Supreme Court rules that lethal injection is constitutional; Obama on the defensive.

Supreme Court rules that lethal injection is constitutional; Obama on the defensive.

Supreme Court rules that lethal injection is constitutional; Obama on the defensive.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 17 2008 6:23 AM

There Will Be Executions

The Los Angeles Timesand New York Timeslead with the Supreme Court ruling that lethal injection is a humane, and therefore constitutional, way of executing prisoners. The decision effectively lifts a de facto moratorium on lethal injection, which is the method used by pretty much all the states that have the death penalty, and clears the way for executions to resume across the country. The LAT points out that the decision came with a "surprisingly large 7-2 margin," though the NYT notes that six of the members of the majority wrote separate opinions, and "there was considerably less agreement among the justices than the vote of 7 to 2 might indicate."

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with the 21st Democratic debate, which took place less than a week before the crucial Pennsylvania primary. It was a contentious affair, with lots of questions dedicated to personal issues and political back-and-forth as each candidate tried to make the case for why he or she would fare better in a general-election contest against Sen. John McCain. The Washington Postleads, while USA Todaygoes across the top, with Pope Benedict XVI acknowledging that the sexual-abuse scandal that involved the Catholic Church wasn't handled properly. The pope made an appearance at the White House, where he met with President Bush, praised American democracy, and talked about the importance of faith  in public life. But most significantly, he talked about the sex-abuse scandal for the second day in a row and told bishops they must work hard to bring Americans back into the church.

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Many opponents of the death penalty have argued that the three-drug combination used in lethal injections has the possibility to cause excruciating pain if improperly administered. But Chief Justice John Roberts made clear that if the death penalty is constitutional, then there must be a way to carry it out, and "some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution." Just because there's a risk of pain, it "does not establish the sort of 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual," wrote Roberts. Justice John Paul Stevens held up the method as constitutional but said that his long tenure at the court has led him to believe that there's no good reason to continue using the death penalty.

In a separate analysis, the NYT's Adam Liptak says that many opponents of the death penalty see "the decision [as] little more than a roadmap for further litigation." Although the justices did leave the door open to future challenges, and some aspects of the decision were left vague, Roberts emphasized that a prisoner can't challenge an upcoming execution simply because a new method would give a "marginally safer alternative."

In yesterday's debate, Obama, the party's clear front-runner, found himself constantly on the defensive for the first part of the debate as the moderators hit him with question after question relating to his past associations and gaffes. The NYT says that the ABC moderators "presented a mirror image of earlier debates in which two NBC moderators … repeatedly pressed Mrs. Clinton with tough and provocative questions." Obama had to field questions about his "bitter" remarks, his former pastor, why he doesn't wear an American flag pin, and his association with members of the Weather Underground.

Clinton also clearly was ready for these openings and used whatever opportunity she was given by the moderators to pound away at Obama's candidacy and insist that she's been vetted. Obama also got some criticisms in there and managed to mention Clinton's infamous gaffe in the 1992 campaign (when she said she didn't want to stay at home and bake cookies) as an example of how everyone misspeaks during the campaign (he was also clearly ready for the Weather Underground comment because he brought in a President Clinton pardon to the table). "And I think Sen. Clinton learned the wrong lesson from it, because she's adopting the same tactics," Obama said. The NYT's Alessandra Stanley points out, "If last night was any of measure of success, the tactics work." Overall, most agree that it was a bad night for Obama and one of his "weakest debate performances," as the NYT puts it. Slate's John Dickerson notes Obama has been good about deflecting these sorts of attacks in the past, but "the sheer number of questions may make the next round of primary voters wonder about Obama's foundation."

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Besides talking of the "deep shame" of the sexual-abuse scandals, the pope offered nothing in the way of a critique of the church for how the problems were investigated, notes the WSJ. He also took a broader look and said the abuse should be seen as a larger pattern in a society that devalues human dignity. The pope warned against growing secularism in general and said it is not enough to go pray once a week because religion must be practiced every day in both private and public.

And the award for the most over-the-top, flowery language to describe the pope's visit goes to the Post. "Despite the pontiff's strong Bavarian accent, some people were surprised by the softness of his voice and his gentle, even shy, demeanor, so at odds with his image as a fierce defender of Catholic orthodoxy."

The WP fronts word that the government plans to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested by a federal law-enforcement agency. DNA samples would also be collected from foreigners who are detained, although the details on who precisely it would affect are still unclear. Currently, DNA samples are collected from convicted felons, and privacy advocates are concerned that people would be included in the DNA database even if they haven't committed a crime. One part that seems unclear is whether DNA profiles would be removed from the database when there's no conviction. The WP seems to suggest that's the case but then says the Justice Department spokesman says an individual has to request to have his or her information removed.

Both the NYT and WP front the story of a Chinese student at Duke who got caught up in a dangerous Internet frenzy. She's 20 years old and apparently tried to get pro-Tibet and pro-China demonstrators to talk. Of course, she failed, and the next day a photo of her showed up on the Internet and people began calling her a "traitor." One thing led to another, and soon directions to her parent's house in China were published, and Internet users threatened her life, as well as that of her family. The Post takes it a step further and says this is part of a trend where nationalist sentiment is so strong on the Internet that it frequently gets violent and threatening toward anyone who is seen as insulting China.

Seemingly proving that anyone can start over in Dubai, the NYT details how Derek Khan, who was sent to prison in 2003 for selling expensive jewelry that he borrowed, "is again a star." He used to be a famous stylist to some of the biggest stars in hip-hop and fashion but quickly fell from grace after his downfall. But he was well-received in Dubai, where media saw his arrival as a sign that the city is blossoming into a fashion capital. "They've never brought it up," Khan said. "A lot of people who have a background come here. It's like a new Australia."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.