• April 8, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Mark Berman, Wesley Lowery and Kimberly Kindy report for The Washington Post on the South Carolina police officer charged with murder for shooting a man during a traffic stop.

    In the Journal Sentinel, Patrick Marley writes that judicial elections in Wisconsin are becoming more political as voters approve a new Chief Justice selection amendment. 

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Janai Nelson writes that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Alabama redistricting cases “preserved an important nuance of Section 5 that will enable the [Voting Rights Act] to operate effectively.”

    Grace Garces Bordallo reports for the Associated Press that Guam has rejected a lesbian couple’s marriage license application.

    In The New York Times, Adam Liptak discusses two amicus briefs in the Supreme Court same-sex marriage case that provide perspectives from abroad.

    At Salon, Jenny Kutner writes that a new anti-abortion law in North Carolina could dramatically reduce the availability of competent abortion providers in the state.

    Jason A. Schwartz argues at The Hill that the ability of the EPA to carry out life-saving regulation “may hinge on whether the Supreme Court Justices understand that fractions can’t be calculated without knowing the denominator.”

  • April 7, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Mark S. Kende, James Madison Chair Professor of Law and Director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center, and Bryan Ingram, Notes Editor of the Drake Law Review

    In 2009, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board (DMVB) rejected a controversial license plate design proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a Texas non-profit group.  The plate features a confederate battle flag surrounded by the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896,” a faint confederate flag design in the background, an outline of the state in the upper-right-hand corner, the words “Texas” at the top of the plate, and the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans” at the bottom. 

    The DMVB’s action triggered a First Amendment battle between the state and the SCV, which is presently before the Supreme Court.  After the recent oral arguments, many believe the issue will hinge on whether the design constitutes government or private speech.  The question of whether such a plate contains racist hate speech is also relevant.  Most foreign nations ban racist hate speech.  The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has said racist hate speech is protected.  Some have called this American free speech exceptionalism, but the SCV says they are just committed to preserving the history and legacy of confederate veterans.

  • April 7, 2015

    The Third Annual ACS Student Convention was a huge success!  For those who weren’t able to make it to Austin, video of the convention panels and keynotes is available online.  Take a look below, and register now for the 2015 National Convention.

    Opening keynote: Cecile Richards

    Panel: Progressive Family Values

    Panel: Organizing & Messaging

    Panel: Voting Rights Institute Training

    Closing keynote: Wendy Davis

  • April 7, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jamie Hoag, Co-President of the ACS Boston Lawyer Chapter

    What do the cases United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins and State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado have in common?  They both involve the practice of civil forfeiture - the seizure of property that law enforcement officials suspect of being involved in criminal activity.  While in criminal forfeiture the government has to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to seize property tied to the criminal activity, that’s not the case in civil forfeiture proceedings.  In these actions, the property itself is charged with a crime – hence the strange case titles – and it is not necessary for the government to demonstrate that a property owner is guilty of any misconduct.  In fact, civil forfeiture often takes place even when criminal charges are never filed.

    As described in an extensive study done by the Institute for Justice, civil forfeiture laws at the federal level and in 42 states perversely incentivize forfeiture actions.  The money is often used to pay salaries and purchase equipment, providing an incentive for law enforcement officials to increase the number of seizures.  In Philadelphia alone, officials seized approximately $64 million dollars in assets in a 10-year period, and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office used $25 million of that to pay salaries.  A class action lawsuit has been filed challenging Philadelphia’s appetite for civil forfeiture proceedings.

    The practice is getting the scrutiny and criticism it deserves.  In a comprehensive investigation, The Washington Post reported last year that police have seized almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or criminal indictments since September 11, 2001.  The New Yorker also examined the out of control practice, as did one late night comedy show.  In addition, the Department of Justice report on the Ferguson police department highlighted the role of law enforcement as a municipal revenue generator, noting that the city’s law enforcement activity “shaped by the City’s pressure to raise revenue, has resulted in a pattern and practice of constitutional violations.”

  • April 7, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At Share America, Geoffrey Stone takes a look at the history of civil liberties during wartime.

    Dahlia Lithwick of Slate explains how arguments against same-sex marriage are impossible to reconcile with arguments in support of religious freedom acts.

    At The New Republic, Sam Eifling discusses the unusual circumstances that prompted Wal-Mart to oppose Arkansas’s proposed attack on gay rights.

    In The New York Times, Mitch Smith writes that the Wisconsin Supreme Court election has raised concerns about partisanship in the judicial branch.

    William Greider considers at The Nation how the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby has provided inspiration for countless new conservative campaigns.

    Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times on how Laurence Tribe has become an outspoken – and unlikely – opponent of President Obama’s ambitious new plans to fight global warming.