Courts

Bad Medicine

Legal terms are often so dry that it's hard to get excited about them.  After all, who could possibly be affected by something as abstract as "preemption?"

From the Times:

In the spring of 2000, suffering from a migraine, Ms. Levine visited a clinic near here for a treatment she had received many times: Demerol for the pain and Wyeth’s drug Phenergan for nausea.

“Nothing wrong with either drug,” Ms. Levine said. “They’re both safe when given the right way.”

But if Phenergan is exposed to arterial blood, it causes swift and irreversible gangrene.

You can imagine how this story ends.  Diane Levine, a musician, lost her arm because of improperly administered medication (which didn't give appropriate warning on the lable), and now the pharmacutical company insists that she's not allowed to sue under state law.

Now the case is coming to the Supreme Court, which hasn't been a particularly good friend to people like Ms. Levine these last few years.

This is a perfect example of the up-is-down, black-is-white argument that the right has been making (and winning) in courts: that the FDA should protect pharmacutical companies, not individual Americans, when something goes horribly wrong.

PFAW

Supreme at Home, But Increasingly Ignored Abroad?

The New York Times reports a declining reliance around the world on what American justices have to say.

And I thought we couldn’t slip any further in the eyes of the world.

Of particular note:

The new [more sophisticated constitutional courts around the world] are, moreover, generally more liberal than the Rehnquist and Roberts courts and for that reason more inclined to cite one another.

Read the full article here.

PFAW

Voting Rights Opponent Appeals to Supreme Court

 As expected, the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (NAMUDNO), a public utility district in Travis County, Tex., filed a direct appeal yesterday with the Supreme Court from a unanimous ruling last May by a three-judge federal district court rejecting NAMUDNO's claims that it is exempt from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and, in the alternative, that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

People For and a number of other parties intervened as defendants in the district court in order to help defend the constitutionality of Section 5. Section 5 of the VRA requires all or part of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to have their voting procedures pre-approved, or "pre-cleared," by the Department of Justice or a three-judge federal district court in Washington before they can be changed.

For more information, view People For's statement on the district court ruling. You can also view the district court's ruling here.

PFAW

Reigniting the Culture War

For all the talk about reformers and mavericks, the Republican convention this week struck me as a return to the GOP's decades-old culture-war handbook, with speaker after speaker launching attacks on the "elites" in the media and Washington who supposedly look down on small-town America. At the GOP convention, there was a dispiriting number of distortions and ugly charges hurled from the podium, but nothing exemplified the spirit of the event to me more than the repeated outright mockery of community organizers.

PFAW

Supreme Court Narrows Protections for Public Employees

In a 6-3 ruling on June 9, the Supreme Court made it harder for public employees who are victims of arbitrary or malicious firings to obtain justice. In doing so, the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, rejected an approach followed by nine federal appellate courts that had allowed a public employee who is arbitrarily treated differently from other similarly situated employees to bring an equal protection claim under the 14th Amendment, even if that employee had not been discriminated against because of membership in a particular class (e.g., African Americans or women).

PFAW

Ledbetter v. Goodyear and Fair Pay, One Year Later

As a Senator, John McCain has helped George W. Bush pack the federal courts with right wing judges, judges who serve for life and who will extend the legacy of President Bush for decades to come. In fact, it seems that Senator McCain has never met a bad Bush judicial nominee he didn’t like, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito. With McCain’s help, Roberts is now the Chief Justice of the United States, and Alito is right by his side on the Supreme Court.

And with McCain continuing to heap praise on Roberts and Alito, it’s only fitting, as we approach the first anniversary of one of the most harmful rulings in which Roberts and Alito have participated, to take a look at the damage done in that one decision alone.

PFAW

Brown v. Board of Education: a 54th Anniversary Reminder of the Importance of the Supreme Court

As George Orwell might put it, all Supreme Court decisions are important, but some are more important than others. And in the history of our country, there can be little doubt that one of the Court’s most important decisions was its unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, decided 54 years ago this May 17th. Overturning the shameful “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson and striking down school segregation laws, the ruling in Brown gave substance to the Constitution’s promise of equality for all. Without question, May 17, 1954 saw the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, at its very best.

