Caroline Fredrickson

  • March 1, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Following oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder several court-watchers, to the consternation of some, wrote that the Voting Rights Act’s integral enforcement provision, Section 5, looked to be on the chopping block largely based on courtroom theatrics.

    But many of those court-watchers, such as The New York Times’ Adam Liptak, noted that it was indeed risky to make  predications based only on oral argument, while nonetheless pointing out that in 2009 in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts and other members of the high court’s right-wing bloc made it rather clear that Congress should revisit the formula used to determine what states are covered by Section 5.

    As Liptak noted, Congress did not revisit the formula. And what happened during oral argument earlier this week? You had the Court’s right-wing justices grousing over the same things they did in Northwest. So it doesn’t take much of a leap to figure Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked how much longer must Alabama remain under U.S. “trusteeship” is ready to join Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in striking Section 5, by ending the use of the formula. (Section 5 requires states and localities, mostly in the South, to get “preclearance” of any proposed changes to their voting laws and procedures to ensure that they do not have the effect of discriminating against voters. The Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments provide Congress the power to take appropriate action to ensure that states do not deprive people of liberty or discriminate against voters because of their race.)

    The Brennan Center’s Myrna Pérez writes that the “arguments themselves do not provide much predictive value,” and that little was discussed during oral argument “over what exactly Congress needed to do differently to have appropriately fulfilled its duties.”

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson also told TPM’s Sahil Kapur that the “silver lining is ultimately oral arguments are rarely a predictor of outcomes of the case.”

    Yep, lots of folks were predicating Kennedy would save the day for the Obama administration’s landmark health care reform law the Affordable Care Act. And of course we know how that turned out.

    As noted on this blog numerous times, Section 5 is the power behind the Voting Rights Act and Congress has the constitutional authority to combat racial discrimination in voting. Section 5, reauthorized in 2006, has helped prevent states bent on suppressing the votes of minorities from doing so, including Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. Without Section 5, those states will have great leeway in pursuing schemes to dilute the minority vote.

     

  • January 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Senate Republicans devoted to protecting big business interests and undermining workers’ rights vigorously fought President Obama’s efforts during his first term to keep the National Labor Relations Board functioning and appoint a leader for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

    Republicans in the Senate have long sought to ensure that Obama could not alter the makeup of the NLRB, in order to keep it pro-business or inoperative. Moreover, Senate Republicans were opposed to the creation of the CFPB, intended to crack down on some of the shady business practices that helped lead to the Great Recession; and after its creation they were bent on making it as ineffective as possible.

    Earlier today, the Republican agenda of hobbling the NLRB, which exists to enforce the National Labor Relations Act, was advanced by a ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. According to the court, Obama’s appointments to the NLRB in early January 2012 during a 20-day recess of Congress were unconstitutional.

    The appeals court opinion is at odds with other rulings from appeals court circuits and the fact that for a century, presidents, citing Article II of the Constitution, have used recess appointments to fill executive branch vacancies.

    As The New York Times notes, the appeals court decision “also raises doubts about the legitimacy of Mr. Obama’s recess appointment” of Richard Cordray to the CFPB. Obama appointed Cordray the same time he selected the three members of the labor board. At the time Obama noted that he was forced to make the recess appointments because of the Senate’s refusal to move on his nominations to the board and the bureau. “The American people deserve to have qualified public servants fighting for them every day – whether it is to enforce new consumer protections or uphold the rights of working Americans. We can’t wait to act to strengthen the economy and restore security for our middle class and those trying to get in it, and that’s why I am proud to appoint these fine individuals to get to work for the American people.”  

    The opinion by the appeals court panel – all three judges are Republican appointees – is radical and sweeping. Adam Serwer, in a piece for Mother Jones, notes that if the appeals court decision were to be upheld – the Obama administration is likely to appeal it – it would invalidate NLRB decisions made since last January and also impact actions taken by the CFPB.

    The CFPB, Serwer writes “has done what liberals hoped and Republicans feared: Prevented companies from gouging consumers with the kind of unscrupulous business practices that caused a nationwide economic meltdown four years ago. Although Cordray’s appointment is being challenged separately, Friday’s ruling gives companies impacted by CFPG’s decisions an opening to argue that some of the CFPB’s actions should be invalidated.”

