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.