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New Death Penalty Ruling Highlights Tension in the Supreme Court

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, […]

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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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Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance

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News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.


Federal Vaccine Mandate

President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.

While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.

Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective

The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.

Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.

While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab. 

Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective. 

No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.

According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.

While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.

“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)

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Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage

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The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.


Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence

The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.

The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.

The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.

Source: Facebook/ GlockBoy Savoo

Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage

After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.

Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.

Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.

Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.

Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.

In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.

The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.

“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.

“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.

The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.

Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.

See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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Medical Groups, Local Leaders Push for Healthcare Workers and Public Employees To Get Vaccinated

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The move comes as COVID cases have nearly quadrupled in the last month due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant.


Increased Calls for Mandatory Vaccinations in Certain Sectors

More than 50 of America’s largest medical groups representing millions of healthcare workers issued a statement Monday calling for employers of all health and long-term care providers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.

The groups, which included the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and 55 others, cited contagious new variants — including delta — and low vaccination rates.

“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” they wrote.

The call to action comes as new COVID cases have almost quadrupled during the month of July, jumping from just around 13,000 infections a day at the beginning of this month to more than 50,000.

While the vast majority of new infections and hospitalizations are among those who have not received the vaccines, many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 38% of nursing home staff were not fully vaccinated as of July 11. 

An analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News found that around 25% of hospital workers who were in contact with patients had not been vaccinated by the end of May when vaccinations became widely available.

In addition to calls for medical professionals to get vaccinated, some local leaders have also begun to impose mandates for public employees as cases continue spiking.

Last month, San Francisco announced that it was requiring all city workers to get vaccinated. Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all municipal employees — including police officers and teachers — must either get the jab or agree to weekly testing by the time school starts in September.

Dr. Fauci Says U.S. Officials Are Considering Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People

Numerous top U.S. health officials have applauded efforts by local leaders to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus, including the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who confirmed Sunday that federal officials are actively considering whether to revise federal masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated Americans wear face coverings in public settings.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are vaccinated do not need to mask in public. Although that was a non-binding recommendation, many states and cities that had not already lifted restrictions on masking began to do so shortly after.

But now, local leaders in areas seeing big spikes have begun reimposing mask mandates — even for those who are vaccinated — including major counties like Los Angeles and St. Louis.

In his remarks Sunday, Fauci also emphasized that, despite claims from many conservatives, those efforts are in line with the federal recommendations, which leave space for local leaders to issue their own rules.

While Fauci and other top U.S. public health officials have encouraged local governments to take action, Republican lawmakers in several states are taking steps to limit the ability of local leaders and public health officials to take certain mitigation measures.

According to the Network for Public Health Law, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering bills to limit the legal authority of public health agencies — and that does not even include unilateral action taken by governors.

Some of the leaders of states suffering the biggest spikes have banned local officials from imposing their own mask mandates, like Arkansas, which has the highest per capita cases in the country right now, as well as Florida, which currently ranks third.

Notably, some of the laws proposed or passed by Republicans could go beyond just preventing local officials from trying to mitigate surges in COVID cases and may have major implications for other public health crises.

For example, according to The Washington Post, a North Dakota law that bans mask mandates applies to other breakouts — even tuberculosis — while a new Montana law also bars the use of quarantine for people who have been exposed to an infectious disease but have not yet tested positive.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Guardian)

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