Tag Archives: high court

Wisconsin citizens want legislative maps redrawn before next state elections

Wisconsin citizens have asked a U.S. District Court to redraw state legislative maps in advance of the next round of elections.

The request comes after a federal trial that resulted in the state’s district maps being ruled unconstitutional for being an illegal partisan gerrymander.

“The court’s verdict last month was clear — Wisconsin’s legislative maps are unconstitutional, and the GOP majority violated the rights of Wisconsin’s citizens when they adopted the map,” stated Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit.

Chheda said on Dec. 21 the plaintiffs in the case “formally asked that the maps be replaced, so we can have free and fair elections in the state of Wisconsin. The citizens of Wisconsin should have a chance to elect a government which represents us.”

The recent ruling in Whitford v. Gill came after a May 2016 trial.

A majority of the federal three-judge panel overseeing the case ruled in favor of the 12 Wisconsin Democrats who filed suit more than a year ago.  The ruling represents the first time a map has been overturned by a federal court for being a political gerrymander.

In a separate filing this week, the state of Wisconsin — which lost the trial — asked for any further action in the District Court to be put on hold until its U.S. Supreme Court appeal is heard and decided.

The state wants the High Court to overturn the trial court’s decision and to allow the Legislature to redraw maps.

The citizen plaintiffs, in contrast, argue the redrawing process should take place during the appeal in order to ensure the maps are in place in a timely manner. The plaintiffs also asked the court to draw the maps, rather than allow another biased effort by a legislative majority to create the boundaries.

“Every Wisconsin citizen deserves the right to have their vote count,” said state Sen. Dale Schultz, a former Republican Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, who co-chairs the Fair Elections Project. “The plaintiffs won at trial, they won twice earlier in the process when the state tried to short-circuit this case, and now they are likely to win at the Supreme Court.”

“What happened in Wisconsin in 2011 was an egregious violation of our state’s moral values,” added Sen. Tim Cullen, a former Democratic Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, who serves as the other co-chair of the project. “Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, the Republican majority in Wisconsin decided they would entrench themselves in power despite the views of voters. The court has said clearly that will not stand.”

Filed in July 2015, the lawsuit demands district maps for the state Legislature be thrown out, calling the line-drawing process “secretive” and “partisan.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Peter Earle and Doug Poland as co-lead trial counsel, Prof. Nicholas Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago Law School, Michele Odorizzi of Mayer Brown, and a team from the Campaign Legal Center, including Gerry Hebert and Ruth Greenwood.

Republicans vow to obstruct anyone Obama nominates to fill Scalia’s seat

Antonin Scalia, who was considered one of most conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, died Friday night while staying at a hunting resort in the Big Bend area of Texas. The caustic firebrand complained about feeling ill the night before he was found unresponsive in his room.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Scalia was part of a 5-4 conservative majority — with one of the five, Anthony Kennedy, sometimes voting with liberals on the court. In a tie vote, the lower court opinion prevails.

Scalia’s death leaves a 4–4 split between liberal and conservative justices on the bench, which means many important decisions will be tied. An even split between conservatives and liberals on the Supreme Court will leave nearly an entire year in which many major upcoming decisions, including cases involving abortion, affirmative action and immigration policy, will be resolved by lower courts

After offering his condolences to Scalia’s family and paying tribute to him as a “towering figure,” President Barack Obama vowed to nominate a successor to Scalia “in due time.”

Republican congressional leaders, hoping to win the White House next year, fired back that they would refuse to approve anyone Obama nominates — a ploy in which they are well versed. They insist no nomination should be made until the next president takes office, which is nearly 11 months away.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, said it would be “unprecedented in recent history” for the court to have a vacancy for so long a time.

The Supreme Court will now become a major issue in this year’s presidential race.

Dozens of federal positions remain unfilled due to Republican obstructionism, including the nomination of Eric Fanning to be the next secretary of the Army. The Senate refuses to approve Fanning due to his sexual orientation. He’s stepped down from his post as acting secretary because of the political turmoil.

Last year, Sen. Marco Rubio, R–Fla., scuttled Obama’s nomination of Judge Darrin Gayles, an out gay black state court judge, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Scalia, who was selected in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, seemed to have a mission to move the court to the right. He was a strict constructionist who adhered to legal“originalism,”which he called “textualism.” In other words, judges had a duty to give the same meaning to the words and concepts as they were understood by the Founding Fathers. Because same-sex marriage was not mentioned in the Constitution, written over 200 years ago, Scalia believed that the issue was not a Constitutional one.

A challenge to a Washington, D.C., gun ban gave Scalia the opportunity to display his devotion to textualism. In a 5–4 decision that split the court’s conservatives and liberals, he wrote that an examination of English and colonial history made it exceedingly clear that the Second Amendment protected Americans’ right to have guns, at the very least in their homes and for self-defense. The dissenters, also claiming fidelity to history, said the amendment was meant to ensure that states could raise militias to confront a too-powerful federal government if necessary.

