House Votes to Limit

Patriot Act Powers

The House handed President Bush the first defeat in his effort to preserve the broad powers of the USA Patriot Act, voting to curtail the FBI's ability to seize library and bookstore records for terrorism investigations.

Bush has threatened to veto any measure that weakens those powers. The surprise 238 to 187 rebuke to the White House was produced when a handful of conservative Republicans, worried about government intrusion, joined with Democrats who are concerned about personal privacy.

One provision of the Patriot Act makes it possible for the FBI to obtain a wide variety of personal records about a suspected terrorist -- including library transactions -- with an order from a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, where the government must meet a lower threshold of proof than in criminal courts.

Under the House change, officials would have to get search warrants from a judge or subpoenas from a grand jury to seize records about a suspect's reading habits.

House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (Ohio), one of three House Republicans who opposed the Patriot Act when it was enacted in 2001, voted Wednesday to curtail agents' power to seize the records.

The vote was on an amendment to limit spending in a huge bill covering appropriations for science as well as the departments of Justice, State and Commerce.

House Republican leadership aides said they plan to have the provision removed when a conference committee meets to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill to forestall a veto.

-- Mike Allen

Schiavo Autopsy Reveals

'Irreversible' Brain Damage

Terri Schiavo suffered severe, irreversible brain damage that left that organ discolored and scarred, shriveled to half its normal size, and damaged in nearly all its regions, including the one responsible for vision, according to an autopsy report.

Although the meticulous postmortem examination could not determine the mental state of the Florida woman, who died March 31 after a judicial and legislative battle over her "right to die," it did establish the permanence of her physical condition.

Schiavo's brain damage "was irreversible . . . no amount of treatment or rehabilitation would have reversed" it, said Jon R. Thogmartin, the pathologist in Florida's sixth judicial district who performed the autopsy and announced his findings Wednesday in Largo, Fla.

Still unknown is what caused Schiavo, 41, to lose consciousness on a winter morning in 1990. Her heart beat ineffectively for nearly an hour, depriving her brain of blood flow and oxygen.

A study of her organs, fluids, bones and cells, as well as voluminous medical records, failed to support strangulation, beatings, a drug overdose, complications of an eating disorder or a rare molecular heart defect.

Schiavo died at a hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., on March 31, 13 days after a feeding tube was removed from her stomach at the request of her husband, Michael. He said she would not have wanted to live in such a diminished state.

Schiavo left no living will, and her husband's request was granted only after a long court battle culminating in a judge's order to remove her feeding tube.

-- David Brown and Shailagh Murray

Citing Race, Supreme Court

Overturns 1986 Verdict

The Supreme Court made an emphatic statement in favor of race-neutral justice, overturning the 1986 conviction of a black death row inmate because his trial in Dallas was tainted by government racial discrimination.

By a vote of 6 to 3, the court held that both state and federal judges who oversee capital cases in Texas had mistakenly discounted evidence showing that prosecutors wrongfully kept African Americans off the Dallas jury that found Thomas Joe Miller-El guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. Only one member of the jury was black.

Writing for the court, Justice David H. Souter noted that Dallas County prosecutors had objected to two prospective black jurors who were otherwise similar to two whites. The prosecutors had also used "trickery" in questioning would-be jurors and exercised their right under Texas law to "shuffle" the jury pool, moving blacks to the back of the line, Souter wrote. Ten of 11 eligible blacks were excluded.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the court's lone black member, wrote the dissent. Joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia, he argued that practically all of the prosecution's peremptory strikes could be accounted for by such nonracial factors as the jurors' reluctance to impose the death penalty.

Siding with Souter were Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

-- Charles Lane

Heart Drug for Blacks

Is Backed by FDA Panel

Federal health advisers endorsed the approval of a drug to treat heart failure in African Americans, which would make the controversial pill the first medicine targeted at a specific racial group.

The Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously to recommend that the agency approve a request by NitroMed Inc. of Lexington, Mass., to sell the drug BiDil for patients with severe heart failure, and a majority agreed with the company that its label should say it is specifically intended for African Americans. The agency usually follows the panel's advice.

The vote marked a crucial step for the drug coming amid intensifying efforts to tailor "personalized" treatments to the genetic makeup of individual patients and groups of patients. Supporters say the drug would represent one of the first steps in that direction.

Opponents say marketing the drug this way would be an alarming development that would promote racial stereotyping and the discredited idea that there are fundamental genetic differences among races.

More than 700,000 U.S. blacks suffer from heart failure, in which the heart is progressively weakened by heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes or some other factor.

-- Rob Stein

Consumer and Energy Costs

Dropped in May, U.S. Reports

Consumer prices fell in May, the first decline in 10 months, as energy costs eased from highs hit in early April, the government reported.

The figures suggest that after a year of Federal Reserve interest rate increases, the U.S. economy is in pretty good shape, growing at a decent clip with low inflation, unemployment and interest rates.

But Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan indicated to Congress's Joint Economic Committee recently that the central bank remains concerned about the potential for future inflation. Interest rates remain too low. Labor costs are rising. Businesses are finding it easier to raise prices. To keep the lid on inflation, he suggested, Fed probably will keep steadily raising short-term interest rates in the months to come.

-- Nell Henderson