Tag Archives: Court Cases

A Small, Yet Promising Victory For Campaign Finance Reform

As more and more candidates announce their entrance into the 2016 presidential race, we’ll hear more and more about their platform and vision for the country—and about their donors and fundraisers. 2016 will be the first presidential election since McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Court struck down a longstanding ban on aggregate limits on donations directly to candidates’ campaigns and political parties. So, it’s possible an even bigger shift in the realm of money and politics is expected in an election six years after Citizens United.

The Supreme Court recently decided another case with major implications for campaign finance reform: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. In a 5-4 opinion, the Court upheld a Florida law that prohibits judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. The petitioner, Lanell Williams-Yulee, sent a signed letter seeking campaign contributions in her 2009 race for Hillsborough County Judge. The trial court found Williams-Yulee in violation of a state law stating that a candidate “for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds.”

Williams-Yulee challenged the ruling, arguing that the law violated her constitutional right to free speech. The Florida Supreme Court, however, held that the law is constitutional, for it “promotes the State’s compelling interests in preserving the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary, and that it is narrowly tailored to effectuate those interests.”

This case raises the question of how we should strike the balance between constitutionally protected free speech and the state’s compelling interest to ensure public confidence in the judicial system. If this type of question sounds familiar, that’s because it is: the right to free speech was central to major campaign finance cases Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC. Yet, as the Court found in Williams-Yulee, we must balance that right with the need to maintain public confidence in our systems of government.

So what, exactly, does Williams-Yulee have to do with campaign finance reform? Judicial elections certainly differ from elections with political or partisan candidates. Unlike candidates, judges are not elected to represent their own views, or even the will of the people. Instead, it is a judge’s responsibility to interpret laws passed by those elected officials, in the interest of upholding the Constitution and the principle of justice. This difference is key for Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote for the opinion of the court that in a judicial election, personal solicitation “creates the public appearance that the candidate will remember who says yes, and who says no.”

Yet, we know that this concern extends into races for elected office as well. Jewish tradition recognizes the distorting effect that money can have on a leader’s ability to govern fairly. Deuteronomy 16:19 teaches, “You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.” Take action today; urge your Members of Congress to support a publicly funded election system, so that no gifts blind the eyes of those responsible for creating policy and upholding justice.

Rolling Back Progress on Immigration Reform

The 113th Congress started with high hopes of Democrats and Republicans coming together to reform our broken immigration system, with a comprehensive bill that stalled in the House. This new Congress is stuck over reforms that have already been made. This week promises to be pivotal in the fight over President Obama’s executive actions on immigration in Congress and the courts: both the 2012 action that created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the action in November 2014 that created Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). Read more…

Force Feeding, Guantanamo Hunger Strikes, and What Our Rabbis Teach

Torture, while cruel and inhumane, is not something that we often hear about from mainstream media, nor is it something we have written about very recently at the Religious Action Center. The Reform Jewish position on this issue is clear: in a post-9/11 world we understand the need for enhanced national security, and yet we believe that security must be balanced with the importance of civil liberties and bodily autonomy. Experts agree that torturing prisoners or holding them in extended solitary confinement go beyond the practical needs of national security (since torture is found to be an ineffective way to obtain information) and abandon the constitutional right to due process as well as fundamental Jewish values. Nearly six years after President Obama came into office and promised to close Guantanamo Bay, the detention center stays open and the 149 individuals held there remain.

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Supreme Court

One Year Later: Protecting Voting Rights After Shelby v. Holder

Today is the one-year anniversary of Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court’s decision that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Renewed by bipartisan majorities on several occasions, most recently in 2006, the Voting Rights Act long protected Americans from discrimination at the ballot box. The Shelby decision struck down Section 4(b), a provision of the bill that required states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to pre-clear potentially discriminatory voting changes with the federal Department of Justice. While some parts of the Voting Rights Act do remain in place, in the year since the Court’s decision a number of states and jurisdictions have engaged in discriminatory behaviors. Read more…

2 men married

The State of Marriage Equality

It’s been an exciting few weeks for marriage equality—here’s the latest on where we’ve come from, where we are today and where we’re heading!

While 2013 may have seen more victories for the LGBT community than any previous year, all the accomplishments of the last few weeks makes 2014 already look like a very promising year for gay and lesbian individuals, allies and advocates who work tirelessly for equal rights.

The Past

It’s been a long and uphill battle for gay and lesbian Americans. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which had two major provisions: the first declared that no state, territory or possession of the United States nor Indian tribe is required to give any sort of recognition to the marriage of a gay and lesbian couple as recognized or performed in any other state. The second defined marriage for federal regulatory purposes as the union between one man and one woman as husband and wife. Yet in the last 18 years, our country has come a long way. Not only was the second provision of DOMA struck down over the summer, but the number of states recognizing same-sex marriages through legislative action and judicial rulings is increasing at such a rapid rate, it’s becoming hard to keep up with blog posts! Read more…

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

The High Court and the Contraception Mandate

In the final hours of 2013, Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction for Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged and the Christian Brothers Service, deciding that until further notice, these organizations do not have to comply with rules for religiously-affiliated non-profits under the contraception mandate implemented on January 1, 2014.

In her order for the injunction last Tuesday, Justice Sotomayor gave the government until 10 a.m. Friday, January 3rd, to respond. In the memorandum filed on  Friday morning, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that since the insurer, Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, has a “church plan” under ERISA (and is therefore fully exempt), neither the insurer, Christian Brothers, nor the religious non-profit employer, Little Sisters of the Poor, would have to provide contraception care. This is similar to the argument the government used when this case was heard in the 10th Circuit. Little Sisters qualifies as a religious non-profit and therefore would have to self-certify to be accommodated.

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PRISM of Our Discontent

You might be familiar with this song. You might be familiar with the name Edward Snowden, and you might know about information leaked this summer suggesting that the NSA is collecting an immense amount of data on American citizens by tracking phones and data-mining, amongst other surveillance techniques.

On Monday, the outrage that met the discovery of this NSA activity was somewhat vindicated when a federal judge ruled that the metadata program is likely unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment which guarantees “the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Judge Richard Leon issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the NSA from collecting metadata from the Verizon accounts of the plaintiff Larry Klayman and one of his clients, calling the program “almost Orwellian.” However, the injunction is delayed awaiting appeal.

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Defend Women's Reproductive Rights

Pursuing Choice in the States: The Judiciary Weighs In

For every step forward in the fight for reproductive choice, there seems to be a step back. This is one of those weeks – a success coupled with a serious challenge lying ahead.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear oral argument in Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, in which Terry Cline, the Oklahoma Commissioner of Health, sought to reinstate a law that would restrict doctors’ use of drugs in place of surgery to perform an abortion. The decision came after a decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled that the 2011 law was unconstitutional. The 2011 law in question would prohibit use of the medication RU-486 and others in abortion procedures, significantly limiting access.. In deciding that review of the case was “improvidently granted,” the U.S. Supreme Court granted an important success to women and families in the state of Oklahoma.

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