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The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Snakepit," Feb. 11, 2006

SUPREME COURT The Senate approved the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court, 58-42. Four Democrats and all but one Republican voted for the 55-year-old circuit court judge one day after lawmakers shut down a move by Massachusetts Democrats Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to filibuster his nomination. The Jan. 31 confirmation allowed Justice Alito to join his new colleagues hours later in the well of the House for the president's State of the Union address and to participate in his first case, voting with the majority to allow a lower-court stay of execution in the case of Missouri death-row inmate Michael Taylor.

ABORTION Justice Alito soon may be tested on a controversial abortion ruling after two federal appeals courts declared Congress' partial-birth abortion ban unconstitutional Jan. 31, likely forcing the issue back to the high court. Following a Jan. 17 Supreme Court ruling that narrowly upheld New Hampshire's ban on partial-birth abortion, appeals courts in San Francisco and New York said the federal law was flawed because it failed to provide an exception when the health of a mother was at stake.

WHITE HOUSE Wrapping up a week of hard-edged speeches, President Bush went soft before the eclectic gathering at the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2, quoting a Gulf Coast hurricane survivor who, after being rescued and given shelter, said, "I didn't think there was so much love in the world." Mr. Bush said, "This morning we come together to recognize the source of that great love. We come together before the Almighty in prayer, to reflect on God's will, to seek His aid, and to respond to His grace."

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Mr. Bush delivered his fifth State of the Union address Jan. 31, devoting nearly 40 minutes of a 65-minute delivery to terrorism and national security, and reflecting the preoccupation with fighting the war on terror that has marked his presidency. "Today, having come far in our own historical journey," he said, "we must decide: Will we turn back, or finish well?"

CONGRESS Eager to move the GOP away from its "pay to play" taint after indictments against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Republican lawmakers elected Ohio Rep. John Boehner to replace Mr. DeLay on Feb. 2. Mr. Boehner ran as a bold reformer in contrast to the establishment credentials of House Whip and one-time favorite, Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt.

GAY RIGHTS Washington state lawmakers passed legislation Jan. 27 that adds sexual orientation to an existing law banning discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, marital status, disability, and other factors. Opponents had successfully quashed the bill for 29 years, eking out a one-vote victory in 2005 when Microsoft briefly withdrew its support under threat of boycott. This time the bill cruised through the House, 61-37, making Washington the 16th state to pass such legislation.

DEATH She marched beside him and stood with him at the Lincoln Memorial. And only days after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, Coretta Scott King and three of her four children flew to Memphis to lead a march of thousands in honor of the civil-rights legend and the cause he championed. In a widowhood that stretched nearly four decades, Mrs. King remained the champion of her husband's cause and its sweet-spoken figurehead. She died in her sleep at 78 on Jan. 31.

IRAN The five permanent members of the UN Security Council agreed Jan. 31 to bring Iran before the Security Council over its nuclear program. China and Russia, longtime allies and trading partners of Iran, signed on to a statement that calls on the UN nuclear watchdog to transfer the Iran dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions or take other action.

ETHIOPIA Thousands of Ethiopians filled Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., Feb. 1, waving Ethiopian and American flags and denouncing Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government as "abusive to human rights." Mr. Zenawi-once hailed as a Democratic reformer-has drawn sharp criticism for his treatment of political opponents. Elias Kifle, editor of the U.S.-based Ethiopian Review, told WORLD that officials have arrested Frezer Negash, one of his reporters in Ethiopia, and are holding her without charge in Addis Ababa. "She is three months pregnant, and I'm terribly worried about her safety," Mr. Kifle said. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told demonstrators he will press for more U.S. action, while Britain cut its aid to Ethiopia's government in January.

INDONESIA Jubilee Campaign, a Washington human-rights group, soon will file a petition with the UN against the arbitrary detention of three Sunday school teachers in West Java, Indonesia. An appeals court refused to reverse a September decision sentencing the women to three years in prison, and late last month refused to hear a challenge to the law brought by a West Javan pastor. Meanwhile, local officials where the case began in Bandung are moving to close house churches, evidence of emboldened persecution.

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