ACSBlog

  • September 6, 2016

    by Caroline Fredrickson

    Last year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse shed light on the fossil fuel industry’s “massive and sophisticated campaign” to deceive the American public about the harmful impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment. Big Oil’s strategy to create doubt about their products’ ability to cause widespread and lasting harm is eerily familiar to Big Tobacco’s tactics in downplaying the harm caused by cigarettes uncovered in United States v. Phillip Morris.

    Sen. Whitehouse, who has given 143 “Time to Wake Up” speeches on climate change on the floor of the Senate, explained in a recent speech how “phony climate denial” is the result of the fossil fuel industry actively misleading the public to protect their profits: “Phony-baloney front organizations are set up by the score to obscure industry’s hand. Phony messaging is honed by public relations experts to sow doubt about the real scientific consensus.”

    Big Oil, Sen. Whitehouse argues, is borrowing a page from the tobacco industry’s playbook in defrauding the American people. In February, Sen. Whitehouse gave remarks at the ACS event, “Combatting Climate Change in the Courts.” Speakers explored whether the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act could be applied to Big Oil in the way it was applied to Big Tobacco.

    In a recent ACSblog post, Sen. Whitehouse highlighted an example showing the fossil fuel industry is literally borrowing tactics from the tobacco industry. Last year, coal mining executives attended a workshop at the annual Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute titled, “Survival is Victory: Lessons From The Tobacco Wars.” The fossil fuel industry is gearing up for the slew of lawsuits coming their way.

  • September 6, 2016
    Guest Post
    by Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections, Common Cause
     
    Election Day, every school kid learns, is the one day when we are all truly equal and when we come together to make decisions that impact the whole country.
     
    But real equality – and real confidence that we can achieve it – requires that the ballot box be readily accessible to every eligible voter and that every vote be counted as cast. To make that happen, we need elections officers, poll workers, and rank-and-file voters themselves to administer the process legally and engage in it fairly. It also helps to have candidates, particularly for the commander-in-chief’s office, who follow and respect the rules.
     
    That is why it is especially troubling when politicians display disdain for the electoral process by urging their supporters to engage in illicit behavior that games the system.
     
    Last month, Donald Trump called on his supporters to up-end the rules. “I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the eighth [but] go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it is 100 percent fine,” he told attendees at a rally in Pennsylvania. “We are going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas,” he warned, “and watch and study, make sure other people do not come in and vote five times.”
     
  • August 31, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

    Last year, coal mining executives attending the annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute were treated to a presentation on the future of American mining titled: “Survival Is Victory: Lessons From the Tobacco Wars.”  As the title implies, the presentation laid out a path for the fossil fuel industry to weather a barrage of lawsuits and new safety and health regulations, modeled on the efforts of the tobacco industry in the 90s and early 2000s.  (See John Schwartz’s story in The New York Times.)

    Richard Reavey, the Cloud Peak Energy vice president who delivered the presentation, described the similarities between what Big Tobacco went through and the challenges facing coal today as “remarkable and eerie.” (We should take his word for it. Before working for Cloud Peak, a mining company, Reavey was an executive at tobacco giant Philip Morris for 17 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.) His advice to the coal execs: do what tobacco did and “cut a deal while we are still relevant.” After all, “a much more heavily regulated tobacco industry is still viable and profitable.”

    Ironically, Reavey’s presentation on these similarities between tobacco and fossil fuel strategies has a much deeper parallel. 

  • August 26, 2016
    Guest Post

    Thomas Wolf, Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

    *This post originally appeared on the Brennan Center for Justice website. 

    Partisan gerrymandering has long befuddled the courts. Although judges have recognized the harm of the practice, they have been unable to agree on a standard for policing it. But for the second time in a year, a partisan-gerrymandering challenge has cleared a critical hurdle.

    Earlier this week, voters challenging the drawing of Maryland’s 2011 congressional map got the green light to proceed with their First Amendment claim when a panel of three federal judges voted 2-1 to deny a motion to dismiss from Maryland’s attorney general. The voters — plaintiffs in the long-running case Shapiro v. McManus — will now be able to conduct discovery in preparation for a trial. The victory gives new momentum to a case that, along with a partisan-gerrymandering challenge pending in Wisconsin, could soon be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Justices will have their first opportunity in more than a decade to decide whether partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution.

    The panel’s opinion focuses on the legal sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ complaint, which challenges the 2011 congressional redistricting plan enacted by the Maryland General Assembly. The plaintiffs alleged the legislature deliberately used information about voters’ partisan affiliations and voting histories to flip Maryland’s Sixth District from an otherwise reliably Republican stronghold into a safe Democratic seat, all in a successful attempt to punish Republican voters for casting ballots for their party’s candidates. On those facts, the panel ruled, the plaintiffs stated a claim that could go to trial, endorsing the plaintiffs’ theory that these kinds of districting machinations violate the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment problem with Maryland’s redistricting, the panel explained, was that it diluted the plaintiffs’ votes — that is, made their votes less powerful than other voters’ — by placing them in districts where they were outnumbered and repeatedly outvoted by Democrats, and did so simply because the plaintiffs had voted Republican in the past. That dilution was an example — albeit a novel one — of the kind of retaliation for political speech and association that the First Amendment bars.

  • August 24, 2016

    By Kevin Battersby Witenoff

    Julie Ebenstein at the ACLU Blog reports a federal court held the system currently in place for electing school board members in Ferguson, Mo. violates the Voting Rights Act and systematically disadvantages African-Americans.

    Days after issuing an injunction prohibiting the Education Department from enforcing antidiscrimination guidelines intended to protect transgender students, a lawsuit aiming to deny expanded access to medical care for transgender Americans has landed on the desk of Judge Reed O’Connor, writes The Editorial Board at The New York Times.

    Fiona Ortiz and Alistair Bell explain the consequences of a 2-1 decision from a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a law eliminating Ohio’s early voting period in an article for Reuters

    The Department of Justice submitted a brief to a class action law suit asserting the United States’ current bail system unfairly discriminates against the poor, reports Lauren C. Williams of Think Progress.