Fair and Just Courts

Richard Land: Trump Can Get Evangelical Votes By Promising To Put Ted Cruz On Supreme Court

Evangelical seminary president Richard Land told the American Family Association’s One News Now today that Donald Trump could help himself “enormously” with social conservatives “if he were to hold a press conference and say that if he is indeed elected president, that he will nominate Ted Cruz to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.”

Land has previously promoted some pretty extreme ideas about the federal courts. Just after the November 2014 elections in which Republicans took control of the Senate, Land called on Republicans not to confirm a single federal judge for the final two years of Obama’s term.

Land, who was president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for 25 years, is serving on a religious advisory panel for Trump even though last October he said he was “dismayed” by Trump’s “mystifying and somewhat depressing” popularity among evangelicals. At the time, he called support for Trump “a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”

His earlier lack of enthusiasm for Trump was in spite of sharing some similar personal history. In 2012, Land announced his retirement from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the midst of a controversy over inflammatory comments he made saying that President Obama was using the Trayvon Martin killing “to try to gin up the black vote” for his re-election. Although Land eventually apologized, his initial response to criticism was defiant, saying that he had been “speaking the truth in love” and would not “bow to the false god of political correctness.”

This Is Not The Same Chuck Grassley

With Election Day just four months away, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley finds himself in a statistical tie in the race to keep his Iowa Senate seat, leading his opponent, former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, by only a single percentage point.

For 30 years, Grassley has never had an electoral challenger come within 30 percentage points of defeating him. This year is different because Iowa voters believe Grassley has changed.

A perusal of his Senate record clearly demonstrates that Grassley is no longer the senator who Iowa voters returned to Washington five times. While he is now leading the politically motivated effort to block the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, for much of his career, Grassley used the confirmation processes as an opportunity to call for his colleagues to look to their bigger selves and the country.  

His philosophy was clearly laid out after President George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas to the nation’s highest court in 1991. Grassley took to the Senate floor a little more than a week after the nomination, telling his colleagues:

While the Constitution gives the President the principle role in selecting judges for the Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, our role is to ensure that the candidates have the intellect, integrity, and temperament to serve in that high capacity particularly the high capacity of the Supreme Court. No, we are not here to be a rubber stamp for the President's nominations, but our inquiry should be focused on the nominee's objective qualifications.

Today, Grassley’s arguments against even holding hearings on Garland’s confirmation have nothing to do with the “nominee’s objective qualifications,” but instead are purely political.

As Thomas’ hearings began, Grassley even complained that the Senate’s process for examining a lifetime appointee had grown too burdensome:

In response to the Committee's request for certain documents, Judge Thomas has provided, I have been told, some 36,000 pages of documents, and I understand that it has been cataloged in some 10 boxes of documents. . . . This document request is just an example of how far the Senate has strayed in the nomination process.

He also questioned the length of the process:

When Justice White was nominated, just 29 years ago, he came to this Judiciary Committee and was asked only eight questions. What has changed to require all these long hearings over the last quarter century? Well, something has lengthened the process, and to some extent I feel it has been lengthened needlessly.

In 1991, when Grassley complained about the process being “lengthened needlessly,” it took the Senate 99 days to confirm Thomas. Garland was nominated 117 days ago.

As the Thomas nomination reached the Senate floor, Grassley attempted to persuade his colleagues that the process of confirming judges could advance a higher American ideal:

It has been asserted that this, too, was part of our democratic system. But I hope that there is a way to restore ourselves and the American people the ideals of representative democracy, ideals that brought down the Berlin Wall, that inspired the student revolt in Tiananmen Square, and that sustained Boris Yeltsin in his standoff with the coup plotters.

I believe we can do it, that we must do it, and I urge my colleagues to confirm Judge Thomas as one step in that direction.

Today, Grassley is engaging in an absurd level of obstruction and abandoning long-held principles, serving only to sow chaos in the Senate, and certainly not living up to the “ideals of representative democracy.”

Of course, there are numerous factors dragging down Grassley’s poll numbers — most notably President Obama’s popularity in Iowa and Donald Trump’s place at the top of the GOP ticket. But Grassley faces not only an electorate in which 64 percent support hearings for Garland, but also voters who do not recognize the man they have sent to the Senate for four decades.

PFAW Hosts Member Telebriefing on the SCOTUS Term

As the Supreme Court session wrapped up for the term, PFAW hosted a member telebriefing on Thursday to analyze the impact of the term's decisions and to look towards the future of the Court overall. The latest term was atypical in a number of ways, from the death of Justice Antonin Scalia to Republican senators’ unprecedented and unconstitutional refusal to consider Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination, leaving the Court with only eight justices to decide cases. 

On the call were PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker, Communications Director Drew Courtney, Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon, and Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg, who discussed the Republicans' blockade of the Garland nomination, the impact of the court being forced to operate with only eight justices for a significant portion of the term, and the future of the Supreme Court in coming years, with three of the current justices soon to be over the age of 80. They also fielded questions from members around the country, unpacking the outcomes of cases such as Fisher v. University of Texas, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, U.S. v. Texas and others.

Mincberg said that “this term turned out very differently” than many expected because of two primary reasons: Justice Scalia’s passing, and Justice Kennedy joining the moderate justices in decisions on cases such as Fisher.  Baker stressed that “we need a full Court” in order for the Supreme Court to work effectively and encouraged members to speak out about the issue. She also emphasized that “it does make a difference to vote,” and that Americans need to have their voices heard by their representatives about the Court.    

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

 

PFAW

Harming Justice: Effects of an Eight-Justice Supreme Court (End-of-Term Supplement)

To: Interested Parties
From: People For the American Way Foundation, Constitutional Accountability Center
Date: July 6, 2016
Re: Harming Justice: Effects of an Eight-Justice Supreme Court (End-of-Term Supplement)

About a month before the end of the Supreme Court Term that concluded in late June, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented that “eight” is “not a good number for a multi-member court.”  That statement echoed the words of many of her present and former colleagues on the Court and other federal courts. This includes the late Justice Antonin Scalia himself, who wrote in 2004 that proceeding with eight justices “impairs the functioning of the Court.”   This was also a key finding of our report earlier this year, entitled Material Harm to our System of Justice: the Consequences of an eight-member Supreme Court.

