Tag Archives: Supreme Court

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.

No Matter What the Supreme Court Decides, We’ve Already Won

By Cantor Jason Kaufman

I often think about how fortunate I am to live in this period of time when social justice for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community is advancing at such a rapid pace.

I never felt this more profoundly than on April 28, when I stood outside the United States Supreme Court to demonstrate my support for marriage equality.  Thanks also to a great deal of luck, I was even able to sit inside the chamber and listen to the oral arguments for a few brief minutes.  As I walked into the courtroom I consciously called to mind LGBTQ heroes and righteous allies who helped to make the day possible – individuals who helped to bend the arc of justice that Dr. King spoke about, so that we could even approach this time when the Supreme Court would consider granting the LGBTQ community a fraction of our fundamental rights as American citizens. Read more…

Man holding Torah at dawn

Beyond Cheesecake: Social Justice on Shavuot

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Americans will be honoring the lives of those lost in service to their country. This weekend is also known as the celebration of the symbolic beginning of summer (often with barbecues and white pants, sometimes a dangerous combination). And, coinciding with Memorial Day Weekend this year is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Sinai (and cheesecake). Read more…

This Shabbat: Join Congregations Nationwide for a National Weekend of Prayer

Next Tuesday, April 28, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on four combined cases relating to marriage equality. The joint suit is known by one of the cases, Obergefell v. Hodges, and could establish the freedom to marry in all fifty states. As oral arguments approach, the RAC has joined other faith organizations in co-sponsoring a National Weekend of Prayer for marriage equality on April 24-26, 2015.

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Arizona anti-gay bill protest

At the Consultation: LGBT Equality From Marriage Equality to Trans Rights

On April 26-28, hundreds of Reform Jews will gather in Washington, D.C. for the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience, the Reform Movement’s flagship social justice event. On Monday, April 27 at 2:00 PM, Evan Wolfson, Founder and President of Freedom to Marry, will join Rabbi Denise Eger, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Jen Kaufman, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Judith Schindler, Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth El, for a discussion on LGBT equality. A live stream will be available on the RAC homepage if you are unable to join us in person at the Consultation. In the meantime, you can brush up on some of the latest developments in the fight for LGBT equality!

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"The Gay Agenda: 1. Equality 2. See Item 1"

Family and Medical Leave Denied to Same-Sex Couples in Non-Marriage Equality States

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law 22 years ago to allow workers to take a maximum 12 weeks unpaid time off of work to care for a new child (including adopted and foster children); care for a sick child; act as a caregiver for a parent; address personal serious health concerns; and care for wounded service members. After the decision in United States v. Windsor, in which the part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes was struck down, the Department of Labor announced that FMLA would apply to eligible employees in same-sex marriages if the employee resided in a state that recognized their marriage. Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the Religious Action Center, submitted comments last August to the Department of Labor in support of this change when it was proposed.

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LGBT at the DNCE

FMLA Time Off for LGBT Couples: Why this Alphabet Soup is So Important

On March 27, legally married same-sex couples will be able to take unpaid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Signed into law 22 years ago, FMLA allows eligible workers to take a maximum 12 weeks unpaid time off of work to care for a new child (including adopted and foster children), care for a sick child, act as a caregiver for a parent, address personal serious health concerns and care for wounded service members. The rule, published last month, revises the definition of spouse to include legally married same-sex couples, regardless of whether the state they live in recognizes their marriage or not. This is an important step forward for LGBT individuals.

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Supreme Court

Oral Arguments in King v. Burwell Show Many Possible Outcomes for Health Care Law

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, King v. Burwell, a lawsuit that claims that the Affordable Care Act only allows people to receive premium tax credits in states that run their own health insurance marketplace, as opposed to the states who use the federally-facilitated Marketplace. These premium tax credits make health care affordable to low and middle income individuals who gain insurance through the marketplace.

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