NAACP backs Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Kagan
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The NAACP gave its backing Saturday to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, expressing confidence in President Barack Obama’s pick after early hesitation that she might not be a forceful defender of civil rights.
The nation’s oldest and largest civil rights group voted unanimously at a board meeting in Florida to endorse Kagan, in line to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. It was an early endorsement by a major interest group for Kagan, who is solicitor general, the government’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court.
The NAACP’s president, Benjamin Jealous, told The Associated Press that the group initially was concerned because Kagan, who never served as a judge, had little direct evidence or a record that she would actively promote civil rights.
Many were worried that she might have an overly expansive view of executive power at the expense of individual liberties, and the group also had hoped to see a black woman appointed to the high court.
The National Action Network and its board of directors also endorsed her nomination. Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the organization, said Kagan “is worthy of the support of the civil rights community.”
Kagan, 50, has received some support from conservative groups because of her efforts to reach across ideological divides, including the recruiting of conservative professors while she was Harvard Law School dean.
Jealous said the group ultimately was swayed by Kagan’s work as a solicitor general as well as her tenure as White House aide during the Clinton administration, where she sought to strengthen hate crimes legislation and civil rights enforcement.
He also noted that Kagan, who clerked for Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice, was effective in boosting enrollment of black and Hispanic students when she was at Harvard.
“We don’t think any Supreme Court nominee walks on water,” Jealous said. “It was not an issue of whether we could live with her on one thing or another, but the question was whether we believed she would be an asset to the court.”
“We looked at her record, we spoke to people who worked with her as well as the civil rights community as a whole. The discussions painted a portrait of someone committed to civil rights and civil justice,” he said.
Obama’s aunt gets U.S. asylum
CLEVELAND, Ohio — President Barack Obama’s Kenyan aunt has been granted asylum by a U.S. immigration court, allowing her to stay in the United States, her attorneys announced Monday.
The decision was mailed Friday and comes three months after Kenya native Zeituni Onyango, the half-sister of Obama’s late father, testified at a closed hearing in Boston, where she arrived in a wheelchair and two doctors testified in support of her case.
Onyango plans to apply for a work visa and can apply for a green card after she gets it, her attorneys said.
The basis for her asylum request was never made public. People who seek asylum must show that they face persecution in their homeland on the basis of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.
“The asylum process is confidential and she wants to keep it that way, so we can’t get into details on why the judge granted asylum or the exact basis for her claim,” said her attorney Scott Bratton. He added, “She doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her.”
Another lawyer, Margaret Wong of Cleveland, said last year that Onyango first applied for asylum “due to violence in Kenya.” The East African nation is fractured by cycles of electoral violence every five years.
Medical issues also could have played a role. In a November interview with The Associated Press, Onyango said she was disabled and was learning to walk again after being paralyzed from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder.
Onyango moved to the United States in 2000. Her first asylum request was rejected, and she was ordered deported in 2004. But she didn’t leave the country and continued to live in public housing in Boston.
A judge later agreed to suspend her deportation order and reopen her asylum case.
In his memoir, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” Obama affectionately referred to Onyango as “Auntie Zeituni” and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to Kenya.
Onyango helped care for the president’s half brothers and sister while living with Barack Obama Sr. in Kenya.
$2 billion sought to overhaul ruined Haiti schools
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The Inter-American Development Bank is seeking $2 billion to expand access to Haitian schools.
President Rene Preval and Bank President Luis Moreno announced the five-year program last Saturday. It could be among the first presented for possible funding by the new Haitian Interim Reconstruction Commission co-chaired by Bill Clinton.
The program aims to rebuild a system in shambles before nearly 4,000 schools were destroyed. Its advisers include Louisiana post-Katrina school superintendent Paul Vallas.
Nearly all Haitian schools are private, forcing parents to spend food money on books, uniforms and tuition. Just 1 in 10 Haitian teachers is a qualified educator.
The bank’s program calls for the adoption of a national curriculum, teacher training and facility improvements.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The woman believed to the first black valedictorian in the University of Notre Dame’s 168-year history challenged her classmates to make a difference in the world as they begin their careers.
Katie Washington of Gary drew sustained applause from the audience during Sunday’s commencement ceremony. Some 22,000 people attended the ceremony that was held in the school’s football stadium for the first time since 1959.
Washington told her fellow 3,000 graduates that they can “engage in strokes of genius, enlightened moments and great ideas” to help those around the world.
The Gary West Side High School graduate received a perfect 4.0 GPA as a biological sciences major and plans to start a joint M.D./Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University in the fall.