Union workers to rally over Supreme Court case

By Kat Russell Updated 1:44 pm, Monday, February 26, 2018 Now Playing: Union workers rally in Stamford on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Media: Connecticut Post STAMFORD — Dozens of union workers rallied Monday afternoon outside the Government Center as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case that could undermine unions ability to collect dues. A handful of city officials attended the rally, including City Reps. Nina Sherwood, District 8, Raven Matherne, District 9, and Robert Roqueta, District 4. “The things we fight for, fair wages, benefits, holiday pay, have never ever once come from the top,” Sherwood told a crown of about 35 union representatives and workers. “They’ve never been handed to us. They’ve always come from people like us. They’ve always come from people like you standing here, and that is the most important lesson that we can learn from unions - that we can’t just wait for someone else to step in and fight for us.” The case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, No. 16-1466, concerns Mark Janus, who works for the state government in Illinois and is represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. According to a report from the New York Times, Janus sued the union saying he does not agree with its positions and should not be forced to pay fees to support its work. The court will consider whether public-sector unions may require workers who are not members to help pay for collective bargaining, also known as “fair-share fees.” If the court’s answer is no, unions could lose a substantial source of revenue, NYT reported. City Rep. Raven Matherene said she stands in support of unions because they are the “first line of defense against discrimination in the workplace.” “Without unions in place to protect our workers it becomes, every worker for themselves, on their own against Continue Reading

Colorado at center of Supreme Court case that examines standards for special-needs students

WASHINGTON — A dispute over the education of an autistic student from Colorado will get a hearing Wednesday before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could impact how parents and public schools nationwide teach children with special needs. The legal battle has its roots in Douglas County with a family who enrolled their son Endrew in the local school system. From preschool through the fourth grade, Endrew took classes and worked with public school officials to try to manage his challenges, which court filings describe as autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. But when it came time for fifth grade, his parents — frustrated by what they saw as a lack of progress and support — transferred Endrew to a Denver school that specializes in autism education and costs about $70,000 annually, according to court documents filed by attorneys for the school district. Afterward, his parents filed a complaint with Colorado Department of Education to receive reimbursement for the cost of the private schooling. That claim was denied and so his family filed suit by arguing the public school system failed to provide the proper level of education for Endrew as prescribed under federal law. After winding its way through the lower courts, the Supreme Court agreed last year to hear the case, which is being closely watched by school officials and student disability advocates. “It is perhaps the most important education case in decades,” wrote Jack Robinson, an attorney for Endrew’s family, in an email. Much of the interest comes from the potential for the high court to affect how public schools manage and fund the education of special-needs students. For decades, the federal government has provided financial assistance to states to help them teach students with disabilities — so long as they meet a baseline level of instruction and follow certain guidelines, such as providing these students with an individualized education plan. In Continue Reading

Thousands to rally for labor rights before Supreme Court case

On the eve of oral arguments in one of the most important legal battles in modern labor history, America’s unions plan to take their case to the court of public opinion. On Feb. 24 — two days before the Supreme Court tackles Janus vs. AFSCME — a massive mobilization aims to get thousands into the streets in a show of labor strength. Dubbed the “Working People’s Day of Action,” the nationwide rallies aim to invoke the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the sanitation workers who walked off their jobs in Memphis 50 years ago. It was on Feb. 12, 1968, that the black sanitation workers — carrying signs that said “I Am A Man” — started their high-stakes strike. At the same time, they sought to join Local 1733. Local 1733 is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — and it’s AFSCME that’s now the defendant in the Janus case that many labor leaders see as a right-wing-funded attempt to deal the union movement a potentially crippling blow. At stake is the right of public-sector unions to charge fees to workers who choose not to join labor organizations — but who still gain from the collectively bargained salaries, pensions and other benefits that unions negotiate on their behalf. A loss in the case would overturn about 40 years of established labor law, and possibly put severe strains on the finances of public-sector unions across the country. Baxter Leach, a longtime AFSCME member and sanitation worker who participated in the 1968 Memphis strike, will take center stage Feb. 24 at Foley Square in lower Manhattan. Leach, 78, was present when King gave a speech in Memphis March 18 and again when he tried to march with strikers 10 days later. He will be among the many civil rights figures and leaders who attend the New York rally — which organizers expect to draw a crowd of roughly 5,000. Public- and private-sector labor groups are Continue Reading

This Supreme Court Case Could Make All Public Unions ‘Right to Work’

