Tag Archives: United States Supreme Court

The Effects of Citizens United Need to End

It’s almost a year until the next election, and Super PACs and special interest groups are already airing ads all over the country. As we inch closer to election day, they’re going to get worse.

Citizens United is threatening to reduce our elections to a game of “who has the biggest wallet.”

Our campaign finance system can’t take another hit — and with the McCutcheon case looming, ready to strike another blow to our campaign finance safeguards, we all need to take action. Tell Congress to take action to reverse the effects of Citizens United.

The only way we can win this fight is if we continue to work together.


Filed under Activism, Politics

Outside Spending Floods Judicial Elections at Record Levels

U.S. Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C. ...

U.S. Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C. (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Special-interest groups and political parties spent an unprecedented $24.1 million on television ads and election materials in state court races in 2011-2012, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The report, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts, provides a comprehensive look at 2011-2012 state Supreme Court elections. In the first election cycle since Citizens United, independent spending helped fuel the costliest election cycle for TV spending in judicial election history and posed new threats to fair and impartial justice.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Non-candidate groups (including political parties) pumped in 43% of all funds spent on state high court elections, compared to 22% in the last presidential election cycle. Super PACs and other outside groups funneled big spending into some state judicial elections for the first time.
  • 35% of all funds spent on state high court races came from ten deep-pocketed special interest groups and political parties, compared to 21%, coming from the top ten “super spenders” in 2007-08.
  • A record $33.7 million was spent on Supreme Court campaign TV ads, far exceeding the previous record of $26.6 million in 2007-08. Negative TV ads aired in at least ten states.
  • National politics invaded judicial races in 2011-12. In Iowa, TV ads referenced marriage equality; in Florida, the federal Affordable Care Act; and in Wisconsin, collective bargaining rights.

The report also found legislative attacks on merit-based systems for judge selection, including anti-retention campaigns in Florida and Iowa. Florida experienced record spending by all sides when three state Supreme Court justices stood for retention. On Election Day 2012, however, voters retained the three Florida justices and a challenged justice in Iowa. Voters also rejected ballot measures in three states to give politicians more power over the courts.

The report warns of future attacks on reforms designed to protect fair courts and harmful spending trends. According to the report, “Perhaps most disturbing of all, … is that while independent spending on state court races ballooned in 2011–12, it still has room to grow. …[F]uture years may see an even greater expansion in independent spending by interest groups and parties in judicial elections.”

The New Politics of Judicial Elections reports, produced biennially, have monitored election spending and other threats to the impartiality of state courts since 2000.

Read the New Politics report here.

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Filed under National, Politics, Sick Sad World

Scalia Fails to Name the Nine Supreme Court Justices

Antonin Scalia - Caricature

Antonin Scalia - Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia struggled to recall the names of all nine active Supreme Court justices while playing a trivia game Thursday, sources confirmed.

“Let’s see, there’s Breyer, um…Ginsburg. Pretty sure that’s one. And, uh, there’s that guy with the bow tie and the pinched face,” said Justice Scalia, noting that his difficulty in answering stemmed largely from the significant turnover on the nation’s highest court since he memorized the names of its members in high school. “I can picture him in the photo, but what’s his name? Oh, I remember Clarence Thomas, of course, because of the Anita Hill thing, and then there’s that Mexican woman with the name that’s impossible to pronounce. And…Kerrigan?”

After initially declining offers of a hint, Justice Scalia reportedly caved in and asked if someone could just give him the first couple letters of each justice’s last name.

Via The Onion. Happy April 1!

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Supreme Court Has Record Amicus Briefs in Health Law Case

U.S. Supreme Court building.

U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Supreme Court has three days this week scheduled to hear the arguments about President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care law.

Everyone wants a say in the arguments.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has helped lead opposition to the law, has been hosting moot court sessions to prepare lawyers involved in the case. Advocates on all sides of the issues are planning rallies. Many groups, like the American Constitution Society, are setting up war rooms and daily briefings on the Supreme Court steps.

A record 136 organizations  have filed amicus curiae or “friend of the court” briefs to urge the court to either strike down or uphold the law. The groups filing amicus briefs include the usual heavy hitters like the AARP and obscure groups that have rarely, if ever, been involved in a Supreme Court case.

Economists are wading into the debate with briefs that offer clashing views of the benefits and harms that they believe the health care law brings.

Catholic and anti-abortion groups are opposing it because of concerns about federal financing for abortion services.

