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The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Five-man legacy," Jan. 28, 2006

SUPREME COURT The Supreme Court on Jan. 18 ruled unanimously that district and appeals courts erred in their "wholesale" invalidation of New Hampshire's parental notification law. Abortion opponents in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood had argued, among other things, that the law was unconstitutional because it lacked a health exception. State attorney general Kelly Ayotte had argued that provisions in the law for judicial bypass and life-threatening emergencies were sufficient. Writing for the high court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor emphasized that "states unquestionably have the right to require parental involvement when a minor considers terminating her pregnancy" and suggested that the lower courts had used their "remedial powers to circumvent the intent of the legislature." The Supreme Court directed the appeals court to craft a more narrow opinion upholding the portions of the law that are constitutional.

In a surprising portion of the Ayotte opinion, Justice O'Connor noted that the Supreme Court might have upheld the partial-birth abortion ban it struck down in Stenberg v. Carhart had it been asked to craft a more narrow opinion instead of only determining whether Nebraska's ban on partial-birth abortion was unconstitutional because it lacked a health exception.

In another ruling, the court upheld an Oregon law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of barbiturates to terminally ill patients. While the 6-3 decision may give momentum for euthanasia bills up for consideration in California and Vermont, it would not stop Congress from banning assisted suicide nationally. "The legal impact," said medical ethicist Wesley J. Smith, "is very minor."

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CAPITOL HILL Anonymous balloting set for Feb. 2 will determine who leads the House-the Republican majority hopes-out of a scandal quagmire and into midterm election victories. With acting majority leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) holding most support among the House Republicans, Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) aren't dropping out of a race made necessary after Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) stepped aside under indictment.

In the Senate, Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) became the first Democrat to announce he will vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. "I came to this decision after careful consideration of his impeccable judicial credentials," Mr. Nelson said shortly after Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) agreed to a Democratic request for a week's delay in voting. But is the delay really giving Democrats room to maneuver or more time to roast? Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), a heated critic of Mr. Alito's membership in an exclusive Princeton alumni club, resigned his own membership on Jan. 17 in a similar Harvard group, the Owl Club, to which he had belonged since 1954.

ECUADOR Relatives and friends of five missionaries killed by Waodani tribesmen 50 years ago returned to the site of the massacre this month to commemorate the tribe's transformation from savagery to salvation. Tribal leaders baptized new converts in the Curaray River where previously they had speared to death mission workers Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian. "A spear cannot penetrate where the Word of God penetrates," Bert Elliot, brother of Jim Elliot, told Western and Waodani worshippers at one service.

But the work of rebirth must be renewed in every generation, the Waodani are discovering. Many tribal teens see the outside secular world as their liberator, and savage tendencies die hard.

KUWAIT The emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, died Jan. 15 after 29 years in office, having survived an assassination attempt in the 1980s and an Iraqi invasion in the 1990s. A strong U.S. ally, he turned over power to his half-brother, Prime Minister Al Sabah, following a brain hemorrhage five years ago. Thousands turned out to mourn the leader who decreed that women should have the vote and be eligible to run for office, but his death is likely to mean few policy changes.

AFGHANISTAN Gunmen killed a former Taliban leader who defected to support the U.S.-backed government after the radical militia was ousted in late 2001. Mohammed Khaksar, the deputy interior minister, was fatally shot by two men on a motorbike Jan. 14 as he was walking with two of his children in the southern city of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold. About 300 Taliban rank-and-file and 50 senior officials have switched sides under a formal reconciliation program.

PAKISTAN Thousands took to the streets to denounce the United States and President Pervez Musharraf after a U.S. missile attack at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border appeared to kill 18 villagers. Turns out U.S. lasers likely were on target. A Pakistani security official announced Jan. 19 that the attack killed at least three top al-Qaeda operatives, including an explosives and chemical weapons expert on the U.S. most-wanted list. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of refugees from the country's October earthquake remain homeless. Severe weather makes relief work difficult and in some cases impossible, but Christian aid workers are helping many of the refugees face the long, cold winter that they must get through before rebuilding in earnest can begin.

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