Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

April 17 2014 6:46 PM

After Stepdaughter Comes Out, Supreme Court Lawyer Who Argued Against Gay Marriage Says His Views Have Evolved

The lawyer who argued before the Supreme Court last year in defense of California’s Proposition 8 that banned gay marriage in the state, says his views on same-sex marriage are evolving. It’s a stunning change of heart from attorney Charles Cooper who argued before the court that same-sex unions weaken marriages between a man and a woman.

The reason behind Cooper’s rethink on the issue is an understandable one—during the high profile case, he learned his stepdaughter was gay. "My views evolve on issues of this kind the same way as other people's do, and how I view this down the road may not be the way I view it now, or how I viewed it ten years ago," Cooper is quoted as saying in an upcoming book, the Associated Press reports. In journalist Jo Becker’s book "Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality," Becker recounts how, as the case rose through the court system, “Cooper's family began to consider the plaintiffs in the case, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, as an inspiration for their daughter,” according to the AP.


With the case resolved, and Prop 8 dismissed by the Supreme Court, signaling a victory for gay rights advocates, Cooper opened up about his evolving personal opinion on gay marriage. Cooper’s stepdaughter plans to marry her partner in Massachusetts this summer. In a statement to the AP: Cooper said his family "is typical of families all across America." "My daughter Ashley's path in life has led her to happiness with a lovely young woman named Casey, and our family and Casey's family are looking forward to celebrating their marriage in just a few weeks," he said.

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April 17 2014 6:09 PM

Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant with Her First Child

It's official: The Clinton bloodline will be extended for at least another generation. At an event for the Clinton Foundation's "No Ceilings: The Full Participation" project on Thursday, Chelsea Clinton announced that she and her husband, hedge fund trader Marc Mezvinsky, are expecting their first child. 

The announcement came as the event was wrapping up, with the former First Daughter saying, "I have one more thing to say very quickly—I just want to thank all of you for being such an inspiration to us and to me in particular. Marc and I are very excited that we have our first child arriving later this year."


The news was "really exciting" for former Secretary of State and Grandmother-to-be Hillary Clinton, about whom Chelsea said "I just hope that I will be as good a mom to my child and hopefully children as my mom was to me."

Terry McAuliffe has begun fundraising for the 2056 election cycle.

This post has been updated.

April 17 2014 5:58 PM

South Carolina Government Freaks Out About Rumor That State Official is an Atheist (Or Maybe Just Jewish)

BuzzFeed's McKay Coppins and Gideon Resnick have the most hilaripressing (hilarious + depressing) piece of the day, about an ongoing South Carolina political feud over whether a state official is atheist (unacceptable) or just Jewish (OK..maybe). The argument, between a state senator and governor Nikki Haley, is taking place via extravagantly punctuated Facebook posts.


The upshot is that no one involved in the conflict except a random libertarian guy on Facebook is making the case that it would be not be a big scandal to have an atheist in state government.

April 17 2014 4:10 PM

With Military Sexual Assault Reforms Sent to House, Senate Will Review Laws Covering Rape on Campus

In the same week that the New York Times published an unsettling piece about the botched investigation of sexual assault allegations against star Florida State football player Jameis Winston, Senator Claire McCaskill is launching an investigation of sexual-assault policies at 350 colleges and universities nationwide—one that comes on the heels of a similar and thusfar-successful effort to reform the military's approach to prosecuting and preventing sexual violence.

McCaskill's initial aim via the 18-page survey is to find out exactly what colleges and universities throughout the country do (or don’t do) in response to reports of rape and sexual assault. The issue of what constitutes an acceptable response in such situations has been a topic of special scrutiny in recent years after a 2011 Obama administration "Dear Colleague" letter to institutions of higher learning prompted many of them to re-assess their policies. But as a legislator, of course, McCaskill has the ability to change, rather than just enforce, current laws. The Senate passed her package of reforms to the military's policies in March; it's now pending before the House.

April 17 2014 2:41 PM

Here is a Picture of a Huge Orangutan Looking Completely Relaxed in a Doctor's Office

As promised. The picture was taken at a Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme facility in Indonesia. The subject is a 14-year-old male orangutan who'd been found with pellets from an air gun in his body, so it seems possible that he is not in fact having that fun of a time. Here's how to donate to the Programme if you're interested.

April 17 2014 12:01 PM

"Accidental Death" Gun Control Ad Involving Children Is Terrifying, But Not Very Informative

Michael Bloomberg's aggressive new Everytown for Gun Safety group (which might be a little too aggressive, Jamelle Bouie writes) has a frightening new ad out today:

Compelling, but click to take action to "stop" the nightmare scenario and you're just asked to sign up for a mailing list, which doesn't feel like doing much to stop anything from happening to anyone. Click through to Everytown's home page and you see the option to "learn what you can do to keep [kids] safe":


But that link goes...back to the ad. It was only after looking around further that I found this Everytown page on home shootings, which has a few statistics and a simple graphic urging parents to lock and unload guns.

This post has been updated.

April 17 2014 10:41 AM

Ferry Captain Among First to Leave Sinking Ship, South Korean Coast Guard Says

The South Korean coast guard says the captain of the Sewol, the ferry that sank with hundreds of currently missing passengers still aboard, “is under investigation as a possible criminal and was one of the first people to escape the doomed vessel,” ABC reports.