In fact, the last month of the Supreme Court’s Term has proven Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia correct. In two important cases decided in June – including a significant crucial case on immigration affecting literally millions of people across the country – the Court was unable to issue a decision on the merits and tied 4-4, leaving the lower court decision in place but setting no national precedent. In total, the number of 4-4 splits by the Court this Term was the largest in more than 30 years.  This end-of-Term supplement strongly reinforces the conclusion of our original report: “having a short-handed Court for an extended period of time is harmful to the proper functioning of the Court and to the nationwide rule of law.”

Key findings from the supplement, which can be read in full here:

In United States v. Texas, the 4-4 split resulted in:

  • Leaving millions of undocumented immigrants and their families in limbo.
  • The lack of precedent on the scope of the executive branch’s discretion under the nation’s immigration laws and the standing of states to bring suit in court.
  • Uncertainty over how federal courts in other parts of the country can address the legality of President Obama’s policies.

In Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the 4-4 split resulted in:

  • Continued uncertainty over whether or not Tribal courts have the authority to offer redress when one of their members is harmed by a nonmember.
  • Continued uncertainty over whether or not businesses and individuals subject themselves to Tribal jurisdiction by operating or doing business on American Indian Reservations.

Additional problems posed by an eight-justice Court, include:

  • The lack of a full Court in considering requests for immediate stays of lower court decisions or for injunctions temporarily blocking laws especially regarding voting rights challenges as the 2016 elections approach.
  • A more limited range of cases accepted so far by the Court for consideration during the 2016-2017 Term.

For more information on the effects of an eight-member Court as exemplified by the Supreme Court’s decisions in June 2016, please see Supplement: Material Harm to Our Justice System: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court.

###

June Shows Why November is the Most Important Month for the Supreme Court and our Rights

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Before it adjourned for the summer in late June, the Supreme Court issued a series of important decisions, or non-decisions, on affirmative action, immigration, abortion, and other subjects. As with the Court’s actions since last October, and particularly since the death of Justice Scalia in February, the most significant message sent by these developments is this: the elections this November will be absolutely critical to the future of the Court and to all our rights and liberties.

Start with immigration. The Court split 4-4 on the challenge brought by Texas and other states to the president’s executive actions that would have kept families together by shielding undocumented parents of U.S. citizens from deportation and, in total, helped more than 4 million people across the country. The result of the tie vote is that the lower court decision stands without any opinion by the Court, so that a nationwide injunction by a single Texas federal judge against the president’s orders remains in effect. Although the Court doesn’t reveal who voted how in 4-4 splits, it’s almost certain that the four votes against the orders came from Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Thomas, joined by Justice Kennedy.

The Court was also split 4-4 in another important case in June, concerning whether Indian tribal courts can rule in civil cases (this one involving an assault) against non-tribe members who do business on Indian land. Altogether, the Court issued 4-4 non-decisions in five cases this term, the most in more than 30 years – a direct result of Republican Senators’ unprecedented blockade of the Garland nomination.

In several other important cases in June, Justice Kennedy sided with the Court’s moderates and produced positive decisions. This included a decision striking down an extremely restrictive Texas law that seriously and improperly limited women’s access to abortion by imposing draconian requirements on abortion clinics, as well as a decision approving a University of Texas plan to increase diversity on campus through affirmative action in admissions.

So does this mean that we have nothing to fear even if the Republican blockade of President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the vacant seat on the Court succeeds and a President Trump places a right-wing conservative on the Court, because Kennedy is voting with the Court’s four moderates? Absolutely not!

First, the immigration non-decision itself shows that Kennedy – the author of Citizens United and part of the 5-4 majorities in Shelby County and Hobby Lobby and so many other cases damaging our democracy and our rights – unfortunately sides all too often with the Court’s far right wing. That was also shown earlier this term when an apparent 4-4 deadlock forced the Court to essentially punt in the Zubik case, leaving the important question of access to contraceptives and employer religious questions in limbo until the Court again has nine members. Whether than ninth seat is filled by President Obama (or by President Clinton if the Republican blockade continues) or by a President Trump is critical.

In addition, the age of the current justices makes clear that there will likely be additional vacancies during the first term of the next president. Three justices will be above 80 during that time, older than the average retirement age for justices. The president who fills these vacancies could easily tip the balance of the Court, not just on the issues the Court dealt with in June, but also on the environment, money and politics, LGBT rights, voting rights, access to justice, protection from government abuse, and many more. And the answer to whether we have a Senate that is willing to do its job and actually hold hearings and vote on nominees, unlike the current Republican Senate that has refused to even hold a hearing for Judge Garland after more than 100 days, will be crucial as well. Election Day 2016 truly is judgment day for the Court and for all of our rights and liberties.

PFAW Foundation

Edit Memo: Supreme Court Term 2015-16: Lessons on an Extended Vacancy

To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way
Date: June 28, 2016
Re: Supreme Court Term 2015-16: Lessons on an Extended Vacancy

Introduction

Last fall, our Supreme Court 2015-2016 term preview warned about what, in the Roberts-Alito era, has unfortunately become the standard:

[It] is an extremely conservative Roberts-Alito Court whose new term begins October 5. They have chosen to hear a number of cases that risk continuing the aggressive rightward march that has characterized the past decade. The 2015-2016 term may be yet another one where the American people enjoy less liberty, less equality, less power, and less control over our own democracy on the last day of the term than we had on the first.

But the term unexpectedly turned into one like no other. Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on February 13, 2016, halfway through the term, guaranteeing that the Court would temporarily have only eight members. And conservative leaders announced within hours of Justice Scalia’s death that they would not consider any nominee put forth by President Obama, no matter who it might be, but would consider only whoever the next president would nominate – a president who would not even take office for nearly another year. This ensured that the Court would remain understaffed not only for the rest of the 2015 Term, but also most if not all of the 2016 Term starting next October.

While this did not affect all Court decisions (certainly not those issued before Justice Scalia’s passing), the vacancy had a profound impact on a number of the Court’s decisions … or its non-decisions, as the case may be. When the justices are divided 4-4 on a case, they simply issue a one-sentence opinion stating that “the judgment [of the lower court] is affirmed by an equally divided Court.” In so doing, the Court upholds just the result, not saying anything about the circuit court’s reasoning, and not creating any precedent or providing any guidance for other courts. Instead, it leaves a nationwide resolution of the legal question open for the future. In the meantime, the lower court’s decision and its reasoning remain binding within that circuit, which may be different from how other circuits have decided the issue.

