Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Justices signal they might strike down federal marriage law

Art Lien/NBC News
Vicki Jackson argues before the Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 in this sketch from NBC's Art Lien.
Hearing a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows federal benefits to go only to heterosexual married couples, the Supreme Court appeared skeptical of the statute and indicated that it might strike down the 1996 law.
At issue Wednesday’s oral argument was the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, passed by overwhelming margins in both houses of Congress in 1996 and signed by President Bill Clinton. A section of the law, in effect, bars federal agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages, even in the states where they are legal.

Listen: Audio of the oral arguments

United States v. Windsor
Docket Number: 12-307
Date Argued: 03/27/13
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After the oral arguments, NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reported that there seemed to be the five votes on the court that would be needed to invalidate the law.
Williams said Justice Anthony Kennedy – viewed by some court observers as the swing vote in the case – indicated that he had problems with law: whether Congress and the president had the right to say what marriage is, instead of leaving the legal definition for each state to make.
Kennedy also seemed troubled by what he saw as the lack of narrow focus in the 1996 law. He said DOMA also applies in the nine states that have decided to permit same-sex marriages as well as in the states that do not permit it.

NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reports from outside the Supreme Court on oral arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act.
Williams also reported that the liberal justices attacked DOMA on the grounds that it diminished marriages between same-sex couples in the nine states that have chosen to legalize such marriages.

Williams reported that Justice Ruth Ginsburg said that the federal rules which apply to married couples are so pervasive that in the states that permit same-sex marriages, married same-sex couples could not get the federal benefits couples that heterosexual couples get, and therefore would end up with “a skim milk marriage.”
But Williams cautioned that before the justices even reach the question of the legal merits, they must first decide whether the Obama administration and the House of Representatives have standing to be involved in the case. It remains unclear how a majority of justices will decide that legal standing question.
The Obama administration – even though it was the nominal defendant in the case – urged the federal appeals court in New York to rule in favor of Windsor. So in essence, the Obama administration won in the appeals court and the high court normally doesn’t allow the victorious side in a case to appeal.
Court observers caution that one should not read too much into the questions the justices ask during oral argument since they don’t necessarily reflect how any particular justice would ultimately vote in the case.
The oral argument came a day after the court signaled that it is unlikely to issue a sweeping ruling declaring that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
More than 1,000 federal laws and programs have rules whose application depends in part on a person’s marital status.
At issue Wednesday was the application of the federal estate tax to a lesbian couple who had been married in Canada and lived in New York. As executor of Thea Spyer’s estate, Edith Windsor paid more than $360,000 in federal estate taxes. Windsor seeks a refund on the ground that she is Spyer’s surviving spouse. Under federal law, property that passes to a surviving spouse is generally free from estate taxes.

Defense of Marriage Act opponent Edie Windsor discusses Wednesday's hearing at the Supreme Court.

“I couldn't believe that they were making a stranger of this person I lived with and loved for 43-something years,” Windsor said. She sued the federal government, and two lower federal courts found that DOMA amounted to unconstitutional discrimination.
As the case wound its way through the legal process, the Justice Department, originally her adversary, became her ally.
Two years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress that he and President Barack Obama had concluded that "classifications based on sexual orientation" were inconsistent with the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under law. The Justice Department stopped defending DOMA in court.

Taking up its defense was the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, representing the House Republican leadership.
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group  –represented in Wednesday’s oral arguments by Paul Clement who served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush – contends that the House has legal standing to defend a law when the executive branch refuses to do so.
Clement says in his brief that legal victory for Windsor “would harm the House’s concrete interests by permanently nullifying its passage of DOMA and subjecting future legislative action to a heightened standard of equal protection review.” Upholding the lower court’s ruling that DOMA is invalid would “permanently diminish the House’s legislative power,” Clement says in his brief.
The justices asked the lawyers arguing the case to deal with the question of whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group meets the legal rule requiring that a party to a case claim some specific injury.  It may not be enough for the House members to assert that they want to see DOMA enforced.
To help the court navigate these potential roadblocks, it appointed a Harvard Law School professor, Vicki Jackson, to argue the jurisdictional issues during Wednesday's courtroom session.
Passed by the House in 1996 by a vote of 342 to 67, the Defense of Marriage Act includes one section that says for purposes of federal law marriage is defined as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
Another part of the law says that states which do not permit same-sex marriages can’t be forced to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.
President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law and in the 1996 presidential campaign, and his campaign ran radio ads touting that fact. But Clinton recently wrote in the Washington Post, “I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution.”
Fifty-three of the 342 House members who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 are still serving in the House.
Others who were serving in the House in 1996 and who voted for DOMA – including Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey – have moved up to the Senate.
Both Schumer and Menendez signed a friend of the court brief with other Democratic members of Congress urging the Supreme Court to strike DOMA down. In their brief they said in 1996 Congress “deliberately chose to forego any examination of how DOMA would affect the many federal laws that take marital status into account, the families that it hurts, or the federal government’s long history of respecting the significant variability in state marriage laws ... .”

Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images
Same-sex marriage supporters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
In its brief, the Obama administration contends that gay and lesbian people have been subject to discrimination and are “minorities with limited political power.” Therefore, it argues, the Supreme Court must apply what is called “heightened scrutiny” to see if DOMA is discriminatory and once it does it will determine that section 3 of DOMA violates the Constitution’s guarantee that each person will have equal protection of the laws.
In recent years, nine states, either through court rulings, legislation, or ballot measures, have redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. Despite that, more than three quarters of the states have laws or constitutional provisions that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams contributed to this story.