On January 11, the Supreme Court will hear argument on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a full-bore attack on public-sector unions. The lead Friedrichs plaintiffs, a group of fiercely anti-union California public-school teachers, seek to reverse Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) on First Amendment grounds. Abood has provided the bedrock constitutional analysis and recommended administrative structure for public-sector unionism for nearly 40 years. Its reversal would trigger an earthquake in American labor relations. The legal foundations of thousands of public-sector bargaining agreements, covering millions of workers providing all manner of public services, will disappear. The whole of American public employment, at all levels of government, will become a “right to work” (i.e., right not to pay for service) killing field for unions. The Court has revisited Abood six times since its first announcement, most recently in last year’s Harris v. Quinn. Strong majorities on the Court have reaffirmed the ruling—five times unanimously—in all of those cases. Every member of the present Court has either authored or joined in at least one of those reaffirmations. But back in Harris, Justice Samuel Alito effectively invited the current challenge: He spent nearly half of his lead opinion attacking Abood on First Amendment grounds before getting to the Court’s decision that it didn’t cover the state-supported homecare workers at issue there. The right answered this invitation immediately. Friedrichs was thrown together by a variety of business-backed anti-union advocacy groups led by the hard-right Center for Individual Rights. The suit raced through the District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals without full evidence or oral argument. (Both courts dismissed it.) With obvious confidence that they would soon be moving up the judicial chain, the Friedrichs lawyers actually asked for this unusual process. Continue Reading

Political maps under fire as Supreme Court case on tailor-made districts looms

CHESTER, Pa. — Beth Lawn's neighborhood of modest duplexes has more in common with the rest of this struggling, crime-ridden city on the Delaware River next to Philadelphia than it does with the Amish farms of Lancaster County 50 miles away.But the 71-year-old grandmother awoke one morning to find she had been moved from Pennsylvania's 1st congressional district to the 7th, a labyrinthine monstrosity that winds its way through five counties and has been likened to a caricature of Goofy kicking Donald Duck."I'm pretty sure I'm in Goofy's thumb," Lawn says. "I have a vote, but it really doesn't count for anything."Jerry DeWolf had a similar experience across the border in Maryland when his largely rural 6th congressional district, home to 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail, was stretched to include wealthy suburbs of Washington. He wasn't moved out, but a new congressman was moved in.Both Lawn and DeWolf were victims of partisan gerrymandering — purposeful line-drawing by state lawmakers to maximize their political party's strength in Congress and state legislatures and weaken their opponents. In Lawn's case, Pennsylvania Republicans drew the maps. In DeWolf's, it was Maryland Democrats.But they didn't take the creative penmanship sitting down. Both are now plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging the lines, which gave Republicans 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts and Democrats seven out of eight in Maryland. As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark challenge to Wisconsin's partisan gerrymandering in October, opponents of the process in other states aren't just waiting for the justices' verdict. They're waging legal and constitutional battles of their own that also could reach the nation's highest court."We've been subjugated into irrelevancy," DeWolf says of the conservative residents of western Maryland, who elected an even more conservative member of Congress for 20 years until Continue Reading

Supreme Court will rule Thursday on the constitutionality of President Obama’s controversial Affordable Health Care Act

It is D-Day for Obamacare — and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will lose benefits if the Supreme Court strikes down all of the divisive health care law. The country’s highest court will rule Thursday on the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment — an historic decision that will reshape the already close White House race. And, in a deeply divided court, it could all come down to a swing vote: Justice Anthony Kennedy. RELATED: WHO WINS? WHO LOSES? WHO PAYS? The ruling on the Affordable Care Act — the most anticipated Supreme Court judgement since the case that decided the 2000 presidential election — could have devastating impacts for New Yorkers. More than 150,000 New York State residents under age 26 who now get insurance through their parents’ plans will lose that benefit if the law is thrown out, according to an analysis by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “Rarely has the health care of so many depended on the opinions of so few,” said the 2013 mayoral hopeful. “The Affordable Care Act has already made a huge difference in the lives of millions of city residents.” With the nation holding its collective breath, many of New York’s youth were nervous about their future. “It would just be another issue that as a young adult I would have to worry about,” said Natelege Whaley, 23, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who graduated from Howard University last year. “For a young adult who’s not necessarily stable yet in their career, it will leave some people stuck.” Further, more than 230,000 local Medicare recipients would lose their prescription-drug discounts — a total of $159.9 million in 2011. And New Yorkers would no longer receive rebates if their health care providers overbill them — which led to $86.5 million in savings a year ago. “Losing these benefits with the stroke of a pen Continue Reading

What’s next for Obamacare? Supreme Court takes health care case behind closed doors

