The Washington Post leads with a recent Supreme Court decision that calls into question the sentencing guidelines for federal drug cases. The overlooked decision prevents judges from using evidence that was not voted on by the jury to sentence defendants to time beyond the statutory maximum sentence. Tens of thousands of federal prisoners are expected to appeal their sentences based on the decision. The New York Times leads with an upcoming Clinton administration report that says most nursing homes are dangerously understaffed. The administration says understaffing is increasing the incidence of preventable problems like bedsores and malnutrition, and it wants strict guidelines requiring understaffed homes to hire more nurses and health aides. The Los Angeles Times goes with the health-care industry’s plans to wage a $90 million advertising campaign this election cycle, more than either Bush or Gore plans to spend. Pharmaceutical companies have already spent $34 million on TV, radio, and print ads. Drug companies want to stop a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, and HMOs want to prevent a patients’ bill of rights that, among other things, would grant patients the right to sue. None of the papers’ leads is fronted by anyone else.
The WP reports that the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Apprendi vs. New Jersey struck down a New Jersey hate crimes law that allowed a judge to sentence a defendant beyond the statutory maximum for a firearms charge if the judge found the crime was racially motivated. But the decision’s implications are much broader: “Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” the decision stated. Last week an appeals court found that the principle applies to federal drug cases. Currently, a jury usually decides whether a defendant possessed or sold drugs, then the judge sentences the defendant based on the quantity and type of drugs sold, as determined by a probation officer’s report. That system is unconstitutional when it increases the maximum potential sentence, the appeals court ruled. Many of the 61,000 prisoners serving federal drug sentences are expected to file “Apprendi appeals.” The WP adds that legal experts believe dozens of other federal and state statutes, such as ones that allow judges to consider motive when determining sentences, may be unconstitutional as well. Why was this decision overlooked initially by the news media? It was handed down the same week as the ones that upheld Miranda, struck down Nebraska’s law banning partial-birth abortions, and permitted the Boy Scouts to bar homosexuals.
The LAT and WP reefer Tiger Woods’ six-stroke lead going into the final round of the British Open. With a victory, Woods would become only the fifth golfer to win all four Grand Slam events in his career. At 24, Woods would also be the youngest to achieve the feat. Jack Nicklaus did it when he was 26. The papers practically hand Woods the trophy, noting that he’s 18-2 when he leads going into an event’s final round. The LAT reefer connects Woods’ six-stroke lead with Lance Armstrong’s six-minute lead going into the final leg of the Tour de France. (French cycling fans seem as blasé as Americans about the prospect of Armstrong’s second consecutive victory after his recovery from testicular cancer: “He’s bland. He doesn’t speak very much, it’s annoying. What made him popular was his disease. That’s very American,” one fan told a French tabloid, the LAT reports.)
An NYT sports story reports that aging National Football League owners are anxiously watching the estate tax debate. Many millionaire owners fear their heirs will be forced to sell their teams unless the tax is repealed. An op-ed in the NYT doesn’t have much sympathy. Inheritance taxes are an American tradition, it suggests, designed to prevent the rise of a landed aristocracy and to ensure that equality of opportunity, if not of result, is at least a believable dream.
The WP goes inside with word that white nationalist groups are hoping to use Pat Buchanan’s presidential bid to turn the Reform Party into “the party of the White,” in the words of one man who is active in the North Carolina Reform Party. The story says anti-black, anti-Jewish, and anti-immigrant groups have held Buchanan fund-raisers, but it doesn’t say how many or how much money they’ve raised. Bay Buchanan, Buchanan’s sister and senior campaign adviser, told the WP the groups were attracted to his candidacy because they believe the “malicious lies” spread by the paper about him.
All the papers run reports indicating that nothing much happened at the dueling G8 and Camp David summits. Perhaps world leaders would be better off attending the International Wizard of Oz Club’s Wizard of Oz centennial (for the book, not the movie). One fan, identified as a lawyer and mediator, told the NYT: “I wish more people would do this. I think they’d leave each other alone, if they’d just concentrate on the Wizard and all the great things in the Emerald City.”