First Thoughts: The return of the culture wars

The return of the culture wars… DOMA case puts Bill Clinton in the spotlight… Ditto John Boehner… Immigration activity: McCain, Schumer hold press conference in Nogales, AZ at 3:00 pm ET, while Obama gives interview to Telemundo… Guess who’s campaigning in SC-1 run-off? Rick Santorum… And more Senate Madness!!!

Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
Same-sex marriage supporters talk with same-sex marriage opponents in front of the Supreme Court on March 26, 2013 in Washington, DC, as the Court takes up the issue of gay marriage. The US Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments on the emotionally charged issue of gay marriage as it considers arguments that it should make history and extend equal rights to same-sex couples.

*** The return of the culture wars: There’s a truism in American politics: When the economy is struggling, the political conversation becomes mostly about the economy. And when it isn’t struggling, the conversation turns to … social and cultural issues. So not surprisingly, as the Dow Jones average reaches new highs and after last month’s very positive jobs report, this week’s political focus is on gay rights (which the Supreme Court considers again today), abortion (as North Dakota passed the country’s most restrictive abortion ban), and guns (as legislation comes to the Senate floor next month). But as Politico has noted, there’s a big twist to the latest installment of the culture wars: “The left is picking the fights and, for the most part, enjoying being on the right side of public opinion.” Indeed, a majority of Americans now support gay marriage; exit polls from the ’12 election showed that nearly six in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases; and our Feb. 2013 NBC/WSJ poll found 61% of Americans saying they want stricter gun laws. Now that’s not to say that these issues are automatic winners for the left; after all, that gun legislation faces a very uncertain fate in the Senate. But, for the first time we can remember while covering Washington politics, these issues aren’t automatic losers for them. And that’s a significant development.

NBC's Mark Murray explains how former President Bill Clinton's transformation on same-sex marriage is a microcosm of the shift.

*** DOMA case puts Bill Clinton in the spotlight: The day after hearing oral arguments on California’s Prop. 8 gay-marriage ban, the Supreme Court today considers the Defense of Marriage Act. NBC’s Pete Williams previews the oral arguments. “An 83-year-old former IBM programmer is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a law that cost her more than a quarter of a million dollars and deprived her, and thousands of other gay couples, of federal marriage benefits. At issue is the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, passed by overwhelming margins in both houses of Congress in 1996 and signed by President Bill Clinton. It bars federal agencies from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal.” Politically, DOMA puts Clinton back into the spotlight. Earlier this month, the former president wrote a Washington Post op-ed saying that DOMA is discriminatory and should be overturned (although he didn’t directly apologize for signing it into law.) As the New York Times put it, “Rarely has a former president declared that an action he took in office violated the Constitution. But Mr. Clinton’s journey from signing the Defense of Marriage Act to repudiating it mirrors larger changes in society as same-sex marriage has gone from a fringe idea to one with a majority.”

*** Ditto John Boehner: The DOMA case puts House Speaker John Boehner in the political spotlight, too. As we wrote yesterday, Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans spent millions to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court after the Obama administration said it would no longer do so. Despite this defense, Boehner’s office was silent yesterday as the court heard oral arguments in the Prop. 8 case -- instead sending out emails to reporters on the Keystone pipeline and Obama’s Organizing for Action. Will it remain quiet today? Boehner did answer reporters’ questions on DOMA last week, however. “DOMA was a law passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Clinton. And in our system of government the administration doesn't get to decide what's constitutional, the Supreme Court does,” Boehner said, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. “And our financing the lawsuit was to make sure that the proper forum was used to make sure that we know what's constitutional and what isn't.”

*** On the border: Turning to immigration, four of the bipartisan senators working on comprehensive immigration reform legislation -- John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Jeff Flake, and Michael Bennet -- are holding a press conference at 3:00 pm ET in Nogales, AZ. The purpose of presser and the border visit, one Senate aide tells First Read, is to hear directly from the U.S. Border Patrol and area stakeholders about what is working and what isn’t along the U.S.-Mexico border. These senators aren’t expected to unveil their bipartisan legislation until Congress returns the week of April 8, but the Arizona Republic quotes McCain saying on Monday that he can’t promise anything. “‘I can't guarantee anything,’ McCain said after an afternoon town-hall-style meeting with constituents in northwest Phoenix. ‘We're still in serious negotiations, but we have made progress. We are negotiating now, as we are in recess.’”

*** Obama sits down for Telemundo interview: That press conference on the border isn’t the only immigration-related event today. Telemundo’s Lori Montenegro sits down with President Obama at the White House to talk about immigration reform and other issues. The interview airs on Telemundo beginning at 6:30 pm ET. (Obama also gives an interview today to Univision.)

*** Guess who’s campaigning in South Carolina? With the Mark Sanford-vs.-Curtis Bostic run-off in South Carolina taking place next week on April 2, 2016 presidential politics is getting in the mix as Rick Santorum today campaigns with Bostic. Santorum endorsed the GOP candidate yesterday.

*** Senate Madness -- results from yesterday’s contests: In the 19th Century region, #2 seed John C. Calhoun and Thomas Hart Benton advanced…. In the 20th Century region, Everett Dirksen bested Margaret Chase Smith, and William J. Fulbright moved on as well… In the Modern Era, Daniel Patrick Moynihan advanced, as did Bob Dole… And in the Mixed Era, Henry Cabot Lodge and Arthur Vandenberg moved on. See here and here for the vote totals between yesterday’s #2-vs.-#15 and #7-vs.-#10 match ups.

