ACSBlog

  • September 23, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Liz Kennedy, Counsel, Demos

    Today is National Voter Registration Day. Almost 2,000 partners around the country - student groups, educational institutions, unions, faith groups, civic leagues, libraries, worker centers, and elections agencies - are promoting opportunities for individuals to register to vote. Volunteers will spend hundreds of hours doing face-to-face outreach, technology will help voters find registration drives or, if available, register online, and tens of thousands of voters are expected to register to vote in a single day. This is a wonderful testament to civic organization in America.

    But even with these laudable efforts, too many unnecessary bureaucratic barriers block the ability of eligible persons to register to vote. Our voter registration systems are outdated and poorly functioning. Many today will ask their fellow citizens “would you like to register to vote?” but we should also ask why we don’t yet have a system of universal voter registration in 2014, when we have an urgent need and the technical capabilities to make it a reality.

    Universal or automatic voter registration shifts the burden of voter registration from the individual to the state. A democratic government has a duty to facilitate and promote civic participation, since it receives its legitimacy through the consent of the governed. A universal voter registration program ensures that eligible persons can exercise their freedom to vote unless they opt-out, rather than putting the burden on the majority of citizens who want to and do participate in the political life of the country to opt-in. That is the correct balance to strike in a democracy.

    Our electoral process serves crucial functions, including choosing elected representatives, setting the course for public policy, and allowing individuals to express their views on the public issues that impact their lives, families, and communities. But elections don’t serve these purposes well if we don’t all participate, and we have a voter participation problem in this country. In 2012, almost 61 million Americans voted for Mitt Romney, and almost 66 million Americans voted for President Obama, but over 90 million eligible American citizens did not vote at all.

  • September 23, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports on the efforts of some of the best lawyers in the country to argue the next same-sex marriage case in front of the Supreme Court.

    A new report from Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Nicole Fortier, and Inimai M. Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice argues for new core goals for federal prosecutors.

    Sarah Stillman writes in The New Yorker on civil forfeiture and cases of police stripping citizens of their cash and cars even when not charged with a crime.  

    The Supreme Court will have three more chances to rule on religion cases in the new term, reports Richard Wolf in USA Today.

    Lyle Denniston examines what would happen if the Supreme Court declines to take up a same-sex marriage case this term in the Constitution Daily

  • September 22, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Walter Shapiro argues for the Brennan Center blog that the U.S. Court for the Seventh Circuit’s decision on the Wisconsin voter ID law is judicially ordered chaos.

    In the Los Angeles Times, David G. Savage discusses Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s difficult retirement choice.

    The Economist’s Democracy in America blog explains the unlikely alliance of pro-choicers and pro-lifers in the Young v. United Parcel Service case.

    Lisa W. Foderaro reports in The New York Times on the People’s Climate March protest in New York City.

    ACS Board Member, Judge Nancy Gertner (Ret.) writes in the National Law Journal on U.S. District Judge John Bates’ letter to the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committee.

    Zephyr Teachout argues in Salon that through decisions such as Citizens United, the Supreme Court has legalized corruption. 

  • September 19, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law, @atibaellis. This post is part of our 2014 Constitution Day symposium.

    On September 17, 1787, the framers signed the U.S. Constitution. The document they approved 227 years ago is a work of genius as it provided a democratic republic that has endured economic turmoil, mass insurrection, and disasters of various sorts -- forces that have toppled other democracies.  The U.S. Constitution, the oldest enduring written constitution in the world today, has endured and preserved democracy based upon rule of law.

    Although one might point to the advantages and disadvantages of federalism, the dynamics of enumerated powers, or the political compromises that undergird separation of powers as powerful tactics the Constitution deploys, it is not in any of these mechanisms where the genius of the Constitution lies. Its true genius is its mechanism to allow we the people to reinvent our democracy as our times and ethics demand. It is this power of reinvention that has allowed our constitution to endure and matter to the world. 

    This power of democratic transition is best illustrated in the way our Constitution has been reinvented, over time, from a document that enshrined inequality to one that strives for equality. The Constitution of 1787 reflected and implemented a social theory we would not recognize or sanction today. The Constitution endorsed states’ rights (though this name would not be invented until a century later to protect slavery) and left it to the states to structure the social relations of the nation. Thus, despite a Bill of Rights that protected the rights of citizens, the Constitution allowed the chattel slavery of Africans to endure in the United States when it was being abolished in other parts of the world. The Constitution allowed women to be treated as property. Despite our hymns to constitutional genius, the lived experience of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was rooted in inequality.

    To focus merely on the genius of the original document (and as a consequence, elevate those times and those founders) is to fixate on an originalism that suffered subordination and endorsed a hierarchy. And, as our experience with the Civil War illustrates, the country came within a hair’s breath of being dismantled by faction and racism due to an unwillingness to recreate the United States.

    Yet our Constitution endures because it has embedded within it mechanisms by which our evolving notions of equality and justice may receive constitutional protection from the tyranny of caste and status. Though volumes have been written on this topic, it is worth remembering in our celebration of the Constitution that the amendment process and the wisdom of legislators and judges who sought to make manifest the idea of equality helped to preserve the Union at its most imperiled points. One needs only recount the work of Reconstruction, the long march from segregation to Civil Rights, the movement towards women’s equality, and our modern day same-sex marriage cases to see how the long arc of equality has progressed. And all of these changes have been enabled through an American constitutionalism that, in the words of Harper v. Virginia, is not shackled to the political theory of a particular era.

  • September 19, 2014

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    Over the August recess President Obama announced several new judicial nominations:

    John Robert Blakey, to the Northern District of Illinois;

    Jorge Luis Alonso, to the Northern District of Illinois;

    Jeanne E. Davidson, to the U.S. Court of International Trade; and

    Haywood Stirling Gilliam, to the Northern District of California.

    On Monday, September 8 the Senate returned from recess and the past two weeks saw a flurry of judicial nominations activity. On Monday, September 8, the Senate voted 97-0 to confirm Jill Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit (Ga.). Pryor was a partner at Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore LLP in Atlanta. The seat she filled had been vacant since August of 2010. A New York Times article discussed President Obama’s legacy of having re-shaped the appellate bench.