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New Death Penalty Ruling Highlights Tension in the Supreme Court

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  • The Supreme Court ruled that an inmate in Missouri could be put to death via lethal injection, despite the fact that he claims it would be cruel and unusual due to a medical condition he has.
  • This decision comes in the midst of public criticism over other recent Supreme Court death penalty rulings.
  • In February, the Supreme Court denied a Muslim inmate the right to have an Imam with him at the time of execution, but last week voted in favor of a Buddhist man making a similar case.

Case in Missouri

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Monday, agreeing that a man in Missouri could be put to death via lethal injection, despite his claim that it would cause him severe pain due to a rare medical condition.

Inmate Russell Bucklew has a disease called cavernous hemangioma, which means he has blood-filled tumors in his neck, throat, and head. Bucklew and his lawyers say that the chemical compounds in a lethal injection would cause the tumors to rupture, meaning he would bleed from those areas, and be in extreme pain. They argue that because of this, lethal injection would be a cruel and unusual punishment, and suggest using a gas chamber instead.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled against this, citing that the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, does not prohibit painful punishments.

“The Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death—something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes,” Justice Niel Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

He also cited that Bucklew had postponed his sentencing twice, once in 2014 and once in 2018, and claimed he was merely trying to delay it again. Gorsuch also wrote that Bucklew and his lawyers did not make a case for the gas chamber, saying they “failed to present colorable evidence that nitrogen would significantly reduce his risk of pain.”

Similar Cases in Alabama and Texas

This case is the most recent in a slew of cases regarding the death penalty that have caused tension within the Supreme Court.

In early February, the court heard the case of Domineque Hakim Ray. Ray requested that his Inam, a Muslim religious leader, be present during his execution. However, the Alabama prison he was in denied his request. The prison would only allow their Christian minister to be present and said his Imam would be allowed to watch from behind a glass window in the next room.

Ray claimed this case violated the First Amendment by giving rights to those who follow Christianity, but not to others. However, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Ray’s execution could be carried out without his Imam. They claimed he did not bring the matter up in a timely manner, as he brought the issue up 10 days before his sentencing. A few days later, Ray was executed.

A case in March tackled a similar issue. Patrick Henry Murphy, an inmate in Texas, requested a Buddhist leader be present while his death sentence was carried out, and was denied this by his prison. On March 28, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to allow him a stay of execution, hours before his scheduled sentencing.

These two different rulings on two similar cases have left many confused. However, there are differences in state laws that could have factored into these desicions.

Alabama states that only Department of Corrections employees are allowed in the chamber, and those employees include a Christian minister.

Whereas in Texas, an inmate is allowed to be accompanied by a religious leader, but the state interpreted the law to mean a religious leader who works for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The TDCJ has both a Christian and Muslim leader, but not a Buddhist. However, the Supreme Court ruled this interpretation to be unconstitutional.

Even with this, many argue that the core arguments in each case were very similar. So, do these split rulings mean anything for the future of the Supreme Court?

Some legal experts say that this shows the shift the court will now have due to Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment, which gave the conservatives a stronghold in the court.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, told CNN that particularly in death penalty cases, stakes are very high, and stronger rifts come out.

“The stakes do not get higher than they do in death penalty cases,” she said. “And the arguments between the justices and rifts in the court may only get louder and deeper.”

See What Others Are Saying: (NPR) (Slate) (The Los Angeles Times)

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Coachella Woman Sentenced for Dumping Puppies in Trash

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  • Deborah Sue Culwell, who was arrested for tossing a bag of seven puppies into a dumpster in April, has now pled guilty to seven counts of animal cruelty and seven counts of misdemeanor animal abandonment.
  • She was sentenced to 365 days in jail, 90 of which will be served on work release, and was also ordered to complete a formal probation period of seven years.
  • During her probation, she will not be allowed to own animals.

Culwell Pleads Guilty

A Coachella woman who made national headlines in April for tossing a bag of seven puppies into a dumpster will serve time behind bars after pleading guilty to 14 charges on Wednesday.

Deborah Sue Culwell initially pled not guilty to seven counts of animal cruelty and seven misdemeanor counts of animal abandonment when security footage of her committing the act went viral.