*** Senate Madness -- today’s first-round match ups: Today, our contests pit the #5 and #12 seeds: Sam Houston vs. Hamilton Fish, Huey Long vs. Richard Russell, Hubert Humphrey vs. Daniel Inouye, and Wayne Morse vs. George Norris. And they also pit the #4 and #13 seeds: Stephen Douglas vs. Daniel Voorhees, Joe McCarthy vs. John Sherman Cooper, Strom Thurmond vs. Ed Brooke, and Robert La Follette vs. Robert Morris. Click here and here to vote for your most consequential senator!!!

How did dinosaurs do it? Very carefully, of course

China Photos / Getty Images
This dinosaur skeleton fossil was part of a dinosaur fossil exhibition at Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in July 2007 in Shanghai, China. Zigong is famous for its dinosaur fossil excavations.
By Marc LallanillaLiveScience
Birds do it, bees do it — but how did 3-ton dinosaurs with sharp, pointed spikes on their backs and tails get it on?
Very carefully, say some researchers, who believe mounting a female from behind would have proved deadly for the males of dinosaurs like Stegosaurus.
"The females could not raise their tails, because the bones at the top end were fused," Brian Switek, a dinosaur researcher and writer, told the Sunday Times. "Also, some species had lethal spikes on their backs, which would have been impossible to get past."
Apparently, Switek — whose new book is "My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) — isn't the only researcher pondering the ins and outs of dinosaur sex.
Heinrich Mallison, a scientist at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, has developed computerized models showing the numerous positions available to lusty dinosaurs.
His software models proved that the male Kentrosaurus(a relative of Stegosaurus) had a major obstacle to overcome; namely, castration by the female's sharp-spined back.
"These prickly dinosaurs must have had sex another way," Mallison told the Times. "Perhaps the female lay down on her side and the male reared up to rest his torso over her. Other species would have used different positions, like backing up to each other."
Sadly, no sex tapes exist to shed light on the sex lives of dinosaurs, but fossil evidence has revealed a few facts about their procreative habits. Research has found, for example, that dinosaurs were sexually active before reaching full physical maturity, not unlike human teenagers.
And a recent study suggests that dinosaurs — like their avian relatives — had feathered tails that they used in courtship displays to attract a mate.
But nobody really knows just how endowed male dinosaurs were, which makes questions about their sexual habits mere guesswork. Some experts have speculated that a large penis may have made the missionary position unnecessary for copulation.
"A 33-foot long ankylosaurus with spikes and armor would have a 6-foot penis to bridge the gap when he got close to a female," John Long, professor of paleontology at Flinders University in Australia, told the Times.
Alas, no such fossils exist: "Soft tissues are seldom preserved during fossilization," Long said, "so we have never found a fossilized phallus, but doing so would solve many mysteries."

Consumer Reports puts restaurant nutrition claims to the test

Most big chain restaurants now put nutrition information – calories, fat and sodium – on their menus and websites. But just how accurate are these numbers? Does the meal you’re served match the nutritional profile promised?
Consumer Reports decided to find out. For its May issue, the magazine’s secret shoppers went to a dozen well-known restaurants and fast-food chains, from Applebee’s to Wendy’s, and ordered 17 different items. They tested the same item from three restaurants in each chain.
The good news: In most cases, the published information was accurate.
“We found that you can usually trust the figures you see,” said editor Leslie Ware. “On average, most of them were telling the truth.”
Only two of the 17 dishes Consumer Reports analyzed in the lab had a fat or calorie count that was higher than promised at all three locations.
Olive Garden’s Lasagna Primavera with Grilled Chicken was supposed to have 420 calories and 15 grams of fat. The samples the magazine tested had 508 to 585 calories and 25 to 32 grams of fat. That’s more than the 20 percent variance that’s generally considered acceptable with nutrition information.
The company told TODAY it takes great care to provide accurate nutrition information. In an email, Olive Garden explained that an error had been made in the initial testing of the entree when it was introduced last October.
“As soon as we caught this error, we retested the dish… and updated the nutritional information on our website with the new data in late December,” the email said. “Unfortunately, though, the information was not updated everywhere and one page on our website still contained the old nutritional data. We have since corrected this, too.”
Olive Garden told TODAY that Consumer Reports never contacted them to confirm the numbers and did not give them an opportunity to respond.
“If they had, we would have been able to provide them with accurate data,” they said.
Consumer Reports' tests also showed the Chicken on the Barbie at Outback Steakhouse had more fat than advertised. The website claim was 7 grams of fat. The magazine’s analysis showed 10 to 13 grams.
"Nutritional information on our website has been verified by a recognized independent laboratory,” said Outback spokesperson Cathie Koch in an email to TODAY. “Our food is made from scratch daily using fresh ingredients. The variance in the report may be due to a larger container of sauce used for Take-Away."

This is not an exact scienceObviously, the calorie and fat content of the food you are served will not be exactly the same as what’s advertised on the menu or company website, but it should be in the ballpark.
That was not always the case with Denny’s Fit Slam breakfast. At two of the three locations Consumer Reports visited, the Fit Slam generally matched the advertised claim of 390 calories and 12 grams of fat. But at the third location, it was way off the mark: 494 calories and 19 grams of fat.
Denny’s did not respond to requests for comment.
The National Restaurant Association says its members take extensive measures to make sure the nutritional information they provide customers is as accurate as possible. 
“But there are variations due to portion size and individual restaurant preparation, as well as the inherent variability of the food itself,” noted Joy Dubost, director of Nutrition at the National Restaurant Association.
The numbers will also be off if the portion size of the meal you’re served varies significantly from what is on the menu.
Consumer Reports found that serving sizes at the same chain “ran the gamut” from location to location.  For example, the Fettuccine Alfredo at the three Olive Garden restaurants visited weighed roughly 14 to 22 ounces.
The editors said portion sizes also “varied widely” at Applebee’s, Denny’s and Red Lobster.

