• 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.

  • July 9, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Must it be that we have to make a choice between national security and constitutional principles? It’s a question that has been asked by people from across the political spectrum for generations. But after 9/11 senators and representatives from both political parties strongly backed the sweeping PATRIOT Act, which would help exponentially grow the federal government’s spying apparatus. Far removed from 9/11 and with much more information about the federal government’s eavesdropping operations, more people and groups are questioning the government's motives and mechanisms for spying on Americans.

    In the past 18 months, the extent of how far the government is going in monitoring both Americans and foreigners has taken center stage. When former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed secret documents detailing just how deep our government’s spying went, heated debates erupted over whether the government was justified in backing intrusive and massive spying programs. People of all political stripes continue to weigh in, some calling Snowden a hero, others a traitor. But regardless of how you feel about Snowden, you can’t help but be amazed, and perhaps troubled, by what he has exposed.

    Snowden’s latest disclosures show other countries are working with the NSA in spying on their own citizens. And just yesterday, we got a look at which Muslim-American leaders the FBI and NSA have been spying on.    

    According to Ryan Gallagher at The Intercept, huge volumes of private e-mails, phone calls and internet chats are being intercepted by the NSA with secret cooperation of more foreign governments than previously known. Gallagher says, the classified files leaked by Snowden, shed light on how the NSA’s surveillance of global communications has expanded under a clandestine program, known as RAMPART-A, which depends on the participation of a growing network of intelligence agencies. The latest Snowden documents show that a number of countries, described by the NSA as “third-party partners,” are playing an increasingly important role – by secretly allowing the NSA to install surveillance equipment on their fiber-optic cables.

  • July 8, 2014

    by Nicholas Alexiou

    Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are introducing legislation today that seeks to reform the criminal justice system for nonviolent offenders. Amanda Terkel at The Huffington Post details The REDEEM Act.

    Joan Walsh discusses in Salon Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent (joined by her two female colleagues) from the injunction granted by the Supreme Court last week in Wheaton College v. Burwell and how it reveals a deep distrust on the Court’s willingness to uphold the accommodations it set forth in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

    At Balkinization, Jack Balkin follows up on yesterday’s op-ed from E.J. Dionne and says that if progressives want to reclaim the constitution, they must abandon “biggest canard ever foisted on them,” that one cannot be both liberal and an originalist.

    California officially repealed the state law that limited marriage to between one man and one woman, Hunter Schwartz at The Washington Post reports.