April 2011

  • April 29, 2011

    In what is being billed as the first direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC opinion, a coalition of groups has come together to help restore Montana’s century-old law against corporate politicking.

    Last fall, a Montana judge invalidated the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, which bans corporations from spending on elections, citing the high court’s Citizens United ruling. Citizens United struck down decades of precedent upholding campaign finance regulations, finding that corporations have free speech rights to funnel corporate dollars into campaign coffers. As noted in this blog post, the Koch brothers, head of Koch industries and prime funders of Tea Party activities, are taking advantage of Citizens United to push their employees to vote for far-right candidates.

    The Montana Attorney General has appealed the decision to the state’s highest court, and today Free Speech for People, a national campaign to overturn Citizens United, along with national and Montana business networks, lodged an amicus brief urging the restoration of the Montana campaign finance law.

    The friend-of-the-court brief in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana blasts the Citizens Union opinion as “an extreme extension of an erroneous corporate rights doctrine that has eroded the First Amendment and the Constitution for the past 30 years.” The brief adds that Citizens United “is contrary not only to our republic principles of government, but also to American principles of free and fair commerce among free people and the States.”

    Jeff Clements, co-founder and general counsel of Free Speech for People and author of the amicus brief, said in a press statement, “Corporations are not people. The Framers understood that. The First Amendment and the Constitution is for the people. We are proud to stand today with the State of Montana to vindicate the Framers’ intent and to defend our democracy.”

    See the coalition’s amicus brief here.

    Clements is also author of the ACS Issue Brief, “Beyond Citizens United v. FEC: Re-Examining Corporate Rights.” Clements also talked with ACSblog about Free Speech for People’s effort to advance a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Watch his interview here.

  • April 29, 2011

    The billionaire brothers, who head of Koch Industries and finance Tea Party activities, campaigns to crush unions and undercut environmental regulations, are, not surprisingly, quickly taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United v. FEC to influence the way their employees vote.

    In a piece for The Nation, Mark Ames and Mike Elk report on recent efforts of Charles and David Koch to sway their workers during the midterm elections. The magazine highlights a “Koch Industries election packet,” sent to most of the company’s workers rife with “alarmist right-wing propaganda.” The packet contained a list of candidates favored by the brothers as well a newsletter with an editorial trumpeting “Tea Party themes,”  and an article portraying an out-of-control federal government determined to muzzle the free speech of the brothers.

    Ames and Elk, however, write that “the strangest and most disturbing article of all comes from the head of Koch Industries himself, Charles Koch, who offers an election-year history lesson to his employees.” Part of that history includes that claim that President Warren G. Harding helped lead “one of the most prosperous [eras] in U.S. history.” Koch said Harding’s slashing of taxes and federal spending were what helped make him such a wonderful president.

    Marquette University law school professor Paul M. Secunda told The Nation, “Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for. Now companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.”

  • April 29, 2011

    The Senate was not in session this week, but commentary on the judicial nominations crisis continued. Ashley L. Belleau, president of the Federal Bar Association, drew attention to financial incentives for resolving the judicial vacancy crisis, noting, “Making sure we have enough judges in our federal courts will save dollars, not waste them.”

    Editorials in the San Antonio Express-News and the Amarillo Globe-News, as well as a blog post by Constitutional Accountability Center Vice President Judith Schaeffer, chastised Sen. John Cornyn for threatening to block federal district court nominee John McConnell after Cornyn previously called blocking judicial confirmations "unacceptable.”

    Newspapers in Oregon, Arizona and Texas also published editorials drawing attention to the vacancies and urging action. Pennsylvania's two senators, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, announced an agreement for recommending judicial nominations to the president that they say will speed up the process of filling eight vacancies in federal courts in Pennsylvania, and may allow the two previously stalled pending nominees to move forward.

  • April 29, 2011

    With much discussion about a supposedly powerful gay lobby bullying one of the nation’s largest law firms into dumping the House Republicans’ effort to defend a federal anti-gay law, Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter providers another view of the matter writing in a piece for The New York Times that the law firm’s decision to quit the case cannot be “dismissed simply as a matter of political correctness or bullying by gays.”

    After the law firm, King & Spalding, announced earlier this week that it would not defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of House Republicans, the attorney tapped to lead the defense, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, resigned his position and moved to another law firm, taking the DOMA case with him.

    Following Clement’s resignation, the highly thoughtful, articulate and entertaining blogger Andrew Sullivan noted, “To put pressure on lawyers defending clients or laws because lobby groups don’t like them is deeply illiberal. It remains disgusting, for example, that rightwing groups targeted lawyers defending terror suspects and Gitmo prisoners. When the far right did this, it was despicable. Now that the left is doing it, it remains just as despicable.”

    U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. praised Clement for his action, saying “I think he is doing that which lawyers do when we are at our best. I don’t know what happened between him and King & Spalding, I’m not casting blame. … But I think those who are critical of him for taking that representation, that criticism I think is very misplaced.”

    Professor Carpenter, however, looks at the process by which “Gay-rights supporters have transformed the law and the legal profession, opening the doors of law firms, law schools and courts to people who were once casually and cruelly shut out because of their sexual orientation.”

    Carpenter’s piece also adds:

    No serious case can be made that an institution as powerful as Congress has a right to the services of the biggest law firms and the most credentialed lawyers. The Defense of Marriage Act is not unpopular, and while Congress may be indebted, it is not indigent. A thornier question arises when a firm withdraws from a representation, though in this case the quick withdrawal evidently caused no harm to the client. More troubling is the possibility that a firm might quit because of outside economic pressure rather than principle, though it is unclear whether such pressure played a role in this case.

  • April 29, 2011

    The federal court system is “bursting at the seams,” Federal Bar Association President Ashley L. Belleau writes in a letter to Sens. Richard Durbin and Jerry Moran emphasizing the critical need to meet the federal judiciary’s FY 2012 funding request.

    Belleau points to the “unprecedented crisis in our Third Branch due to unprecedented numbers of judicial vacancies,” as one of many factors that increases the cost of operating the federal court system.

    “For criminal defendants awaiting trial, it can mean more detention time, adding even more costs to the taxpayer,” the letter states. “Just last year, the federal cost of pretrial detention alone was 1.4 billion dollars, according to the Department of Justice.”

    Vacancies also add greater costs to “already high litigation expenses,” Belleau explains in an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    “Making sure we have enough judges in our federal courts will save dollars, not waste them,” she writes. “… For business clients, these costs get passed on to customers. And when the United States is a party to the case, it means that the public is paying that higher tab.”

    ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson will discuss judicial nominations and the vacancy crisis next week during the Columbia Law School Association of Washington’s Chinatown Lunch Series’ May 4 event, at Tony Cheng’s Seafood Restaurant in Washington, D.C.