Neil Gorsuch’s First Critical Vote Allowed A Man To Be Executed

Justice Neil Gorsuch made a difference Thursday in his first 5-4 vote on the Supreme Court, siding with his fellow conservatives to deny a petition from eight Arkansas inmates who sought to stop back-to-back-to-back executions.

Gorsuch’s vote on one of several 11th-hour petitions, in effect, allowed the state of Arkansas to carry out its first execution in nearly 12 years.

Ledell Lee was killed just before midnight Thursday, despite his legal team’s herculean effort to persuade the high court to put off his execution so that he could pursue a potential innocence claim and demonstrate that he was intellectually disabled. Lee was still waging these legal battles because of what one lawyer described as the “abysmal representation” he’d received throughout most of the post-conviction process.

The execution was Arkansas’ first victory, if one can call it that, following a chaotic week of legal moves during which the inmates and several pharmaceutical companies tried to put a stop to the state’s plan. But Arkansas was determined to keep to its killing schedule because some of its supply of lethal injection drugs is close to expiring.

“Arkansas set out to execute eight people over the course of 11 days. Why these eight? Why now?” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting from his colleagues’ decision to let the state go forward. Breyer would have agreed to halt the executions  and add the case to the Supreme Court’s docket to explore whether the “compressed execution schedule” constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

In a separate dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned the court’s 2015 decision in Glossip v. Gross, in which the conservative majority essentially required death row prisoners to pick their own poison when challenging a lethal injection cocktail.

“I continue to harbor significant doubts about the wisdom of imposing the perverse requirement that inmates offer alternative methods for their own executions,” Sotomayor wrote.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan also would have halted all eight executions.

Gorsuch didn’t individually express his views in any of the long string of orders against Lee and the other inmates that the Supreme Court issued late Thursday and after midnight on Friday. But his vote at least suggests that he’s solidly conservative when it comes to the death penalty. On his first opportunity, he also chose not to cast a “courtesy” fifth vote ― something that other justices have occasionally done when four of their colleagues believe that a capital case is so egregious that it merits more attention.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Gorsuch’s views on the death penalty, as The Intercept’s Liliana Segura noted. Much of it remained unexplored during his confirmation hearings. But the subject is generally a tough one for the justices.

The last time the Supreme Court gave a full hearing to a death penalty dispute in Glossip, sparks flew during oral arguments. And when the court announced its ruling, four justices spoke about the case from the bench. The late Justice Antonin Scalia held nothing back, delivering a bizarre screed against Breyer.

Over time, the failings and arbitrariness of the capital punishment system come to weigh heavily on the justices, until some give up on it entirely. Others, like Breyer, begin to look for cases that would allow a deeper dive into the death penalty’s dysfunctions and even call into question its constitutionality.

Still other justices hold firm that the death penalty is constitutional and that courts should defer to states on the nitty-gritty of executing people. If Thursday’s rebuff of the Arkansas inmates is any indication, that’s where Gorsuch falls.

Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan filed an amicus brief on Thursday urging the Supreme Court to halt Lee’s execution and go the extra step of ending the “failed experiment” of capital punishment once and for all. In a later statement to The Huffington Post, he deplored the justices’ failure to act in the face of Arkansas’ brazenness.

“The Court’s role is to vigorously police overzealous exercises of government power,” Sullivan said. “When execution after execution involves not the most culpable people, but those with the most severe impairments and the worst lawyers, the failure to intervene to affirm the basic human dignity that every person deserves becomes culpable.”

Arkansas’ execution schedule resumes Monday with two planned executions. Four other inmates have won temporary reprieves in state and federal court.

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U.S.-Israeli Citizen Charged In Jewish Community Center Threats

The U.S.-Israeli dual citizen accused of making dozens of threats to Jewish community centers was slapped with several federal charges, the Justice Department announced Friday.

Michael Ron David Kadar, 18, was charged with making threats, conveying false information to police and cyberstalking, according to a DOJ press release.

He was arrested in Israel in March after a joint investigation by the FBI and Israeli police. It wasn’t immediately clear which country he was in as of Friday, and, if he were still in Israel, whether he’d be extradited to the U.S. The DOJ declined to comment.

Since the new year, more than 80 Jewish community centers in the U.S. and Canada and 10 Jewish day schools received more than 120 threats. The Anti-Defamation League was also targeted. The threats, spread across dozens of states and several countries, prompted many evacuations, but none resulted in an attack.

