Is Eight Enough?

fingerpointingThe vacancy on the Supreme Court that materialized with the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia this past February, and endures into the current term that began last week, has Americans perplexed about the kind of Supreme Court we want to have. It also has us revisiting the kind of Supreme Court the U.S. Constitution requires us to have. These distinctly different contemplations, although both deserving of our attention, are all too often mistakenly confused as being the same concern.

Given the choice, I favor a nine-member Court. The downside of an even-numbered bench has been evident to most Americans as recently as the last term when important decisions about executive powers, immigration, and unions were left with 4-4 deadlocks for us to see the obvious benefit a ninth justice on the bench would have provided.

Yet just because I would rather have—and simple math would prefer—a fully-staffed Supreme Court doesn’t mean the Constitution requires it. Continue reading

NC voter laws ruled intentionally discriminatory by 4th Circuit

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 1.51.04 PMThis is a follow up on N.C. State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory

African-American voters in North Carolina were “targeted with almost surgical precision” by the North Carolina legislature, according to a three-judge panel for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote the opinion dismantling, point by point, all the provisions rushed through the Legislature in the days immediately following the landmark voting rights decision in Shelby County v. Holder on June 25, 2013.

In the Shelby decision, the Supreme Court released states that, after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, were required to clear all changes to voting policies and practices with either a federal court or the Department of Justice. Former slave states, where Jim Crow laws abound that disenfranchised minority voters for decades, were released from the pre-clearance requirement and allowed to make whatever changes they wanted to voting policies. States like North Carolina and Texas moved immediately – within days – to initiate laws increasing restrictions on voter access. Continue reading

Backsliding to disenfranchisement: How Justice Ginsburg’s Shelby warning may come true

Backsliding.

Justice Ginsburg warned of this in her famous Shelby County v. Holder dissent in 2013. Eliminating Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the pre-clearance requirement for states that had a history of suppressing minority votes, would result in a return to racial discrimination and disenfranchisement, Ginsburg said. Prior to Shelby, states with such records had to get approval from either the Department of Justice or the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals before changing any voting laws under Section 5 of the VRA.

Was her warning heeded?

Not in North Carolina.

This is a state that didn’t even wait to read her dissent, or likely the entirety of the majority decision, as they radically changed voting laws on the same day Shelby was decided. Continue reading

The other three SCOTUS cases you should be watching this week

This Supreme Court term, there is something for everyone in the remaining decisions the Justices will deliver in the next few days. I would argue this term there are more “big” and mid-level cases that will affect the widest and most diverse audience of stakeholders in years: women, immigrants, college applicants, (alleged) drunk drivers, police, and skeptical voters. The issues challenged in these cases spotlight timeless debates over states’ rights, political corruption, and the limits of executive action. These topics cut across scores of different constituencies, and the decisions – assuming the Court avoids splitting 4-4 – will significantly impact Americans on both national and state levels.

If you know about the first three big cases it’s likely because those are the ones that got the most media attention. And while immigration, affirmative action, and abortion undoubtedly impact millions of people, so do the last three. Ask anyone if they think low voter turnout has something to do with distrust of elected officials, if they’re afraid of police encounters, or if they know someone who’s been pulled over for suspicion of or received a DUI? Likely they’ll answer “yes” to one, two, or all three. These cases aren’t glamorous. They’re not the ones protesters come out for. But they highlight pedestrian cases that most people have or will experience at some point in their lives, or, if nothing else, care deeply about when watching Law & Order.

Three mid-level cases you should watch this week: Continue reading

SCOTUS Spotlight: Electoral corruption & bribery

The timeliness of McDonnell v. U.S. is not lost on this citizen of Illinois, where we should probably consider putting links to contribute to our candidates’ legal defense funds on our ballots. That’d be funny if their chances of going to jail for ethics violations or corruption weren’t actually greater than fifty percent. Four out of the last seven governors have been imprisoned. But at least our criminal governors make it easy on the courts! Dear Children’s Memorial Hospital, I won’t release your $8 million of state funding until you give me a $50,000 campaign contribution. Sincerely, Rod Blagojevich.

But what would it mean if for “the first time in our history that a public official has been convicted of corruption despite never agreeing to put a thumb on the scales of any government decision.” Do we have to wait for them to put a thumb on the scale in order for it to be punishable corruption? Today’s case shines a spotlight on former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell and could serve as an opportunity for the Supreme Court to send a bold warning to elected officials everywhere that quid pro quo corruption need not be as heavy handed as a thumb on a scale. Continue reading

Republican Senators Are Rolling the Dice and the Odds Are Not In Their Favor

By Elliot Louthen, contributor

The GOP half of the Judiciary Committee announced earlier this week that they will not engage in any aspect of the nomination process to fill Justice Scalia’s seat. Though this is not entirely surprising — hearings were unlikely from the outset let alone an actual vote on a nominee — it is bewildering to consider the leverage Republicans are leaving on the table. Even more concerning for the average party member, this decision seems like a cleavage between the party’s conservative platform and the party’s political fortunes.

By blocking any Obama nominee, the apparent GOP strategy is to hedge their bets on winning the presidency, thereby ensuring a champion of conservativism fills Scalia’s vacant seat. A major problem with this strategy, however, is that their prospects of taking the White House in 2016 are seemingly growing slimmer and slimmer. Continue reading

So long, Justice Scalia

Cara L. Gallagher, Weekend Contributor

Last week, the internet of trolls solace public opinion melted for a few days grounding every other political story to a halt. Justice Scalia suddenly died and a confluence of voices, both allies and foes, shouted loud enough to practically awake him from the dead. Once they quieted, the memorials began. Moments and stories told by those who knew him, Scalia “best-of” lists, and the resurrection of “argle-bargle” – Just when I thought we’d finally buried that phrase – dominated the news cycles, stealing the spotlight from Donald Trump. So many charming Scalia moments pointed to the complexity of a man I myself had complex feelings about.

My Scalia moment happened in July of 2012, my first year working at C-SPAN. My boss and mentor, Brian Lamb, knew my affinity for the Supreme Court and invited me to join him at the taping of a Q&A interview with the Justice, who’d just written his book Reading Law. After the interview, Justice Scalia’s handler shot me daggers as I hovered outside the green room. Had Mr. Lamb not intervened by introducing us, the picture below would never have happened. Here’s how one of my greatest celebrity moments went down:

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Continue reading