Monday, April 25, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Twelve

We have two winners for the final week of the contest. The first is Laurence Tooth for this Chicago Tribune story about Gov. Jan Brewer's decision to veto two bills recently passed by the Arizona legislature -- the "birther" bill featured in last week's contest and a bill that would have authorized open carry of firearms on college campuses in the state (similar to the Texas bill we discussed earlier in the semester).

The second winner is Teresa Becvar for this story from The Onion about the predicament that GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney finds himself in, as a result of the health care reforms that he carried through when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Congratulations to Laurence and Teresa. All of the semester's winners will now be entered in a drawing for four Chicago Cubs tickets. The outcome will be announced in class on Tuesday.

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Eleven

We have four winners this week. First, from Erica Bernstein and Jen Wood, are a pair of stories on the Arizona legislature's passage of a "birther" bill -- legislation that responds to (unfounded) skepticism that President Obama is a natural born citizen of the United States (a constitutional qualification to be President), and that requires that presidential candidates submit their birth certificates or other documentation in order to appear on the ballot.

Second, Ahbi Singh submitted a story about the Ninth Circuit's decision to continue a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of another controversial Arizona law, which seeks to crack down on illegal immigration. The decision signals that the appeals court is likely to rule that the law is invalid because it interferes with the federal government's own efforts to regulate immigration.

Finally, Nadia Makki sent this story (with video) about an elaborate prank by which Oregon lawmakers "rickrolled) the state legislature:

Who says that bipartisanship is dead?

Congratulations to this week's winners!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Ten

Gregory Forfa and Kyle Gillen are the winners this week for stories about the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in American Christian Student Tuition Organization v. Winn. As the New York Times reports, the Court upheld an

Arizona program [that] gives taxpayers there a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit of up to $500 for donations to private “student tuition organizations.” The organizations are permitted to limit the scholarships they offer to schools of a given religion, and many of them do.

The usual rule is that plaintiffs who merely object to how the government spends their taxes do not have standing because they have not suffered a sufficiently direct injury. But the Supreme Court made an exception for religious spending by the government in 1968 in Flast v. Cohen.

The issue that divided the majority and the dissenters on Monday was whether granting a tax credit was the functional equivalent of collecting and spending tax money. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the two things were very different.

“Awarding some citizens a tax credit allows other citizens to retain control over their own funds in accordance with their own consciences,” Justice Kennedy wrote for himself, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

* * * * *

In her dissent * * * , Justice Kagan said the majority’s position was an elevation of form over substance. “Taxpayers experience the same injury for standing purposes,” she wrote, “whether government subsidization of religion takes the form of a cash grant or a tax measure.”

In this way, Kagan argued,
the majority had laid waste to the doctrine of “taxpayer standing” * * * “The court’s opinion,” Justice Kagan wrote, “offers a road map — more truly, just a one-step instruction — to any government that wishes to insulate its financing of religious activity from legal challenge.”
The Court's opinion may be found here. The decision is interesting both because of the particular kind of legislation that it upholds and because it is a striking instance of the Court using the doctrine of standing to avoid the need to decide a constitutional issue. In this way, the standing doctrine resembles the canon of constitutional avoidance that we discussed on Tuesday.

Congratulations to Gregory and Kyle. The next contest deadline is Friday, April 15, at 9 a.m.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Nine

Once again we have three winners this week. Karlin Sangdahl submitted this post from the Blog of the Legal Times, which reports that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued new regulations to implement a 2008 statute that amended the Americans with Disabilities Act. The post explains that the new law

overturned several Supreme Court decisions narrowing the definition of “disability” in the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, individuals with cancer, diabetes or epilepsy were denied coverage under the law.

* * * * *

The 2008 statute and the new regulations keep the definition of “disability” in the original ADA: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record (or past history) of such an impairment, or being regarded as having a disability. But the 2008 law made significant changes in how those terms are interpreted, according to the EEOC, and the regulations implement those changes.

