Guest Post

  • April 18, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Jennifer Hunter, Associate General Counsel, and Elena Medina, Assistant General Counsel, Service Employees International Union

    A recent decision by a trial court in Wisconsin striking down the state’s so-called “Right to Work” law highlights one reason why those laws are unfair to union members: It requires them to pay out of their own pockets for their union’s representation of other people who choose not to pay anything.

    What the decision leaves unstated is the bigger reason why the laws, more aptly called “Right to Work for Less,” are bad for working people in general. The real reason why corporations and wealthy special interests push for these laws in states across the country is not concern for the rights of individual workers. Rather, it is to weaken the ability of ordinary people to join together in unions to build a country in which everyone can make enough to sustain their families.

    In his decision last week, Dane County Circuit Court Judge William Foust struck down Wisconsin’s Act 1, which precludes unions from charging the workers they represent their fair share of the costs of that representation. As the judge pointed out, unions have a duty under federal law to fairly represent all of the workers in the bargaining units that elect them, including by bargaining a contract that benefits all of them and providing union members and non-members alike with representation if they are harmed by a violation of the contract. Judge Foust found that Wisconsin violates the Takings Clause of the Wisconsin Constitution by creating a free-rider situation in which unions are legally required to provide that representation to workers who pay nothing.

    The Honorable Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals observed in another case on the same issue that this inherent conflict is akin to a “rule providing that, as a condition of receiving a business license in a city, a company selling gasoline had to give it away to any customer who did not want to pay.”

  • April 15, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Clinical Professor of Law, Penn State Lawauthor of Beyond Deportation: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Cases (NYU Press 2015).                         

    On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced two deferred action programs. One extends a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “DACA.”  The other creates a new policy known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Residents, or “DAPA.” Despite the fact that deferred action is a longstanding tool in immigration with a rich source of law and history, the state of Texas and 25 other states filed a lawsuit against the Administration to challenge the legality of these programs. The case, United States v. Texas, is the subject of an oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court on April 18, 2016. The Court will hear arguments on four questions of law. Legal questions over the authority to exercise discretion and whether the plaintiffs have “standing” to bring this challenge have been analyzed extensively by scholars. This article discusses one of those issues – whether the updated DACA and new DAPA directives were legally required to undergo “notice and comment rulemaking” under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

    The plaintiff-states have argued that rulemaking is required under the APA. For certain rules, section 553 of the APA requires agencies to engage in formal rulemaking, where the government publishes a notice of the proposed rule and the parties then provide input primarily through the submission of written comments within a specified time period. Recognizing that the government would be unable to function efficiently if all rules required this lengthy and elaborate procedure, section 553 exempts "general statements of policy" from the notice and comment rulemaking requirement. The Supreme Court has held that "general statements of policy" include agencies' announcements as to how they plan to exercise discretionary powers going forward.

    In the memorandum announcing DAPA, the Secretary of Homeland Security explicitly instructed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to assess the facts of each individual case and to exercise discretion even in cases where all the threshold criteria – some of which are themselves discretionary – have been met. The challengers argue that this is a pretext and that in practice USCIS officials will be pressured into approving DAPA requests mechanically. To prove this, Texas has relied on the low rate of denials among recipients of an earlier program, DACA 2012.

    This rationale is flawed. First, the DAPA program has discretion built into it as confirmed by the program’s actual requirement that the individual “present no other factors, in the exercise of discretion, that makes the grant of deferred action inappropriate.” Second, DACA requestors are a highly self-selected group. Moreover, the DAPA program has not even begun, so there is no evidence to show that employees are not using discretion, assuming of course the test even rests on the discretion exercised by boots on the ground as opposed to the Secretary of DHS, a point reasonably questioned by scholars. There is no basis for assuming that the DAPA approval rates will mimic those for DACA.

  • April 15, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Harry Baumgarten, Partner Legal Fellow, Voting Rights Institute

    In early March, the Daphne, Ala., City Council voted to reduce the number of polling places in the city from five to two, including eliminating existing polling locations in areas of the city with black population concentrations. Fewer polling places often lead to longer wait and travel times, burden the ability of voters to cast ballots, and discourage people from voting. The plan was opposed by African American civic leaders, but narrowly passed in a 4-3 vote.

