Guest Post

  • August 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor, West Virginia University College of Law

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Summer protest, it is well worth reflecting on the how the movement challenged us to not only establish formal legal equality, but also to address enduring poverty. The Civil Rights Movement sought to persuade America that all Americans are equal. The Freedom Summer riders (and the many, many more who pressed for civil rights) sought to expose the inequality and oppression in the segregated south of 1964.

    The passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, still impact us today.  These enactments represent significant progress towards the goal of fostering equality. Moreover, with the contemporary tide of referenda and judicial rulings on marriage equality, the Civil Rights Movement continues to evolve to protect many people who fifty years ago weren’t deemed deserving of civil rights.

    Though we think of Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Summer, and formal legal equality when we think about the Civil Rights Movement, we should also remember that the struggle is really, as historian Jacqueline Dowd Hall explained, a “long civil rights movement.”  Hall’s work locates the genesis of the twentieth century movement in the 1930s with the social transformations that occurred due to economic disruption of the Great Depression.  Moreover, the long arc of legal transformation to foster equality began with the Civil War and the Reconstruction Amendments.  The civil rights struggle began with confronting the subordination and poverty slavery created.

    In this sense, the long civil rights struggle had economic equality of opportunity at its core from the beginning. As Jeremy Leaming discussed on this blog, the question of racial equality in twenty-first century America is at a crossroads in light of retrenchment in civil and voting rights.  Yet racial inequality and poverty walk hand and hand and continue to affect the lived experiences of people of color.

    NPR host Michel Martin recently wrote an article in the National Journal, discussing the key obstacles that women of color continue to face in the twenty-first century.  In discussing this article on NPR’s All Things Considered (where she called her essay her own “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”) she explained how poverty creates an enduring problem for racial minorities:

    People of color particularly — but not exclusively blacks and Latinos — are connected to poverty and to disadvantage in ways that often our white colleagues don't understand. That causes you to have to think about things that they aren't thinking about. And that's the kind of thing that I really feel a need to call attention to.

    Martin’s words -- especially as they reflect her own experience navigating the intersection of race and class-- remind us that poverty daily affects the lives of people of color, no matter how affluent.  Indeed, it is a yet-to-be-fulfilled civil rights issue of the long civil rights movement.

  • 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.