Law

How a Bad Interpretation of a 1976 SCOTUS Case Set the Stage for Citizens United

The Buckley v. Valeo decision was more complicated and subtle than the “money equals speech” slogan for which it’s misremembered.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, as the court heard arguments on campaign finance in the case McCutcheon v. FEC . The Supreme Court issued its decision in April 2014 on the case's challenge to limits on contributions by the biggest individual donors to political campaigns. W hen it comes to campaign finance, the Roberts Court and the American public have settled into a grim routine. Every few years, the Court—usually in the voice of Chief Justice John Roberts—strikes down another restriction on campaign expenditures or contributions. With each decision, a disappointed majority of Americans puzzle over the notion, apparently embraced by the Court’s conservatives, that “money equals speech.” That idea is usually attributed to Buckley v. Valeo, the landmark 1976 case in which the Supreme Court for the first time considered the constitutionality of campaign finance restrictions. But the Court never said money is...

Supreme Court Hampers EPA on Greenhouse Gases But It Could Have Been Worse

Photograph by Joseph E.B. Elliot/Library of Congress
Today, the Supreme Court failed to release almost all of the term's outstanding opinions for another day (or two, or three.) But it did issue an opinion dealing with the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to deal with one the most pressing problems facing the world: climate change. Justice Scalia's opinion unnecessarily restricts the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases, but the opinion could have been much worse. Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency does deal with a real issue in the Clean Air Act. The act calls for the EPA to require permits from stationary sources that emitted between 100 and 250 tons or more per year of a pollutant covered by the act. In the context of carbon emissions, however, the quantities produced are much greater than for the typical pollutant, which would turn a statutory provision intended to exclude minor sources of pollution into a requirement to regulate these relatively small sources. Sensibly, the EPA...

Dear Thom Tillis: How Long Does It Take For a Black Person to Become a Traditional North Carolinian?

An open letter to the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, who is currently running for U.S. Senate, is prompted by his comments about the Republican Party's demographics.

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
AP Photo/Chuck Burton In this May 6, 2014, photo Thom Tillis speaks to supporters at a election night rally in Charlotte, N.C., after winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate Tuesday, May 6, 2014. D ear Thom: I hope I can call you Thom; you may certainly call me Cynthia. Given the circumstances—given how far the policies you've supported since becoming Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives have reached into my home and even my vagina —I feel we are on intimate terms that make surnames superfluous. In your 2012 comments to Carolina Business Review , unearthed by TPM last week, you talked about how Republicans need to reach out to communities of color, the type of GOP hand-wringing we've heard since Mitt Romney went down in flames. I believe your specific comment was this: The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It’s not growing. The African American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population...

How Many Gun Deaths Are There In Your State?

Your charty goodness is inside.
Since Washington is a fetid swamp of moral compromise and soul-sucking humidity, my family and I sometimes debate where we might go if we decided to move elsewhere. One of the possibilities that comes up is Colorado, since we have friends there and the state features lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation. But I'm given pause by the fact that Colorado seems to have more than its share of gun massacres, and even if statistically speaking they aren't something to spend too much time worrying about, it's natural to have it weigh on your mind. Americans increasingly want to live around people who think like them , and that can extend beyond political beliefs to politically-tinged behaviors, particularly those meant to terrify people who have opinions different from yours. Like many a bleeding-heart liberal, I'd prefer to be able to stop in at my local Target and not have to share my shopping experience with a bunch of nutballs toting AR-15s . Call me crazy. If you're considering a...

Weak Weakling Continues Weak Policies of Weakness

Flickr/National Guard
Conservatives are struggling to get over their disappointment that the Obama administration captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged leader of the 2012 attack on our consulate in Benghazi, but don't think they can't come up with another way to argue that Barack Obama is screwing everything up. If there's one thing they're certain of, it's that Obama is weak, and while until this weekend he was too weak to nab Khattala, now he's too weak to do what needs to be done with him. I'm pretty sure many on the right really wish we could torture Khattala, even if you can't say that in polite company anymore. In the absence of that, they'll demand that we take Khattala to Guantanamo, where presumably he will spill what he knows forthwith. Marco Rubio demanded that we "immediately" transfer him to Guantanamo. " In order to locate all individuals associated with the attacks that led to the deaths of four Americans, we need intelligence," said the senator, apparently under the impression that...

