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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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Amazon Backs GOP Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Effort to Ramp Up Lobbying

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The proposal is the first Republican-sponsored marijuana bill Amazon has backed since the company first began lobbying for legalization last summer.


Amazon Endorses States Reform Act

Amazon announced Tuesday that it is endorsing a Republican-backed proposal to legalize marijuana.

The move comes as the e-commerce giant has ramped up its efforts to legalize cannabis on the federal level since it came out in support of the idea last summer. Amazon argues that the move would remove hiring barriers — which disproportionately impact people of color — and, in turn, could increase the company’s application pool and boost employee retention.

The company has previously backed similar proposals by forward by Democrats, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time Amazon has put its support behind a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at addressing the issue.

The legislation, called the States Reform Act, was authored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Among other measures, it would remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance, allow states to create their own laws, impose an excise tax, and regulate the drug in a similar fashion to alcohol.

While Mace’s bill is fundamentally very similar to others put forth by Democrats, by proposing it herself, the Republican hopes to rally other members of her party around the idea that legalization is pro-business, pro-state’s rights, and anti-big government.

The measure has already received support from the highly influential conservative group, American’s for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch brothers.

Potential Momentum

Mace and Amazon have painted the company’s endorsement as a game-changer for garnering more support — both from other large corporations and politicians on either side of the aisle. Mace specifically told reporters she believes Amazon’s decision will push other companies to do the same. If more major corporations like Amazon back the effort, other Republicans may be more persuaded to jump on board.

That sentiment was echoed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, who said in an interview with The Washington Post that the company was “particularly excited by Congresswoman Mace’s bill because it shows that there’s bipartisan support for this issue.”

Huseman also emphasized that, as part of its decision to back her bill, Amazon will use its powerful influence in Washington to try and drum up bipartisan support.

“We are talking with members of both parties, including Republicans, about why we think this is the right thing to do, especially from the standpoint of a major employer and what this means for our business and our employees and broadening the employee base,” he continued.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (Marijuana Moment)

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CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron

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Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.


A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron

COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.

The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.

One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week. 

In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.

Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization. 

By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.

Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.

Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates

Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.

Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection. 

The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.

While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.

Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.

Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.

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

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California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent

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Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19. 


State Senator Proposes Legislation

Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California. 

“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”

“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”

Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians. 

Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.

“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”

Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15. 

Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.

In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.” 

In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate. 

The Fight to Vaccinate California

This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”

While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail. 

“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News) (Sacramento Bee)

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