• May 18, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    A federal appeals court rejected a challenge today to the constitutionality of a key section of the Voting Rights Act, concluding that Congress is in the best position to determine how to combat persistent racial discrimination in elections.

    In a 63-page opinion, D.C. Circuit Judge David S. Tatel noted the persistence of “overt racial discrimination” in jurisdictions covered by Section 5, and called such discrimination “one of the gravest evils that Congress can seek to redress.” How best to combat this discrimination, he concluded, is “quintessentially” a legislative judgment.

    “[W]e remain bound by fundamental principles of judicial restraint,” Tatel wrote.

  • April 26, 2012
    The Immigration Crucible
    Transforming Race, Nation, and the Limits of the Law
    Philip A. Kretsedemas

    By Philip A. Kretsedemas, an associate professor of sociology at The University of Massachusetts Boston

    For the past two years, the national debate over police involvement in immigration enforcement has focused on Arizona Senate Bill 1070. When it was first enacted, SB 1070 was widely criticized for the broad discretion it allowed Arizona police to question people about their legal status. Much of this criticism focused on the problem of immigrant racial profiling. Opponents of the bill argued that it opened the door for the indiscriminate interrogation of anyone who looks like an unauthorized migrant.

    Even though these complaints figured prominently in the public debate over SB 1070, it is rather telling that they have dropped out of the legal arguments that have been marshaled against the bill. One reason for this curious situation is that complaints about racial profiling and selective enforcement have historically been framed as violations of Fourth Amendment rights. But it also so happens that the legal challenge against SB 1070 is being led by the Department of Justice which, for obvious reasons, is not interested in setting legal precedents that would limit the search and seizure power of the police. The Supreme Court, which is currently deliberating over the DOJ's lawsuit against SB 1070, also has a history of favoring the discretionary powers of law enforcement over Fourth Amendment considerations.

    It is important to keep this context in mind when evaluating the legal arguments that are being levied against SB 1070. The DOJ is advancing a finely pitched argument which takes issue with the law making powers of local governments but not the search and seizure practices of law enforcement. It is also bears noting that the DOJ is not opposing local immigration laws on principle. The DOJ supported Arizona's employer sanctions law (penalizing businesses that hire unauthorized migrants) which was subsequently upheld by the 9th Circuit and Supreme Court. The federal government also doesn't seem to be opposed, on principle, to the involvement of police in enforcing federal immigration laws. The Obama administration has actually given state and local police new opportunities to enforce immigration laws. It has only taken issue with local enforcement practices that operate outside of the federal-local enforcement arrangements that have already been authorized by federal law.

  • April 25, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Arizona’s racial profiling law, which has prompted other states to enact or consider similar measures, appears to have a strong chance of surviving Supreme Court scrutiny.

    Following oral argument in Arizona v. United States, Adam Liptak, high court correspondent for The New York Times, wrote that justices “across the ideological spectrum appeared inclined to uphold a controversial part,” of the law, and Robert Barnes, of The Washington Post, said the Court “seemed receptive” to the state’s argument that its racial profiling law “was a valid exercise of its power to protect its borders.”

    SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston reports that the justices “focused tightly on the actual operation of the four specific provisions of the law at issue, and most of the Court seemed prepared to accept that Arizona police would act in measured ways as they arrest and detain individuals they think might be in the U.S. illegally.”

    Reporting for TPM, Sahil Kapur said that while it appeared “some aspects” of Arizona’s law might survive, “no clear majority emerged one way or another.” Kapur noted that several of the justices appeared to wrestle “with how far states can go in writing immigration laws before they encroach on what is widely regarded as federal turf.”

    Although it appeared, as Denniston noted, the justices were confident that Arizona police would act reasonably in enforcing the law, an account from a longtime Arizona citizen suggests the reality of enforcement holds otherwise.

    In a piece for The Guardian Jim Shee, an American citizen of Chinese and Spanish descent writes of his encounters with Arizona police after enactment of S.B. 1070.

    Shee tells of two incidents where Arizona cops stopped him and demanded documentation of his citizenship, calling them “humiliating and terrifying.”

    His wife, a Japanese-American “faces the specter of the same police scrutiny,” he writes. “The law invites police to rely on their racial bias when deciding who to stop, so our skin color means we’re more likely to be targeted. Like most Americans, I never carried around my passport. Now, my wife and I always take ours when we leave the house.”

    Shee concludes, in part, that the “days when laws were passed that led to discrimination should be confined to their history classes.”

    Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) during a Senate hearing yesterday on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law said that he and other senators may introduce legislation aimed at barring the states from creating a patchwork of immigration laws.

  • March 29, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Fazal Khan, a law professor at the University of Georgia specializing in health law. Professor Khan has both law and medical degrees. This post is part of an ACSblog online symposium on oral argument in HHS v. Florida.

    On Wednesday afternoon the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether the states can challenge the federal government’s expansion of Medicaid. Representing 26 states that oppose ACA in its entirety, former Solicitor General Paul Clement went first claiming that the federal government is “coercing” states to accept this unwanted expansion of Medicaid. As expected, the “liberal” justices pounced on Paul Clement’s central argument. Whereas Clement seemed very cocksure Tuesday arguing against the minimum coverage provision, on Wednesday he was not as deft in parrying the skeptical attacks from the justices, including Antonin Scalia and the chief justice.

    Clement did regain his poise at the end during a strongly delivered (yet still substantively weak) rebuttal. Solicitor General Don Verrilli bounced back admirably after what can be fairly described as a difficult day on Tuesday. He was much more assertive and confident in pushing back against the “conservative” justices and possessed a strong command of the history of Medicaid and previous mandatory expansions of the program which really seem no different than the expansion at issue today.            

  • March 23, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Sara Rosenbaum, Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor, Health Law and Policy, George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. This post is part of an ACSblog online symposium around oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act. 

    When the curtain rises on the Affordable Care Act arguments before the United States Supreme Court, the nation will be fully engaged in what is perhaps the most important legal examination in generations regarding Congress’s constitutional powers to tackle issues of unsurpassed social and economic concern. Although Chief Justice Roberts has likened the role of the courts to that of an umpire in a baseball game, one can hope that the Justices will view the case for its broader significance for the health care system as a whole, as well as for the 32 million children and adults whose access to health insurance rests great measure in their hands. A declaration that the Act is unconstitutional will not merely nullify its provisions. Under federal budgeting principles, it will effectively roll the federal health reform spending baseline back to zero. The likelihood that Congress will, anytime soon, find the $1.5 trillion needed to make coverage affordable for nearly all Americans is slim to nil, something that the Act’s opponents frankly are banking on.

    It was perhaps inevitable that health care would be the issue to trigger a full-throated debate over the constitutional relationship between the federal government and American society. The signature domestic policy achievement of the Obama Administration, the Act stands as a testament to lawmakers’ ability to devise national solutions that simultaneously weave a wide array of existing laws – Medicaid for the poorest Americans, tax subsidies for low and moderate income individuals and families, and federal laws that regulate the behavior of insurers in the marketplace – into a complex legislative intervention of universal scope and impact.