Tuesday, June 25, 2013
The five-Justice majority, led by Chief Justice Roberts, today struck the coverage formula for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. Our earlier posts are here and here; our oral argument review is here.
In short, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the Section 4 coverage formula was out of date. He took issue with Congress's "reverse engineering"--that is, figuring out which states should be covered, and working backwards to design a formula that covered them--when it reauthorized the VRA in 2006, because, he wrote, that formula was based on data compiled 40 years ago. He wrote that the coverage formula was rational then; it is not now, 40 years later, with substantially changed circumstances.
Chief Justices Roberts acknowledged that Congress compiled voluminous data demonstrating racial discrimination, but he wrote that the coverage formula reauthorized in 2006 wasn't based on that data. Instead, it was based on 40-year-old data, from the time Congress originally enacted the VRA.
Because the Court saw preclearance as such a dramatic action--shifting the usual burden on the plaintiff to show discrimination to a covered state or jurisdiction to show lack of discriminatory effect in a proposed change in their voting laws, and thus infringing on the "equal sovereignty of the states"--it held the coverage formula to a higher standard. The Court said that the formula, based on 40-year-old data, was simply out of date.
Still, the Court said that Congress could rewrite the formula. This seems a far-fetched possibility, given the politics and divisions in Congress. If it doesn't happen, preclearance under Section 5 remains on the books, but it'll have no effect, because there will be no jurisdictions covered.
Without preclearance, the VRA loses its crown jewel. Section 2 case-by-case litigation against offending jurisdictions remains in play, but, as Congress found, case-by-case litigation has a real hard time keeping up with the clever, under-the-radar ways that some states and jurisdictions use their voting laws to discriminate in the vote.
In striking the coverage formula for the preclearance provision in the Voting Rights Act today, Chief Justice Roberts wrote a good three-plus pages on state sovereignty--and particularly the doctrine of "equal sovereignty." According to the Chief, the coverage formula, which the majority held outdated, violated this principle. More: He wrote that this principle applies beyond the admission of states to the Union; it applies here. The Chief planted this time-bomb in Northwest Austin; it's now coming home to roost.
Here's part of what he said:
Not only do States retain sovereignty under the Constitution, there is also a "fundamental principle of equal sovereignty" among the States. [Northwest Austin (citing United States v. Louisiana); Lessee of Pollard v. Hagan; Texas v. White.] Over a hundred years ago, this Court explained that our Nation "was and is a union of States, equal in power, dignity and authority." [Coyle v. Smith.] Indeed, "the constitutional equality of the States is essential to the harmonious operation of the scheme upon which the Republic was organized." Coyle concerned the admission of new States, and Katzenbach rejected the notion that the principle operated as a bar on differential treatment outside that context. At the same time, as we made clear in Northwest Austin, the fundamental principle of equal sovereignty remains highly pertinent in assessing subsequent disparate treeatment of States.
The Supreme Court today in Shelby County v. Holder ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 4 provides the coverage formula for Section 5, the preclearance provision. The ruling does not stirke preclearance (in Section 5); it only strikes the coverage formula (in Section 4). Moreover, the ruling says that the coverage formula was rational in 1966, just not today. The case leaves in place Section 2, the ban on racial discrimination in voting.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito; Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
The Court said that Congress can re-write Section 4. If Congress cannot do that, though, or if it can only do it in a way that this Court would strike, Section 5 preclearance will have no practical effect (even if it remains on the books). That is: with no valid coverage formula for preclearance, preclearance doesn't happen.
If so, the ruling effectively strikes the preclearance requirement. And if so, the VRA remedy for racial discrimination in voting is Section 2--the ban on racial discrimination in voting, enforced by case-by-case litigation against offending jurisdictions. (Preclearance, on the other hand, required historically offending jurisdictions to justify in advance any changes to their voting laws.) The failure of case-by-case litigation to keep up with so-called "second generation" voting discrimination is one key reason why Congress reauthorized Sections 4 and 5.
So, the long-and-short of it is this: If Congress can't re-write the coverage formula in Section 4 (which seems likely, given the politics in Congress), then Section 5 preclearance is of no effect. If so, the VRA has lost a significant, singular tool in fighting race discrimination in voting. We will continue to see case-by-case litigation against offending jurisdictions under Section 2, but if history is any guide, that litigation will never catch up with the many and clever ways that jurisdictions use to discriminate in voting.
This is a big loss for voting rights, even as it frees up covered jurisdictions from a burdensome preclearance requirement.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
In response to Monday's ruling in Arizona v. InterTribal Council of Arizona, Inc., striking Arizona's requirement that voters show proof of citizenship above and beyond the oath of citizenship on the standard federal voter registration form, there's a debate about whether the case is a pyrrhic victory for the federal government. Our most recent post on the case, with links to earlier posts, is here.
