Judge sentences Madoff to 150 years; Supreme Court rules in favor of white firefighters.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 30 2009 6:46 AM

Madoff Gets Life for "Evil" Crimes

The New York Times and Los Angeles Timeslead with, while the Wall Street Journalbanners, Bernard Madoff receiving a 150-year prison sentence. The federal judge called Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme an "extraordinarily evil" fraud and unexpectedly imposed the maximum sentence allowed, saying the length of the sentence should serve as a deterrent for any would-be scam artists. It's one of the longest sentences ever given to a white-collar criminal but hardly a record. The sentence was met with applause in the courtroom, which was filled with Madoff's victims.

The Washington Postand USA Todaylead with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of a group of mostly white New Haven, Conn., firefighters who said they were discriminated against when the city threw out the results of a promotion test after no black firefighters scored well enough to advance. The 5-to-4 ruling immediately caught Washington's attention because it overturned an appeals court decision joined by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who was recently nominated to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. In the opinion for the court's conservative wing, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that employers need "strong basis in evidence" that the test isn't up to par before throwing out the results instead of merely using "raw racial statistics." The ruling means that employers will now have a harder time changing a hiring or promotion procedure because it hurts minorities.

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Before Madoff's sentencing, nine victims testified about the hardships they have experienced since the financier's fraud came to light. "I hope his sentence is long enough so his jail cell will become his coffin," said a 33-year-old whose family's funds with Madoff were supposed to sustain his disabled brother. Madoff apologized for the scheme that is estimated to have led to around $13 billion in losses. "I will live with this pain, with this torment, for the rest of my life," he said. Madoff's lawyer tried to argue that his client deserved a shorter sentence because he cooperated with the government's investigation, but the judge disagreed with that contention. "I simply do not get the sense that Mr. Madoff has done all that he could or told all that he knows," he said.

The disgraced financier looked thinner and wasn't accompanied by any family members. In fact, the judge even pointed out that he had not received any letters from friends, family, or other supports attesting to his moral character or good deeds. After the hearing, Madoff's wife broke her silence and, in a statement, said she was "embarrassed and ashamed."

Civil rights advocates said yesterday's Supreme Court decision in Ricci v. DeStefano will make it more difficult for employers, particularly in the public sector, to diversify their work force. The court ruled that the fear of a lawsuit isn't enough justification for throwing out hiring or promotion tests, meaning that an employer might have to abide by the results even if members of a minority, or perhaps women, do particularly poorly. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench and said the majority had successfully undermined civil rights law. "Firefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow," she said.

Sotomayor's critics had seized on this case as a supposed example of how she lets her personal feelings get in the way of her rulings. Her supporters yesterday said the Supreme Court decision changed how the law should be interpreted, so she had done the right thing by adhering to precedent. But opponents countered that her "approach had not been fully endorsed by any justice," as the NYT puts it. Still, even opponents concede it's unlikely this will derail Sotomayor's path toward confirmation.

In a piece inside, the NYT talks to legal experts who say the Supreme Court failed to put forward a clear standard about what would be allowed and "left things as muddled as ever for the nation's employers." The vague nature of the decision is practically a guarantee that there will be much more litigation on the issue.

The LAT fronts the latest from Honduras, where security forces used tear gas to break up crowds that had gathered to protest the ousting and forced exile of President Manuel Zelaya. The provisional government found itself isolated as leaders throughout the region spoke up against the coup. The country's rulers blocked access to Internet news sites and international cable news networks as Zelaya appeared at a summit of regional leaders in Nicaragua. The new rulers say they won't budge. In an interview with the WSJ,the acting leader, Roberto Micheletti, said the coup was an effort to protect Honduras from Zelaya's plans to change the constitution and remain in power. "We are acting within the law," Micheletti said.

In a front-page piece, the NYT takes a look at how the military coup in Honduras is forcing President Obama to confront "the ghosts of past American foreign policy in Latin America." Administration officials are now in the position of having to dismiss allegations by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez that the CIA had something to do with the coup. U.S. officials insist that while they didn't think Zelaya's planned referendum was constitutional, they hardly thought it justified a coup. Obama yesterday insisted the coup set a "terrible precedent" and evokes the continent's "dark past." But as the WP highlights, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was not formally calling it a coup just yet. Such a designation would interrupt millions of dollars in aid, and so far, at least, the United States doesn't seem ready to make any concrete threats.

In the NYT's op-ed page, Alvaro Vargas Llosa writes that the military fell for a trap set by Zelaya and managed to turn "an unpopular president who was nearing the end of his term into an international cause célèbre." The big winner in all this? Chavez, who can now "claim the moral high ground" as he turns himself into "the unlikely champion of Jeffersonian democracy in Latin America."

A day after Michael Jackson's mother, Katherine Jackson, was granted temporary custody of his children and was appointed special administrator of her son's estate, the LAT takes a look at the close mother-son bond the two shared. Those close to the family say Michael's mother was always very protective of him and was a constant presence in her son's life. "I've never seen a closer relationship between a 50-year-old man and his mother," said the head of AEG Live, the company that was in charge of organizing Jackson's comeback concerts. Michael's father, though, is a whole other story. Although Joe and Katherine Jackson are still married, they haven't lived together for at least 10 years.

It's hardly a secret that Michael didn't get along with his father, and the WSJ hears word that he wasn't included in what is believed to be the King of Pop's last will, which was drafted in 2002 and sets up his children, mother, and at least one charity as the beneficiaries. The lawyer for Jackson's parents said he has never seen this will, which could be presented to the court as early as Thursday. These are seen as the first steps in what will likely be a long, complicated fight over Jackson's estate. Even though Jackson had around $500 million in debt, "the value of his assets probably outweigh that, possibly by $200 million or more," reports the WSJ.

In the WP's Style section, David Montgomery looks into the Celebrity Death Rule of Three, which seemed to fulfill itself perfectly last week when Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett all died. But, really, it all depends "on which departed souls count as celebrities, and on how much time may elapse between deaths in a valid triplet." For example, what do you do about David Carradine, who died earlier this month. Or Sky Saxon, the singer and bass player for the band the Seeds, who died on the same day as Fawcett and Jackson. "But if Saxon is not famous enough to qualify for the rule of three, then how sad: dead and dissed."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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