Law

Civil-Rights Law Dodges a Bullet in Mount Holly

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File
Late last week, there was a very rare piece of good news involving civil rights and the Roberts Court. The news was good because a crucial civil-rights case will no longer involve the Roberts Court. The township of Mount Holly, New Jersey settled a lawsuit brought under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and in so doing thankfully deprived the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court of another opportunity to take a meat axe to federal civil-rights protections. The suit involved a plan by the township to "redevelop" Mount Holly Gardens, a low-income neighborhood with predominately African-American and Hispanic residents. As detailed by MSNBC's Adam Serwer, under the plan Mount Holly would "buy the aging homes, raze them and replace them with higher-end housing the residents couldn’t afford." Because of a variety of factors including the bursting of the real-estate bubble, much of the demolition went forward but the redevelopment didn't. Residents of Mount Holly Gardens brought suit...

The Indefensible Filibuster of Nina Pillard

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Flickr/Cliff S enate Republicans have continued their blockade of nominations to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Tuesday, the GOP minority blocked a vote on the nomination of Cornelia ("Nina") Pillard to the D.C. Circuit. Fifty-six senators voted in favor of moving forward with the nomination. Pillard is typical of the circuit court judges the Republican minority has had a particular distaste for. First, she's not a white male. And second, she has utterly mainstream legal views that hardly meet the "extraordinary circumstances" the Senate allegedly requires to filibuster a judicial nominee. On the first point, Jennifer Bendery of Huffington Post observes that the three women the GOP minority has now prevented from getting up-or-down votes are part of a trend: Ten of the sidelined judicial nominees are women, two are openly gay and nine are minorities (seven are African American, one is Asian American and one is Native American). The lone executive nominee being blocked...

Just Like a Prayer?

AP Photo/Kevin Wolf
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster I n 1999, when John Auburger was elected supervisor of the Town of Greece, he decided to introduce a change of policy. Instead of opening the Rochester, New York, suburb’s monthly town board meetings with a moment of silence, Auburger invited a rotating slate of local religious leaders to give an invocation. For the following nine years, every chaplain who delivered the opening prayer was a Christian. In February 2008, two Greece residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, sued the town, arguing that the prayers violated the First Amendment by endorsing Christianity. On November 6, the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway , will go before the Supreme Court. It’s the first time in three decades that the Court has taken up a case on legislative prayer. In Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 case that tackled the constitutionality of prayer before legislative sessions, the Court upheld the practice of using taxpayer funds to pay state chaplains. The ruling in Marsh protects...

Why Are Police Shootings of Innocents on the Rise?

AP Photo/Jessica Hill
AP Photo/The Chronicle-Tribune, Jeff Morehead In New York City, police mistakes get played out on a big stage. In September, the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) performance was caught on camera in crowded Times Square when two officers shot at an unarmed suspect, missed him, and hit two bystanders instead. The man had been lurching in and out of traffic, ignoring police commands to stop, and at one point pulled his hand out of his pants as if he had a gun, according to a report in The New York Times . It was the latest in the department’s two-year run of an unusually high number of unintentional shootings of innocents. Last August, police wounded nine bystanders while unloading 16 rounds at a suspect who’d just shot a co-worker on the street near the Empire State Building. In separate cases last year, cops wounded four other bystanders. Gun battles and shoot-don’t-shoot decisions can be appallingly hard for even experienced cops to handle well. Low light, suspects in motion, and...

No, Obama Isn't Trying to "Pack the Court"

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Like a not very bright seven-year-old with a shiny new toy, the National Review has found an inane talking point to run into the ground. "Republican AGs vs. Obama’s Court-Packing Plan" announces one headline. "House Testimony on D.C. Circuit Court-Packing Plan" says another. Then there's the straight-the-point " No Court Packing ." The sheer dumbness of the argument hasn't stopped it from appearing in columns with the byline of members of the United States Senate, also published in a journal that may stand athwart history even if it has little comprehension of it: It is one of the most important battles raging in Washington, a fight that will have far-reaching consequences for everything from health care and the regulatory state to gun rights and the war on terrorism. Yet most Americans have heard nothing about it. I’m talking about Democratic efforts to pack the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. What conservatives are whining about, of course, is the Constitution. President...

