Tag Archives: Supreme Court

#FairMaps: Pro-Democracy Rally as Supreme Court Hears ‘Most Significant’ Voting Rights Case in Decades

“Make no mistake about it: Extreme partisan gerrymandering is corruption. It’s a cancer on democracy. End it now!”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-3-2017

“Gerrymandering has no value in our democracy,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil and Human Rights. (Photo: Janai Nelson/Twitter)

Wielding signs that read “hands off our districts” and “you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your voters,” hundreds of civil rights advocates, lawyers, and lawmakers rallied in the nation’s capital Tuesday as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a landmark redistricting case that poses “the most serious challenge to gerrymandering in modern times.”

The case under consideration—Gill v. Whitford—is the result of a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin voters and the Campaign Legal Center in 2015 alleging that Republican-drawn state district lines violated the rights of Democratic voters. In 2016, a federal court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, arguing that the GOP’s district maps amounted to “an aggressive partisan gerrymander” and ordered the lines redrawn.  Continue reading

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Protests and Outrage as Gorsuch Headlines Event at Trump Hotel

Luncheon speech at president-owned luxury hotel decried as “inconsistent with judicial independence and integrity.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-28-2017

“Neil Gorsuch knows where his bread is buttered,” notes Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress. (Photo: Cleanup Carl/Twitter)

Protestors gathered outside Trump International Hotel in Washington Thursday as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the keynote speech at an event hosted by a right-wing advocacy group—a move critics argued crosses fundamental ethical boundaries, given that the venue is currently the subject of numerous emoluments lawsuits that could soon reach the Trump-appointed judge’s desk.

“By headlining this event, Gorsuch will personally enrich the very man who appointed him to his lofty position,” notes Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress. “And he will enable the very mechanism that allows Trump to profit off the presidency.” Continue reading

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‘Downright Unconstitutional’: Gorsuch Slammed for Headlining Event at Trump Hotel

Especially as many Trump decisions are likely soon to reach the court’s docket, a healthy respect for public confidence in the court should have led Justice Gorsuch to demur.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-20-2017

Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, swears in Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch on Monday, April 10, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo: Public domain

In what critics are calling a blatant violation of “basic ethical principles about conflicts of interest,” Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has reportedly agreed to headline the “Defending Freedom Luncheon” next month at the Trump International Hotel, which is the subject of numerous lawsuits that could eventually reach the nation’s highest court.

Legal experts immediately sounded alarm upon learning that Gorsuch is set to be the featured speaker at the event, which is hosted by the conservative group The Fund for American Studies. Continue reading

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Protests in Poland as Right-Wing Ruling Party Dismantles Democracy

‘This is a blatant attack by Poland’s government on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law’

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-21-2017

Protesters across Poland have flooded the streets for the past week, condemning judicial reforms that will give the right-wing ruling party control over judge selections. (Grzegorz Żukowski/Flickr/cc)

Tens of thousands poured into the streets in Poland Thursday night, condemning proposed laws that would dramatically weaken the nation’s judicial system, just two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump visited the country and praised its commitment to freedom and democracy, speaking to “an audience of close to 15,000 enthusiastic, flag-waving Poles—many of them bused in by Poland’s ruling right-wing” party.

The pending judicial reform is just the latest in a series of anti-democratic measures adopted in Poland since the far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in 2015. As the New York Times noted, the party has “increased government control over the news media, cracked down on public gatherings, and restricted the activities of nongovernmental organizations.” It has also limited female reproductive rights. Continue reading

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The Supreme Court, religion and the future of school choice

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The Supreme Court’s decision in the Trinity Lutheran case is blurring the lines between church and state. aradaphotography/Shutterstock.com

John E. Taylor, West Virginia University

The Supreme Court recently decided that Trinity Lutheran Church should be eligible for a Missouri state grant covering the cost of recycled playground surfaces. Though the state originally rejected the church’s application on grounds of separation of church and state, the Supreme Court ruled that this rejection was, in fact, religious discrimination.

The case’s impact will probably reach well beyond playgrounds.