For example, the regulations clarify that the term “major life activities” includes “major bodily functions,” such as functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and brain, neurological and endocrine functions. They also make clear that, as under the original ADA, not every impairment will constitute a disability. The regulations include examples of impairments that should easily be concluded to be disabilities, such as HIV infection, diabetes, epilepsy and bipolar disorder.

In an article submitted by Emily Acosta, the SMU Daily Mustang reports that the Texas legislature is likely to pass a law permitting those 21 years of age or older to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Private colleges would be able to opt out, but public institutions would not.

Finally, Sam Mustain submitted this story from BeyondChron: San Francisco's Alternative Online Daily, which reports that the Supreme Court has issued a lightning-fast decision in the Walmart class action case. This story is appropriately datelined April 1.

Congratulations to this week's winners. Submissions for the next contest are due by Friday, April 8, at 9 a.m.

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Eight

We have three winning stories this week. The first two relate to President Obama's decision to authorize U.S. military force against the Gaddafi regime in Libya. This blog post submitted by Aaron Zaluzec contains an excellent discussion of whether the President's action exceeded his war powers under the Constitution and whether it violated the War Powers Act of 1973. And this Huffington Post article submitted by Kathryn Wheeler talks about several ways in which Congress could respond to the action.

The final winner this week is a Los Angeles Times article sent in by Christina Sepulveda which describes an important Supreme Court decision on statutory interpretation -- Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. (March 22, 2001). The Court ruled that the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1937, which protects workers who "file any complaint" about violations of the Act, applies to oral as well as to written complaints. Justice Breyer wrote an opinion for the six-Justice majority, while Justice Scalia wrote a dissent that was joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Kagan was recused. The opinions in the case can be found here.

Congratulations to Aaron, Kathryn, and Christina.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Seven

One of the biggest legislation stories this week was the decision of Gov. Pat Quinn to sign a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. As the New York Times reported:

Illinois became the 16th state to ban capital punishment as Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday signed an abolition bill that the state legislature passed in January.

“Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it,” Mr. Quinn said in a statement.

* * * * *

Illinois joins a wave of states that have reconsidered capital punishment. New Jersey abolished the practice in 2007. The New Mexico Legislature ended the death penalty in 2009. New Mexico’s newly elected governor, Susana Martinez, a Republican, has asked the Legislature to reinstate it, though bills to do so have stalled. The Connecticut legislature voted to abolish the penalty last year, but the governor at the time, M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, vetoed the measure.

Congratulations to Max Barack for submitting the winning story.

With spring break coming up next week, the next deadline for contest submissions will be 9 am on the Friday after we get back: Friday, March 25. Any story that is published before that date is eligible.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Six

Continuing an earlier theme, this week's winner is Erin Mayer for a story on an anti-union bill in the Ohio legislature. As reports:

While much of the nation's attention remains focused on a stalled proposal in Wisconsin to restrict collective bargaining rights for public workers, an Ohio measure that in some ways is tougher and broader is speeding toward reality.

A Senate panel and then the full chamber approved the Ohio measure Wednesday amid jeers from onlookers. The bill would restrict the collective bargaining rights of roughly 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees, while Wisconsin's would affect about 175,000 workers and exempt police and firefighters.

"For as far-reaching this thing is and how many lives it will affect, I can't believe how fast it moved," said Columbus Police Sgt. Shaun Laird, who wanted lawmakers to spend more time debating the changes.

Wisconsin's bill remains in limbo after Democrats hightailed it for the Illinois border on the day the Senate was to adopt the bill. Their absence left the chamber one member short of the quorum needed for a vote.

In contrast, the Ohio bill could go as early as next week to House committee hearings. Republicans hold a 59-40 majority in the House, where the measure is likely to receive strong support.

