Sunday, March 8, 2015
On the 5oth anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery March, President Obama and other dignitaries gathered in Selma to commemorate the iconic protest which is widely believed to have galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Given the Court's closely divided and controversial 2013 decision in Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder finding parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, as well as subsequent efforts by states to enact voting restrictions, Obama not surprisingly included pertinent references in his speech:
And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote. Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.
How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it. If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year. That’s how we honor those on this bridge.
Obama left unelaborated what Congress might do in light of the Court's decision in Shelby. A full text of Obama's speech is here, but the video is worth watching:
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The Sixth Circuit ruled today in Michigan Corrections Organization v. Michigan Dep't of Corrections that the federal courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over a claim by Michigan correctional officers against the Corrections Department Director under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The court dismissed the federal case.
While the case marks a defeat for the workers (and others who seek to enforce the FLSA against a state), the plaintiffs may be able to re-file in state court. (They brought a state claim in federal court, along with their FLSA claim, and, if there are no other bars, they may be able to revive it in a new state proceeding.)
Correction officers filed the suit, claiming that they wre denied pay for pre- and post-shift activities (like punching the clock, waiting in line for security, and the like) in violation of the FLSA. They sued the Department Director in his official capacity for denied overtime pay and declaratory relief.
The Sixth Circuit rejected the federal claims. The court ruled that the Director enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity against monetary damages, and that Congress did not validly abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity through the FLSA (because Congress enacted the FLSA under its Commerce Clause authority). The court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that Congress enacted the FLSA under its Fourteenth Amendment, Section 5 authority to enforce privileges or immunities against the states (which, if so, would have allowed Congress to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity). The court said that the Privileges or Immunities Clause (after The Slaughter-House Cases) simply can't carry that weight--that wages are not a privilege or immunity of national citizenship.
The court went on to reject the plaintiffs' claim for declaratory relief under the FLSA, Section 1983, and Ex Parte Young. The court said that the FLSA "does not provide a basis for this declaratory judgment action." That means that the plaintiffs can't get declaratory relief from the statute itself, and, because the FLSA doesn't provide for private enforcement by way of declaratory relief, the plaintiffs can't get Section 1983 or Ex Parte Young relief, either.
December 17, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The Fifth Circuit has denied en banc review by a vote of 15-5 in its Order in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.
Recall that in a divided opinion in July, a Fifth Circuit panel held that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall also that the United States Supreme Court had reversed the Fifth Circuit's original finding in favor of the University (affirming the district judge) and remanded the case for a "further judicial determination that the admissions process meets strict scrutiny in its implementation." The opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy - - - with only Justice Ginsburg dissenting and Justice Kagan recused - - -specified that the "University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal" of diversity and the University should receive no judicial deference on that point.
Judge Emilio Garza, the Senior Judge who dissented from the panel opinion also wrote a very brief dissenting opinion from en banc review, which was joined by Judges Jones, Smith, Clement, and Owen. Judge Garza contends that while the "panel majority dutifully bows" to the United States Supreme Court's requirements in Fisher, it "then fails to conduct the strict scrutiny analysis" the opinion requires "thus returning to the deferential models" of Regents of University of California v. Bakke and Grutter v. Bollinger.
A petition for writ of certiorari is certain; the grant of that petition is less certain.
November 13, 2014 in Affirmative Action, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Divided Fifth Circuit Upholds Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi's Restrictive Abortion Law HB 1390
A panel of the Fifth Circuit in its opinion today in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier upheld the district judge's injunction against the enforcement of a restrictive abortion statute known as Mississippi HB 1390.
The statute required physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital. As the court noted, a similar provision in Texas (HB 2) was recently upheld by the Fifth Circuit in Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott. As to the rational basis of such a law, the panel stated it was "bound" by Abbott as precedent to accept that the Mississippi statute survives a constitutional challenge.
Regarding undue burden, however, the panel majority, in an opinion by Judge E. Grady Jolly (who interestingly hails from Mississippi) and joined by Judge Stephen Higginson, the effects of HB 1390 were relevant in this as-applied challenge. In assessing the undue burden, the court found it highly relevant that “if enforced, the admitting privileges requirement would likely require JWHO, the only currently licensed abortion facility in Mississippi, to lose its license.” The panel rejected the State's attempt to "walk back" this statement - - - which is actually a quote from the State's opening brief - - - as "too little, too late." Additionally, the majority found it important that the hospitals had rejected the physicians' applications for admitting privileges based on the fact that the physicians performed abortions.