As a scholar of education law, I’ve been following the Trinity Lutheran case and what it could mean for the hottest issue in education: school choice. Where in the past states have decided for themselves whether religious schools are eligible for school vouchers and scholarship tax credits, the Trinity Lutheran decision likely signals that the Supreme Court will soon require states to include religious private schools in their programs. Continue reading

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With Nation’s Attention Elsewhere, Trump Quietly Intensifies War on Workers

Trump has nominated two corporate lawyers to the NLRB as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch gears up to rule on a key labor case

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-28-2017

If Trump’s nominees are confirmed by the Senate, Republicans will control the NLRB for the first time in nearly a decade. (Photo: AFSCME/Twitter)

In a little-discussed move that could spell disaster for unions and workers in the near future and over the long-term, President Donald Trump on Tuesday night announced the nomination of William Emanuel—a lawyer for a firm that represents large corporations—to fill a vacant seat on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Emanuel, as Reuters noted, is a member of the Federalist Society, an ultra-right-wing group of lawyers and donors that has been credited with producing the list of possible Supreme Court nominees the Trump administration flaunted during his presidential campaign.

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Rev. William Barber Says GOP Voter Suppression the ‘Real Hacking’ of US Democracy

“We would not be having this healthcare deconstruction if we had the Voting Rights Act!”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-23-2017

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber. Photo: YouTube

In an effort to bring national attention to “homegrown voter suppression” and to launch a campaign of “moral resistance” against Republican attempts to strip healthcare from millions, Rev. William J. Barber and other faith leaders marched in Washington on Friday just ahead of the anniversary of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Writing for NBC News prior to the march, Barber—a member of the NAACP national board of directors and a key figure in the successful effort to overturn North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered districts—argued that absent deliberate efforts by Republican lawmakers to prevent minorities from voting, a Donald Trump victory “would have never been possible.” Continue reading

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Wisconsin ID Law Kept 200,000 Voters From Polls—And Trump Won by Just 22,748 Votes

‘The lost voters skewed more African-American and more Democrat’

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-9-2017

Wisconsin’s voter ID law may have suppressed a stunning 200,000 votes in the 2016 presidential election, a study shown exclusively to The Nation has revealed, and the law disproportionately kept Democratic and African-American voters from the polls.

President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by a mere 22,748 votes.

The study by Priorities USA, a group affiliated with the Democratic Party, looked at states that had passed strict voter ID laws since the 2012 election, comparing them to states that did not. According to The Nation‘s Ari Berman, the study found: Continue reading

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Neil Gorsuch and the First Amendment: Questions the Senate Judiciary Committee should ask

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Gorsuch meets with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Clay Calvert, University of Florida

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for United States Supreme Court justice nominee Neil Gorsuch are underway. The Conversation

It’s time to consider some key questions about First Amendment speech rights the senators should ask during the constitutionally mandated advice-and-consent process.

These hearings often are contentious. That was the case for Justice Clarence Thomas in the early 1990s. And they surely won’t be a cake walk this time, given Democratic anger over Republican inaction on Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.

The First Amendment questions I’d pose to Gorsuch are critical because the man who nominated him, President Donald J. Trump, bashes the press as “the enemy of the people” yet proclaims no one loves the First Amendment more than he.

An obvious question for Judge Gorsuch is his view of the court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. That five-to-four decision divided sharply along perceived partisan lines. It affected the speech rights of corporations and unions in funding political ads shortly before elections. Committee Democrats no doubt will grill Gorsuch about Citizens United.

As the director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, I would like to suggest at least three other timely and vital questions he should be asked about speech rights – but that I doubt he will face.

Capturing cops on camera in public

The first question I’d pose to Gorsuch involves an issue the Supreme Court has never tackled – does the First Amendment protect a person’s right to record police officers doing their jobs in public places?

It’s a vital question in light of incidents such as the April 2015 shooting in the back of unarmed African-American Walter Scott by white police officer Michael Slager in South Carolina. A video of it was captured on a smartphone by barber Feidin Santana while walking to work. It was key evidence in Slager’s murder trial – which ended with a hung jury.