But Scalia rejected that view. “Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct,” Scalia wrote.

Scalia carried his rifle in a case on the New York City subways. Decades later, he taught the Upper West Sider Kagan how to shoot a gun and the two went together on excursions hunting animals.

Scalia was a strong supporter of privacy in cases involving police searches and defendants’ rights. But, a devoted Roman Catholic, he also voted consistently to let states outlaw abortions, to allow a closer relationship between government and religion, to permit executions and to limit lawsuits.

In 2002, however, he surprised SCOTUS observers by opposing the court’s decision to outlaw executing the mentally disabled, despite the church’s rejection of the death penalty. The framers of the Constitution didn’t think capital punishment was unconstitutional and neither did he, he said, adding that judges who follow the philosophy that capital punishment is morally wrong should resign.

A longtime law professor before becoming a judge, Scalia frequently spoke at law schools and to other groups. Later in his tenure, he also spoke at length in on-the-record interviews, often to promote a book.

He betrayed no uncertainty about some of the most contentious legal issues of the day.

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state,” Scalia said during a talk that preceded a book signing at the American Enterprise Institute in 2012.

Scalia was in the court’s majority in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, which effectively decided the presidential election for Republican George W. Bush. “Get over it,” Scalia would famously say at speaking engagements in the ensuing years whenever the topic arose.

The justice relished a good fight. In 2004, when an environmental group asked him to step aside from a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney after reports that Scalia and Cheney hunted ducks together, the justice responded with a 21-page memorandum explaining his intention to hear the case. He said “the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined,” if people thought a duck-hunting trip could sway his vote.

Two years later, The Boston Herald reported that Scalia employed an obscene hand gesture while leaving a church in response to another question about his impartiality. Scalia penned a scathing letter to the newspaper, taking issue with the characterization. He explained that the gesture —the extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin — was dismissive, not obscene.

“From watching too many episodes of The Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene,” he said.

A smoker of cigarettes and pipes, Scalia enjoyed baseball, poker, hunting and playing the piano. He was an enthusiastic singer at court Christmas parties and other musical gatherings.

Born in New Jersey, he was the only child of an Italian immigrant father who was a professor of Romance languages and a mother who taught elementary school. He attended public schools, graduated first in his class at Georgetown University and won high honors at the Harvard University Law School. He taught law and served in Republican administrations before Reagan made him an appeals court judge in Washington in 1982. Scalia and his wife Maureen had nine children.

Scalia’s impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus.

The friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg inspired the opera Scalia/Ginsburg by composer Derrick Wang. The two once appeared on stage as extras in a performance art the Washington Opera.

In one aria, the Scalia character rages about justices who see the Constitution evolving with society.

The operatic Scalia fumes: “The justices are blind. How can they spout this? The Constitution says absolutely nothing about this.”

The real-life Scalia certainly agreed.

Illegal abortion: Back to the future?

Forty-two years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that most restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional. The reasonable compromise of Roe v. Wade has been under attack ever since. 

The Roe v. Wade decision cited an individual’s right to privacy and a physician’s right to practice medicine without government interference “in the absence of compelling state interests.” The court defined state interests as including the health of a woman and the potential life of a fetus after six months’ gestation. 

The ruling allowed a woman to decide for herself during the first trimester whether to terminate her pregnancy. During the second trimester, regulations related to clinical settings could be imposed in the interests of protecting the woman’s health. In the third trimester, when viability of the fetus (ability to live outside the womb) was assumed, the state could restrict abortion except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman.

This wise decision is being shredded out of existence through public funding cuts; parental and spousal notification laws; mandatory waiting periods; compulsory, unscientific “counseling”; bogus, invasive screening procedures; onerous restrictions on abortion clinics; intimidation of patients and clinic personnel; assassinations of doctors.

What awaits us if abortion is again criminalized?

In the decades before Roe, up to 1.2 million American women obtained illegal abortions every year. Five thousand women — mothers, daughters, sisters, wives — died annually as the result of illegal abortions, whether self-induced or performed by any unqualified hack looking to make a buck. 

Thousands more women were injured seriously enough to require medical care. 

The results of desperate do-it-yourself and back-alley abortions could be perforated uteruses, internal burning and scarring from caustic substances like lye, and life-threatening sepsis.

“Pro-life” activists display big, colorful pictures of fetuses to dramatize their position. Pre-Roe legalization advocates had more horrific pictures to share: gruesome photos of women’s dead bodies, naked, contorted, bleeding out, abandoned in basements and alleyways.

The highly publicized ordeal of Sherri Finkbine in 1962 spurred public concern.

