Is Souter Thinking About Leaving the Court?

The Associated Press wonders.

The case of the missing law clerks is this spring's most-watched mystery at the Supreme Court.

[...]

[E]ight justices are known to have hired the four law clerks who will work with them in the Supreme Court term that begins in October. Souter appears to be the lone holdout.

Officials at the highest levels of government have taken notice, while the court's press corps is consumed with anxiety.

Why does this matter? Under the scenario that counts, Souter, 69, would not be hiring clerks because he isn't planning to be in Washington in the fall. A retirement would give President Barack Obama his first chance to nominate a justice and the next few months would bring Senate confirmation hearings.

The folks at First Read note that "Souter is usually the last of the justices to hire law clerks for the coming term," with slots being filled in March or April. So perhaps there is too much being read into this news (or, more precisely, lack thereof). On the other hand, March has since passed, as has most of April, and rumors continue to swirl. What's more, at least one senior Republican Senator seems to be doing all he can -- including floating the possibility of giving up one of the most powerful gavels in Congress -- to become ranking member of the committee that would hold confirmation hearings for Souter's replacement.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) is considering leaving his powerful post as senior Republican on the Finance Committee so that he can become the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel.

To avoid a dramatic shake-up, Grassley is hoping to strike a deal with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that would allow him to serve out the next year and a half on Finance before moving to Judiciary.

The top GOP spot on the Judiciary Committee, best known for vetting Supreme Court justices, came open when Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) announced this week he would leave the Republican Party to become a Democrat.

Much of the major legislative action this Congress will flow through the Finance Committee -- including healthcare reform and any major tax bills -- so it's notable that Chuck Grassley is considering giving up his ranking status on the panel (even if he is calling such a move "very much a last resort"). While this move looks, at least in part, to be about Grassley only having the opportunity to serve as the top-ranking Republican on the Committee until the end of the Congress because of GOP caucus rules and wanting to retain a prominent role in the chamber, the fact remains that the longtime Republican Senator is considering giving up a key position on what has traditionally been one of the Senate's two most powerful panels in return for a key position on what traditionally has been one of the slightly less powerful panels.

This angling from Grassley speaks wonders in and of itself. But timed with the potential tea leaves from Souter, and it starts to look like something is in the works (or, at the least, Grassley thinks there might be something in the works). Then again, considering that the ranking status on the Judiciary committee would otherwise go to Jeff Sessions -- a man who was rejected by the panel more than 20 years ago when nominated by Ronald Reagan to serve as a federal judge -- perhaps Grassley just doesn't want to see the position slip into the wrong hands.

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KCRWs Left Right & Center: Guns & Scotus, The DUDE

Surprise visit from The Dude: the real one, who inspired The Big Lebowski (Jeff Dowd) www.jeffdowd.com. He's a big fan of Left, Right & Center and dropped by to do KCRW's Guest DJ Project http://www.kcrw.com/music/kcrw-guest-dj- project. Meantime, on today's show we talk about Guns and SCOTUS; North Korea Nukes; Oil; Democratic Unity and Obamacons. Visit our new blog for links to articles mentioned http://leftrightandcenter.vox.com/; special guest right is Jim Antle, associate editor of the conservative mag, The American Spectator. Listen to today's show here: http://www.kcrw.com/media-player/mediaPl ayer2.html?type=audio&id=lr080627sco tus_on_gunsn_kore

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An Hour Before Heller, Obama Disavows "Inartful" Support for DC Ban

According to ABC:

With the Supreme Court poised to rule on Washington, D.C.'s, gun ban, the Obama campaign is disavowing what it calls an "inartful" statement to the Chicago Tribune last year in which an unnamed aide characterized Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as believing that the DC ban was constitutional.

"That statement was obviously an inartful attempt to explain the Senator's consistent position," Obama spokesman Bill Burton tells ABC News.

The statement which Burton describes as an inaccurate representation of the senator's views was made to the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 20, 2007.

In a story entitled, "Court to Hear Gun Case," the Chicago Tribune's James Oliphant and Michael J. Higgins wrote ". . . the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said that he '...believes that we can recognize and respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and the right of local communities to enact common sense laws to combat violence and save lives. Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional.'"

The Chicago Tribune clip from Nov. 20, 2007, is an inaccurate representation of Obama's views, according to Burton, because the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has refrained from developing a position on whether the D.C. gun law runs afoul of the Second Amendment.

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Obama Supports the Death Penalty for Child Rape

Sen. Obama has come out publicly in opposition to the Supreme Court's decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana to prohibit the death penalty for those that commit child rape. This is very surprising. Could it be yet another piece of evidence to suggest Obama's new found centrist leanings?

A longtime critic of the death penalty, Sen. Barack Obama said he opposed the Supreme Court's decision today that child rapists may not be executed in cases where they do not kill their victims.

"I have said repeatedly I think the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances, for the most egregious of crimes," said the Illinois senator, speaking to reporters at a hometown press conference. But he added, "I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that does not violate our Constitution."

In today's 5 to 4 decision, with the more liberal members forming the majority, the court struck down a 1995 Louisiana law that allowed the death penalty to be used against anyone who rapes a child under the age of 12. The decision overturned the death penalty for Patrick Kennedy, a 43-year-old who was convicted of raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter in 1998.

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Supreme Court Legalizes Voter Suppression

Project Vote Statement on Supreme Court Ruling in Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board

On Monday, April 28, the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Indiana's law (Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board) requiring voters to show a government-issued photo identification before they may cast a ballot. Crawford plaintiffs argued that Indiana's strict photo ID requirements disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. Donna Massey, Project Vote Board Member and a supporter of voting rights, issued this statement:

"The Supreme Court ruling is disappointing for Americans who want the next president to be chosen in a free and fair election in which all eligible voters have an equal opportunity to participate. The voters most harmed by the ruling are first-time voters who are registering this year in record numbers. If legislators in the 24 states where strict photo voter ID rules have been introduced take the Court's decision as a green light, voters across the country will find it more difficult to cast their ballots this Election Day. Our democracy works best when every American participates.

The real purpose of strict photo voter ID rules is to make it more difficult for some Americans to vote. It's the voters who are less likely to vote who are also less likely to have government issued ID, such as young people, the poor, elderly, and Americans of color. A University of Washington study, for example, found that in Indiana 22 percent of African-American voters lack proper identification compared to 16 percent of white voters. Twenty-one percent of voters earning less than $40,000 a year lack the necessary ID compared to just 13 percent of those earning more than $40,000. All Americans have a right to vote, even if they don't have a photo ID.

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