On one side, Mary Lederman argued over at SCOTUSblog that the case, for all its talk of federal supremacy over how federal elections are held, probably curtails federal authority over who may vote in them. That's because Justice Scalia, writing for the Court, carefully reserved the power to determine who may vote in federal elections to the states. Lederman seized on Justice Scalia's line that the Elections Clause "empowers Congress to regulate how federal elections are held, but not who may vote in them" and argued that this principle puts in jeopardy current and possible future federal legislation requiring states to register certain persons to vote. For example, he argued that the ruling threatens the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, UOCAVA, which requires a state to register for federal electiosn any person who resides outside the United States but would otherwise be qualified to vote in that state; any congressional restriction on state felon disenfrachisement laws; and even federal law upheld under Oregon v. Mitchell. Rick Hasen made a similar point at The Daily Beast, followed up with a post on his own Election Law Blog.
On the other side, David Gans over at the Text and History blog at the Constitutional Accountability Center, argued that Lederman's argument "misses the enduring significance of Justice Scalia's sweeping reaffirmation that the Constitution gives Congress very broad powers to protect the right to vote in federal elections . . . ." Gans and others seized on Justice Scalia's repeated and very strong language affirming federal authority under the Elections Clause--its "paramount power," without a presumption against preemption--to set the rules of the "Times, Places, and Manner" of congressional elections.
So who's right?
Both, it turns out--with an important caveat. The ruling gives Congress broad authority under the Elections Clause to regulate the "Times, Places, and Manner" of congressional elections, including prescribing a federal form, using an oath on that form as evidence of citizenship, and requiring states to petition federal authorities (the EAC) to add a proof-of-citizenship requirement on that form (or to sue to get the EAC to add the requirement). That's the core holding of the case--that the NVRA, with the prescribed federal form, including the oath, is a valid regulation of the "Times, Places, and Manner" of congressional elections that preempts contrary state law.
But the NVRA and the federal form spill over into the state-controlled power to determine who gets to vote, because they regulate the manner of determining an important qualification for voters, citizenship. The Court said that to the extent that a federal law spills over and regulates voter qualification like this, the states must have an opportunity to petition federal authorities and ultimately to sue (under the Administrative Procedures Act) to enforce their own state voter eligibility requirements.
So even under the Elections Clause, the case stands for vast federal authority--authority to set the "Times, Places, and Manner" of congressional election in a way that absolutely preempts state law, and more: to set those standards even when they spill over into regulation of who gets to vote, so long as the states have an opportunity--under a very loose standard--to preserve their power to set voter qualifications through administrative petitioning and APA action. (Note that this administrative petitioning, by the Court's own reckoning, is informal and casual. Note further that APA review is deferential. Between the two, the principle puts the inertia behind federal regulation that spills over into regulation of voter qualification.)
While the Court articulated these rules in the case--that is, that the feds have the absolute power over how to vote, while the states have the power over who gets to vote--even perhaps more clearly than it has in the past, it's not obvious that this breaks any new ground. In particular, it's not obvious that it breaks any new ground reducing the power of the federal government or enhancing the powers of the states. Indeed, if anything, the core holding of the case only underscores the vast power of the federal government at the expense of the states. (While Justice Scalia's line dividing power between the feds and the states may eventually prove to be a "time bomb" (Hasen's phrase), the principal, driving holding of the case reaffirms federal authority.)
So here's the caveat: the Court said all this only with respect to the Elections Clause, but of course made no ruling on any other federal authority to regulate voter qualifications. Thus the Court left in place vast federal power under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and left untouched the constitutional rights to travel and to vote. Those authorities and rights, and others, might well support federal authority to enact the UOCAVA and maybe even to restrict certain state felon disenfrachisement laws. If so, Monday's ruling doesn't do anything to those actual and potential federal laws.
Moreoer, Monday's ruling does nothing to the federal laws upheld under Oregon v. Mitchell, or otherwise to undermine whatever holdings came out of that case. (Justice Scalia's footnote 8 does nothing to the vitality or legitimacy of Mitchell, say what you will about the footnote or about Mitchell itself.) Lederman argues that those laws might not withstand scrutiny under the Court's current approach to congressional enforcement power under the Reconstruction Amendments. But, if so, that's a function of City of Boerne, not Monday's ruling. Moreover, some or all of the laws upheld under Mitchell might well be upheld under different authorities. As we know, the Court itself split sharply on the sources of authority in that case, suggesting that those laws might enjoy support under other authorities, not subject to the Elections Clause constraint that states have the power to determine who gets to vote.
In short, Monday's ruling is a clear victory for federal authority under the Elections Clause, with a reservation of qualified state authority to determine who gets to vote in congressional elections even when Congress regulates the "Times, Places, and Manner" of congressional elections in a way that spills over into voter qualifications. (Why "qualified state authority"? Because the Court upheld a federal law that set a standard for voter eligibility, based on the oath on the federal form, so long as the states can petition the EAC and bring an action to court to supplement the oath if they can show that the oath is insufficient. This putting-the-burden-on-the-state when the federal government prescribes a way to determine eligibility is a thumb on the scale in favor of federal power. At the very least, it's an extremely unusual way to preserve and protect state power.) But the ruling does nothing to other constitutional powers that Congress might use to validly enact federal law, and to preempt state law, regarding voter qualifications.
