• July 11, 2014

    by Nicholas Alexiou

    Reginald Dwayne Betts tells his story of being in solitary confinement as a juvenile, before he was ever tried, in the ACLU’s Blog of Rights.

    Florida executed Eddie Davis via lethal injection on Thursday evening for the 1994 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. Mark Berman at The Washington Post reports that Davis’ execution was the fourth in the U.S. since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma.

    The New York TimesCharlie Savage reports on a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the government’s Suspicious Activity Reporting database.

    At MSNBC, Emma Margolin explores how the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. could negatively impact the LGBT community.

  • July 11, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    The Orlando Sentinel is reporting Florida's re-drawn congressional map intentionally favors Republicans in violation of the anti-gerrymandering standards voters approved in 2010 and will have to be re-drawn, according to a ruling late Thursday from a Tallahassee judge. Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who found particular problems in two central Florida seats, went to the root of the problem in his decision, quoting President George Washington's farewell address warning of associations of "cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men" who could subvert the will of voters. Lewis went on to write the case "goes to the very foundation of our representative democracy."

    With gerrymandering becoming a nationwide problem in the wake of the 2010 Republican wave, Florida voters in 2010 passed two constitutional amendments known as the Fair Districts amendments which required lawmakers to draw legislative and congressional seats more compactly, within existing geographic and local government boundaries and without intentional favoritism toward political parties or incumbents. Shortly after the passage of the amendments, Republicans drafted their gerrymandered districts and the Florida Legislature passed its first attempt at maps. The Florida Supreme Court in 2012 ruled the state Senate seats violated the mandate and ordered them redrawn, after the League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups filed suit in state court, alleging Republican lawmakers violated the Fair Districts standards.

    In his ruling, Lewis found fault with Central Florida districts, in particular, District 5 held by Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, which Lewis wrote was unnecessarily drawn to protect Brown, and District 10 held by Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, which "was drawn to benefit the Republican Party and the incumbent."

    Lewis determined GOP lawmakers, staffers and consultants worked together behind the scenes to draw Republican-friendly seats, writing there was "too much circumstantial evidence of it, too many coincidences" to uphold the maps.

    Lewis found Republicans had "made a mockery of the Legislature's proclaimed open and transparent process" by working to draw partisan maps "in the shadow of that process."

    Read more on the case and Lewis’ decision here.

  • July 10, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    This afternoon Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appealed a federal judge's ruling from last month striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriages, reports the Associated Press. The case now heads to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

    Van Hollen had until July 21 to file an appeal, but felt rushed in the wake of several recent marriage equality victories across the country. He said in a statement that the appeals court's decision to speed up the Indiana case led him to file the appeal sooner than his deadline.

    U.S. District Barbara Crab overturned Wisconsin’s ban on marriages by gay and lesbian couples in June. The ban, which was approved by voters in 2006, is now opposed by the majority of Wisconsin voters. A recent Marquette University Law School poll found 55 percent of registered voters statewide now favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, while 37 percent oppose it and 6 percent say they do not know. Governor Scott Walker, a Republican with a national profile, has stayed largely quiet on the issue. Although once an ardent opponent of marriage equality, Walker has now said his position doesn't matter because the governor plays no role in changing the constitution. Walker does, however, support Van Hollen’s appeal.

    Although Van Hollen acknowledged asked Crab to immediately block her own decision, she did not stay her decision immediately, instead waiting a week to do so. In that week, more than 500 gay and lesbian couples wed in the Badger state.

    In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state in the country to enact a gay rights law, banning discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation.

    LGBT rights advocates have celebrated a string of victories since last year’s landmark Supreme Court decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and putting an end to California’s Prop. 8. Just this week Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. rejected a county official's bid to suspend a ruling that overturned Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban. Also this week, a District Court judge declared Colorado's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and the Utah attorney general announced he would appeal a court decision in favor of marriage equality in the state to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • July 10, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Jennifer L. Clark, Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice

    *This piece is cross-posted on Brennan Center's blog.

    Throughout 2014, we’ve seen courts step in to block laws restricting access to the ballot box. Courts struck down photo ID laws in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arkansas, and pushed back against efforts to cut back on early voting in Ohio. This week, all eyes are on North Carolina, where a federal court will decide whether to temporarily block the state’s 2013 omnibus election law — one of the most wide-reaching and restrictive voting measures in the country — before the November 2014 elections. 

    Before last June’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a core Voting Rights Act protection, North Carolina had to “pre-clear” all statewide election changes before putting them into effect. This meant the state had to show the laws wouldn’t discriminate against minority voters. After the Court’s ruling last summer, however, lawmakers around the country, including in North Carolina, seized the opportunity to pass a series of voting restrictions. North Carolina’s legislation slashes early voting days, eliminates same-day registration, gets rid of out-of-precinct provisional voting, imposes a strict photo ID requirement, and does away with pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, among other changes. Except for the photo ID requirement, which is slated to be implemented in 2016, all of these measures will be in effect this November.

    The Department of Justice and multiple civic groups quickly challenged the law in federal court. A full trial on the merits of the challengers’ claims is scheduled for July 2015, but, seeking redress in advance of November, the law’s challengers filed motions this past May to temporarily block many of the worst new restrictions. This week, the court is holding hearings to determine whether to grant these motions, and thereby prevent the law from going into effect until a full trial can be held.

  • July 10, 2014

    by Nicholas Alexiou

    Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has decided not to see full en banc review of last month’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit which affirmed a trial court’s determination that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Instead, Marissa Lang at The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah will file a petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    At Above the Law, Matt Kaiser discusses the recent acquittal of Rengan Rajaratnam and growing confusion in the area of insider trading law.

    Dahlia Lithwick argues at Slate that while the recently completed Supreme Court Term was uncontroversial for men, it was a disaster for women.

    Neil H. Buchanan explains why the majority decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. may actually turn out to be “bad for religion in America” at Dorf on Law.