Judge Grants Floridians Another Week to Register to Vote

voter-registrationJUDGE EXTENDS VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE: The rising role of lower federal courts in deciding voting law challenges has been mentioned by Gavel Grab, and now a federal district judge in Florida has decided a different type of voting issue: He extended until Oct. 18 a deadline for people to register to vote because of the harm caused by Hurricane Matthew.

District Judge Mark E. Walker agreed on Wednesday to the extension, according to CNN. “We’ll now be able to make up for lost time and help register people whose lives were disrupted by the storm,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “Our goal is to help every Floridian register, vote, and be heard, and we’re grateful that the storm did not silence their voices.”

SUPREME COURT TO HEAR LAWSUIT AGAINST ASHCROFT: The Washington Post reported, “The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would consider a long-running lawsuit against former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other top officials filed by immigrants who say they were racially profiled and illegally detained after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

Does racial bias trump jury room secrecy? The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, a case that raises the issue. Lawyers for a defendant in a sexual assault trial contend his rights to an impartial jury were violated after one juror told two others, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want.” You can learn more from a Reuters article or from a blog of our sister organization, Alliance for Justice.

DOING THE MATH ON THE GARLAND NOMINATION: ThinkProgress has come up with a new way of doing the math on the long-stalled nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. It reported, “15 Republican senators openly oppose [Donald] Trump. 14 are blocking a Supreme Court nominee for him anyway.”

With one seat vacant, meanwhile, the “justices are chugging along in the slow lane,” according to The Economist. A Chicago Sun-Times editorial documented the “harm of [the] short-handed court,” and said it “hobbles along.”

Aron Op-Ed: Trump’s High Court Picks Would Roll Back Century of Progress

Only days before the second presidential candidate debate, Alliance for Justice Action Campaign President Nan Aron warned in a Huffington Post op-ed that Donald Trump’s potential Supreme Court picks “would roll back a century of economic and social progress.”

“The most frightening part is that the stakes this year couldn’t be higher. Whoever is elected president in November will likely determine what the Constitution means for the rest of our lives,” Aron wrote, alluding to one vacancy existing on the high court and the possibility the next president will be faced with filling even more seats if aging justices vacate them.

Discussing the records of a number of people named by Trump as potential Supreme Court picks, Aron said, “[T]he men and women that Donald Trump wants on the Court have clear records of hostility to rights and freedoms we all take for granted.”

“[O]nce Americans learn what these individuals really stand for,” she concluded, “our bet is that – like Trump Steaks – the public won’t buy what Trump is selling. Our research into voter attitudes has found that, overwhelmingly, Americans expect Supreme Court justices to ensure that the Constitution protects all of us, not just special interests. Voters care deeply about the Supreme Court. They want justices who will support the principle of liberty, equality, and justice for all of us. Donald Trump’s Supreme Court justices, by contrast, would roll back a century of economic and social progress.”

A Short-handed SCOTUS Opens for Business

justice-scalesAlthough the traditional “First Monday” arguments won’t take place until tomorrow, after the Jewish holiday, the Supreme Court officially started its new term today – with one vacancy still remaining.  A flurry of articles and editorials commented on how the short-handed Court will function, including pieces in The Washington Post, The New York Times,  Reuters, McClatchy, and the Los Angeles Times.    Several noted that without a full complement of justices, the Court may find itself unable to resolve key questions of law.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on its first day declined to weigh in on two closely-watched issues.  One was the appeal of a ruling in Wisconsin’s “John Doe” case involving Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-recall campaign.  According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the Court declined to hear the appeal of three Democratic district attorneys, who were requesting a reopening of the investigation into alleged illegal coordination between Walker’s campaign and outside interest groups including the conservative Club for Growth.  The same interest groups were known to have supported the campaigns of conservative state Supreme Court justices, an issue that came under scrutiny when the court shut down the investigation into Walker’s campaign. According to the Journal, UC-Irvine law professor Rick Hasen observed,”A short-handed court split ideologically 4-4 may have been especially reluctant to delve into this politically sensitive case. Still the question of judicial recusal of judges who directly benefited from the Club for Growth’s campaign activities merited review.”

The Court also decided not to accede to the Obama administration’s request to reconsider the president’s plan to spare millions of immigrants from deportation, according to Reuters.  The Court deadlocked 4-4 over the issue last summer.

