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The Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments today on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark healthcare reform bill signed by President Obama two years ago. Part of the case will focus on the so-called individual mandate, the part of the law that requires most people buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty. The Supreme Court is expected to hear six hours of oral arguments spread over three days. It will be the longest argument heard by the court in almost 45 years. The case is expected to have huge implications for the nation and the 2012 elections.
Tom Goldstein, publisher of the SCOTUS blog: "This is the intersection of law, politics and human life, that we have a massive constitutional question on the President’s signature achievement about something that affects every single American, and it’s all wrapped up in one case in the run-up to a presidential election. ... I don’t think anybody really knows how it will play out politically. We do know that it will get a lot of political attention, because the court is going to decide the case in late June, as the fight between President Obama and the likely nominee, Mitt Romney, is really engaging."
The Supreme Court decision is being closely followed by many who could benefit from the law. Robyn Martin is the mother of a seven-month-old son who suffers from a serious heart condition.
Robyn Martin: "We need the Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act, because we need this little boy to continue to have healthcare without having to worry about hitting a limit, without having to add up each one of our visits to see how close we’re going to get to an arbitrary limit that a health insurance company sets for us."
Civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will be in Sanford, Florida, for a town hall meeting today about the death of Trayvon Martin. A 17-year-old African American, Martin was shot dead while walking in a gated community last month. He was unarmed. Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, has not been arrested or charged. On Sunday, Jackson characterized Martin’s death as a transformative event reminiscent of the killings of Emmett Till in 1955 and Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963.
Rev. Jesse Jackson: "How do we take the light of the martyr—Trayvon is a martyr. He’s not coming back. He’s a martyr, murdered and martyred. And now we must illuminate the darkness with the light that comes from the martyr."
On Friday, President Obama addressed the death of Trayvon Martin for the first time.
President Obama: "I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident. But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. Thank you."
On the campaign trail, Republican presidential challengers Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum criticized Obama’s statement. Gingrich said, "Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling."
Protests continue across the country to call for the arrest of the man who shot Trayvon Martin. Marsha Adebayo attended a rally in Washington, D.C.
Marsha Adebayo: "My son was stopped 20 times in one month when he was 18 years old. When he was 19 years old, he was stopped 30 times in one month. Every single black woman here with a black son will have a story like mine. So we absolutely have to stop this kind of atrocity that’s going on, this war against black men in this country."
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has conceded defeat after losing a presidential runoff to Macky Sall. The 85-year-old Wade had ruled Senegal for 12 years. His decision to seek a third term set off nationwide protests. Sall is a former prime minister of Senegal who split from Wade in 2008.
Macky Sall: "The size of this victory by the vote of the people shows the immense expectation of the population. I am taking all measures tonight so that a new era can commence for Senegal."
In news from Afghanistan, a gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform killed two NATO troops in southern Afghanistan today. An official in the Afghan defense ministry told the BBC the attacker was an Afghan soldier.
U.S. officials have paid out a total of $866,000 in compensation to the family members of the victims of the massacre in Kandahar province. $46,000 was paid out for each of 16 people killed as well as for an unborn baby who died. Six Afghans wounded in the attack received $11,000 each. Earlier today, the wife of the accused gunman, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, appeared on NBC’s The Today Show. Karilyn Bales says that she finds accusations that her husband killed 17 Afghan villagers "unbelievable." She said, "I just don’t think he was involved."
In other news from the region, the U.S. military has reportedly decided not to charge or discipline its officers who bombed a Pakistani military outpost in November, killing 24 Pakistani troops. The U.S. military has reportedly blamed the air strike on "battlefield confusion."
International peace envoy Kofi Annan is expected to head to China today after asking Russia to back his mission to end fighting in Syria. Russia said Annan’s mission could be the last chance to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Turkish governments have discussed sending non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, a move that could represent an incremental change in U.S. policy.
Pope Benedict is heading to Cuba today, where he is expected to celebrate mass in Santiago, a city considered the cradle of the Cuban revolution. Over the weekend, the Pope wrapped up a trip to Mexico where some protesters criticized the Catholic Church’s stance on women’s issues and reproductive rights.
Yara, Mexican rights activist: "The Catholic Church has millions and millions of dollars in their bags, and they get richer every day with a false sense of morality, and they’re very clerical. They accuse women who have abortions, and they tolerate priests who rape and commit acts of pedophilia. In reality, they are very hypocritical. I am completely against someone else deciding what I do with my body. We are here to demand our right to choose."
President Obama has nominated Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim to become the next president of the World Bank. Kim co-founded Partners in Health with Dr. Paul Farmer and is well known among development experts for his work in fighting HIV/AIDS. President Obama announced Kim’s nomination on Friday.
President Obama: "I believe that nobody is more qualified to carry out that mission than Dr. Jim Kim. It’s time for a development professional to lead the world’s largest development agency. And that’s why today, after a careful and thorough search, I am nominating Dr. Jim Kim to be the next president of the World Bank."
Washington’s hold on the World Bank presidency is being contested for the first time by candidates from Africa and South America. Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister José Antonio Ocampo have also been nominated for the post.
In campaign news, Rick Santorum easily won the Louisiana Republican presidential primary on Saturday but still trails Mitt Romney by a wide margin in the national delegate count for the party nomination.
A new exposé by the Associated Press has revealed undercover New York Police Department officers attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists who planned protests around the U.S. In one instance, an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans to attend the 2008 People’s Summit. Two activists—Jordan Flaherty, a journalist, and Marisa Franco, a labor organizer for housekeepers and nannies—were mentioned by name in one of the police intelligence reports.
The presidents of Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica met Saturday in a regional summit to discuss essentially ending the so-called war on drugs by legalizing or decriminalizing drug use and trade. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina hosted the summit in the city of Antigua.
Otto Pérez Molina: "What’s happening to us, since we’re not producers nor are we among the major consumers, is that we in the middle are countries that need to confront the problem of drug transit. So that’s why we talked about another idea, which is the decriminalization of drug transportation. And, of course, this needs to be discussed carefully, like all other proposals we are considering. They’re not matters where, in just one day or one session, we could come to a conclusion."
A 32-year-old Iraqi-born woman died in California Saturday just days after she was brutally beaten. Shaima Alawadi was found on Wednesday lying in a pool of blood in her home next to a note saying, "Go back to your country." She was a mother of five children, ranging in age from eight to 17. Her daughter, Fatima al-Himidi, spoke to the news media after the beating.
Fatima al-Himidi: "I mean, we’re speechless, you know? She was such an innocent woman. I mean, I just—why? Why did you do that? She was a housewife. She’s innocent. She hasn’t hurt anybody. She’s a mother of five. Why did you do it? I mean, I found her on the floor drowned in her own blood, with a letter next to her head saying, 'Go back to your country, you terrorist.' We’re not the terrorist; you are, whoever did it."
A federal judge has ruled the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority when it revoked a permit for one of the nation’s largest mountaintop removal coal mines. Fourteen months ago, the EPA said Arch Coal’s proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia would "use destructive and unsustainable practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and the clean water on which they depend." The judge declared that the permit was now valid, paving the way for a mining project covering nearly 2,300 acres to go forward.
And here in New York City, a police detective has been fired and three other members of the department were forced to retire for their roles in the shooting of Sean Bell, an unarmed African-American man who died in a hail of bullets after his bachelor party in 2006.