by Valerie Schneider, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of Fair Housing Clinic, Howard University School of Law
Less than one year after the Supreme Court ended its term with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, it is clear that at least four of the members of the current Supreme Court (the number needed for a case to be heard by the highest court) are eager to limit the reach of another pillar of the Civil Rights legislation from the 1960s -- the Fair Housing Act.
In the past two years, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari in two Fair Housing Act cases, both of which would have required the Supreme Court to determine whether acts that are not intentionally discriminatory, but still have a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, may be prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Each of these cases -- first Magner v. Gallagher and then, just this week, Township of Mt. Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens In Action, Inc.– settled just weeks before oral arguments were scheduled.
Those who would have liked the case to move forward argue that, unless plaintiffs can prove that a defendant harbored racial animus or intended to discriminate, the law should not recognize that discrimination has taken place. This proposition is countered by widely accepted social science, not to mention human experiences, that indicates that intent actually has very little to do with whether discrimination occurred. Regardless, to those displaced by discriminatory redevelopment decisions or lending policies, it is little comfort that the decision-makers may have had no conscious intent to cause harm based on race. What is in the mind of those engaged in discriminatory actions is of no comfort to the victims of discrimination and should be of limited import under the Fair Housing Act.
In the wake of new reports from human rights groups about the toll America’s drone warfare has had on civilians in Pakistan and Yemen, an expert in constitutional law and international human rights suggests in an ACS Issue Brief released today that the government could take a bit more action to enhance procedures to reduce risk of civilian deaths.
Deborah Pearlstein, assistant professor at Cardozo Law School, writes in “Enhancing Due Process in Targeted Killing,” that “it is worth taking seriously what procedural due process requires in targeted killings. Both the Supreme Court and the Executive Branch have now embraced due process to assess the legality of various U.S. uses of force against Al Qaeda and associates. As the Court has long recognized, U.S. citizens are protected by the Constitution wherever they are in the world. Even when they are deprived of their liberty in wartime, due process affords all ‘persons’ a right to notice of the reasons for the deprivation, and an opportunity for their opposition to be heard once any exigency has passed.”
Pearlstein’s examination of Supreme Court precedent and American military procedure around constitutional due process comes on the heels of new reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that focus on civilian casualties of America’s escalating use of drone warfare overseas to attack alleged terrorists. Human Rights Watch’s report, “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda,” looks at six targeted killings in Yemen ranging from 2009 through 2013. The report concludes, in part, that two of those drone strikes “killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civil deaths.”
Pearlstein, in her Issue Brief, says one should not easily dismiss “the application of constitutional due process in targeting as either hopelessly impractical, or hopelessly inadequate ....” She adds that her work is intended to “help advance our thinking of what process should be followed in targeting decisions when we do.”
We know very little about the Obama administration’s drone warfare procedures. But earlier this year a white paper prepared by attorneys in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) was leaked providing a glimpse into a rather troubling procedure. That paper was, according to news reports, was gleaned from a larger memorandum on targeted killings. The ACLU lodged a legal action to obtain the entire document. But the white paper alone, according to Georgetown University’s David Cole provides a blueprint for making extrajudicial killings easier. The OLC white paper appeared to give little thought to due process and greater justification for killing of alleged terrorists overseas, even if it means killing civilians as well.
National Review Online’s Ed Whelan has kindly pointed out some busted links on the ACS website. Actually he does so with hyperbole, probably born out of paranoia. He says ACS in “Stalinist airbrushing” fashion is trying to advance the careers of people he claims we’d like to see confirmed to “judicial office.”
Broken links, however, do not make a conspiracy. Whelan’s legwork has helped us restore links and we’ll make progress quickly on providing access to all our archived video. In 2010 we revamped the ACS website and not all links survived the transition. Again that’s technology and we don’t have an army of people at ACS to restore every link in every blog post or every landing page on the site. With time and capacity many links, especially to video, will be restored. In a small, but growing nonprofit we must prioritize.
Whelan accuses ACS of removing video of an event that Nina Pillard, a professor at Georgetown law school and a nominee for a seat on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, participated in during fall 2010. The event focused on class action lawsuits and arbitration. Thanks for pointing out the busted link, Ed. It has been restored, you can watch it here.
