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US Carries Out First Federal Execution in 17 Years Following SCOTUS Ruling

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  • Early Tuesday morning, the United States went forward with its first federal execution since 2003.
  • The move comes after the Supreme Court rejected a last-minute injunction filed by a federal judge to stop the execution.
  • The judge argued that legal challenges needed to play out in court to determine if the federal lethal injections, which use a drug called pentobarbital, amount to cruel and unusual punishment, thus violating the Constitution.
  • According to the injunction, the evidence presented to the court showed pentobarbital injections risk causing the feeling of drowning or asphyxiation.

Federal Execution 

President Donald Trump’s administration officially carried out the first federal execution in 17 years on Tuesday after a day of legal whiplash.

The inmate who was put to death had been convicted of three counts of murder in aid of racketeering in 1999 after he and another man killed a family of three, including a child, in Arkansas. Court documents allege that the murders were part of a broader plan to create a white supremacist community in the Pacific Northwest.

The man, who has been on death row at a federal prison in Indiana for 20 years, was executed by lethal injection and pronounced dead just after 8 a.m. According to the pool report, shortly before his death, he insisted he was innocent. 

The execution marks the first time that the federal government has used the death penalty since Attorney General Bill Barr announced that the Trump administration would resume federal capital punishment last summer. 

In that decision, Barr also mandated that all the executions be conducted via a single-drug lethal injection known as pentobarbital. The Justice Department was initially set to execute the man who was killed Tuesday as well as four others in December and January, but that plan was blocked by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of the District of Columbia.

In her injunction stopping the executions, Chutkan argued that using a single procedure for all federal executions violated the federal Death Penalty Act, which requires federal executions to be carried out in a way prescribed by the state where the prisoner was convicted. If that state does not have the death penalty, the prisoner can be moved to a death penalty state and will follow their execution orders.

Chutkan’s argument was that while lethal injection is the primary execution method in the U.S., the type and number of drugs used vary from state to state. However, in April, the D.C. Appeals Court struck down Chutkan’s ruling and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, thus allowing the executions to go forward.

Last-Minute Injunction

Following the Appeals Court ruling, the executions were rescheduled. On Monday, the day of the first planned injection, Chutkan filed another injunction seeking to block the execution of the man killed Tuesday as well as three others set to take place this week. 

In her ruling, Chutkan argued that before the inmates could be executed, legal challenges needed to play out in court to determine if pentobarbital injections can be considered cruel and unusual and thus violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

She explained that people injected with pentobarbital risk experience flash pulmonary edema, which is the rapid build-up of fluid in the lungs that causes the feeling of drowning or asphyxiation resulting in “extreme pain, terror and panic.”

Chukan also wrote that the scientific evidence provided to the court “overwhelmingly indicates” that pentobarbital “is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions.”

The evidence submitted by the plaintiff’s experts, she said, showed that the “majority of inmates” executed by pentobarbital injections “suffered flash pulmonary edema during the procedure.”

The Justice Department quickly responded to the injunction, appealing to both the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, and arguing that the preparations were already underway and that Chutkan’s order served “to scramble those plans with a meritless injunction.”

Supreme Court Decision

At around 2 a.m. Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an unsigned, 5-4 opinion rejecting the last-minute legal bid and siding with the DOJ. 

In the order, the court said that the inmates had virtually no chance of winning their argument that pentobarbital injections were cruel and unusual. The court also noted that pentobarbital had been used in “over 100 executions, without incident,” and that its use had been upheld by the Supreme Court last year.

The court decision also noted that the inmates “have not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention by a federal court.”

The court’s four liberal justices opposed the decision in two separate dissenting opinions. Leading the first dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer raised broader questions about the constitutionality of capital punishment. He wrote that the death penalty is “is often imposed arbitrarily,” noting that the other man involved in the murders— who was considered more culpable— had received a life sentence.

In the other dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor condemned the rush to execute the same man.

“The court forever deprives respondents of their ability to press a constitutional challenge to their lethal injections, and prevents lower courts from reviewing that challenge,” she wrote. “In its hurry to resolve the government’s emergency motions, I fear the court has overlooked not only its prior ruling, but also its role in safeguarding robust federal judicial review.”

Notably, the court also refused to consider a claim filed by the 81-year-old mother of one of victims of the man being put to death to have the execution delayed.

In her suit, the woman argued that that the decision to hold the execution during the pandemic forced her and others to choose between their health and attending. She also claimed that the federal Bureau of Prisons had not taken the necessary steps to protect her and other execution witnesses.

While the Supreme Court did not issue an opinion or dissent on that matter, that DOJ argued against it, writing in court filings that it took their accounts “seriously, in accordance with their terrible loss and distinctive perspective.” The department also said that it was not required to factor in “the availability and travel preferences of those attending the execution when scheduling it.”

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers, suspected mass murderers, or those planning to commit a crime of that nature and may have done so with the intent to seek attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

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

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