- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

July 14

Anniston (Alabama) Star on Luther Strange’s only choice about gay marriage:

Luther Strange, Alabama’s attorney general, seems to finally realize that a legal tussle against same-sex unions is a losing proposition.

Strange, like virtually all Republicans, disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that legalized gay marriage. Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, disagreed with it. Roy Moore, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, vehemently disagreed with it - and instructed county probate judges to defy the high court ruling by not issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. In time, most ignored Moore’s direction.

On Tuesday, Strange said he will file a document in a gay-marriage case that says state agencies in Alabama will comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.

That is the only choice.

Alabama’s leaders have every right to voice their disapproval of same-sex unions. But openly defying the court’s order - modern-day nullification, in essence - is a fool’s game. Moore’s previous campaign over his Ten Commandments monument serves as a reminder. Alabama’s top law enforcer doesn’t have to support gay marriage, but he is duty bound to follow the law.




July 15

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on Obama’s commutations a welcome step:

President Barack Obama on Monday commuted the sentences of 46 federal convicts, most of whom were serving sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

One of the 46 was Robert Joe Young, of Joppa, sentenced to 20 years in prison on numerous drug-related charges in 2002 and now scheduled for release later this year.

The commutations bring Obama’s total to 90, plus 64 pardons. Yet with 1½ years remaining in his term, the president has issued far fewer pardons and commutations than did his recent two-term predecessors, both Democrat and Republican. No one can accuse the president of being too eager to use his pardon authority. That he finally is doing so is a new but welcome development.

In announcing the commutations, Obama noted they and his 43 previous ones mostly were for nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under outdated sentencing rules. If sentenced today, those receiving commutations now would get shorter prison terms.

On his radio show Monday, Rush Limbaugh, as is his wont, was quick to attack the president’s action. For Limbaugh, this is a perfect opportunity for Republicans to take the offensive and return to an election-winning “law and order” strategy.

Like other Republican partisans still nostalgic for an idealized Ronald Reagan, Limbaugh is living in the past. (For the record, Reagan issued 406 pardons and commutations as president.) Although Limbaugh scoffs at the notion, criminal justice reform is, as Obama said Monday, a bipartisan issue.

Some of the Republicans who have worked to bring about sentencing reform are no one’s moderates or RINOs - or “Republicans in Name Only.” They include GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. They also include, although not as consistently, Alabama’s own Sen. Jeff Sessions, who supported the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which eliminated some of the disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine sentences. That disparity had, in turn, created a racial disparity. African American offenders received harsher sentences than their white counterparts because they were more likely than white offenders to be sentenced for crack cocaine rather than for the powder variety.

Sessions, however, opposes a current attempt in Congress to scale back use of mandatory minimum sentences.

Sentencing reform is a matter of justice. Sentences of 20 years to life in prison for nonviolent drug offenses are not just. But sentencing reform is also a matter of facing reality. America’s prisons are overflowing with nonviolent offenders who often come out of the prison system turned into the hardened criminals they weren’t before their incarceration. That has the potential of making us less safe, not more.

Faced with increasing costs and the threat of a federal takeover, even the Alabama Legislature has embraced sentencing reforms, although more still are needed.

The United States imprisons more of its citizens than does any other nation in the world, including China and Russia.

Either Americans are more prone to criminal behavior than are people in other parts of the world, or we imprison too many people.

As it’s unlikely Americans are just natural criminals, reforming the nation’s sentencing laws and commuting the sentences of prisoners sentenced under the old laws seems the way to go.




July 15

Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on Scout and Atticus:

On Tuesday, all eyes were on Monroeville, Alabama’s most famous resident, Nelle Harper Lee, as her second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” hit bookstores.

For many who have held Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” dear, it day arrived to mixed emotions. Following the success of TKAM, Lee retreated into a closely guarded private life, and friends say she had no plans to publish another book. Earlier this year, her attorney, Tonja Carter, who practiced law with Lee’s elder sister Alice until her death last fall, revealed a manuscript found in a safe deposit box - a story with the same characters set at a later time, a draft that was ultimately set aside in favor of the rewritten story that millions of readers have come to love.

Now 89, hard of hearing, suffering from impaired vision and residing in a Monroeville assisted living facility, Lee agreed to submit the manuscript for publication. And shortly thereafter came reactions of alarm, fears of exploitation, abuse or worse. Even after the state Department of Human Resources investigated and found Lee to be in sound mind, and after a statement from the famously reticent Lee herself, doubts still linger for many.

The publishing industry expects the new Harper Lee book to be a phenomenon, in particular, a boon to bookstores, both big box retailers and independent shops. It’s a safe bet that Go Set a Watchman will be a best-seller. That, too, may breathe new life into Monroeville’s TKAM cottage industry, perhaps the town’s most viable economic engine.

However, the question on everyone’s lips now seems to be how the new novel, an alternate view of the Scout Finch’s Maycomb world, will affect the legacy of the heroic Atticus, or the enigmatic Harper Lee herself.



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