Guest Post

  • August 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Estelle H. Rogers, Legislative Director, Project Vote

    Not long ago in these virtual “pages,” I opined that judges were beginning to “get it” -- to understand that the enticing but superficial reasonableness of requiring photo ID to vote is far from the whole story. Yesterday, we encountered several judges who don’t get it at all, and Wisconsin’s voters are the worse for it.

    League of Women Voters v. Walker and Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Walker were split decisions in which majorities of the Wisconsin Supreme Court held the state’s strict photo ID law (”Act 23”) constitutional under the Wisconsin constitution, the same state constitution whose explicit right to vote provision led to contrary rulings by the trial courts in both cases.

    It is tempting at this point simply to quote extensively from the dissenters, among whom Shirley Abrahamson, the octogenarian Chief Justice of the court, stands out in her steadfast refusal to follow the majority’s tortured logic -- or rather, tortured conclusion.  It cannot really be called logic.

    In NAACP, for example, the court construed a state regulation – not even properly before it – that explicitly required certain documentary proof in order to receive the free ID.  Recognizing that obtaining those underlying documents may involve a fee, the court “saved” the regulation, and thus Act 23, by declaring that the need for underlying documents may be excused (though granting such an excuse rests in the discretion of state bureaucrats).  Therefore requiring photo ID does not constitute an undue burden.  Therefore it must be analyzed under a rational basis test.  Therefore as long as it is rationally related to a legitimate government interest, it is constitutional. 

    What is the legitimate government interest?  Prevention of fraud, of course.  Never mind that the one example of fraud advanced by the state in both cases was allegedly committed by a supporter of Governor Walker in his recall election, who has now been indicted on 13 felony counts of voter fraud for, inter alia, registering more than once, voting multiple times, voting where he didn’t live, and lying to election officials.  None of these offenses would have been prevented by the strict photo voter ID law at issue in the case, and indeed, all of them were discovered without such a law in effect.

  • August 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Joshua A. DouglasRobert G. Lawson & William H. Fortune Associate Professor of Law, University of Kentucky College of Law

    *This post was originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday issued two decisions that had the effect of upholding the state's strict voter ID requirement. Crucial to the court's decisions was its finding that, once it modified a different rule, the voter ID law did not impose too substantial of a burden on qualified voters who do not otherwise have the necessary identification.

    The split decisions entail both breathtaking judicial activism and ignorance regarding the difference between the federal and state constitutions.

    First, the conservative-leaning majority found that the voter ID law imposed a severe burden on voters because it would cost money for voters to gather the underlying documentation they might need — such as a birth certificate — to obtain the "free" voter ID. But the majority then forges ahead to adopt a "saving construction" of a state administrative rule to conclude that the law does not, really, require voters to pay money to obtain the documentation. It rewrites the administrative rule so that the voter ID law does not become an unconstitutional poll tax.

    To justify this maneuver, the court cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision that states "where a saving construction is 'fairly possible,' the court will adopt it." But that U.S. Supreme Court case said no such thing; it instead noted that if a saving construction of the very statute at issue is possible, then the court should avoid the constitutional question and decide the case under that statutory ground.

    Here, by contrast, there was no "fairly possible" construction of the voter ID law. Instead, the court requires state administrators to invoke their "discretion" under a separate administrative regulation — one that was not at issue in the case — to give voter IDs to voters who must pay money to obtain the underlying documentation.

    Second, the court conflated the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions to uphold the law. The plaintiffs challenged the law under the Wisconsin constitution provision that provides, "Every United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident of an election district in this state is a qualified elector of that district." The plaintiff's argument, in essence, was that the burdens associated with obtaining the required voter ID took away the constitutionally granted right to vote for some citizens.

  • July 30, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Cameron F. Kerry. Kerry is the Sara R. & Andrew H. Tisch Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Media Lab. He is the former General Counsel and Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

    Yesterday, I moderated a panel on Microsoft’s federal court challenge to a warrant seeking email records that Microsoft stores at a data center in Ireland.  Microsoft is contending that the governing statute, the stored communications provisions of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), does not apply outside the territory of the United States.

    My take-away from the panel is that discussion of reforms to bring ECPA up-to-date with the way we use devices and cloud services in the 21st Century needs to take up the difficult questions presented by services and networks that flow freely across national borders.  As I put it during the discussion, “what does extraterritoriality mean in a virtual world?”

    The panel featured James Garland of Covington & Burling, who is arguing the case on behalf of Microsoft in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York this Thursday, along with other lawyers involved in the case.  The case has been the deserving subject of wide attention, including a stern letter from the European Commission’s Justice Commissioner and a July 27 New York Times editorial.  It involves a warrant issued last December for email records “owned, maintained, controlled or operated by Microsoft” for a particular email address.  Microsoft produced records located in the United States that did not involve the content of the emails, but objected to producing the emails themselves because they are stored in a data center in Dublin, Ireland.  They are there because the Dublin servers are closest to the country that the email customer identified in establishing the account, reducing latency in email transmission.  Microsoft only recently established overseas data centers and, so far as anyone knows, this is the first time any Internet service provider has challenged the extraterritorial application of authorities for law enforcement access to Internet communications.

