Supreme Court

  • March 21, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    by Joshua A. Douglas, Robert G. Lawson & William H. Fortune Associate Professor of Law, University of Kentucky College of Law

    As Judge Neil Gorsuch faces his confirmation hearings to be the next Supreme Court Justice, the Trump White House and Republican senators continue to say that he is a strong conservative in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia, who he would replace. If Judge Gorsuch’s views on the constitutional right to vote are the same as Justice Scalia’s, however, there is great cause for concern.

    The right to vote is the most important and fundamental right we enjoy. It provides the foundation for our democracy.

    Yet Justice Scalia’s rulings were extremely restrictive when it came to voting rights. For instance, in 2008, when the Court refused to strike down Indiana’s strict voter ID law, Justice Scalia wrote a separate opinion to complain that the Court’s main opinion did not go far enough. While the Court’s ruling upholding the law left the door open to future lawsuits with better evidence, Justice Scalia would have closed off any future challenges to a voter ID requirement. He said that it did not matter if a handful of voters might find it more difficult to participate on Election Day. The harm to the constitutional right to vote for any particular individual was no big deal if the law did not impose a burden on the electorate as a whole.

  • March 21, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on Medium

    by Todd A. Cox, Director of Policy, NAACP Legal Defense Fund

    Today, as the Judiciary Committee begins in earnest its questioning of Judge Neil Gorsuch about his nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States, the senators are sure to raise a range of very important constitutional and philosophic questions. But with limited time available and so many issues to discuss, LDF has identified the three key questions senators should ask about Judge Gorsuch’s record on civil rights.

    1. Under your originalist approach to interpreting the Constitution, was Brown v. Board of Education rightly decidedand if so, how specifically?

    Potential follow-up questions:

    - Likewise, under an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, was Loving v. Virginia rightly decided — and if so how?

    - Is the history or original meaning of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments — or the Civil War Amendments — relevant to interpreting those provisions today? If so, which of the drafters or their statements would you consider in construing, for example, the 14th Amendment?

    - Brown was a unanimous decision in 1954, but just 68 years earlier, the Supreme Court upheld segregation in a 7–1 vote in Plessy v. Ferguson. What changed in terms of the original meaning (or intent) of the Constitution?

  • March 20, 2017
    Guest Post

    by William Yeomans, Fellow in Law and Government, American University Washington College of Law

    As has become the custom, day one of the confirmation hearing for Neil Gorsuch to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court was swallowed by a series of now mandatory positioning statements by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans followed their script, uniformly adhering to talking points in praise of the nominee’s Ivy League credentials, years in private practice as a defender of free enterprise and principled conservatism on the bench. Translation: he is a smart guy who has shown his willingness to put his energy and intellect behind positions that track the Republican political agenda. That agenda favors employers over employees, management over labor, corporations and banks over consumers, religious interests over the rights of others and the Commander-in-Chief over Congress, while weakening federal administrative agencies, interpreting civil rights statutes narrowly and applying the doctrine of originalism to minimize individual rights and lock in traditional social injustices.

    Several Republican senators spent considerable energy providing cover for the nominee to refuse to answer questions, citing statements from Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a nominee and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as a Committee member, cautioning that a nominee should not take positions on matters that could reach the Court. Invoking liberal icons exploited a tradition at confirmation hearings – citing the opposition to set up the defense of the nominee and teeing up the charge of hypocrisy if the other side attacks.

    Democrats were not deterred. Several cited the abusive treatment of Merrick Garland, but none declared these proceedings illegitimate. Nobody went quite so far as to suggest that President Trump might be as crazy and corrupt as he seems, undercutting the need to respect the nominee. But, several senators plainly thought the mistreatment of Garland combined with the unorthodoxy of the Trump presidency (including his announcement of litmus tests, and reliance on the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to identify a nominee) to place an added burden on Gorsuch to be more forthcoming than the usual nominee to establish his independence and ability to serve as a check on an undisciplined executive.

  • March 20, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Lisa Heinzerling, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

    Legal issues surrounding the power of administrative agencies appear to be at an inflection point. Two of these issues – the constitutionality of broad delegations of power to agencies and the practice of deferring to agencies' interpretive choices – are central to the scope of executive power, and both appear poised for a rethinking.

    I. Delegation of Regulatory Power

    The Supreme Court has long embraced the principle that Congress may not delegate its legislative power to the executive branch, testing legislative delegations according to the principle that Congress must supply an "intelligible principle" for the executive branch to follow. Yet the Court also has long upheld the constitutionality of transferring broad regulatory discretion to administrative agencies. In fact, the Supreme Court has only twice in its history – both times in 1935 – struck down a federal statute on the grounds that it conveyed too much legal discretion to an agency. In the years before and since, the Court has invariably upheld statutes against nondelegation challenges, even when they instruct agencies in broad, discretionary terms such as "fairness" and "the public interest." Justice Scalia himself wrote the majority opinion in a case in which the Justices unanimously rejected a claim that the Clean Air Act violated the nondelegation principle by giving the Environmental Protection Agency the power to set national air quality standards at levels requisite to protect public health. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., 531 U.S. 457 (2001). Longstanding judicial precedent thus seems to secure the constitutional status of administrative agencies in our government structure.

  • March 17, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Christopher Kang, ACS Board Member and National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

    In November 2004, Neil Gorsuch oversaw legal teams in Eastern and Central Ohio for the Bush-Cheney campaign. In an email to President George W. Bush’s Political Director Matt Schlapp, he cheered, “What a magnificent result for the country. For me personally, the experience was invigorating and a great deal of fun.” (The experience for up to 15,000 people unable to vote in Columbus, Ohio because lines stretched for hours was probably less invigorating or fun.)

    Gorsuch continued, “While I’ve spent considerable time trying to help the cause on a volunteer basis in various roles, I concluded that I’d really like to be a full-time member of the team.” 

    His resume describes the various roles in which he was politically active to “help the cause,” with greater specificity than his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire—Co-Director of Virginia Lawyers for Bush-Cheney; Bush-Cheney Marshal; RNC Bronco; and Co-Chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association Judicial Nominations Task Force—for which the Senate Republican Conference cited his Distinguished Service to the United States Senate for his work in support of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

    As Gorsuch began his effort to “be a full-time member of the team,” the way he started and then advanced his public service career raises troubling concerns regarding his nomination to the Supreme Court.