Before U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli first joined the Obama administration as an associate deputy attorney general in 2009, he was a partner at Jenner & Block, where average profits in 2008 were a robust $835,000 per partner, according to The American Lawyer. U.S. district court judges that year earned $169,300; federal appeals court judges made $179,500. Verrilli took a huge pay cut to serve in the Justice Department, most recently earning $165,300 as solicitor general, according to charts at the federal Office of Personnel Management. But Jenner’s profits were up to $1.55 million in 2011, so if Verrilli eventually decides to return to his old firm he’ll have a featherbed landing. Federal judges, meanwhile, have been stuck at the same pay since 2009: $174,000 for trial courts, $184,000 for circuit courts. Lifetime tenure was supposed to assure the independence of the federal judiciary, but for an increasing number of judges the gap between judicial pay and private practice makes the opportunity cost of sitting on the bench too high to bear.
The only reason I’m singling out Verrilli and his former firm is that the solicitor general is counsel of record in a new cert petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an October 2012 appellate decision mandating raises for federal judges. In that ruling, known as Beer v. United States, a majority of the en banc Federal Circuit Court of Appeals held that under the Constitution’s Compensation Clause, Congress may not deny federal judges the cost-of-living adjustments they were promised in a 1989 law revamping judicial ethics rules. The cert petition puts Chief Justice John Roberts in a peculiar position: The Chief Justice has been an outspoken champion of judicial raises, but the Justice Department argues that the Federal Circuit’s decision in Beer contradicts Supreme Court precedent.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear two cases challenging state and federal laws which prevent the legal union between same-sex couples.
But it’s not the only significant civil rights case the Court has decided to take up this term.
Last month, the Supreme Court said it will consider the constitutionality of a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the hallmark legislation from the Civil Rights era that has come under increased challenge.
The cornerstone provision is known as Section 5, which holds some states accountable to get federal clearance before making any changes to their voting laws.
Many think the Court’s decision to hear the case, announced just three days after the election, spells doom for the cornerstone provision. But whatever the justices’ decision, the case may end up, as the influential SCOTUSBlog put it, “as one of the most significant rulings of the current Term.”
Oral arguments in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, are set for next year, with a decision expected by June. Let’s take a step back and see why this case is so consequential:
What’s Section 5 again?
As we’ve explained before, Section 5 requires nine mostly Southern states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alaska, Virginia, Texas and Arizona — and areas of seven others to preclear any change to a voting law or procedure with the federal government.
This review is conducted by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If a voting change hasn’t been submitted for review, the change can be legally unenforceable.
Section 5, which was enacted by the original Voting Rights Act, was meant to address the systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans by state lawmakers in the South since the end of Reconstruction.
Under the provision, covered jurisdictions must prove that any proposed voting change doesn’t have a discriminatory purpose or effect or would diminish minorities’ ability to elect a favored candidate.
No matter who wins the presidential race, no matter which party controls Congress, can we at least agree as reasonable adults that when it comes to voting itself the election of 2012 is a national disgrace? We ask our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives, to give their lives abroad for noble concepts like “freedom” and “democracy.” And yet we are content as a nation, and as a people, to tolerate another cycle of election rules that require our fellow citizens to sacrifice a measure of basic human dignity simply to exercise their right to vote.
For example, what happened this weekend in Florida is simply unacceptable. According to a local election official interviewed by CBS News’ Phil Hirschkorn, the last “early voter” in line for Saturday’s truncated early voting in Palm Beach County finally got to cast a ballot at 2:30 a.m Sunday morning, which means that voter waited in line for more than seven hours. In Miami, another traditional Democratic stronghold, the wait was said to be nearly as long. On Sunday, voters all over the state were begging judges and county officials for more time to vote.
This is happening not because of a natural disaster or breakdown in machinery. It is happening by partisan design. Alarmed by the strong Democratic turnout in early voting in 2008, Republican lawmakers, including Governor Rick Scott, reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. When the restrictions were challenged in federal court under the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel said they would have a discriminatory impact upon minority voters. But only five of the state’s 67 counties are covered by the federal civil rights law.