June 19, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, June 17, 2013
The Supreme Court ruled today in Arizona v. InterTribal Council of Arizona, Inc. that the federal requirement under the National Voter Registration Act, NVRA, that the states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration. The ruling strikes Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement for users of the federal form, but also invites Arizona to try to get the federal Election Assistance Commission to provide state-specific instructions requiring proof of citizenship through an administrative process. We posted on the case earlier here; our argument preview is here; our argument review is here.
The ruling is a strong statement of federal authority over the states when Congress acts pursuant to its Elections Clause power. But the case doesn't change the basic federalism framework that the Court uses in its ordinary preemption cases (under the Supremacy Clause)--including its presumption against preemption in those cases--and it of course says nothing about the likely direction the Court will take in Shelby County, the pending decision on the challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Justice Scalia wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Kennedy, writing separately, concurred in part and concurred in the judgment.
The case arose out of Arizona's Proposition 200, a ballot initiative that required county recorders to reject any voter registration application not accompanied by a proof of citizenship. The problem is that the NVRA requires states to "accept and use" a uniform federal form designed by the Election Assistance Commission; and the federal form only requires an applicant to attest, under penalty of perjury, that he or she meets the state voting requirements (including citizenship). (The EAC rejected Arizona's request to include a state-specific instruction on the federal form that applicants must provide proof of citizenship.)
So the question in InterTribal was whether the NVRA requirement that states "accept and use" the federal form preempted Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement. The Court ruled that it did.
Congress enacted the NVRA pursuant to its authority under the Elections Clause. The Elections Clause, Article I, Sec. 4, cl. 1, provides:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the places of chusing Senators.
The Court recognized that the Clause was designed to give Congress certain authority over federal elections in order to ensure that states wouldn't undercut the federal government by refusing to provide for the election of representatives to Congress. Thus, the preemptive power of the Clause, even if a "default," is sweeping:
In practice, the Clause functions as "a default provision; it invests the States with responsibility for the mechanics of congressional elections, but only so far as Congress declines to pre-empt state legislative choices." . . . The power of Congress over the "Times, Places and Manner" of congressional elections "is paramount, and may be exercised at any time, and to any extent which it deems expedient; and so far as it is exercised, and no farther, the regulations effected supercede those of the State which are inconsistent therewith."
Op. at 5-6 (citations omitted). More, the Court rejected Arizona's argument that there is a presumption against preemption in the Elections Clause context. It said that when Congress regulates under the Elections Clause, "it necessarily displaces some element of a pre-existing legal regime erected by the States." Op. at 11 (emphasis in original). "Moreover, the federalism concerns underlying the presumption in the Supremacy Clause context are somewhat weaker here. Unlike the States' 'historic police powers,' . . . the States' role in regulating congressional elections--while weighty and worthy of respect--has always existed subject to the express qualification that it 'terminates according to federal law.'" Op. at 12 (citations omitted).
Thus, the Court said that there was no reason not to give the congressional requirement that states "accept and use" the federal form its plain meaning. And that meaning prohibits the states from adding a proof-of-citizenship requirement over and above what the federal form already requires.
The Court noted that the "alternative means of enforcing its constitutional power to determine voting qualifications"--petitioning the EAC to alter the federal form, and challenging the EAC's rejection of a petition under the Administrative Procedures Act--"remains open to Arizona here." Op. at 16.
Justice Kennedy concurred, but wrote separately to take issue with the Court's creation of "a hierarchy of federal powers so that some statutes pre-empting state law must be interpreted by different rules than others, all depending upon which power Congress has exercised." He would have applied a presumption against preemption in this case--and any case involving federal legislation under the Elections Clause--but thought that that presumption was satisfied here.
Justice Thomas dissented, arguing that the Voter Qualifications Clause and the Seventeenth Amendment reserve the power to the states to determine qualifications of voters in federal elections. The Voter Qualifications Clause, Article I, Sec. 2, cl 1., says that "the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature" in elections for the federal House of Representatives. The Seventeenth Amendment contains similar language for elections for the Senate. Because both parties' interpretations of the "accept and use" language were plausible, according to Justice Thomas, these other provisions tilt the scale in favor of Arizona--and state determination of voter qualifications.
Finally, Justice Alito dissented, arguing that the NVRA language is ambiguous, but "their best reading is that the States need not treat the federal form as a complete voter registration application."
Monday, May 6, 2013
The 2009 sharply divided Supreme Court opinion in Caperton v. Massey Coal is the centerpiece of the new book, The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption by Laurence Leamer. Recall that the Court in Caperton ruled that due process required judicial recusal of a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge, Justice Brent Benjamin, in a case involving Massey Coal because of the contributions by Massey Coal to Justice Benjamin's campaign.
The starred review from Publisher's Weekly describes the book as
the riveting and compulsively readable tale of the epic battle between Don Blankenship, the man who essentially ran the West Virginia coal industry through his company Massey Energy, and two seemingly ordinary attorneys: Bruce Stanley and David Fawcett. The centerpiece of the story is a West Virginia mine owner whom Blankenship purposefully bankrupted, and on whose behalf Stanley and Fawcett won (in 2002) a $50 million dollar verdict that is still unpaid. In hopes of having the ruling overturned by the West Virginia Supreme Court, Blankenship sought to “buy” a seat on the court by contributing over $3 million to the successful campaign of a conservative judicial candidate. However, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually found that Blankenship’s contributions were too much to allow the new West Virginia justice to hear the case. Leamer has produced a Shakespearean tale of greed, corporate irresponsibility, and personal hubris on the one hand, and idealism, commitment to justice, and personal sacrifice on the other. Blankenship is a villain for all time, and Stanley and Fawcett are lawyers who bring honor to their profession.