    The issues center on the interpretation of Section 2703 (c)(A) of the Stored Communications Act in the decision by a federal magistrate in New York issued April 25.  In some respects, the issues are narrow:  for example, does the SCA contain language that overcomes the Supreme Court’s “presumption against extraterritorial application” of U.S. statutes; does the “warrant” required by the SCA to obtain most content of electronic communications incorporate requirements for a warrant under the Fourth Amendment?

  • July 28, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Christine Chiu and Sascha Murillo. Chiu is staff attorney and Murillo is community organizer at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

    With more than 900,000 people enrolled in insurance plans through New York’s Health Plan Marketplace, New York is an “Obamacare” success story. A recently released New York State Department of Health (DOH) report, detailing demographic information of consumers who signed up for insurance through the Marketplace from October 1, 2013 to April 15, 2014, showed that more than 80 percent of enrollees were previously uninsured – some receiving coverage for the first time in their lives. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of enrollees received tax credits or cost-sharing reductions to make their coverage more affordable.

    While thousands of individuals now enjoy the benefits of health insurance, many New Yorkers, particularly those who are limited-English proficient (LEP), still lack coverage. According to the State’s report, only 15 percent of enrollees self-reported that they preferred to speak a language other than English. Before the launch of the Marketplace, the State estimated that 36 percent of potential enrollees would be LEP. The difference between potential and actual self-reported LEP enrollees may be indicative of the barriers that these New Yorkers encountered when accessing the Marketplace during the first open enrollment period. For example, the Marketplace website and online application were available only in English, and the homepage of the Marketplace website did not contain taglines directing consumers to materials and information in their language.

    In order for health reform to achieve its full potential, it is critical that these immigrant and LEP populations enroll in health insurance; immigrants are more likely than U.S. born citizens to be uninsured and less likely to obtain needed medical services. Additionally, providing immigrants and LEP New Yorkers access to health insurance is not only the right thing to do; it’s also fiscally responsible.  Enrolling LEP New Yorkers in health insurance will not only improve access to health care for these populations, but will also help reduce the cost of healthcare for everyone, as immigrants tend to be younger and healthier than U.S. citizens.

  • July 25, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Justin Marceau and Alan K. Chen. Marceau is an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a former public defender in Arizona. Chen is the William M. Beaney Memorial Research Chair and Professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a former staff attorney at the ACLU’s Chicago office.

    The State of Arizona’s recently botched execution of Joseph Wood is just the latest in a series of horrific events that have introduced the American public to a criminal justice problem that practitioners and legal scholars long have known about – lethal injections are an extremely troubling method for carrying out capital punishment.  Similar to the cases of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Wood reportedly endured extensive suffering during the hour and 52 minutes it took for the drugs administered by the state’s executioners to end his life.

    The Wood Litigation Seeking Access to Information about the Drugs and Executioners

    In the days preceding Wood’s execution, his attorneys mounted an impressive campaign to overturn a lower court order denying him access to basic information about the qualifications (but not the identity) of the executioners and the source of the drugs to be used. Wood argued that he had a qualified First Amendment right of access to such information. 

    On Monday of this week, things looked promising for Wood and his legal team. An erudite panel of the Ninth Circuit concluded that it was not too much to ask of Arizona to require it to turn over the information Wood sought, or to delay the execution. Behind such litigation is the reality that without such information, of course, it would be impossible to assess whether the execution might violate the Eighth Amendment and create too great a risk of cruel and unusual punishment.  In other words, in order to know whether their client had a colorable substantive claim that the execution would be cruel and unusual, the lawyers first had to gain access to the details of the execution procedures. The procedural claim at issue in the Ninth Circuit, then, was a necessary precursor to being able to litigate the substantive legality of Arizona’s execution system.

    The Ninth Circuit panel voted 2-1 that Wood had raised a serious First Amendment claim and would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction against his execution were not granted. To be clear, all the Ninth Circuit ordered was that Arizona either turn over the information and proceed to execution as planned on Wednesday, or delay the execution until full and fair litigation regarding the right to access this information was conducted. Instead, Arizona successfully petitioned the Supreme Court, which quickly overturned the stay of execution.

    Was this Just a Gimmick to Delay Litigation?

    Some might ask why, with a thirty year track record and tacit Supreme Court approval in 2008, lawyers were inquiring about lethal injection methods.  We hear about delays in executions – we even see California’s death penalty held unconstitutional, in part, because of delay. But the reason for the litigation is clear: lethal injection is not working. 

    With drug shortages for the previous three-drug execution cocktail of choice, states have begun to experiment with the doses and types of drugs, and the qualifications of executioners are not getting any better.  In a very perverse turn on Justice Louis Brandeis’ famous quote that states may “serve as a laboratory, and try novel . . . experiments” that the rest of the country might not, states are innovating in their execution methods.  In the rush to continue with executions, Arizona and other states are using their execution chambers as laboratories for human experimentation.  What combination will create the most aesthetically pleasing execution for public consumption is the question the Departments of Correction seek to answer.