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.