A good addition to that summer reading list for anyone interested in constitutional law and anyone who might like a reminder that lawyers can, indeed, be heroic.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Speaking to the Chicago Tribune editorial board, retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor reportedly stated that the Court took the case of Bush v. Gore
"and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue. Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.'"
The case, she said, "stirred up the public" and "gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation."
"Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision," she said. "It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn't done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day."
This falls far short of a statement that O'Connor regretted her decision in the infamous Bush v. Gore, as some have concluded.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Even as we await the United States Supreme Court's opinion on the constitutionality of a university's affirmative action plan in Fisher v. University of Texas argued October 10, it has become clear that Fisher will not be the Court's last affirmative action case.
Today, the Court granted a petition for certiorari in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action to the Sixth Circuit's en banc decision in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the University of Michigan decided last November. Recall that the Sixth Circuit majority held Michigan's anti-affirmative action constitutional amendment, passed in 2006 as a ballot initiative Proposal 2, unconstitutional.
The en banc Sixth Circuit was seriously fractured, but none of the opinions considered the Court's affirmative action cases of Grutter and Gratz (or the pending case of Fisher). Instead, the relevant doctrine was the so-called "political process" aspect of the Equal Protection Clause which asks whether a majority may vote to amend its constitution to limit the rights of a minority to seek relief? This underlying problem is similar to some of the arguments in the Proposition 8 case - - - Hollingsworth v. Perry - - - to be argued before the Supreme Court tomorrow, March 26, and certainly resonates with the Ninth Circuit's reasoning in Perry finding that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.
In the case of Michigan's Prop 2, the Sixth Circuit majority found it troublesome that only as to racial classifications in university admissions would a person seeking to change policy have to amend the state constitution, as contrasted to other classifications that could be changed by various other means, including simply persuading an admissions committee.
As to what the Court's grant of certiorari in Coalition to Save Affirmative Action might mean for Fisher, reading the "tea leaves" is difficult. As we observed when the Sixth Circuit decided Coalition to Save Affirmative Action, a very broad approach in Fisher - - - such as a declaration that all racial affirmative action policies in education were per se unconstitutional - - - would seriously undermine the rationale of the Sixth Circuit opinion. However, a grant of certiorari in Coalition to Save Affirmative Action does not mean that Fisher will be narrow or that it will uphold the University of Texas' affirmative action plan.
And one additional "wrinkle": Justice Kagan is recused in Coalition to Save Affirmative Action.
[image Affirmative Action demonstration in 2003, via]
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The controversies surrounding the Court's impending decision in Shelby County v. Holder regarding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act's "preclearance" provision (section 5) have been exacerbated by Justice Scalia's remarks about "racial entitlement." Seemingly, at issue for the Justices - - - originalist and otherwise - - - is the meaning of the enforcement clauses of the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Amendments: "The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
In a provocative new article, A Structural Theory of Elections, available in draft on ssrn, ConLawProf Franita Tolson (pictured) seeks to redirect our attention to section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment:
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.
Tolson's attention is not to the language that first introduced gender into the Constitution ("male inhabitants") or to the change in counting those male inhabitants ("excluding Indians") or to the subsequent change in voting age, but to the broad ability of Congress to change the apportionment for voting rights violations. She argues that this previously under-emphasized language makes the Court's "congruence and proportionality" standard for evaluating Congressional power inapplicable in the voting and election contexts.
Tolson's article is a closely reasoned and excellently researched argument for the broad enforcement powers of Congress intended by the Framers of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. She ultimately contends "that requiring preclearance of all electoral changes instituted by select jurisdictions under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is actually a lesser penalty than reduced representation under section 2, and is thus consistent with Congress’s broad authority to regulate voting and elections under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments."
Tolson's article is certainly worth a read for anyone considering the issues at the heart of Shelby County v. Holder.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Linda Greenhouse's NYT "Opinionator" column is almost always worth a read.
But yesterday's column entitled "A Big New Power" is a must-read for anyone considering the Court's pending opinion in Shelby County v. Holder and the controversy surrounding Scalia's remarks during the oral argument.
Years from now, when the Supreme Court has come to its senses, justices then sitting will look back on the spring of 2013 in bewilderment. On what basis, they will wonder, did five conservative justices, professed believers in judicial restraint, reach out to grab the authority that the framers of the post-Civil War 14th and 15th Amendments had vested in Congress nearly a century and a half earlier “to enforce, by appropriate legislation” the right to equal protection and the right to vote.
Greenhouse admits she is forecasting the outcome, but her column makes that outcome seem less palatable.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Ninth Circuit Grants Standing to Challenge California's Requirement for Resident Signature Gatherers for Ballot Qualification
California's Election Code, sections 8066 and 8451 require the persons who gather the signatures necessary to place a name on the ballot in an election to be residents of the political subdivision or district in which the voting is to occur. California uses the term "circulators" for the person who gathers the signatures and the term "nomination paper" for the document with the signatures, but the general scheme is a familiar one.
