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.