The Huffington Post took note not only of the Supreme Court’s short-handedness but of the failure to confirm scores of judges to lower federal court seats in a piece quoting Nan Aron in her role as President of our sister organization, the Alliance for Justice. Referring to Republicans in the Senate, Nan said, “What they’re doing is holding open these seats for a future Republican president to put in individuals who side with the wealthy and the powerful. That’s what this is about.”

And in state court news, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary has suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore from the bench without pay for the rest of his term.  According to NPR, Moore violated judicial ethics when he ordered state judges not to respect the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling affirming marriage equality.

Huffington Post Cites Aron on SCOTUS Oversight in Debate

washington-supreme-court-building-washington-d-c-dc169SCOTUS CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT FROM FIRST DEBATE:  Although the presidential election will have an enormous impact on the future makeup of the Supreme Court, that topic was notably absent from the agenda of the first Trump-Clinton debate. The Huffington Post’s Cristian Farias pointed out the oversight in a piece headlined “One Issue That Could Reshape America For A Generation Was Snubbed At The Debate,” and quoted Nan Aron in her role as President of  our sister organization, Alliance for Justice.  “It’s disappointing that one of the most critical issues facing our democracy, the future of the Supreme Court, didn’t get any airtime in tonight’s debate,” Nan said.  The Huffington Post piece went on to urge that the Court get coverage in the remaining presidential debates as well as the upcoming vice presidential debate.

Meanwhile, Noah Feldman in a piece for Bloomberg View offered analysis of why the SCOTUS issue failed to come up at the first debate, and why it has received less attention on the campaign trail than some might have expected.  Prof. Feldman’s take: neither candidate believes he or she can gain an edge by highlighting the Court as a campaign issue.  Donald Trump, Feldman writes, can’t promise to remake the Court as he would likely get only the chance to replace the late Justice Scalia with another conservative judge, thereby maintaining the status quo.  Meanwhile, although a Hillary Clinton appointment to replace Scalia could shift the balance on the Court, Feldman opines that “it isn’t good politics for her to trumpet a liberal transformation of the court when she’s trying to win over the median voter.”

CLIMATE PROTECTION PLAN HANGS BY A THREAD IN FEDERAL COURT:  The Hill reports that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a central feature of  President Obama’s second-term climate agenda, is in the hands of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals after the Supreme Court put its implementation on hold earlier this year.  The Clean Power Plan is often cited as a primary example of the Supreme Court’s, and federal courts’, influence in the environmental arena.  According to The Hill, it’s unclear whether the plan will survive the current federal court scrutiny.  Its implementation was halted in February by a Supreme Court ruling that sent it down to the lower court for review; the Court’s action was among the last joined by Justice Antonin Scalia before his death days later.

With Debate Looming, Analysts Ponder SCOTUS’s Future

n-SUPREME-COURT-large570SUPREME COURT HANGING IN THE BALANCE: With the first presidential debate set for tonight, court-watchers’ focus on how the election will affect the Supreme Court is intensifying. In a piece for The New York Times,  Adam Liptak notes:  “In Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s 11 years on the Supreme Court, his unfolding legacy has been marked by a debate over whether his very occasional liberal votes in major cases were the acts of a statesman devoted to his institution, a traitor to his principles or the legal umpire he said he aspired to be at his confirmation hearings. This election could settle that debate.”  Meanwhile, Jeffrey Toobin posts a comprehensive analysis of a Supreme Court “In the balance” at The New Yorker, noting, “The Supreme Court has leaned right for decades. Is that about to change?”

SCOTUS WEIGHING JOHN DOE CASE:  Also at The New Yorker, Lincoln Caplan has a piece on why the Supreme Court should take up the appeal of a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling halting the so-called “John Doe” investigation involving Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election. Caplan writes: “The case is about the seemingly peripheral issue of judicial recusal. But it brings together two of the biggest disrupters of American democracy today: the surge, after the Citizens United decision struck down limits on independent spending, of private influence in elections; and the politicization of the highest courts in many states. For the past eight years, Wisconsin has been a laboratory testing the toxicity of this combination.”






Sotomayor Sees ‘Injustice’ From Inadequate Legal Representation

SOTOMAYOR ON LEGAL REPRESENTATION: Addressing law students in Wisconsin, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor voiced concern that in some areas of the justice system, there is a greater need to ensure adequate legal representation for people using the courts.