Finkbine, the mother of four children, worked as “Miss Sherri,” the host of the local version of Romper Room in Phoenix. Suffering from nausea and insomnia with her fifth pregnancy, she took a drug her husband had obtained in Europe — a toxic drug later banned for use by pregnant women: thalidomide.

Finkbine felt worse as her pregnancy progressed and tests revealed the fetus to be seriously deformed. Finkbine requested a therapeutic abortion (the only type available and rarely granted). An Arizona hospital first assented, then reneged. Finkbine appealed to a judge, who dismissed her case. She had to travel all the way to Sweden to finally obtain an abortion.

By 1970, only two states allowed abortion in the first months of pregnancy. Outside New York and Hawaii, only women who could afford the cost of travel to those states could obtain abortions. Women who self-aborted or obtained illegal abortions were criminals, risking prosecution, endangering themselves and living in fear and shame.

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, safe, legal abortion saved thousands of women’s lives. Since 1980, abortion rates have declined due to more effective contraception and access to family planning services. 

In Wisconsin today, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislators are destroying both family planning and abortion services. To resist these backward, damaging efforts, go to www.ppawi.org and get involved. 

ACLU asks Supreme Court to rule on Wisconsin voter ID law

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court ruling upholding Wisconsin’s voter ID law.

The ACLU is challenging the law, which a federal judge struck down as unconstitutional and in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, overturned the district court’s decision.

In October 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court placed the law on hold, which meant it was not in effect for the 2014 midterm elections.

After the filing of the petition this week, Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said, “Efforts to restrict access to the ballot demand a full and thorough hearing, which is why we are asking the Supreme Court to review this case and ultimately strike down Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Throughout years of litigation, Wisconsin has failed to identify a single instance of the type of fraud this law purportedly seeks to prevent. At the same time, it is absolutely clear this law would prevent thousands of voters from exercising the most fundamental right in our democracy. The Supreme Court has an opportunity now to help protect the right of all Americans to vote free from undue burdens.”

Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a news release, “We will continue to take all possible steps to ensure that all Wisconsin voters can exercise the right to vote – even if they are poor or homeless or disabled or for whatever other reason lack ID.”

The ACLU, in its legal effort to overturn the law, is representing Wisconsin voters and arguing the measure violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and Dechert LLP are co-counsel in the case, Frank v. Walker. The Supreme Court petition was jointly filed with the League of United Latin American Citizens, represented by Arnold & Porter and the Advancement Project.

ACLU asks Supreme Court to review and affirm rulings against Wisconsin, Indiana marriage bans

The American Civil Liberties Union on Sept. 9 was filing petitions asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review — and uphold — a federal appeals court ruling striking down Wisconsin and Indiana bans on same-sex marriage.

The ACLU is representing same-sex couples in both states, as well as gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage rights in other states.

In Indiana, the ACLU argued before a federal appeals court in late August on behalf of thirteen same-sex couples in Indiana and Wisconsin who either want the right to marry in one of the states or who want their home state to recognize their marriage.

The ACLU also is the co-counsel in Bostic v. Schaeffer, the case challenging Virginia’s marriage ban on behalf of a certified class of approximately 14,000 same-sex couples. That case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, along with cases from Oklahoma and Utah.

Last week, after the federal appeals court struck down the bans in Indiana and Wisconsin, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would ask for a U.S. Supreme Court review. It turns out this is what parties on all sides of the issue want.

Thirty-two states — those with bans on same-sex marriage and those where gay couples can legally marry — have asked the Supreme Court for a final ruling on the issue.

Civil liberties and LGBT civil rights groups also want the high court to rule.

“Now that there are petitions before the Court in five cases, it’s crystal clear that the Court needs to take up the freedom to marry issue again. Same-sex couples from every corner of the country are affected, and the high court has the opportunity to end the harm caused by these discriminatory and unconstitutional marriage bans,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Since last June, dozens of courts around the country have ruled in favor of equality for loving and committed same-sex couples. With these filings, we hope it’s only a matter of time before all Americans in all fifty states have the freedom to marry.”  

32 states ask Supreme Court to take up gay marriage

Thirty-two states on Sept. 4 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up gay marriage case on the same day an appeals court ruled that Indiana and Wisconsin bans are unconstitutional.

Fifteen of the states where same-sex couples can legally marry filed a brief asking the high court to hear cases from Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma.

Seventeen of the states where same-sex couples cannot legally marry also filed a brief asking the court to hear the cases.

Since the Supreme Court ruled last summer issued a ruling clearing the way for federal recognition of gay marriage, more than 70 lawsuits have been filed. There have been more than 20 legal victories and just one ruling against marriage equality.

The Supreme Court has been asked to hear appeals of rulings against marriage bans in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma and could take up one or all or none of the cases in its next session.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said on Sept. 4 that he would appeal his loss to the Supreme Court.

