As voters prepare to head to the polls this election season, many are concerned with how last year’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder will affect voter turnout. Carrie Johnson at NPR reports on an ACS-sponsored voting rights training in Atlanta that is working to prevent voter disenfranchisement.
When did the Supreme Court’s stance on campaign finance reform begin to change? For Kenneth Jost at Jost on Justice, the court began to “open its door to more money in politics” as soon as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor closed the door on her career in 2005. In his analysis, Jost breaks down McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission and explains why it’s “no mere coincidence that O’Connor’s departure marks the court’s turning point on issues of campaign finance regulation.”
Attorneys have filed a lawsuit to stop Texas’ expansive restrictions on abortion. Irin Carmon at MSNBC reports on the new challenge from abortion rights activists.
Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed, pending litigation, a district court decision that had struck down parts of Texas’ controversial abortion law. The key provisions of the law, “pertaining to hospital privileges for physicians who perform abortions and protocols for abortion-inducing drugs,” have ignited ardent protest from Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups. Greg Botelho at CNN follows this decision.
The Obama administration has announced its plan to reform the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records. Adam Serwer at MSNBC discusses how these changes will impact the NSA and the concerns that remain regarding “bulk preservation.”
Writing for Balkinization, David Gans urges the Supreme Court to “recognize that the rights of Hobby Lobby’s thousands of employees—who have deeply held beliefs and convictions of their own—are at stake here, too.”
Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the “preclearance” provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “a critical tool that prevented discrimination.” At The Root, Julian Bond urges Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act to ensure that “minorities have an equal voice in our democracy.”
Josh Gerstein at Politico reports on the 13-month sentence that may await a former State Department contractor who leaked classified information to Fox News.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases brought by for-profit corporations challenging the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control benefit, which requires that health plans include coverage for contraception—a basic health service that 99 percent of women use at some point in their lives. Hobby Lobby, a national chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a furniture manufacturer, argue the ACA’s requirement that health plans cover contraception violates their religious liberty rights by forcing them to participate in a process that ends with women accessing and using birth control.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are pursuing a radical proposition: that corporations have a right to impose religious beliefs on their employees by withholding benefits otherwise legally guaranteed to the women who work there. As others have noted, a win for the companies in these cases could open the door to all sorts of claims that corporations can opt out of laws that have helped shape our society and matter deeply to Americans, from Social Security to labor and civil rights laws. We have already seen a preview of what this could mean for the rights of LGBT individuals and families in the Arizona bill vetoed by Gov. Brewer last month.
It is important to note that, in the past, courts have rejected claims that religion-based arguments could allow restaurants to discriminate on the basis of race, or businesses to ignore wage-and-hour laws, for example. But several lower courts have ruled in favor of corporations in the birth control cases, and several justices seemed to favor their position this week.
An Arizona federal court has ordered Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to stop “systematically [profiling] Latinos.” U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow said that Arpaio had been “targeting [Latinos] for arrest during raids at day-laborer gathering spots and detaining them longer than other drivers during traffic stops.” Fernanda Santos of The New York Times comments on the case.
Researchers believe that The Department of Corrections’ newly expanded lethal-injection combinations in Oklahoma “will significantly amplify the risk of inmates' facing inhumane and possibly unconstitutional pain and suffering.” Samantha Vicent at Tulsa World reports on the troubling issue.
The Colorado Supreme Court has approved a law allowing lawyers to work with marijuana businesses. Writing for The Denver Post, John Ingold discusses the legal implications of the new rule.
Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog provides extensive coverage on yesterday’s oral argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.
Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments in the long awaited cases of for-profit corporations arguing that Obamacare's contraception mandate endangers their constitutional and statutory religious exercise rights. Both Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a national arts and crafts store chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a small kitchen cabinet maker, argued that they should be exempt from the health insurance regulations due to not just their owners’ beliefs, but their corporate consciences. Rather than focus on whether a company is a "person" that "has" a statutory or constitutional right to free exercise of religion, the Justices could have pushed harder on a constitutional question that comes first: whether the lawsuit even belongs in a federal court.
During the arguments, Justice Elena Kagan noted: “I'm not sure I understand it as a threshold claim that . . . the claim is not recognizable at all.” And Justice Anthony Kennedy asked: “You say profit corporations just don't have any standing to vindicate the religious rights of their shareholders and owners.” Does Hobby Lobby have standing to sue? For a federal judge to hear a case, Article III of the Constitution requires there to be a “Case or Controversy.” The Supreme Court has interpreted the requirement to mean that a plaintiff must suffer a "concrete injury" to its own interests – and not those of others – in order to sue. The Court has kicked out cases holding that a "mere interest in a problem" was not concrete enough. The Court has only in unusual cases allowed a third-party to sue on behalf of another, like an employee, owner, or customer.
These companies say that they suffer direct harm: the contraception mandate costs them money. That is what the Tenth Circuit in Hobby Lobby briefly noted: the companies “face an imminent loss of money, traceable to the contraceptive-coverage requirement.” But even if that is true (which was the subject of tough questions at the arguments), paying that money does not directly affect any individual’s ability to freely exercise religion. Only the employees and officers can directly exercise their individual religious beliefs. And they are not the ones paying to comply with the regulations. They are separate from the company.