Indeed, recall the controversy in January 2012 over a First Amendment challenge by Republican candidates for President to the Virginia election provision that mandated that the petition be circulated by a registered (or eligible) voter in Virginia and the circulator must sign the petition in the presence of a notary. The Fourth Circuit rejected the challengers arguments on the basis of laches. Part of the candidates' argument for waiting was that they did not have standing until later in the process.
And the standing concern is a serious one.
But the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Libertarian Party of Los Angeles County v. Bowen today - - - reversing the district judge - - - held that a "concrete plan" to use circulators who do not live in the voting district, coupled with the clear intent of enforcement by California Secretary of State Bowen, is sufficient to confer standing.
In a footnote to this relatively brief opinion, the panel distinguished the Supreme Court’s February 26 decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA : "Unlike in Clapper, Plaintiffs’ fear of enforcement here is actual and well-founded and does not involve a 'highly attenuated chain of possibilities.' "
Thus, the question of whether states can impose residency requirements for those who gather signatures without violating the First Amendment is a live case or controversy in a California district court.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
The Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, the case testing the constitutionality of the preclearance provision and related coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act. If the questions at arguments are any indication of the Court's leaning--and it's always dicey to predict based on arguments, but here perhaps less so than in a more ordinary case--it looks like preclearance or the coverage formula or both will go down by a close vote.
Section 5 of the VRA, the preclearance provision, provides that "covered jurisdictions" (defined under Section 4(b)), have to get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court in the District of Columbia before making changes to their election laws. This means that jurisdictions need to show that proposed changes to their election laws aren't motivated by race and won't result in disenfranchising voters or dilluting votes by race. This extraordinary remedy is justified in part because the more usual way of enforcing voting rights--individual suits against offending jurisdictions--is not an effective way to address voting discrimination. (Individual suits, by a voter or by the Department of Justice, are authorized by Section 2 of the VRA. Section 2 is not at issue in this case.)
Shelby County, which sits within fully covered Alabama, brought the facial challenge against Section 5, the preclearance provision, and Section 4(b), the coverage formula, as reauthorized by Congress in 2006, arguing that Congress exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In particular, Shelby County claimed that Congress didn't have sufficient evidence in its 2006 reauthorization to require the covered jurisdictions to seek permission (or preclearance) from the Justice Department or the District Court in the District of Columbia before making any change to its election laws. Shelby County also said that preclearance for the covered jurisdictions violated principles of federalism and equal sovereignty among the states.
The arguments were lively, to say the least. The justices seemed to be arguing with each other more than questioning the attorneys, who often seemed more like bystanders in a debate among the nine. And they all seemed to have their minds made up, more or less. If there are swing votes, look to Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Kennedy. Although they seemed set in their positions, they seemed perhaps the least set.
Substantively, there were few surprises. Remember, we've heard these arguments before--in the NAMUDNO case, which the Court ultimately resolved by allowing the jurisdiction to bail out (and thus avoided the constitutional question, although the parties briefed it and it got attention at oral argument). So these points that came up today are familiar:
- Whether Congress had sufficient evidence to warrant preclearance for selected covered jurisdictions;
- Whether the Section 4(b) coverage formula, which dates back 40 years or so, is sufficiently tailored to the realities of voting discrimination in 2013--that is, whether some covered jurisdictions under this formula really ought not to be covered, and whether others should be covered, given contemporary disparities in registration and offices held and other indicia of voting discrimination;
- Whether Congress violated principles of equal state sovereignty by designating only selected jurisdictions as covered (rather than designating the whole country);
- Whether Section 2 individual suits are a sufficient way to enforce non-discrimination in voting (and therefore whether Section 5 is really necessary); and
- Whether with a string of reauthorizations preclearance will ever not be necessary.
On this last point, it was clear that for some justices the government was in a tough spot. On the one hand, the government argued that Section 5 deters voting discrimination: Sure, things have gotten a little better since 1965, it said, but Section 5 is still justified because it deters against a back-slide. But on the other hand, some on the Court wondered whether under this theory Section 5 would ever not be necessary. (By this reckoning, the government would be justifying Section 5 even when there's no evidence of continued discrimination.)
All this is to say that a majority seemed unpersuaded that this preclearance requirement and this coverage formula were sufficiently tailored--proportionate and congruent, the Court's test--to meet the constitutional evil of voting discrimination that Congress identified.
This doesn't mean, necessarily, that the whole scheme will go down. There is an intermediate position: The Court could uphold Section 5 preclearance in theory, but reject the coverage formula in Section 4(b). But this result would likely doom the whole scheme, in fact. That's because it seems unlikely that Congress could pass a different coverage formula or that Congress would extend preclearance to the whole country. Without specifying coverage in a new Section 4(b), Section 5 would be meaningless.
There was a low point. Justice Scalia went on a tear toward the end of SG Verrilli's argument, opining on why Congress passed each reathorization with increased majorities:
Now, I don't think that's attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It's been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.
