KEYSTONE XL REDUX: Following a summer of protests and civil disobedience, the Obama administration announced in November that it was delaying a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline for at least a year, until a less disruptive route around a key aquifer in Nebraska could be studied and proposed. But Republicans revived the project during the end-of-year negotiations on the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance. Democrats desperately wanted these measures, and the final bill included a provision that would force the State Department to issue a decision on Keystone within two months. But on January 18, less than a month after the payroll tax cut bill passed, the State Department announced that it would deny the permit. President Obama endorsed the move, blaming “the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans.”
This is a crucially important point for understanding the politics of this pipeline fiasco. Republicans—or at the very least, the leadership—knew full well that this rushed, two-month review would not lead to a sudden approval of the project. So why did they insist on its inclusion in the payroll/unemployment debate? Aside from a need to round up votes for the payroll extensions—the Keystone provision was added as a sweetener to bring recalcitrant Republicans on board—GOP legislators clearly believe that the Keystone issue is good politics for them. They are happy to make Obama kill it, not once but twice, because it allows them to paint him as quashing (allegedly) shovel-ready job-creating projects just “to protect left-wing environmental extremists in San Francisco,” in the typically restrained words of Newt Gingrich. Obama’s rejection of the pipeline is a vehicle to paint him as a job killer, at a time when private sector job growth actually continues to be positive. GEORGE ZORNICK
HUMAN ERROR: A “perfect storm of misfortune.” That’s how Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito described the plight of Alabama death row prisoner Cory Maples, who faced the prospect of execution after a “mailroom mix-up,” as many called it, caused him to miss the deadline for a critical appeal. In fact, it was worse than that. Represented pro bono by two New York City lawyers with the firm Sullivan and Cromwell, Maples was “abandoned,” in the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, after the attorneys left the firm without bothering to tell him—or to find someone to take over his case. When the Alabama trial court sent word denying an earlier appeal, the envelope was mailed back from the firm, and the court clerk did nothing to follow up. Ultimately, it was Maples’s mother who took charge of the situation, but by then Alabama was determined to wave his case through.
On January 18 the Supreme Court restored Maples’s right to appeal, 7 to 2 (Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented). “What occurred here was not a predictable consequence of the Alabama system,” Alito insisted, appearing willfully ignorant of the reality of capital cases on the ground. As Ginsberg wrote, “Nearly alone among the States, Alabama does not guarantee representation to indigent capital defendants in postconviction proceedings…. On occasion, some prisoners sentenced to death receive no postconviction representation at all.” LILIANA SEGURA