National menu labeling on the wayMenu labeling is required in California and Vermont, and in a few major cities: New York City, Seattle and Philadelphia. It will soon be mandatory at chain restaurants – those with 20 or more locations – nationwide.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue rules about nutrition labeling by this fall. They would take effect in late 2014.
 “Over time, this will help people make more informed choices and cut calories,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “And just as importantly, it

On-the-lam killer nabbed near LA's Skid Row after 1,800-mile trip

Keana Barnes, who was serving a 25-year sentence for manslaughter, escaped from a Louisiana prison but has now been recaptured in Los Angeles. This photo was released Jan. 4, 2013, by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

LOS ANGELES -- A nationwide search for a convicted killer ended in Los Angeles when police spotted a fugitive who has been on the lam for months after escaping prison in Louisiana, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
Keana Barnes broke out of the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in January. She was arrested on Monday near Skid Row, some 1,800 miles west of the prison where she was being held.
The U.S. Marshals Service added Barnes to the agency's 15 Most Wanted list 11 days before she was captured. Barnes initially refused to give the officers her name, but ultimately confessed her identity.
Prison officials discovered the window was broken in Barnes’ cell. She was serving a 25-year sentence after being convicted of two counts of manslaughter in 2002, U.S. Marshals officials said.
Authorities said Barnes’ “extremely violent criminal history” dates back to 1999. She has prior convictions of aggravated assault, battery, theft and manslaughter.
In 2002, Barnes fatally stabbed one victim 17 times, U.S. Marshals officials said.
While awaiting the outcome of her murder trial, Barnes allegedly shot and killed a man while he slept in 2003, authorities said.

Pakistan intelligence agency claims Afghanistan supports Taliban splinter groups

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's intelligence agency has accused the Afghan government of supporting Taliban splinter groups.
In a report presented to Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, the ISI agency alleged President Hamid Karzai’s administration was in league with groups linked to the main Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan movement, known collectively as the TTS.
The report suggested the "recent nexus of TTS with Afghan government is likely to enhance the terrorist activities" in areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border such as Mohman, Bajaur, Dir, Swat and Chitral.

Jason Reed / Reuters
Secretary of State John Kerry, left, listens to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai during their joint news conference at the presidential palace in Kabul on Thursday.
Anti-Pakistan elements, particularly from across the border in Afghanistan, had provided "strong support" in terms of money, logistics and training and this was “one of the main factors for increased militancy,” the report said.
However, it added that the Taliban’s ability to act "at will and to face security forces openly has been substantially curtailed."
The report said that internal rifts within the main Pakistani Taliban group had led to the creation of splinter groups.
"TTS, after having been dislodged from area, has resorted to [suicide bomb and improvised explosive device] attacks" on law-enforcement agencies and other officials, the report said.
The court is considering a case involving seven people who are being kept in one of several internment centers in the border area, despite being acquitted by an anti-terrorism court because of lack of evidence against them.
The ISI report was submitted to justify the internment centers and military operations against militants more generally.
The ISI said it was not going to release people held at the internment centers, warning that the detainees included terrorists who could go to cities like Islamabad and Lahore and launch attacks.
It said that 3,871 Pakistani security personnel, more than 3,000 militants and more than 5,000 civilians had been killed in the border area in the last five years.
There had been 235 suicide attacks, 9,257 rocket attacks and 4,256 bombings during the same period, the report added.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have a difficult relationship.
Islamabad has accused Kabul of failing to stop anti-government militants from operating from mountain havens in Afghanistan, while Kabul has blamed Pakistan’s military for cross-border shelling.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responds to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's statements in which Karzai accused the U.S. and Taliban with working together.

In September, Afghanistan’s foreign minister told the United Nations Security Council that diplomatic ties with Pakistan were under threat.
The Afghan foreign ministry declined to comment on the ISI report.
Earlier this month, Karzai claimed that the Taliban was carrying out attacks in Afghanistan "in service of America."
On Monday, after a private meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in Kabul, Karzai insisted he had not meant to suggest that the United States was colluding with the Taliban, Reuters reported.
"I never used the word 'collusion' between the Taliban and the U.S. Those were not my words. Those were the [words] picked up by the media," he said.
Kerry said the two men had discussed the matter but he played it down, Reuters reported. "I am confident that the president absolutely does not believe that the United States has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace."
NBC News' Akbar Shinwari and Reuters contributed to this report.
K.m. Chaudary / AP
Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

Taliban threat forces Pakistan's Musharraf to cancel welcome rally
Karzai accuses US and Taliban of conspiring to keep troops in Afghanistan

Italians convict Amanda Knox in court of public opinion

As more information comes out about the rationale for overturning Amanda Knox's acquittal in the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, legal experts are saying it is unlikely Knox will be extradited to Italy for a new trial. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