Oklahoma's Abortion Battle Goes National

AP Images/Peter Morrison
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) O n Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will help determine how the U.S. Supreme Court handles its next big abortion case. But Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice hasn’t been scheduled for oral arguments just yet. The law in question, which deals with abortion-inducing drugs, was messily written, leaving room for considerable doubt about whether the state of Oklahoma intended to require doctors to follow a particular set of dosage requirements (the state attorney’s argument)—or ban the use of the drugs for abortion entirely (the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice’s argument). When it accepted the case, the U.S. Supreme Court sent it back to the Oklahoma court for clarification about the law’s original aim. After several months of deliberation, the Oklahoma justices decided that the law effectively bans all medication-induced abortions by prohibiting the use of one crucial drug. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will...

Kasich Goes Rogue on Medicaid

AP Images/Tony Dejak
AP Images/Tony Dejak W hen news broke Monday that Ohio would be the 25 th state to expand Medicaid, there were plenty of cheers on the left. After months of negotiations with lawmakers that repeatedly broke down, Republican Governor John Kasich, who has made the expansion a centerpiece of his agenda, decided to take a new tack. With the legislature out of session, Kasich, through his Medicaid director, requested a waiver from the federal government to expand the existing Medicaid program without the assembly’s approval. It was an unusual move. He got permission to spend the money from a small body, called the Controlling Board, composed of three lawmakers from the House and Senate, respectively, as well as a governor appointee. The board normally moves money between programs to adjust for shifts in spending throughout the year. This time, it approved $2.5 billion in federal funds to open up health care for nearly 300,000 Ohioans. Kasich has been one of the leading Republican voices...

The Supreme Court v. Civil RIghts

The disturbing failure to prosecute alleged rapists in Maryville, Missouri, represents an all-too-common failure of American legal systems. In The Nation , Jill Filipovic has a must-read article highlighting another part of the problem: the Supreme Court. The Court's conservative justices have taken a federal remedy away from sexual-assault victims, in a case that represents a pattern in the Republican war on civil-rights enforcement. As Filipovic details, U.S. v. Morrison resulted from a case in which Virginia Tech student Christy Brzonkala was allegedly raped by two members of the school's football team, one of whom for all intents and purposes conceded that he had nonconsensual sex with Brzonkala. One alleged assaulter was acquitted entirely by the school's disciplinary process. Morrison had a one-year suspension for sexual assault lifted, and then had a one-year suspension under Virginia Tech's Abusive Conduct policy (after the alleged assault he had told Brzonkala "you better not...

Big Bank Punishments Don't Fit Their Crimes

AP Images/Richard Drew
With the Justice Department desperate to rehabilitate its image as a diligent prosecutor of financial fraud, securing headlines along the lines of “the largest fine against a single company in history” is a lifeline. In a tentative deal , the Department would force JPMorgan Chase to pay a $9 billion fine and commit $4 billion to mortgage relief, to settle multiple investigations into their mortgage-backed securities business. The bank stands accused of knowingly selling investors mortgage bonds backed by loans that didn’t meet quality control standards outlined in its investment materials. JPMorgan Chase wants to “pay for peace” in this deal, ending all civil litigation around mortgage-backed securities by state and federal law enforcement, though at least one criminal case would remain open. But for the Justice Department to truly start fresh, and fulfill their mission of stopping corporate fraud and preventing it from occurring again, they will have to compel JPMorgan to admit full...

The Inevitable Elimination of Affirmative Action in Michigan

Yesterday, the Court heard oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The case involves a decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down a Michigan constitutional amendment banning the use of racial preferences in higher education. The oral argument did nothing to dispel the nearly universal assumption of court-watchers that the decision will be reversed, although the argument against the amendment has a stronger basis in precedent than it's sometimes been given credit for. Like Slate 's Emily Bazelon , I was skeptical of the 6th Circuit ruling. I very strongly believe that most affirmative-action programs do not violate the Constitution. But arguing that Michigan is constitutionally required to use affirmative-action programs already in place would obviously not be right. The constitutional question is more complex than that, however. There are circumstances in which it is unconstitutional for a state to use a constitutional amendment to...

