Supreme Court Returns Power To States On Voting

In a decision that marks the end of a major civil rights-era reform, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the federal government can no longer force states and jurisdictions with a long-past history of voting discrimination to have to get federal approval for all of their voting laws.

The 5-4 ruling rewrites a key tool of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which for five decades has given the federal government unprecedented say in everything from how some states draw their congressional maps to where they place polling locations.

But beneath the legal ruling is a broader social significance, with the justices saying that past discrimination cannot be perpetually held against a state.

“The Fifteenth Amendment commands that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race or color, and it gives Congress the power to enforce that command. The amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority.

The court’s four liberal-leaning justices dissented.

The Voting Rights Act injected the federal government deep into states’ voting practices as a way of combating states — primarily in the South — who had a history of laws or practices that discriminated against black voters.

Read more here.

Pols brace for landmark ruling in ObamaCare battle

At last, the verdict.

Republicans and Democrats are girding for a politically explosive week as the Supreme Court prepares to rule as early as Monday on the federal health care overhaul.

The ruling, as campaign advisers are well aware, has the potential to re-shape this year’s presidential race. For weeks, each party has been positioning itself to make the best of whatever outcome emerges from the tight-lipped justices.

And the implications go far beyond the 2012 election. The outcome of the health care case, involving one of the most divisive domestic policies in modern times, will affect millions of Americans. Calling for the law’s survival, supporters trumpet the expanded consumer protections and subsidies that make insurance more available and affordable. Calling for its defeat, critics blast what they describe as an unconstitutional requirement to buy health insurance, and warn the law will pummel businesses with its mandates and fines.

In the run-up to the historic ruling, each party is crafting a game-plan.

House Speaker John Boehner this past week cautioned the GOP ranks against “spiking” the ball if the mandate is struck down. He and other Republicans say the party will remain focused on repealing whatever parts of the law remain following the upcoming ruling. And, they say, they’ll pursue “step-by-step” reforms to replace the law no matter the court’s decision.

Lawmakers will be dealing with plenty of other matters this week — notably, a likely court decision on Arizona’s immigration law and a possible House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. On health care, they’re trying to game out all scenarios.

In a memo to colleagues, House GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, urged members to prepare for three possible rulings: a full repeal, a partial repeal involving the mandate or a law left intact.

Read more here.

To Obama, legal precedents are all about politics

In 1996 Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act by huge bipartisan votes — 342 to 67 in the House and 85 to 14 in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed the measure into law.

Now, the Obama administration says DOMA, which permits states to refuse to recognize gay marriages from other states and also creates a federal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, is unconstitutional. In Boston on Wednesday, Stuart Delery, an attorney for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, urged the First Circuit Court of Appeals to find DOMA violates the Constitution by discriminating against gays and lesbians. “I’m not here to defend [the law] on any standard,” Delery told the court.

What was striking about Delery’s request that a federal court strike down DOMA was that just a day or two before, President Obama railed at the very notion that a federal court would strike down any law passed by Congress.

“I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress,” Obama said Monday about the arguments over Obamacare before the nation’s highest court. The danger presented in the health care case, the president continued, is that “an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

Obama immediately ran into a barrage of questions. How can the Supreme Court overturning a law be “unprecedented” when the court has done it more than 150 times in U.S. history? And does the president even recognize the court’s authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress?

Read more here.

Poised To Strike

The Supreme Court’s conservative justices said Wednesday they are prepared to strike down President Obama’s healthcare law entirely.

Picking up where they left off Tuesday, the conservatives said they thought a decision striking down the law’s controversial individual mandate to purchase health insurance means the whole statute should fall with it.

The court’s conservatives sounded as though they had determined for themselves that the 2,700-page measure must be declared unconstitutional.

“One way or another, Congress will have to revisit it in toto,” said Justice Antonin Scalia.

Agreeing, Justice Anthony Kennedy said it would be an “extreme proposition” to allow the various insurance regulations to stand after the mandate was struck down.

Meanwhile, the court’s liberal justices argued for restraint. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court should do a “salvage job,” not undertake a “wrecking operation.” But she looked to be out-voted.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they shared the view of Scalia and Kennedy that the law should stand or fall in total. Along with Justice Clarence Thomas, they would have a majority to strike down the entire statute as unconstitutional.

An Obama administration lawyer, urging caution, said it would be “extraordinary” for the court to throw out the entire law. About 2.5 million young people under age 26 are on their parents’ insurance now because of the new law. If it were struck down entirely, “2.5 million of them would be thrown off the insurance rolls,” said Edwin Kneedler.

The administration indicated it was prepared to accept a ruling that some of the insurance reforms should fall if the mandate were struck down. For example, insurers would not be required to sell coverage to people with preexisting conditions. But Kneedler, a deputy solicitor general, said the court should go no further.

Read more here.

White House Organizes…Prayer Vigil for Obamacare Outside Supreme Court

As the White House struggles to garner support for Obamacare as it approaches Supreme Court arguments on the new health care law, the administration is not leaving anything to chance — not even forces from heaven above.