Members of the class also submitted stories about two recent Supreme Court decisions: Michigan v. Bryant, which allowed a murder victim's dying words to be admitted into evidence at trial, and Snyder v. Phelps, which held that the First Amendment protects the right of members of the Westboro Baptist Church to picket near the funeral of a soldier who was killed in Iraq. These are both extremely interesting cases, but they largely fall outside the scope of the contest because they do not involve statutes: Bryant is a Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause case, and Snyder holds that the First Amendment preempts a common law tort action for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

Entries for this week's contest are due on Friday, March 11, at 9 a.m.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Five

This week I received a bumper crop of great pieces about legislation and statutory interpretation, including an ABC News story about a vote in the House of Representatives to ban government funding for Planned Parenthood; a New York Times story about an upcoming Supreme Court argument over the meaning of the federal law that allows the government to detain individuals who are suspected of terrorism as "material witnesses"; a Times editorial on whether Title VII applies to discrimination against the unemployed; pieces from Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal on the constitutional challenges to the Obama health care reform law; and an NPR story about a Supreme Court argument over the scope of Congress's power to enact criminal laws to implement international treaties.

The winning submissions this week focus on the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department will no longer defend the provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages that are recognized by the state in which the couple lives. Here is an ABC News report on the announcement. The Administration's legal reasoning is laid out in a letter from the Attorney General to Speaker John Boehner, which can be found here.

Congratulations to Alex Banzhaf, Tommy Moore, and Christina Carvalho, who submitted the winning entries. Submissions for next week's contest are due next Friday, March 4, at 9:00 a.m.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Four

This week's winning entries focus on the Battle of Madison. In this story submitted by Kylin Fisher, NPR reports:

A group of Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin blocked passage of a sweeping anti-union bill [supported by nearly elected Gov. Scott Walker] Thursday by ignoring orders to attend a vote. Instead, they left the state to force Republicans to negotiate over the proposal.

As ever-growing throngs of protesters filled the Capitol for a third day, the 14 Democrats disappeared from the grounds. They were not in their offices, and aides said they did not know where any of them had gone. A state police search is under way.

* * * * *

As Republicans tried to begin Senate business Thursday, observers in the gallery screamed "Freedom! Democracy! Unions!" Opponents of the bill cheered when a legislative leader announced that there were not enough senators present to proceed.

* * * *

The proposal marks a dramatic shift for Wisconsin, which passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all nonfederal public employees.

In addition to eliminating collective bargaining rights, the legislation also would make public workers pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage, increases Walker calls "modest" compared with those in the private sector.

This YouTube video, which was submitted by Alex Kreisman and made by his brother Dave, vividly depicts the events at the state capitol that day.

Congratulations to Kylin and Alex.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Three

Thanks for all the great stories that were submitted this week. The winner this time around is Trish Abbott for this Chicago Tribune story on the lawsuit that Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed to prevent former police commander John Burge from receiving his pension after he was convicted of committing perjury in a civil suit brought by victims of police torture:

Disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge's pension is once again in jeopardy, just days after the city's police pension board allowed him to continue to collect the $3,039 a month in spite of his criminal conviction.

The board's controversial decision led Attorney General Lisa Madigan to sue Monday to block Burge from pocketing further pension payments, saying "the public should never have to pay for the retirement of a corrupt public official."

The vote by the board of directors of the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago came shortly after Burge was sentenced last month to 41/2 years in prison for lying about the torture and abuse of criminal suspects decades earlier. The decision sparked outrage by Burge's accusers.

* * * * *

At issue is a state law barring a police officer from receiving a pension if he was convicted of a felony "relating to or arising out of or in connection" with his job.
The board members who favored Burge contended his federal conviction on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice was not related to his job because he had been fired from the force about a decade before he lied in a civil lawsuit about the torture of suspects. But Madigan's lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, maintained that Burge's denials in the 2003 lawsuit were directly related to his work as a police officer.

