Today's Papers

Dead Again

The New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Todaylead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the Supreme Court ruling that race can’t be used as a factor when deciding where a student can go to school. In a typical 5-4 lineup, the conservative justices declared that no student can be turned away from a school because of his or her race (higher education won’t be affected). “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John Roberts declared, in what became the most quoted line of the day. Both sides claimed they were staying true to the landmark 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education, an assertion that angered the liberal justices, who presented a scathing 77-page dissent written by Justice Stephen Breyer.

The Los Angeles Timesoff-leads the Supreme Court but banners the death of the immigration bill. Most predicted this would happen, but by falling 14 votes short of the 60 necessary to end debate, senators voted against the bill by a wider margin than most expected. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the bill, and this time, there’s almost no chance that it will make a comeback. There was some talk yesterday, which the WSJ emphasizes, that senators would try to save some small portions of the bill. But the LAT notes some senators think the immigration issue has simply become too radioactive and no one will be willing to touch it, especially as elections get closer.

Although Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the conservative justices in calling the school admissions programs in Seattle and Louisville unconstitutional, he wrote a separate opinion where he tried to strike a middle ground. Kennedy said schools could still promote integration through other ways that don’t include classifying students by race. Everyone notes Kennedy’s separate opinion had two main immediate effects: It raised confusion among school districts as to what is actually permitted and firmly cemented his position as the key swing vote in the court. The NYT notes the reason why the court took so long to rule (it heard arguments in December) is probably because justices were trying to persuade Kennedy to move closer to their side.

The NYT’s Linda Greenhouse also notes an interesting tidbit. Kennedy replaced Justice Lewis Powell Jr., who, 29 years ago wrote a separate opinion in the landmark Bakke case barring quota systems but accepting affirmative action. And just like in his predecessor’s case, Kennedy’s opinion yesterday is the important one that will have to be examined in order to determine what is constitutionally permissible.

Proponents of affirmative action clung to Kennedy’s decision to say the result wasn’t as bad as they expected. But many officials were left scratching their heads as to what would be allowed to promote diversity in schools, and many predict more lawsuits are inevitable. In a separate story inside, the WSJ emphasizes (and the NYT mentions) many schools will probably choose to move away from race and focus on socioeconomic status, a policy that is already in place in several school districts.

Back to the anger of the liberal justices for a moment, two quotes compete in the category of most-stinging-statement-of-the-day as the court finished its term. While reading his dissent from the bench, Justice Breyer said, “It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.” And in a separate dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens also appeared to make a broad statement directed at the current crop of conservative justices when he wrote, “It is my firm conviction that no member of the court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.”

The NYT is alone in fronting yesterday’s other two 5-4 decisions. In the only case where Kennedy joined the liberal wing, the court overturned a death sentence for a schizophrenic man in Texas who said he was too mentally ill to understand why he was going to be put to death. And in the other case, the conservative justices overturned a “nearly century-old ruling” and said that minimum prices set by manufacturers aren’t necessarily unlawful and each case will have to be decided individually. This means manufacturers will have more power to control how much discount (and Internet) retailers can charge for their products. The WSJ talks to economists who think the ruling won’t have much of an effect on prices, although, as USAT notes, luxury brands could be the exception.

So, was every decision this year 5-4? Not quite, says the Post in an analysis of the Supreme Court term. A third of the total cases were split 5-4, and Kennedy was the deciding vote in most of them. Although it might be tempting to think of Kennedy as the new Sandra Day O’Connor, the Post points out that he is more likely to side with the conservatives.   

OK, enough Supreme Court fun; back to Capitol Hill. There’s really no way to view the resounding defeat of the immigration bill other than as a major defeat for President Bush, who saw about two-thirds of his party’s senators desert him. In a Page One analysis, the Post notes that Bush has now officially lost “what was probably his last chance of securing a legacy-making second-term domestic victory.” All of the major initiatives that Bush said would be his priority when he was re-elected (remember Social Security?) have pretty much failed. USAT notes that most of the agenda for the next 18 months “is no longer Bush’s to shape,” particularly since Iraq is likely to dominate the landscape in the coming months.

But Bush sent a message that he’s still a fighter as the White House invoked executive privilege and made clear to Congress that it’s ready to go to court to challenge the subpoenas for information relating to the firings of U.S. attorneys, the WP fronts and everyone mentions. Democrats now have to decide whether they want to start the process of taking the issue to the courts. This could be risky because constitutional scholars warn it’s unclear who would end up winning and, regardless, due to the possibility of appeals, it is likely the issue wouldn’t be decided until after Bush leaves the White House.

Well, that’s certainly a twist … TP admits he hasn’t devoted much attention to the case of pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed his wife and child before committing suicide, but today the WP and NYT carry an AP story that is likely to change that. It seems Benoit’s Wikipedia entry was edited to mention the death of his wife hours before the bodies were discovered. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the entry was made by someone using an IP address registered in Stamford, Conn., and (wouldn’t you know it?) that’s where World Wrestling Entertainment’s headquarters are located.