Historic Supreme Court cases that hit home

Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857 A case that originated in St. Louis, over one man, had an impact on the entire nation. Dred Scott lost the case in the Supreme Court in 1857 and died before the Civil War began.  Minor v. Happersett, 1872 Virginia L. Minor tried to register to vote in 1872, but the registrar (Reese Happersett) refused to allow her to. Minor and her husband, Francis, sued. Minor was one of the founders of the Woman Suffrage Association of Missouri. (A national suffrage organization wasn't founded until 1869.) Her lawsuit argued that the 14th Amendment made women citizens of the nation, so they should be able to vote. The court decided that the right to vote wasn't inherent to being a citizen, and that states could decide which citizens could vote. Minor died in 1894; she and her husband had no surviving children.  Missouri ex. rel. Gaines v. Canada, 1938 Lloyd Gaines graduated Lincoln University in 1935, and wanted to study law, but his application to University of Missouri-Columbia's law school was denied because of his race. Gaines sued, and the Supreme Court decided that Gaines, under the 14th Amendment, deserved an education in-state equivalent to that provided for white students. The state didn't desegregate Mizzou's law school, though; instead, Lincoln University opened a law school in St. Louis. Gaines never attended any law school in Missouri; he disappeared in 1939. Canada was the last name of the university's registrar at the time. Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948 John D. Shelley and his wife Ethel bought a home at 4600 Labadie in 1945, in an area covered by a restrictive covenant. That agreement, established in 1911, stated that for 50 years "persons not of the Caucasian race" couldn't live on property in the area. Neighbors, Louis Kraemer and his wife, asked the St. Louis Circuit Court to issue an order to prevent the Shelleys from moving in; that court's decision led to the Supreme Court decision.The Shelleys Continue Reading

The Supreme Court just hurt immigrants struggling to escape poverty

Anyone working on social issues will tell you that too many of the root causes of poverty have no easy fixes. Immigration status, however, offers a direct line to upward mobility and stability. The right to work leads to better jobs and higher wages. Immigration status creates a pathway to college. Eliminating the threat of deportation relieves a toxic stress and persistent fear. In the coming days, many experts will weigh in on the policy or constitutional law at the heart of today’s Supreme Court’s United States vs. Texas announcement, which leaves in place a lower court ruling blocking President Obama’s executive order to allow millions to stay and work here without fear of getting deported. This is not about either of those aspects, but rather, a look at how 100,000-plus poor undocumented New Yorkers are likely to fare as a result. The data suggests it’s not a pretty picture. Most will remain in the shadows and continue to make their living underground — which means they and their children (who are U.S. citizens or green card holders) are more likely to stay in poverty. Consider this typical scenario for undocumented parents: Dad stands on the street outside a hardware store, hoping to be picked up by an unmarked van that will take him to work on a construction site with unsafe conditions. He ends each day with little security that he will be paid a fair wage for his hours of hard work. Meanwhile, Mom works as a house cleaner or nanny, a job for which she almost certainly isn’t paid overtime — 80% of domestic workers aren’t — regardless of the hours she puts in. Their children, many of whom are born and raised in the United States, grow up in poverty even as their parents fight daily for a chance to make a decent living. Now, add the ever-present fear of deportation. Nonprofit advocates tell us that undocumented parents are less likely to seek out Continue Reading

Cleaning up N.Y. politics after the Supreme Court’s Bob McDonnell ruling

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was convicted of bribery. He was sentenced to two years in prison for taking cash, ball gowns, a Rolex watch, free vacations and even catering for his daughter's wedding from a businessman peddling a dietary supplement. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction and made it harder to prosecute public officials for corruption. For scandal-scarred New York, the ruling raises big questions about our own efforts to end corrupt government: Will recent convictions of politicians like former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos also be overturned? How can we restore integrity to state government? The good news is the court's decision in McDonnell's case was narrower than some expected. The court made clear that McDonnell may be retried if there is evidence sufficient to show he took official government action in exchange for the cash and gifts he received. But the decision underscores the dire need for comprehensive, front-end reforms to prevent the corruption or appearance of corruption by wealthy special interests over what is, after all, the people's government. The stakes in McDonnell's case were high. The former governor, once touted as a top-tier presidential prospect, argued that the things he had done for the businessman, like tout the benefits of the supplement to state agencies and arrange a few meetings, were not "official action." Instead, McDonnell's supporters maintained that he simply helped a constituent, and nothing concrete was accomplished that could be characterized as corruption. But McDonnell's advocates also took a further step before the high court. They said that McDonnell's benefactor had a First Amendment right to purchase special access to the governor. Essentially, they argued that Citizens United and later cases deregulating campaign spending held that freedom of speech protects the selling of political power for money. The Continue Reading

Judge Jeanine: ‘The Supreme Court Will Give Trump the Win’