According to Riverside County Superior Court records obtained by Rogue Rocket, Culwell will now serve 365 days in jail, 90 of which will be on work release. Culwell was also sentenced to complete a formal probation period of seven years.

Other terms of her probation include not being allowed to own non-prescribed controlled substances, being subject to property searches and drug testing, and not being allowed to own animals during the seven-year period. 

Culwell’s Case

Culwell’s case drew in widespread attention and created national outrage earlier this year. On the day she abandoned the puppies in a dumpster, it was reportedly over 90 degrees in Coachella, California. The dogs were just three days old.

A man discovered them soon after and brought them into an air-conditioned store where others were able to call animal services. One of the puppies died a few days later. The surviving dogs were taken into foster care. 

When officers arrested Culwell, they found 38 dogs at her residence. She was forced to give up her ownership of them. They were transferred to Riverside County Animal Services and put up for adoption. RCAS said the animals were living in “crammed conditions,” appeared “nervous,” and were not “used to being handled with love.” 

See what others are saying: (Desert Sun) (BuzzFeed News) (CBS Los Angeles)

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Newark’s Water Crisis Intensifies as Reports Show City-Issued Filters Failed to Remove Lead Contamination

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  • After a report found a small number of city-issued filters failed to remove lead from Newark’s water system, the city advised all affected residents to avoid drinking from tap water.
  • Monday, the city and state began handing out water bottles, but people soon discovered the water was months past its best-by date. 
  • Many have called for Mayor Ras Baraka to resign because the city has faced elevated lead levels for years, but residents were not told the water was unsafe to drink until last year.

Asking for Federal Aid

Newark and New Jersey state officials are asking the Federal government to step in after the city began handing out bottled water earlier this week in response to growing concerns of lead contaminating its water service lines.

On Wednesday, Governor Phil Murphy visited the city and reiterated the need for federal aid, saying the state does not have enough water bottles to continue passing out for an extended period of time.

“Everybody, young and old, big and small, regardless of where you are in this state, in this community certainly in Newark in this country: clean water is a right, not a privilege, for everybody, and we believe that with great passion,” Murphy said in a press conference

Earlier in the day, Senator Cory Booker — who lives in Newark — tweeted about the need for federal aid in his hometown.

“It’s shameful that our national crisis of lead-contaminated water disproportionately hits poor black and brown communities like my own,” he wrote.

Newark’s Lead Crisis Explained

Old and corroding water service lines have propagated Newark’s lead issues for years. 

Since the 2010-2011 academic year, the Newark Board of Education has found elevated lead-water levels in schools every year. Despite attempting to fix the problem by installing new water lines, it persisted. 

In 2016, over 30 schools resorted to using bottled water after shutting off fountains, and thousands of children have been tested to see if they have increased levels of lead in their blood, with about 25 percent of Newark children under six having detectable lead levels.

In 2017, it was reported that 1 in every 10 households in Newark had twice the amount of lead the Environmental Protection Agency sets as a federal standard.

In the fall of last year, the city began handing out lead-safe PÜR filters. The city has estimated it has distributed more than 38,000 filters since October.

The increased calls for federal aid come after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an Aug. 9 statement to Mayor Ras Baraka, urging the city to begin handing out bottled water after it seemed some lead-safe filters were not adequately removing lead from water.

“We are unable at this time to assure Newark residents that their health is fully protected when drinking tap water filtered through these devices,” EPA Regional Administrator Peter Lopez said.

The next day, Baraka held a press conference and announced the city had received reports that two of three tested filters contained lead levels four times above what the EPA allows.

“A small sample of water filters provided to the City of Newark may not be removing lead to the low levels expected by city, state and federal officials,” a report released by the city on Monday said.

Also on Monday, city and state officials began handing out water bottles, advising those in affected areas to use bottled water to drink, cook, and prepare baby formula. 

Later, people began to notice the water was past its best-by date of May 30, and 50,000 more bottles had to be ordered. The state maintains the expired water was likely still safe to drink.

Residents waiting for water faced heat and long lines. Some said they were turned away if they weren’t from a specific area.

At the same time, Baraka has continually encouraged people to run their water for activities like showering or washing dishes. Currently, the city is attempting a corrosion-control treatment meant to re-coat old pipes.

