Democracy and Voting

  • April 28, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Crotty had no choice – he was bound by recent Supreme Court precedent to strike some New York campaign spending limits. As The New York Times’ David Firestone noted, Judge Crotty’s 5-page opinion and order provided “about as clear-eyed description of the corruption now permeating the political system as anyone has written.”

    Judge Crotty took to task the Supreme Court’s opinions in Citizens United v. FEC and this year’s McCutcheon v. FEC, both of which have only made it easier for the wealthy to control the nation’s elections. (And many have argued that the wealthy have never needed such help. A recent study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page for Princeton found 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.”)

    In his April 24 opinion and order, Judge Crotty nevertheless had to invalidate some modest limits on spending by independent groups, in this case a group called the New York Progress Protection Pac, which spent heavily in support of Republican Joseph Lhota’s New York City mayoral race. In the process, however, Crotty blasted the Supreme Court’s majority opinions in Citizens United and McCutcheon.

    “In effect” Crotty wrote, “it is only direct bribery – not influence – that the [Supreme] Court views as crossing the line into quid pro quo corruption.” Crotty noted that he believes Justice Stephen Breyer who lodged a dissent in McCutcheon got it right, but that his hands were tied because of the majority opinions in McCutcheon and Citizens United.

    He “who pays the piper calls the tune,” Crotty wrote. “Indeed, today’s reality is that the voices of ‘we the people’ are too often drowned out by the few who have great resources. In today’s never-ending cycle of campaigning and lobbying; lobbying and campaigning, elected officials know where there money is coming from and that it must keep coming if they are to stay in office. Ordinary citizens recognize this; they know what is going on; they know they are not being included. It breeds cynicism and distrust.”

    See Crotty’s full opinion here.

    But beyond evolving Supreme Court precedent that advances interests of the wealthy, Professor Nicholas Carnes writing for TPM Cafe says we also must realize who is crafting policy in Washington -- primarily millionaires.

    “My research suggests,” Carnes writes, “that we have a government for the privileged in the United States in part because we have government by the privileged.” Carnes research shows how rare it is for voters to be able to support candidates from the middle-or-working classes. Typically the voter has a narrow choice, “Do you want to vote for a millionaire lawyer or a millionaire business owner?”

  • April 23, 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 Chapter, discusses his experience on the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies and why “constant, rigorous, and independent review is essential if we are to strike the proper balance between liberty and security in a changing world.”
     
    The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday in a case involving an “Ohio law that criminalizes the spreading of false information about a political candidate during a campaign.”  The challenge comes after an anti-abortion rights group mischaracterized former Rep. Steve Driehaus’ (D-Ohio) stance on abortion during his 2010 reelection campaign. Robert Barnes at The Washington Post has the story.
     
    Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on Affirmative Action in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the plurality while Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote an impassioned dissent. Writing for SCOTUSblog, Amy Howe details the case.
     
    Peter Hardin at GavelGrab notes that if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chooses not to reappoint Chief Justice Stuart Rabner it could “give rise to the perception that Christie was attempting to intimidate judges working without tenure.”
     
    At The New Yorker’s Daily Comment Hendrik Hertzberg explains New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to join the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact.
  • 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 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.