Connect with us

U.S.

DOJ Asks Congress to Pass Law That Could Indefinitely Detain People Without Trial

Published

on

  • In a series of requests for proposed legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Justice is asking Congress to enact a law that would allow some judges to indefinitely detain a person without the right to trial.
  • The DOJ is also asking for Congress to suspend the statute of limitations for arrests and pass a law explicitly saying that migrants cannot apply for asylum if they have COVID-19.
  • The requests were met with intense criticism by both Republicans and Democrats, though the DOJ has defended them, saying it worked with Congress and federal courts to develop the measures.

DOJ Requests Emergency Powers

The Department of Justice has asked Congress to grant it certain new emergency powers, including the ability for Attorney General William Barr to ask the chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings, which could indefinitely detain people without trial.

The details of the requests were originally published by Politico on Saturday and they come as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Specifically, the DOJ is asking Congress to allow it the power to ask district courts to indefinitely pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

Further, that proposal would apply to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings.”

That request could have serious implications, most notably the suspension of habeas corpus, which is a person’s right to appear in front of a judge after being arrested. 

For its part, the DOJ is justifying this request by saying that, currently, judges can already pause judicial proceedings in an emergency; however, this new legislation would allow them to handle emergencies “in a consistent manner.” 

Nonetheless, in an interview with Politico, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Norman L. Reimer expressed concern.

“Not only would it be a violation of [habeas corpus],” Reimer said, “but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest. So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.”

According to Politico, Reimer also called the possibility indefinite suspensions of court rules “deeply disturbing.” 

DOJ Makes Several Other Requests

In its draft for proposed legislation, the DOJ also made several additional requests. 

Among those, it asks Congress to suspend the statute of limitations for criminal investigations and civil proceedings during a national emergency and “for one year following the end of the national emergency.”

It’s also asking to change the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in some cases to expand the use of video conference hearings. Under current law, if a person consents to it, they can appear at their hearing over a video conference call and have their charges read that way. 

Now, the DOJ is asking Congress to let some of those hearings happen without defendants’ consent.

“If it were with the consent of the accused person it would be fine,” Reimer told Politico. “But if it’s not with the consent of the accused person, it’s a terrible road to go down. We have a right to public trials. People have a right to be present in court.”

Another big request is that the DOJ is asking Congress to pass a law that would explicitly bar asylum seekers from claiming asylum if they have tested positive for COVID-19.

That request comes as the Trump Administration has already announced it will start barring entry to migrants at the southern border. Notably, that already includes asylum seekers there.

DOJ Requests Met with Intense Criticism

While the requests would be unlikely to pass a Democratic-led House of Representatives, the highly controversial draft legislation has largely been met with opposition both by Democrats and Republicans. 

Among notable reactions, Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee—who is currently one of five U.S. Senators self-quarantining—said of the requests, “OVER MY DEAD BODY.”

“@realDonaldTrump, please refute and disavow this immediately,” he said. 

In an interview on CNN with Jake Tapper Sunday morning, Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the requests “abhorrent.

“This is not a time,” she said, “and you know, there is a long history in this country and in other countries of using emergencies as times to really start to encroach upon people’s civil rights. And, in fact, this is the time when we need them the absolute most. We have to keep an eye out for these kind of authoritarian and frankly this expansion, or rather suspension, of rule of law.” 

Former RNC Chair and former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland Michael Steele also blasted the requests, saying on Saturday, “NO!! This is NOT a slope we want to get on. Suspending Constitutional Rights!? With this crew?!  OH HELL NO!”

Richard Painter, the former White House Chief Ethics Lawyer for George W. Bush, called on Barr to resign on Monday. 

DOJ Defends Request

At the same time, the DOJ has defended its requests. Sunday night on Twitter, spokesperson Kerri Kupec tried to clarify the situation by outlining the DOJ’s reasoning.

“There has been some confusion re: reports about DOJ asking Congress for certain “emergency powers,” she said. “This was triggered by Congress asking DOJ for suggested proposals necessary to ensure that federal courts would be able to administer fair and impartial justice during [a] pandemic.”

Kupec then said the draft proposal was “developed in consultation w/ Congress and federal judiciary to help federal judges more consistently manage cases w/in their districts & protect interests of justice during this national emergency.”

“Because of pandemic-related measures, courts are closing and grand juries are not meeting,” she added. That means prosecutors may not be able to indict criminals before a statute of limitations expires, or dangerous criminals who have been arrested may be released because of time limits.”

Kupec said that authority would end once the national emergency was over if a chief justice found that emergency conditions were no longer affecting the federal courts. 

“Bottom line: The proposed legislative text confers powers upon judges.  It does not confer new powers upon the executive branch. These provisions are designed to empower the courts to ensure the fair and effective administration of justice.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (CNN) (Rolling Stone)

U.S.

Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air

Published

on

While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.


Booster Rollout in Flux

President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.

The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.

However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.

The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.

Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.

Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.

Debate Continues in Crucial Week

More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.

On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.

The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide. 

On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.

The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.” 

Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.

Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.

“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”

Uncertain Future

It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.

Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.

Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.

Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.

“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”

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

Continue Reading

U.S.

Kansas Lawmaker Accused of Kicking Teen in Groin Receives Suspended Sentence

Published

on

Before allegedly assaulting the teenager in class, the lawmaker and former substitute teacher ranted to students about God, the Bible, Masturbation, and more.


Samsel Displays Inappropriate Behavior

Kansas Rep. Mark Samsel (R) was given a 90-day suspended jail sentence and one year of probation Monday after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct. 

