• December 16, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Just because the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s law penalizing businesses for hiring undocumented workers, does not mean the state’s controversial, and exceedingly harsh, anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, is destined for approval by the justices.

    In an ACS Issue Brief, Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a Santa Clara University law school professor, explains why the Supreme Court’s narrow opinion in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting issued in May, will likely have no bearing on the justices’ consideration of SB 1070.

    The law at the center of the Whiting opinion, the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA), requires Arizona businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure their employees are legally in the country, and penalizes those companies that hire undocumented workers. The 5-3 majority in Whiting concluded that Arizona’s E-Verify law was not preempted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act, which states that it trumps “any state or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ” undocumented workers. The majority concluded the licensing law, did not run afoul of the IRCA.

    Professor Gulasekaram calls it is a mistake to conclude that Whiting means Arizona’s SB 1070, much of which was invalidated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is likely to be found constitutional by the high court.

    Instead Supreme Court precedent stands “for the proposition that state regulation of employment relationships between state employers and unlawfully present persons is permissible, if the federal government has not otherwise prohibited it,” Gulasekaram writes. That precedent, he continues, actually suggests it is most likely that he the high court will “strike down state immigration schemes like SB 1070.”

    Although both Arizona laws are aimed at making life difficult for undocumented persons in the state, only the law dealing with the employer-employee relationship, LAWA, is not preempted by federal immigration law. Indeed, the professor writes, “federal law contemplates the existence of state business-licensing laws through a textual exception in federal immigration law itself. And, even with this express exception, Whiting is neither a unanimous nor far-reaching opinion. At most Whiting stands for the proposition that state business-licensing laws that regulate employers will not reflexively be struck down.”

    But SB 1070, which requires state law enforcement officials to take on duties of federal immigration enforcement officials, is another story.

  • December 16, 2011
    The Senate confirmed Alaska Supreme Court Justice Morgan Christen to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Thursday by a vote of 95-3, three months after she was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Christen will fill one of four vacancies on the Ninth Circuit considered judicial emergencies. “At a time when judges on that circuit are being called upon to handle double the caseload of the other Federal circuit courts, the Senate should have expedited the consideration of Justice Christen’s nomination, not needlessly slowed it down,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) before the vote. “The Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee, along with the members of the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, have written to the Senate emphasizing the Ninth Circuit’s ‘desperate need for judges,’ urging the Senate to ‘act on judicial nominees without delay,’ and concluding that
    There are 22 other nominees awaiting an up-or-down vote before the Senate adjourns later this month.
    The Senate Judiciary Committee voted out the nomination of Brian C. Wimes to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri by a voice vote. It also held a nomination hearing for Paul J. Watford, another of the president’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
    In the wake of the filibusters of D.C. Circuit nominee Caitlin Halligan and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nominee Richard Cordray, the nonpartisan group "No Labels," run by former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Bill Galston, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is calling for a plan to end gridlock in Congress that includes filibuster reform. In an op-ed in Politico, Davis suggests up-or-down votes on all presidential nominees within 90 days. In their recent ACS Issue Brief, law professors Richard Painter and Michael Gerhardt also call for time limits on judicial nominations as one of several proposals for reforming the process.
    Continuing criticism of the Senate’s recent filibusters has come from ACS Board Member Linda Greenhouse in The New York Times, American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Norman Ornstein in Roll Call and numerous editorial boards.
  • December 15, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    Former George W. Bush attorneys general Michael Mukasey and Alberto Gonzales are expressing alarm over Republican presidential primary candidate Newt Gingrich’s latest proposal to eviscerate the power of the courts, Fox News reports.

    Mukasey calls some of the ideas in Gingrich’s position paper “dangerous, ridiculous, totally irresponsible, outrageous, off-the-wall and would reduce the entire judicial system to a spectacle," and Gonzales takes particular aim at the suggestion that Congress subpoena judges after controversial rulings, saying, “I cannot support and would not support efforts that would appear to be intimidation or retaliation against judges." 

    In his 28-page paper, "Bringing the Courts Back Under the Constitution," Gingrich suggests a number of radical ways in which the legislative and executive branches should rein in “lawless judges,” including by eliminating courts they don’t like, limiting the scope of decisions those courts can make, and simply ignoring Supreme Court decisions.