    But constitutional law experts argued at the time Obama made the recess appointments that he was on solid legal ground. In a Jan. 2012 piece for The Times, Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe said the president’s recess appointments “ought to be a slam dunk” and that the Constitution is clear on “reserving the authority the president needs to carry out his basic duties ….” 

  • January 24, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated on constitutional grounds a state law banning abortion, large swaths of the public may be more supportive of a woman’s right to make decisions regarding health, but state and federal lawmakers remain obsessed with limiting reproductive rights. The ongoing challenges to protect liberty of women were the focus of a recent ACS panel discussion at Georgetown University Law Center.

    The Jan. 23 panel discussion kicked off with opening remarks by ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, who talked about how Roe v. Wade sadly marked the high-water point of reproductive rights, because ever since then federal and state lawmakers have been chipping away at it. One of the first efforts to erode liberty started with passage of the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prevents the federal government from funding abortions through Medicaid – the primary source of health insurance for millions of low income women, and continue to fall with the myriad restrictions on abortion that serve no purpose but to harass women. (See video of panel discussion here.)

    Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger followed Fredrickson, and maintained that Roe was not about choice -- it was about the right to an abortion. He also criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, noting that if the government really wanted to curb late-term abortions, it should stop obstructing abortion early in pregnancy. Dellinger was followed by Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, who discussed the mounting legislative attacks on abortion. In the last two years, she said, there have been 162 new abortion restrictions passed by the states. Things have gotten so onerous that in some states, like Mississippi, there’s only a single abortion provider left in the entire state. That clinic is under continuing threat, as the state is requiring doctors at the clinic to have admitting privileges at local hospitals – a burden that makes running a clinic financially impossible.

  • November 14, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While conservative lawmakers in Congress try to figure out how to protect tax breaks for the nation’s superrich, President Obama is moving ahead on multiple fronts. Not only is the president pushing back against conservatives’ rigid tax policy, he’s quickly addressing the vacancy crisis on the federal bench.

    Today he announced seven nominations to the federal bench, a diverse bunch, as is Obama’s practice. (Last year National Public Radio noted the federal bench is still dominated by white men, but that the president in his first term had made great strides to diversify the bench.)

    None of today’s nominees were white men. The president nominated to the federal bench, Valerie E. Caproni, Kenneth John Gonzales, Claire R. Kelly, Raymond P. Moore, Beverly Reid O’Connell, William L. Thomas, Analisa Torres and Derrick Kahala Watson.

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson lauded today’s nominations, saying that the president has “made it clear that our courts are a priority. We commend his swift action and we are hopeful the Senate will act promptly and demonstrate a move toward renewed bipartisanship both in the lame duck and the 113th Congress.”  

    In a press release about the nominees, the president reiterated his commitment to making the federal bench more reflective of society and to tackling the high number of vacancies on the bench.

    “These individuals have demonstrated the talent, expertise, and fair-mindedness Americans expect and deserve from their judicial system,” Obama said. “They also represent my continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves.”

    He added, “Too many of our courtrooms stand empty. I hope the Senate will promptly consider all of my nominees and ensure justice for everyday Americans.”

  • November 5, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As noted in a Nov. 2 piece for The Huffington Post by ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, the make-up of the nation’s top court rests on tenuous ground – with one more conservative justice helping its conservative bloc turn the clock back on longstanding precedent protecting an array of rights, such as reproductive rights.

    Fredrickson notes, “As recently as 2007, the Court upheld burdensome restrictions on abortion rights in Gonzales v. Carhart,” and that a “more conservative Court “could easily further restrict women’s reproductive rights, chipping away at Roe v. Wade or undoing it altogether.” (Fredrickson’s post notes the recent ACS paper, “Courts Matter: Justice on the Line,” which provides numerous examples of Supreme Court precedent that could be fundamentally altered with the change in the make-up of the high court.)

    Duke School of Law Professor Neil S. Siegel, also in a piece for The Huffington Post, zeroes in on the importance of the Supreme Court’s role in protecting or eviscerating reproductive rights. Siegel, also co-director of the Program in Public Law at Duke’s law school, writes how close the high court, in the past, has come to overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade. In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Anthony Kennedy had narrowly joined the majority in upholding Roe. But since Casey, Siegel continues, Kennedy “has voted to uphold abortion-restrictive regulations that deny pregnant women the safest method of abortion in medical emergencies.”