Scott Lemieux

Scott Lemieux is an assistant professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose. He contributes to the blogs Lawyers, Guns, and Money and Vox Pop.

Recent Articles

Scalia's Weird VRA Spat

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the "preclearance" provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice. Regrettably, the Supreme Court appears poised to eliminate one of the proudest achievements of American democracy. As Esquire 's Charles Pierce puts it , striking down Section 5 would constitute "the final victory of the long march against the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that began almost before the ink dried on the bill in 1965." The most remarkable example of the contemporary Republican hostility to civil rights came ,...

Secret Wiretapping Cannot Be Challenged Because It's Secret

By delegating broad authority to the executive branch to engage in warrantless wiretapping of Americans, t he Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) raises serious potential constitutional issues. The Fourth Amendment, which forbids "unreasonable" searches and seizures and under which warrantless searches are presumptively unconstitutional, is difficult to square with the kind of powers claimed by Congress and the Executive Branch. Today, however, the Supreme Court decided to duck this crucial constitutional issue based on almost comically illogical reasoning. The Court's 5-4 opinion in Clapper v. Amnesty International was, appropriately enough, written by Samuel Alito, who is more consistently hostile to civil liberties than any justice in at least half a century. The Court ruled that the journalists, organzations, and human rights lawyers bringing the suit lacked the "standing" to bring a lawsuit challenging FISA on 4th Amendment grounds. The American constitutional system...

A Mixed Day for the Fourth Amendment

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Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided two Fourth Amendment cases. The results were mixed. In one case, the Court protected an individual from an unreasonable search. But in another case, the Court again watered down Fourth Amendment protections in the name of the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs. The facts of the first case are relatively straightforward. The police had a warrant to search an apartment, but searched the assumed resident a mile away from the apartment after tailing him in a car for several minutes. In a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The warrant, Kennedy persuasively reasoned, covers only the immediate vicinity of the apartment, and there were no exigent circumstances (such as an immediate flight risk or the treat of violence) that would justify the warrantless seizure of items from a person not in the vicinity of the apartment. The most interesting part of this case is the vote...

An Empty Eighth Amendment Promise

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Warren Hill has an IQ below 70. Despite this, barring an unlikely intervention by the Supreme Court, he will be executed by the state of Georgia tonight. The likelihood of this outcome is a lesson in how Supreme Court decisions can't always be taken at face value. That Georgia is about to send a mentally handicapped man to the death chamber is, while dismaying, not in itself surprising. What is unusual about the case, however, is that the Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2002 that would seem to make what Georgia is about to do plainly illegal. In his opinion for the Court in Atkins v. Viriginia , Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that mentally handicapped individuals were categorically excluded from the death penalty by the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. Given Hill's low IQ and the fact that even the state's expert witnesses have recanted their earlier testimony that he was not mentally retarded, the execution of Hill would seem to be a clear violation of...

The Nominee the Senate Won't Obstruct

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President Obama's decision to nominate John Brennan to head the CIA was certainly not encouraging to anyone concerned about the administration's record on war powers and civil liberties. Nominating Brennan, who played a significant role in the CIA during the Bush administration, symbolizes the extent to which the abuses of the Bush administration have become mainstream in American government. Brennan's confirmation hearing before the Senate on Thursday reflects this as well. While Brennan did receive slightly more critical questioning than the typical CIA nominee, neither Congress's questions nor Brennan's answers will satisfy skeptics. Here are three key takeaways: Silence on the white paper Days before Brennan's hearings before the Senate, Michael Isikoff uncovered a secret white paper in which the Obama attempted to justify its targeted killings program. Not only should the justifications offered by the paper have been subject to scrutiny from the Senate, the fact that the memo had...

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