The week at a glance...United States
Cross dispute: A federal judge last week ordered that a giant cross that has stood atop Mount Soledad since 1954 be removed within the next 90 days. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said that the 43-foot cross—erected in honor of Korean War veterans and one of San Diego’s most visible landmarks—violates the Constitution’s provision for the separation of church and state. The cross has been the subject of legal wrangling since 1989, when two Vietnam War veterans filed suit, saying it violated California’s “No Preference” clause. Jewish war veterans and the ACLU also filed suit, arguing that the display is a public endorsement of a specific religion. The cross’s defenders—including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan—claim it should be seen as a war memorial. The decision to appeal now rests with the Justice Department.
Salt Lake City
Polygamists prevail: A federal judge struck down part of Utah’s anti-polygamy law last week, handing a victory to the polygamist stars of the reality-TV series Sister Wives. In a 91-page decision, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups agreed with Kody Brown, his four “spiritual wives,’’ and their 17 -children—all members of a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church known as the Apostolic United Brethren—that part of the state law prohibiting “cohabitation” violates their First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion. Religious conservatives saw the ruling as confirming their fears that advances in the legal status of same-sex marriage would legalize other forms of cohabitation. “Sadly, when marriage is elastic enough to mean anything, in due time it comes to mean nothing,” said Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. But Brown is not legally married to any of the women, and the ruling upheld the polygamy ban in “the literal sense,” since possessing multiple marriage licenses is still prohibited.
Bombing theories: Deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have been schizophrenic and hearing voices, according to a five-month investigation carried out by The Boston Globe. Tsarnaev’s friends said that he had told his mother “he felt there were two people living inside of him,” and confided to a friend at his local mosque that he was hearing voices in his head, particularly after returning from a trip to his native Dagestan, where many allege he become radicalized. The paper also reported that the family may not have fled Kyrgyzstan because of persecution, but because Tamerlan’s father, Anzor, was caught up with the Russian mob. Younger brother Dzhokhar, 20, who allegedly helped Tamerlan build and plant the two pressure-cooker bombs that killed three and injured more than 260 people at the marathon in April, faces multiple charges, some of which carry the death penalty.
New York City
Crash no crime: Investigators say it’s unlikely that criminal charges will be brought against William Rockefeller, the motorman who dozed off just before his commuter train barreled into a 30 mph curve at 82 mph earlier this month, causing it to derail and killing four people. A law-enforcement source reportedly said that a breath test showed that Rockefeller had not been drinking before the Metro North crash, that his cellphone was off at the time of the accident, and that he had gone to bed at 8:30 p.m. the night before he entered the cabin of the 5:45 a.m. Manhattan-bound train. There were no other contributing factors to be found, said the source. “Falling asleep, by itself, is fundamentally not a crime,” he added. Rockefeller’s lawyer said his client remains “devastated” by the accident.
‘Bridgegate’: A U.S. Senate committee said this week it would investigate the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge over four days in September, in a widening scandal that could cause trouble for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. A political storm has been gathering for weeks over the closure and the traffic gridlock it caused in Fort Lee, N.J., whose Democratic mayor refused to endorse Republican Christie’s re-election this year. When confronted with allegations that the closure was an act of political retaliation, two Port Authority officials—both close political allies of Christie’s—said they closed the lanes for a traffic study, but when it emerged that no such study was conducted, they both resigned. Christie said last week that he played no role in the lane closures, but Democrats say it proves that the possible 2016 presidential contender is a vengeful bully. “It highlights the worst about his bombast and his condescension,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin.
Budget deal: The Senate this week passed a two-year budget agreement, ending nearly three years of political gridlock and reducing the chances of a government shutdown early next year. The compromise bill, negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), easily passed the House last week in a 332–94 vote, and this week it won approval from 64 senators—including nine Republicans. Several Republican and Democratic senators came out against the deal, however. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was among the conservatives attacking the bill’s cuts to military benefits, while liberals expressed dismay that the measure didn’t extend unemployment benefits. The compromise agreement is a rare example of congressional bipartisanship, but that could fade when the question of raising the debt ceiling arises again in the spring.