Massachusetts, which approved a similar insurance model under Governor Mitt Romney, argues in its amicus brief that its experience “confirms that Congress had a rational basis” to impose minimum insurance requirements.

Via The New York Times.

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Filed under Activism, Law, Sidebar, The Supremes

Ohio Farmer’s Case at Center of Health Care Battle

If the Obama administration persuades the Supreme Court to uphold its health care law, it will be thanks to a seventy-year-old precedent involving an Ohio farmer.

Roscoe Filburn sued to overturn a 1938 federal law that said how much wheat he could grow on his farm and made him pay a penalty for every extra bushel.

The 1942 decision against him, Wickard v. Filburn, is the basis for the Supreme Court’s modern understanding of the scope of federal power. It is the contested ground on which the health care case has been fought in the lower courts, and it is likely to be crucial to the votes of Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, who are widely seen as open to persuasion by either side.

Supporters and opponents of the health care law say the decision helps their side.

To hear the Obama administration tell it, the Filburn decision illustrates how much leeway the federal government has under the Constitution’s commerce clause to regulate the choices people make in matters affecting the economy. If the government can make farmers choose between growing crops and paying a penalty, it can tell people that they must get health insurance or pay a penalty.

Opponents of the law say the case sets the outer limit of federal power, one the health care law exceeds. It is one thing to encourage farmers to buy wheat by punishing them for growing their own. It is another to require people to buy insurance or face a penalty, as the health care law does.

Mr. Filburn argued, as do opponents of the health care overhaul, that he was challenging a law that was not authorized by the Constitution, which allows Congress to regulate commerce “among the several states.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling against him was unanimous.

“Even if appellee’s activity be local,” Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote, “and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.”

The decisions of millions of people to go without health insurance have a significant effect on the national economy by raising other people’s rates and forcing hospitals to pay for the emergency care of those who cannot afford it.

The administration has insisted that the overhaul law is a modest assertion of federal power in comparison to the law Mr. Filburn challenged. “The constitutional foundation for Congress’s action is considerably stronger” for the health care law than for the law that the Supreme Court endorsed in 1942, the administration said in a brief.

Opponents of the law take the opposite view. It is true that the federal government may “regulate bootleggers because of their aggregate harm to the interstate liquor market,” Mr. Carvin wrote in a brief, but the government “may not conscript teetotalers merely because conditions in the liquor market would be improved if more people imbibed.”

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SCOTUS Strikes Down Law Keeping Sick Animals Out of Food Supply

The Supreme Court has ruled that slaughterhouse regulation is up to the federal government and struck down a law requiring euthanization of livestock too sick to walk.

The Justices agreed with the National Meat Association that California’s 2009 law violates a federal statute that sets national standards for meat safety.

Justice Elena Kagan said the Federal Meat Inspection Act is clear. FMIA “regulates slaughterhouses’ handling and treatment of nonambulatory pigs from the moment of their delivery through the end of the meat production process,” she wrote. California’s law “endeavors to regulate the same thing, at the same time, in the same place — except by imposing different requirements. The FMIA expressly preempts such a state law.”

California passed its law after the Humane Society of the United States released a video of “downer” livestock being shocked and dragged at a slaughterhouse.

The law bans slaughterhouses from buying, butchering or selling downer livestock for human consumption and calls for immediate euthanization of the animals.

FMIA, however, allows federal inspectors to decide whether a nonambulatory animal is fit for human consumption.

The number of pigs becoming nonambulatory after delivery to the slaughterhouse is estimated at 100,000 to 1 million of the 100 million swine slaughtered each year.

California had contended that its law did not run afoul of the federal regulations because it was removing livestock before the federal requirements kicked in.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, had upheld the law.

Wrote Justice Kagan: “The FMIA’s scope includes not only ‘animals that are going to be turned into meat,’ but animals on a slaughterhouse’s premises that will never suffer that fate,” such as diseased hogs.

Via The Washington Post.

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Filed under Health, Sick Sad World, The Supremes

BREAKING: SCOTUS Rules for Man with Tracking Device on Car

U.S. Supreme Court building.

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously for a drug suspect who had an electronic tracking device attached to his car by police, who did not first get an extended warrant.

The Justices said secretly placing the device and monitoring his movements for weeks constituted a government “search,” and the man’s constitutional rights were violated.

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SCOTUS Rejects Texas Map Favoring Democrats

English: The United States Supreme Court, the ...

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The Supreme Court on Friday rejected elections maps drawn by a federal court in Texas that had favored Democratic candidates there.