Progressives rallying against Supreme Court ruling on campaign donor limits

Progressives across the country were preparing a series of protests against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today (April 2) striking down in federal law the limits on overall contributions that the biggest of individual donors can make to candidates, parties and PACs.

More than 100 events were expected to take place following the morning announcement from Washington, according to Public Citizen, a progressive national watchdog group.

The ruling builds on the High Court decision in 2010, Citizens United, that cleared the way for corporations to invest in political campaigns.

The ruling today was 5-4 — a predicted split between conservatives and liberals — with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The Court said the wealthiest contributors in American politics can invest millions into candidate and party coffers. Roberts wrote that the aggregate limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities;’”

The ruling did not remove limits on individual contributions to a candidate for president or Congress, which currently is $2,600 per election. But Justice Clarence Thomas, who voted with the majority, said in a separate writing that he would have removed all limits on campaign contributions.

In the dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that the Court’s majority had “eviscerated our nation’s campaign finance laws.”

The case began with a complaint from wealthy Alabama Republican Shaun McCutcheon, who challenged the overall limits imposed on his contributions in a two-year federal election cycle.

Protesters today were planning to rally in Albany, N.Y., under a banner that proclaimed “Big Democracy Is Not For Sale.”

Rallies also were being organized in Washington, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Tampa, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver.

There also was criticism from the business community. The American Sustainable Business Council, which represents more than 200,000 businesses, said: “The American Sustainable Business Council is deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC. Responsible business owners do not want more money in politics. They are concerned that excessive spending on elections  will continue to tilt the political debate in favor of dominant, legacy industries, which support damaging and unsustainable economic, social, and environmental policies.”

At the AFL-CIO, president Richard Trumka called the ruling “one of the most undemocratic and corrosive decisions in history.” 

Trumka said, “By striking down individual aggregate limits on First Amendment grounds, the Court has further tilted our political system in favor of corporations and the wealthy and against working people. Our founding fathers did not intend for our electoral process to be the facade for political auctions.”

In regional reaction, Lisa Subeck of United Wisconsin said the McCutcheon ruling “moves us another step closer to the outright legalization of bribery by allowing the wealthiest donors to pour unlimited amounts of money into the campaign coffers of our elected officials.

“Aggregate campaign finance limits provide a crucial safeguard against the corruption that too often plagues our political system. With today’s ruling, how can the public trust that our decision makers, and the policies they set, are not simply for sale to the highest bidder?”

The same morning that the Supreme Court issued its ruling in McCutcheon, Wisconsinites learned that 13 communities in the state had voted in favor of overturning the 2010 Citizens United ruling. 

Non-binding referendums in support of a federal constitutional amendment on the issue were approved by voters in Waukesha, Wauwatosa, Elkhorn, Delavan, Lake Mills, Edgerton, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, Waukakee, Belleville, DeForest, Windsor and Waterloo.

More than 40 communities in Wisconsin have backed overturning Citizens.

Subeck said the victories on April 1 “send a clear message to our elected officials in Madison and in Washington that we demand action to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy.”

House Republicans abandon defense of DOMA

House Republicans, who went to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and lost, say they will no longer argue their case in the courts.

In late June, the High Court overturned Section 3 of the 1996 legislation, which said that the federal government could not recognize same-sex marriages. In a separate ruling, the Court also allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California.

House Republicans had hired lawyers to defend DOMA in the Supreme Court case and others at various levels in the federal courts because the Obama administration refused to defend the law.

But on July 18, in a challenge to DOMA brought by a military veteran seeking equal treatment for her spouse, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group said the Supreme Court had resolved the constitutional question of Section 3.

The BLAG also said that the House wanted to withdraw as a defendant in the veteran’s case, according to a report on BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed asked a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner about the court filing and Michael Steel said, “The document from the legal team speaks for itself.”

Marriage equality supporters urged to post red equal sign while awaiting Supreme Court rulings

The Human Rights Campaign is encouraging supporters of marriage equality go turn the Web red in advance of “decision day” at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sometime this month – it could be as early as this week but experts think the end of June is more likely – the High Court will issue opinions in two marriage equality cases. One opinion will deal with a case challenging California’s Proposition 8 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. The second case deals with the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, which are legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, posted today on its Website, “We’re hoping to make lightning strike twice and to do so, we need your help. …

“To demonstrate the incredible support for marriage equality, we’re asking everyone to make the red equal sign their social media profile picture once again – NOW through decision day, whenever that is.”

In March, the red equal sign – and creative variations of the symbol – became the profile image for millions of social media users, especially Facebook users.

HRC said, “Update your profile picture with a red logo so your entire social network knows that you’re standing on the right side of history. And then ask your friends and family to join you! …And if you’re sharing on Instagram, use the hashtag #time4marriage to participate in our marriage equality photo collage, Picturing Equality.”