When the remaining restrictions were challenged in federal court, a George W. Bush appointee said there was no proof that the reduced hours would “impermissibly burden” minority voters. How many hours in line must a Florida voter wait before the burden upon her becomes an “impermissible” one? If Florida’s election officials, and its Republican lawmakers, and its state and federal judges, all were required to stand in line for seven hours to vote those long lines would go away forever. You know it, I know it, and so do those officials.
Hal was also the ultimate source of the “China’s going to take our homes through emminent domain” kookspiracy that Pam Geller and other wingnut bloggers floated a few years back, and Hal was also rumored to be a frequent caller in the early days to the Sean Hannity radio show.
(I posted about the China kookspiracy here.)
Harold C. “Hal” Turner, the right-wing Internet radio shock jock, racist, Holocaust denier, FBI snitch, lynching advocate and jailbird, is back home in his New Jersey condo after spending nearly three years in a prison cell in Indiana for threatening three federal judges on his blog who had upheld a handgun ban in Chicago.
You might add delusional to the Turner list.
Just before being released from a Newark half-way house in pre-dawn darkness last Friday, Turner, 50, told the Herald News of New Jersey, “I think my actions, in defense of the country and working covertly for the FBI, prove I’m one of the good guys.”
Good guy? Good grief.
On his now defunct radio show, Turner ranted and raved for years about “bull-dyke lesbians,” “savage Negro beasts,” “faggots” and a “portable nigger lyncher” machine.
After a countless number of such incendiary statements on the radio, his blog and at neo-Nazi-sponsored rallies from New York to Michigan, Turner finally went too far. On June 24, 2009, he was arrested and charged with threatening to assault and murder three federal judges. Turner had been seething over a decision in a Chicago appeals court that upheld a local handgun ban.
“Let me be the first to say this plainly,” Turner wrote on his blog on June 2, “these judges deserve to be killed.”
“Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty,” he continued. “A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions.” The next day, Turner updated the post to include the names, work addresses, phone numbers and photographs of the judges.
It took federal prosecutors three trials before convicting Turner of threatening the judges. The first two ended in mistrials.
Turner’s defense argued that the First Amendment protected his speech. His racist rants and threats were part of his undercover work as an FBI informant, his lawyers said. All his talk of “dykes,” “Negro beasts” and lynching machines was a ruse, they argued, encouraged by his federal handlers to draw truly dangerous white supremacist out into the open.
“The vast majority of the things Hal said were nothing more than shock jock material,” Michael A. Orozco, the lawyer who represented Turner at his first two trials said today. “I don’t think he was a racist. He was doing a lot of those things at the behest of the FBI.”
“Hal likes to push people’s buttons,” Orozco added. “I don’t think he meant to cause those judges any harm.”
Minority groups have outnumbered whites in Texas since roughly 2004, and 55.2 percent of the state’s residents are now minorities, according to Census figures. As of 2011, the state’s legislature was more than two-thirds white.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office declined to comment on the specifics of the rulings, but Abbott has promised to appeal both cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. In news releases, he said that the Supreme Court had already upheld voter-ID laws, and that the redistricting decision “extends the Voting Rights Act beyond the limits intended by Congress and beyond the boundaries imposed by the Constitution.”
Both decisions hinged on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting — including Texas — to prove that any changes in their voting laws or procedures do not hamper the voting rights of minorities. Enacted in 1965, the Voting Rights Act aimed to eliminate discriminatory voting practices that had long been used to suppress the black vote, particularly in southern states. Section 5 has been challenged, including in two cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, as an outdated provision that unfairly singles out certain states. The Court has not decided if it will hear the cases.
The rulings detailed several examples of discriminatory practices in Texas:
1. Lawmakers drew some districts that looked like Latino majority districts on paper — but removed Latinos who voted regularly and replaced them with Latinos who were unlikely to vote.
In the redistricting case, a panel of three federal judges found that Texas lawmakers had intentionally created districts that would weaken the influence of Latino voters, while appearing to satisfy the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
In drawing Texas’ 23rd congressional district, the judges found that “The mapdrawers consciously replaced many of the district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of [Congressional District] 23’s Anglo citizens. In other words, they sought to reduce Hispanic voters’ ability to elect without making it look like anything in [Congressional District] 23 had changed.”
