“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 →
“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 →
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
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 →
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 Timesnoted, 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 →
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 →
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 Reutersnoted, 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.
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 →
Wisconsin’s voter ID law may have suppressed a stunning 200,000 votes in the 2016 presidential election, a study shown exclusively to TheNation 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 TheNation‘s Ari Berman,the study found: Continue reading →
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.