Tag: SCOTUS

The Supreme Court Misread Constitutional History Regarding “One Person, One Vote”

Two months ago, the Supreme Court ruled that states have leeway in determining how to draw their legislative districts, more specifically that they don’t have to equalize the number of voters per district to satisfy the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote.” The decision was really a “punt,” not resolving the tensions between “representational equality” and “voter equality”; it’ll take some future case after the next census to force the justices to face the issues left unresolved. 

Former Cato intern (and future legal associate) Tommy Berry and I have now published an essay in the Federalist Society Review explaining how the Court “shanked” that punt by misreading constitutional structure and application. Here’s a sample (footnotes omitted):

In Evenwel, the Court decided that it is acceptable for a state to ignore the distinction between voters and nonvoters when drawing legislative district lines. According to the Court, a state may declare that equality is simply providing representatives to equal groups of people, without distinction as to how many of those people will actually choose the representative. A state may use this constituent-focused view of equality because “[b]y ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total-population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation.”

But ignoring the distinction between voters and nonvoters achieves a false picture of equality at the expense of producing far more serious inequalities. Rather than placing nonvoters and voters on anything approaching an equal political footing, it instead gives greater power to those voters who happen to live near more nonvoters, and less power to those who do not.

As we argued before the decision came down, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment recognized that granting such extra voting power runs the risk of harming the very nonvoters to whom it ostensibly grants representation. This recognition manifested itself in the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Penalty Clause. In both ignoring that clause and oversimplifying the debates over the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court’s opinion paints an incomplete picture of constitutional history.

Read the whole thing. For more, see Tommy’s blogpost on our article, as well as our earlier criticism of Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion for misreading the Federalist Papers.

Judge Sanctions Obama Lawyers for Ethical Violations, Wishes He Could Disbar Them

While everyone was debating Trump’s judicial-nominations list yesterday, the judge in Brownsville, Texas, who still maintains control of certain technical aspects of the immigration-executive-action case now before the Supreme Court issued an extraordinary order sanctioning the Justice Department for various misrepresentations and other ethical breaches. It turns out that the government had begun implementing DAPA and extended DACA – the program providing temporary eligibility for residence and other benefits to large classes of illegal aliens – before the February 2015 date when those programs were intended to become active.

Judge Andrew Hanen had worked to produce a 123-page opinion enjoining the executive action on the eve of that “go” date, and it turns out that the Justice Department violated its duty of candor by not revealing the extent of its malfeasance – and continuing with the program in certain ways for a few weeks after the order went into effect. That is, regardless whether the government purposely defied the judge or this was a case of the left hand not knowing what the far-left hand was doing, administration lawyers had a duty to disclose everything that was going on, and to make best efforts to stop the Department of Homeland Security from putting its new programs into effect.

Set Fixed Judicial Terms for Supreme Court Justices

Contrary to the judiciary’s reputation as the least dangerous branch, judges exercise almost every executive and legislative power other than going to war. This is why the battle over Antonin Scalia’s successor is so bitter.

That wasn’t the Constitution’s original plan. The courts were important but were not to supplant the other branches. Rather, judges were expected to constrain the executive and legislative branches.

Alexander Hamilton expected the judiciary to play a “peculiarly essential” role to safeguard liberties and act as an “excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body.” Judges were to “guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals” from “the people themselves.”

James Madison, intimately involved in drafting the Constitution, explained that: “independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of [Bill of Rights guarantees]; they will be an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive; they are will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the constitution by the declaration of rights.”

Supreme Court Leaves Meaning of “One-Person, One-Vote” Unclear

This morning, the unanimous Supreme Court ruled that Texas was constitutionally justified in drawing state electoral districts based on total population, even if this meant that great disparatives result among districts in numbers of voters. This was the case of Evenwel v. Abbott, in which Cato had filed a brief arguing that the plaintiff-voters’ proposed “citizen of voting age population” (CVAP) metric was a much better one to use when applying the “one-person, one-vote” standard. 

While the eight-justice Court managed to achieve rare unanimity in an election-law case, at least in judgment, it did so only by declining to address the elephant in the voting booth. The Court failed to fill the gaping hole in its voting-rights jurisprudence: the question whether the venerable “one-person, one-vote” principle requires equalizing people or voters (or both) when crafting representational districts.