Baraka has said residents should flush their water for 3-5 minutes before using it but has said the process will take some time. 

Because the water crisis affects mostly low-income and African American households, many are drawing comparisons to Flint, though Baraka has denied those associations and called them false comparisons.

Calls for Baraka to Resign

Despite the efforts taken by the city, some are saying Baraka should resign because until last fall, the city denied having a dangerous amount of lead in the water system. 

“It’s wrong,” one resident told ABC. “Something should be done about this. This has been going on for a while, and they’ve been covering it up and nobody didn’t do nothing about it.” 

After being sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Newark released a June 2018 statement saying “the City’s water is not contaminated with lead.”

“The lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council is based on the premise that Newark residents are exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the City’s drinking water,” the statement reads. “That charge is absolutely and outrageously false. The truth is that the water supplied by the city is pure, safe and fully complies with federal and state regulations. The NRDC has seriously mischaracterized the facts.

Many residents have spoken up about similar claims, saying the city lied to them.

“‘Your water’s fine, everything’s fine,’” Evette Jordan said she was told in an interview with CBS This Morning.

“That’s what you heard from the city?” reporter Anna Werner asked her.

“Yes, through several robocalls, through press conferences from our mayor,” Jordan said.

Though Newark admitted to the problems with lead in schools in the June statement, it argued it wasn’t to blame because the lead “stems from privately owned lead service lines,” not city mains.

See what others are saying: (WABC) (Star-Ledger) (New York Times)

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Ben Shapiro Slammed for Comments About Working Two Jobs

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  • Ben Shapiro recently made a comment about people who work two jobs to make ends meet saying, “you probably shouldn’t have taken the job that’s not paying you enough. That’d be a you problem.”
  • People were upset with his remarks and argued that he comes from a privileged background.
  • He tried to clarify his statement later, adding that he has worked “multiple jobs” throughout his career and understands why someone would need two.
  • Some were still unhappy with his comments, while others said they agreed with Shapiro.

Ben Shapiro’s Remarks go Viral

Conservative radio host Ben Shapiro responded to online backlash he received after saying that having to work two jobs to make ends meet is a “you problem.” 

On Wednesday, a clip of Shapiro making these comments on his show went viral. 

“If you had to work more than one job to have a roof over your head or food on the table, you probably shouldn’t have taken the job that’s not paying you enough,” he said. “That’d be a you problem.” 

Shapiro said he was referencing comments Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) made during a Democratic presidential debate. 

“People in America are working,” she said. “They’re working two and three jobs. So when we talk about jobs let’s be really clear. In our America, no one should have to work more than one job to have a roof over their head to food on the table.”

In the clip, Shapiro goes on to say that very few Americans are actually working multiple jobs, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is true. The BSL says that just under five percent of Americans work two jobs. However, some reports claim the number could be higher because sample groups may not reach enough people, and because someone working two jobs is less likely to participate in a survey. 

Comments Recieve Backlash

Still, Shapiro’s comments received a lot of backlash online. Many said they came from a place of privilege and pointed out the host’s financially comfortable upbringing. 

“Ben Shapiro is the child of a television studio executive and film composer and grew up in Hollywood as a private school dilettante who got his high school education for a tuition comparable to most Ivy League universities,” one user pointed out. 

It’s not a you problem it’s a systematic problem,” another said. 

Some also told their own stories about why people in their families have had to take multiple jobs. 

Shapiro Clarifies Statement

Shapiro later responded to the backlash on Twitter by posting a thread to clarify his comments.

“The point I am making, of course, is that you cannot dictate that a job pay you what you wish it paid you,” he said. 

However, he later added, “The answer to the problem of taking a job that you feel underpays you is to (a) not take the job, as I suggest here, or (b) not live beyond your means.”

He also said that he himself had worked multiple jobs for most of his career. 

“I understand why someone would need two jobs,” he later said after his thread.

Reactions to Shapiro’s Follow-Up

“You’ve had multiple gigs,” someone said. “That’s entirely different.” 

Others, however, defended Shapiro. 

“What he says is true,” one user wrote. “Just because you dont like it doesnt change it.”

See what others are saying: (Fox Business) (HuffPost) (The Hill)

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