The central - - - and exceedingly interesting - - - question of the undue burden analysis is the relevance of the clinic's status as the only abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi. The State argued that there is no undue burden because women could travel to another state and many of these distances would not be unduly burdensome in and of themselves. Recall that in Planned Parenthood of S.E. Penn. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) the plurality opinion rejected the contention that traveling long distances constituted an undue burden. But, as Judge Jolly notes, there was no suggestion that women should have to go to neighboring states in Casey or in any other opinion, and there is at least one circuit court opinion that finds it "dispositive" that women had to leave the state to exercise their constitutional right.
Additionally - - - and this is the interesting part - - - the court relies upon State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938) in the United States Supreme Court rejected Missouri's argument that its failure to admit an African-American man to its law school was essentially cured by its offer of a tuition stipend to allow Mr. Gaines to attend law school in another state. Here's the passage from Gaines that Judge Jolly finds worthy of quoting at length:
[T]he obligation of the State to give the protection of equal laws can be performed only where its laws operate, that is, within its own jurisdiction. . . . That obligation is imposed by the Constitution upon the States severally as governmental entities, —each responsible for its own laws establishing the rights and duties of persons within its borders. It is an obligation the burden of which cannot be cast by one State upon another, and no State can be excused from performance by what another State may do or fail to do. That separate responsibility of each State within its own sphere is of the essence of statehood maintained under our dual system.
Id. at 350. Judge Jolly admits that Gaines can be distinguished, but finds Gaines nevertheless determinative: " a state cannot lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens’ federal constitutional rights."
In a lengthy and somewhat vehement dissent - - - complete with quotations from Albert Camus - - - Senior Judge Emilio Garza finds many things to criticize in the majority's opinion, including the majority's failure to recognize there is not sufficient state action for a constitutional claim (it is the hospitals denying admitting privileges rather than the statute that are the cause); the majority's failure to honor the distinction between equal protection (as in Gaines) and due process (in the abortion context); the majority's belief that there is relevance to crossing state lines (given the constitutional right to travel across state lines articulated in Saenz v. Roe); the majority's failure to recognize that Casey is nothing more than a "verbal shell game" (quoting Justice Scalia's dissent in Casey); the majority's recognition of the "liberty" interest (quotes in original) in the Due Process Clause; and the majority's participation in "aggrandizement of judicial power."
But the central issue of federalism including not only states' rights but states' responsibilities raised by this opinion and litigation is one that merits close consideration.
July 29, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation last week that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance. The legislation responds to the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Shelby County v. Holder, striking Section 4(b) of the VRA, the coverage formula for the preclearance requirement. That ruling left Section 5 preclearance nearly a dead letter (although litigants could still seek to have a court order a jurisdiction to bail-in to preclearance under Section 3).
The bills would update the coverage formula to include states that have 5 or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 years and political subdivisions that have 3 or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 years. (Coverage would continue for 10 years, unless the jurisdiction gets a court order releasing it.) This new formula would cover Georgia, Louisiana, Misissippi, and Texas, but not Alabama, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
The bills also contain a number of other provisions, perhaps most notably expanding Section 3 bail-in so that litigants can ask a court to bail-in a jurisdiction when that jurisdiction has intentionally discriminated (as now) and for any other violation of the VRA. Ari Berman over at The Nation has a nice summary.
The new provisions will undoubtedly be challenged when and if they're enacted. On the one hand, they address a major concern of the Court in Shelby County: they update the coverage formula to use more current violations as the basis for coverage. But on the other hand, they still treat states differently (and potentially run afoul of the Court's new-found "equal sovereignty" doctrine), and the state-wide formula does not account for actual voter turn-out (although the political subdivision formula does) and neither formula addresses the number of elected officials--data that the Court found at least relevant in its ruling.
January 22, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, November 4, 2013
Here's a terrific exploration in video form of the decision and its impact on Pasadena, Texas, by Kali Borkoski of SCOTUSBlog.
This short clip would be an excellent in-class introduction to the issues - - - and could be updated depending on the outcome of the local election.
Friday, September 20, 2013
The Brennan Center filed suit this week in federal court on behalf the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives challenging SB 14, Texas's strict voter ID law. The Brennan Center's resource page on the case is here.
The suit this week comes soon after the United States Department of Justice filed its own suit against Texas to stop SB 14.
Recall that the Texas AG announced that the state would move to enforce SB 14 soon after the Supreme Court struck the coverage formula for the preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act this summer in Shelby County v. Holder.
The suit filed this week, like the DOJ suit before it, also seeks "bail-in" under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act--that is, an order by the federal court for continued monitoring of the state that would operate very much like preclearance under Section 5 would have operated against a covered state like Texas (until the Court struck the coverage formula, leaving Section 5 a dead letter, in Shelby County).
Section 3(c) bail-in may be the next litigation target (after opponents succeeded in challenging the coverage formula for preclearance in Shelby County) for states like Texas facing VRA suits. Texas's responses to these suits will tell.
