SCOTUS' Narrow Passage

SCOTUS' Narrow Passage

SCOTUS' Narrow Passage

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 18 2006 3:35 AM

SCOTUS' Narrow Passage

Everybody leads with the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling against the administration's attempt to put the kibosh on Oregon's assisted-suicide law. Justice Roberts joined Justices Scalia and Thomas in the dissent. The White House had opposed the law and said it was "disappointed at the decision."

The court wasn't ruling on the Oregon law itself but rather on whether the Bush administration had the power to overrule it. In 2001, then-Attorney General Ashcroft, relying on a drug law, ordered the DEA to go after doctors who prescribed drugs for assisted suicide. "The authority claimed by the attorney general is both beyond his expertise and incongruous with the statutory purposes and design," wrote Justice Kennedy for the majority.

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The legality of physician-assisted suicide "ultimately rests, not on 'science' or 'medicine,' but on a naked value judgment," countered Justice Scalia, in the dissent Roberts signed on to. "It no more depends upon a 'quintessentially medical judgment' than does the legitimacy of polygamy or eugenic infanticide."

A helpful analysis in the New York Times notes just how narrow the ruling was. It spoke only to the fed's powers under a specific drug law: "It did not address whether there is a constitutional right to die. It did not say that Congress was powerless to override state laws that allow doctors to help their patients end their lives."

Oregon has had the U.S.'s only assisted-suicide law since it was enacted in the mid-1990s. Since lower federal courts always sided with Oregon on the case, the law has stayed active and 208 people had assisted suicides in the state through 2004. USA Todayplays up similar legislation now pending in California and Vermont. The Los Angeles Timessuggests the measure's chances in California are ... unclear.

The Washington Post, NYT, and LAT all front Republican House leaders unveiling their lobbyist-reform proposal, which includes more disclosure requirements, stricter limits on gifts, and a purported "ban" on lobbyist-funded travel. A NYT analysis inside notes the slightly sticky wicket GOP pooh-bahs are in: They need to "reorganize the very system that has helped their party maintain power." Of course, as many good government types point out, that doesn't mean the Republicans won't go ahead with the changes. Meanwhile, Democrats are going to unveil their own reform package today, though the papers don't have many details.

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A piece inside the Post looks at the loopholes in the Republican's proposal. Namely, a lobbyist can still wine and dine pols and pay for their travel so long as they "also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution." As one lobbying rules expert explained it, "Unless the campaign finance laws are changed, if a lobbyist wants to sponsor an event at the MCI arena or on the slopes of Colorado, as long as it's a fundraiser it would still be fine." The other issue not touched on by the GOP's proposal, and that also gets scant mention in the papers: Earmarks, that is the provisions increasingly inserted into bills—often quietly—that direct money to legislators' pet projects.

The NYT stuffs a "high-level assessment" by the State Department in 2002 concluding it was "unlikely" Niger could covertly sell uranium to Iraq. The memo, which the Times says was "distributed at senior levels by the office of Secretary of State Colin Powell," was sent around a year before President Bush asserted that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa. "A Bush administration official," declined to say whether the president saw the memo. "The White House is not an intelligence-gathering operation," said the official.

Everybody mentions that the captors in Iraq of American journalist Jill Carroll announced they'll kill her in three days unless all female prisoners in Iraq are released.

The NYT fronts the Securities and Exchange Commission proposing greater disclosure for executive pay. The proposal is expected to be formally adopted in a few months, at which point companies will have to offer up details on the various goodies and perks execs have been getting.

The WP and NYT both note inside that local officials in Pakistan said the recent U.S. airstrike there did indeed kill four or five al-Qaida types—along with women and children. The Post emphasizesthat while an official in the area said foreign fighters were killed, Pakistan's information minister said he had "no information about the presence of any foreign terrorists."

The Wall Street Journal has a front-page feature on Afghanistan's ever-growing heroin industry. According to U.N. estimates, the opium trade now makes up half of the overall economy. On the other hand, it is fueling some impressive Afghan ingenuity. Soldiers along the Afghan border with Tajikistan recently nabbed the following airborne delivery device:  

A red, blue and white French-made parachute outfitted with a harness ring, a German-made motor, a small propeller, a plastic gas canister—and 18 one-kilo plastic bags of Afghan heroin. The harness ring was to hold a pilot, and the propeller to give him control of his direction after jumping from a mountain on the Afghan side. The soldiers' bullets had pierced the gas tank, forcing an emergency landing, but the guards never found the pilot.