ACSBlog

  • April 18, 2014

    TPM’s Brendan James notes a recent study from Princeton on the state of American democracy. “The central point that emerges from our research,” the study’s authors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page write, “is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

    The U.S. Department of Justice is requesting that Texas legislators provide documents that "may shed light on the state’s motivation for enacting the 2011 congressional redistricting plans.” Writing for Legal Times, Todd Ruger discusses Perez v. Perry, an on-going case that has the DOJ addressing the “gutted key provision of the voting rights law” in Texas.

    Mississippi recently passed religious freedom legislation that allows businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples. Now, more than 500 businesses are joining together to make it clear that their doors are open to everyone. Adam Serwer at MSNBC reports on the “If You’re Buying, We’re Selling Campaign.”

    At SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston breaks down SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories and its implications on the “constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage.”

  • April 17, 2014

    by ACS Staff

    New laws throughout the country are restricting access to abortion clinics. In 2013, “22 US states adopted 70 different restrictions on abortion, including late-abortion bans, doctor and clinic regulations, limits on medication abortions, and bans on insurance coverage.” Writing for The Guardian, Erika L. Sánchez explains why those who can’t reverse Roe v.  Wade are “focusing on generating enough red tape to shut down as many abortion facilities as possible.”
     
    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is preparing for oral argument in a case challenging Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban. Similar to Utah’s controversial law at issue in Kitchen v. Herbert, Oklahoma’s law “prohibits gay couples from marrying and prevents the state government from recognizing such unions performed anywhere else.”  Emma Margolin at MSNBC breaks down Bishop v. Oklahoma.  

    Writing for The New York Times, ACS Board Member Linda Greenhouse breaks down McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission and its “indecent burial” of campaign finance.

    Tonight on C-SPAN, Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia will discuss the First Amendment and “the contemporary meaning of freedom.”  

     

  • April 16, 2014
     
    On Tuesday, the New York Police Department 
    announced that it would shut down a special unit that spied on Muslim groups. Known as the “Demographics Unit,” the squad allegedly “mapped communities inside and outside the city, logging where customers in traditional Islamic clothes ate meals and documenting their lunch-counter conversations.” Matt Apuzzo and Joseph Goldstein at The New York Times report on the controversy surrounding the NYPD. 
     
    India’s Supreme Court recently recognized transgender rights. In National Legal Services v. Union of India, the court recognized the pain and struggle felt by the transgender community while stressing the historical importance of the group within India’s diverse culture. Faculty Advisor for the City University of New York School of Law ACS Student Chapter Ruthann Robson writes at Constitutional Law Prof Blog that the court’s decision “not only requires the government to recognize a ‘third gender’… but also directs the government to take positive steps in education, health provisions, and ‘seriously address’ various problems.”
     
    Last week, Utah defended its ban on same-sex marriage before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Kitchen v. Herbert. During the hearings, state officials were “surprisingly straightforward in explaining that its marriage law is based directly upon its citizens’ religious values.” At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights Leslie C. Griffin, Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ACS Student Chapter, argues against religious-based law and why, when it comes to the same-sex marriage debate, “Utah has it backwards.”
     
    Juan Haines at The Life of the Law  describes District Attorney of Santa Clara County Jeff Rosen’s visit to a San Quentin jail where he spoke with inmates about “crime, punishment, rehabilitation, and reentry.” 

     

  • April 15, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel-Washington Office, The Brennan Center for Justice

    The right to vote is at the heart of our American Democracy. Political participation by citizens is the great equalizer – it is the one thing that allows all Americans, no matter how powerful or weak, to make decisions about who will lead and who will help to advance their interests and protect their families. On April 10, Congress took an important step towards ensuring that this crucial right becomes available to even more Americans. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the bi-cameral Democracy Restoration Act (DRA). This important legislation would restore the right to vote in federal elections to the previously incarcerated immediately after their incarceration period is complete. Doing so would enable these individuals to resume the right and responsibility inherent in our role as Americans – asserting our voice through the ballot box.

    The DRA was first introduced in 2009 by former Sen. Russell Feingold. Previously, the bill received strong support, but never quite enough to become a reality. This time, however, is different. There is an enthusiastic and bi-partisan movement underway to reform those parts of our criminal justice system that do not work.  We can see this at the national as well as the state level:  Congress is considering reforming the federal sentencing structure to make sentences fairer in an effort to help eliminate mass incarceration; the Department of Justice has instituted a "Smart on Crime" initiative that would result in better decision-making by prosecutors; and several states, most notably Kentucky, are considering legislation that would restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated in its state prisons. Other states have also made significant changes to their laws to open up the franchise to the formerly incarcerated, most notably in Delaware, and Virginia – a state that had previously been cited as having one of the most draconian felon disfranchisement laws on the books. So the moment to finally restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, who have paid their debts for their crimes, is now.

    Unlike other attempts to restore voting rights, the DRA is the most comprehensive effort. Under the legislation, once an individual has completed his or her incarceration period, their right to vote in federal elections will be automatically restored.  Individuals will not be limited because of any ancillary issues related to their incarceration such as outstanding fees and fines or the fact that they have been released from prison but remain on probation. This is a significant feature of the DRA.

  • April 15, 2014
    At The Daily BeastGeoffrey R. Stone—former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapterexplains why “the press isn’t free if it has fear of prosecution for leaks” and why “it’s time to give reporters the same type of privilege attorneys and doctors have.”
     
    A growing trend of private probation companies is influencing our court and prison systems. Implemented now in ten states, these companies provide an inexpensive means for courts to ensure that fines are paid. However, in what is referred to as the “debtor’s prison,” many of today’s poor are being jailed because they can’t afford to pay their fines. PBS NewsHour reports on this controversial phenomenon which is proving how “without funds to pay fines, minor incidents can mean jail time.” 
     
    Calls for an investigation into the leak of a classified Senate report on torture to McClatchy newspapers continue. The leak came after Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accused the Central Intelligence Agency of illegally searching her committee’s computers. Adam Serwer at MSNBC  has the story.
     
    Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic explains why President Obama is right to speak out on voter suppression, “but he needs to preach to someone other than the converted.”
     
    At Roll Call’s Hawkings Here, David Hawking discusses Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus and whether lying in political campaigns is unconstitutional.