• February 5, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    The United Nations has declared abortion a human right, crucial to achieving gender equality worldwide, reports Lauren Barbato at Bustle.

    On Wednesday, Google Fiber announced a partnership with ConnectHome, an initiative by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the White House, to provide public housing residents with free gigabit connections, expanding access to the Internet for low-income individuals, writes Mark Bergen at Recode.

    Current New Mexico law mandates a life sentence for offenders convicted of three separate violent felonies. In a move toward harsher penalties and away from national trends, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed a bill that would increase the number of felonies that qualify as “strikes” under this “three-strike” law, says P.R. Lockhart at The American Prospect.

    Ellen Nakashima and Andrea Peterson at The Washington Post discuss developing negotiations between the United States and the United Kingdom that would enable the British government to service wiretap orders on American communications firms for criminal and national security investigations involving its citizens. This agreement is intended to be reciprocal.

    At Race and the Law Prof Blog, Craig L. Jackson criticizes the United States Constitution’s lack of enumerated social rights, stating “in effect, our constitution is an incomplete document.” 

  • February 5, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Kent Greenfield, a Professor of Law and the Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College, where he is the faculty adviser for the ACS student chapter. He is the author of the forthcoming Corporations Are People Too (And They Should Act Like It). Follow him on Twitter @Kentgreenfield1

    If government employees can object to funding a union’s political activity, should shareholders have the right to object to a corporation’s? The Supreme Court has answered no, and a new case risks making the gap between the rights of dissenting employees and dissenting shareholders more stark.

    But there is good reason to treat shareholders and employees differently.

    The tension arises from two lines of free speech cases. One protects corporations’ right to spend money in elections while another allows government employees to opt out of their share of union dues. These cases have little in common at first glance. But the corporate spending cases assume that shareholders have no right to object, while the union cases enshrine the right to object as a constitutional value.

    In January, the Court heard arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. That case is a challenge to the 1977 case Abood v Detroit Board of Education, which allowed unions to charge employees they represent a fair share of the costs of collective bargaining. Objecting employees can refuse to fund a union’s political involvement, the Court said, but had to pay for non-political activity. Court watchers believe the justices will use Friedrichs to expand government employees’ rights to object to include the non-political.

    Meanwhile, the Court’s protections of corporate speech pay little heed to the interests of dissenting shareholders. In Citizens United v Federal Election Commission six years ago (how time flies!), the Court rejected the argument that shareholders should be protected from corporate spending with which they disagreed. “Allowing government to use the excuse of protecting shareholder rights to stifle the speech of private, voluntary organizations undermines the First Amendment,” said the Court. Critics are already blasting the Court’s apparent inconsistency. Corporations can engage in political activities without concern for the views of shareholders, but unions must offer objecting employees an opt-out from paying even for collective bargaining?

    But it is a false analogy.

    Let me be clear. Overruling Abood would be a mistake, and Citizens United was a blunder. But shareholders and employees are not the same.

    Unions are associations, united by a common and collective purpose. The union itself has a legal duty to represent the interests of its members and others in the bargaining unit. And the union is financed by contributions from its members and others who benefit from its representation.

  • February 4, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    In The Atlantic, William Barber and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove explain how the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder ushered in a new era of Jim Crow laws– “Jim Crow, Esquire.”

    The Editorial Board at the Los Angeles Times urges Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act, “which would automatically subject a state to pre-clearance if 15 or more voting-rights violations had occurred there over the last 25 years (or 10 violations if one was committed by the state government itself).”

    Many residents of Flint have justifiably stopped paying water bills, and a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of Flint water customers seeks $150 million in refunds and damages, reports Steve Carmody at NPR.

    Nina Frank at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights blasts the myth of black criminality and says this common misconception “contributes to the devaluation of black lives as well as the exclusion of black men and women from all sectors of the workforce.”

  • February 3, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Michael A. Caddell, lead counsel, Caddell & Chapman; Arthur Bryant, chairman, Public Justice 

    *This post originally appeard on Public Justice Blog.  

    Over 320,000 homes completely re-plumbed, repaired, and inspected at no cost to the homeowner. A 96% homeowner satisfaction rate. Over $1.14 billion spent in settlement, with 92% paid directly to homeowner relief and only 8% consumed by administrative costs and attorneys fees. Fifteen years of court-supervised administration without a single instance of court intervention.

    Sound too good to be true? That is the power of a really good consumer class action–in this case the Polybutylene (PB) plumbing class action spearheaded by Public Justice in 1993 and achieving settlement in 1995.

    The story begins much earlier. In the 1970s, Shell Oil Company and Hoechst Celanese were exploring uses for plastic by-products of their petrochemical refining processes. One such by-product for Shell was Polybutylene, while Celanese had a somewhat similar by-product, acetal, marketed as Celcon. Because of their differences at the chemical level, the polybutylene resin generated by Shell was sold to pipe manufacturers for extrusion as home plumbing pipe, and Celcon was marketed by Celanese as a raw material for manufacturing fittings for plastic plumbing systems.

    From 1978 until 1995, several million homes were plumbed with polybutylene, touted as “the best thing since sliced bread.” PB pipe was cheap to create, cheap to install, and believed to be extremely resistant to traditional wear and tear, unaffected by corrosion, and easy to maintain and replace.

  • February 3, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer who won a promise from Lyft Inc. to change the way the company treats its drivers, is now challenging Uber’s arbitration clause in federal court, write Joel Rosenblatt and Robert Burnson in BloombergBusiness.

    At the Huffington Post, Naa Oyo A. Kwate provides commentary on the racial injustice underlining the Flint water contamination crisis, noting that “racial inequalities in money, power and human capital make it more difficult for Black residents to mobilize their own personal public health infrastructures.”

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held Tuesday in Hayes v. Delbert Services Corp. that the drafter of an arbitration clause cannot purport to eliminate federal rights altogether. Leah Nicholls discusses the details of the case and the ramifications for consumers at Public Justice.

    An annual report released by the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School found that a record breaking number of prisoners were exonerated in 2015, report Ari Melber and Marti Hause at NBC News. Approximately 28 percent of all exonerations last year came from a single office, Harris County, Texas, where prosecutors have prioritized vigorous review of convictions.