It's not exactly clear what's the "racial entitlement" in Section 5. Section 5 is simply not an entitlement provision. But if we have to identify an entitlement: Maybe the right to vote, without being discriminated against by race? If so, we can only hope that it's "very difficult to get out of [it] through the normal political processes." As much as anything else in the arguments today, this comment may tell us exactly why we continue to need preclearance, sadly, even in 2013.
February 27, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
As the Court - - - and the country - - - consider the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the constitutionality of the preclearance provision at issue in Shelby County v. Holder ConLawProfs might find useful the insights of Andrew Cohen, Atiba Ellis, Adam Sewer (on CJ Roberts), Adam Winkler or numerous others. But the observations of William Faulkner (pictured), Nobel Prize in Literature recipient who placed Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi on our (fictional) maps are also pertinent according to Joel Heller's excellent article, Faulkner’s Voting Rights Act: The Sound and Fury of Section Five, 40 Hofstra Law Review 929 (2012), and available on ssrn.
Joel Heller argues that pronouncements that 'The South has changed' fail to take into account the "ongoing burden of memory that Faulkner portrays so powerfully." Heller contends that the VRA's section 5 preclearance provision "does not punish the sons for the sins of the father, but keeps in check the uncertain consequences of a current ongoing consciousness of those sins." Heller uses Faulkner to effectively discuss various attitudes short of intentional discrimination that might nevertheless have racially discriminatory results. These include lawmakers shame and denial of the past accompanied by a devotion to the "things have changed" mantra that would prevent perceptions of racially problematic actions. Additionally, "local control" possesses a nostalgic power, even as the era being evoked was one of white supremacy.
While Faulkner did not live to see the VRA Act become law, Joel Heller's engaging article is definitely worth a read as the Court considers Congressional power to remedy discrimination in the Old/New South.
[image of William Faulkner via]
February 27, 2013 in Books, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, History, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Entitled "After 50 Years, the Voting Rights Act's Biggest Threat: The Supreme Court," Andrew Cohen's extensive article just published in The Atlantic is a must-read for anyone following the Court's pending oral argument (on Wednesday, February 27) in Shelby County v. Holder.
Recall that the Court's grant of certiorari last November 9 put the Voting Rights Act (VRA) "in the crosshairs" of the Court - - - as we said at the time - - - noting that the VRA's constitutionality had been seriously questioned but ultimately evaded by the Court's 2009 decision in Northwest Utilities District of Austin v. Holder . The DC Circuit had upheld the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the VRA.
Andrew Cohen's article provides a terrific contextualize of the politics, including the Court's politics, that surround the constitutional controversy. Cohen writes that "racial polarization has intensified during the Obama Administration," with "'explicit anti-black attitudes'" around the country, "especially among Republicans," many of whom "sponsored and enacted some of the voter suppression laws of the 2012 cycle." Cohen also argues that the Court essentially "invited many of the state voter suppression efforts of the past three years" by its decisions, including not only Northwest Utilities District of Austin v. Holder, but also the 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion County, upholding a voter identification statute. Cohen contends: "Having created the factual and legal conditions to undermine the federal law, the Court now is poised to say that it is weakened beyond repair."
Cohen concludes that the stakes in Shelby are very high:
If the Court strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, this year especially, given the record of the past three years, the justices who do so will reveal a disconcerting level of disconnect from the realities of modern American politics as they were expressed in the near-unanimous renewal of the Act in 2006. And the partisan ruling they would issue in this circumstance would be even more brazenly ideological and untethered from precedent than the Citizens United ruling issued in January 2010.
Cohen's timely, provocative, and well-argued article is definitely worth a read and would be a great suggested reading for law students considering the issue.
February 23, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, History, Interpretation, Race, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, January 25, 2013
Virginia is leading a group of states controlled by Republicans but voting for President Obama in the 2012 election to change the way they allocate their electoral votes in the presidential election--moving from winner-take-all to allocation by congressional district, according to WaPo and HuffPo. Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are also considering, or have considered, similar measures.
Currently just Nebraska and Maine allocate their electoral votes by congressional district. Both states award their other two electoral votes to the overall winner in the state. The proposal in Virginia would award its two additional votes to the candidate who wins the most congressional districts in the state.
Changing the allocation in all 50 states would have resulted in a 273-262 win for Romney in the 2012 election. (The total, 353, doesn't include D.C.'s 3 electoral votes. Even including those for Obama, however, Romney still would have won.)
The proposals stand in contrast to the national popular vote plan, an interstate compact in which participating states would award all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. But the compact has to hit a critical mass of participating states--a number that hold a majority of electoral votes. (It's currently about half-way there.)
Monday, January 21, 2013
Reversing a federal district judge's holding that portions of Wisconsin's controversial Act 10 regarding public unions, the Seventh Circuit split panel's opinion in Wisconsin Education Association Council v. Walker upheld the constitutionality of the act.
Recall that the federal district judge had held that Act 10's requirement of annual recertification of general employees unions violated equal protection guarantees and Act 10's prohibition of dues withholding for general employees violated the first amendment.