This term saw a number of such 4-4 non-decisions. Particularly harmful was a 4-4 split in the immigration case, described below, which will have profound impact on the lives of families across this nation.  It also saw the justices working to avoid tie votes by ducking issues in one way or another. Consequently, resolution of many important legal questions has been significantly delayed. In some cases, people’s rights under federal law vary from one state to another as a result, exactly the opposite of why Congress passes such laws to begin with, and directly contrary to the reason we have a Supreme Court to be the final arbiter on legal questions.

During this unusual term, the actions and inactions of a Court that is ideologically split 4-4 on so many issues make it crystal clear that the Senate needs to end its misguided refusal to consider Judge Garland Merrick’s nomination, so that the Court can begin its next term in October with the full complement of justices that Congress intended.

One additional point came into greater clarity this term: that it is vitally important who we choose — as President as well as in the Senate — to fill the next vacancies on the nation’s highest court. Certainly, conservatives have taken this lesson to heart; it is notable that this term saw Justice Anthony Kennedy joining with the more moderate justices to produce 5-3 decisions in several important cases, in particular on abortion and affirmative action, much to the dismay of right-wing activists, who are now more energized than ever to make the future of the Court an issue in the 2016 elections. There can be no mistake – the 2016 elections will be Judgment Day for the Court.

 

Split Indecisions

Immigration

United States v. Texas: Perhaps no case better exemplifies the damage that can occur when a vacancy prevents the Supreme Court from resolving an issue than the DAPA/DACA+ case. In 2014, the Obama Administration used the discretion set out in the nation’s immigration laws to temporarily protect millions of families across the country from deportation. Although conservatives called this a usurpation of power, many legal scholars concluded that it was well within the president’s discretion. The court challenge began when conservative state governors chose to file a lawsuit in a district where it stood a good chance of being assigned to a particular judge whose previous judicial actions had clearly been affected by his open and intense political disagreement with the federal government’s immigration enforcement policies. They got the judge they wanted, and he issued a nationwide injunction ordering the Administration not to proceed, pending a full trial. A divided Fifth Circuit panel upheld the injunction.

The Supreme Court heard the Administration’s appeal and, with only eight members, divided 4-4. This did not answer any of the legal questions, but – devastatingly – left the lower court’s nationwide injunction in place pending a trial. Millions of people now have no idea what their status or that of their closest family members may be, because the next president may alter or eliminate the programs, and even if that doesn’t happen, it could be another term or more before the issue gets back to a nine-member Court. All that this vulnerable population can do is wait, forced to remain in the shadows.

The Rights of Working People

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: In this case, anti-labor advocates were asking the Court to overrule an important 1977 case on the rights of working people (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) by striking down requirements that public sector employees who are not members of the unions that are required by law to represent them pay “fair share” fees to cover the costs of that representation. Justice Alito had already authored two opinions (Knox v. SEIU and Harris v. Quinn) criticizing the reasoning of the 1977 Abood precedent and, in the latter case, essentially invited conservative activists to generate a case to give the Court an opportunity to overrule it and severely weaken workers’ ability to come together, form a union, and effectively negotiate their working conditions and benefits. Friedrichs was that case.

Oral arguments seemed to suggest a likely 5-4 decision, against the unions. But a month later, Justice Scalia passed away. A few weeks later, an evenly divided Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court opinion, which had (consistent with the Abood precedent) upheld the fair share payments. As a result of the 4-4 split in this particular case, Abood (being a Supreme Court case) remains binding precedent for all lower courts throughout the nation, protecting the ability of working people to organize effectively. But uncertainty about this major issue affecting working people remains.

The parties seeking to eliminate fair share fees asked the Court to rehear the case when it is again fully staffed, a request the Court has denied. But if a restored Supreme Court takes a similar case in the future, there can be no question that the identity of our next justice will have an enormous impact on working people.

Affirmative Action

Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin: In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action program, a carefully considered plan that has been in litigation for years. (Justice Kagan recused herself from the case because she had been involved in it while at the Justice Department, leaving only seven justices and making a tie vote impossible.) This was a major victory for Americans who cherish our national ideals of fairness and equal opportunities for all. Had Justice Scalia been on the Court, the result most likely would have been a 4-4 tie, due to Kagan’s isolated recusal as opposed to an extended vacancy.

Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. The majority confirmed that UT has a compelling interest in the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.  

The Fisher opinion also stated that universities must justify the use of race in admissions, even in the minor role it played at UT, with extensive research and careful analysis. The opinion went into great detail about the exhaustive efforts UT had made to determine whether it was necessary to ever take race into consideration in its admissions program. But the Court also noted that circumstances can change: Any university (including UT Austin itself) must regularly update its in-depth analysis of whether their admissions policies are adequately serving the purpose of providing the educational benefits of a diverse student body, or whether any ways to achieve the same goal can be devised that do not use race as a criterion. That would seem to ensure that public university affirmative action programs can be retained or possibly even expanded when necessary, or cut back or even eliminated if they are no longer needed to achieve their compelling goal.

Justice Alito’s dissent (joined by Justice Thomas and the Chief Justice) took a very different view of the case, accusing the majority of “licens[ing] UT’s perverse assumptions about different groups of minority students.”

Multiple people can see the same thing and interpret or experience it in completely different ways, based on their backgrounds and life experiences. That happens on university campuses, and apparently at the Supreme Court, too.

Other Issues

Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore: An evenly divided Court was unable to resolve a split between two circuit courts on whether a particular federal law allows lenders to require that a borrower’s spouse guarantee a loan. As a result, this type of discrimination on the basis of marital status is allowed in one circuit, illegal in another circuit, and a complete unknown in the circuits that haven’t considered the question. As a result, the conditions lenders can impose on people under a federal law depends on where you happen to live. Even lenders and consumers in some neighboring states have different rules that apply. The 4-4 tie by the understaffed Court leaves unresolved a legal question that affects borrowers and lenders alike. Also, as noted above, it wholly defeats the purpose of having federal laws, which are supposed to provide uniformity to address national issues. And it defeats the purpose of having a court established by the Constitution to resolve such matters. The Court subsequently denied rehearing in the case, so the confusion will remain until another case raising the issue is presented to the Court.

Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt: In this case, an individual sued California in a Nevada court, without California’s consent, and won. California’s appeal to the Supreme Court had two components. One concerned the substance of the Nevada court’s ruling, but the other was more fundamental: California urged the justices to overrule a 1976 case (Nevada v. Hall) allowing people to sue a state in another state’s court without the first state’s consent. (In that case, a Nevada vehicle on official state business in California collided with another car; the California passengers were allowed to go the California courts and sue the state of Nevada.) The Supreme Court was evenly divided on the constitutional question of overruling the 1976 case, which meant the state court’s judgment that it had jurisdiction over another state was affirmed. As a result, the justices had to address the substantive issue, and on that they were able to reach a 6-2 decision. But the important constitutional question affecting relations among states and the rights of victims remains unanswered, leaving future litigants uncertain whether their lawsuits will be thrown out as unconstitutional.

Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw: This case should have resulted in an important ruling on the authority of tribal courts in certain non-criminal matters. It involved a large chain store that had opened a branch within the Mississippi Band of Choctaw reservation, and a store manager who had allegedly sexually molested a teenage member of the tribe. An evenly divided Supreme Court was unable to address the basic question of whether Native American tribal courts have jurisdiction to hear a tort lawsuit against someone who is not a native American.

 

Deciding Not to Decide

Twisting Religious Liberty Into a Weapon

Zubik v. Burwell: Originally expected to be one of the bombshell cases of the term, this critically important religious liberty case turned out to be a dud, due to the apparent split on the 8-justice Court. Under the Affordable Care Act, the Administration crafted an accommodation to the contraception coverage requirement set forth in the ACA: If religious nonprofits disapprove of certain contraception, they simply tell their insurer or the federal government of their objection, at which point the insurer offers the coverage separately to employees who want it. But a number of conservative religious nonprofits claimed that even filling out a form with that information or otherwise making such a notification violated their free exercise of religion under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Their argument was soundly rejected by every circuit that heard it but one.

A ruling for the religious nonprofits would have expanded the dangerous distortion of religious liberty that the Roberts Court began in Hobby Lobby, opening the door to even more efforts to use claims of religious liberty as a weapon to deny other people their legal rights. But a ruling for the Administration would have shown that this tactic has limits beyond which even the Roberts Court won’t go, hopefully providing some level of protection to populations targeted by the Religious Right.

But with only eight members, the Court took a highly unusual step: Less than a week after oral arguments, and after the justices had taken a vote among themselves on the case, the Court, in what appeared to be an effort to avoid a 4-4 non-decision crafted its own version of a policy compromise and asked the parties to address it. Ultimately, when the Court issued its final ruling in May, it did so in a unanimous unsigned opinion vacating all the lower court opinions on the subject and directing them to let the parties try to reach an agreement on their own. Buying itself time, the Court determined that if the Administration and the numerous religious nonprofits in litigation couldn’t reach agreement, (and agreement is highly unlikely), then the lower courts should readdress the issue, and the Supreme Court could eventually hear an appeal and settle the matter then.

In other words, the justices punted. They explicitly stated they were expressing no view on whether the accommodation was a substantial burden of the nonprofits’ religious exercise, or whether the government’s goal of providing women with access to contraceptive healthcare is a compelling interest.

Millions of women employees of religious nonprofits are left without certainty that they can obtain the contraception that they are entitled to under the law. Also left hanging and unsure of their rights are the employers claiming the accommodation violates their religious liberty. Nor has any guidance been provided for lower courts that may hear cases in other contexts involving the denial of legal rights to targeted populations under the guise of religious liberty. With an understaffed Court, everyone loses.

Limiting Congress’s Power to Hold Wrongdoers Accountable in Court for Violating People’s Rights

Spokeo v. Robins: Although it did not receive as much media coverage as some of the other cases this term, Spokeo was an extremely important case. The Supreme Court accepted it to address the question of whether someone has standing to sue in federal court if their “only” injury is that a right created by Congress was violated. At issue is whether such cases meet the constitutional requirement that federal courts have jurisdiction only where there is an actual case or controversy before them. A ruling in favor of the corporation that had allegedly violated the law would have severely weakened the ability of Congress and the people of our country to hold corporations accountable when they violate a federal law.

But when the understaffed Court issued its opinion, it provided no answer to this extremely important question. Instead, in a 6-2 opinion, the justices expressed no position on whether the plaintiff had standing to sue (the key issue in the case), called the Ninth Circuit’s standing analysis “incomplete,” vacated the lower court’s opinion, and directed it to revisit the issue.

Although we don’t know for sure, this “deciding not to decide” may very well have been done as a compromise to avoid a 4-4 tie. In any event, the issue is likely to come back to the Court after the Ninth Circuit rules again.

 

Cases Not Affected by the Vacancy

Of course, not all high-profile cases were affected by the vacancy. Some were decided before Justice Scalia died. Some were decided after he died, but with a majority opinion nonetheless.

Reproductive Freedom and Choice

Whole Woman’s Heath v. Hellerstedt: Decided on the last day of the term, this 5-3 opinion authored by Justice Breyer struck down Texas’s notorious targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law. Such laws, pushed by anti-choice zealots across the country, are presented as protections for women’s health, but in reality they are designed to reduce if not eliminate women’s access to abortion. Such laws are a key component of the far right’s long-term project of gradually chipping away at the constitutional right to an abortion. However, what they achieved instead was a ringing affirmation of that right.

The majority (Justices Breyer, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan) reversed an opinion of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that had upheld requirements that (1) licensed abortion facilities meet the same building requirements as an ambulatory surgical center, and (2) those performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The Court ruled that these are medically unnecessary regulations with the effect of putting an undue burden on women’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights, a key part of the test set forth by the Supreme Court in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey (which Kennedy was part of).

The Court criticized the Fifth Circuit for not providing the level of scrutiny appropriate for a constitutional right, but instead treating its review of the law with the same deference that ordinary legislation receives. The justices directed lower courts to look critically at whether a law affecting abortion actually accomplishes the goals the state is using to justify it. In this case, the Court went into great detail on how the Texas law burdens women’s access to abortion, and it demonstrated how the law was, in fact, not necessary to protect women’s health but makes it much harder to get access to abortion services. As such, the burden was undue, and thus unconstitutional.

Whole Woman’s Health strongly reaffirms Casey and will make it far more difficult for states to defend their TRAP laws from new court challenges, although much will depend on lower court factual findings. With women’s constitutional right to an abortion constantly under attack, this ruling serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of who will be nominating and confirming those who will serve on the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

Voting and Democracy – One Person, One Vote

Evenwel v. Abbott: The Court ruled 8-0 that when states fulfill their constitutional obligations to equalize populations within state legislative districts, they are permitted to do what they’ve always done: count the entire population, the same as what the Constitution requires for equalizing congressional districts. That provides equality of representation. But Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, Texans whose districts include relatively few non-citizens, had argued that states must count only eligible voters; otherwise, their vote counts less than the vote of someone who lives in a district with a large number of non-citizens or others who cannot vote. Richard Hasen had called this case “an attempted [partisan] power grab in Texas and other jurisdictions with large Latino populations.” Texas defended the “total population” approach but asked the Court to say that, in the future, states could also use just voting age population.

