Congressional Digest

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    Gay Marriage, Voting Rights Make Headlines in Court’s Last Week

The U.S. Supreme Court closed out its 2012-2013 term last week, and as predicted, it handed down blockbuster decisions on the Voting Rights Act and gay marriage in its final days. The week started with the Court issuing a ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which challenged the consideration of race as a factor during the undergraduate admissions process. Rather than issuing a decisive opinion on the subject, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a seven-justice majority, remanded the case back to the circuit court, with instructions that the court reconsider the case and apply “strict scrutiny” to…

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    Food Stamp Funding Presents Biggest Hurdle in Farm Bill Debate

By , Editor,
June 17, 2013
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On June 10, by a vote of 66 to 27, the Senate easily passed a five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill, sending it to the House, where it now faces an uncertain fate. Officially known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, the legislation sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008 and expired in 2012. Congress approved a partial extension on January 1 to continue funding for certain programs. The Senate version of the Farm Bill would end direct and countercyclical payments to farmers, which account for most current commodity…

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    Court Upholds DNA Testing of Arrestees

By , Editor,
June 05, 2013
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On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld Maryland’s DNA Collection Act, which allows law enforcement officials to collect DNA samples on anyone they arrest for a serious crime. In the case, Maryland v. King, Alonzo Jay King, Jr. had been arrested for assault after pointing a shotgun at a group of people. Police took a DNA sample from King, and four months later, after the sample had been sent off to a national crime database, DNA evidence linked King to an open rape case from 2003. King was tried and convicted for rape based on that evidence. He appealed, and Court…

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    Obama Talks Terrorism, Drones, and Guantánamo in Major Speech

By , Editor,
May 28, 2013
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In a major address on national security and counterterrorism at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., last Thursday, President Barack Obama declared that America is at a crossroads and “this is the moment to ask ourselves hard questions — about the nature of today’s threats and how we should confront them.” He said that after the elimination of Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking leaders, al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat and its regional affiliates — in places like Iraq, Yemen, and North Africa — pose regional threats to U.S. interests abroad, not direct threats to the U.S….

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    New Fracking Rules Draw Fire From Both Sides

By , Editor,
May 22, 2013
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New Federal draft rules governing hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on public and tribal lands are drawing sharp criticisms from both industry and environmental groups. The proposed regulations, released on May 16, include changes designed to alleviate opponents’ objections to an earlier version. Fracking is an extraction process that involves pumping water, chemicals, and sand deep into hard-to-reach rock formations at high pressure to force cracks and release natural gas, allowing it to flow freely to the production well. Now used in over 90 percent of vertical and horizontal oil and gas wells in the United States, the technique is enabling…

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    New Round of Benghazi Hearings on the Hill

By , Editor,
May 09, 2013
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On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee, chaired by Representative Darrell Issa (CA-R) held a hearing on the September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that led to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. It’s the ninth time a congressional committee has held a hearing investigating the circumstances of the attack and the Obama Administration response in the hours and days that followed. Testifying before the committee were Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission for Libya; Eric Nordstrom, the regional security officer posted to Libya; and Mark…

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    Congress Prepares to Debate Immigration Reform

By , Editor,
April 09, 2013
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With Congress now back in session after a holiday break, lawmakers appear ready to start debating the details of immigration reform legislation. A bipartisan “gang of eight” senators is on track to introduce a comprehensive bill within the next week, according to Senator Charles Schumer (NY-D), one of its members. The group reportedly has reached agreement on several major provisions, while other somewhat less prominent issues have yet to be resolved. The package is expected to address the following: Pathway to Citizenship In December 2010, Congress rejected the DREAM Act when Republican opposition denied supporters the 60 Senate votes needed…

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    Court Strikes Down Warrantless Use of Drug-Sniffing Dogs Outside Homes

By , Editor,
March 28, 2013
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On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of trained police dogs to sniff around the outside of a suspect’s house without a warrant constitutes an unreasonable search, prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. Although overshadowed by this week’s landmark oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 (which will be covered extensively in the May issue of Supreme Court Debates), the decision in Florida v. Jardines is a noteworthy one. For instance, the case created some strange ideological bedfellows Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas…

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    Senate Moves Ahead on Gun Measures

By , Editor,
March 16, 2013
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The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported to the full Senate four bills intended to reduce gun violence: S. 54, the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013, introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (NY-D), to make it a Federal crime to serve as a “straw purchaser,” or someone who buys a firearm with the intent of selling it to an individual who cannot pass a background check. S. 146, the School Safety Enhancements Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (CA-D), to provide communities and schools with resources to install classroom locks, lighting, fencing, reinforced doors, and other deterrent measures. The…

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    VAWA Goes to the President’s Desk

By , Editor,
February 28, 2013
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Although lawmakers in Congress may have failed to break the sequestration stalemate before heading home for the weekend on February 28, they did manage to take final action on the long-delayed Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization. By a vote of 286 to 138, the House of Representatives voted to send the Senate-passed bill to the President’s desk. Eighty-seven Republicans joined 199 Democrats in voting for passage. The Senate approved its version on February 12, 78 to 22. The legislation renews a 1994 law that expired in 2011. The original law, written by Vice President Joe Biden when he was…

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