Fractured Supreme Court Decision Affirming Kentucky's Three-Drug Lethal Injection Protocol Assures Further Litigation

On Wednesday, April 16, 2008, by a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court upheld Kentucky’s three-drug execution procedure — one drug each to sedate, paralyze, and end life, the same method of putting criminals to death by lethal injection used by nearly all of the States with the death penalty and the federal government. Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439. There was, however, no majority opinion. The seven-member majority decision was supported by six separate opinions. The plurality opinion garnered just three votes. A seventh opinion announced the dissent. The full text of the decision can be found here.. A news summary and analysis of the decision can be found at (New York Times, April 16, 2008, "Litigation Assured in Wake of Decision") and (New York Times, April 17, 2008, "Supreme Court Allows Lethal Injection for Execution").

From Purim to Passover: Law versus Power

As we get ready to sit down at our Seder this week, it’s hard to believe that we were celebrating Purim less than a month ago. The time may be short, but the psychological distance between these two holidays could not be greater. The story of Purim is quintessentially the story of law. We read repeatedly in the Megillah about how everything was done “according to the law” – from the royal decree to kill all the Jews of the kingdom to the king’s order that Haman and his sons be hung on the gallows originally prepared for Mordechai. Even the drinking was done “according to the law.” The only act of legal defiance we see is when Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman, thus precipitating near disaster for the Jewish people. Our lives were collectively hanging by a thread, but it was the thread of law.

Religion in Politics: A Long View

With the program held in March, JSPAN has opened up a topic that deserves further analysis and discussion. Of course, no single program and no two speakers could evaluate this knotty subject alone. But they have launched us on a serious study. Conventionally, we in the Jewish community see the issue as one of protecting the freedom to be ourselves. We don't wish to be told by politicians that this is a Christian country, although surely there is as much truth in that statement as in much else we hear from those on the election stump. We don't want to hear a politician urge a position because the Bible or other religious work says so. But those who become politicians, like the rest of us, were assigned a religion at birth; if there are atheists in electoral politics, it is difficult to identify them. Indeed many of us want to know that our elected representatives can be trusted, and we place "God-fearing" among the qualities that we think may justify our trust. How can we ask a candidate to be "God-fearing," but not explicitly accept the binding force of any particular body of religious rules? This is one of the difficult balancing acts we place before the politicians.

Does Religion Have Any Legitimate Role to Play in a Political Campaign?

Jeff Pasek, JSPAN president, has written the following review of JSPAN's March 24th program. On March 24th, members of JSPAN got to hear contrasting views of this subject from well-known figures of both major political parties, each of whom brought a personal dimension to the discussion. Reverend William H. Gray, III, is an ordained Baptist minister who served 13 years in the United States House of Representatives, from 1978 until 1991. A Democrat, he rose to the powerful role of majority whip, the third most important post in the House, and the most powerful elected African American leader in the United States. Throughout his service in Congress, Rev. Gray also continued to hold down the post of senior pastor at the Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia. He resigned from Congress to begin a 13-year career as head of the United Negro College Fund. Also joining the program was Justice Sandra Schultz Newman, a Republican, who resigned from the bench at the beginning of 2007 to head the national appellate practice at the Cozen O'Connor law firm. In 1995, Justice Newman became the first woman elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the oldest court in the United States. She previously served as an elected judge on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

M.J. Rosenberg: The Next War

reprinted with permission from the Israel Policy Forum According to a report in Yedioth Achronoth this week, Israel’s Emergency Economic Administration has produced a report about what the next Arab-Israeli war will look like. The report comes at a time when Israeli military and intelligence circles are expecting some sort of Hezbollah attack in response to the assassination of its leader, Imad Mughniyeh on February 12th.

