• October 10, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Yesterday saw two rare victories for voting rights in states where conservative lawmakers and governors with presidential aspirations are catering to the fringe rightwing. The Supreme Court stopped officials in Wisconsin from requiring voters there to provide photo identification before casting their ballots in the coming election. While three justices dissented, voters were handed a 6-to-3 victory, not the 5-to-4 loss one might expect. Meanwhile in Texas, Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos concluded a two-week trial in Corpus Christi by finding the state’s voter ID law “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”

    In Wisconsin the voter ID law is one of the strictest in the nation and was clearly drafted and passed with the intention of making it more difficult for minority voters, particularly in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Madison, as well as elderly and younger voters to cast their ballots. As The New York Times reports, since it was passed in 2011 and signed into law by Governor Scott Walker, it has been mostly blocked by various. A federal trial judge had blocked it, saying it would “deter or prevent a substantial number of the 300,000-plus registered voters who lack ID from voting” and would disproportionately affect black and Hispanic voters.

    The law was provisionally reinstated last month by a unanimous three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Chicago. With the election looming, the law’s challengers quickly asked the Supreme Court to block it, knowing it would be nearly impossible to educate voters who lack a photo ID on the process to obtain an ID, and allow time for them to take time off work and wait in a long line at the DMV.

  • October 10, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In Slate, Jamelle Bouie writes about the Supreme Court’s upcoming review of the Fair Housing Act and what this could mean for the disparate impact standard.

    Adam Liptak reports for The New York Times that the Supreme Court has halted the Wisconsin Voter ID law and overturned a Texas law.

    The Editorial Board of The Washington Post argues that the Senate is at fault for delays in D.C. Superior Court nominations.  

    In The New Republic, Nina Martin profiles Justice Tom Parker of the Alabama Supreme Court who has helped create a roadmap for overturning Roe v. Wade.

    Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog provides an overview of the status of same-sex marriage throughout the United States. 

  • October 9, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Paul Bland, Executive Director of Public Justice. 

    *This post originally appeared on the Public Justice blog. 

    The Alliance for Justice has just released an extremely powerful documentary, “Lost in the Fine Print,” which you can view here. Narrated by former Labor Secretary and genuine American hero Robert Reich, it provides both a big picture overview of what’s unfair with forced arbitration, and three examples of the human impact of its unfairness. Unfortunately, as incredibly unfair as each of the three examples is, they are not at all uncommon stories. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the people who speaks in the film, which I consider a great honor.)

    As the film explores, forced arbitration is slipped by the vast majority of Americans – whether as consumers, workers, or small-business people – in ways that almost none of them will notice or recognize. The system is designed by the stronger parties to disputes – generally huge corporations – to favor them in disputes. Forced arbitration’s rapid spread has been aided by a series of 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that would never have been anticipated by the framers of our Constitution. 

    The film describes an employment case in which a U.S. Army Reservist was illegally fired from her job because her employer didn’t like her taking two weeks away from work to fulfill her military obligation. But an arbitrator selected by a corporation selected by her employer rejected her case out of hand, ignoring the clear legal rules applicable to the case. This is a fairly familiar situation in America.

  • October 9, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Lyle Denniston reports for SCOTUSblog on the Supreme Court’s decision to allow North Carolina voting limits.

    Nina Totenberg of NPR writes about oral arguments for Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, a case that questions whether workers should be paid for time spent in mandatory security screenings.

    In The New Republic, Danny Vinik also looks at Integrity Staffing Solutions and considers why the White House seems to have sided against workers in the case.

    Tony Mauro explains in USA Today why the Supreme Court declined to hear any same-sex marriage cases.

    In the Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Steven D. Schwinn writes about the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the preliminary injunction in the North Carolina voting rights case.  

  • October 8, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Alex J. Luchenitser, Associate Legal Director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    The Supreme Court this week heard arguments in Holt v. Hobbs, a challenge to a prison’s refusal to let an inmate grow a half-inch beard to comply with his Islamic religious beliefs. Most church-state cases that reach the Court are deeply divisive. In Holt, on the other hand, there appears to be a broad consensus among religious-freedom advocacy groups, as well as the justices themselves, that the prisoner should prevail.

    Groups that are typically at odds in church-state cases, such as my organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, supported the prisoner’s claims. And from the questions posed by the justices, it appears that the prisoner will win unanimously or nearly so.

    The prisoner, Gregory Holt (who now goes by the name Abdul Maalik Muhammad), brought his claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which is known by the difficult-to-pronounce acronym RLUIPA. RLUIPA prohibits a prison from substantially burdening an inmate’s religious exercise unless the prison is furthering a compelling governmental interest through the least restrictive means of doing so.       

    More than forty states, as well as the federal prison system, allow beards of the length that inmate Holt requested. Yet the defendant Arkansas prison system advanced two justifications for its denial of the beard: First, Arkansas argued, prisoners could hide contraband even in short beards.  Second, according to Arkansas, allowing prisoners to have facial hair could make it difficult to identify inmates within the prison.

    Justices who often hold diametrically opposing views on church-state and other hot-button issues were united in being deeply skeptical of these assertions.

    Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito noted that it would be much easier to hide objects in a head of hair, pointing out that Arkansas prisons allow inmates to have voluminous locks. Justice Alito also pointed out that even if it were possible to hide contraband in a half-inch beard, prison guards could easily expose such contraband by simply making the inmates comb their beards so that anything hidden falls out.