- - Monday, December 13, 2010

SUPREME COURT

Kagan: ‘Steep learning curve’ on high court

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan says she is facing a “steep learning curve” in her first months on the bench as she drafts her first opinions and tries to acclimate to life as a judge.

In her first interview since joining the court in August, Justice Kagan told the C-SPAN cable network that she will not have to sit out many more cases because of her previous work for the Obama administration. Justice Kagan has taken herself out of more than two dozen cases so far, but said the numbers are “definitely subsiding.”

She said she reads Supreme Court briefs on a Kindle, in contrast to the iPad used by Justice Antonin Scalia.

C-SPAN provided excerpts of the 48-minute interview on Monday.

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT

Norton: Ethics probe a waste of money

Former Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said the Obama administration “wasted millions of taxpayer dollars” in a nearly two-year probe of her ties to an oil company where she took a job after leaving her post at Interior.

Mrs. Norton told the Associated Press that the investigation by the Interior Department’s inspector general was “an attempt to find imagined wrongdoing.”

Mrs. Norton, who served as Interior secretary from 2001 to 2006, was accused of using her position to steer lucrative oil leases to Royal Dutch Shell PLC, where she took a job nine months after leaving Interior.

Mary Kendall, the Interior Department’s acting inspector general, said Friday that the investigation failed to prove a conflict of interest. She said the Justice Department has closed a criminal probe in the case.

LAW AND ORDER

‘No refusal’ policy urged for DUIs

The government is urging states and local authorities to use policies that can crack down on suspected drunken drivers who refuse breath tests to avoid prosecution.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is promoting a “No Refusal” policy used by a handful of states. It allows police to obtain search warrants from judges to take blood samples from suspected drunken drivers who refuse to take Breathalyzer tests.

About one-fourth of drunken-driving suspects refuse to take breath tests.

States using the approach to drunken driving say they’re seeing more guilty pleas, fewer trials and more convictions.

Nearly 11,000 people were killed in alcohol-impaired crashes in 2009.

TRAFFIC SAFETY

Toyota recalls Siennas for brake-light glitch

Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday that it will recall nearly 100,000 Sienna minivans from the 2011 model year to replace a switch bracket on the brake lamp that could cause the brake lights to stay on.

The Japanese automaker, which has grappled with several safety recalls during the past year, said a driver’s foot could hit the switch bracket and deform it while applying the parking brake pedal. Toyota said it did not know of any accidents or injuries related to the issue.

The switch bracket is welded onto the left side of the brake pedal assembly. The brake lamp provides a signal to indicate that the brake pedal has been depressed and illuminates the brake lights.

ALASKA

Senate race goes to state’s high court

JUNEAU | Republican Joe Miller is taking his challenge to the U.S. Senate race to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The court confirms that Mr. Miller filed an appeal Monday. Arguments are set for Friday.

Last week, Alaska state court Judge William Carey ruled against Mr. Miller in his challenge to how the state conducted the election and counted write-in ballots for his rival, Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Mr. Miller faced a Monday deadline for filing an appeal in light of a tight court schedule.

Mrs. Murkowski garnered more votes than Mr. Miller in the Nov. 2 election, but the state’s certification of the results is being delayed until Mr. Miller’s legal case is resolved.

CENSUS

2010 head count to be released Dec. 21

The government says it will release official 2010 census results on Dec. 21.

The date, announced Monday by the Census Bureau, complies with a constitutional requirement to provide results of the once-a-decade population count by the end of this year. The numbers will include a national tally, along with state counts and the number of House seats each state will receive.

Government estimates show that the U.S. grew to somewhere between 305.7 million and 312.7 million people. States in the South and West, where Republicans tend to hold the edge in House seats, generally have undergone faster growth compared with many states in the Northeast and Midwest, where Democrats are more dominant.

In 2000, the official count was 281.4 million.

WHITE HOUSE

Lakers join Obama for service project

Honoring a second straight NBA title for the Los Angeles Lakers, President Obama on Monday bypassed the traditional White House ceremony. This time, he put the champs to work.

The president and the basketball stars joined students at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington in making care packages for wounded soldiers. Mr. Obama, a huge basketball fan, wanted this year’s ceremony to center on a service project with the Lakers to recognize their accomplishments off the court as well.

After lauding the team as one of the nation’s great sports franchises, Mr. Obama thanked players and coaches for being generous with their time toward children.

“Every once in a while, they need a little encouragement,” Mr. Obama said of the students as the team stood behind him. “They need to know that no dream is beyond their reach. So when they see people like the Los Angeles Lakers who are willing to spend time with them, that sends a message to them that they’re special.”

The Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics to win the championship earlier this year.

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