Tag Archive: US Supreme Court

Feb 19 2013

Contributions Are Killing Democracy

In January of 2010, the US Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. However, the case did not involve the federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidate campaigns or political parties, which remain illegal in races for federal office.

Once again the US Supreme Court is about to weigh in on campaign finance agreeing to hear arguments in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission which contends that limits on what individuals are allowed to give candidates and parties and PACs is an unconstitutional violation of the individual donor’s free speech rights.

Supreme Court Takes Campaign Finance Case, Will Rule On Contribution Limits

by Paul Blumenthal, The Huffington Post

The U.S. Court of Appeals already ruled in favor of keeping the biennial limits, which have been in place since 1971 and were upheld in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case. By accepting the case, the Supreme Court is stepping into the thick of another controversial campaign finance case just three years after ruling in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations and unions can spend freely on elections. [..]

Campaign finance reformers are already calling on the court to maintain the Buckley precedent and rule against the challenge in McCutcheon, for fear that any overturning of Buckley will eventually lead to future erosion of contribution limits and other campaign finance precedents meant to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. [..]

A ruling to overturn the biennial limits would not directly affect the amount an individual donor could give to a single candidate, but, thanks to the proliferation of joint fundraising committees, known as victory funds or committees, a candidate could potentially solicit a single contribution from one donor of up to — if not more than — $3,627,600.

In a recent segment of Moyers & Company, host Bill Moyers discussed how “big money” is destroying democracy with Dan Cantor, Executive Director of New York’s Working Families Party, and Jonathan Soros, co-founder of the Friends of Democracy super PAC and a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

“There’s so much money being spent, there’s so much cynicism about the system, but the evidence shows, in states that do have public financing systems, that candidates can run in those systems and win, and they do it by focusing on their constituents and small donors,” Soros tells Bill.

Soros and Cantor advocate for a New York State public financing system inspired by New York City’s publicly-funded program that makes it less financially prohibitive to run for city-wide office. “People should appreciate who gets to run for office when you have a system like this. Librarians run for office, ex-teachers run for office – not just people who have a rolodex of prospective donors,” Cantor says. “It’s good for the candidates and the voters alike.”

The Super PAC That Aims to End Super PACs

by Michael D. Shear, The New York Times

In the next four months, Mr. Soros and a small team at Friends of Democracy, the new Super PAC, are going to pick 10 to 15 House lawmakers whose records and public statements have not been supportive of what Mr. Soros calls a system of “citizen-led” elections.

In those districts, the new Super PAC will produce direct mail, telephone calls, Internet advertising and even a few television commercials aimed at making sure voters know the positions of the lawmaker

In addition, a separate sister organization will be picking a handful of campaign finance reform “heroes” who will receive some direct contributions to reward them for their positions.

If all goes according to plan, Mr. Soros is hoping to eventually demonstrate to politicians that there is a political cost for standing in the way of reform.

For sale to the highest bidder, the Unites States of America.

Oct 01 2012

First Monday in October

The 2012 term of the US Supreme Court traditionally begins on the first Monday in October. If the 2011 session is any indication, this term should be even more interesting as the court considers some of the most controversial issues facing this country from affirmative action to civil and voting rights.

When last we saw the chief justice of the United States on the bench, John Roberts was joining with the Supreme Court’s liberals in an unlikely lineup that upheld President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Progressives applauded Roberts’ statesmanship. Conservatives uttered cries of betrayal. [..]

Many people on both the left and right expect Roberts to return to the fold and side with the conservative justices in the new term’s big cases. If they’re right, the spotlight will be back on Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote typically is decisive in cases that otherwise split the court’s liberals and conservatives. But Roberts will be watched closely, following his health care vote, for fresh signs that he’s becoming less ideologically predictable. [..]

Cases involving voting rights and marriage equality are expected to eventually land before the court, the former most likely sooner than the latter:

Voting rights: Several challenges to the 1965 Voting Rights Act are moving through district and appellate courts, and the high court is expected to take up one or more.

At issue is Section 5 of the law, a landmark civil rights achievement that prohibits nine states and municipalities in seven others from changing their voting laws without approval from the Justice Department or a special federal court. [..]

Same-sex marriage: The big question as the term begins is whether the justices will accept one or more cases involving the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. If they do, it may offer the best chance for a landmark ruling.

There are two possibilities. The most likely is that the court will accept a challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which has been declared unconstitutional in lower courts and which the Obama administration is refusing to defend. [..]

The other option is for the court to consider challenges to California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 referendum that overturned the state’s support for gay marriage. A broadly worded ruling against the referendum could pave the way for legalized gay marriage elsewhere, rather than just in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa. More likely is a narrowly worded decision that affects only California.

Even if the court declines to hear the Proposition 8 challenge, that decision would be important, because a lower court has ruled against the referendum. Without high court review, gays and lesbians soon could marry in the nation’s most-populous state.