ROME – If in the U.S. Amanda Knox is widely seen as an innocent young student who fell victim to incompetent prosecutors and a medieval justice system abroad, in Italy many see her as a she-devil with an angel face who literally got away with murder.
It didn’t come as a surprise, then, that Tuesday’s decision by Italy’s High Court to overturn the acquittals of both Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for the 2007 killing of British student Meredith Kercher was received with a hint of satisfaction by Italians who obsessively analyzed every twist and turn in one of the most televised trials in Italy's modern history.
“What’s surprising is that they allowed her to leave Italy in the first place,” said Serena Chiesa, a real estate agent in Milan. “How are they going to bring her back now?”
Her doubts were shared by hundreds of readers of the biggest Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera. Answering an online poll, 95 percent of them said they didn’t believe she would come back even if Italy asked for her extradition.
Conspiracy theories are rampant among Italians as to why Knox was acquitted in the first place.
"Her acquittal was political, not juridical,” said Irene Colelli, a 40-year-old lawyer who lives in Rome.
Fabio Massei, a 50-year old Rome-based business manager, also believes international politics played a part in the case. “They are guilty; but they were released after the United States put pressure on the judges.”
Valentino Ferraro, a 38-year-old Roman, had a more mercenary view of the decision. "It's all about the money. As it happens every time a trial attracts so much attention, a huge business is built around it. A lot of people are going to benefit from this retrial: lawyers, judges, journalists, talk shows…"
Ferraro was right about the tremendous media interest in the case, at least on Tuesday.
The High Court decision quickly became the top story in the Italian press, leading news coverage all day. Newspapers, TV newscasts and websites all carried the breaking news story for hours, putting heavy emphasis on the way the news was reported abroad, particularly in the United States.
Once again, two years after Knox and Sollecito's acquittal, the trial grabbed the nation's attention.  
On Twitter, the majority of Italian users welcomed Knox's retrial.
“Finally some justice for Meredith,”@giovafrankie tweeted. “I thought they abandoned her to make the U.S. happy.”
“Asking Knox to come back to Italy is like asking Marie Antoinette to sharpen the blade of her guillotine,” tweeted Pasquale Barbaro on @pasqu85.

While Knox is not legally required to attend the initial stages of the retrial, which will start in Florence, the United States may reject an eventual extradition request by Italy based on “double jeopardy,” a principle that bars a defendant from being tried twice for a particular offense after being cleared.
Now the High Court judge who overturned the acquittal and ordered another appeal trial has 90 days to publish the motivation behind his decision. Then both the prosecution and defense teams have 45 days to put forward their arguments. This means that the trial won’t start before the end of the summer, if not later in the year.
But while the outcome is unpredictable, the majority of Italians seem to have already issued their guilty verdict.

Supreme Court tackles federal Defense of Marriage Act


An 83-year-old former IBM programmer is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a law that cost her more than a quarter of a million dollars and deprived her, and thousands of other gay couples, of federal marriage benefits.
At issue is the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, passed by overwhelming margins in both houses of Congress in 1996 and signed by President Bill Clinton. It bars federal agencies from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal.
The arguments are being heard just one day after a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, which put an end to same-sex marriage in that state, was brought to the high court. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court hinted that it might be hesitant to issue any kind of sweeping ruling declaring that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The justices seemed wary of issuing a broad decision that would apply to any state outside of California.

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Supreme Court hears arguments for and against California's same-sex marriage ban. NBC News' Danielle Leigh reports.

As a result of DOMA, same-sex couples in states where same-sex marriages are legal are accorded state and local marriage benefits, but not more than 1,100 federal ones. These range from spousal health coverage to Social Security and veterans' benefits.
For more than 40 years, Edie Windsor lived with another woman, Thea Spyer, and the two were eventually married in Canada in 2007. But when Spyer died two years later, leaving Windsor the estate, the IRS sent a tax bill for $363,053, because DOMA barred the federal agency from recognizing their marriage. The surviving spouse of a traditional marriage is not required to pay federal estate taxes.
"I couldn't believe that they were making a stranger of this person I lived with and loved for 43-something years," she said.
So she sued the U.S. government, and two lower federal courts found that DOMA amounted to unconstitutional discrimination. As the case wound its way through the legal process, the Justice Department, originally her adversary, became her ally.
Two years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress of President Barack Obama's conclusion that "classifications based on sexual orientation" were inconsistent with the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under law. The Justice Department stopped defending DOMA in court.
House Republicans then hired a former solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration, Paul Clement, to take up DOMA's defense. In his written briefs filed with the Supreme Court, he argues that Congress must be able to decide on a definition of marriage for itself.
"The federal government has the same latitude as the states to adopt its own definition of marriage for federal law purposes and has a unique interest in treating citizens across the nation the same," Clement says.
The House Republicans say Congress sought to tie federal benefits to the traditional understanding of marriage and its origins as a way to address "the tendency of opposite-sex relationships to produce unintended and unplanned offspring." In passing DOMA, they say, Congress sought to "foster relationships in which children are raised by both their biological parents."
The Supreme Court's ruling on Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act will have immediate meaning for real-life LGBT couples and families across the nation. Jon Summers and Kyle Murdoch, who were married in D.C. last year, join Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss.
But the Justice Department and lawyers for Edie Windsor each urge the court to find that DOMA amounts to unconstitutional discrimination because it lacks a legally sufficient government purpose.
"Denying federal protections to married gay couples will not affect whether straight couples marry or have children who are biologically related to both parents," argues Roberta Kaplan, a New York lawyer representing Edie Windsor.
"No straight couple would call off their wedding if Ms. Windsor receives a tax refund," she says.
The Obama administration urges the court to find that two of the other justifications cited by Congress in passing DOMA -- defending traditional notions of morality and of marriage -- cannot carry the law over the constitutional hurdle.
"Moral opposition to homosexuality, though it may reflect deeply-held personal views, is not a legitimate policy objective that can justify unequal treatment of gay and lesbian people," the Justice Department says.
As for tradition, the government says DOMA does nothing to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, because the states decide for themselves whether to permit it. And no matter how long established, "tradition cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles."
A decision striking down DOMA would not require states to allow same-sex marriages: they would remain free to decide for themselves. But the federal government would be required to recognize marriages in the states where they are legal.
Nine states now permit same-sex couples to get married -- Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington. So does Washington, D.C.
The political landscape has shifted dramatically since the law was enacted 17 years ago.  Former President Clinton said earlier this month that he no longer supports the law he signed in 1996 and urged the Supreme Court to strike it down.
"Many supporters of the bill known as DOMA believed that its passage 'would defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.' It was under these circumstances that DOMA came to my desk," he wrote in a column published in the Washington Post.
"Even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law itself is discriminatory," he said.
In order to decide the issues at the heart of the case, however, the justices will have to consider whether procedural complications allow them to get there, due to the unusual way in which the case arrived on their doorstep.
The Justice Department, which asked the court to take the case, is in an odd posture, because it now sides with Edie Windsor, who won in the lower federal courts.  A party that prevails cannot normally appeal the decision.
And while the defense of DOMA had been carried on by the House Republicans, there's a further question about whether they meet the legal rule requiring that a party to a case claim some specific injury.  It may not be enough for them to assert that they want to see DOMA enforced.
To help the court navigate these potential roadblocks, it appointed a Harvard Law School professor, Vicki Jackson, to argue the jurisdictional issues during Wednesday's courtroom session.
A ruling in the case will come sometime before the end of the court's term in late June.