In 2010, the 23rd district narrowly elected a Latino Republican, Francisco “Quico” Canseco. One email to a Republican mapdrawer, released during the legal battle over the maps, shows that Republicans were trying to increase the chances Canseco would be re-elected.
Lawmakers used a similar tactic in redrawing a state house district, modifying it “so that it would elect the Anglo-preferred candidate yet would look like a Hispanic ability district on paper,” the court ruled. An “ability district” is one in which a minority group has the capability to elect representatives of its choosing. The judges concluded that the legislature had been trying to make this district appear as if it satisfied the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, while actually trying to benefit white voters.
Judge Thomas B. Griffith, writing the unanimous opinion of the three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, called it “a deliberate, race-conscious method to manipulate not simply the Democratic vote but, more specifically, the Hispanic vote.”
2. Lawmakers widened the gap between the proportion of the population that is Latino and African Americans and the proportion of districts that are minority-controlled.
In the years leading up to the 2010 census, Texas’ population increased by 4.3 million people, 65 percent of them Latino. As a result, Texas gained four seats in Congress.
In their decision, the federal judges in the redistricting case noted that minority voters have no constitutional right to proportional representation. But the Voting Rights Act says states can’t weaken the electoral power of minorities. So, the judges reasoned, if there is already a gap between the minority population of a state and its political representation, states can’t let that gap grow wider.
In Texas, the judges observed, African Americans and Latinos were already underrepresented in Congress. Given the number of voting-age minority citizens in the state, Texas’s old maps should have had roughly 13 congressional seats that represent districts in which minorities have a strong voice, the judges calculated. Instead, Texas only had 10 such districts.
Instead of narrowing this “representation gap” as the minority population grew, the legislature increased it.
With four additional congressional seats, Texas should now have 14 districts in which minorities have the ability to elect their chosen representatives, the judges concluded. But the state’s new plan still included just 10 minority districts.
3. Texas removed economic centers and district offices from African-American and Latino districts, while giving white Republicans perks.
South Carolina is barred from enforcing several key areas of its new law aimed to curb illegal immigration, a federal judge ruled on Thursday, the sixth state to have an immigration law stymied by the courts.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel temporarily blocked parts of South Carolina’s measure. He ruled that the federal government has exclusive constitutional authority to regulate immigration and the state’s law would disrupt federal enforcement operations.
The U.S. Department of Justice and a coalition of civil rights groups had sued to keep some aspects of the law from going into effect on January 1.
The judge said South Carolina could not require police officers to check the immigration status of a person they stop for even a minor traffic violation if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally.
This “state-mandated scrutiny is without consideration of federal enforcement priorities and unquestionably vastly expands the persons targeted for immigration enforcement action,” Gergel said.
Gergel also barred South Carolina from making it a felony for anyone knowingly to harbor or transport an undocumented person.
The state cannot require immigrants to carry federal alien registration documents because such registration is under the exclusive control of the federal government, the judge said.
The state Attorney General’s Office did not respond to questions about whether it will appeal the ruling.
South Carolina is among the states that have enacted tough new laws against illegal immigration in the last two years, citing inaction by the federal government that has left a void in immigration policy.
But federal judges have consistently blocked the attempts, halting key parts of other immigration laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana.
The whole article is here.
Most of the Republican presidential candidates want to wipe away lifetime tenure for federal judges, cut the budgets of courts that displease them or allow Congress to override Supreme Court rulings on constitutional issues.
Any one of those proposals would significantly undercut the independence and authority of federal judges. Many of the ideas have been advanced before in campaigns to court conservative voters.
This time, though, six of the eight GOP candidates are backing some or all of those limits on judges, even though judges appointed by Republican presidents hold a majority on the Supreme Court and throughout the federal system.
A group that works for judicial independence says the proposals would make judges “accountable to politicians, not the Constitution.”
Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the Justice at Stake Campaign, said, “Debates like these could threaten to lead to a new cycle of attempts to politicize the courts.”
This article is remarkably similar to one from the New York Times that researchok linked in his Page. I would guess that Bert Brandenburg held a press conference or wrote a press release or something.