ACSBlog

  • August 26, 2016
    Guest Post

    Thomas Wolf, Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

    *This post originally appeared on the Brennan Center for Justice website. 

    Partisan gerrymandering has long befuddled the courts. Although judges have recognized the harm of the practice, they have been unable to agree on a standard for policing it. But for the second time in a year, a partisan-gerrymandering challenge has cleared a critical hurdle.

    Earlier this week, voters challenging the drawing of Maryland’s 2011 congressional map got the green light to proceed with their First Amendment claim when a panel of three federal judges voted 2-1 to deny a motion to dismiss from Maryland’s attorney general. The voters — plaintiffs in the long-running case Shapiro v. McManus — will now be able to conduct discovery in preparation for a trial. The victory gives new momentum to a case that, along with a partisan-gerrymandering challenge pending in Wisconsin, could soon be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Justices will have their first opportunity in more than a decade to decide whether partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution.

    The panel’s opinion focuses on the legal sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ complaint, which challenges the 2011 congressional redistricting plan enacted by the Maryland General Assembly. The plaintiffs alleged the legislature deliberately used information about voters’ partisan affiliations and voting histories to flip Maryland’s Sixth District from an otherwise reliably Republican stronghold into a safe Democratic seat, all in a successful attempt to punish Republican voters for casting ballots for their party’s candidates. On those facts, the panel ruled, the plaintiffs stated a claim that could go to trial, endorsing the plaintiffs’ theory that these kinds of districting machinations violate the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment problem with Maryland’s redistricting, the panel explained, was that it diluted the plaintiffs’ votes — that is, made their votes less powerful than other voters’ — by placing them in districts where they were outnumbered and repeatedly outvoted by Democrats, and did so simply because the plaintiffs had voted Republican in the past. That dilution was an example — albeit a novel one — of the kind of retaliation for political speech and association that the First Amendment bars.

  • August 24, 2016

    By Kevin Battersby Witenoff

    Julie Ebenstein at the ACLU Blog reports a federal court held the system currently in place for electing school board members in Ferguson, Mo. violates the Voting Rights Act and systematically disadvantages African-Americans.

    Days after issuing an injunction prohibiting the Education Department from enforcing antidiscrimination guidelines intended to protect transgender students, a lawsuit aiming to deny expanded access to medical care for transgender Americans has landed on the desk of Judge Reed O’Connor, writes The Editorial Board at The New York Times.

    Fiona Ortiz and Alistair Bell explain the consequences of a 2-1 decision from a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a law eliminating Ohio’s early voting period in an article for Reuters

    The Department of Justice submitted a brief to a class action law suit asserting the United States’ current bail system unfairly discriminates against the poor, reports Lauren C. Williams of Think Progress.

  • August 17, 2016

    By Kevin Battersby Witenoff

    In The Hill, Melissa Boteach and Rebecca Vallas advocate to reform TANF and expound upon the necessity to improve other social welfare programs.

    The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections on behalf of transgender woman, Reiyn Keohane. The ACLU and Keohane are alleging the DOC has infringed upon her Eighth Amendment rights by disallowing hormone therapy treatment, reports Andrew V. Pestano of UPI.

    The Huffington Post published an op-ed by Jason Steed in which he explains why it may be in Republican Senators' best interest to reconsider a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

    Annalyn Kurtz in The New York Times highlights the challenges faced by new mothers in a male-dominated field that are representative of the struggles females encounter in the workplace across the country.  

  • August 15, 2016

    By Kevin Battersby Witenoff

    The Seventh Circuit Court was unwilling to extend Title VII non-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation, reports George M. Patterson at The National Law Review

    David G. Savage at the Los Angeles Times reports North Carolina and Wisconsin lawyers are attacking gerrymandered electoral maps that ensure suppression of voters of particular races and party affiliation.

    The Editorial Board at The New York Times shares the difficulties of citizens in Sparta, Ga. who experience overt voter suppression reminiscent of Jim Crow.  

    After a report released by the Department of Justice exposed the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ failure to appropriately monitor and control regulations in for-profit prisons, Carl Takei reexamines their necessity in an op-ed for The Marshall Project

  • August 12, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Tom Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department 

    On Wednesday, August 10, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released the findings of its investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) that followed troubling allegations raised in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the BPD in April of 2015. At that time (as well as long before and continuing to the present), there were consistent and hauntingly similar reports that the department had repeatedly and pervasively engaged in practices and policies that infringed upon the First and Fourth Amendment rights of community residents in Baltimore, and particularly residents in communities of color.

    The investigation by the DOJ found that the BPD “makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression.” The DOJ report found that the BPD engages in “pattern and practice” violations of the Fourth Amendment, specifically in “focusing enforcement strategies on African Americans, leading to severe and unjustified racial disparities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Safe Streets Act.”

    In addition to engaging in repeated practices of using excessive force, the DOJ investigation reported that the BPD also “interact(s) with individuals with mental health disabilities in a manner that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The BPD was also found to have engaged in a pattern and practice of repeatedly violating the rights of individuals and groups that are protected under the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.