U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

  • September 17, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    It has been apparent for quite some time that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide on marriage equality in the not-so-distant future. Since last year’s historic decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and putting an end to California’s Prop. 8, court after court has struck down state marriage bans across the country.

    Last month Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court will not "[duck] the issue" if a marriage equality case comes properly before the court and predicted that would happen by June 2016 at the latest. Last night, Justice Ginsburg was talking marriage equality again. Speaking to an audience in Minnesota, the Associated Press reports Ginsburg said cases pending before the circuit covering Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee would probably play a role in the high court's timing. She said "there will be some urgency" if that appeals court allows same-sex marriage bans to stand. Such a decision would run contrary to a legal trend favoring gay marriage and force the Supreme Court to step in sooner, she predicted.

    Now the question is which case or cases will make it to the high court. The Associated Press reports Ginsburg didn't get into the merits of any particular case or any state's gay marriage ban, but she marveled at the "remarkable" shift in public perception of same-sex marriage that she attributes to gays and lesbians being more open about their relationships. Same-sex couples can legally wed in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Bans that have been overturned in some other states continue to make their way through the courts.

  • November 5, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    It appears the push by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to suppress voter turnout through thinly veiled measures like voter ID laws and a confusing provisional ballot policy will continue through to Election Day. ACSblog has devoted extensive coverage to Husted's efforts to keep Ohio voters from the polls. The long and short of it is that since this election cycle got in to full swing, Husted (pictured) has striven to ensure that voting will be “fair and genuine” (read: as difficult as possible) for hard-working Ohioans.

    It started back in August when Ohio Republicans reduced the early voting period from thirty-five days to eleven, even cutting back on the Sunday before the election – the time when African-American churches have traditionally encouraged parishioners to exercise join in the democratic process. In response, voting rights activists had to gather enough signatures to force an Election Day referendum on the issue. The state’s Republicans then changed course and stopped all early voting in the three days before Election Day, with an exception for members of the military. The Obama campaign challenged that measure in court, and on Oct. 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the early voting restrictions violated the equal protection clause and restored full early voting for Ohioans.

    But, that setback didn’t stop Husted. He cut back early voting in Democratic-leaning cities by limiting early voting hours on weekdays, making it nearly impossible for those with day-jobs from voting either before or after work. Meanwhile, in heavily Republican areas, Republican election officials approved measures to expand early voting hours on nights and weekends. This sparked another public outcry, and instead of expanding ballot access for all, Husted issued a statewide mandate directing all counties to limit early voting times. Republican election officials minced no words when explaining why they wanted to limit voter turnout. In the words of Franklin County (Columbus) GOP Chair Doug Preisse, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban [e.g., minority] voter-turnout machine.”

  • October 11, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A federal appeals court provided a setback to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s effort to create more hurdles to voting, by ruling against a part of the state’s rigid provisional ballot rules.

    A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in an unsigned opinion, kept in place an injunction barring election officials from refusing to count ballots cast at the wrong precinct because of poll workers’ errors. SEIU and other groups lodged a lawsuit against the state arguing that an injunction against the law was needed to “prevent the irreparable and unconstitutional disqualification of thousands of lawfully registered voters’ ballots in the upcoming November 2012 general election.” In August, U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley agreed with SEIU’s argument and issued a preliminary injunction against the law.

    Today’s Sixth Circuit action supported the bar against the provisional ballot rule. The appeals court noted that pursuant to Ohio law poll workers carry the burden of ensuring voters are at the correct precinct and that they have correct precinct ballots. The appeals court also took note of the “voluminous evidence” presented by SEIU “that poll workers give voters wrong-precinct ballots for a number of reasons, ranging from misunderstanding counties’ precinct location guides to failing to understand the vote-disqualifying ramifications of handing out wrong-precinct ballots.”

    “The Secretary failed to present evidence to the district court that other factors besides poll-worker error caused wrong-precinct ballots, and the State offers none now,” the Sixth Circuit stated.

    But the provision of the elections law requiring the rejection of right-place/wrong precinct ballots, the court continued “caused by poll-worker error effectively requires voters to have a greater knowledge of their precinct, precinct ballot, and polling place than poll workers. Absent such omniscience, the State will permanently reject their ballots without an opportunity to cure the situation. The mere fact that these voters cast provisional ballots does not justify this additional burden; as the district court explained.”

  • June 1, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly and retired Sixth Circuit Judge James L. Ryan. Justice Kelly will participate in a panel on judicial campaigns and public confidence in the courts during the American Constitution Society’s National Convention in June.

    Since the turn of the century, Michigan has gained a reputation for Supreme Court election campaigns that are among the most expensive, least transparent and most partisan in the country. Our campaign ads have been among the most offensive. That is why we convened a bipartisan task force of prominent Michiganders to study how Supreme Court justices are selected across the nation and recommended improvements to Michigan’s Supreme Court selection process.

    The 2010 candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court raised a total of $2.6 million. The political parties and state-based interest groups reported spending another $2.5 million. But data collected from the public files of state television broadcasters and cable systems showed that an additional $6.3 million was spent by the political parties and interest groups. Michigan law does not require this candidate-focused “issue” advertising to be reported in the state campaign finance disclosure system.

    This was not the first time that the majority of money spent in a Michigan Supreme Court campaign was undisclosed to the public. For the elections from 2000 through 2010, $21.5 million was reported and $20.8 million was paid for undisclosed television advertising.

  • September 6, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    After returning from its August recess, the U.S. Senate resumed its snail’s pace of taking action on the administration’s judicial nominations, by overwhelmingly confirming Judge Bernice Bouie Donald to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, after her nomination had been languishing for months.

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), noted in a press statement, following the 96-2 vote, that it was the first federal appeals court nomination confirmed since May. Before leaving town for its break, the Senate had confirmed a mere four nominations, leaving 19 others that were ready for a vote.

    A U.S. District Judge from Tennessee, Donald, was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in spring, after a hearing lasting about 20 minutes. Judge Donald (pictured) also adds some seriously needed diversity to the Sixth Circuit, becoming the first African American woman on the Circuit.  

    Senate Leahy said, “I hope this month Senators will finally join together to bring down the excessive number of vacancies that have persisted on Federal courts throughout the Nation for far too long. We can and must do better.”

    There are more than 90 vacancies on the federal bench, 37 of them deemed judicial emergencies.

    Murray Fogler, president of the Houston chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, in a Sept. 4 column for the Houston Chronicle urged the Senate to start confirming judges, noting his state’s vacancy rate. “Our own district here in Houston, the Southern District of Texas, is operating at an even lower percentage [than the national level]. With three seats vacant out of 19, the district is operating at 84 percent," he wrote.

    Fogler continued, “The Senate’s constitutional duty to advise and consent on nominations merely requies them to conduct an up or down vote.” But instead of moving on judges ready for an up-or-down vote, Fogler stated, “the Senate is instead holding the judiciary hostage, and this cannot be tolerated in a functioning democracy of checks and balances.”

    See JudicialNominations.org for analysis and up-to-date information about the efforts to fill federal court vacancies.