• The End of DOMA

    In a historic victory for gay rights, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ruled that DOMA is an unconstitutional deprivation of equal liberty, a violation of the Fifth Amendment. The ruling will allow federal benefits—tax breaks, insurance for government employees—to couples in D.C. and the 12 states (13, now that California’s Proposition 8 has been dismissed by the Court as well) that already recognize same-sex marriage.

    Discussion Questions:

    • What do you think will be the next step in the gay marriage debate?
    • Do you agree with the Court's decision? Why or why not?
  • The Supreme Court and Genes

    The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that human genes can’t be patented, marking a victory for women at risk of breast and ovarian cancer and doctors and geneticists who argued that the patents would disrupt important biotechnology research. The ruling stemmed from a Utah company, Myriad Genetics, which held an exclusive patent on the genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that indicate whether a woman was at a higher risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer. The court said that products of nature like genes, unlike invented products, are not eligible for patents.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you agree with the ruling? Why or why not?
    • Should individuals with more direct scientific training and knowledge be more involved in these cases? Why or why not?
  • The ACLU v. the NSA

    The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday aimed at stopping the Obama administration from collecting large swaths of telephone data through the National Security Agency. The ACLU contends that the program, which was brought to light by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is illegal and gives the government “a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious and intimate associations." Filed in New York, the lawsuit could make its way to the Supreme Court. Previous attempts to stop the government from dragnet-style information gathering have failed because plaintiffs couldn't prove they were affected. However, the ACLU is a customer of Verizon, which has been implicated in the scandal.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you believe the NSA has a right to monitor private information? Why or why not?
    • What do you think the outcome of the lawsuit will be? Why?
  • IRS Conference Expenditures

    The Internal Revenue Service does not hold a monopoly on the power to audit. An audit of the IRS found the agency spent more than $4 million on a 2010 conference, with most of the budget—including speakers’ fees, guest prizes, and parody videos—classified as “questionable expenses.” About three fourths of that came from the hiring budget. At the same time, the IRS was focusing on conservative and Tea Party groups, saying it didn’t have the personnel to handle the applications seeking tax-exempt status.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Who should be punished for these expenditures? Why?
    • How can the government better assure that such incidents do not happen in the future?