Guest Post

  • January 21, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Fred Wertheimer, President, Democracy 21. Democracy 21 is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to strengthen democracy, prevent government corruption and empower citizens in the political process.                                                                    

    On January 21, 2010, five Supreme Court justices rejected decades of the Court’s own precedent and a century of national policy aimed at keeping corporate money out of our elections to issue the Citizens United decision.

    In issuing the decision, Chief Justice Roberts and his four colleagues wreaked havoc on our democracy and our constitutional system of representative government.

    Five years later, these five justices have bequeathed the following to the American people:

    • More than $1 billion in unlimited contributions that have flowed into federal elections through Super PACs – including more than $300 million through single-candidate Super PACS used by federal candidates and their supporters to circumvent and eviscerate candidate contribution limits.
    • More than $500 million in secret, unlimited contributions that have flowed into federal elections through tax-exempt 501(c) organizations.

    Citizens United has returned to federal elections massive amounts of the same kinds of money that played a central role in the Watergate corruption scandals – unlimited contributions and secret money.

    In 1976, the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo upheld the constitutionality of contribution limits that were enacted in response to the Watergate scandals.  The Court found that “corruption” is “inherent” in a system of unlimited contributions.  The Court also upheld disclosure on the grounds that “disclosure requirements deter actual corruption.”

    In 2012, more than thirty-five years later, U.S. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner explained the destructive impact of Citizens United.  Judge Posner, widely considered the most influential conservative judge not on the Supreme Court, said in an NPR interview:

    Our political system is pervasively corrupt due to our Supreme Court taking away campaign- contribution restrictions on the basis of the First Amendment.

    The Citizens United decision, written for the majority by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is based on a series of indefensible, if not astonishing, premises.

  • January 21, 2015
    Guest Post

    by John Bonifaz, Co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People

    Five years ago this month, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, sweeping away longstanding precedent barring corporate money in our elections and leading to an explosion of outside spending in our political process.  The ruling also sparked a new movement for a constitutional amendment to end the big money dominance of our elections and to reclaim our democracy.  That movement has gained significant momentum, with 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns on record calling for an amendment.  And, last September, the U.S. Senate held an historic vote on the Democracy For All Amendment, which would allow Congress and the states to set overall limits on campaign spending in our elections.  54 Senators supported the proposed amendment, a vote that reflects the power of this growing grassroots movement.

    As this movement continues to gain strength, conventional claims made by opponents deserve renewed scrutiny.  Here are five major myths related to this call for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Myth #1: The First Amendment protects the right to drown out other people’s speech.

    In its 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court equated money with speech and struck down campaign spending limits passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal.  The ruling set us on our current course today of unlimited campaign spending where our elections are sold to the highest bidders.  But, as former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has said, “Money is property; it is not speech.”  Money, in fact, amplifies speech, and for the very wealthy in our society, money enables them to be heard at the loudest decibels at the expense of the rest of us.  The campaign spending limits at issue in Buckley were reasonable regulations on the manner of speech, not on speech itself.  By equating money with speech, the Buckley Court sanctioned a system which allows the very wealthy – and now corporations – to distort our political process and the very meaning of the First Amendment.

    No one has a First Amendment right to drown out other people’s speech.  The Supreme Court stated this clearly in its 1949 case in Kovacs v. Cooper.  In Kovacs, a union in the city of Trenton was blaring its message with a sound truck going down every street.  In response, the city passed an ordinance requiring that sound trucks could only go down every third street.  The Supreme Court upheld the ordinance as a reasonable regulation on the manner of speech.  It found that public streets served other public purposes that needed to be protected and, as Justice Jackson wrote in his concurrence, “freedom of speech for Kovacs does not...include freedom to use sound amplifiers to drown out the natural speech of others.”  The DC Circuit Court of Appeals in the Buckley case recognized this very point in finding the campaign spending limits to be constitutional.  “It would be strange indeed,” the appellate court said, “if, by extrapolation outward from the basic rights of individuals, the wealthy few could claim a constitutional guarantee to a stronger political voice than the unwealthy many because they are able to give and spend more money, and because the amounts they give and spend cannot be limited.”  Campaign spending limits ensure that big money interests may not drown out the voices of everyone else in our political process.

  • January 20, 2015
    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.

    President Obama went to the FTC this past week to address ways to protect privacy and identity in what he called “a dizzying age” of new technologies. 

    One of the many new technologies changing the ways people interact with information is cloud computing. Whether it's Jennifer Lawrence saving intimate photos to Apple's iCloud, startups scaling up with Amazon Web services, or businesses and consumers moving their documents to Microsoft 365 or Google Docs, cloud computing is becoming a familiar part of our digital daily lives.

    Cloud services offer benefits of large-scale computing, which include efficiency, scalability, security, and computing power, as well as ubiquitous access to data from an increasing variety of devices. But turning over data wholesale to someone else also comes with questions about privacy, confidentiality, security, and control. 

    As evidenced by Microsoft’s challenge to a U.S. government warrant for emails stored in a data center in Ireland, these questions also present challenges to traditional notions of sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction because global networks and cloud systems transcend national borders.