“For me, the lack of legal representation in some critical areas is one of the things we don’t do well,” she said, according to The (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel. “We have an unequal representation of people in our court system. And that does I think provide an injustice that we have to pay more attention to.”

More specifics were reported by The (Madison) Capital Times: “Making the system fair also may demand publicly paid legal representation — already provided for criminal charges — be extended to civil matters such as those adjudicated in family court, and for criminal appellate issues, Sotomayor said.”

ELECTION DAY AND SUPREME COURT: “This November, we all need to be Supreme Court voters,” wrote Michele L. Jawando, vice president for Legal Progress Action at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, in The (Idaho Falls) Post Register. While Americans casting their votes on Election Day will confront many issues, “What happens with those issues often depends on who is sitting on the Supreme Court,” she said.

Given the current composition of the court and a vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, “The next president could dramatically change the nature of the U.S. Supreme Court for generations to come,” Jawando wrote.

‘STRAIGHT-TICKET VOTING’: The Supreme Court “refused to revive a Michigan law that barred straight-ticket voting,” a system “in which voters may choose a party’s entire slate with a single notation,” The New York Times reported.

KANSAS COURT ELECTION: An editorial in The New York Times turned a national spotlight on “extremist meddling” by Kansas Republicans seeking “to purge a majority of judges from the State Supreme Court” this fall. “Right-wing politicians who adhere to the fantasy that government is the problem, not the solution, are eager to politicize the courts,” the editorial said. The hot-button issues in the judicial retention (up-or-down) election were recapped in an Associated Press article.

High Court Appears Closely Divided Over Obama Immigration Order

US Supreme CourtHearing arguments in a case from Texas, the Supreme Court’s eight justices seemed perhaps evenly divided on Monday as they sharply questioned President Obama’s executive action to protect as many as five million immigrants in the United States from deportation.

The Washington Post said that “the court’s conservatives and liberals seemed split, and a 4-to-4 tie would leave in place a lower court’s decision that the president exceeded his powers in issuing the directive.”

The case is United States v. Texas, a challenge brought by 26 states. The New York Times reported that it “may produce a significant ruling on presidential power and immigration policy in the midst of a presidential campaign in which both issues have been prominent.” (more…)

Court Upholds One Person, One Vote

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld Texas’ method of counting total population, rather than the number of voters, when redrawing voting districts.

“The decision was a major statement on the meaning of a fundamental principle of the American political system, that of ‘one person one vote,’” The New York Times reported.

USA Today said the system used by Texas is followed in nearly all of the states. Other coverage included Vox, “The Supreme Court just shut down the demographic equivalent of gerrymandering”; Washington Post (blog), “The conservative go-for-broke legal strategy suffers a blow”; and Reuters, “Supreme Court rejects conservative challenge in voting rights case.”

Supreme Court Floats a Compromise. Was it to Avert a Deadlock?

An unusual request by the Supreme Court for parties to a controversial case to respond to a compromise it crafted, along with a deadlocked decision (see Gavel Grab), quickly focused attention on the court’s ability to do its job with only eight members since Justice Antonin Scalia died.

By floating its own compromise regarding the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, The Washington Post said, the court indicated “that it is ready to undertake creative moves to avoid a series of 4-to-4 votes.” With its order in this case and its 4-4 ruling in a union case, “The reality of an ideologically divided, evenly split, one-man-down Supreme Court became apparent,” the Post said.

It did not immediately appear that the political landscape — with Senate Republican leaders opposed to considering President Obama’s court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in an election year — was (more…)

A 4-4 Deadlock at Supreme Court Hands Unions a Victory

Shorthanded after the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court divided 4-4 on Tuesday and handed a significant victory to public unions, although at the time of oral argument it had appeared ready to decide the other way, The New York Times reported.

In the case from California, an appeals court said public school teachers who declined to join unions still must pay fees for union activity, such as negotiating for higher wages and benefits. The Supreme Court said it affirmed the ruling by an equally divided court; the decision thus sets no precedent. The teachers who brought the court case contended their speech rights were violated.

“It was the most important case yet in which the eight-member court was unable to reach a decision,” The Washington Post reported. The ruling came Senate Republican leaders maintained their blockade against considering Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the vacancy. (more…)