The Seventh Circuit majority emphasized that the Act 10's "speaker-based distinctions are permissible when the state subsidizes speech. Nothing in the Constitution requires the government to subsidize all speech equally."
Moreover, the Seventh Circuit majority found that Act 10 was viewpoint neutral, even as it admitted that
the Unions do offer some evidence of viewpoint discrimination in the words of then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald suggesting Act 10, by limiting unions’ fundraising capacity, would make it more difficult for President Obama to carry Wisconsin in the 2012 presidential election. While Senator Fitzgerald’s statement may not reflect the highest of intentions, his sentiments do not invalidate an otherwise constitutional, viewpoint neutral law.
On the Equal Protection claim, the panel majority applied rational basis review, in which "the law is presumed constitutional, and we impose a weighty burden on the Unions—they must “negative every . . . basis which might support” the law because we will uphold it “if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts” supporting the classification." The panel rejected the argument that heightened rational basis attributable to animus should apply: "unfortunate as it may be, political favoritism is a frequent aspect of legislative action."
Judge David Hamilton dissented from the majority's decision upholding Wisconsin’s selective prohibition on payroll deductions for dues for some public employee unions but not others on the basis of the First Amendment. In his lengthy dissent, Judge Hamilton differs on the central point of viewpoint neutrality, noting that while "on its face, Wisconsin’s Act 10 seems viewpoint-neutral: public safety unions can have dues withheld from paychecks, while other public employee unions cannot." But he quickly observes: "Facial neutrality, however, is not the end of the matter."
Hamilton agreed with the district judge and credited the unions' arguments that Act 10 was a
pretext for viewpoint (here, political) discrimination. The first is the close correlation between various unions’ political endorsements in the 2010 Wisconsin governor’s race and their ability to continue payroll deductions. The second is the flimsiness of the State’s proffered rationales for drawing the line as it did between public safety and general employees and for barring payroll deductions of union dues for all but public safety employees. The third is the overtly partisan political explanation for the Act that was offered in the legislative debate.
While there are some minor disagreements on doctrine between the majority and dissenting opinions, for the most part they are in accord. Where they differ is in their essential understanding of whether the facts satisfy the requirement of viewpoint neutrality. Dissenting Judge Hamilton seems to have the better opinion in this regard; the majority opinion too often seems poised to conclude their is viewpoint discrimination and then retreats without explanation.
Perhaps the Seventh Circuit will proceed with en banc review.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Pamela Karlan's "Democracy and Disdain" is the Forward to Harvard Law Review's annual Supreme Court issue for the 2011 Term and is a compelling - - - indeed, necessary and delightful - - - read. Karlan's central thesis, as the title aptly communicates, is that the Roberts' Court has little but disdain for the democratic process. By "Roberts' Court," of course, she means the five Justices who usually form the majority, including Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy.
The Roberts Court’s narrow substantive reading of enumerated powers maps fairly closely onto the contemporary conservative political agenda. To the extent that the conservative agenda gains popular acceptance, the Court may garner acclaim as a guardian of constitutional values. But if the public rejects that agenda, or remains sharply divided, the Court risks being perceived as simply another partisan institution. The Court’s current status rests in substantial measure on its having been on the right side of history in Brown v. Board of Education. Only time will tell whether the Court will retain that status given the choices the Roberts Court is making.
Karlan is adept at comparing the present Court to previous ones, not only including the Warren Court. Spoiler alert: When she quotes Justice Roberts, she might not be quoting the 2012 John Roberts but the 1936 Owen Roberts, a device she uses to especially good effect. Also to good effect is her usage of other justices, colloquies in oral argument, the occasional poet, and theorist. The writing is broad and engaging without being precious. It makes her analysis of the cases even more trenchant, situated in larger themes and trends.
Of course, not all ConLawProfs will agree with Karlan's views of the Court, including one subsection entitled "Protecting Spenders and Suspecting Voters," and another "Suspecting Congress." And Karlan's argument is hardly unique, as anyone who recalls Rehnquist Court scholarship, including the excellent 2001 article "Dissing Congress," by Ruth Colker and James J. Brudney can attest. And it is especially noteworthy that the Court did uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, a case that Karlan extensively discusses and more interestingly, situates within the Term's other less notable decisions.
But this is a must read article before beginning the new semester.
[image of Pamela Karlan via]
January 7, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, History, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Separation of Powers, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, November 19, 2012
In the wake of the 2012 election, members introduced several measures to facilitate quick and easy voting, to establish a period for early voting, to establish penalties for interfering with voting, and to make voting easier for overseas military:
- H.R. 6591 and S. 3635, the Fair, Accurate, Secure, and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012, which provides financial incentives to states to invest in practices and technologies that are designed to expedite voting at the polls and to simplify registration.
- H.R. 6591, the SIMPLE Voting Act, which amends the Help America Vote Act of 2012 to require states to establish a minimum period of 15 days for early voting prior to the date of election for federal office and to ensure that no individual will be required to wait for longer than one hour to cast a ballot at a polling place in an election for federal office.
- H.R. 6593, the Voter Fraud Prevention Act of 2012, which amends the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to increase the penalties for intimidating, threatening, or coercing any person from engaging in voter registration or for procuring, submitting, or casting false voter registration applications or ballots, and to require election officials to transmit balloting materials to absent members of the military using the automated tagging and tracing services of the Postal Service.