Samsel, a former high school substitute teacher in Wellsville, initially caused outrage in April after displaying bizarre classroom behavior. Footage recorded by students and published by the Kansas City Star showed Samsel ranting about the wrath of God, the Bible, masturbation, suicide, and other topics. At one point, he allegedly even pushed a student against a wall and kicked him in the groin.

While that specific altercation doesn’t appear to have been caught on video, student footage shows what seems to be the aftermath of the alleged assault.

“I’m simply built different, Mark. I don’t feel pain,” the student jokingly tells Samsel after picking himself up off the ground. Samsel responds by asking if the student is about to cry.

“You want to go to the nurse? She can check it for you?” Samsel adds.

“Make babies! Who likes making babies? That feels good, doesn’t it? Procreate,” Samsel said at another point in the video. “You haven’t masturbated? Don’t answer that question.”

Other notable quotes include, “Would you like me to introduce [you] to a sophomore who’s tried killing himself three times because he has two parents and they’re both females?,” and, “I could put the wrath of God on your right now because that is what he is trying to do. You should run and scream cause the devil’s getting the hell out of my classroom.”

After students reported his behavior, Samsel told local news outlets that he didn’t do anything wrong and that the situation was actually “planned.”

The kids and I planned ALL this to SEND A MESSAGE about art, mental health, teenage suicide, how we treat our educators and one another. To who? Parents. And grandparents. And all of Wellsville,” he also wrote on Snapchat, according to The Star.

However, he later told investigators that he what at his “wit’s end” with “misbehaving students.” Then last month, he announced via Facebook that he had sought mental health treatment and was giving up his substitute teaching license, describing the situation as an “isolated episode of mania with psychotic features’‘ prompted by “extreme stress, pressure and agitation.”

Samsel’s Sentence

Samsel faced additional consequences in conjunction with his suspended sentence and year of probation. He was also banned from using social media, unless for political purposes. He cannot have contact with the students who reported him and must write apology letters to those involved. He must also follow mental health treatment recommendations and take any prescribed medications

Samsel, for his part, apologized in his court appearance via Zoom, saying he never “intended for anyone to get hurt.”

Some parents seem happy with the sentence, like Joshua Zeck, who told the Star, “From the beginning, all I wanted was for Mark to get some help.”

“I don’t want to see anybody go to jail. So if this does him so good and he’s doing better, I’m happy to hear that,” Zeck continued.

Others in the community told the paper that his sentencing was too lenient, including Mary Woods, whose niece had class with Samsel the day of the incident.

“I don’t think that’s enough. He laid his hands on a kid. … He traumatized a lot of these kids. I think it’s bullsh*t, to say so myself.”

As far as whether Samsel will keep his job in the state legislature, Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman said that’s up to voters to decide.

See what others are saying: (The Kansas City Star)(Insider)(NBC News)

Continue Reading

U.S.

Alabama Man Dies After Being Turned Away From 43 Hospitals Overwhelmed by COVID Patients, Family Says

Published

on

Alabama currently has the second-highest COVID hospitalization average and fourth-lowest vaccination rate in the country.


Full ICUs Allegedly Delay Care for Emergent Cardiac Patient 

The family of an Alabama man who died of heart issues is calling on people to get vaccinated after he was turned away by 43 hospitals in three states while having a cardiac emergency because all of their Intensive Care Units were at maximum capacity with COVID patients.

The man, 73-year-old Ray DeMonia, was taken to Cullman Regional hospital in Alabama on Aug. 23. The next morning — around 12 hours after he was admitted — his daughter said her mother got a call saying that hospital workers were unable to find him a specialized cardiac ICU bed in the area. 

He was eventually transferred to a hospital in Mississippi about 200 miles away and died on Sept. 1, just three days before his birthday.

In DeMonia’s obituary, his family pleaded with people to get the vaccine.

“In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non COVID related emergencies,” they wrote. “He would not want any other family to go through what his did.”

Rising Hospitalizations

Officials and healthcare providers in Alabama have said DeMonia’s case is not a one-off incident. 

Jennifer Malone, a spokesperson for Cullman Regional, told The Washington Post that situations like this have been an “ongoing problem” reported by doctors at the hospital and others throughout the state.

“When patients are transported to other facilities to receive care that they need, that’s becoming increasingly more difficult because all hospitals are experiencing an increased lack of bed space,” she said.

On Friday, Scott Harris, the head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said that the state’s spike in ICU patients has stabilized some. Still, he added there are not enough ICU beds for the number of patients that need intensive care, many of whom are unvaccinated.

Even with the spikes “stabilizing,” Alabama still has the second-highest COVID hospitalizations in the U.S., according to The Post tracker

The calls from DeMonia’s family for people to get vaccinated also come as Alabama struggles with the country’s fourth-lowest vaccination rate. Despite those figures, top officials in the state are doing little to address the issue.

Last week, after President Joe Biden rolled out a sweeping vaccine mandate for 100 million people and promised he would use his power to circumvent Republican leaders “undermining” relief efforts, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) told the president to “bring it on.”

Ivey then doubled down on her refusal to mandate vaccines in her state, where people are being refused emergency hospital care because so many unvaccinated people are in ICU beds.

“You bet I’m standing in the way. And if he thinks he’s going to move me out of the way, he’s got another thing coming,” she said, referring to the mandates as “outrageous” and “overreaching” policies that will “no doubt be challenged in the courts.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (NPR)

Continue Reading