Interestingly, Kadar was charged with “multiple threats” made only in Florida, despite the FBI noting in March that the suspect in custody had made the “bulk of the calls.” It’s unclear whether that means the DOJ could only provide enough evidence to pin the Florida calls on him at the moment, or if there’s another suspect still on the loose. The DOJ and FBI both declined to comment further. The press release states that an investigation continues, as well as a probe into possible hate crime charges.

“Today’s charges into these violent threats to Jewish Community Centers and others represent this department’s commitment to fighting all forms of violent crime,”  Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “These threats of violence instilled terror in Jewish and other communities across this country and our investigation into these acts as possible hate crimes continues.” 

A large chunk of the threats made in the U.S. since January came in waves, and many of the calls came from a similar robotic voice. Authorities said the caller was using technology to disguise his voice, and Israeli police reportedly found computers, an antenna and other equipment in Kadar’s home that would allow him to make calls that are difficult to detect. 

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Another State Shows Voter Fraud Isn’t A Widespread Problem

Voting irregularities in North Carolina accounted for just 0.01 percent of nearly 4.8 million votes in last year’s general election, according to a State Board Of Elections audit released on Friday.

The State Board Of Elections said that even if every irregularity was proven to be voter fraud, there wasn’t enough of it to have influenced the outcome of any race.

“One ineligible vote is too many in any election; however, our analysis of irregularities does not indicate any contest was affected in November,” Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said in a statement. 

The audit comes as the Supreme Court is considering whether to hear North Carolina’s appeal from a lower court ruling blocking its controversial 2013 photo voter ID law, which lawmakers argued was needed to prevent voter fraud. The audit also is a slap to former Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who claimed there was voter fraud in the November election and refused to concede his defeat.

Officials in other states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, have been able to offer only scant examples of voter fraud. President Donald Trump, who won North Carolina in last year’s presidential election, has alleged that millions of illegal votes were cast for his opponent Hillary Clinton in the U.S. election. Trump has offered no evidence for the claim.

North Carolina’s audit describes few instances of outright fraud.

“The evidence suggests that participation by ineligible voters is neither rampant nor non-existent in North Carolina,” the audit report said. “Our audits suggest that in the 2016 general election, approximately 0.01% of ballots were cast by ineligible voters. Most incidents are isolated and uncoordinated, and detecting technical violations does not always prove purposefully unlawful conduct. Our work indicates that ineligible voters are not isolated to one political party or any geographical region of the state.”

The audit found there were 441 investigations into suspected felons voting, 41 cases of non-citizens voting, and 24 substantiated cases of double voting. The audit found just two cases of voter impersonation ― the kind of fraud a photo ID voting requirement aims to prevent.

North Carolina in 2013 passed a law that requires voters to show photo ID at the polls, shortened the early voting period, and eliminated same-day voter registration.

Critics argued the law is unnecessary because illegal voting is rare and the the law made it disproportionately more difficult for African Americans, poor and elderly residents to vote. A federal appeals court last year blocked the state from implementing the law, ruling that it targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision.”

The audit provides a glimpse into why people vote illegally. Often, the motive is confusion about the law. In the 41 cases of non-citizens voting, for example, the Board of Elections found that all of the individuals were in the United States legally and didn’t know they were prohibited from voting. Some had been misinformed by canvassers. One woman who had registered to vote had lived in the United States for 50 years and thought she had citizenship because she had been married to a U.S. citizen.

The two cases of voter impersonation involved one woman who forged her husband’s signature on a mail-in ballot, and another who voted in person on behalf of her deceased mother. The audit found the “suspects in each case indicated that they were motivated out of a desire to carry out their loved one’s voting wishes.” The Board of Elections said it is reviewing an additional 19 cases of potential voter impersonation, but some of those cases appeared to be cases of mistaken identity.

The report also shows how easily someone can mistakenly be accused of illegally voting. The board found during its probe of voting by non-citizens that “even where data from the Division of Motor Vehicles, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the voter rolls matched exactly, a high proportion of flagged individuals were citizens.” Some felons suspected of illegally voting presented information to auditors showing they were actually eligible.

Earlier this week, Democracy North Carolina, a voting rights group, called for a criminal investigation of McCrory’s campaign and the Republican Party of North Carolina, saying both groups brought frivolous challenges to legitimate votes. The group also released a report detailing the humiliation of legitimate voters who were nonetheless accused of fraud.

The state GOP chairman said the party was “dismayed but not surprised” by the audit.

“This report confirms instances of illegal voting by convicted felons, illegal immigrants, and people voting under other names, including dead voters,” party chair Robin Hayes said in statement that ignored the fact that the audit found a miniscule number of irregularities. “These people should be investigated and criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

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