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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Inui

Weekly News Blast | May 5 - 12


Former public security minister José Raúl Mulino emerges the victor of a tumultuous presidential election in Panama (Galeria del Ministerio de Defensa del Perú, Wikimedia Commons)


José Raúl Mulino Wins Presidential Election in Panama


Former public security minister José Raúl Mulino was declared the winner of the Panama presidential election on May 5, marking the end of one of the most tumultuous election cycles in Panamanian history. With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, the country’s electoral tribunal reported that Mulino had won 34 percent of the vote, a 10 percentage point lead over his closest competitor, former diplomat Ricardo Lombana.


However, Mulino’s path to the presidency was heavily controversial. Mulino first entered the race as the vice-presidential running mate of former president Ricardo Martinelli, a top candidate until he was disqualified from the race because of a money-laundering conviction in 2023. After seeking asylum in the Nicaraguan Embassy, Martinelli continued campaigning for his running mate Mulino, who had taken his place as the presidential candidate. Mulino’s campaign was challenged on the basis that he had not won a primary vote, as required by law, but Panama’s Supreme Court ruled on May 3 that Mulino was permitted to run, legitimizing his victory two days later. 


Now, Mulino faces a country riddled with economic and social problems. Though one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America, Panama has recently faced a drought that reduced activity in the Panama Canal, a migrant crisis through the Darién Gap on the Colombian border, and the closure of one of Panama’s most profitable copper mines. “It’s a very bizarre situation, unprecedented… Panama is in for a tumultuous period,” commented Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue. However, Mulino has promised to do his best for the country. “This is perhaps the most important date of my life,” Mulino said to a group of his supporters, “and the greatest responsibility of a Panamanian falls on my shoulders and my family to lead the destiny of the nation.”


House Votes Overwhelmingly to Keep Speaker Mike Johnson


In an overwhelming show of solidarity on Wednesday, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson survived an attempt by Representative Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) to oust him from his post. In the 359 to 43 vote, Democrats joined with Republicans to block Representative Green’s motion—only 32 Democrats and 11 Republicans voted to pass the motion.


Representative Green’s motion came weeks after Speaker Johnson pushed through a $95 billion national security spending package that included aid to Ukraine, over objections from hardline conservatives like Green who oppose any further aid to Kyiv. “Given a choice between advancing Republican priorities or allying with Democrats to preserve his own personal power, Johnson regularly chooses to ally himself with Democrats,” Green said. However, House Republicans have been wary of any attempts to unseat leadership, especially following the weeks of chaos that ensued after former speaker Kevin McCarthy was unseated in October 2023. Even former president Donald Trump weighed in, posting on social media, “If we show DISUNITY, which will be portrayed as CHAOS, it will negatively affect everything!”


After the vote, Speaker Johnson told reporters, “I appreciate the show of confidence from my colleagues to defeat this misguided effort,” adding that he hopes that “this is the end of the personality politics and the frivolous character assassination that has defined the 118th Congress.” When asked about the Democrats’ actions, the first time a minority party has voted to prop up the opposing party’s leadership, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said, “Our decision to stop Marjorie Taylor Greene from plunging the House of Representatives and the country into further chaos is rooted in our commitment to solve problems for everyday Americans in a bipartisan manner.”


Supreme Court Sides with Police Departments in Property Rights Case


On May 9, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that authorities are not obligated to provide a quick hearing when they seize property related to a crime, even if the property owners are found innocent. In a 6-3 vote, the court ruled against two Alabama women who sought prompt recovery hearings after their cars had been wrongfully taken by the police. Under civil forfeiture laws, authorities can seize property they suspect to be related to a crime. However, the attorneys for this class action lawsuit argue that preliminary hearings (which allow owners to regain their property more quickly than standard forfeiture hearings) are required under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which prohibits the deprivation of property without “due process.”


Writing the majority opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh disagreed with this argument, claiming that while the 14th Amendment requires a forfeiture hearing, it does not necessarily require a preliminary hearing. “A timely forfeiture hearing protects the interests of both the claimant and the government,” Kavanaugh wrote. “An additional preliminary hearing of the kind sought by petitioners would interfere with the government’s important law-enforcement activities in the period after the seizure and before the forfeiture hearing.” However, Kavanaugh did recognize that states may amend the law to require preliminary hearings, as Alabama has done since the case was first initiated.


In the dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that the ruling leaves civil forfeiture “vulnerable to abuse” because police departments have a financial incentive to keep property for as long as possible. In a concurring opinion, Justice Gorsuch and Thomas echoed similar concerns, hoping for an opportunity to revisit civil forfeiture laws, but ultimately siding with the majority. Many interested groups voiced the same concerns, viewing the decision as an erosion of private property rights. Kirby Thomas West, an attorney at the libertarian Institute for Justice, said that now, while civil forfeiture cases “languish for months or years before they are resolved… owners of seized vehicles will scramble to find a way to get to work, take their kids to school, run errands and complete other essential life tasks.”

 


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