    That very same day, the Daphne City Council also approved a mid-decade re-redistricting plan whose impact on the black community is at best unclear, since the city does not appear to have undertaken the appropriate review of the plan’s effects on the black voting age population in each district and its impact on black voting strength. Redistricting plans can sometimes dilute minority voting strength and, when they do, violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

    The Voting Rights Institute sent a letter this week to the Department of Justice calling on it to investigate the Daphne City Council’s latest measures and to take appropriate action.

    This election, we continually hear reports of voters being harmed thanks to new measures, like this one in Alabama, which make it more difficult to vote.

    In North Carolina, for example, the state’s new Voter ID law went into effect for the first time during its March 15 primary, reportedly disenfranchising 218,000 registered voters in the state who do not have an acceptable form of government-issued ID. This included U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who had to cast a provisional ballot because he didn’t have an acceptable form of identification.

  • April 14, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Lisa Heinzerling, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center

    *This post originally appeared on the Center for Progressive Reform Blog

    Justice Antonin Scalia was, as much as anything else, known for insisting that the text of a statute alone – not its purposes, not its legislative history – should serve as the basis for the courts' interpretation of the statute. Justice Scalia promoted canons of statutory construction – or at least what he deemed the valid ones – as a way of limiting the power of judges by setting rules for their interpretation of statutes. Yet he also warned, in a 1997 book, against "presumptions and rules of construction that load the dice for or against a particular result." He worried that such "dice-loading" rules might effect "a sheer judicial power-grab." 

    It is striking, therefore, that in one of his last majority opinions for the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia went out of his way to create such an interpretive rule. Writing for a 5-4 majority in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), he found that EPA had erred in declining to consider costs in determining that regulation of hazardous air pollutants – such as mercury – from power plants was "appropriate and necessary" under section 112 of the Clean Air Act. 

    Justice Scalia's reasoning went beyond the statutory provision and agency regulation at hand and suggested that agencies' purportedly general practice of considering costs in deciding whether to regulate had made the interpretive default one in which agencies must consider cost in order to engage in "reasonable regulation." In Michigan v. EPA, in other words, Justice Scalia created a brand-new, dice-loading, anti-regulatory canon of statutory construction. 

    The lower courts have begun to apply this canon with gusto, and in cases far removed from section 112 of the Clean Air Act. In the biggest of these cases so far, MetLife v. Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), Judge Rosemary Collyer of the federal district court in Washington, D.C. relied heavily on Michigan v. EPA in finding that the FSOC had erred in determining that the insurance giant MetLife was a systemically important financial institution – or "too big to fail" – because it had not considered the costs of this designation to MetLife. 

  • April 11, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Emmet J. Bondurant and Kathay Feng

    Emmet J. Bondurant authored the Common Cause amicus brief with Jeremy D. Farris in Evenwel v. Abbott and argued the landmark redistricting case Wesberry v. Sanders before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963. In Wesberry, the Supreme Court definitively established that the Constitution requires congressional districts be drawn counting all people.

    Kathay Feng is Common Cause’s National Redistricting Director and heads up their California operations, where she successfully championed the state’s adoption of a Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw state and congressional districts through a transparent and inclusive process.

    Last Monday morning, the entire community of voting rights advocates breathed a sigh of relief. The U.S. Supreme Court issued an 8-0 decision in Evenwel v. Abbott, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, upholding the standard state practice of counting all people for purposes of conducting state redistricting.

    A little primer first: At the start of each decade, the Census Bureau conducts a count of every American – where they live, how many people are in a household, and basic demographic information about them. This Census data is crucial for a number of things that happen right after: We allocate the number of representatives to the Congress from each state using these numbers, we redraw the congressional districts based on this total count, AND states use these numbers to redraw the lines for the state legislative districts. The goal has always been to make sure the districts have equal numbers of people in them so the people elected to represent the districts are serving the same number of people.

    In Evenwel, two plaintiffs from Texas asked the Supreme Court to reinterpret fundamental principles of our democracy by drawing lines based on voters only, and making invisible millions of our family, friends, and neighbors who are not voters. The Court rejected this approach, unanimously holding that states may use census data counting total population to draw districts. Common Cause’s amicus brief laid out why the Supreme Court had to reject Evenwel’s argument:

    “It would [] create an indefensible situation in which states would be required by Article I, Section 2 to use total population as the basis for the redistricting of congressional districts, but be prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause from using the same standard when redistricting state legislative districts. Finally, it would break the structural link between the right of every person to equal protection under the laws enacted by the state legislature and the right of every person subject to those laws to equal representation in the houses of that legislature.”