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who still has not resigned as governor of Wisconsin.

01/18/01 Supreme Court OKs civil confinement
In a case pitting victims' rights advocates against civil libertarians, the Supreme Court decided today that civil confinement, where a convict is kept under lock and key after the term is served, is constitutional. In a decisive 8-1 ruling, the Court said that a six-time rapist could be held after his sentence was up, and that the state's failure to provide mandated treatment to him is not grounds to have the confinement overturned. The Court noted that a civil suit can be filed for relief. The case is Selling v Young.

01/09/01 Length of time sentenced is not relevant to determining if counsel is ineffective
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court today ruled that the Sixth Amendment does not differentiate between long and short jail sentences, and as such, if a defendant's legal counsel is ineffective, the length of any extra jail time cannot be used as a counter-claim. In the case of Glover v U.S., Paul Glover maintains that his lawyer should have challenged a 21-month sentence for a host of charges, including racketeering. He was sentenced to 84 months in prison, though Glover's own count showed that the convictions should have added up to no more than 78 months. A federal judge had rejected Glover's claim, saying that up to 21 months difference was not enough to provide Glover with cause to appeal. Writing for the Court, Justice William Kennedy said, "Our jurisprudence suggests that any amount of actual jail time has Sixth Amendment significance."

01/09/01 Supreme Court limits Clean Water Act
Noting that the Clean Water Act was not meant to allow federal control over small local ponds and mud flats, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a local community has the right to use an abandoned mine as a landfill, even though migratory birds were using the water-filled site as a stop-over. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said "Permitting the (government) to claim federal jurisdiction over ponds and mud flats ... would also result in a significant impingement of the states' traditional and primary power over land and water use."

01/06/01 Gore confirms Bush victory
President of the Senate Al Gore read the electoral votes to a joint session of Congress today, confirming George Bush's win the presidential race. There were no surprises in the votes, as many held their breath to see if a surprise faithless elector might have thrown a wrench into the works. The Black Caucus tried to mount an effort to challenge the votes of Florida, but the challenge was turned away as it was endorsed only by Representatives, and no Senators, as required by the rules. One electoral vote from Washington, D.C., was uncast, providing Bush with a slightly higher 271-266 margin of victory than expected.

01/05/01 Court affirms that Cheney is a Wyoming resident
Letting stand a lower court ruling, the Supreme Court rejected a case that alleged that Vice President-elect Dick Cheney's residence status in Wyoming was a hoax engineered to allow Texas electors to vote for him as Vice President and for George Bush as President. Cheney spent most of the past several years as a resident of Texas, though he changed his residence to Wyoming when he was selected as Bush's running mate. The Constitution prohibits the electors from a state from voting for both a President and Vice President from the same state. If Texas electors had not been able to vote for Cheney, the choice would have had to devolve to the Senate.

01/03/01 107th Congress convenes
The unusual 107th Congress opened today, with several firsts and twists. The first First Lady to ever serve in Congress, Hillary Clinton, was sworn in as a Senator from New York. Tom Daschle, D-SD, was made majority leader until January 20th, when George Bush is sworn in - with the 50-50 split in the Senate, Al Gore casts the deciding vote until Dick Cheney becomes the President of the Senate. Mel Carnahan's wife Jean took her seat in the Senate after having been appointed by the Missouri governor to the post. She will hold the seat for two years when a special election will be held. The House started out with a vacancy from Day 1, as Representative Julian Dixon of California died the day after the election. Meanwhile, the Senate began to move forward with confirmation hearings of Bush appointees even before the inauguration.

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