The Court didn’t take the bait. Writing for a six-person majority, Justice Ginsburg gave a powerful defense of equality of representation, tying it to the will of the framers of both the original Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment. (Justices Thomas and Alito agreed with the result but not the reasoning.) In other words, every person deserves representation. Importantly, the Court refused to address the constitutionality of counting only eligible voters, saying that was a question they need not address in this case. Had the Court legitimized counting only eligible voters even without saying that states must take that approach, it would have been a dangerous signal to conservative state legislatures to break with precedent and model their districts that way in the future.

Voting and Democracy – Partisan Gerrymandering and Further Weakening Voting Rights

Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission: This could have been a major case where the Court defined illegitimate partisan gerrymandering and ruled that such gerrymandering causing any population differences among districts invalidates redistricting decisions that were also done for legitimate reasons (like complying with the Section 5 preclearance requirements that existed at the time). Another question raised in this case was whether trying to meet Section 5 preclearance in redistricting that took place before Shelby County was legitimate at all, since the formula subjecting Arizona to that requirement was later found unconstitutional.  But in a unanimous 8-0 opinion, the Court concluded there was no reason to address the partisan gerrymandering issue. Writing for the Court, Justice Breyer concluded that seeking to comply with Section 5 preclearance, rather than partisanship, clearly explained the redistricting decisions. The Court also ruled that   Shelby County didn’t retroactively make the Arizona legislature’s motives illegitimate. So what had a potential to be a major case turned out not to be: the Court directly answered the question before it and did not effect a significant change in redistricting law.

Cutting Off Individual and Class Action Lawsuits

Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez: Class action suits are often the only way to effectively obtain redress from large companies for illegal conduct and provide deterrence for others. Over the years, the Roberts-Alito Court has been chipping away at the ability of victims to use class actions to hold corporations accountable. But this case threatened to make it nearly impossible. The company in this case was asking the Court to rule that a defendant can terminate a class-action suit against it simply by making a settlement offer to the individual representing the class, even if it’s not accepted, before that individual files a motion for class certification with the court. The argument was that offering the settlement would mean there was no longer a “case or controversy,” which Article III of the Constitution requires for a federal court to have jurisdiction in a case.

In a somewhat surprising win for ordinary people, the Court rejected the argument by a vote of 6-3. Writing for a 5-member majority (the moderates plus Justice Kennedy), Justice Ginsburg concluded that if the plaintiff rejects the offered settlement, the case does not automatically terminate. She noted that ruling otherwise would improperly let corporations spend minimal amounts to pay off individual plaintiffs and forestall all sorts of class actions. (Justice Thomas provided the sixth vote in a concurrence that used a very different legal approach to reach the same result.)

However, the Court announced a potential loophole for corporations: The Court noted that it was not deciding whether a corporation could prevent a class action suit by placing the full amount of the plaintiff’s individual claim in an account payable to the plaintiff (rather than just making an offer), and then having the court enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiff in that amount and dismissing the case before the plaintiff has a chance to ask the judge to certify the proposed class. We can be confident that such a case will reach the Court soon, making it critically important who fills Justice Scalia’s vacancy, as well as others that may open in the near future.

Sabotaging the Next Term

When Justice Scalia passed away in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately announced that the Senate would not consider any nominee put forth by President Obama, no matter who it might be. Nevertheless, true to his constitutional responsibilities, the president nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. More than 100 days later – long past the point when other nominees would have had their confirmation votes – Judge Garland is still being denied a hearing, and Senate Republicans are holding the seat open in the hopes that a President Donald Trump will fill it.

Under the conservatives’ plan, the Senate will not consider anyone until the next president makes the nomination … a president who will take office when the Court’s 2016-2017 Term is already half over. A final confirmation vote would be many weeks later, at the very least. Faced with the prospect of having most or even all of next term hobbled by a needlessly ongoing vacancy, the justices are responding, clearly aware of the damage to the Court’s ability to properly function. This shows up in the number and types of cases the justices are hearing next year. The Court continues to lag behind previous years at this same point in the number of cases that they have accepted for next term, which is now fewer than 30. In addition, most of the cases are not blockbusters; one important constitutional religious liberty case has been accepted, but that was before Justice Scalia passed away.

This term, the Court was unable to address a number of very important legal questions affecting millions of people across America. Next term, it may not even try, if the obstruction in the Senate continues.

 

The Supreme Court Conflict Shines a Light
on the Massive Obstruction of Lower Court Nominees

The very high-profile obstruction of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is just the most visible and most extreme version of a pattern of obstruction that Senate Republicans have been doing to sabotage the judicial confirmation process throughout the entire federal judiciary.

 On the circuit and district courts, the Republican-controlled Senate is virtually abandoning its constitutional duty to consider President Obama’s judicial nominees. After confirming only 11 circuit and district court judges last year (the lowest since 1960, the end of the Eisenhower era), the Senate has confirmed only an additional 8 so far this year, for a total of 19 circuit and district judges confirmed during this Congress. Indeed, the 114th Congress is on pace to see the fewest confirmation votes of any two-year Congress in over 50 years.

But it's not because there aren't any vacancies. In fact, current circuit and district vacancies have skyrocketed since the current Congress began in January, from 40 then to 80 now. The number of those vacancies that have been officially designated judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 at the beginning of 2015 to 29 today.

Nor is it because there is a lack of nominees. Far from it. As of today, there are a total of 50 nominees awaiting consideration by the Senate, Of these 32 are still in the Senate Judiciary Committee, only 7 of whom have had hearings. And another 18 nominees have cleared the Judiciary Committee and now await votes on the Senate floor. Five of these have been waiting since last year for votes.

Just as it matters immensely who serves on the Supreme Court – and who nominates those justices – it matters who serves on our nation’s circuit and district courts as well. All these positions have an enormous impact on the lives of people across the country, which is exactly why the Senate leadership, with the full support of far right activists, have put so much effort into derailing indisputably qualified nominees to the federal judiciary at all levels.