A Megillah for 5768

JSPAN Board member Rabbi Robert Layman has written the following Purim Political Primer for our enjoyment! And it came to pass in the days of King Dubya, he is the same Dubya that reigned over fifty states from the distant islands of the great Western Sea to the peninsula of the frozen north, thence across the vast expanse to the great Eastern Sea, northeastward to the village founded by his ancestor Kenneth Bunkport, thence southward to the Land of the Hanging Chad, whence he was anointed, that he assembled his chieftains, advisors, and sages at Bayith Lavan.* The king addressed his courtiers in the following words: "The Lord spoke to me in a still, small voice saying, Go forth and rule over this vast land with a strong arm and an outstretched hand. Do not follow the ways of your predecessor, William the Tikvahite, called by some the man from Hope, who brought prosperity to the land and performed miracles, notably a budget surplus. Yet, he sinned against Me.

JSPAN Testifies to PA House Members on Redistricting

Ken Myers provided the following testimony on behalf of JSPAN to the Pennsylvania House Government Affairs Committee at a hearing on March 13. The Committee, chaired by Representative Babette Josephs, took up H.B. 81 (Rep. Leach), H.B. 84 (Rep. Tangretti), and H.B. 2047 (Rep. Curry), all proposing amendments to the Pennsylvania State Constitution designed to change our method of setting Congressional and state legislative districts. Recounting JSPAN’s interest in the problems of redistricting in prior years, Myers urged two primary thoughts on the legislators: first, that the members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate hurt themselves through gerrymandered districts. And second, that the public does care about the redistricting process and its effect on the right to vote in general elections.

Burt Siegel's Remarks at the Israel Advocacy in the Age of Carter, Walt and Mearsheimer Forum

Over the last few years I sometimes find myself thinking back on a speech my friend, former Philadelphia JCRC president and JSPAN Board member Barry Ungar delivered many years ago, entitled something like “What feels good is not always what is good for us.” Barry argued that when confronted with phenomena that appear to be anti-Semitic or perhaps grossly unfair to Israel, or simply make us very anxious, we sometimes too quickly muster our considerable resources, be they financial, political or intellectual, to put the miscreant in his or her place. He observed that while doing so may make us feel good, our reaction might not always be in the Jewish community’s best long-term interests. Certainly, Barry was not suggesting that we react in this fashion simply to satisfy the emotional needs of our community. We do so, no doubt, in the real belief that it is always important to set the record straight, certainly an admirable goal, and perhaps to punish and also to warn others of their fate if they do the same. Such a response no doubt feels very good. After all, who doesn’t want to have a sense that they effectively taught an evildoer not to tangle with our tribe or us again. But I question whether doing so is always, as an uncle of mine would frequently say, “gut fur der Yidden”----- good for the Jews.

Finding a New Voice: American Jews and the Peace Process

reprinted with permission from the Israel Policy Forum By Roberta Fahn Schoffman The following is based on a presentation given by Roberta Fahn Schoffman, IPF Israel representative and CEO MindSet Media and Strategic Consulting, at the recent “An Agreement within a Year Conference” in Israel organized by the Geneva Initiative. Waning interest in Israel, an American political wave toward moderation and change, and a Jewish leadership out of touch with its constituency—are the elements that are now setting the stage for a more proactive American Jewish engagement in the current peace process. Operating within a nearly impossible time frame, President George Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have called for completion of negotiations and an Israeli-Palestinian agreement before the end of 2008. Such an agreement, having eluded the parties for more than forty years, would be difficult to achieve under the best of circumstances. But with each side stuck in its own internal political morass, and with ongoing violence emanating from Gaza and the ever-present threat of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the crippled process needs all the help it can get. The time has come for the American Jewish community to step up and be heard.

Comments about MJ Rosenberg's article, "The Anti-Israel Factor," of February 2nd, from JSPAN Board Members

I generally agree with the piece. I do not accept, and I think it would be wrong for JSPAN to not disavow, Rosenberg's assurances that the pro-Israel zealots do so for the high of self-aggrandizement and the influence they wield, rather than out of any true concern for Israel. I don't accept that to be universally true; I don't believe that even Rosenberg believes that to be universally true, and if he does, he is an idiot. It's a nasty rhetorical point that I don't want to have anything to do with. Otherwise, I agree wholeheartedly with the piece.
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