Without guidance from the Supreme Court about recording cops in public venues, lower courts have had to sort it out for themselves.

Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded in Turner v. Driver that “First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.” That’s a positive step in terms of creating a constitutional right to record cops within the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. But just what constitutes a “reasonable” restriction is extremely vague and problematic, especially because judges usually defer to officers’ judgments.

Worse still, some courts haven’t even recognized any First Amendment right to record police.

In the case of Fields v. City of Philadelphia, now under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a federal judge ruled there is no First Amendment right to film police in public spaces unless the person recording does so with the intent of challenging or criticizing police actions. In brief, there is no First Amendment right to neutrally record police as a bystander or journalist in Philadelphia.

Gorsuch thus should be asked: “Do citizens have a First Amendment right to record police doing their jobs in public places and, if there is such a right, what – if any – are the specific limits on that right?”

The right to protest in public places

Trump’s presidency ushers in a new era of confrontational political activism. Protests against Trump and rallies for him are common, with some ending in arrests. Berkeley, California – home of the 1960s free speech movement – saw 10 arrests this month when pro- and anti-Trump individuals clashed.

Gorsuch should be questioned about the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and the limits on that right affecting political demonstrations on public streets, sidewalks and parks. The Supreme Court privileges such “quintessential public forums” for picketing and protests, and it carefully reviews any restrictions imposed there on speech and assembly. Would Gorsuch follow that tradition of protection?

Disturbingly, The New York Times reported earlier this month that lawmakers in more than 15 states are considering bills that would curb, to varying degrees, the right to protest. Some measures, such as Florida Senate Bill 1096, do so by requiring a special event permit be obtained before any protest on a street, thus stifling spontaneous demonstrations that might occur after a controversial executive order or a startling jury verdict.

Requiring the government to grant a permit before one can protest constitutes a prior restraint on speech. Prior restraints, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found, are presumptively unconstitutional.

Gorsuch thus should be asked: “What, if any, limits are there on the First Amendment right to engage in political speech in public spaces, including streets, sidewalks and parks?”

The right to offend

Finally, I’d ask Gorsuch for his views about the First Amendment right to offend. It’s an important topic today for three reasons.

First, protesters may use offensive language to capture attention and show the passion behind their views. The Supreme Court traditionally protects offensive political speech, as it famously did in 1971 in Cohen v. California. There it ruled in favor of Paul Robert Cohen’s First Amendment right to wear a jacket with the words “F— the Draft” in a Los Angeles courthouse hallway.

Second, some believe there’s a pall of political correctness in society, particularly in higher education. Some students may be deterred from using certain language or expressing particular viewpoints for fear they will offend others and thus be punished.

Third, the Supreme Court is set to rule in the coming months in a case called Lee v. Tam. It centers on the power of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny an Asian-American band called The Slants trademark registration over that name because it allegedly disparages Asians. The court heard oral argument in the case in January.

I’d thus ask Gorsuch: “When does offensive expression – in particular, offensive speech on political and social issues – lose protection under the First Amendment?”

Gorsuch already has submitted written answers to the Judiciary Committee on some issues, but not on the questions raised here. These topics – filming cops in public, protesting on streets and sidewalks, and using offensive language – seem especially relevant in a turbulent Trump era.

Clay Calvert, Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Why the Founding Fathers Gave Too Much Power to the Supreme Court

What We the People lost when the Constitution gave monarchical power to a small band of unelected people in robes.

By . Published 12-12-2016 by YES! Magazine

Illustration by Jennifer Luxton.

Illustration by Jennifer Luxton.

President-elect Trump promises to appoint a hard-right conservative to the U.S. Supreme Court, dashing progressive hopes for a liberal court in the foreseeable future. And he may well be appointing at least one other justice.

Progressives are panic-stricken. Conservatives are euphoric. But, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, one thing is certain: The repercussions of the Supreme Court overturning decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges will be palpable, affecting millions of lives.

How did one body of government obtain so much power? Continue reading

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