August 17th, 2013
03:07 AM ET

U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

We were struck by a piece of news recently that is good for America, shows that our politicians are learning from their mistakes, and are actually cooperating with each other – on both sides of the aisle. Sounds too good to be true?

For many years, the United States has had a growing problem in its criminal justice system. As Global Public Square has pointed out before, the United States is number one in the world when it comes to incarceration – by far. In 2009, for example, for every 100,000 citizens, 760 Americans were in prison. That was five times the rate of incarceration in Britain, eight times the rate in Germany and South Korea, and 12 times the rate in Japan.

This trend began about 40 years ago. In 1970, state prisons had a combined total of 174,000 inmates. By 2009, they had 1.4 million – an eight-fold increase. And these correctional systems cost a lot of money of course – nearly $80 billion a year, more than the GDP of Croatia or Tunisia.

Well it seems that finally, common sense is prevailing. Attorney General Eric Holder made an important speech this week admitting that our prisons are overcrowded and costly. He specifically called for a reduction in mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders.


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Topics: Drugs • Law • United States • What in the World?
What media missed about gene patent case
June 14th, 2013
10:09 AM ET

What media missed about gene patent case

By Dan L. Burk, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dan L. Burk is Chancellor’s Professor of Law at University of California, Irvine. The views expressed are his own.

On June 13, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad, a closely watched case considering the patentability of human genes.

Numerous media headlines immediately after the decision’s release proclaimed that the court had found human genes to be unpatentable. But such characterizations are misleading, ignoring the court’s actual holding that some human genes – specifically, those isolated from natural sources – are unpatentable, while other versions created in the laboratory are in fact eligible for patents.

The case involved patent claims to two different types of DNA sequences. The first, dubbed genomic DNA or “gDNA” constitutes the molecule as it is extracted from human cells. The second, known as complimentary DNA or “cDNA” is created in the laboratory through a process known as reverse transcription. The question in the case was whether either or both such DNA molecules qualify as patentable subject matter.


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Topics: Law • Science
Is Haiti's justice system up to the test?
February 20th, 2013
09:20 AM ET

Is Haiti's justice system up to the test?

By Javier Zúñiga, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Javier Zúñiga is a special advisor at Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.

Bringing to justice current or former heads of state is always complicated – in both legal and political terms. But it is possible. Time and again, former dictators and human rights abusers have been tried and convicted in countries across the world.

But in Haiti, where the judiciary still suffers from structural deficiencies inherited from the dictatorship years, bringing former President Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to justice over his alleged responsibility for crimes such as torture, killings and disappearances during his time in office is proving particularly challenging.

The former leader showed contempt for the justice system and victims by failing to appear at two previous hearings for his alleged involvement in those crimes. On February 21, he is due to appear in court again. Yet the backdrop to the case sees Haitian authorities showing little real interest in pressing for Duvalier to be held accountable for his actions. Indeed, in several public statements, President Michel Martelly has hinted at pardoning Duvalier. Meanwhile, the former Haitian leader has continued to take part in public events, despite having being placed under house arrest while charges against him are investigated.


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Topics: Law
August 28th, 2012
03:52 PM ET

Understanding America’s domestic extremist threat

By Jeff GruenewaldWilliam ParkinMichael Suttmoeller, Special to CNN

Jeff Gruenewald, assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, William Parkin, assistant professor at Seattle University, and Michael Suttmoeller, doctoral candidate at Michigan State University, are researchers with the Extremist Crime Database. The views expressed are their own.

The tragic deaths of St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff's deputies Brandon Nielsen and Jeremy Triche in Louisiana on August 16, and the injuries to their fellow officers, highlight the ongoing and underreported threat that domestic extremism poses to law enforcement officers in the United States.

According to news reports, the suspects in these murders have been tied to the “sovereign citizens,” a far-right, anti-government movement. Unfortunately, this is not the first homicide of this type in Louisiana. In 2007, two Bastrop police detectives were killed by a member of the white supremacist prison group Aryan Circle who was wanted by U.S. Marshalls on weapons charges and for questioning over a previous homicide case. That suspect was eventually killed in a shootout with police.


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Topics: Law • Terrorism • United States
Why prostitution should be legal
April 23rd, 2012
02:07 PM ET

Why prostitution should be legal

Editor’s Note: Ronald Weitzer is a professor of sociology at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and an expert on the sex industry.  He is the author of Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business and editor of Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry.

By Ronald Weitzer – Special to CNN

Prostitution is in the news because it is legal in Colombia, where U.S. Secret Service and military personnel have been implicated in a sex-for-pay scandal. And just a few weeks ago, a Canadian court threw out two of Canada’s three prostitution laws – laws that criminalize brothel owners and individuals who “live off the avails” of someone else’s prostitution (see my earlier piece in GPS on this ruling). The court ruled these laws unconstitutional, thus raising the possibility that Canada might legalize prostitution in the future.

What many people do not know is that prostitution is legal in many nations. According to’s review of laws in 100 countries, 61% have legalized at least some kind of prostitution. Since 1971, it has been legal in rural counties in Nevada, where about 300 women work in brothels regulated by local ordinances. FULL POST

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Topics: Law • Sex
April 17th, 2012
09:46 AM ET

Roundup: Admitted Norwegian killer takes stand in trial

Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Anders Behring Breivik addressed a Norwegian court today, calling his admitted murder of seventy-seven people last summer the most "spectacular sophisticated political act" since World War II (NYT), while vowing to do it over again if given the opportunity. Breivik said he acted– setting off a car bomb in central Oslo that killed eight and gunning down sixty-nine others at a nearby youth summer camp on July 22, 2011–as part of a Norwegian resistance movement in defense of the alleged Islamic "colonization" of Norway. Breivik, who asked the court to acquit him, said his victims were not innocent because they supported multiculturalism. FULL POST

Topics: Europe • Law • Terrorism
April 6th, 2012
12:30 PM ET

Guantanamo Bay justice on trial

Editor’s Note: Matthew Waxman is Associate Professor at Columbia Law School, and he is also a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law. The following piece is his First Take, reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.