    On Gingrich’s suggestion that the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit be eliminated, Mukasey says, “The fact is the Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to establish lower federal courts. Presumably it can undo lower federal courts. But to say that you are going to undo an entire court -- simply because you don't like some of their decisions -- when there are thousands of cases before that court is totally irresponsible."

    Mukasey and Gonzales echo the concerns of several other commentators, who have expressed particular alarm over Gingrich’s attack on the landmark decision Cooper v. Aaron, in which all nine members of the Supreme Court affirmed a court order calling for desegregation. 

    “If he had his way, a Supreme Court that ordered an end to racist segregation policies would become a puppet of the political branches,” The New York Times editorial board asserts.

    In her New York Times Opinionator column, American Constitution Society Board Member Linda Greenhouse calls “truly head-spinning” the “tenuous hold that this screed, from a onetime history professor, has on American history.”  She continues:

  • December 15, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Attorney General Eric Holder, earlier this week, signaled he is ready to challenge the efforts some states are taking to limit voting. Holder, in his speech at the LBJ presidential library, said states should take action to encourage more voters, not create barriers to participation in democracy.  

    “In 1965, when President Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act into law, he proclaimed that, ‘the right to vote is the basic right, without which all others are meaningless,’” Holder said.

    “Since January,” Holder continued, “more than a dozen states have advanced new voting measures. Some of these new laws are currently under review by the Justice Department, based on our obligations under the Voting Rights Act. Texas and South Carolina, for example, have enacted laws establishing new photo identification requirements that we’re reviewing. We are also examining a number of changes that Florida has made to its electoral process, including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, as well as changes to early voting procedure, including the number of days in the early voting period.”

    Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice, lauded Holder’s comments, saying, “We hope the Justice Department will enforce the law and protect the voting rights of all Americans in its assessment of new voting laws.” The Center’s “Voting Law Changes in 2012,” report released earlier this fall says the new restrictions could bar more than 5 million Americans from participating in next year’s elections.

    Efforts by federal lawmakers to look into the onerous voting regulations picked up earlier this fall, when Reps. John Conyers Jr., Jerrold Nadler and House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer urged congressional hearings into the laws and sent letters to state officials calling on them to oppose “new state measures adopted over the last year that would make it harder for eligible voters to register or vote.”

    Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) this week joined the effort to counter the states’ restrictive voting measures, which have been pushed largely by Republican state lawmakers to dampen voter turnout of minorities. The senators introduced a bill this week that would “create tough new criminal and civil penalties for those who create and distribute false and deceptive voting information and campaign literature,” a press release issued from Cardin’s office states.

  • December 15, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    On Dec. 15, 1791 the Bill of Rights was ratified, making today its 220th anniversary. In November, 1941 FDR established Dec. 15 as a day to celebrate the Bill of Rights.

    The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is offering some resources for both students and teachers about what the late Bernard Schwartz dubbed the “classic inventory of governmental restrictions that Madison termed ‘the great rights of mankind.’”

    The Obama administration is also joining the celebration. The White House’s Bill of Rights Day proclamation reads, in part, “Throughout our country’s history, generations have risen to uphold the principles outlined in our Bill of Rights and advance equality for all Americans. The liberties we enjoy today are possible only because of these brave patriots, from the service members who have defended our freedom to the citizens who have braved billy clubs and fire hoses in the hope of extending America’s promise across lines of color and creed. On Bill of Rights Day, we celebrate this proud legacy and resolve to pass to our children an America worthy of our Founders’ vision.”

    Others are marking the day, however, by highlighting a piece of legislation – the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – that they argue seriously threatens the tenets of the Bill of Rights, by greatly expanding executive power.

    The Bill of Rights Defense Committee says the NDAA “contains the most potentially oppressive national security powers we’ve seen in our lifetimes, easily worse than any Bush administration policy.”

    Writing for the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, Chris Anders says the NDAA “would authorize the president to send the military literally anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trail. Prison based on suspicion alone. The power is so sweeping that the president would be able to direct the military to use its powers within the United States itself, and even lock up American citizens without charge or trial.”