- H.R. 6594, the Military Ballot Integrity Act of 2012, which requires states that fail to transmit valid requested absentee ballots in an election for federal office to absent members of the military within a specified deadline to delay certifying the election results, and to provide a private right of action to enforce that requirement.
In addition, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced H.J. Res. 121, proposing a constitutional amendment that would grant 29 extra votes in the electoral college to the winner of the national popular vote. Why 29? It's the average of the state with the most votes (California, at 55) and the states and D.C. with the least (3). According to HuffPo, it would encourage candidates to spend more time campaigning in states where they already have a lock, in order to ensure a popular vote victory to get the extra 29. Here's Rep. Israel's explanation. Section 1 reads:
In an election for President and Vice President, after the popular vote has been counted and electors have been appointed in each of the several States and the District constituting the seat of Government of the United States, each State and the District shall report the total number of popular votes cast for each of the candidates. The candidate receiving the largest percentage of the total popular vote as reported by the several States and the District shall receive 29 electoral votes in addition to those cast by the Electors chosen by the several States and the District. These votes shall not be considered votes cast by Electors and shall not affect the total number of votes necessary to constitute a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
In its opinion today in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the University of Michigan, the en banc Sixth Circuit has declared Michigan's anti-affirmative action constitutional amendment, passed in 2006 as a ballot initiative Proposal 2, unconstitutional.
The majority opinion, written by Judge Cole, and joined in full by seven other judges, and in part by others, applies the "political-process" doctrine of Equal Protection Clause. Disagreeing, there is a splintering of five other mostly dissenting opinions, joined by various other judges, with two judges not participating.
The opinion begins with a concrete illustration of the "political process" doctrine:
A student seeking to have her family’s alumni connections considered in her application to one of Michigan’s esteemed public universities could do one of four things to have the school adopt a legacy-conscious admissions policy: she could lobby the admissions committee, she could petition the leadership of the university, she could seek to influence the school’s governing board, or, as a measure of last resort, she could initiate a statewide campaign to alter the state’s constitution. The same cannot be said for a black student seeking the adoption of a constitutionally permissible race-conscious admissions policy. That student could do only one thing to effect change: she could attempt to amend the Michigan Constitution—a lengthy, expensive, and arduous process—to repeal the consequences of Proposal 2. The existence of such a comparative structural burden undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.
The court specifically discounted the Supreme Court's decisions in Grutter and Gratz - - - which arose in Michigan and prompted Proposal 2 - - - by stating it was "neither required nor inclined to weigh in on the constitutional status or relative merits of race-conscious admissions policies as such." Indeed, the majority charges the dissenters with seeking to take a "second bite" at Grutter. Instead, the constitutional challenge involved a "state amendment that alters the process by which supporters of permissible race-conscious admissions policies may seek to enact those policies."
With this interpretation, the court looked to Washington v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 458 U.S. 457 (1982) and Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U.S. 385 (1969), cases that
expounded the rule that an enactment deprives minority groups of the equal protection of the laws when it: (1) has a racial focus, targeting a policy or program that “inures primarily to the benefit of the minority”; and (2) reallocates political power or reorders the decisionmaking process in a way that places special burdens on a minority group’s ability to achieve its goals through that process.
The court then applied the rule to conclude that Proposal 2 targets a program that “inures primarily to the benefit of the minority” and reorders the political process in Michigan in a way that places special burdens on racial minorities."
Interestingly, the en banc majority rejected any distinction based upon the race benefited or burdened:
The Attorney General and the dissenters assert that Hunter and Seattle are inapplicable to Proposal 2 because those cases only govern enactments that burden racial minorities’ ability to obtain protection from discrimination through the political process, whereas Proposal 2 burdens racial minorities’ ability to obtain preferential treatment. At bottom, this is an argument that an enactment violates the Equal Protection Clause under Hunter and Seattle only if the political process is distorted to burden legislation providing constitutionally-mandated protections, such as anti-discrimination laws. Under this theory, a state may require racial minorities to endure a more burdensome process than all other citizens when seeking to enact policies that are in their favor if those policies are constitutionally permissible but not constitutionally required. This effort to drive a wedge between the political-process rights afforded when seeking anti- discrimination legislation and so-called preferential treatment is fundamentally at odds with Seattle.
The only way to find the Hunter/Seattle doctrine inapplicable to the enactment of preferential treatment is to adopt a strained reading that ignores the preferential nature of the legislation at issue in Seattle, and inaccurately recast it as anti-discrimination legislation.
None of the opinions mention the recently argued case of Fisher v. Texas. If the United States Supreme Court were to take a very broad approach and declare that all racial affirmative action policies in education were per se unconstitutional, the rationale of today's opinion in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action would be seriously undermined.
[image: "Women's Studies Turns 40" from the University of Michigan, via]
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Here's a primer, courtesy of CNN:
WAMU's Diane Rehm hosted a wonderful show with Profs. James Thurber and Jeffrey Rosen last month. Here's a short report from the Congressional Research Service, and here's a report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.