  • January 20, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Valerie SchneiderAssistant Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law.

    On Wednesday, January 21, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., one of the most important civil rights cases of the 2014-2015 Supreme Court term.  Via this case, the Justices will decide whether disparate impact claims – that is, claims where members of a protected class are disproportionately affected, but where intent to discrimination cannot be proven – are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act.

    Much has been written on the text, legislative history and case law that supports the validity of disparate impact analysis under the Fair Housing Act.  Indeed, as pointed out by many, in the Fair Housing Act’s over 45 year history, every circuit that has examined the issue has either assumed or decided that such claims are cognizable under the FHA.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development also weighed in last year, issuing a rule that clarifies the burden-shifting structure of such claims.  What is less examined, however, is why disparate impact analysis matters, not just as a litigation strategy, but as a behavior-modifier and as a moral imperative.

    Housing segregation was not just sanctioned, but explicitly enforced by public and private actors in our country for over 200 years. During that time, minorities were systematically denied not just access to housing, but access to all of the benefits that flow from housing opportunities:  educational opportunities, economic centers, healthy food, clean air, government services and many other critical threads in the fabric of American life. 

    After over 200 years of enforced segregation, housing discrimination has been prohibited for only 45 years.  Housing discrimination has been outlawed for less than one quarter of this country’s history. To say that prohibiting acts of intentional discrimination alone can reverse the ill-effects of our country’s long relationship with housing segregation is a fallacy.

  • January 19, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Elise C. Boddie, Associate Professor of Law, Rutgers University-Newark; former director of litigation NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc.; and a member of the ACS Board of Directors.

    One of the many indelible images of the civil rights era is a black and white picture of an African-American boy, maybe nine or ten years old, holding a poster in front of the Dallas County courthouse in Selma, Alabama. The year is 1964. The boy’s small hands are clutched around the edges of his poster, which in plain, scrawled lettering, calls for people to register to vote in the name of “freedom.”   We cannot see his eyes because they are averted from the camera.  Instead, he has fixed his gaze on a group of policemen who are about to descend upon him and, as we later learn, arrest him just after the picture is taken.[1]

    The picture is a reminder that the right to vote is more literally secure than it was in Selma in 1964.  Less than a year later, Selma would emerge as the birthplace of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, following a march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a host of civil rights leaders, including now-Congressman John Lewis.  An earlier attempted march to Montgomery led demonstrators over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they were beaten mercilessly by Alabama state troopers before having to turn back, all in full view of the national press.[2]  The horror and disgrace of that moment helped catalyze national support and the political will to pass voting rights legislation.[3]

    We rightly celebrate and honor Dr. King as the “drum major for justice”[4] who helped bring that fight to fruition, along with the countless, nameless thousands – the young Selma boy among them –  who laid their bodies on the line so that future generations could exercise their constitutional rights.   The police no longer beat African Americans in the street for trying to register; and literacy tests, which barred so many Blacks, Latinos, and other people of color from voting, no longer exist as a result of the 1965 Act.  The frontal indignities of Jim Crow at least are gone.

    And yet, like a weed with roots deep beneath the surface, other practices soon emerged in their place, including at-large voting schemes,[5] racially-discriminatory annexations[6] and redistricting plans that sought to “crack” or “pack” minority voters in order to dilute their voting strength.[7]   Evidence of this adaptive discrimination carries through to the present.  For example, following the record turnout of voters of color for Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections states enacted restrictive laws that made it harder to vote.[8]

    Against a record of  “unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution,”[9] Congress included in the Voting Rights Act a core provision that limited the authority of states with “the most aggravated records of rank discrimination against minority voting rights”[10] to unilaterally change their voting practices.  This “preclearance” provision, known as Section 5, required covered jurisdictions with certain indicia of low voter participation to secure federal approval of any proposed voting changes[11] by demonstrating that they would not disfranchise minority voters.[12]  In a landmark case, South Carolina v. Katzenbach, the Supreme Court upheld the Act against a constitutional challenge,[13] as it would in later cases brought by jurisdictions that sought to evade the statutory protections for minority voters.[14]  In 2013, however, the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down a companion provision that established the scope of Section 5’s geographic coverage.[15]  While acknowledging that voting discrimination persists, [16] the Court concluded that the coverage provision no longer reflected the most “current” manifestations of such discrimination.  In light of “dramatic” improvements in the landscape of voter suppression, the Act’s incursion on the “equal sovereignty” of the states was no longer justified.[17]   

    After Shelby, fifteen states enacted laws that discouraged voter participation.[18]  Although the precise impact of these laws is hard to determine, voters of color appear to have been disproportionately affected in at least five states – Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia, each of which had been covered by the Act’s preclearance provision before Shelby and each of which had also experienced a significant increase in the population of voters of color.[19]  Thus, in a time of burgeoning “minority” voting power, states have actively sought to limit accessibility to the polls.  The timing, of course, is hardly coincidental, but rather – as a Texas federal district court judge concluded with respect to that state’s photo identification law[20] – appears calculated to suppress minority turnout.[21]