Keep those cards and letters -- and emails -- coming! The deadline for next week's contest is Friday, February 18 at 9 a.m.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week Two

Thanks for all the great stories that you submitted. The winning stories this week are about the decision by a federal district judge in Pensacola, Florida, that declared that the health care reform law passed last year is unconstitutional in its entirety. As the New York Times story reported:
A second federal judge ruled on Monday that it was unconstitutional for Congress to enact a health care law that required Americans to obtain commercial insurance, evening the score at 2 to 2 in the lower courts as conflicting opinions begin their path to the Supreme Court.

But unlike a Virginia judge in December, Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., concluded that the insurance requirement was so “inextricably bound” to other provisions of the Affordable Care Act that its unconstitutionality required the invalidation of the entire law.

“The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker,” Judge Vinson wrote.

This story was submitted by Ryan Thoma, while Benjamin Coate and Kyle Gillen submitted interesting coverage from Slate and the Wall Street Journal. Congratulations to all three.

Entries for next week's contest are due by Friday, February 11, at 9 a.m.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Legislation in the News Contest -- Week One

Thanks to everyone who submitted news stories to Professor Heyman's Legislation in the News contest for the first week. A lot of great stories were submitted, covering topics from new laws to help the families of autistic children, to a bill to legalize Sunday hunting in Virginia, to a post that argued that Apple Computers, Inc., should have a duty to disclose information about Steve Jobs's health as "material information" under the federal securities laws because of its impact on the value of Apple's stock.

This week we have two co-winners. Marc Minarich submitted the best legislative process story of the week, an Associated Press story about how efforts to restrict the filibuster were largely rejected by the Senate this week. As the story reports:

The filibuster lives on. The Senate voted overwhelmingly late Thursday to reject efforts to change its rules to restrict the blockades that have sewn gridlock and discord in recent years on Capitol Hill.

Instead, senators settled on a more modest measure to prevent single lawmakers from anonymously holding up legislation and nominations, and the parties' Senate leaders announced a handshake deal to conduct business in a more efficient and civilized way.

* * * * *

Senators were emphatic in their votes against limiting the filibuster, a treasured right of minorities trying to prevent majorities from running roughshod over them. Many Democrats, while now in the majority, envisioned a day, perhaps as early as after the 2012 election, when they would return to the minority.
The full story can be found here.

Bridget Maul submitted the best statutory interpretation story -- a story about whether the Freedom of Information Act' s protections for "personal privacy" apply to corporations. This issue is now before the Supreme Court in a case called FCC v. ATT, and the story reports on the oral argument in the case:

The interpretation of complex legal verbiage is the Supreme Court's bailiwick, but sometimes the outcome of a case falls upon the meaning of single word. The magic word in an appeal argued Wednesday was "personal," and whether it extends beyond humans to "artificial" entities like corporations.
Telecom giant AT&T wants "personal privacy" protections applied to businesses, just as they have long been granted to individuals.
At issue is whether corporate "personhood" extends to the Freedom of Information Act, which exempts the public release of government documents that invade personal privacy. The company wants material gathered by a federal agency during a consumer investigation to be kept secret.
The full story can be found here.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted stories this week, and congratulations to Marc and Bridget. Submissions for the coming week's contest are due by 9 a.m. on Friday, February 5.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Illinois Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Emanuel's Residency

On Thursday evening, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Rahm Emanuel satisfies the residency requirement to run for mayor of Chicago. In an opinion by Justice Thomas, five members of the Court insisted that the law of residency in Illinois had been settled for almost 150 years and sharply criticized the appellate court for devising a new standard of its own creation. In a separate opinion, Justices Freeman and Burke disagreed that the law was as clear or settled as the majority claimed, but they agreed that Emanuel had not lost his residency status simply because he had rented out his house while served as White House Chief of Staff in Washington, D.C.

A Chicago Tribune story about the case can be found here, and the Supreme Court opinions can be found here.