Still, the ruling leaves open to the states the ability to experiment further with populations considered in drawing district lines both for their own legislatures and federal House seats. Some states already exclude aliens, nonpermanent residents, nonresident military personnel, inmates who were not state residents prior to incarceration, and other non-permanent or non-voting populations.

States like Texas where total-population allocations continue to diverge from eligible-voter allocations—resulting in great disparities of voters between districts—should indeed try to ensure that each vote has the same relative weight, forcing the Supreme Court’s hand in some future case. Regardless of the outcome in that eventual case, however, jurists and political scientists should take heed of Justice Alito’s concurring opinion, which concisely explains why the “federal analogy” to the Constitution’s apportionment of House seats among states is inapposite to the question posed in Evenwel regarding redistricting.

For more background on the case, see my SCOTUSblog essay.

Friedrichs Decision Is a Blow Against Educational Excellence

Today, an evenly divided Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association to permit unions to continue charging nonmembers “agency fees” to cover collective-bargaining activities that the union supposedly engages in on their behalf. About half the states require agency fees from public-sector workers who choose not to join a union.

Not only do agency fees violate the First Amendment rights of workers by forcing them to financially support inherently political activities with which they may disagree (as my colleague Ilya Shapiro and Jayme Weber explained), but the unions often negotiate contracts that work against the best interests of the workers whose money they’re taking. For example, union-supported “last-in, first-out” rules and seniority pay (as opposed to merit pay) work against talented, young teachers. Moreover, a teacher might prefer higher pay to tenure protections, or greater flexibility over rigid scheduling rules meant to “protect” them from supposedly capricious principals.

A Few Facts on Election Year Nominations and Confirmations to the Supreme Court

Given the “facts” that have been bandied about in the media since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death concerning presidential election year nominations and confirmations to the Supreme Court, I asked Anthony Gruzdis, our crack research assistant for the Center for Constitutional Studies, to do an exhaustive study of the subject, and here, in summary, are the most relevant facts.

It turns out that most election year resignations and deaths were in the pre-modern (pre-1900) era—many in the era before today’s two major parties were established. And the pre-1900 picture is further complicated by several multiple nominations and confirmations of the same person, both before and after the election, so it’s not until the modern era that we get a picture that is more clearly relevant and instructive for the current situation.

Looking at the history of the matter since 1900, then, until last week only four vacancies have occurred during an election year, two in 1916, one in 1932, and one in 1956. (Three more occurred during the previous year, in 1911, 1939, and 1987; the nominees in each case were confirmed, respectively, in February, early January, and early February of the election year that followed.) The first three were filled when the president’s party also controlled the Senate, so that’s not the situation we have now. And when Justice Sherman Minton resigned for health reasons on October 15, 1956, President Eisenhower made a recess appointment that same day of William J. Brennan, Jr., nominating him for the seat on January 14, 1957, for which Brennan was confirmed by voice vote on March 19, 1957. In 1956 the Senate was closely divided with 48 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and 1 Independent. In 1957 it was also closely divided with 49 Democrats and 47 Republicans, although in both cases the Southern Democrats often voted with the Republicans.

Spin Cycle: White House Spins SCOTUS Stay on Climate Plan

The Spin Cycle is a reoccurring feature based upon just how much the latest weather or climate story, policy pronouncement, or simply poo-bah blather spins the truth. Statements are given a rating between 1-5 spin cycles, with less cycles meaning less spin. For a more in-depth description, visit the inaugural edition.

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As one of us has already noted, on Monday evening the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to put President Obama’s Clean Power Plan on ice—where it will remain until the justices get a chance to rule on the regulatory package themselves or until a new President sidelines it. The White House, whistling past a graveyard of unrecyclable solar panels (thanks to all the arsenic in them), blew up the vorticity of its spin cycle into relativistic speeds, calling it a “bump in the road” and a “temporary procedural issue.”

Over in the UK, Lisa Nandy, the shadow energy and climate minister knows why: “There is such strong support within the US for Obama’s efforts on climate change that I think this ruling will prove to be only a very temporary issue.”

Au contraire! According to a Yougov poll late last month, a grand total of 9 per cent of Americans think global warming is the most important issue confronting us. In only one country was there less support:  Saudi Arabia.

All of this ignores some facts on the ground. This is the biggest intervention by the Supremes in ongoing litigation since they stopped the partial Florida recount in December 2000 in the case that became Bush v. Gore. They only do stuff like this when there’s a lot at stake, irreparable harm will be done by not intervening, and at least five justices believe it more likely than not that the challenge will succeed.