August 2010

  • August 31, 2010

    Seven states suing to overturn President Barack Obama's health care law have nonetheless claimed subsidies available under the law for covering retired state employees, the Associated Press reports.

    The states, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Nevada, are among 16 approved, along with about 2,000 private employers, for funds to defray the cost of early retiree health insurance, according to a list released Tuesday.

    Some 20 states are challenging as unconstitutional the health care law's requirement that individuals carry health insurance or face a fine. The administration has countered that the law is valid under the Constitution's commerce clause and its tax and spend clause.

    A spokeswoman for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said while Daniels disagrees with the law, he will nonetheless take advantage of provisions that benefit the state.

    "Indiana will seek funds that help Hoosiers when there are no complicated strings or costs attached," press secretary Jane Jankowski told the AP.

    HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius said individuals between ages 55 and 64, who do not yet qualify for Medicare, make up one of the most vulnerable populations in the health insurance market, and private companies have significantly reduced coverage of early retirees over the past 20 years. The retiree assistance is temporary relief until the health care law is fully in place in 2014.

    For more analysis on the constitutionality of the shared responsibility provision, see this ACS Issue Brief by Simon Lazarus, public policy counsel for the National Senior Citizens Law Center.

    You can also watch a panel discussion on the health care reform law's constitutionality from the ACS 2010 National Convention here. We talked with Lazarus about the states' challenges to the law following his participation on the panel.

  • August 31, 2010
    A federal appeals court has declined to reconsider its earlier decision limiting the ability of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to lodge legal challenges to their confinement.

    In analysis for SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston writes that the Jan. 5 decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia "upheld a wide-ranging view of the government's authority to detain non-citizens suspected of terrorism, ruling that the power is not limited in any way by international law - a view that even the Obama Administration indicated it did not share."

    Denniston, however, notes that the federal appeals court's action today in Al Bihani v. Obama produced lengthy statements by several of the circuit's judges "to narrow the scope of" the initial panel decision, which upheld the imprisonment of Al Bihani, a former cook for the Taliban who maintains that he never engaged in combat against U.S. forces. The federal appeals court denial of rehearing and the judge's statements are available here (pdf).

  • August 31, 2010
    Education Policy
    The evangelical Christian ministry Focus on the Family is convinced that too many public schools are intent on preventing bullying of gay, lesbian and transgender students at the expense of the free expression rights of Christian students.

    A Focus on the Family spokeswoman told The Denver Post, as noted at TPM, that, "We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled."

    But GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, maintains that students' free speech rights, which are limited in public schools primarily because public schools are not wide- open public forums and the federal courts have consistently held that educators have great discretion in controlling the curriculum and ensuring safety of students, are not the issue here. Instead GLSEN says too many gay students are the victims of bullying and supports local and federal efforts to curb the incidents. A 2005 GLSEN and Harris Interactive report showed nearly 65 percent of middle and high school students had been subjected to bullying and a 2007 GLSEN report revealed that a little more than 86 percent of LGBT students were victims of bullying at school.

    The group is urging Congress to pass a bill introduced earlier this month by Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey called the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which would include protections against bullying of gay, lesbian and transgender students.

    "Our nation has failed to address the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in schools for far too long. Countless youth are denied access to education every day because they do not feel safe in school. Passing the Safe Schools Act would go a long way toward laying the necessary foundation of support lacking in many American schools," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a press statement.

    Byard told The Denver Post that GLSEN's efforts to stop bullying of LGBT students do not subvert the religious speech of other students. She noted that, "The word ‘faggot' is not part of any religious creed," and that her group has worked with other organizations, such as the Christian Educators Association International and the First Amendment Center, on sexual orientation issues in the public schools.

  • August 30, 2010

    Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has joined the list of legal leaders speaking out on the slow pace of judicial confirmations to the federal bench.

    During the 2010 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, Kennedy questioned whether the Senate confirmation process is "working the way it should be," asking lawyers and law schools to study the process to identify "neutral" principles to guide both parties through the confirmation process, according to a release issued by the United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit.

    "It's important for the public to understand that the excellence of the federal judiciary is at risk," Kennedy told the Los Angeles Times. "If judicial excellence is cast upon a sea of congressional indifference, the rule of law is imperiled."

    Obama's judicial confirmation rate is "the lowest since analysts began detailed tracking [of] the subject 30 years ago," according to the LA Times, "with 47% of his 85 nominations winning Senate approval so far." There are currently 102 vacancies, out of 876 seats on the federal bench.

    Christopher H. Schroeder, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Policy, said if the current rate of replacing judges continues, nearly half of all federal judgeships will be vacant by the end of the decade.

  • August 30, 2010
    The Supreme Court opinion in Citizens United, which gives corporations unfettered ability to pump millions into electioneering, is emblematic of a narrow high court majority that is actively advancing corporate interests, Sen. Sherrod Brown told a gathering of law students at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

    In his speech, hosted by the law school's ACS law student chapter and the ACS Columbus Lawyer Chapter, Sen. Brown focused on progressive periods in the nation and how they produced lasting advancements for civil rights and economic justice. For instance, he lauded three years in the 1960s as "probably the best three years Congress has every had - 1964, 5 and 6, when Congress and a new president, President Johnson, passed Medicaid, Medicare, the Wilderness Act, and the Economic Opportunity Act, including Head Start; passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts." But Brown said that progressive era resulted in pushback from voters who apparently thought Congress moved too quickly, yet enjoyed the benefits of those laws for many years to come.

    He said the current progressive era is receiving enormous pushback from corporate interests. The financial reform package that was recently passed did so over intense corporate interest lobbying - a million per day - Brown maintained. And in Citizens United v. FEC, a slim, but radical, majority of the Supreme Court issued a ruling that will further embolden corporate interests, the senator said.

    Brown noted, "For years, all we've heard over and over again from conservatives is that the courts have taken an activist role; that thirty-year drumbeat ... from conservatives is that we shouldn't make laws from the bench, that liberal courts are making law from the bench, this activism from the judiciary is bad for the country." He said that refrain from conservatives has been heard often, "ad nauseam."

    "But," Brown continued, "there was really no better example of an activist judiciary legislating from the bench than the Citizens United case. It was a narrow Supreme Court ruling from a radical majority; a majority that always, always, always puts corporate interests in front of everything else."

    The Citizens United decision, "will clearly allow corporations to have an even larger influence in our political system," the senator said. Video of Brown's comments is available here or by clicking the picture (right). Video of the entire event, including a question-and-answer session with Brown, is here.