Tag: Supreme Court

NAMUDNO v. Holder Update

Editor’s Note: Cato scholar Ilya Shapiro is blogging about the NAMUDNO v. Holder case from the Supreme Court, and will provide dispatches throughout the Court’s session.

As I walk away from the Court, with the sounds of the NAACP rally fading in the distance, I’m no clearer on how this case will be resolved than when I went into the building early this morning.

This uncertainty mostly results from the rather technical issues surrounding the Voting Rights Act’s “bailout” provision, as well as how narrowly the Court will want to construe the municipal utility’s challenge (as-applied, facial, or some other novel formulation).

What is clear is that the “liberal” justices, especially Ginsburg and Breyer, were downright hostile to the idea of curtailing federal supervision of state voting practices, while the “conservative” justices (not including Thomas, who was characteristically silent) found disingenuous assertions that VRA violations were systemic, or any more pervasive in the covered (mostly southern) jurisdictions than in non-covered ones.

Justice Kennedy sided strongly with the latter group, but, again, that may not mean much for the final contours of the Court’s decision.

However the case comes out, it is important to remember that even a complete striking of Section 5 does not leave voters who have been discriminated against without recourse in federal court; Section 2 has and will continue to be used to remedy VRA violations on a case-by-case basis (and without Section 5’s onerous preclearance requirements).

Blogging from the Supreme Court - NAMUDNO v. Holder

I write this from the Bar Members’ line waiting to be let into the Supreme Court courtroom for the final argument of the term.

Today the Court hears Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No.1 (“NAMUDNO”) v. Holder. This is a challenge to the controversial Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires, among other things, any change in election administration in certain states and counties to be “precleared” by the Department of Justice in Washington. This is, of course, a remnant of the Jim Crow era, and southern states’ massive resistance to attempts to enforce the 15th Amendment.

In 1965, Congress included Section 5 – which would otherwise be an unconstitutional infringement on peoples’ right to run their own elections locally – as a temporary remedy to an emergency situation. The section has been amended and extended several times (e.g., to add linguistic minorities, Pacific Islanders, etc.), most recently in 2006. But in this last renewal, Congress, despite introducing more than 15,000 pages into the record, failed to even allege the existence of the type of systemic voting discrimination as existed in the 1960s – because, of course, it doesn’t exist any more, and other parts of the VRA exist to cover specific discriminatory incidents.

Accordingly, a small utility district in Austin, Texas, contests Section 5’s continuing validity (if it cannot escape the section’s clutches via a confusing and little-used “bailout” provision). Specifically, NAMUDNO wants to change the location of its polling station to a public garage (from a less convenient location) – a move that obviously lacks discriminatory intent, and showcases the minutiae that the DOJ now has to micromanage.

Cato legal scholars support NAMUDNO’s challenge because, barring the widespread systemic unconstitutional actions of the Civil Rights Era, Section 5 violates our most basic principles of self-government and federalism, and is emblematic of governmental overreach.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

Bloggers from all over are discussing Cato’s research and commentary. Here are a couple we found:

  • Net Right Nation editor Adam Bitely has linked to Cato commentary and analysis regularly over the past few months.
  • At the Show-Me Institute Blog, Sarah Brodsky wrote about charter schools, citing a Neal McCluskey’s post about the drawbacks of charter school education programs.

Let us know if you’re blogging about Cato by emailing cmoody [at] cato [dot] org.

Topics:

The Government Shouldn’t Tilt The Speech Playing Field in Its Own Favor

New Hampshire passed a law prohibiting the transfer of doctors’ prescription history to facilitate drug companies’ one-on-one marketing — a practice known as “detailing” — because it believes detailing drives up brand-name drug sales and, in turn, health care costs.  The state knew that the First Amendment prevented it from banning detailing itself, so it made the practice more difficult indirectly. 

Yet data collection and transfer is protected speech — think academic research, or the phone book — and government efforts to regulate this type of speech also runs afoul of the First Amendment.  See, e.g., Solveig Singleton, “Privacy as Censorship: A Skeptical View of Proposals to Regulate Privacy in the Private Sector” (Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 295).  New Hampshire also engages in gross viewpoint discrimination: it exempts insurers’ efforts to persuade doctors to use generic drugs, and runs an “academic detailing” program to discourage brand-name drug use.

Remarkably, the First Circuit reversed a district court ruling that had invalidated the statute as unconstitutional, somehow finding that the statute regulates conduct rather than speech and that, in any event, the judiciary should defer to the legislative branch’s judgment.  Two companies that collect and sell health information and analysis filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review the case.  Cato, joining Washington Legal Foundation, Reason Foundation, and a group of current and former state officials, has filed a brief supporting that petition.

Our brief argues that the Supreme Court should grant review because: 1) the speech at issue is worthy of First Amendment protection; 2) this case is a good vehicle for examining First Amendment issues attending state attempts to control health care costs (other states have passed similar laws); and 3) the lower court’s holding that a state may restrict speech to “level the playing field” conflicts with the Court’s precedent regarding both commercial speech and campaign finance regulation.

The Supreme Court will be deciding over the summer whether to grant review, with a decision expected after the “Long Conference,” which precedes the beginning of the new term in October.

