Sex and the Bench

Sex and the Bench

Sex and the Bench

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 27 2003 5:36 AM

Sex and the Bench

Everybody leads with yesterday's Supreme Court decision that effectively struck down all remaining laws that deem consensual sex between gay adults a crime. The 6-3 ruling overturned a 1986 decision that upheld anti-sodomy laws in the states, the argument being that everybody, including homosexuals, has a constitutional right to sexual privacy.

While many had expected the Supreme Court to overturn laws that ban sodomy, few anticipated the court to rule so broadly in favor of gay rights, the papers note. "The ruling was anything but the narrow, cautious result that many had expected," the WP says. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said it's unconstitutional to single out gays for "moral disapproval" and doing so amounts to "state-sponsored condemnation." Gays are "entitled to respect for their private lives," Kennedy said. "The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

In a scathing dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia accused his colleagues of taking sides in the "culture war" and having "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda." He said the ruling "effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation" and would inevitably lead to the approval of same-sex marriages. On topic of gay marriage, legal scholars quoted by the papers agree with Scalia, noting that the decision could have far-reaching implications for gay rights.

The ruling could help gay men and women in legal disputes rising from "moral disapproval," such as child-custody cases, adoption proceedings and anti-gay bias cases in the workplace, USAT notes. Meanwhile, only the WP picks up on the potential effects on the military's ban on gays in the ranks, noting that the courts have often cited the Supreme Court's 1986 anti-sodomy ruling when upholding the military's policy. "The military's policy will definitely be harder to defend after this case," a former Clinton administration official tells the WP.

Meanwhile, the LAT fronts and everybody else stuffs word of another ruling from the court yesterday: The justices ruled 5-4 that alleged criminal acts cannot be prosecuted after the statute of limitations has expired, even if the statute's time limitations are later lifted. The ruling overturns a 1993 California law that paved the way for prosecutions of childhood sex cases years after the alleged crimes were committed. The most high-profile impact of yesterday's ruling will be on recent cases involving Roman Catholic priests arrested for alleged child abuse, the LAT reports.

Yet the WP, again, picks up on something the other papers miss: The decision might also affect the government's crackdown on terrorism. The controversial USA Patriot Act eliminated the statute of limitations on terrorism offenses that result in death or serious injury and, as with the California law, permit prosecutions that would have been impossible under the old statutes. A Justice Department spokesman says lawyers there are reviewing the decision.

Meanwhile, the LAT says it looks like there won't be any retirements from the court, at least for now. Justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Conner are staying put, a headline says. The paper does hedge its bets, though, just in case, noting in paragraph three that "some court-watchers cautioned that a retirement could still occur today or — far less likely — this summer."

Everybody fronts yesterday's death of Strom Thurmond. The former South Carolina senator, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, died Thursday night. He was 100. The papers all note Thurmond's controversial history when it comes to race. The NYT, in the headline of its obit, calls Thurmond a "foe of integration," and most of the other papers follow suit, noting Thurmond's history as a segregationist in either the headline or the lede. However, the WP's headline seems to skip the controversy, noting that Thurmond "shaped the modern GOP," while in the story, the former senator's history on race isn't mentioned until the fourth paragraph.

Another U.S. soldier was killed and another two reported missing yesterday in Iraq, the papers note. The American killed was a member of a special operations force that came under fire yesterday near Baghdad while responding to an ambush on other U.S. troops. At least 18 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq since early May, when President Bush declared an end to major hostilities in the Iraq war. On a related note, the Financial Times reports today that the Pentagon has dispatched a team of outside policy experts to Baghdad to independently review postwar operations in Iraq. The move "suggests a growing discomfort in Washington at the security problems facing its forces," FT reports.

In Congress yesterday, Republicans fought back attempts by the Democrats to expand the probe into the Bush administration's handling of pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and connections to al-Qaida, the WP reports.

A federal appeals court yesterday dismissed the government's appeal of a ruling that would allow alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to interview a senior al-Qaida operative, the WP reports. The decision was based on jurisdictional grounds--the court said the government's appeal was too early--and not on the bigger issue of whether Moussaoui's constitutional right to interview al-Qaida witnesses outweighs national security concerns. Yet experts say yesterday's ruling gave the government two options: Continue to stonewall on access to al-Qaida operatives or drop the charges against Moussaoui and move his case to a military tribunal.

Who might make that decision? In a small brief, the WP reports that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday gave his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, the final word on which terrorism suspects will face military tribunals and who will serve on those "commissions."

Everybody mentions the House and Senate's votes early this morning in favor of President Bush's Medicare plan. The legislation, the subject of debate for years, would expand the availability of prescription drug coverage to seniors and give private insurance companies the right to offer alternative Medicare coverage partially subsidized by the government. If ultimately approved this time, it would mark the most significant changes to Medicare in 38 years.

Finally, the WSJ reports on the new "fast track to salvation." Aware that their flock is busier than ever, churches and other religious institutions are making it easier to worship God. Among other things, some churches are experimenting with ATMs in their lobbies (conveniently near the collection plate). E-mail sermons and online video of church services are growing increasingly popular. Meanwhile,  some rabbis have even been preaching over instant messaging software. The Vatican, for its part, recently warned of the dangers of online confession, which has been adopted by some churches. Its major concern isn't that the faithful are getting too lazy, but the risk of  hackers.