Supreme Court to hear challenge to Michigan affirmative action law

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take on a new case involving affirmative action.
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The court agreed on Monday to consider a 2006 Michigan ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to prohibit "discrimination, or the granting of preferential treatment, in public education, government contracting, and public employment based on race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin."
NBC's Pete Williams joins The Daily Rundown for a preview of the upcoming legal battle over same-sex marriages.

The case will be heard in the fall.
The Michigan initiative itself was prompted by reaction to the landmark 2003 Supreme Court decisions upholding elements of affirmative action in the University of Michigan's admissions policies, which had come under legal challenge.
It's something of a surprise that the court agreed to hear this latest case, because it has yet to rule on an affirmation action case argued in October, which challenges the admissions system used at the University of Texas.

Comment author avatarjusticenonexistent
This constant back forth over the “race” issue is so stupid. “Race” is nothing more than skin color, the amount and type of pigmentation in one’s skin. Pigmentation doesn’t impact intelligence or behavior or anything else of importance. Yet, somewhere along the line in human history, some great idiot decided that dividing people into skin color was a great way to “classify” others and to this date, people still follow along like little sheep. I call the individual “great” because look at what that one individual has managed perpetrate throughout time. Heck, throughout mankind. The need to “follow the crowd” doesn’t appear to discriminate.
I’ve often wondered why they picked skin color as the dividing line. Why not hair color or eye color? Think about it. Those people with blue eyes might have been considered non-teachable criminals, green-eyed people might have been greedy and self-centered, while brown-eyed people would have been great and wonderful (must be as there are so many of them). The poor hazel-eyed people would have been the “mixed race” of the group and had no value to anyone other than another hazel-eyed person. Or who knows, perhaps the hazel, green, and blue-eyed would have been "special" while the brown-eyed would have been considered just plain common.
We were all created by one God, regardless of color, height, weight, hair or no hair. Help the one who is struggling because they are struggling and need it, not because of some classification that no one has any control over. And STOP being a part of the sheep.
#1.16 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 11:38 AM EDT

Affirmative action in this day and age is simply wrong. We've already had a "dumbing down" effect in colleges to keep unqualified students...(unqualified, except for their skin color) in college. All the while, other, academically qualified students were sent away in favor of the unqualified. And no, not all of those students were white males. It is time to set Affirmative action aside and let the most qualified candidates go to college, or get that job. We should all stand on our own merits, not color of skin.
#1.29 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 12:13 PM EDT

