• December 9, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Rob BostonDirector of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

    The December holidays took an unusual turn at the State Capitol Building in Tallahassee, Fla., this year: A display sponsored by a group called The Satanic Temple is coming to the rotunda.

    How did this come about? Ironically, a series of actions by state officials led to this unorthodox display. A few years ago, Florida officials decided it would be nice to have a nativity scene in the capitol rotunda in December. They were aware that they couldn’t put one up themselves. A Supreme Court decision from 1989 called County of Allegheny v. ACLU bars governments from erecting purely religious symbols in public spaces.

    But a private group could do it – as long as the area in question was deemed an open forum for free speech. Lo and behold, the rotunda was declared an open forum, and the crèche came in.

    Of course, an open forum for free speech means just that – open to all kinds of free speech. So in 2013 the nativity scene wasn’t alone. An atheist group erected a banner offering people a happy Winter Solstice. One Floridian erected a “Festivus pole” made of empty beer cans. And “Pastafarians” put up a depiction of their beloved Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  • December 8, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Linda Tirado writes in Slate about how minor expenses can keep poor people from getting out of poverty. 

    At Jost on Justice, Kenneth Jost urges the Supreme Court to “articulate a careful standard that can protect ‘true’ political speech…without giving free rein to those who would use the First Amendment as a license for threats to violence” in the Elonis case.

    In the Los Angeles Times, David Savage previews an upcoming Supreme Court case that will decide whether states that issue specialty license plates must include potentially controversial ones.

    Mark Bookman explores in The Atlantic whether an innocent man has the right to be exonerated and how the criminal justice system treats the wrongfully convicted.

  • December 5, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Paul Bland, Executive Director, Public Justice.

    *This post originally appeared on the blog for Public Justice.

    I regularly hear consumer and workers’-rights advocates say this crazy thing to me: “the cases on forced arbitration are so bad, they can’t get any worse.” Um, wrong. A Missouri Court of Appeals recently issued a decision that bears me out on this point, in Johnson v. Rent-A-Center.

    In this case,an 88-year-old “neighborhood staple”, Kenny Johnson, rents a refrigerator from Rent-A-Center.  A guy from Rent-A-Center comes out to the consumer’s house twice to service the refrigerator. Then, the guy came a third time, the plaintiff alleges, wearing a Rent-A-Center uniform. And, according to the lawsuit and news reports, the Rent-A-Center guy, Eric Patton, seriously beat the man with gashes to his head and robbed him. He wasn’t discovered for three days. The assailant has been criminally charged.

    So in the mouse print of the “agreement” the consumer had to sign to rent the refrigerator was a forced arbitration provision. The forced arbitration provision says that the arbitrator, not a court, will decide when the arbitration clause applies to some dispute. But in this case, the consumer makes a pretty strong point: he went to Rent-A-Center to get a refrigerator, he didn’t go there requesting that they send a guy to his house to beat him up and rob him.

    Too bad, the court says. Listing some very pro-corporation U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Missouri court holds that it has to enforce the arbitration clause, and let the arbitrator decide whether the dispute over the guy beating up the consumer is covered by the consumer’s contract about renting the refrigerator.  In fairness to the Missouri Court of Appeal, it directly stated that it was bound to follow a U.S. Supreme Court decision, “regardless of whether we agree with the reasoning expressed therein.”

  • December 5, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times argues that the death of Eric Garner was not simply the result of a chokehold, but also due to bad policy and poor training.

    The laws that protect pregnant workers are very unclear, asserts Rebecca Leber in The New Republic.

    At Salon, Luke Brinker discusses a new study by the Labor Department that reveals that millions of workers are illegally paid less than minimum wage.

    Carrie Johnson and Melissa Block of NPR look at the recent Justice Department finding that the Cleveland police department has systematically used excessive force.

    Alex S. Vitale examines in The Nation what strategies for police reform will actually have the most impact.

    At FiveThirtyEight, Oliver Roeder considers whether the Supreme Court “is becoming too cloistered.”

  • December 4, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Lisa Faye Petak discusses at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights about Young v. UPS and her hope that the Court “will let evolved thinking rule the day.”

    In SlateDahlia Lithwick writes that the oral argument for Young was a "hypertechnical inquiry into statutory construction and, eventually, the precarious balancing of two clauses against a semicolon."

    At ProPublica, Nina Martin compiles a list of resources on the Young case. Nina Totenberg of NPR provides an overview of the oral argument.

    The Constitutional Accountability Center continues its series on Chief Justice John Roberts with Brianne Gorod writing about the Chief Justice’s record on women’s rights.

    Gabe Roth writes in the Los Angeles Times about the need for greater transparency at the Supreme Court, raising concern about how the current system doesn’t deal well with potential conflicts of interest.