Conclusion

Since Justice Scalia’s passing, people across America have seen the damage caused by an extended vacancy on a Court that has been left evenly divided ideologically. Among those who have witnessed the damage are all 100 members of the United States Senate, whose Republican leaders are nevertheless refusing to even hold a hearing for an unquestionably qualified nominee who should have already had a confirmation vote by now. Had the Senate acted in a timely manner, and if they had voted to confirm Judge Merrick, the Court would be fully staffed by now, perhaps having avoided some of its 4-4 rulings and confident in its ability to take new cases and begin the next term at full strength.

Instead, unless the Republican Senate leadership abandons its unprecedented obstruction, they will be deliberately preventing the Supreme Court from functioning effectively for most if not all of next term as well. This deliberate sabotage of the American judicial system from the Supreme Court on down harms everyone.

Glenn Beck Says Senate Republicans Should Give Merrick Garland An Up Or Down Vote

Glenn Beck was live on the radio today when the news broke that the Supreme Court had struck down a Texas law designed to limit access to legal abortion under the guise of protecting women's health. In response to the ruling, Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere lamented that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are the only two reliably conservative votes on the court at the moment and noted that Donald Trump is hoping to use this issue to win over conservative voters in November.

Beck, who doesn't think that Trump really has any chance of winning in November, said that it is a mistake for the Republicans who control the Senate to keep blocking President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the seat left by the late Antonin Scalia.

"I personally think that it is a mistake for them not to give him an up or down vote," Beck said of Garland. "I think it is a mistake. And I also think that they did this for a reason, that they put somebody in who is somewhat acceptable and they did it because they could say, 'See, they're absolutely unreasonable.' And if Hillary gets in and there is a Democratic congress or Senate? Done! You think that they're going to get more reasonable than this guy?"

"I would pull the trigger," Beck stated, "because the Constitution says give them an up or down vote. That doesn't mean you accept them; it does mean give them an up or down vote. And just take that issue away from them."

PFAW Statement on ‘Whole Woman’s Health’ Decision

WASHINGTON – In response to the Supreme Court’s decision today in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision reaffirmed women’s constitutional right to reproductive freedom. This ruling makes clear that that right isn’t abstract; it includes the ability to actually access a safe, legal abortion.

“In Texas and across the country, Republican elected officials have attempted to enact unnecessary, burdensome regulations that effectively prevented far too many women from being able to get an abortion. The Court’s decision to strike down Texas’s sham laws attacking abortion access is a proud moment for anyone who cares about our Constitution.

“We turn to the Supreme Court to protect constitutional rights that affect all of our lives, including the critical and deeply personal issue of access to safe abortion care. Given that the next president will likely appoint multiple Supreme Court justices, today’s decision reminds us of how dangerous a Donald Trump presidency would be to women across the country. We cannot let Trump, who has said that women should be punished for having an abortion and who supports the full defunding of Planned Parenthood, appoint Supreme Court justices who attack and undermine women’s constitutional rights.”

People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.

###

PFAW Foundation Statement on DACA+/DAPA Case

In response to the Supreme Court’s 4-4 tie in DACA+/DAPA, which leaves in place a nationwide injunction against these programs, Catalina Velasquez, the director of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For leadership program, released the following statement:

“Today the Supreme Court failed to protect millions of people in our country from deportation. Family separation is abhorrent, and it goes against our core values as a society, ripping families apart just because of their immigration status.

“As a transgender, undocumented immigrant from Colombia whose family was deported my first semester at Georgetown University, I know just how critical programs like these can be for a person’s personal safety and how harrowing the effects of mass deportation can be for our community. It’s profoundly upsetting that the Supreme Court today will allow the deportation of millions of people. And it is disheartening that an administrative policy like this one aimed simply at facilitating the right to provide for ourselves is still a contested issue.

“Today’s decision affects almost half of the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from the short term relief from deportation these plans offered. At Young People For, we will continue to advocate for  the case to be reargued, and stand with young undocumented people and their families in support of immigration reform, so immigrants are treated with the dignity and respect we deserve.”

Catalina Velasquez will be available for interviews in English or Spanish. To schedule an interview, please call 202-467-4999.

###

Powerful Sotomayor Dissent Shows Dangers of Supreme Court Ruling on Police Searches

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that evidence found by police officers even after they stop someone illegally can still be used if the searches happen after the officers learn of an unrelated outstanding arrest warrant. In a particularly powerful dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained the dangers of the majority ruling, particularly for people of color.

In the case, Utah v. Strieff, a police officer investigating possible narcotics activity in a house decided to stop Edward Strieff, who left the house, even though there were no reasonable grounds for the stop, which made it illegal. The officer then ran a check on Mr. Strieff, found a warrant for a minor traffic violation, and arrested him on that prior offense. The officer then searched him, found illegal drugs, and charged him accordingly. Even though the Utah Supreme Court found that the evidence should have been suppressed because of the illegal stop, the Supreme Court reversed because of the prior unrelated warrant.

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” Sotomayor wrote. “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants – even If you are doing nothing wrong.” As she continued, “if the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.” Justices Sotomayor and Kagan (who also dissented as did Justice Ginsburg) explained that this danger is far from hypothetical: federal and state databases show more than 7.8 million outstanding warrants, most of which are for minor traffic and other offenses. For example, in Ferguson, Missouri, which has a population of 21,000, there are 16,000 such outstanding warrants.

In a part of her dissent that she wrote only for herself, Sotomayor highlighted the problems that minorities face due to police stops. “For generations,” she explained, “black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ – instructing them never to run down the street, always keep your hands where they can be seen, do not even think of talking back to a stranger – all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.” She added that people “routinely targeted by the police” are the “canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere,” She continued that “unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives.” Until the voices of these people “matter, too,” she concluded, “our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

The majority tried to minimize the impact of its ruling, stating that the stop was not a “flagrant” violation or part of a “dragnet” or “systematic or recurrent police misconduct,” but simply an “isolated instance” of an error by a police officer. Time and future cases will tell if Strieff will truly be an isolated case and if the Court will prevent abuse. Much will depend on the future votes of Justice Breyer, who joined the majority in the case, and of course the unfilled vacancy on the Court being held open by Republican obstructionism. But Sotomayor’s strong opinion was a remarkable and important statement that will hopefully help shape the future direction of the Court. As University of Chicago law professor Justin Driver put it, her dissent is “the strongest indication we have yet that the Black Lives Matter movement has made a difference at the Supreme Court--- at least with one justice.”

