April 2014 Current Events: U.S. News
Here are the key events in United States news for the month of April 2014.
Congress Hears General Motors Testimony in Recall Case (April 1): The current heads of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and General Motors, including new General Motors CEO Mary Barra, testify before House and Senate subcommittees in an attempt to explain why it took so long for car owners to be told about the potentially life-threatening defect in the Cobalt as well as other compact cars. During the hearings, Barra says that many of the answers Congress is looking for will come out of an internal General Motors investigation. According to Barra that investigation will be complete within 45 to 60 days. In response to the hearings, New Hampshire Senator and former prosecutor Kelly Ayotte says, "I don't see this as anything but criminal." The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of how General Motor's handled the recall.
Supreme Court Rules on Campaign Contributions (April 2): In another blow to campaign-finance reform, the Supreme Court strikes down caps on the total amount individuals can donate to federal campaigns and political parties. The court rules 5-4 in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that the limits violate free speech protections. The limit had been a total of $48,600 every two years for all federal candidates and an aggregate of $74,600 to political parties and committees. In a stinging dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer says, "If Citizens United opened a door, today's decision we fear will open a floodgate," referring to the influence of money in politics. Limits on contributions to a single candidate by an individual donor ($2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections) are not affected by the decision.
Another Fatal Shooting Claims Several Victims at Fort Hood (April 2): An Iraq war veteran opens fire at the Fort Hood Army base in Killeen, Texas, and kills three people before turning the gun on himself. At least 16 people are injured. The suspect is Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, who had been evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Pentagon. This is the second fatal shooting at Fort Hood within the last five years.
UConn Wins Both NCAA Basketball Championships (April 8): The University of Connecticut takes both the Men's and Women's NCAA Basketball Championships for the second time in history. First, UConn defeats Kentucky, 60-54, in the Men's Championship. In the historic Women's Championship, UConn beats Notre Dame, 78-58, to win a record ninth title. With the win, UConn coach Geno Auriemma breaks his tie with Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt for the most all-time. The Associated Press Player of the Year, Breanna Stewart leads the Huskies with 21 points while All-American Stefanie Dolson, playing in her last UConn game, has a double-double with 17 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists.
Obama Signs Executive Orders to Narrow Wage Gap (April 10): President Obama signs two executive orders to help eliminate wage disparities among federal contract workers. One order bans federal contractors from punishing workers who discuss salaries with co-workers, and the other calls on the Labor Department to create rules that require federal contractors to submit salary information, broken down by race and gender, to the department. The day after Obama signs the orders, Senate Republicans block a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have imposed the measures included in the executive orders on the entire American workforce. It is the third time since 2010 that the Senate failed to consider the legislation.
Sebelius Resigns as Secretary of Health and Human Services (April 11): After the national health care open enrollment deadline passes, Kathleen Sebelius resigns as secretary of health and human services. Both Sebelius and the Obama administration insists the move is voluntary, but administration officials have done little to hide their outrage about the many problems that dogged HealthCare.gov and how they will affect mid-term elections and public opinion of Obama. The president nominates Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius.
Supreme Court Upholds Michigan College Admissions Ban (April 22): The Supreme Court rules, 6–2, in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action to uphold a constitutional amendment that bans public universities and colleges in Michigan from implementing a race-sensitive admissions policy. The ruling does not address the state's affirmative action policy; instead, it confirms the constitutionality of the amendment process. Writing for the plurality, Justice Anthony Kennedy says, "This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it." In her 58-page biting dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor says, the Constitution "does not guarantee minority groups victory in the political process. It does guarantee them meaningful and equal access to that process. It guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently."
Clippers Owner Banned for Life from NBA (April 29): NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announces that LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million. The NBA's decision comes after the gossip website TMZ releases a tape of Sterling talking privately to his former girlfriend V. Stiviano. On the tape, Sterling can be heard saying racists remarks such as, "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people." Sterling's comments outrage the nation.
Federal Judge Strikes Down Voter ID law in Wisconsin (April 29): In a ruling applauded by voting-rights advocates, Judge Lynn Adelman of Federal District Court in Milwaukee strikes down a 2011 Wisconsin law that requires voters to produce a state-sanctioned photo ID at polls, saying the law violated both the 14th amendment's equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color. "Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin are disproportionately likely to live in poverty," Adelman writes in his 90-page opinion. "Individuals who live in poverty are less likely to drive or participate in other activities for which a photo ID may be required (such as banking, air travel, and international travel) and so they obtain fewer benefits from possession of a photo ID than do individuals who can afford to participate in these activities." He also says, "Virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin, and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future."
Supreme Court Upholds EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (April 29): The Supreme Court rules 6-2 that under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the authority to regulate air pollution emitted from coal plants that crosses state lines. Smog from coal plants in 28 Midwest and Appalachia states blows toward the east and increases pollution in states that are downwind of the plants. "Some pollutants stay within upwind states' borders, the wind carries others to downwind states, and some subset of that group drifts to states without air quality problems," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes in the majority decision.