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Week in Review: U.S.-North Korea Tensions, Potential Election Law Changes, and the Drug-Sniffing Dogs Case

March 29, 2013

Jeff Lindstrom, ‘14

In the news this week, CNN reports on North Korea’s latest threats of preparing rocket strikes targeting U.S. soil and what this means for U.S-Korean relations, The Daily Caller divulges President Obama’s recent plans to create a commission that will focus on changing state election laws, and The New York Times discusses the recent Supreme Court ruling on trained drug-sniffing dogs and the Fourth Amendment.

Tensions between North Korea and the United States have risen over the past few weeks on the heels of North Korea breaking its armistice with its neighbor South Korea. Jethro Mullen and Catherine E. Shoichet of CNN News reveal North Korea’s latest threats against the United States, a plan to gather missiles and rockets in an effort to attack the U.S. mainland and regional military bases. Kim Jong Un recently voiced his displeasure with the United States’ involvement in recent Korean peninsula affairs, proclaiming that any effort by the United States to use strategic forces against North Korea would result in retaliation against military bases stationed in South Korea, Guam, and Hawaii. The United States has responded with concern about these threats, but officials at the Pentagon stress that the U.S. will remain calm and collected in an effort to help South Korea as an ally. These threats were vocalized on the tail of the United States’ recent B-2 Spirit bomber actions – dropping munitions to military bases stationed in South Korea – which both South Korea and Kim’s military regime see as a direct threat to the country. The United States has adamantly stated that these actions, along with the recent flying of B-52 bombers in the area, were conducted as routine exercises carried out in the name of peace in the region.

Neil Munro of The Daily Caller unveils the President’s newest efforts to create a new commission dedicated to examining state election laws and recommending potential changes, appropriately called the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. The President and the Executive Branch do not have the immediate power to rewrite state election laws, yet the committee will suggest potential changes that could improve the electoral system; the President would also ally with the Department of Justice to gain the support of state judges in implementing these changes. Many Democrats have voiced strong opinions about changing many facets of state election laws, such as increasing voter registration, extending voting periods, relaxing voter-identification rules and aiding non-political groups to increase voter turnout. The executive order itself states that all aspects of state election laws will be examined, including voting locations, management, technology, and the operation of polling places. The President claims that these changes will increase efficiency in the electoral system and the Commission will work to implement these changes in an effort to increase voter turnout and data collection.

While Supreme Court news this week has been saturated with the hearings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, the court also conducted a less-reported review of a case involving the use of drug-sniffing dogs and Fourth Amendment-guaranteed privacy rights. In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the use of such dogs on private property without the acquisition of a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches. The New York Times editorial board, spearheaded by Andrew Rosenthal and Terry Tang, discussed the intricacies of the case and the surprising split between the justices on the court. In the majority were three prominently liberal justices (Bader Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan) and two of the conservatives on the court (Thomas and Scalia), while the dissenting Justices were split between two conservatives and two liberals. Justice Scalia, in his majority opinion, concluded that “even though the drug-sniffing dog…got no further than the suspect’s front porch, Fourth Amendment protection extends not only to a house but to its surroundings”. Justice Kagan agreed that the search was unconstitutional, but instead focused on a person’s “minimal expectation to privacy.” Kagan stated in her concurring opinion that “a person’s home is not only his castle but his most intimate and familiar space”. The editorial board concludes that this court case, in congruence with previous cases involving the expectations of privacy and police intervention, emphasizes the Constitution’s role in protecting individual privacy regardless of increased technological and procedural methods involved with search and seizure.

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