Yes, on Wednesday, White House officials reportedly called on dozens of nonprofit leaders to aid them in organizing a prayer vigil outside the court – right when justices plan to hear arguments for three days beginning March 26.

In a push that hopes to shape public opinion on the issue at the very center of the battle for the White House and Congress, advocates and officials set their strategy to win favor in motion. White House officials, however, deny they are trying to influence others or garner support by facilitating rallies outside the Supreme Court.

The NY Times adds:

At the White House meeting on Wednesday, a wide range of advocates representing consumers and people with diseases and disabilities — as well as doctors and nurses, labor unions and religious organizations — discussed plans to bolster the landmark law, which is being challenged by 26 states as unconstitutional.

Supporters of the law plan to hold events outside the court on each day of oral argument. The events include speeches by people with medical problems who have benefited or could benefit from the law. In addition, supporters will arrange for radio hosts to interview health care advocates at a “radio row,” at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.

People who attended the meeting on Wednesday said the speakers included Jennifer Palmieri, deputy communications director at the White House; Jon Carson, director of the president’s Office of Public Engagement; Jeanne M. Lambrew, deputy assistant to the president for health policy; and Mark B. Childress, a deputy chief of staff at the White House.

Read more here.

Calif. can’t ban violent video game sales

The Supreme Court says California cannot ban the rental or sale of violent video games to children.

The high court agreed Monday with a federal court’s decision to throw out California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento said the law violated minors’ rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments.

The law would have prohibited the sale or rental of violent games to anyone under 18. Retailers who violated the act would have been fined up to $1,000 for each infraction.

The court on a 7-2 vote said the law was unconstitutional.

More than 46 million American households have at least one video-game system, with the industry bringing in at least $18 billion in 2010.

SCOTUS throws out massive class action sex discrimination case

Unanimously overruling the San Francisco-based 9th District Court, the Supreme Court threw out a massive class action sex discrimination case against Walmart. The key issue was whether the one and a half million women hired by Walmart, or who were not hired by Walmart after the case was filed, had enough in common to constitute a legally valid class able to sue. Reuters summarizes:

The high court accepted Wal-Mart’s main argument that the female employees in different jobs at 3,400 different stores nationwide and with different supervisors do not have enough in common to be lumped together in a single class-action lawsuit.

The Supreme Court only decided whether the 10-year-old lawsuit can proceed to trial as a group, not the merits of the sex-discrimination allegations at the heart of the case.

Justice Scalia,

said there must be significant proof that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination. “That is entirely absent here,” he said, noting that Wal-Mart’s official corporate policies forbid sex discrimination.

The unanimous decision is yet another rebuke to the San Francisco-based 9th District Court of Appeals, the most-overruled circuit court in the nation, clearly out of step. The 9th also has the largest region under its jurisdiction, leading to calls to cut the district into two smaller regions. Perhaps the 9th’s jurisdiction ought to be limited to the City of San Francisco, with a new circuit created to encompass the rest of the current district. This is within the jurisdiction of Congress, according to the Constitution.

The Supreme Court and California Prisons

You’ve heard about this one, I’m sure. The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the State of California to release about 46,000 prisoners. The California prison population is at about 148% of capacity. Face it … California is a basket case. Perhaps one of the problems with the prisons is that prison guards can retire on hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in pension benefits. That is money that could have been used to expand capacity. The only expansion has been the wallets of union prison guards.

You certainly don’t expect any common sense solutions in California – but the obvious first move is to release every non-violent drug offender currently serving time. Then take all people on death row and execute them … now. Electric bleachers would work. Once they’re executed they don’t take up any prison beds and they’re no longer in need of medical care. If after releasing the non-violent drug offenders and executing all on death row you still have an overcrowding problem, get back to me.

The FCC’s Threat to Internet Freedom

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will mark the winter solstice by taking an unprecedented step to expand government’s reach into the Internet by attempting to regulate its inner workings. In doing so, the agency will circumvent Congress and disregard a recent court ruling.

How did the FCC get here?

For years, proponents of so-called “net neutrality” have been calling for strong regulation of broadband “on-ramps” to the Internet, like those provided by your local cable or phone companies. Rules are needed, the argument goes, to ensure that the Internet remains open and free, and to discourage broadband providers from thwarting consumer demand. That sounds good if you say it fast.

Nothing is broken and needs fixing, however. The Internet has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was spun off from a government research project in the early 1990s. Its nature as a diffuse and dynamic global network of networks defies top-down authority. Ample laws to protect consumers already exist. Furthermore, the Obama Justice Department and the European Commission both decided this year that net-neutrality regulation was unnecessary and might deter investment in next-generation Internet technology and infrastructure.

Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs. By moving forward with Internet rules anyway, the FCC is not living up to its promise of being “data driven” in its pursuit of mandates—i.e., listening to the needs of the market.

It wasn’t long ago that bipartisan and international consensus centered on insulating the Internet from regulation. This policy was a bright hallmark of the Clinton administration, which oversaw the Internet’s privatization. Over time, however, the call for more Internet regulation became imbedded into a 2008 presidential campaign promise by then-Sen. Barack Obama. So here we are.

Read more here.