The unanimous decision said that redistricting is a job for elected state officials, and that the lower court had not paid enough deference to maps drawn by the State Legislature, which Republicans control. The justices sent the case back to the lower court.

The maps to be drawn by the lower court could play a role in determining control of the House of Representatives. Democrats need twenty-five seats to take back the House from Republican control. Experts in election administration said the new maps could influence outcomes in perhaps three Texas districts.

The changes to the electoral maps were required because Texas grew by more than four million people in the last decade. The growth entitled the state to four more House seats.

Justice Clarence Thomas concurred only in the result and said he would have instructed the elections to go ahead under the Legislature’s maps.

The justices acted eleven days after arguments. Primaries in Texas had been moved back to April. For those primaries to go ahead, an answer was needed by February 1.

Much of the language in the Supreme Court’s opinion was conditional, and its criticism of the lower court was mostly indirect.

Via The New York Times.

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Montana: “Citizens United” Rule Doesn’t Apply Here

Public views of the Citizens United v. Federal...

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The Montana Supreme Court has put itself on a collision course with the U.S. Supreme Court by upholding a state law that bans corporate spending in local political campaigns.

The law, which was passed by Montana voters in 1912 to combat Gilded Age corporate control over much of Montana’s government, states that a “corporation may not make … an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, struck down a similar federal statute, holding that independent electoral spending by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” that such laws were enacted to combat.

That reasoning — described by the Citizens United dissenters as a “crabbed view of corruption” — compelled twenty-three of the twenty-four states with spending bans to stop enforcing their restrictions, according to Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Montana, however, stood by its 1912 law.

By a 5-2 vote on Friday, the Montana Supreme Court declined to recognize the common understanding that Citizens United bars all laws limiting independent electoral spending. Chief Justice Mike McGrath, writing on behalf of the majority, called on the history of the state law to show that corporate money can give rise to corruption.

McGrath’s opinion in Western Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General harkens back to the turn of the twentieth century, when Montana’s “Copper Kings” competed “for political and economic domination” so effectively that by the time the Montana voters banned corporate spending in a voter initiative, “the State of Montana and its government were operating under a mere shell of legal authority.” One such Copper King, wrote Mark Twain, was “said to have bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment.”

Paul S. Ryan, associate legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, characterized the Montana Supreme Court’s reliance on factual findings culled from a century of state history as “an antidote to the crabbed view of corruption” adopted in Citizens United. Nevertheless, most observers do not expect the U.S. Supreme Court accepting that antidote. The ruling in Citizens United that independent spending does not give rise to corruption introduced a rule that no reality can overcome as long as the decision’s five-justice majority remains on the Court.

Dissenting state Justice Beth Baker wrote that Montana “made no more compelling a case than that painstakingly presented in the 90-page dissenting opinion of Justice [John Paul] Stevens and emphatically rejected by the majority in Citizens United.”

Via HuffPo.


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SCOTUS Will Hear Texas Congressional District Case

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The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear an appeal from Texas officials over the state’s controversial redistricting plan. The justices will hear the case on an expedited basis on January 9.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an emergency “application” last week with the high court, saying a map approved by a federal panel in San Antonio is “fatally flawed.” The court-drawn map was imposed after Democrats and minority groups in Texas challenged the original plan approved by the GOP-led state legislature.

The court-drawn map would increase the number of districts dominated by minorities, especially Hispanics. Texas is among several Southern states required under the Voting Rights Act to have any changes to voting laws approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

All states are required to redo their voting boundaries after the recently completed nationwide census, conducted once every ten years. Texas is getting four new congressional seats after the latest census showed its population grew by 4 million people. The plan drafted by the three-judge panel would give minorities the majority in three of those congressional districts.

“Ninety percent of the growth in this state in the last decade was minority growth,” said Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democratic state representative. “Sixty-five percent of that alone, Latino. So you would expect these new congressional districts would reflect the minority populations that created the opportunity.” Mr. Fischer leads the Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the key plaintiff in the lawsuit against the legislature’s original map.

Under state rules, redistricting plans approved by the legislature can be challenged in court, with judges having the power to craft alternate maps. Mr. Abbott said the federal court’s plan is an unconstitutional intrusion into the legislative process.

The state’s Republican governor, Presidential candidate Rick Perry, supported the map passed by the Legislature, but has not signed it into law.

The court-approved plan in Texas will stay in effect until all the legal challenges are exhausted.

The high court appeal is Perry v. Perez (11A520).

Via CNN.

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