The Way to Stop Discrimination on the Basis of Race Is to Stop Discriminating on the Basis of Race

Today the Supreme Court heard argument in Ricci v. DeStefano, the “reverse discrimination” case in which the city of New Haven refused to certify the results of a race-neutral promotion exam whose objective results would have required, under civil service rules, the promotion of only white and Hispanic (but no black) firefighters.

The firefighters who were thus denied promotions sued the city, claiming racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Remarkably, a panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals—including oft-mentioned Supreme Court contender Sonia Sotomayor—summarily affirmed the district court’s ruling against the firefighters, though Judge José Cabranes (a Clinton appointee) later excoriated the panel for not grappling with the serious constitutional issues raised by the case.

The Cato Institute filed a brief, joined by the Reason Foundation and the Individual Rights Foundation, pointing out the absurd incentives at play: if the lower court’s ruling stands, employers will throw out the results of exams (or other criteria) that produce racial disparity, even if those exams are race-neutral, entirely valid, and extremely important to the employer and (as in this case) the public.

Today the Court seemed starkly divided.  The “liberal” justices hinted that an employer should be allowed to be “race conscious” to avoid Title VII lawsuits alleging “disparate impact” against minorities in hiring and promotions.  The “conservatives” were disturbed that the only reason the firefighters weren’t promoted was their race.  Nobody seemed persuaded by the government’s request—really an attempt to avoid taking a firm stand on a controversial issue—that the judgment be vacated and the case remanded for further factual development and legal rulings by the lower courts.  Justice Kennedy will likely be the swing vote, and I predict that he will side with the conservatives, albeit narrowly in a separate concurrence as he did in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1, the race-based school assignment case from 2007.

It was in Parents Involved that Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Quite so. The Supreme Court should thus reverse the Second Circuit, establishing that an employer can only discount test results when there is a “strong basis in evidence” that the test is somehow biased against a particular racial group.

9th Circuit Imitates Marcel Marceau

Last month, I warned that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would soon be handing the school choice movement a legal setback. Well, it’s here.

As expected, the 9th Circuit has reinstated a lower court challenge to Arizona’s scholarship donation tax credit program. The program allows taxpayers to contribute to non-profit Scholarship Tuition Organizations (STOs) that provide financial assistance to families choosing private schools. The taxpayers can then claim a dollar for dollar credit for their donation.

While this ruling leaves the program intact for the time being, it would almost surely require the tax credit program to be amended if it is allowed to stand. Fortunately, as I noted in my earlier post, the 9th Circuit is overturned as often as a caber at the Highland Games. Its ruling is unlikely to stand if appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is the fact that taxpayers are free to choose the STOs to which they donate their money, and private STOs are free to set criteria for the schools at which their scholarships can be redeemed. There are thus some STOs that offer scholarships only to religious schools. This is essentially the same situation that obtains when taxpayers claim deductions for contributions to non-profit charities. The charities can legally be religious or secular, and they can infuse the services they offer with religion, or not, as they choose. The whole thing is constitutional because it is the taxpayers, not the government, that decides which charity gets their funds. This is all settled law.

To get around the fact that the legal precedents were against it, the 9th Circuit decided to do a compelling impression of Marcel Marceau, pretending to hem itself into an invisible legal box. Specifically, the 9th Circuit decided to pretend that the constitutional restrictions limiting government expenditures (as in school voucher programs) also apply to the private funds at issue under tax credit programs.

That box, of course, does not exist. No government money is spent under the tax credit program, and the tax credits are themselves available on an entirely religiously neutral basis, in scrupulous conformance with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

So here’s my next legal prediction: the constitutionality of the Arizona education tax credit program will ultimately be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and opponents of educational freedom will have to resort to some new ploy in their efforts to herd American families back onto the public school plantation.

In English Learning Case, Families Will Lose Either Way

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case that will affect how and at what cost English is taught to non-native speakers in U.S. public schools. On one side are Hispanic parents from southern Arizona who sued their school district for failing to properly teach their children English, and on the other are district and state officials who want the courts to butt out and let them teach students in whatever way, and at whatever cost, they choose. I understand what these parents are going through – I grew up in an English-speaking family in the French-speaking province of Quebec – but it really doesn’t matter who “wins” this case: the families will lose either way.

Even if the parents “win,” and the Court orders their public school district to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on English instruction, it won’t do any good. A 1985 federal court order compelled the state of Missouri to spend an additional $2 billion over 12 years to desegregate Kansas City schools and improve the achievement of African American students. Neither goal was achieved, and even the presiding judge eventually admitted his order was a failure. Extra spending and court pressure do not improve public school performance, because public schools don’t have to show improvement to get the money and because courts can’t dismiss ineffective administrators or teachers.

The real solution is to empower families to _leave_ the schools that are failing them and move their children to more effective ones. Fortunately, Arizona has an education tax credit program that makes scholarships available to defray private school tuition. Whatever the court’s verdict, these parents should be banding together to create a local scholarship fund that can accept tax-credited donations so their children can attend the private schools of their choice. They can then pick whichever schools demonstrate the most success at teaching English instead of spending their time in court.