September 20, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
An ABA Journal article by Mark Walsh tells us that last Term, 2012-2013, was "another big one" for amicus curiae briefs at the United States Supreme Court: "Seventy of the 73 cases, or nearly 96 percent, that received full plenary review attracted at least one amicus brief at the merits stage."
The top amicus-attractors?
Shelby County v. Holder, the Voting Rights Act case, attracted 49 amicus briefs, including one from ConLawProf Patricia Broussard (second from right) and her students at FAMU College of Law, as pictured below.
Worth a look, especially for ConLawProfs writing, signing, or assigning amicus briefs.
August 28, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, July 19, 2013
Justice John Paul Stevens in the New York Review of Books writes a thoughtful "dissent" in the Court's ruling in Shelby County around his review of Gary May's outstanding book Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (Basic). Justice Stevens's piece is mostly an indictment of Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion in Shelby County, based on some of May's study of voting discrimination; but he also has quite kind things to say (and justifiably so) about May's excellent history. (Our posts on Shelby County itself are collected here.)
Justice Stevens writes that May takes a longer, more detailed view of the history of voting than Chief Justice Roberts did in Shelby County--a view that Justice Ginsburg also took in her dissent in that case. He notes that Chief Justice Roberts didn't even mention anything before 1890 in his opinion, and glossed over significant details since.
And Justice Stevens takes on Chief Justice Roberts's new-found doctrine of "equal state sovereignty"--a doctrine that drove a good part of the result. Justice Stevens says that unequal treatment of states is woven right in to the fabric of the Constitution itself. In particular, the three-fifths clause gave southern states a "slave bonus" in political power, giving those states disproportionate representation and even leading to the election of Thomas Jefferson over John Adams in 1800. If the original text of the Constitution itself can treat states so dramatically differently, why this new doctrine of equal state sovereignty? (We posted on this new doctrine here.) (It can be no answer that the Reconstruction Amendments abolished the three-fifths counting system, for the Reconstruction Amendments themselves were specifically designed to give Congress power over the states, and led to dramatically different treatment of the states. It similarly can be no answer that the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments protect state sovereignty (even if they do), because the Reconstruction Amendments came after them. As last-in-time, they at least inform the meaning of the earlier amendments, even if they don't do away with them entirely.)
July 19, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, History, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Last Term's opinions - - - especially its opinions regarding the constitutionality of the VRA in Shelby, of DOMA and Prop 8 in Windsor and Perry, and of UT's affirmative action plan in Fisher - - - continue to spark debate and commentary. As well they should. But much of our discussions focus on individual Justices: Is Justice Kennedy the "first gay Justice?" Is Justice Alito really rude? Is Chief Justice Roberts playing a "long game?" And what about the tumblr "Notorious R.B.G.? Or @SCOTUS_Scalia, a twitter account?
In their 2010 law review article, Judicial Duty and the Supreme Court’s Cult of Celebrity, available on ssrn, Craig Lerner and Nelson Lund observed that there was a huge dissonance between the personality portrayed in confirmation hearings and the outsized personality on the bench and suggested four Congressional reforms. Their first proposal:
Congress should require that all Supreme Court opinions, including concurrences and dissents, be issued anonymously. This should lead to fewer self-indulgent separate opinions, more coherent and judicious majority opinions, and more reason for future Justices to treat the resulting precedents respectfully.
They contend, "[t]ruly unpretentious judicial servants should have no need to put their personal stamp on the law, and the practice of doing so has contributed to unnecessary and unhealthy flamboyance in the Court’s work."
Their article contains an excellent discussion of the problem of "celebrity," but little discussion of the constitutionality of a Congressional mandate for anonymity or for their other proposals. Certainly, should the anonymity proposal be enacted, there would be a constitutional separation of powers challenge. Although who would have standing? And what about recusal?
[image DonkeyHotey via]
July 2, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Gender, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Standing, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
The Supreme Court today ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the coverage formula for the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act exceeded congressional authority under the Fifteenth Amendment. The ruling means that the preclearance provision of the VRA remains on the books, but sits dormant, as there is no formula specifying its coverage. Congress can re-write the formula, but it seems unlikely that this Congress can do that in a way that would satisfy this Supreme Court. The ruling did not touch Section 2 of the VRA, the section banning race discrimination and allowing individual case-by-case litigation against offending practices.
We posted several times this morning on the ruling; here is our coverage so far:
- Court Strikes Voting Rights Act Preclearance Coverage Formula
- Chief Justice Roberts's Paean to Equal State Sovereignty
- The Core Problem With Preclearance Coverage Under the Voting Rights Act
- What's Next for Voting Rights?