McCutcheon, the Next Victory for the 1 Percent

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) S tarting with Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and continuing up to the Citizens United decision in 2010, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that attempts by Congress to restrict campaign finance violate the Constitution. In 2011, a bare majority of the Court found that a public-finance law that didn't suppress speech violated the First Amendment . Based on today's oral argument in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, it is overwhelmingly likely that the Supreme Court will further restrict the ability of Congress to pass campaign-finance restrictions. McCutcheon is a potentially new frontier in constitutional law because it involves campaign donations. In Buckley , the Court held that restrictions on campaign spending faced a high level of First Amendment scrutiny, but legislatures had more leeway to regulate campaign donations . Congress has limited both the size of individual donations (with $2,600 being the current maximum) and the aggregate amount of...

No, Really, Blame John Roberts on Medicaid

The Prospect 's Paul Waldman has a terrific piece noting the terrible effects of states refusing the Medicaid expansion contained in the Affordable Care Act. Slate 's Matt Yglesias notes who should get the blame for this: John Roberts and the other conservative Republican justices who—in an unprecedented decision—ruled that making existing Medicaid money from the federal government contingent on accepting the expansion was unconstitutional. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones , however, argues that we shouldn't blame John Roberts because he was right : I think this is unfair. In fact, there were only two justices who upheld the Medicaid expansion (Ginsburg and Sotomayor). All the rest, including the liberals Breyer and Kagan, struck it down. So it wasn't even a close call. The vote against the Medicaid provision was 7-2. And as much as I dislike the result, I can't find a lot of fault with this. The basic holding was simple: given our federalist structure, states can't be forced to help fund...

The New Pornographers

AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli
C alifornia passed a law last month to prevent a form of online harassment known as “revenge porn”—explicit images almost exclusively of women posted online by their former partners. The victims of revenge porn are often left without recourse, ignored or extorted by website hosts, and discounted by local authorities who either lack awareness of federal cyber stalking and harassment laws or see little point in pressing charges. Frustrated by lack of recourse, campaigns such as End Revenge Porn have started fighting for state legislation to criminalize the practice. Until the passage of California’s law, New Jersey was the only state that had criminalized revenge porn, and a New York legislator just announced his plan to propose similar legislation last week. Revenge porn is only one form of online harassment that disproportionately affects women and often goes unreported. The attacks can range from threatening and degrading messages to the posting of personal information like home...

Restorative Justice's After-School Special

“Education was where my heart was,” says Tyrone Sinclair in Growing Fairness , a documentary showcasing the impact restorative-justice programs can have in our nation's schools. Sinclair says he was expelled from school at 16, became homeless, and then ended up in jail. Now, he organizes young people in Los Angeles. “I knew that wasn’t the place for me,” he says of prison. “I love to learn every day.” Growing Fairness was screened at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Washington, D.C., this Wednesday, at an event hosted by Critical Exposure, a local youth group that trains high-school students in photography so they can document problems in their communities. The audience included mostly high-school students and people in their 20s, most of whom were interested in or researched education reform, though a few older community members and attorneys for civil-rights organizations were also present. The event was part of the fourth annual Week of Action organized by the Dignity in Schools...

McCutcheon Money: How Citizens United 2 Could Increase the Power of Elite Donors

Next Tuesday, October 8, the Supreme Court is scheduled (pending shutdown nonsense) to hear oral arguments on McCutcheon v. FEC , a challenge to the total cap on the amount of money one wealthy individual is permitted to contribute to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs. The current “aggregate contribution limit” is $123,200—twice the median household income in the U.S. As you might imagine, this cap affects very few people; just 1,219 people were at, over, or within 10 percent of the limit for the 2012 election cycle. I’m guessing you are not sitting on $150,000 you’d like put into politics next year—so, why should you care? Here’s why: This tiny group of people already has substantial sway in our election system, and a bad ruling in McCutcheon would give them even more. Demos and U.S. PIRG have worked together to project that striking aggregate contribution limits would bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from elite donors through the 2020 elections...

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