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday unanimously upheld a temporary suspension of President Donald Trump's executive order restricting travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations.Last Friday, Judge James Robart, of the Federal District Court in Seattle, issued a temporary restraining order after Washington state and Minnesota both sued.On "The O'Reilly Factor" tonight, Judge Jeanine Pirro predicted that the case will go to the Supreme Court, which will throw it out because states don't have the legal standing to file such a lawsuit."They do not have a direct, immediate interest," Judge Jeanine said, explaining that they filed the lawsuit on behalf of citizens from the seven countries named in the order."It's a third-party interest, maybe, as opposed to the interest of the United States of America, the people, the citizens."She said it's "hogwash" that a citizen from another country who hasn't been properly vetted has primacy over the interests of a U.S. citizen."The Supreme Court will give Trump the win on this ... This is not a close one."Watch more above, and let us know what you think in the comments. Trump Tweets Reply to Immigration Order Ruling: 'See You in Court' 'This Is Profoundly Wrong': Judge Nap Slams Court's Ruling on Immigration Order Kellyanne Conway on Ivanka Trump's Fashion Line: 'Go Buy It Today!' Trump Says Judge Gorsuch's Comments 'Misrepresented' by Sen. Blumenthal Continue Reading

Cuomo seeks NY reforms to Citizens United

ALBANY -- A federal court ruling that loosened limits on political contributions by special interests should be tightened in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.With just four days left in the legislative session, Cuomo proposed sweeping changes in New York to address the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which allowed for independent expenditures to boost political candidates and their causes essentially through limitless amounts of spending."It has been an enormous negative," Cuomo said of the court decision during a speech at Fordham Law School. "Citizens United birthed an industry of shadow political corporations. Spending by outside groups — those who operate independently of political candidates — has exploded in the wake of the 2010 decision."Cuomo has called for the Legislature to pass a series of ethics reforms in the wake of the sentencing earlier this year of both former legislative leaders on corruption charges.But his efforts have faced resistance with less than a week left before the 213-seat Legislature breaks for the year. His administration is also being investigated by state and federal prosecutors for alleged big rigging on upstate development projects.Now Cuomo is seeking broad changes to New York's campaign-finance laws that is likely to face resistance in the Legislature. The sides, for example, haven't even been able to agree on basic reforms this year, such as stripping lawmakers of their pensions if they convicted of a felony.Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, said he was open to the governor's plans."The public wants and deserves real reforms which restore their faith in government, and we must work toward that goal in the remaining days of the legislative session," Flanagan said in a statement.Cuomo urged the Legislature to think big, saying New York can lead the way in the fight against Citizens United. He framed his speech in the context of the Continue Reading

Supreme Court upholds ‘one person, one vote’

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused Monday to change the way state and municipal voting districts are drawn, denying an effort by conservatives that could have increased the number of rural, mostly white districts at the expense of urban, largely Hispanic ones.The "one person, one vote" case was among the most consequential of the high court's term, and it delivered a major victory for civil rights groups that opposed opening the door to drawing districts based on the number of voters, rather than total population. The unanimous ruling left intact Texas' method — followed by nearly all states — of counting residents when drawing state and local voting districts.Challengers had argued only eligible voters should be counted, a method that would have allowed states to ignore non-citizens, children and others who do not vote. In most cases, that would have helped Republican candidates and hurt Democrats; diverse, inner-city districts would include more people and rural districts fewer, increasing the clout of white voters.If the court had ruled that districts should be based on eligible voters rather than total population, states with large numbers of non-citizens would have seen the biggest change — Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Arizona and Nevada among them. Cities such as Chicago and Miami also would have been affected.Six justices signed on to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's opinion, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the most conservative members of the court, agreed to the result but not the reasoning."Adopting voter-eligible apportionment as constitutional command would upset a well-functioning approach to districting that all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions have followed for decades, even centuries," Ginsburg wrote.Because challengers had sought to force a change to counting only eligible voters, Continue Reading

Supreme Court divided over U.S.-Mexico border shooting

WASHINGTON — A closely divided Supreme Court struggled Tuesday with what one justice called the "very sympathetic case" of a Mexican teenager shot and killed from across the border by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.Denied any legal recourse by lower courts that said Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca lacked constitutional protection inside Mexico, the 15-year-old's parents received encouraging support from the high court's liberal justices during an hourlong oral argument that could prove pivotal."This case has, as far as the conduct is concerned, United States written all over it," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, citing the actions of Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa, who was in El Paso when he shot Hernandez in the head, killing him instantly, in 2010.Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan stressed the unique nature of the incident, which occurred in a culvert containing the dry river bed of the Rio Grande. Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested there should be some type of civil remedy available to the family.But the court's conservative justices said no such constitutional claim for damages against a federal official has been allowed for almost 30 years. They warned that creating one in relation to the contentious U.S.-Mexico border could lead to other claims by foreign nationals outside the U.S. —perhaps in the case of drone strikes, Chief Justice John Roberts said.Justice Anthony Kennedy, most often the swing vote on the court, said determining the rules of engagement along the border has been a matter for the executive and legislative branches of government to address. "This is one of the most sensitive areas of foreign affairs," he said.The facts of the case are disputed and would be left for a trial court to resolve if the justices let the lawsuit proceed. The family's lawyers say Hernández was playing with three friends in the 33-foot-wide concrete culvert separating El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Continue Reading

