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The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature healthcare reform bill. Chief Justice John Roberts proved to be the surprise deciding vote, joining with the court’s four liberal members. Citing the authority of Congress to impose taxes, the decision affirms the law’s individual mandate provision that requires Americans who can afford it to either obtain health insurance or pay a penalty by 2014. Shortly after the ruling came down, President Obama said the Supreme Court had ended the long-running debate over his healthcare law.
President Obama: “The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law. And we’ll work together to improve on it where we can. But what we won’t do, what the country can’t afford to do, is refight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were.”
Although the law remains mostly intact, the court ruled against a provision that allows the federal government to withhold Medicaid funding from states that do not comply with the program’s expansion.
The Republican-controlled House has voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over a congressional probe into the controversial gun-sting operation known as “Fast and Furious.” The operation saw U.S. agents encouraging the sale of thousands of guns to middlemen for Mexican drug cartels in an attempt to gain access to senior-level figures within Mexico’s criminal organizations. Republican lawmakers censured Holder for withholding documents, making him the first sitting attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress. House Speaker John Boehner said the vote would help bring justice to the family of a U.S. agent allegedly killed by firearms that came from “Fast and Furious” gun sales.
House Speaker John Boehner: “Now, I don’t take this matter lightly, and I frankly hoped it would never come to this. The House’s focus is on jobs and on the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law, and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold. So I ask the members of this body to come together and to support this resolution, so that we can seek the answers that the Terry family and the American people deserve.”
Democrats have denounced the Republican act as a political stunt. The documents in question pertain to the Justice Department’s response to Republican subpoenas, not the workings of the operation itself. Before the vote, Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland helped lead around 100 Democrats in a walkout of the House chamber.
Rep. Steny Hoyer: “We, too, are outraged about this process, and let me quote the speaker: 'We will not stand for this.' And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe that we should be here protecting the American people, protecting our Constitution, not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave. My colleagues may well follow that advice.”
At least 17 Democrats voted with Republicans in an apparent bid to maintain the backing of the National Rifle Association, which supported the contempt vote. Speaking in Florida, Holder criticized Republicans and vowed to continue his duties.
Attorney General Eric Holder: “Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided and politically motivated investigation during an election year. By advancing it over the past year and a half, Congressman Issa and others have focused on politics over public safety.”
Syrian activists are reporting a new massacre as part of a wave of violence in rebel strongholds near the capital, Damascus. At least 51 people have reportedly been killed and scores wounded in the Damascus suburb of Douma. Activists say the shredded bodies of up to 20 members of the same family were found after a savage attack by pro-government militia. Another 10 people were reportedly killed at a checkpoint as they tried to flee. In an interview with Iranian state television, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed to continue the crackdown despite foreign pressure to step down.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: “Foreign pressure will not have an influence on our stance. We have been under pressure for a long time, and it did not have an effect in the past, and it will not have any influence in the future.”
Foreign ministers are meeting in Geneva today as part of efforts to revive the United Nations’ six-point peace plan for Syria. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he’s confident the talks will yield results.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “This small group will be very much focused. These groups are the most involved key stakeholders in resolving this crisis. Therefore, I sincerely hope that we will create the momentum, decisive momentum, on the basis of which we can really move ahead for the implementation of a six-point peace plan.”
British police have ordered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to turn himself in to begin extradition to Sweden where he faces questioning on allegations of sexual assault. Assange has spent over a week in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, saying he is ultimately concerned with avoiding being sent to the United States to face punishment for the publication of classified U.S. diplomatic cables. Assange says he will ignore the British police request and remain under Ecuadorean protection. Ecuador is still considering whether to grant him political amnesty, and Ecuadorean officials say they have received more than 10,000 messages in support of Assange’s bid.
The U.S. military may be facing its worst sex-abuse scandal in years after dozens of female Air Force recruits were allegedly victimized by male boot camp instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Twelve male instructors are suspected of violations ranging from rape to improper sexual relations. One male trainer has been charged with raping or sexually assaulting 10 recruits. Nine of the instructors are from the same unit, and their commander has been relieved of duty. So far 31 victims have been identified.
A U.S. soldier killed a member of his own unit at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg on Thursday, before shooting and wounding himself. The gunman has been hospitalized.
The worst wildfire in Colorado history is continuing to rage after killing at least one person and destroying hundreds of homes. Officials said Thursday an estimated 346 homes had been incinerated, and at least one body had been found in a destroyed house after tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the Colorado Springs area over the last few days. The Waldo Canyon wildfire has been fueled by scorching temperatures and high winds, but lighter winds Thursday aided firefighters battling the blaze. Dozens of other massive wildfires were also being fought across the country.
The city of Stockton, California, has become the largest city in the United States to file for bankruptcy. On Thursday, Stockton officials filed for Chapter 9 protection after the collapse of talks with creditors at the end of a three-month deadline. The city has a long-term debt of $700 million and has already laid off many workers, including a quarter of its police force. Stockton has seen a major drop in revenue since the collapse of its housing market during the financial crisis.
A federal appeals court has upheld a harsher sentence for the civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart. Stewart was found guilty in 2005 of distributing press releases on behalf of her jailed client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheikh.” In 2010, she was resentenced to 10 years in prison — nearly five times her original sentence of 28 months.
A labor rights group says it has uncovered “deplorable” conditions at plants in China that supply products to tech company Apple. The New York-based group China Labor Watch says a four-month investigation of 10 Apple suppliers revealed widespread abuses, including harmful working conditions and excessive overtime. The report found conditions in factories that produce cases for Apple products appeared particularly bad, with workers being exposed to loud noise and toxic chemicals. While the uproar over Apple’s suppliers has focused largely on factories owned by the manufacturer Foxconn, the group said it found violations in virtually all of Apple’s suppliers and said some companies mistreated workers more severely than Foxconn.
Ecuadorean plaintiffs have launched a new effort to recoup the $18 billion in damages that the oil giant Chevron has refused to pay for polluting Ecuador’s rainforest since the 1970s. Amazonian residents won the judgment last year after a long-running case seeking damages for Chevron’s dumping of toxic oil waste. Chevron has helped avoid the fine by dissolving its assets inside Ecuador. On Thursday, the plaintiffs filed suit against Chevron holdings in Brazil in a bid to target Chevron worldwide. A similar lawsuit was filed in Canada last month. Juan Pablo Sáenz, a lawyer in the case, said Chevron’s actions had left the plaintiffs with no choice but to pursue the company around the globe.
Juan Pablo Sáenz: “Because Chevron is failing to comply with the sentences in Ecuador, we are obligated to look for a series of countries where they have interests and directly attack those interests to be able to collect the amount of money ordered to repair the Ecuadorean Amazon.”