HUNTSVILLE, Texas: State executes Frances Newton

Despite a grassroots movement and appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas executed Frances Newton, 40, on Sept. 14. Outside the prison, scores of protesters held a vigil.

Newton is the third woman executed by Texas since the Civil War and the first Black woman since the state resumed the death penalty in 1982.

“It’s a sad statement about the judicial process,” said John LaGrappe, one of Newton’s attorneys. Newton was a victim of poverty, he charged. During the initial appeals process following her 1987 conviction for the murders of her husband and two children, Newton had to rely on court-appointed lawyers who missed appeal deadlines.

Newton maintained her innocence to the end. She is the 13th person executed so far this year in Texas.

ATLANTA: Civil rights groups sue to protect voting rights

Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus and the NAACP were in federal court Sept. 19, seeking to overturn a new state law requiring voters to show photo ID to cast their ballot. The new law prompted a walkout by Democratic legislators when it was passed by the first completely Republican-controlled state Legislature since Reconstruction.

The suit compares the photo ID requirement to the outlawed poll tax because it costs $20 to obtain a five-year state-issued photo ID and $35 for a 10-year photo ID. With gasoline hovering at $3 a gallon, voters in rural areas, far from state offices, would particularly suffer, the suit says.

Former President Bill Clinton called the new law “just wrong. They’re cutting a lot of folks out of that vote.”

Tim Storey of the National Council of State Legislatures said the Georgia election law is unique among all 50 states because it only accepts photo ID. Other states accept other forms of identification from voters.

RICHMOND, Va.: Mountaintop mining back in court

The Army Corps of Engineers issues permits to coal corporations to blow off the tops of mountains so coal companies can strip out coal. In 2004, U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in Charleston, W.Va., ruled in favor of residents and environmentalists, making the process harder for coal companies.

But coal operators and the Bush administration were back in appeals court here on Sept. 19 to overturn Judge Goodwin’s decision. The three-judge panel includes two Bush I appointees and one Bush II appointee. In the past four years, Judges Paul V. Niemeyer and J. Michael Luttig, both appointed by Bush I, have overturned lower court rulings restricting mountaintop mining.

Coal miners are expected to set another record for coal production this year, over 1 billion tons, but the coal companies and Bush officials are arguing that Goodwin’s decision has curtailed coal production in West Virginia.

The Army Corps has issued 12 mountaintop permits in the Mountain State so far this year.

JACKSON, Miss.: Justice Dept. smears environmental groups

The Clarion Ledger newspaper obtained a Sept. 15 U.S. Justice Department internal e-mail soliciting federal attorneys to report any cases brought by environmental organizations regarding New Orleans’ levees. “Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers against claims by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps’ work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation,” the e-mail said.

The newspaper reported that the e-mail may have been sparked by an article in the right-wing National Review magazine. That article attacked the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations for a 1996 suit which insisted that the Army Corps conduct an environmental impact study before commencing work on 303 miles of levee work along the Mississippi River. But those levees were not the ones that broke following Hurricane Katrina. The levees that broke, flooding New Orleans, were those along Lake Pontchartrain, which were not part of the Sierra Club lawsuit.

“Why are they trying to smear us like this?” asked Sierra Club senior attorney David Bookbinder. “It is unfortunate that the Bush administration is trying to shift the blame to environmental groups. It doesn’t surprise me at all.”

The online publication Raw Story quotes Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on the Justice Department maneuver: “If the president is sincere when he says he accepts responsibility for the abysmal federal response to Hurricane Katrina, he should instruct the Justice Department to stop trying to smear environmentalists by blaming them for the government’s failure to shore up the levee system in Louisiana.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, demanded that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales explain the cost, purpose and origin of the e-mail. Conyers said the Justice Department should be focused on helping the people of the Gulf, not blame-shifting.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s clips.