Supreme Court punts on cross-border shooting, two immigration cases

WASHINGTON -- The family of a Mexican boy shot and killed from across the border by a U.S. Border Patrol agent deserves another day in court, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.The decision was a setback for the government, which had won a lower court decision that barred the family from seeking damages in court. The justices ruled that the Border Patrol officer may not qualify for immunity and asked the federal appeals court to decide on other issues."The facts alleged in the complaint depict a disturbing incident resulting in a heartbreaking loss of life," the court said in an unsigned opinion. "Whether petitioners may recover damages for that loss in this suit depends on questions that are best answered by the Court of Appeals."On the last day of their 2016 term, the justices also declared themselves tied 4-4 in two immigration cases heard before Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the court's ninth justice. One case focused on the rights of detained immigrants to a bond hearing. The other asked whether a law allowing the deportation of non-citizens who commit "aggravated felonies" is unconstitutionally vague. The cases will be reheard in the 2017 term that begins in October.Read more:The cross-border shooting case was closely watched in part because it called attention to President Trump's desire to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, which has been the scene of illegal immigration, drug smuggling and hundreds of incidents involving deadly force.The decision followed a contentious oral argument in February in which the justices appeared evenly divided on whether the 15-year-old lacked constitutional protection because he was inside Mexico when shot, as lower courts had ruled.But the court's liberal wing insisted that Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca's parents can pursue legal action because the shooting occurred in the United States, even though the bullet crossed an invisible border running along Continue Reading

Neil Gorsuch sails through Supreme Court confirmation hearing

WASHINGTON — Federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch appeared headed for eventual confirmation to the Supreme Court Wednesday as Democratic senators sought to influence him on issues ranging from arbitration to women's rights that may come before the justices in the future.What had been a contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing a day earlier morphed into a sort of civics lesson on legal and legislative problems in which the senators and the nominee chatted about potential solutions.Thus it was that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., implored the 49-year-old Gorsuch not to stick rigidly to the words of a Constitution written more than two centuries ago. “For the life of me, I really don’t know -- when you’re there -- what you’re going to do with it," she said, already imagining Gorsuch on the high court.Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked whether Gorsuch would recuse himself as often on the Supreme Court as he has on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, rather than rule on cases in which he may have a conflict. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., urged Gorsuch to consider overruling the high court's 2010 Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending on elections.“Judge Gorsuch, this is probably the last time you’ll pay attention to me,” Whitehouse said -- because he no longer argues cases before the Supreme Court.Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., engaged the judge in a lengthy debate about the Supreme Court's rulings on forced arbitration. At one point, he jovially apologized to Gorsuch for saying the Federal Arbitration Act was enacted in 1924, rather than 1925. But he also explained why Democrats were so concerned with Gorsuch's pending confirmation.“This is a job interview. You are applying for lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land," Franken said.“There’s so much at stake here," he said. "What we’re Continue Reading

Trump administration defends travel ban at Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration urged the Supreme Court Thursday to end the six-month legal battle over its immigrant and refugee travel ban by ruling that it's all about national security, not religion.In an 84-page brief that served as the opening salvo in a Supreme Court case scheduled for oral argument two months from Thursday, the Justice Department argued that Trump's vow to ban Muslims during last year's presidential campaign is legally, if not rhetorically, irrelevant."The order’s text and operation are entirely religion-neutral," Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argued. "The Fourth Circuit (appeals court) erred by discounting those objective indicia of the order’s purpose based largely on campaign statements made by then-candidate Trump before taking office. This court’s precedent prohibits such 'judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts.'"Far more relevant, the government said, is the fact that President Trump was acting in the name of national security. "The courts of appeals nullified a formal national security directive of the president of the United States acting at the height of his power," the brief contends. "Federal courts may not second-guess the political branches’ decisions to exclude aliens abroad."The travel ban's challengers, including Hawaii and a coalition of immigrant rights groups, will respond next month as the court showdown approaches. A final decision from the justices isn't expected until next year.In the meantime, however, the two sides continue to joust in federal appeals court in California over the Supreme Court's orders in June and July that allowed the ban to take effect temporarily, but with exceptions for close relatives of U.S. citizens and for certain refugees. That court has scheduled a hearing for August 28. More: Trump's travel ban: Where it stands More: The five-month odyssey of President Continue Reading