WASHINGTON — The survival of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul rests with a Supreme Court seemingly split over ideology and, more particularly, in the hands of two Republican-appointed justices. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy put tough questions to administration lawyers defending the health care law during three days of arguments that suggested they have strong reservations about the individual insurance requirement at the heart of the overhaul and, indeed, whether the rest of the massive law can survive if that linchpin fails. But Roberts and Kennedy also asked enough pointed questions of the law’s challengers to give the overhaul’s supporters some hope. In any event, justices’ questions at arguments do not always foretell their positions. The court’s decision, due in June, will affect the way virtually every American receives and pays for health care and surely will reverberate in this year’s campaigns for president and Congress. The political effects could be even larger if the court votes 5-4 with all its Republican-appointed justices prevailing over all the Democratic appointees to strike down the entire law, or several important parts of it. Not since 2000, when the court resolved the Bush v. Gore dispute over Florida election returns that sealed George W. Bush’s election as president, has a Supreme Court case drawn so much attention. The court wrapped up public arguments Wednesday on the overhaul, which aims to extend health insurance to most of the 50 million Americans now without it. The first and biggest issue the justices must decide is whether the centerpiece of the law, the requirement that nearly all Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty, is constitutional. Wednesday’s morning session was unusual in that it assumed, for purposes of argument, a negative answer to that central question. What should happen to other provisions, the justices and Continue Reading

Republicans already opposing any Obama Supreme Court nomination

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia creates a rare opportunity for President Obama to appoint a new justice for a lifetime term, but Republicans immediately suggested they will not consider an Obama nominee."The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky said in a statement.Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rejected that logic. "Would be unprecedented in recent history for SCOTUS to go year with vacancy. And shameful abdication of our constitutional responsibility," he said on Twitter.Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee said "it’s been standard practice over the last 80 years to not confirm Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year. Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this President, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.” Grassley's office later clarified that he meant that judges had not been nominated and confirmed in an election year.In what appeared to be a warning to Obama not to make a recess appointment to the high court while Congress is out of session, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also a Judiciary Committee member, tweeted a USA TODAY story from 2014 about a Supreme Court case limiting the president's authority to make these temporary unilateral appointments.Justice Anthony Kennedy was nominated by President Reagan and confirmed in Feb. 1988 — which was an election year — after the Senate had rejected Reagan's first nominee, Robert Bork,Shortly after Scalia's death was confirmed, the communications director for Sen. Continue Reading

Supreme Court to define corruption by public officials in McDonnell case

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to weigh in on what constitutes corruption by public officials.The justices will consider former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell's appeal of lower court convictions for accepting more than $175,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy vitamin executive in exchange for government favors. McDonnell, a Republican, has consistently said he did nothing unusual in exchange for the gifts.The Supreme Court in August granted McDonnell's effort to stay out of prison while fighting his conviction on federal corruption charges.​ Since then, the ex-governor has mounted a far-reaching campaign to get the justices to hear his case, winning support from Republican governors and former aides to GOP and Democratic presidents, as well as former federal and state attorneys general, civil rights activists and others.McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted in 2014 of accepting what the Justice Department characterized as bribes. He was sentenced last January to two years in prison; she received a year-and-a-day sentence. The convictions were upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit last summer. Both remain free pending the Supreme Court's review.McDonnell contended that he did nothing unusual to help Jonnie Williams, a friend of his wife's, nor asked anyone else to do so in exchange for the businessman's gifts. His phone calls and referrals to government agencies, he and his supporters say, were routine actions that, if deemed criminal, would jeopardize virtually all public officials."This prosecution is unprecedented," McDonnell's most recent Supreme Court brief says. "It hinges on a novel, sweeping theory that puts every public official at the mercy of federal prosecutors."On Friday, the former governor applauded the court's decision to hear his case."I am innocent of these crimes and ask the court to reverse these convictions," he Continue Reading

U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling could impact Michigan clinics

WASHINGTON — Monday’s landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a Texas abortion law it said constituted an undue burden on women’s rights could have an impact in Michigan — though it’s not likely to be as dramatic as in some other states.Back in 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation passed by the Republican-led Legislature that, in part, required any clinic performing 120 or more surgical abortions per year that advertised outpatient services to be licensed as a freestanding outpatient surgical facility.The second provision struck down in the Texas law required doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.Taken together, the restrictions, if allowed to go into effect, were expected to force all but a handful of clinics in Texas to close, even though abortion in the state, the majority said, was generally "an extremely safe procedure with very low rates of complications and virtually no deaths."“There is considerable evidence … indicating that the statutory provision requiring all abortion facilities to meet all surgical center standards does not benefit patients and is not necessary,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority. “The record makes clear that the surgical-center requirement provides no benefit … (and) abortions taking place in an abortion facility are safe — indeed, safer than numerous procedures that take place outside hospitals and to which Texas does not apply its surgical-center requirements.”In Texas and some other states with similar laws on the books, the surgical-center requirement was seen as an onerous burden on many clinics and would have forced many — financially unable to pay to meet full surgical-center standards — to close, in turn making it more difficult for women to undergo the procedure.In Michigan, only a handful of clinics closed, said Merissa Kovach, field organizer for the Continue Reading