By Matthew Waxman,

On Wednesday, the Pentagon authorized a military commission trial at Guantanamo for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of orchestrating the September 11 attacks. The charges include murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians and civilian objects, hijacking aircraft, and terrorism. If convicted, the five suspects could face the death penalty.The headlines about this may sound very familiar. Back in 2008,the Bush administration had charged them in a military commission, but the Obama administration suspended the case upon coming into office. The Obama administration then planned to bring the case to a civilian federal court in New York, but congressional and local opposition forced it to shelve those plans. FULL POST

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Topics: Law
What states can do even without the mandate
U.S. Supreme Court.
April 4th, 2012
02:43 PM ET

What states can do even without the mandate

Editor’s Note: Joan Henneberry is a principal at Health Management Associates,  an independent national research and consulting firm specializing in complex health care program and policy issue. Previously, she served as the Planning Director for Colorado’s Health Insurance Exchange in 2011.

By Joan Henneberry - Special to CNN 

For many waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the wait may be worse than the outcome. Uncertainty has paralyzed some state officials and engendered a sense of desperation in others.

But delaying key policy and program decisions puts states at risk of not meeting the ACA’s 2014 implementation deadlines and, worse, of missing out on options available to them right now.

The ACA offers avenues for improving health care even in the absence of the individual mandate by bringing efficiencies into the healthcare system, bending the cost curve, and improving overall customer experience.

Here are some things states can do to reform health care even if the mandate is struck down: FULL POST

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Topics: Health • Law
What Obama can learn from Roosevelt's Supreme Court
American President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his desk in the White House, Washington DC, early 1930s. (Getty Images)
April 4th, 2012
09:52 AM ET

What Obama can learn from Roosevelt's Supreme Court

Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.

Compared with the judiciary in any other advanced democracy, the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court are uniquely influential in the country’s politics. With a ruling expected in June on the constitutionality of President Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation, some parallels can be drawn between this Court and the Court under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In the extremely difficult economic circumstances of the 1930s, Roosevelt launched innovative and unprecedented ‘New Deal’ schemes to help stimulate economic growth and job creation. After initially upholding some new laws that expanded federal involvement in economic activity, the Supreme Court turned dramatically against the Roosevelt agenda in May 1935. It unanimously struck down his signature legislation on industrial recovery and agriculture as unconstitutional extensions of federal power not justified by the extraordinary economic conditions facing the country. FULL POST

Topics: History • Law
In opposing Obamacare, we were serious the whole time
Protestors hold signs during an anti-health care reform rally August 14, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Getty Images)
April 2nd, 2012
06:00 AM ET

In opposing Obamacare, we were serious the whole time

Editor’s Note: Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.  He has been heavily involved in the litigation regarding the Affordable Care Act, including having filed briefs on each of the four issues argued before the Supreme Court last week. 

By Ilya Shapiro - Special to CNN

“Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?”  With those words, Justice Anthony Kennedy sent the legal establishment reeling.

Was the Supreme Court really taking seriously the preposterous claims of the Tea Party-inspired hacks who were suing the federal government?  Was there really a chance that five justices, acting as would-be partisan hacks themselves, would throw out President Obama’s signature achievement?  Could Obamacare, which name everyone is now allowed to use because the administration itself has adopted it, really fall on some technicality about mandating economic activity rather than regulating it when it occurs?

In a word, yes. FULL POST

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Topics: 2012 Election • Health • Law
March 30th, 2012
06:34 PM ET

Zakaria: Incarceration nation

Editor's Note: Tune in this Sunday at 10am or 1pm EST for Fareed Zakaria GPS. 

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Something caught my eye the other day: Pat Robertson, the high priest of the religious right, had some startling things to say about drugs.

"I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol," Mr. Robertson said in a recent interview. "I've never used marijuana and I don't intend to, but it's just one of those things that I think. This war on drugs just hasn't succeeded."

The reason Robertson is for legalizing marijuana is that it has created a prison problem in America that is well beyond what most Americans imagine.

"It's completely out of control," Mr. Robertson said. "Prisons are being overcrowded with juvenile offenders having to do with drugs. And the penalties - the maximums - some of them could get 10 years for possession of a joint of marijuana. It makes no sense at all." FULL POST

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Topics: From Fareed • Law • United States
March 30th, 2012
02:12 PM ET

Legalize prostitution in Canada?

Editor’s Note: Ronald Weitzer is a professor of sociology at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and an expert on the sex industry.  He is the author of Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business and editor of Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry.

By Ronald Weitzer - Special to CNN

A remarkable court decision took place in Canada this week. The Ontario Court of Appeal, hearing an appeal of a lower court’s 2010 ruling, affirmed much of the latter’s decision invalidating the nation’s prostitution laws. If left intact, the appeals court’s ruling essentially decriminalizes two prostitution-related activities.

The lower court ruled that Canada’s three main prostitution laws were unconstitutional because they, in effect, increased the risks to prostitutes and thus contradicted the Canadian Charter’s guarantee of "life, liberty and security of the person.” That court threw out the laws against running a brothel, third parties “living off the avails” of prostitution, and the prohibition on solicitation. FULL POST

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Topics: Law • Sex
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