Spencer Overton, former ACS Board Member and current President and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, visited Selma, Alabama for the 49th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” Overton chronicled his experience on Twitter as civil rights leaders urged Congress to remember the legacy of Selma following last year’s controversial Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. For further analysis of Shelby County, please see Overton’s guest post at ACSblog.
In an interview with NPR’s Carrie Johnson, Attorney General Eric Holder shares his stance on softening prison sentences, the Senate’s vote to block the nomination of Debo Adegbile for Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The Supreme Court has declined to hear a Pennsylvania school district’s appeal of a lower-court decision to uphold the right of students to wear breast-cancer-awareness bracelets. Mark Walsh at Education Week reports on the student-speech case.
Walter Shapiro at the Brennan Center for Justice discusses the legal issues surrounding the Federal Election Commission and single-candidate Super PACs.
Ann Havemann at CPRblog explains how budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency will affect enforcement of environmental laws.
Environmental Justice should not exist. That is to say, Environmental Justice should not have to exist; it should be axiomatic, superfluous and redundant. The law should, without coercion, be equally committed to protecting one’s health, safety, and wellbeing, whether one is a socialite or a factory worker, a lawyer or a farm worker, a politician or an unemployed single mother. That Environmental Justice is an increasingly prevalent topic in the environmental law and policy dialogue is both a sad reflection on how far we still have to go and a hopeful indication that the journey has at least begun. Indeed, Environmental Justice promises to occupy a position of prominence as the next generation of modern U.S. environmental policy takes shape. And it should.
Twenty years ago, the first federal effort to grapple with Environmental Justice took the form of an Executive Order (EO 12898). Signed by President William Jefferson Clinton on February 11, 1994, the EO admonishes federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of [each agency’s] mission by identifying and addressing … disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.”
There are good reasons why the law should be relatively more attuned to the conditions of the nation’s most vulnerable, most marginalized communities. Members of these communities have the fewest resources to commit to protecting themselves, especially from threats that are often both complex and indistinct. They have less influence on decisions affecting the quality of their environment, and they typically cannot buy their way out of over-exposure by moving to safer, less burdened communities (even assuming the capacity to meaningfully compare potential hazards). Moreover, they are less likely to have access to adequate health care, healthy foods, and information, and are more likely to experience health-compromising stress and anxiety.
Around the web, Supreme Court experts are offering cautious opinions about Monday’s oral argument in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, the Court’s latest climate change case. As expected, all eyes were focused on Justice Kennedy. In the New York Times, Adam Liptak suggests that a point made by Justice Kennedy “did not bode well for the agency.” In his post on SCOTUSBlog, Lyle Dennison has a more EPA-favorable view, suggesting that Kennedy’s “vote seemed inclined toward the EPA, though with some doubt.”
Having read the transcript, I’m inclined to think that EPA is likely to lose, but that the decision may nonetheless be helpful to environmentalists in the long run.
I suspect that Justice Kennedy may vote against EPA for two reasons. The first (and perhaps somewhat less serious) is based on the pseudo-science of counting the words a justice says during an argument. Political scientists have demonstrated that parties tend to lose when they are asked more questions, and that the amount a justice speaks during the argument provides insights into that justice’s inclinations. If that theory holds true, EPA is in trouble. Justice Kennedy spoke only twice during the argument presented for the industry challengers, uttering about 110 words, and he remained entirely silent during the presentation by the Texas Attorney General on behalf of the state challengers. In contrast, Justice Kennedy spoke seven times during Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s argument on behalf of EPA, uttering approximately 180 words. Of course, the general trend that the number of words spoken by the Justices relates to a party’s likelihood of success doesn’t always play out in individual cases.
My second reason for believing that the Supreme Court may rule against EPA is a more specific to this case. Justice Kennedy’s questions appear to express skepticism about EPA’s position. At one point Justice Kennedy said to the Solicitor General: “I couldn’t find a single precedent that strongly supports your position. . . . [W]hat are the cases you want me to cite if I write the opinion to sustain your position?” Justice Kennedy also appeared to want assurance that an EPA loss would not be too significant an event, asking the Solicitor General: “Just to be clear, you’re not saying . . . that if you’re denied the authority you seek here, there can be no significant regulation of greenhouse gases under the Act?” Soon thereafter, perhaps sensing the mood among the Justices, Justice Sotomayor followed up, asking “If you were going to lose. . .” (The Solicitor General interrupted before the question finished, saying “I knew you were going to ask me that question.”).
On Mar. 3, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case that will decide whether Freddie Hall should be on death row. In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Prof. Marc Tasse argues that Florida’s standard for evaluating intellectual disability in death penalty cases is “unscientific and a breach of Hall’s constitutional protection as mandated in Atkins v. Virginia.” For more on Hall v. Florida, please see analysis by Prof. John H. Blume at ACSblog.
Consumers were victorious Monday when the high court rejected an appeal from washing machine manufacturers in a class-action lawsuit. Writing for Slate, Emily Bazelon explains why the decision is “surprising and good news.”
Republicans are calling for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers. Reuters’ David Schwartz reports on growing frustration in the Grand Canyon State.
The Supreme Court heard oral argument this week on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Adam Liptak at The New York Times reviews Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA.
On the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, Charles D. Ellison of The Root reflects on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
Federal District Court Judge William J. Martini dismissed a case against the New York Police Department for “engaging in blanket surveillance” of Arab Muslim communities after September 11, 2001. Adam Serwer of MSNBC exposes why the court’s decision shows that “religious profiling is okay, as long as you have a really good reason.”
Christopher Sprigman of Just Security examines the public relations effort by the National Security Agency’s Director of Compliance John DeLong and the agency’s General Counsel Rajesh De concerning the NSA’s controversial surveillance activities. In the article, Sprigman reveals why these efforts “create the appearance but not the reality of lawfulness.”
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency. Robert Barnes at The Washington Post breaks down Utility Air Regulator Group v. Environmental Protection Agency. For more on this case, please visit the ACSblog.
Writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, Andrew Cohen comments on the lack of media coverage on states’ secrecy laws concerning the types of lethal injections used in executions. Cohen discusses the implications of the media’s inaction.
At ACLU’s Blog of Rights, Nusrat Choudhury deconstructs Lee Daniels' The Butler and how its depiction of the arduous legal battles of the 1960s Civil Rights movement reminds viewers that “considerable distance remains on the path to true racial equality.”