PFAW

Letter from Top Lawyers at Major Companies Urges Senate to Act on Merrick Garland Nomination

The stubborn refusal by Senate Republicans to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court has caused the Supreme Court to deliberate with only 8, rather than its full complement of 9 justices. Senators have a constitutional responsibility to give fair consideration to the president’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, yet they continue to neglect this responsibility as it has been 100 days since President Obama nominated Judge Garland to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Scalia’s death earlier this year. 

On Thursday, top lawyers from 44 United States companies, such as Nike and Qualcomm, released a letter calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to move forward on this nomination, emphasizing that “[t]he business community has a great interest in avoiding the legal uncertainty that could result if the vacancy remains unfilled for an extended period of time.”

Bloomberg reports: “The signers of the letter include Michael Fricklas of Viacom; Hilary Krane of Nike; David Ellen of Cablevision Systems Corp.; Ivan Fong of 3M Co.; Donald J. Rosenberg of Qualcomm Inc.; Lori Schechter of McKesson Corp.; and Audrey Strauss of Alcoa Inc. The letter was spearheaded by Jonathan Schwartz, general counsel of Univision Communications Inc.”

PFAW

Garland Gets the ABA's Highest Possible Evaluation

You can practically hear the ABA members saying "WOW!" as you read their report on Merrick Garland.
PFAW

WI Latino & Community Leaders Speak Out Against Trump’s Racist Attack on Judge Curiel, Continued WI GOP Support for Trump

MILWAUKEE – During a press conference today, Wisconsin Latino leaders spoke out against Donald Trump’s racist attacks against Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel and challenged Sen. Ron Johnson’s decision to hold open the Supreme Court vacancy for Trump to fill.

Responding to Trump’s statements that a federal judge couldn’t be fair based simply on his Mexican-American heritage, Sen. Johnson and House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized Trump, yet the two are backing Trump’s presidential bid and Johnson continues to hold the Supreme Court seat open for Trump to fill by refusing to give fair consideration to Supreme Court nominee Judge Garland.   Ryan continues to ignore the ongoing bigotry of Trump’s campaign by categorizing Trump’s latest racist attacks as “out of left field.”

Key statements:

Wisconsin State House Representative JoCasta Zamarripa:

“As a legislator, I work on issues critical to the community I represent, whether that’s working to combat discrimination, support immigrant families, protect voting rights. Donald Trump stands against everything that we stand for.

“Ron Johnson has said that he won’t support Trump if he “crossed a line.” How is it possible that launching racist attacks against a federal judge doesn’t cross the line? And how can Johnson justify holding open the Supreme Court vacancy for someone who shows such disregard to our courts and the Constitution?”

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera:

“Trump’s racist comments against Judge Curiel exposes the true character of the man.  He is both a bully and a fraud.  He is a bully because he uses personal attacks and threats to try to get his way, and he is a fraud because he is a swindler through projects like Trump fake University, his string of bankruptcies, and his made-in-China products.

“The failure of Senator Johnson and US Speaker Paul Ryan or Governor Walker to pull their support, is dangerous.  Their own policy proposals are a dressed up version of Trump’s, but Trump’s appeal to growing a white supremacist movement through hate and violence, is a threat that extends beyond an election, and should be aggressively condemned and marginalized.”

Freya Neumann, Citizenship Coordinator at Voces de la Frontera:

“I came to this country almost 40 years ago from Mexico, and I became a naturalized citizen to challenge stereotypes and combat the racism I experienced and witnessed far too often in Milwaukee. Sadly, in 2016, racism has increased because of Trump’s hate campaign.

“I am though so happy to see many people who are becoming US citizens because like me, they understand that they must stand up to racism by education, voting, speaking out, and demonstrating. Shame on our Wisconsin Republican leaders who disagree with Trump’s message but continue to support him as president; for the US constitution, the founding document of this nation, upholds the ideal that all people are created equal.”

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way:

“We now know that Trump has no problem launching racist attacks against judges, and we know that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Garland is superbly qualified and has earned significant praise from Democrats and Republicans alike. So why is Ron Johnson holding open the Supreme Court vacancy for a Trump nominee instead of calling for hearings and a vote for Judge Garland?

“It’s time to call the question: Senator Johnson needs to support a fair process for Judge Garland, or else he stands in solidarity with Trump’s racist attacks on our judiciary. He can’t do both.”

For follow-up questions or interviews, please email media@pfaw.org.

###
 

While Trump Makes Racist Attacks On Judge, GOP Holds a Supreme Court Seat for Him to Fill?

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

It was both completely in character and shamefully beyond the pale when Donald Trump accused Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over two lawsuits against Trump University, of having an “inherent conflict of interest” in the cases because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. On Sunday he extended that charge to Muslim judges, who he also suspects would be unable to remain unbiased. If there was a shred of doubt remaining on the question of whether Donald Trump is fit to make judicial nominations before this attack, that debate is now over. Even GOP senators arespeaking out against Trump’s remarks. But in a contortion act that defies logic, those same senators continue to go to extraordinary lengths to hold open the vacant Supreme Court seat for the very person whose approach to judicial matters they are condemning.

GOP leaders rushed to denounce Trump’s remarks about Judge Curiel, with Republican senators including Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake, Rob Portman, and Mitch McConnell speaking out against his comments and House Speaker Paul Ryan calling them “out of left field” even though even a casual observer knows they were coming right from home plate for the past year. Trump has been consistent in his baseless attacks on entire communities since the first day of his campaign, when he smeared Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. And if some in the GOP are (rightly) condemning Trump’s vision of a justice system in which some judges are prohibited from doing their jobs because of their ethnic background, why are they going to extraordinary lengths to put him in the driver’s seat of our nominating process?

GOP senators are still doing everything they can to block President Obama from filling the Supreme Court vacancy. Rather than follow the Constitution and give fair consideration to President Obama’s extraordinarily qualified and respected nominee, GOP senators are running a campaign of unprecedented obstruction in order to allow Trump to make the Supreme Court nomination instead.

Let’s be clear: Trump had already provided countless reasons to call into question his fitness to nominate judges. This is a man who supports killing the family members of terrorists and wants to “open up” libel laws so he can go after journalists. That he’s now implying whole swaths of people are not fit for the federal bench is one of the most disturbing examples yet of Trump’s contempt for the independence of the judiciary and for Americans different from him. It goes against the most fundamental values of our country, and it is Exhibit A of why he should never be the person nominating judges at the Supreme Court or any level.