Lee Joon-seok, 69, left the ferry on a lifeboat 32 minutes after reporting an accident, officials said.
The captain appeared on Korean television today, his face covered by a gray hoodie.
“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” he said, as he was being questioned at the Mokpo Coast Guard Office.

This 2012 NPR interview with an expert on maritime law, conducted during the furor over the behavior of captain Francesco Schettino during the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster which killed 32 people, covers a captain’s legal obligations in the context of the well-known phrase “go down with the ship.”

NPR: What actually is the captain's responsibility under maritime law?
ROD SULLIVAN: That old saying stems from salvage. If a captain left the ship, anybody could come onboard and salvage it. But in the modern Merchant Marine and in connection with passenger ships, he is legally required to render assistance to every single person trying to get off that ship, and also identify those people who may have been killed in the incident.

April 17 2014 9:37 AM

Putin Takes Question From Edward Snowden on Russian TV, Says Russia Does Not Conduct Mass Surveillance

Vladimir Putin denied that Russia employs NSA-style mass surveillance programs after fielding a question from Edward Snowden via Skype-style video during what seems to have been a televised mass town hall event.

Here’s a transcript of what the two said, as best we can tell. (Translation of Putin’s remarks is from the audio on the state-affiliated RT network's broadcast):


SNOWDEN: I’d like to ask about mass surveillance of online communications and the bulk collection of private records by intelligence and law enforcement services. Recently in the United States two independent White House investigations as well as a federal court all concluded that these programs are ineffective in stopping terrorism. They also found that they unreasonably intrude into the private lives of ordinary citizens—individuals who have never been suspected of any wrongdoing or criminal activity. And that these kinds of programs are not the least intrusive means available to such agencies for these investigative purposes. Now, I’ve seen little public discussion of Russia’s own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance, so I’d like to ask you: does Russia intercept, store, or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance? Thank you.

PUTIN: Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy. I used to be working for an intelligence service. We are going to talk one professional language. First of all, our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law—so, how special forces can use this kind of special equipment as they intercept phone calls or follow someone online. And you have to get a court permission to stalk a particular person. We don’t have a mass system of such interception, and according to our law it cannot exist. Of course we know that criminals and terrorists use technology for their criminal acts and of course special services have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of terrorist nature. And of course we do some efforts like that, but we do not have a mass scale uncontrollable efforts like that. I hope we won’t do that, and we don’t have as much money as they have in the States and we don’t have these technical devices that they have in the States. Our special services, thanks god, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and are regulated by the law.

April 16 2014 9:06 PM

Former Presidential Hopeful John Edwards Returns to Courtroom

Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards returned to the courtroom in North Carolina this week. Edwards, before entering politics as a senator from North Carolina, shot to prominence as a personal injury lawyer in the state and restarted his practice late last year. In his first case back in the courtroom, Edwards is part of a legal team representing a 4-year-old in a medical malpractice case. The Virginia boy was three months old during a hospital visit in 2009 and “the hospital is accused of failing to ensure the baby received adequate oxygen, resulting in a brain injury,” according to Greenville’s Daily Reflector. On his first day back on the job, Edwards questioned and selected potential jurors, according to the paper.

Edwards relaunched his law practice with his former law partner David Kirby late last year. In 2012, the former senator faced six felony charges stemming from his attempts to hide the pregnancy of Rielle Hunter, who he was having an affair with during his 2008 campaign. A jury acquitted Edwards on one of the counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions and deadlocked on the other charges. However, the trial, CNN points out, “dragged into the light messy details of a love affair Edwards had with a campaign employee [Hunter], while the wife who supported his ambitions was dying of cancer.” Edwards told Raleigh's News and Observer last year that he didn’t think his past would prejudice juries against him.

April 16 2014 8:05 PM

Federal Judge Overturns Strict North Dakota Abortion Law

A federal judge weighed in on North Dakota’s strict abortion law on Wednesday, ruling the state’s ban on abortions as early as six-weeks into a pregnancy was “invalid and unconstitutional.” North Dakota’s “fetal heartbeat law” was considered the most restrictive in the country and banned abortions as soon as the fetus’ heartbeat could be detected, which can occur six weeks after conception, before many women know they’re pregnant, the Associated Press reports.

"The United States Supreme Court has spoken and has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability," U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland wrote in his ruling. "The controversy over a woman's right to choose to have an abortion will never end. The issue is undoubtedly one of the most divisive of social issues. The United States Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on this emotionally-fraught issue but, until that occurs, this Court is obligated to uphold existing Supreme Court precedent."


Supporters of North Dakota’s abortion law, which was set to take effect on August 1, say it is “a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks,” according to the AP. North Dakota is one of several conservative states that have enacted strict abortion laws recently. Arkansas passed a similar measure, banning abortions beginning 12 weeks into a pregnancy, but it was overturned by a federal court. North Dakota’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he was looking into whether to appeal the decision. "There are those who believed that this was a challenge that could go to the Supreme Court," Stenehjem told the AP. "Whether or not that's likely is something we need to confer about."