Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan continue today on Capitol Hill. If confirmed, she will become just the fourth female Supreme Court justice. In her opening statement on Monday, Kagan, the nation’s Solicitor General, vowed to listen to every case impartially.
Elena Kagan: "I will make no pledges this week other than this one: that if confirmed, I will remember and abide by all these lessons. I will listen hard to every party before the court and to each of my colleagues. I will work hard, and I will do my best to consider every case impartially, modestly, with commitment to principle and in accordance with law."
Republican lawmakers repeatedly claimed Elena Kagan would become a so-called activist judge, citing her ties to Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice. Kagan clerked for Marshall during the 1987-88 term. Marshall’s name was mentioned thirty-five times during the opening day of Kagan’s confirmation hearing. Jeff Sessions is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Jeff Sessions: "Importantly, throughout her career, Ms. Kagan has associated herself with well-known activist judges who have used their power to redefine the meaning of words of our Constitution and laws in ways that, not surprisingly, have the result of advancing that judge’s preferred social policies and agendas. She clerked for Judge Mikva and Justice Marshall, each well-known activists. And she has called Israeli Judge Aharon Barak, who has been described as the most activist judge in the world, as her hero."
The confirmation hearings are being chaired by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. During his opening statement, Leahy accused the current court of judicial activism, citing the controversial Citizens United ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on election campaigns. Leahy praised Elena Kagan’s record.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: "I believe that fair-minded people will find her judicial philosophy well within the legal mainstream. I welcome questions to Solicitor General Kagan about judicial independence, but I’d urge senators on both sides to be fair. There is no basis to question her integrity. No one should presume that this intelligent woman, who has excelled during every part of her varied and distinguished career, lacks independence."
In other Supreme Court news, gun control advocates were dealt a setback Monday when the Court effectively struck down the city of Chicago’s twenty-eight-year ban on handguns. In a 5-4 decision, the Court returned the Chicago case to the lower courts but made it clear that such gun bans violate the Constitution and infringe on a citizen’s "right to keep and bear arms." The ruling will likely spur new challenges to gun control measures across the United States. After the ruling, stock prices of the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson jumped over 5.6 percent.
In another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled a public law school did not violate the First Amendment by withdrawing recognition from a Christian student group that excluded gay students.
In news from Canada, more than 1,000 people rallied outside police headquarters in Toronto on Monday to protest the police department’s brutal crackdown during the G20 summit. It is now estimated that 900 people, including many journalists, were arrested over the weekend. Video has been posted on the web showing Toronto police dressed in riot gear beating peaceful protesters as they sang the Canadian national anthem.
The FBI has arrested ten alleged Russian spies in New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Boston, and an eleventh member of the alleged ring was arrested in Cyprus. Prosecutors have claimed Russian authorities had directed the men and women to gather information on nuclear weapons, US policy toward Iran, CIA leadership, congressional politics and other topics. The alleged spies have been charged with acting as an agent of a foreign government, but they are not facing espionage charges. Nine of them have also been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. The arrests came only three days after President Barack Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the White House. One of the alleged spies was identified as Vicky Peláez, a columnist for the New York-based Spanish-language newspaper El Diario.
The Washington Post reports a force of about 700 US and Afghan troops have launched a major assault along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. The assault is described as one of the largest in eastern Afghanistan in the past several years. Officials said as many as 150 insurgent fighters were killed by the US and Afghan troops. It is not known how many civilians died in the attack.
Meanwhile in Pakistan, at least ten suspected militants died earlier today in a US drone strike. The attack targeted a home near Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal area.
New questions have arisen over the quality of training received by the Afghan army and police force. A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has found that even top-rated Afghan units still cannot operate independently. The US has spent $27 billion on training Afghan forces since 2002. According to the New York Times, the report details drug abuse, heavy attrition, corruption and illiteracy among the Afghan security forces.
In other news on Afghanistan, Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey is threatening to cut $4 billion in foreign aid for Afghanistan over concerns of government corruption.
In news from the Gulf of Mexico, authorities are closely monitoring Tropical Storm Alex, which is threatening to become the first storm of the hurricane season. The storm could delay efforts by BP to increase the amount of oil it is capturing from the massive oil leak that is spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Former President Bill Clinton has suggested it may become necessary to blow up the Deepwater Horizon well. Clinton made the comment during a panel discussion in South Africa.
Bill Clinton: "Unless we send the Navy down deep to blow up the well and cover the leak with piles and piles and piles of rock and debris, which may become necessary — you don’t have to use a nuclear weapon, by the way, I’ve seen all that stuff, just blow it up — unless we’re going to do that, we are dependent on the technical expertise of these people from BP."
In Mexico, a popular gubernatorial candidate in the northern state of Tamaulipas was murdered Monday, less than a week before he was expected to win the July 4th election. Rodolfo Torre and four aides were killed when gunmen ambushed their campaign caravan. The killing of Torre has been described as the highest-level political assassination in Mexico in over fifteen years. President Felipe Calderón condemned the shooting.
Felipe Calderón: "These events present an attack, not only against one citizen, a citizen who aspired to serve his community from a public responsibility (position), but they are attacks against the whole society. It’s an event not only against one candidate from a political party, but also against democratic institutions."
Former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has directly accused the United States of being behind the 2009 coup that ousted him a year ago. In a letter released on Monday, Zelaya wrote, "What we suspected at the beginning has now been confirmed. The United States was behind the coup." He went on to write, "the Honduran people are faithful witnesses to the role that the economic interests of the United States played in this tragic event." The United States is the largest source of foreign investment in Honduras and accounts for much of its trade. Zelaya is currently living in exile in the Dominican Republic. In Honduras, thousands of people marked the anniversary of the coup by marching in Tegucigalpa and calling for the return of Zelaya.
David Castillo, supporter of Manuel Zelaya: "We are seeing the resistance growing every day. The Honduran people have awoken, and we have faith this struggle will not last days or a year. We know the people every day, when they see the needs, the economic, political and social crisis in the country, the insecurity and all that, the people have to unite more to the resistance to look for solutions to these problems."
And in technology news, the Obama administration has outlined a plan to nearly double the amount of commercial broadband spectrum currently available for wireless devices including smartphones. Some estimates suggest the next five years will see an increase in wireless data of between twenty to forty-five times over 2009 levels. Lawrence Summers, the director of the National Economic Council, outlined the plan on Monday.
Lawrence Summers: "Opening up spectrum will — and I’ll detail this a little later — create the foundation for a new private sector investment and economic activity in mobile broadband and a range of other high-value uses that would not have been possible without the coordinating and organizing role of government."