Brad M.
@willowbrook: See! This is exactly what I'm talking about! You say that Affirmitive Action allows unqualified people into college, which implies that minorities aren't educated enough to enter on their own merits. Way to stereotype ALL Affirmitive Action students.
Colin Powell would differ in opinion.
The truth is, all Affirmitive Action students meet the same exact minimum entry standards as any other student. You can't ignore the fact that just because someone was an Affirmitive Action applicant doesn't mean that their entry qualifications were inferior to all non-Affirmitive Action applicants.
#1.32 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 12:23 PM EDT
To all the naysayers: Affirmative action was put into place for a reason. It came about as a result of things like separate water fountains and places to sit on a bus. It came about because of the lynchings and the denial of education and jobs because someone was female or a color other than white.
I'm white. I live in a rural area of upstate NY. The "N" word is still alive and well. If it wasn't for affirmative action, a lot of talented people would not have received the chance at a successful life. And people, as evidenced by a number of comments I've read here, have very short memories.
#1.33 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 12:29 PM EDT
Agreed. As a minority, I hate affirmative action. I should be at a school because I earned it, regardless of the color of my skin.
I would agree with you but only if all states, all cities, all neighborhoods had the same quality of education.
I hope we can all agree, that historically (and currently), median household income for Blacks and Hispanics is much lower than of Whites.
poverty makes it harder to get an education, and lack of a good education makes it more likely that you are poor. and the vicious cycle continues...
Connect the dots, and tell me if every child in America has the same start. Just because I have never been discriminated against as a woman (through salary and/or promotion), I can't say we don't need laws that protect women. Same applies to you. Who your parents are and what zip code you were born to - regardless of your race - has EVERYTHING to do with what doors opened for you.
#1.39 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 12:44 PM EDT
John B, Des Moines, IA
with homosexuals being their chosen target of the moment.
don't forget women..they don't give a rat's azz if a woman makes less for doing the same job-they call it Capitalism...but then again, their "hero" is Rush Limballs and Rush believes that women should bow to their men..
#1.40 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 12:47 PM EDT
To all the naysayers: Affirmative action was put into place for a reason. It came about as a result of things like separate water fountains and places to sit on a bus. It came about because of the lynchings and the denial of education and jobs because someone was female or a color other than white.
I'm white. I live in a rural area of upstate NY. The "N" word is still alive and well. If it wasn't for affirmative action, a lot of talented people would not have received the chance at a successful life. And people, as evidenced by a number of comments I've read here, have very short memories.
1st paragraph.. ALL of that stuff was done before 90 percent of us were even born. Very few people can claim that any of that happened to them.. There was a time when 14 year old women were married off and forced to have sex with old fat men. That is not the case anymore.. same with everyone of your examples.
2nd paragraph.
The N word is used as a badge of honor in the black communities. It is ALL in most Rap songs, and that word no longer holds the negative stigma that it once does.
I also call BS to the second part. I know many talented black people, most I call my friends, who 1) Got into school because of their grades, not the color of their skin. 2) very much dislike being treated differently because of their skin. 3) Straight up call this AA what it is.. Racism in their favor.
Once apon a time, there was a need for AA in this country. Now, all AA does is keep racism alive by forcing race into a subject that should be merit based.
#1.41 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 12:50 PM EDT
I hope we can all agree, that historically (and currently), median household income for Blacks and Hispanics is much lower than of Whites.
poverty makes it harder to get an education, and lack of a good education makes it more likely that you are poor. and the vicious cycle continues...
So blacks and hispanics are incapable of moving? They are born into those cultures and remain there, that is the problem. There are many blacks and hispanics who chose not to live in poverty, and they wouldn't allow their children to grow up in poverty.
If the left would stop convincing them that there is nothing they can do about it, so they may as well just accept it and become dependent on the government, then maybe things would get better for them. When you promote a culture of poverty, you get what we have now in the minority world.
Please explain to all the European and Asian immigrants that came to the country, through-out the last two centuries with nothing, that they are just lucky for not being black and hispanic and that is the only reason they aren't all living in poverty.
The false excuses are the problem, and you are propagating them.
don't forget women..they don't give a rat's azz if a woman makes less for doing the same job-they call it Capitalism...
Women make less as a median because they geenrally hold lower pay jobs, I don't know a single woman who makes less than her male counter-part when doing the same job with the same experience. Just another lie that liberals liek you like to spew.
#1.44 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 1:02 PM EDT
Some guy, you have no ideal what you are talking about. I lived in Arkansas as child under segregation, I saw how the blacks were treated.
Even the poorest white trash person was 14 levels above any black person in the south. At the age of 9 for just being seen talking to a black person, I was followed home and screamed at they were going to beat me up for being a n lover.
But now somehow giving the blacks a chance to an education is now racism. Who knew that giving a few blacks the chance to get out of poverty is reverse racism against the white.
Those poor, poor white people. You know the ancestors of the ones who went to Africa and stole people and made them into American property known as slaves. But that was only after the white people killed off the American natives to steal their land. Of course giving others a chance at what the white people have already is racism taking from the white people because some of them may have been born into poverty.
Oh, and I am white. I just lived in the south and saw all their hatred with their code words and snickering. The whole birther thing about President Obama is nothing more than racism. Then when he produced the birth certificate and then the long form, of course the black man was lying and showing phony documents as the Donald and the right wing still pushes.
Then at the same time when asking for tax documents from Romney, we were told to look at him and just know that you can trust him.
With all the obvious racism in this country, the blacks still need a fighting chance.
#1.48 - Mon Mar 25, 2013 1:14 PM EDT

Florida school apologizes after students stomp on ‘Jesus’