The Road to Marriage Equality: Boies and Olson’s Wedding March

AP Photo/Adam Lau
AP Photo/Adam Lau David Boies kisses fellow lawyer Theodore Olson on the cheek at a public rally on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010 in West Hollywood, Calif. Gay rights supporters turned out in droves to celebrate a federal judge's overturning of California's Proposition 8, a same-sex marriage ban, a landmark case which could eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if gays have a constitutional right to marry in America. T he history of civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans took a dramatic turn on June 26, 2013. On that date, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which since 1996 had defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. The Court also let stand a lower ruling that declared Proposition 8—the 2008 voter referendum outlawing same-sex marriage in California—unconstitutional. The two legal victories rode momentum that had revved and sputtered ever since the early hours of June 28, 1969, when...

Why The California Tenure Decision Is Wrong and Will Hurt Disadvantaged Students

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter David Welch makes comments on the Vergara v. California lawsuit verdict in Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. A judge struck down tenure and other job protections for California's public school teachers as unconstitutional Tuesday, saying such laws harm students, especially poor and minority ones, by saddling them with bad teachers. In a landmark decision that could influence the gathering debate over tenure across the country, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu cited the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education in ruling that students have a fundamental right to equal education. E arlier this week, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Michael Treu held that California's teacher tenure system violated the state constitution. Treu's June 10 decision in Vergara v. California has been widely praised by education "reformers," up to and including President Barack Obama's worst cabinet...

Maureen Dowd Gets Way Too High

Do NOT let Maureen near that—she'll eat the whole thing! (Flickr/animakitty)
While I usually try to abstain from writing posts about how something an op-ed columnist wrote was stupid—not an unworthy endeavor, but if I don't do it many other people will be there to pick up the slack—today I'm going to make an exception for Maureen Dowd. That's not only because her column in today's New York Times is particularly inane , but because there's a lesson hidden there, really there is. So stick with me. But first, on to Dowd's glorious tale. Seems she was in Denver and decided to sample some of this "marijuana" she's been hearing so much about. Like any sensible person trying a drug for the first time, she made no attempt whatsoever to determine how much of it she should consume to reach her desired state of consciousness. Instead, she bought a cannabis candy bar and ate the whole thing. The results were unsurprising: But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state...

The Supreme Court and the Power to Make Treaties

Website of the Supreme Court of the United States
Given the ongoing Republican assault on essential federal powers, It is generally not good news when the Supreme Court narrowly construes a federal statute in deference to state authority. Monday's ruling in Bond v. U.S. , however, is an exception. A majority of the Court refused to accept conservative arguments that would severely limit the power of Congress to enforce treaties signed by the United States. The dissents by Justices Scalia and Thomas, conversely, show that this case could have been a vehicle for a major new limitation on federal power. The facts in Bond , summarized in an excellent story by Newsweek 's Pema Levy, are the stuff of soap opera. Carol Bond, a microbiologist, put highly toxic chemicals on various surfaces at the home of Myrlinda Haynes, her erstwhile best friend and husband's lover. Haynes escaped the dangerous trap set for her with only minor burns. Nonetheless, Bond was prosecuted under Section 229 of the federal Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation...

Facial Recognition and the Loss of Anonymity

You're not fooling anyone, kid. We know who you are. (Flickr/Glen)
With all the attention given to the Obama administration's new regulations on carbon emissions, you may have missed the latest revelation from the documents obtained by Edward Snowden, which came out over the weekend. The latest news is that the NSA is now increasingly relying on facial recognition in its surveillance, and gathers millions of images a day from emails, social media, and other sources, and it isn't alone. Here's an excerpt from a report that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday : State and local law enforcement agencies are relying on a wide range of databases of facial imagery, including driver’s licenses and Facebook, to identify suspects. The F.B.I. is developing what it calls its "next generation identification" project to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery and other biometric data. The State Department has what several outside experts say could be the largest facial imagery database in the federal government, storing...

Supreme Court Decides: What is 'Cruel and Unusual Punishment'?