- Justice Thomas's Concurrence on Voting Rights
- Justice Ginsburg's Dissent in Shelby County
June 25, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
In the oral argument for United States v. Windsor challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Chief Justice Roberts expressed skepticism that gays and lesbians were politically powerless, announcing to Roberta Kaplan, representing Edith Windsor, "As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case."
ConLawProf Darren Hutchinson (pictured) provides an indepth examination, context, and prescient critique of Roberts' remark in his new article, Not Without Political Power': Gays and Lesbians, Equal Protection, and the Suspect Class Doctrine, available in draft on ssrn. Hutchinson argues that the political powerlessness factor used to evaluate claims for heightened scrutiny under equal protection doctrine is "especially undertheorized and contradictory."
Hutchinson's article is a tour de force of precedent deploying rhetoric of political powerlessness. Of course, Hutchinson highlights Justice Scalia's well-known dissent in Romer v. Evans, the Colorado Amendment 2 case, noting that not only is it based on stereotypes but it "sounds exactly like a political document against gay and lesbian rights." But Hutchinson does suggest that there is indeed a role for politics, however at a much more sophisticated level. Rather than jettison any inquiry into political powerlessness as some scholars have argued, Hutchinson contends that a much more robust understanding of politics is necessary.
Ultimately, Hutchinson concludes that the present scholarly and judicial discourse
fails adequately to discuss the multiple factors that cause political vulnerability among gays and lesbians. While some gays and lesbians possess power, most of them do not. Poverty, gender, race, geography, and disability influence the ability of gays and lesbians to exercise political power.
Instead, he suggests that political science scholarship inform legal scholarship and judicial opinions, and that antisubordination legal scholarship inform wider discussions of equal protection. Certainly, Hutchinson's article should inform anyone considering political powerlessness in the context of same-sex marriage and equal protection.
March 28, 2013 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, March 15, 2013
"Equality of the states" reared its head recently in oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, the case testing congressional authority to reauthorize the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. The traditionally conservative Justices all (save Justice Thomas) expressed different concerns related to the provision's different treatment of the states--or, how preclearance violates the principle of "equality of the states." (Preclearance under Section 5 of the VRA applies only to covered jurisdictions under Section 4(b) of the VRA. Only covered jurisdictions, not all states, are required to preclear their election law changes with DOJ or the D.C. District court.)
But where does this idea of equality of the states come from?
David Gans over at the Constitutional Accountability Center draws on a recent piece by Adam Liptak and argues that Congress violates a principle of equality of the states all the time--most notably by providing dramatically different levels of funding, per capita, to different states. Nobody makes a constitutional case out of this.
Moreover, Gans argues that "[t]he Supreme Court has never interpreted the Constitution to require equality among the states outside the very narrow context of the admission of new states. It is now black letter law that 'the doctrine of equality of states . . . applies only to the terms upon which the states are admitted to the Union, and not to the remedies for local evils which have subsequently appeared.'"
For more on that point, and how the Court mangled the "equality of the states" quote in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, check out Zachary Price's contribution to the SCOTUblog symposium on Shelby County, and Federalism and the Voting Rights Act at the ACS blog.
March 15, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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, 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)
Monday, February 18, 2013
In a particularly effective scene in a movie with many more of them, President Abraham Lincoln holds aloft a pen for emphasis and forcefully declares his intent to soon sign the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. The problem is that presidents do not sign constitutional amendments. Abraham Lincoln, the best lawyer to ever serve as the nation's chief executive, undoubtedly knew this. He would not have declared his intention to sign an amendment that was not his to sign.
But Zelinsky's willing to cut screenplay author Tony Kushner some slack:
Mr. Kushner's liberties with the details of the Constitution served a legitimate artistic mission by graphically portraying Lincoln's personal commitment to the abolition of slavery. As the movie makes clear, the abolition of slavery via the 13th Amednment was not inevitable. Lincoln's commitment was decisive.
As Zelinsky points out, the alternative--in which Lincoln might have said "something along the lines of wanting Congress to promptly send the 13th Amednment to the states"--is "not the stuff on which Oscar nominations are made." Good point.
(Zelinsky also references another error: the movie's portrayal of Connecticut congressman as voting against the Thirteenth Amendment. In fact, Connecticut's representatives voted for it.)
But if the film committed errors, it also helped correct them--or at least one of them. According to The Atlantic Wire, a recent immigrant from India, Dr. Ranjan Batra, after seeing the movie, researched and determined that Mississippi never ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. Last week it did.
Monday, January 21, 2013
In a 1965 "Meet the Press" interview, Martin Luther King speaks about civil disobedience, nonviolent protest, and racial equality, responding to the queries from the interviewers.
Worth a watch on this MLK Day, 2013.
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)