• March 8, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson urges Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R) to stop obstructing the judicial confirmation process. She writes, “In Wisconsin, there also has been a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for nearly six years, and Johnson has refused to give his approval to the nominee, Donald Schott, despite the fact that Johnson recommended him to the president.”

    In the Chicago Tribune, ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter Board of Advisors members Abner Mikva and Newt Minow, both of whom knew Justice Scalia personally, say he would be "disturbed" by the Senate's failure to follow the plain meaning of Article II.

    The Supreme Court Monday restored an Alabama woman’s right to adopt three children she and their birth mother, formerly her partner, had been raising together,  upholding the constitutionality of same-sex adoption, writes  Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog.

    Flint residents filed a lawsuit against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) as well as other current and former leaders responsible for the city’s current water crisis, reports the Associated Press. Petitioners are seeking class-action status, claiming physical and economic injuries and damages.

    Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments as to whether former Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille should have recused himself from the appeal of a death penalty case he was directly involved with when serving as Philadelphia’s district attorney. At Mother Jones, Michael Mechanic says this case highlights the dangers of appointing prosecutors to federal judgeships.

  • March 7, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Harry BaumgartenPartner Legal Fellow, Voting Rights Institute

    Ten State Caucuses Roll on Shabbos – and That’s Not Okay

    This past Saturday, four state parties held caucuses to select first round delegates in the presidential nomination process. Caucuses generally require voters to show up in person, although the rules differ by state and party, and many caucuses are now more similar to traditional secret ballot primaries. Detractors of the caucus system claim that it is undemocratic, hard to oversee and privileges voters who have the time and passion to attend events in person. These problems are augmented by Saturday caucuses, which can structurally exclude Sabbath observant Jews, Seventh Day Adventists and other Saturday Sabbath observers who abstain from writing, travelling long distances, using electricity or other activities necessary to caucus during this time.

    To be fair, Saturday caucuses are generally intended to make it easier for the vast majority of participants to vote without missing work. The incidental effect of Saturday caucuses on religious minorities is also starkly different from the racially discriminatory voter ID lawsrollbacks in early votingdraconian restrictions on voter registration drives, and rampant racial gerrymandering maps across the country that are clearly intended to disenfranchise specific groups for partisan political gain. Likewise, Saturday Sabbath observers comprise only a tiny fraction of the population in the states that hold Saturday caucuses—Alaska (D), Hawaii (D), Kansas (D & R), Kentucky (R), Maine (R), Nebraska (D),Nevada (D), Washington (D), Wyoming (D).[*]

    However, the fact that some state parties are able to hold caucuses on Saturdays without disenfranchising groups on the basis of religious practice demonstrates that it is possible for other state parties to balance the convenience of most voters with the rights of religious minorities.

  • March 7, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    In the Huffington Post, Geoffrey Stone, co-faculty advisor to the ACS Student Chapter at the University of Chicago Law School, discusses Justice Scalia’s failed effort “to make originalism the dominant approach to constitutional interpretation.”

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Glenn Northern presents religious arguments against two upcoming Supreme Court cases that aim to severely restrict reproductive health services at the expense of women’s religious liberties.

    Rekha Basu in The Courier blasts Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for obstructing the judicial nominations process in a blatantly unconstitutional manner.

    “A $1.1 million corporate spending blitz that helped defeat two candidates for the Arkansas Supreme Court has prompted the state legislature to call for reforms that would either eliminate judicial elections, ban undisclosed ‘dark’ money in those races, or both,” reports Justin Miller at The American Prospect.

  • March 4, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Jill E. Adams, J.D., Chief Strategist, SIA Legal Team; Executive Director, Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice

    Anyone who’s read the transcript or colorful dispatches from Wednesday’s oral arguments in the Whole Woman’s Health case knows the four liberal-leaning Justices took some of the swagger out of Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller.

    What Knocked Keller Off His Lone Star High Horse?

    That would be many illuminating laser lines of questioning, among them Justice Breyer’s about how closing facilities, cutting off clinical access to safe medications and procedures, delaying abortions until later in pregnancy, and forcing women onto freeways and into overnight stays hundreds of miles away from home just might lead to an increase in the number of women who end their own pregnancies outside of the formal health care system. Justice Breyer and his sistren repeatedly call out the illogic of these cascading effects flowing directly from the state’s dementedly disingenuous claim of wanting to enhance women’s health by enacting the sweeping set of anti-abortion laws that is HB2.

    What Happens When There Is a 75 Percent Reduction in the Number of Clinics?

    Here’s a hint: It isn’t fewer abortions.

    Justice Breyer correctly points out that excessive restrictions on abortion provision limit clinic access and increase the necessity for self-administered abortion care. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project report concluded that as many as 100,000 women in Texas have already attempted to end their own pregnancies outside the formal medical system. Global data have consistently demonstrated that highly restrictive laws do not reduce the abortion rate, they simply relocate the site of abortion care from the hospital to the home.

    Before your mind goes conjuring up gruesome images, take note that this is not your grandmother’s self-induced abortion. Coat hangers and other dangerous methods, while still occasionally employed, have largely given way to safer methods. More often than not, the women in the TxPEP report, and other studies, used traditional herbs or safe and effective pharmaceutical pills purchased online―the same pills they would be prescribed by a healthcare professional for a fraction of the costs.

    What Abortion Access Looks Like Under HB2 for People Living in Poverty

    The abortion costs borne by people living in poverty are much higher than one might think. A pregnant woman in Texas who is struggling to make ends meet may be shocked to discover that her health insurance doesn’t cover abortion. Like the rest of the 13.5 million women of reproductive age in the United States who rely on Medicaid, she’ll have to pay out of pocket for the abortion medication or the procedure, both of which cost about $500 in the first trimester. Tack onto that the price of bus tickets or gas, which could be high if she’s one of the 10,000 women who live more than 150 miles from the nearest abortion provider under HB2. Plus, she has to come up with money for a place to stay overnight and child care for the kids she had to leave behind. That’s all assuming she can afford the lost wages for the days away from work. All told, securing an abortion can cost some families half a month’s pay.

    Mustering Bravery and Ingenuity to Secure an Abortion

  • March 4, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    In The Tennessean, Shanna Singh Hughey, a member of the ACS Nashville Lawyer Chapter Executive Board, slams attempts to turn Senate obstruction of Supreme Court nominees into the “new normal.”

    Leaders of the Kentucky NAACP and other civil rights groups slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for vowing to obstruct any Supreme Court nominee, saying that upcoming voting rights and redistricting cases require a full Supreme Court, reports Chris Kenning at the Courier Journal.

    In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court will “reaffirm a woman's right to choose or subject the abortion right to a death by a thousand cuts,” writes the Constitutional Accountability Center’s David H. Gans at The New Republic. Julie Rovner at NPR dissects the chain of events that paved the way for this high-profile lawsuit.

    In The Morning Call, Brianne J. Gorod of the Constitutional Accountability Center provides commentary on Williams v. Pennsylvania, arguing that the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated by a judge’s clear conflict of interest.