It’s no wonder Americans are worried about the prospect of Donald Trump making judicial nominations. Even before his attack on Judge Curiel, a recent poll found that the majority of Americans don’t trust Trump to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and they’re none too pleased with the senators obstructing President Obama’s nominee.Half of voters say they are “less likely to vote for a senator who opposed having confirmation hearings” for Judge Merrick Garland. For Republican senators in tight reelection battles, their unwillingness to do their jobs is increasingly and rightfully becoming a liability with voters.

The fact that GOP senators are flat-out refusing to do their jobs on the Supreme Court was already an outrage. That they are now working to hold the seat open for a man who thinks some judges can’t do their jobs because of their ethnic background or religion is unconscionable and should be, quite frankly, embarrassing to all Republicans. GOP leaders are in a position of both condemning Trump’s approach to judicial issues and working to make sure he’s the one to make lifetime judicial appointments. Make sense? It doesn’t to me, either.

The choice is now crystal clear. It’s time to call the question and give Merrick Garland a vote.  

PFAW

Diamond & Silk: Trump Facing Mexican-American Judge Like Black Defendant Facing All-White Jury

Diamond & Silk, the YouTube duo who have become outspoken Donald Trump supporters and have spoken at a number of his campaign events, defended Trump’s criticism of the judge hearing a fraud case against Trump University yesterday, saying that Trump appearing before a Mexican-American judge is just like a black defendant facing an all-white jury.

“Well, first of all, you know the judge is biased,” Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway told Newsmax’s J.D. Hayworth. “You know, he’s Mexican, he’s of Mexican descent, or his heritage is Mexican. And here’s the deal. It’s just like when you walk into a courtroom [as a] defendant and the jury is all white or vice versa, or when a defense team is defending a black client with an all-white jury.”

Avid Donald Trump fan Ann Coulter made a similar argument on Twitter last week:

More and More Agree: Eight is NOT Enough for the Supreme Court

Over the last few days, both the Washington Post and prominent constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe have joined the growing chorus of voices, including Republican as well as Democratic judges, making clear that eight justices are NOT enough for the nine-member Supreme Court, and that the continuing vacancy caused by Senate Republicans’ unprecedented refusal to even consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the vacant Court seat is unconscionable. As the Post put it, the continued vacancy has required the Court to “punt, duck, dodge and weave around contentious issues,” creating “dysfunction.” These problems are documented in more detail in the recent report by PFAW Foundation and the Constitutional Accountability Center, “Material Harm to our System of Justice: the Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court.”

As the report explains, the continuing vacancy has already produced several 4-4 splits on the Court, leaving the contested lower court decision in place but setting no national precedent. In one situation, the result was that the Court could not resolve conflicting interpretations of federal law on loan discrimination in different lower courts, causing confusion and different rules for different people around the country. Specifically, as a result of this Supreme Court 4-4 split, people in some states can be required to get their spouse to co-sign a bank loan, while in other states, some right next door, that requirement is illegal.

In addition to several 4-4 splits, the continued vacancy has caused the eight-member Court to effectively punt several important cases for later review by a full Court, again leaving uncertainty and confusion as a result. For example, in the Zubik case concerning whether religious employers can effectively deny to their employees contraceptive coverage required by the ACA because of religious objections, the Court vacated conflicting lower court decisions and suggested that the government and the employers try to find a compromise and then go back to the lower courts, and the Supreme Court, if necessary. The continued litigation by some religious employers makes clear that future resolution by a nine-member Court will be necessary. But in the meantime, uncertainty about these important rights remains. As the report explains, the continued vacancy also appears to have decreased the number of important cases the Court has agreed to review next term starting in October, and makes it difficult for the Court to issue important temporary stay decisions in divisive cases where decisions must be made quickly, as in cases seeking temporary halts of executions or new election rules.

As a result, both Republican and Democratic-appointed judges and justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, and the late Justice Scalia himself, have explained that having a full complement of nine members is important for a fully-functioning Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed last week, commenting publicly that “eight is not a good number” for the Court.

And as the Post also explained, the Senate Republican leaders that are responsible for this problem “are doing more than ever to discredit themselves,” claiming that their blockade is about the non-existent “principle” that a vacancy that arises in an election year should be filled by the next president, contrary to history and the Constitution, while at the same time claiming that Republicans could find no “worse nominee” than Judge Garland. This is despite the fact that these very same Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have agreed that Judge Garland is “well-qualified.”  As the Post concludes, this admission should “end the discussion”: Judge Garland should receive a hearing and should be confirmed. But if the Senate Republican blockade continues, the eight-member Court will only cause further harm to our system of justice.

PFAW

Do Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley Agree With Trump That No Mexican Americans Should Serve On The Supreme Court?

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear this week not only that he wants Donald Trump to be president, but that the main reason he wants Trump to be president is so that he will be the one picking Supreme Court justices.

The Republican leader told radio host Hugh Hewitt that “the Supreme Court is the biggest thing the next president will deal with.” He continued, “I made sure of that by making sure that this president doesn’t get to pick this nominee and get them confirmed on the way out the door. But that alone, that issue alone will define much of what America is like for the next generation.”

According to McConnell, “That issue alone is enough to convince me to support Donald Trump.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley also recently expressed his support for Trump selecting a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He told the Des Moines Register, “Based upon the type of people he’d be looking for, I think I would expect the right type of people to be nominated by him to the Supreme Court.”

Yesterday, Trump made clear that he applies a racial test when assessing the impartiality of judges, telling The Wall Street Journal that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should not preside over a fraud case involving his Trump University scam real estate seminars case because the federal judge has “an absolute conflict.”

According to Trump, Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” is “an inherent conflict of interest” because “I’m building a wall.” Curiel, whose parents are from Mexico, was born in Indiana.

Trump’s pronouncement raises a serious question for the Republicans who are engaging in an unprecedented effort to stop President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from so much as getting a Senate hearing, with the apparent goal to keep the seat open for a President Trump to fill.

Trump claims that a judge’s heritage is a conflict of interest because it means that he will be biased against Trump.

During every president’s term, numerous cases involving their policies or interpretations of the law are argued before the Supreme Court. If Trump believes a district court judge’s heritage creates an unfair bias against him, then one can assume that he thinks this same bias would exist in a judge on the highest court.

Approximately 10 percent of our country’s population is of Mexican heritage, and Donald Trump’s racial test would exclude every single one of them from the judiciary. Perhaps this explains why the list of potential Supreme Court nominees that Trump released last month was 100% white.

McConnell, Grassley and other Republicans obstructing President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as they hope for a Republican victory in November now need to answer whether or not they too would apply Donald Trump’s racial test to the court.

PFAW
Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious