The top story all around is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to overrule a provision of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act allowing rape victims to sue their assailants in federal court. The court found that neither Congress’ power to control interstate commerce nor the 14th Amendment’s provisions for equal protection justified the legislation. The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the New York Times all front stories and pictures on yesterday’s riots in the West Bank, where skirmishes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police and demonstrators ended with at least four dead and dozens wounded. The WP and the NYT also front George W. Bush’s press conference, where he formally announced his plan for social-security reform. The crux of the plan is the creation of individual retirement accounts to replace the public social-security fund.
The case reviewed by the Supreme Court was that of a woman who brought allegations of rape against two Virginia Tech football players in federal court after the university refused to discipline them. The dissenting opinion, which was either “sharply worded” (USA Today) and “vigorous” (WP) or “muted” (NYT), argued that violent attacks could restrict a woman’s choice in jobs and travel, comparing such attacks to racially motivated discrimination of the 60s in terms of its effects on interstate commerce, which would render them susceptible to federal legislation. In the majority opinion, Justice Rehnquist wrote that “gender-motivated crimes of violence are not, in any sense of the phrase, economic activity.” Proponents of the law also felt it was necessary to secure a 14th Amendment right to equal protection, which they felt was often denied due to bias by local prosecutors against rape victims, but the court ruled that the amendment could only regulate state action, and not sanction action against individual wrongdoers. Opponents of the law also warned that it could set a precedent allowing federal intervention into divorce cases and other aspects of family law.
The WP and the NYT see the court’s decision as consistent with other recent rulings, where a five-justice majority overrides Congress’ attempts to officiate matters normally decided by the states. The WP notes that this is the first time since the New Deal that the court has overruled Congressional findings that an activity affected interstate commerce. Justice Souter, in the dissenting opinion, said the decision hearkened to a “federalism of some earlier time.” The LAT notes that the ruling essentially “dooms” potential federal laws against hate crimes. Only the Wall Street Journal mentions another recent decision where the court slightly expanded the federal government’s reach, by allowing federal charges to be brought against persons who bribe Medicare-affiliated organizations.
Ironically, the clashes in the West Bank occurred as Israel’s Parliament was approving, in a close vote, a proposal to transfer three Jerusalem suburbs to Palestinian control. Protesters had assembled to lament the 52nd anniversary of the Israeli state, and to express their dismay at the sluggish pace of peace negotiations.
According to the Bush plan, the best way to insure Social Security’s continued solvency is to set up personal, private retirement accounts, which would offer a higher rate of return on contributions than the current system. Representatives from the Gore campaign quickly attacked the plan, saying that the plan was too risky, that Bush provided too few details on the structure of the proposed system, and that he offered no explanation of how the transition to the new system would be handled, or reconciled with Bush’s tax cut plans. Only the NYT gives an estimate of how expensive implementation would be, and why: $1 trillion, to pay full benefits to current retirees while also diverting payroll taxes into the new private accounts. Bush also sketched his plan for Medicare reform, which would include more health-plan options for seniors, and guaranteed coverage for prescription drugs.
The LAT fronts what could become the first scandal of Vladimir Putin’s fledging regime in Russia. Last week a Yugoslav official wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal spent 5 days in Russia, met with Russia’s acting Defense Minister, and left untouched, though Russia should allegedly indict suspects named by the tribunal. The tribunal is now expected to press Russia for an explanation of the lapse.
Tab fans rejoice! According to the USAT, the Department of Health and Human Services took saccharine off its master list of carcinogens. Replacing the sweet stuff on the list were such culprits as alcohol use and tobacco use. Certain parts of tobacco smoke have long been on the list, but this is the first year the list named secondhand smoke and snuff as cancer culprits.
The Write Stuff: The WP reports on a recent episode at L.A.’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where supervisors arranged a session to help its doctors better their horrible penmanship. The initiative, which began by urging participants to “pretend like you’re in first grade” is part of an attempt to stem deaths caused by bureaucratic errors–as many as 98,000 deaths are caused each year by errors in written communication, many stemming from poor penmanship. Statistics on casualties caused by missed naptimes, slouching, and refusing to share have not been released.