• August 19, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In The Daily Business Review, Celia Ampel writes about the judicial emergency facing the Southern District of Florida, which is currently confirming judges at the slowest rate since 1953.

    Kim Soffen at The New York Times opines that Texas laws could provide a national template for limiting access to abortions.

    In the Los Angeles Times, Molly Hennessy-Fiske describes the dismal working environment for immigration judges and warns that many may vacate their seats as a result.

    Jeremy Wallace at the Miami Herald discusses the battle in Florida to determine the methodology for counting prisoners when redrawing congressional districts.

    Zoe Tillman at The National Law Journal reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Tuesday that Texas must pay $1 million in legal fees to groups that challenged its redistricting plans before the Shelby County v. Holder decision was made.  

  • August 18, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In The Nation, Michelle Chen highlights the benefits of providing financial aid to incarcerated adults pursuing college-level education programs.

    Becca Andrews at Mother Jones celebrates the decision by Judge Myron Thompson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama to temporarily block a regulatory requirement that would have forced the state’s largest abortion clinic to close.

    On FixGov, the blog of The Brookings Institution, Russell Wheeler writes about the large number of judicial vacancies, citing partisan differences between the White House and Senate as the root of the problem. 

    Rebecca Kaplan at CBS News discusses the plausibility and implications of ending birthright citizenship. 

  • August 17, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    The New York Times reports AT&T has for many years  colluded with the NSA  to gather large quantities of data about Internet traffic flowing through the United States, raising serious constitutional concerns about unreasonable searches.

    Lynette Holloway at The Root mourns the death of civil rights icon Julian Bond.

    In The New York Times, Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld detail the harsh working conditions at Amazon.  Treatment of female employees is particularly troubling, they report, and there are no women on the company’s top leadership team.

    In The Washington Post, Walter Dellinger, a former U.S. Solicitor General and a member of the ACS Board of Advisors, discusses the House of Representatives’ weak lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

    On Friday, Sept. 11, the Civil Jury Project at NYU School of Law will host its Fall Conference entitled “The State and Future of Civil Jury Trials.” The project was started by Stephen Susman, a member of the ACS Board of Advisors and former member of the ACS Board of Directors.

  • August 14, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Franita Tolson, the Betty T. Ferguson Professor of Voting Rights, Florida State University College of Law.

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium regarding the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    The fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provides an opportunity to reflect, not only on its marveled history, but also on the next frontier of voting rights litigation and policy. The Act has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years, culminating in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Shelby County v. Holder. In Shelby County, the Court invalidated the coverage formula of section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act.  The coverage formula required certain jurisdictions, mostly in the south, to preclear all changes to their electoral laws with the federal government under section 5 of the Act.  The Court found that the formula unduly infringed on the states’ sovereign authority over elections because Congress had not updated the formula in over forty years, and racial discrimination in voting had substantially decreased over this time period. 

    Contrary to the Court’s assertions of post-racialism, the years since Shelby County have welcomed a considerable increase in the number of restrictions designed to undermine the right to vote. According to the Brennan Center, states have introduced 113 bills this year alone that limit access to registration and voting. There also has been litigation challenging voting restrictions in North Carolina and Texas, which enacted very restrictive voting laws immediately following the Shelby County decision.  Unsurprisingly, both the U.S. Department of Justice and private litigants have turned to section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to challenge these provisions after the Supreme Court crippled the preclearance regime of sections 4(b) and 5. Section 2 of the Act forbids any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”  Unlike the preclearance regime, section 2 applies nationwide and allows plaintiffs to challenge a law after it goes into effect.

    The strategic decision by the Justice Department and private litigants to use section 2 to fill the gap left in the Voting Rights Act post-Shelby County has brought renewed attention to section 2’s constitutionality.  The Supreme Court has never directly addressed this issue, and critics argue that section 2 raises many of the same federalism concerns as the recently invalidated coverage formula.  Texas, in the current litigation over its voter identification law, explicitly argued that it is unconstitutional to apply section 2 to address the racially discriminatory effects of its voter identification law absent a showing that the law is intentionally discriminatory. So far, courts have been unresponsive to this type of argument, but very few courts have confronted the issue in the post-Shelby County world. 

  • August 14, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Gregg Leslie, Legal Defense Director, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

    The unrest in Ferguson, Mo., concerns civil rights issues of the most fundamental nature. And the concerns of journalists who get arrested covering that unrest seem to pale in comparison to the issues underlying the protests. But when we see things like this week’s decision to bring charges against journalists who were arrested last year, it’s important to remember that the right to cover these controversies is as important to the public as the right to protest in the first place. Without news accounts – be they by established “mainstream” media or independent bloggers – the controversy could not be fully understood by those who want to know what happened and what needs to change.

    The decision to prosecute – which apparently affects nearly everyone arrested last summer, not just the journalists whose cases have been publicized this week – seems odd, and tied more to the looming statute of limitations deadline than the renewed protests there. It also seems that prosecutors may be pursuing this only because the county still fears that those arrested for exercising their rights will bring civil rights suits; an offer to drop criminal charges can make those suits settle quickly.

    Each arrest has a unique set of facts, but many of the journalists arrested last year were simply gathering news. The two reporters whose arrests got much of the attention, The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and the Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly, weren’t even involved in a contentious encounter. They were instead sitting in a McDonald’s, recharging their phones.  The reporters were ordered to leave a public restaurant, and while they were leaving, they asked questions and videotaped the officers. This is perfectly lawful and appropriate behavior; they weren’t refusing to leave, just daring to ask questions while they were being forced out of a public place. Their newsgathering does not justify the officers’ decision to arrest them for “disobeying” an order, and certainly cannot justify a trespassing charge in a restaurant open to the public.