The SCOTUS calendar begins with Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum a major case about corporate accountability for extreme violations of human rights. The case was argued last term on narrow grounds but not decided.

At issue in the Kiobel case is the proper interpretation of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which provides, in relevant part, that foreign citizens may bring civil suits in U.S. district courts for actions “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”  Enacted as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the ATS lay almost forgotten

for nearly two hundred years.  But in 1980, in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit breathed life into the statute, holding that the ATS conferred jurisdiction over a lawsuit brought by one Paraguayan national against another Paraguayan national (residing in the United States) for torture that occurred in Paraguay.  Since then, victims of human rights violations that occurred overseas have sought to rely on the ATS to press their own claims in U.S. courts.

An affirmative action case that wound its way from Texas will be heard. Under consideration is the court’s previous decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the court will address how and perhaps whether the university can take race into account as a factor in student admissions. In a way, the case is a rehearing of a 2003 case (pdf) in which it ruled that the University of Michigan Law School could do so as part of assessing the whole of a candidate’s application. That decision seemed to reflect a national consensus that race, narrowly applied, could be used to ensure a diverse student body.

Two cases involving the Fourth Amendment involving unreasonable search ans seizure will also be heard:

In Florida v. Jardines, the issue is whether the police violated the Constitution by using a dog trained to smell for drugs to sniff at the door of a house where they suspected marijuana was being grown. Was the sniff test unreasonably intrusive because there was no hard information that illegal activity was probably occurring, as the Florida Supreme Court properly found, or was it not a search because it occurred outside the house?

Similarly, in Missouri v. McNeely, the issue is whether the police could order a blood test on a man suspected of drunken driving without obtaining a warrant because the delay in doing so would result in loss of evidence. The Missouri Supreme Court sensibly ruled otherwise: that the test constituted an unreasonable search because there was no accident to investigate and because there was plenty of time to get a warrant and test the driver’s blood before the alcohol in it dissipated.

Also, two cases that will rule on the right of the defendant to council

Ryan v. Gonzales raises the question of whether the defendant himself needs to be mentally capable of assisting his own attorney in challenging a death penalty conviction. [..]

Chaidez v. United States asks whether a 2010 ruling (pdf) of the court – that criminal defense lawyers must advise their noncitizen clients that a guilty plea carries the risk of deportation – applies to someone whose conviction became final before that ruling was announced.

Oct 07 2011

SCOTUS: A Question of Ethics

In 2010 the public advocacy group Common Cause linked Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia to the billionaire Koch brothers. At issue was their presence at private parties hosted by the brothers just before the infamous Citizens United decision. More questions have now arisen about Justice’s Thomas’ objectivity and ethics and whether he should recuse himself from any review of the Affordable Care Act. Thomas’ wife Virgina’s involvement with the conservative groups, the Federalist Foundation and Liberty Central, her very vocal opposition to the ACA and his failure to disclose her income have raised a “specter off bias”:

The Obama administration filing a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is news, but a side issue might draw more attention: whether Justice Clarence Thomas should recuse himself.

Thomas’ wife, Virginia, was employed for several years by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Heritage has long opposed the health-care law. Last March, Heritage staffers published six op-ed pieces in The Dispatch, all criticizing the law and covering topics ranging from the law being unconstitutional to its purported cost savings being illusory.

According to political watchdog Common Cause, Mrs. Thomas earned $686,589 from Heritage between 2003 and 2007. As a member of the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas was obligated under the federal Ethics in Government Act to disclose his wife’s employment, but he failed to do so between 2004 and 2009. Finally, on Jan. 21, 2011, Justice Thomas submitted to the Committee on Financial Disclosure six letters, one for each of the six years.

These latest revelations about the lapse in the justice’s financial disclosures forms precipitated a call from House Democrats for an investigation into ethics violations by the Judiciary Committee:

“Public records clearly demonstrate that Justice Thomas has failed to accurately disclose information concerning the income and employment status of his wife, as required by law,” Democrats led by Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter (pdf) Wednesday to leaders of the Judiciary Committee. The Democrats also question whether Thomas accurately reported gifts and inappropriately solicited donations.

[]

“There is now more than enough evidence to merit a formal inquiry as to whether Justice Thomas willfully failed to make legally required disclosures, perhaps for as long as 13 years,” Common Cause president Bob Edgar said in a statement Wednesday. “Given that we now know he correctly completed the reports in prior years, it’s hardly plausible–indeed, it’s close to unbelievable–that Justice Thomas did not understand the instructions.”

Democrats contend that the Supreme Court’s protocols for such disclosures should be more transparent. “Because the Court continues to operate without a binding code of ethics or a transparent recusal process, it is time for Congress to exercise its Constitutional role and become involved in this process,” Blumenauer said in a statement.

Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), one of the signers, appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann not only calling for the Judiciary Committee investigations but “exploring “retroactive recusal” in cases like Citizens United, which would nullify Thomas’ vote and overturn the ruling.” “Countdown” contributor and former White House Counsel to President Nixon John Dean joined Keith to discuss the case for “retroactive recusal” (transcript contained in the link).

Jun 27 2011

SCOTUS Strikes Down AZ Campaign Finance

Once again the corporate owned, conservative Supreme Court has struck down the 1998 Arizona Campaign Finance Law provided escalating matching funds to candidates who accept public financing. How the Roberts’ court decided that law violates the First Amendment rights of these corporation is truly a backbreaking twist if logic and the constitution.

The vote was again 5-to-4, with the same five justices in the majority as in the Citizens United decision. The majority’s rationale was that the law violated the First Amendment rights of candidates who raise private money. Such candidates, the majority said, may be reluctant to spend money to speak if they know that it will give rise to counter-speech paid for by the government.

“Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. Justice Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

What about the under funded candidate’s right to be heard under the First amendment? The reason for the law, which  was written after a corruption scandals rocked the state’s election financing during the 90’s, was to foster free speech:

The idea was to encourage candidates to forgo the scramble for money, with all its inherent invitations to corruption — to spend more time speaking to the electorate, and less time speaking to potential funders.

In that sense, its goal was very much to increase genuine political speech. But to the Roberts court, money as speech takes precedence over speech as speech.

The court’s majority clearly telegraphed its antipathy to the Arizona provision during oral arguments in March. The only real suspense was whether they would go further, and use the case to cast doubt on public financing generally.

So there was a sense of relief in the good-government community Monday.

“This is not the death knell of public financing. This ruling affects only one mechanism of public financing, and there are numerous ways to fix it,” said Common Cause president Bob Edgar in a statement. “Today, in the wake of Citizens United, it is more critical than ever that we change the way we pay for our elections by moving to a small donor system that gives the public a voice back in our government. Nothing short of our democracy is at stake.”

Well, thank these corporate shill justice for that.

The dissent written by Justice Elena Kagan, which was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, said that the Arizona law protected the First Amendment by promoting more speech and less corruption. It is not just a scorching criticism of the majority but an indictment of their own corruption:

Justice Elena Kagan on Monday began her blistering minority dissent with a morality play comparing two states. One of them limits itself to what is essentially current federal campaign finance law — and “remains afflicted with corruption.” The other tries to create a robust public-financing regime — and rids itself of corruption. The majority, Kagan writes, has taken the side of corruption.:

A person familiar with our country’s core values — our devotion to democratic self-governance, as well as to “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” debate, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 270 (1964) — might expect this Court to celebrate, or at least not to interfere with, the second State’s success. But today, the majority holds that the second State’s system — the system that produces honest government, working on behalf of all the people — clashes with our Constitution. The First Amendment, the majority insists, requires us all to rely on the measures employed in the first State, even when they have failed to break the stranglehold of special interests on elected officials.

I disagree. The First Amendment’s core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of robust discussion and debate. Nothing in Arizona’s anticorruption statute, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection. To the contrary, the Act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the “opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people.” I therefore respectfully dissent.

After the recent rulings that have sided with corporations this ruling comes as no surprise.

h/t to David Dayen for further reading on this decision at The Brennan Center for Justice

May 16 2011

The Reason We Need Wikileaks

Now more than ever, the reason for Wikileaks to exist: the preservation of what remains of the rule of law and the US Constitution. From Marcy Wheeler at FDL:

SCOTUS: Govt Can Use State Secrets to Hide Crimes

SCOTUS just declined to take the Jeppesen Dataplan suit.

The high court rejected an appeal by five men who claimed that U.S. operatives-with support from Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a Boeing unit-abducted them and sent them to other countries where they were tortured. They alleged Jeppesen provided critical flight planning and logistical support to the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. The men were seeking unspecified monetary damages from the company.

This effectively means that men like Binyam Mohamed, who the Brits have admitted was tortured after being rendered, cannot sue for redress. And the ruling is particularly egregious since a Jeppesen executive admitted that his company was flying rendition flights.

In effect, SCOTUS’ decision not to take this case leaves in place state secrets precedent that allows the government to commit grave crimes, but hide behind state secrets.

Update: The Brennan Center and a bunch of other crazy hippies who believe in rule of law wrote a letter in response to SCOTUS’ decision to DOJ reminding them that, per their purported state secrets policy, credible allegations of wrong-doing must be referred to the Inspectors General of the relevant agencies for investigation.

snip

This is me officially holding my breath for the Obama Administration to do what they promised on this front.

Don’t hold your breath, Marcy. I have no expectations of the Obama administrations doing anything they promised regarding the rule of law and the Constitution. Dick Cheney must be proud.

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