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has waded into a religious-infused campus controversy, asking the state university system chancellor to look into a classroom lesson at Florida Atlantic University in which students were instructed to stomp on sheets of paper that had "Jesus" written on them.
Scott said in a letter Tuesday to State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan that he was "deeply disappointed" by the recent incident in an intercultural communications class and said it raised questions about "the lessons being taught in our classrooms." He said he wanted a report on the incident and how it was handled, as well as a statement of the university's policies to ensure such "lessons" don't occur again.
"As we enter the week memorializing the events of Christ's passion, this incident gave me great concern over the lessons we are teaching our students," Scott wrote in the letter.
A FAU spokeswoman told NBC 6 that the university received Scott's letter and appreciated his perspective.
"Florida Atlantic University is deeply sorry for any hurt that this incident may have caused the community and beyond," wrote Lisa Metcalf, the school's director of media relations, in an email. "As an institution of higher learning, we embrace open discourse in our classrooms, but with that comes a level of responsibility. The exercise was insensitive and hurtful; it will not be used again."
She added that lessons learned from the incident "will help us ensure our educational opportunities always reflect the university’s core values."
Scott cited news reports indicating students were told by the class instructor to write "Jesus" in large letters on a sheet of paper and to place the paper on the floor in front of them. The students were given a brief time of reflection and then were told to step on the paper and tell the class how they felt.
The exercise has outraged religious leaders such as the Rev. Mark Boykin, who plans to lead a march from his Boca Raton church to FAU to condemn the assignment next week.
"We find this to be unconscionable, completely unprofessional and unacceptable," he said.
At least one student found it so unacceptable that he refused to participate. Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon and a junior at FAU's Davie campus, claims he was punished for doing so.
His lawyer Hiram Sasser shared the notice of charges that Rotela received from FAU for violating the student code of conduct.
"You are requested to attend a Student Conduct Conference," the notice read.
"In the interim, you may not attend class (SPC 3710) or contact any of the students involved in this matter – verbally or electronically – or by any other means," the notice stated.
Dr. Charles Brown, FAU's senior vice president of student affairs, said that Rotela was never up for punishment for refusing to participate in the exercise, however.
"We apologize to all of our students and the community and people beyond the community who felt it was too sensitive," Brown said.
Scott applauded Rotela, whom he spoke with on Tuesday, "for having the courage to stand up for his faith."
"I told him that it took great conviction and bravery to stand up and say what he was asked to do was wrong, and went against what he believed in," Scott said in a statement.
Sasser said that Rotela is again in good standing with the university. He has re-enrolled in the class, but one that is being taught by a different professor.
State University System spokeswoman Kim Wilmath said officials would work closely with FAU in preparing a response to Gov. Scott's concerns.
"The State University System prides itself not only on its commitment to academic freedom, but at the same time, its awesome responsibility to the people it serves," she said in a written statement. "We are gratified to know that FAU has apologized for any offense the exercise has caused and has pledged never to use this exercise again. Clearly, there were things the university could have done differently by its own acknowledgement."
The governor didn't seem satisfied with the apology, saying it was "in many ways inconsequential to the larger issue of a professor's poor judgment."
"The professor's lesson was offensive, and even intolerant, to Christians and those of all faiths who deserve to be respected as Americans entitled to religious freedom," Scott said in his letter. "Our public higher educational institutions are designed to shape the minds of Florida's future leaders. We should provide educational leadership that is respectful of religious freedom of all people."

Pope chooses simple residence over regal papal apartment

L'Osservatore Romano via AP, file
The bedroom of the suite at the Vatican's Santa Martha hotel where Pope Francis is living even though renovations on the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace have been completed.

Pope Francis wants to stay for the time being in a simple Vatican residence instead of moving into the spacious and regal papal apartments, the Vatican said on Tuesday.
The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina is still living in the Domus Santa Martha, a modern hotel-style residence inside the Vatican City where he stayed during the conclave that elected him on March 13.

Although the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace - which consist of more than a dozen rooms as well as quarters for staff and a terrace - are available, he shows no desire to move in any time soon, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
In the past few days Francis has moved out of a single room in the residence, which has some 130 rooms, into a suite so he could have more space to work and to receive people, Lombardi said.
Francis has set a more austere tone for the papacy than his predecessor Benedict XVI, who gained a reputation for sumptuous costumes. Lombardi says the new pope enjoys the residence's community atmosphere where he lives alongside other clergy.

L'Osservatore Romano via AFP - Getty Images
Pope Francis prays with Vatican employees before leading a mass at the Santa Martha chapel at the Vatican on March 23.

The pope says Mass in its chapel every morning and invites Vatican workers and other guests to attend.
"I can't make long-term predictions, but for now it seems he is experimenting with this type of simple co-habitation," Lombardi said.
"It is still a period of getting used to things, of experimentation. Certainly in this phase he has expressed the desire to stay where he is," he said.
Lombardi said the pope will be using the offices in the Apostolic Palace and its grand, frescoed reception rooms to meet heads of state and delegations, and will continue to appear each Sunday to deliver a blessing from the window of the papal apartments overlooking St. Peter's Square.

Obama calls for 'political courage' on immigration reform

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a naturalization ceremony Monday at the White House.

President Barack Obama on Monday called for lawmakers in Washington to muster the “political courage” to pass comprehensive immigration reform that he can sign into law “as soon as possible.”
“We are making progress but we’ve got to finish the job,” Obama said at a naturalization ceremony for 28 new Americans at the White House.
The White House has offered support to the efforts of bipartisan lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have been working behind closed doors to craft reform legislation.
Obama said that he expects a bill to be put forward and for debate on the draft legislation to begin next month.
Noting past attempts to address the nation's immigration issues, the president said the time for merely studying the problem is over.
“We’ve all proposed solutions, we’ve got a lot of white papers and studies,” he said. “We’ve just got – at this point – to work up the political courage to do what’s required to be done.”
The president added that reform should include border security measures, methods for “holding employers accountable,” a modernized legal immigration system and “a responsible pathway to earned citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.
Before the president's remarks, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered the oath of allegiance at the White House  to the new citizens, who included 13 members of the armed services. The group represented 26 different countries of origin.
Obama used his speech to not only congratulate the new citizens, but highlight a few of those in attendance whose stories help his argument about the need for immigration reform. He spoke of 35-year-old Kingsley Elebo, who’s originally from Nigeria and has a master’s degree in information technology.  “He's now pursuing his doctorate. He wants to become a professor so he can help America lead the world in high tech industries of tomorrow,” Obama said.
"Immigration makes us stronger," Obama added. "It keeps us vibrant, it keeps us hungry, it keeps us prosperous. It is part of what makes this such a dynamic country."
Along with today’s remarks, the president’s reformatted campaign arm, Organizing for Action, has jumped into the debate, featuring stories on their website to call attention to the issues facing immigrants.
NBC's Shawna Thomas contributed to this report.