He was also disappointed that he could not access video from the 2006 ACS national convention containing comments from Stanford law school professor and ACS Board member Pamela S. Karlan. That video link has also been fixed. The video quality is awful. I’m not sure what vendor ACS used at that time, but video quality of Convention programming is much better now. But the audio works just fine.
California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, a former ACS Board chair, has spoken at many ACS events. Whelan linked to some transcripts of various Liu speeches, one from 2004, which he says helped defeat his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Alas, the links to those transcripts have not been restored. But we’re working on it. When and if the links are fixed, I’ll update this blog post.
by Adam Lioz. Mr. Lioz is a lawyer and policy advocate who joined the Demos Democracy Program in November 2011. He focuses on litigation to enforce the National Voter Registration Act and end prison-based gerrymandering; and policy advocacy to promote political equality and democratic fairness through safeguarding the right to vote and curbing the influence of big money on the political process.
Yesterday, in spite of official Washington being on lockdown, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on McCutcheon v. FEC – a case many are referring to as “Citizens United II.”
The case is a challenge to the total cap on the amount that one wealthy donor can give to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs, known as “aggregate contribution limits.”
An Alabama coal industry executive named Shaun McCutcheon (joined by the RNC) thinks that the current $123,200 cap – more than twice what an average family makes in a year – is a burdensome restriction on his political participation. So, he’s asking the Court to lift the cap, freeing him to kick in more than $3.5 million to Republican candidates and party committees.
What’s at stake in the case? New research from Demos and U.S. PIRG projects that striking aggregate limits would bring more than $1 billion in additional “McCutcheon Money” through the 2020 election cycle, from just slightly more than 1,500 elite donors.
This is not a sea change in overall election spending, and much of this money may be shifted from Super PACs to candidates and parties. But, it will continue to shift the balance of power from average citizens to a tiny minority of wealthy donors. And, who are these wealthy donors? In a nutshell, they don’t look like the rest of the country, but rather are avatars of what Public Campaign calls “Country Club Politics.”
As was widely expected the Supreme Court’s conservative justices appeared sympathetic to a wealthy businessman’s complaint about federal restrictions on overall contributions individuals can give directly to candidates. The limits described as aggregate limits are intended to prevent corruption of democracy.
But Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon, and the Republican National Committee are urging the high court to set aside such limits, saying they subvert free speech rights. McCutcheon told The Times last week that Americans need to spend more, not less on politics. But in reality only a tiny few have the resources to spend the kind of money McCutcheon has and wants to on politics.
Nevertheless, the conservative justices, especially Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, showed little confidence in U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s argument that aggregate contribution limits, help prevent corruption of democracy.
“Aggregate limits combat corruption both by blocking circumvention of individual contribution limits and, equally fundamentally, by serving as a bulwark against a campaign finance system dominated by massive individual contributions in which the dangers of quid pro quo corruption would be obvious and inherent and the corrosive appearance of corruptions would be overwhelming,” Verrilli said during oral argument in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Later, Verrilli acknowledged that the aggregate limits might restrict an individual like McCutcheon from making direct contributions to a certain number of candidates. But that limit Verrilli continued would not stifle McCutcheon’s First Amendment rights. For he could still funnel money into groups that help advance those candidates. “Mr. McCutcheon,” Verrilli said, “can spend as much of his considerable fortune as he wants on independent expenditures advocating for the election of these candidates.”
If the conservative justices vote to erase or greatly weaken limits on overall contributions, it would as The New York Times Adam Liptak notes “represent a fundamental reassessment of a basic distinction in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, which said contributions may be regulated more strictly than expenditures because of their potential for corruption.”
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said in a press statement that if the contribution limits are invalidated in McCutcheon “we are bound to see the $1 million and $2 million contributions that would be permitted by such a decision used by influence-seeking donors to corrupt government decisions.”
He urged the high court to “not empower the wealthy few to buy the government that belongs to all Americans by striking down longstanding contribution limits that protect citizens against corruption.”