• May 9, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on Friday released a report examining Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s record in civil rights cases and urging the Senate to hold a hearing for the Supreme Court nominee. Lydia Wheeler provides commentary on the report in The Hill.

    In The Atlantic, Richard L. Hasen considers whether the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, a measure that prohibits political parties from raising unlimited funds in the form of soft money.  

    According to an analysis by lawyers at the University of California, Los Angeles Law School, North Carolina could lose as much as $4.8 billion in federal funding if the state does not pull back from implementing its discriminatory law on public bathroom access for transgender individuals, reports Julia Harte at Reuters.   

  • May 5, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Paul Bland, Executive Director, Public Justice

    *This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.

    Banks and payday lenders have had a good deal going for a while: They could break the law, trick their customers in illegal ways, and not have to face any consumer lawsuits. Armed by some pretty bad 5-4 Supreme Court decisions, they could hide behind Forced Arbitration clauses (fine print contracts that say consumers can’t go to court even when a bank acts illegally), even when it was clear that the arbitration clauses made it impossible for a consumer to protect their rights.

    But the free ride is coming to an end. After an extensive study, that proved beyond any doubt how unfair these fine print clauses have been for consumers, the CFPB is taking a strong step to reign in these abusive practices. In a new rule, the CFPB says banks can no longer use forced arbitration clauses to ban consumers from joining together in class action lawsuits. That means banks can no longer just wipe away the most effective means consumers often have for fighting illegal behavior.

    This is a common sense rule that will go a long way in combating some of the financial industry’s worst practices.

  • May 5, 2016
    Guest Post

    By Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee

    Senators have sworn a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution. That means taking seriously our responsibility to ensure that the Federal Judiciary – a co-equal and independent branch of government – can perform its function under our Constitution. When Democrats held the Senate majority, we worked hard to fulfill our constitutional role to consider and confirm judicial nominees to fill vacancies in courts throughout the country. Despite constant obstruction by Senate Republicans who blocked President Obama’s nominees at every turn, we reduced the number of judicial vacancies to 43 by the end of 2014. 

    Sadly, the progress we made now seems like a distant memory. Vacancies have increased 75 percent since Republicans took over the Senate majority. In some states, vacancies have reached such high levels that it is hard to see how individuals can obtain prompt justice. In Texas, for example, there are 10 vacancies. Alabama and Pennsylvania each have are six vacancies.

    There are 20 judicial nominees pending on the Senate floor who were all unanimously voice voted out of the Judiciary Committee. Several of them are from states with Republican home state Senators who support their nomination. Yet it is the Republican leadership that is holding up these noncontroversial nominees. They claim that despite longstanding judicial vacancies in the states, President Obama’s nominees are being treated with the same level of fairness as the nominees of his predecessor. That claim is simply untrue. Democrats overcame filibuster after filibuster to confirm judicial nominees in the last Congress. And since taking over the majority last year, Republicans have confirmed just 17 judges. In the last two years of the Bush administration with a Democratic Senate, we confirmed 68 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. There is nothing fair about this Republican obstruction.

    In addition to the 20 nominees ready for their confirmation vote, there are 35 more judicial nominees awaiting a hearing, including 7 circuit court nominees. Three of these circuit court nominees have blue slips returned by both of their home state Senators and are ready for a hearing. They should be scheduled for a hearing without delay.

  • May 5, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Julie Wilensky, Director of the California Office of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and member, National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA)

    On March 26, the North Carolina General Assembly convened a special legislative session to preempt a local ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte, which had amended its antidiscrimination law to explicitly include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The state legislature introduced and rapidly passed HB 2, North Carolina’s extraordinarily broad “Bathroom Bill,” which Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the same day. The focus of HB 2, and much of the debate and dialogue surrounding it, is about forcing transgender people to use sex-segregated restrooms according to the sex listed on their birth certificate, instead of the restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. HB 2 also prohibits local governments in North Carolina from enacting their own anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and from establishing minimum wages other than for the local government’s own employees.

    Advocates have filed suit challenging aspects of HB 2 as violating the U.S. Constitution as well as Title IX, a claim vindicated by the Fourth Circuit’s April 19 decision in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board. That decision confirms that Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funding, protects the rights of transgender students to use sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity. Quite simply, HB 2 requires North Carolina’s local governments and schools receiving federal funding to discriminate against transgender and gender nonconforming people in violation of federal law.

    HB 2 also takes the extreme step of expressly revoking the right for workers to bring state-law discrimination claims in state court North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act. For many years, the North Carolina courts have recognized a common law right to file suit for wrongful termination based on the public policy under the Act. Taking this right away is an unprecedented and extreme step. While HB 2 states that North Carolina’s Human Relations Commission will have the authority to “investigate and conciliate charges of discrimination,” state officials have not provided guidance on how this will be implemented, and this is no substitute for a worker being able to file a lawsuit in state court.

  • May 5, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    A federal judge recently ruled in favor of ACS Nashville Chapter Board of Advisors members Tracey George, Bill Harbison and Dewey Branstetter, and Nashville Chapter President Hunter Branstetter, in their lawsuit challenging an anti-abortion amendment to the Tennessee Constitution. Tracey George comments in the StarTribune.

    Anita Earls, who has spoken about voting rights at various ACS programs, appeared on PBS’s The Open Mind to discuss rampant voter suppression across the U.S.

    A group of environmental organizations sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, arguing that rules regulating the disposal of oil and gas drilling waste are outdated, resulting in disposal practices that pollute drinking water and have caused an uptick in seismic activity, reports Brady Dennis at The Washington Post.