Last Updated: 9/12/06
Constitutional Rights

A Shift in the Supreme Court

By Eric Umansky
June 16, 2006

USA Today leads with and others front the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision that prosecutors don't have to exclude evidence that police got via unconstitutional searches where they didn't knock before entering a home. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post all lead with the full-throated Iraq debates in the House and Senate that centered around, at least in the House's case, a basically bogus bill.

As the Post puts it, the Supremes' decision "broke with the court's modern tradition of enforcing constitutional limitations on police investigations" by excluding illegally obtained evidence. USAT says the decision "undercuts a nearly century-old rule."

Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion and said the "social cost" of potentially letting criminals go free was too high a price to pay for the oh-so-silly "right not to be intruded upon in one's nightclothes." Instead, he suggested no-knock searches be dealt with through lawsuits and administrative punishments.

Justice Breyer was not impressed. "The majority's 'substantial social costs' argument is an argument against the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary principle itself," he wrote in dissent. "And it is an argument that this Court, until now, has consistently rejected."

Everybody notes that former Justice O'Connor was still on the clock when the case was first argued, and she worried about respecting the "the sanctity of the home." The justices were deadlocked after she left. So, the case was reargued last month. That's when newbie Justice Alito sided with the now-majority.

Given the significance of the SCOTUS switcheroo—and the Kabuki-ness of the congressional debates—TP is surprised only USAT leads with the former. More surprising: The NYT doesn't even front it. In about a month, or even a week, which will look like the more significant story?

The House and Senate war debates were, as the Post puts it, "carefully engineered by the Republicans in charge." There was real debate; what there wasn't was the possibility of any substantive upshot.

The Senate bill—actually based on a resolution by Sen. Kerry—called for troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year. It was tabled by a vote of 93 to 6. The House resolution, which hasn't been voted on yet, inveighs against an "arbitrary date for withdrawal."

"Many, but not all, on the other side of the aisle lack the will to win," said Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood of Georgia. "The American people need to know precisely who they are. It is time to stand up and vote. Is it Al Qaeda, or is it America?"

The House is scheduled to vote on the resolution today. Neither it nor the Senate one can be amended.

The WP fronts an interview with Iraq's deputy justice minister, who said the country's jails are virtually controlled by Shiite militiamen who torture and execute Sunnis. "Our jails are infiltrated by the militias from top to bottom, from Basra to Baghdad," he said. The official asked the U.S. to not transfer prisoners from American to Iraqi control. "You can't even talk to the militias, because they are the government," he said. "They have ministers on their side." The official is Kurdish and isn't part of the Interior Ministry, where the militias are running free.

The NYT alone fronts American officials saying they've ID'd Zarqawi's successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who, and this could be key, is supposedly tight with fellow Egyptian and al-Qaida No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. If that's all true, it could be a harbinger of a bigger change for foreign jihadists in Iraq. As the NYT notes, in a letter last year, Zawahiri castigated Zarqawi for going after Shiites.

But there's still the "if it's true" part. One well-regarded—and widely quoted—counterterrorism researcher said the Pentagon may have ID'd the wrong guy; he spoke with some government analysts who agree.

Meanwhile, the New York Sun reported two days ago that U.S. commanders had recently concluded that Zarqawi's influence was waning (though of course that could have been part of the recent PR effort to knock him down).

The Post stuffs word that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki backed away from talk of an amnesty for insurgents who've attacked U.S. troops. Maliki accepted the resignation of the aide who had floated the idea. A second aide, though, seemed to suggest it was still on the table. Yesterday's WP led with the proposed amnesty.

USAT fronts the tens of thousands of low-income seniors who, forced to change from Medicaid to Medicare under the new drug plan, are still facing a monthlong gap in coverage.

Most of the papers front Bill Gates announcing he's going to move away from day-to-day involvement in Microsoft by July 2008.

The NYT's op-ed page has the latest installment of the "The State of Iraq," which lists assorted indicators for the country. "There's ways to determine whether or not this government's plans are succeeding," said President Bush the other day. "We agree," said the op-ed authors. "Unfortunately, according to our latest tally of metrics (compiled from a variety of government and news media sources), Iraq has a long way to go. ... Overall, it is increasingly hard to describe Iraq as a glass half-full." In fairness, the metrics can't account for the latest news: Zarqawi, and probably more important, a new government.

Worst Headline of the Day Award ... Congrats to the Journal: "STUDIO HOPES HISPANICS FIND 'NACHO' TASTY."

Eric Umansky ( writes "Today's Papers" for Slate. He can be reached at

Disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.

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