In the 2002 case Atkins v. Virginia , the Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally impaired violated the Eight Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments." Atkin s, however, did not define what constituted mental impairment, which gave states a potentially easy way of evading the opinion. If left alone to determine their own standards, states that didn't want to comply with the Court's ruling could simply make it enormously difficult or impossible for those sentenced to death to prove that the were mentally impaired. In an important ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to allow the states unlimited discretion to determine whether defendants had the mental capacity to be legally executed, restoring some teeth to Atkins . In his opinion in Hall v. Florida , Justice Kennedy, joined by the Court's four Democratic nominees, began by reaffirming the rationale of the Court in Atkins . First, "[n]o legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with...

Government Treating Peaceful Left Activists Like Terrorists--Again

Police in Oakland breaking up an Occupy protest. (Flickr/Glenn Halog)
Both liberals and conservatives spend time arguing that the other side contains people who are nutty, highlighting extreme statements in an attempt to convince people that there's something fundamentally troubling about their opponents. There are many differences between the extreme right and the extreme left, perhaps most importantly that the extreme right has a much closer relationship with powerful Republicans than the extreme left has with powerful Democrats. When you find a crazy thing a liberal said, chances are it's an obscure professor somewhere, or a blogger with twelve readers, or a random person at a protest. The crazy people on the right, in contrast, are often influential media figures or even members of Congress, people with real influence and power. There's another critical difference that doesn't get as much attention: the extreme left is, generally speaking, harmless. That's their nature. They're more likely to meditate and form committees than hurt anyone. It's been...

Were Feds Duped by White Supremacist and Alleged Killer Frazier Glenn Miller?

AP Photo/The News & Observer, File
AP Photo/The News & Observer, File In this March 19, 1985 photo Glenn Miller (l), of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, takes part in a news conference in front of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. A t the time that Glenn Miller allegedly shot three people dead at two Jewish facilities in the Kansas City area in April, he was in the Federal Witness Protection Program. In a cautionary tale about the dubious wisdom of charging defendants of any political stripe with acts of sedition, Miller may have put one over on the feds some 25 years ago, relieving himself of a lengthy prison sentence that could have ultimately saved the lives lost at a Jewish community center and retirement community in Overland Park, Kansas. Already notorious as a white racist leader in the 1980s, Miller's long history of criminal activity on behalf of the white supremacist cause led to his facing many years in prison until federal prosecutors offered him a plea deal in 1988 if he would...

Why It's a Bad Idea to #StandWithRand, Even on Drones

Progressive activists, including those with legitimate concerns about civil liberties and the use of drones, should think twice about leaving the appeals court seat vacant in order to oppose David Barron.

©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Sen. Rand Paul approaches the podium at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., bearing the briefing book he used during his 13-hour March 6 filibuster on the topic of armed drones. L ast year, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky opposed the nomination of CIA director John Brennan with a 13-hour speech against the Obama administration’s drone policies. The filibuster, a carefully calculated opening move for Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign, garnered massive media attention. So it should not be a surprise that he planned another filibuster, this time against today’s scheduled Senate consideration of appeals court nominee David Barron. As an attorney in the White House Office of Legal Counsel, Barron worked on memoranda providing a legal justification for the killing-by-drone of American Al-Qaeda strategist Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen. Paul’s latest grab for media attention has been rolled out with political precision: an op-ed in last week’s New...

Can Reformers Save Our Election System from the Supreme Court?

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Cornell Woolridge of Windsor Mill, Md., takes part in a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, as the court heard arguments on campaign finance. O ver the past few years, given the bad news that just keeps coming their way, America’s campaign-finance reformers have started to look like eternal optimists. They’ve pretty much had to be. Take the one-two wallop they suffered early this spring. First, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York state legislators killed reformers’ best chance of a breakthrough in 2014—a public-financing program in which small-dollar donations would be matched or multiplied by public funds. (New York City already runs its own “matching” program.) The idea was to give less-wealthy donors a bigger voice in legislative and gubernatorial races while decreasing the clout of those with deep pockets. Instead, reformers ended up with a microscopic pilot program for the state comptroller’s race. A few days later...

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