PFAW

Marriage Back in Court — Another Chance for California to Make History

Sixty years ago, the California Supreme Court courageously became the first in the country to strike down a law that prohibited interracial marriage — a full twenty years before the United States Supreme Court effectively wiped such laws off the books nationwide. Tomorrow, the California Supreme Court will once again confront marriage discrimination as it hears oral arguments in the consolidated lawsuits challenging the state's refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry. Although the California legislature passed a bill that would have ended this discrimination , it was vetoed by the Governator, and it is now once again up to the state Supreme Court to ensure that, in California at least, equality under the law is a reality for all.

PFAW

Supreme Court Rules on Sprint Age Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion today by Justice Thomas in Sprint v. Mendelsohn, an employment discrimination case in which PFAWF had joined eleven other civil rights groups in filing an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff-employee, as earlier discussed on Court Watch here.

PFAW

The State of the Judiciary and the Bush Legacy

Individual Rights, Access to Justice Threatened
President Bush's final State of the Union address will in part be an effort to shape the public view of his presidency. But here's something he won't say: a long-lasting part of his legacy will be the weakening of Americans' rights and legal protections due to the dangerous state of the federal judiciary created by judges he has placed on the federal bench.

PFAW

Supreme Court Hears Detainee Case

The Supreme Court today heard oral argument in Boumediene v. Bush, an important separation of powers case in which detainees at Guantanamo are challenging the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act, which prohibits them from challenging the legality of their detention through habeas corpus review in federal courts. The detainees contend that the preclusion of habeas review violates the Suspension Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus except in cases of "rebellion or invasion." PFAWF has filed an amicus curiae brief in the case in support of the detainees' constitutional claims.

PFAW

Supreme Court Hears Employment Discrimination Case

On Monday, December 3, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Sprint v. Mendelsohn, an employment discrimination case brought by Ellen Mendelsohn, a former Sprint employee who believes that she was unlawfully selected for a company-wide reduction in force because of her age. At trial, the judge prohibited Mendelsohn from presenting the testimony of other terminated workers who would have testified to age-related bias within the company unless those workers had the same supervisor that Mendelsohn had had. Mendelsohn lost at trial, but the court of appeals reversed, holding that the testimony of the other employees should have been allowed.

PFAW

Supreme Court to Hear Controversial Gun Control Law Case

District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290
On November 20, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a highly controversial case that, whichever way it is decided, is likely to produce a landmark ruling on the issue of gun control and the Second Amendment. D.C. v. Heller is the District of Columbia's appeal from a 2-1 ruling of the D.C. Circuit invalidating D.C.'s ban on private handgun ownership. The D.C. Circuit majority (which included controversial Bush nominee Thomas Griffith) broke with most federal appellate courts that have considered this issue to hold that the Second Amendment confers on individual Americans a right to possess firearms, rather than a "collective right" stemming from the Amendment's language pertaining to a "well regulated militia."

PFAW

Today at the Supreme Court: Federal Express v. Holowecki

The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Federal Express v. Holowecki, an employment discrimination case in which the employee's access to justice through the courts is at stake, as we have previously described. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an employee who believes that she has been subjected to unlawful discrimination must file a "charge" with the EEOC before she can sue, and the EEOC must then notify the employer and attempt to resolve the matter.

PFAW

Another Courthouse Door Closed to Religious Liberty Plaintiffs

One of the Supreme Court's disturbing 5-4 decisions last term — Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation — is already coming home to roost in the lower courts. On October 30, 2007, relying on Justice Alito's purality decision in Hein, a sharply divided three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit ruled, 2-1, in Hinrichs v. Bosma that taxpayers in Indiana do not have standing to challenge the practice of the state House of Representatives of opening its sessions with a sectarian (typically Christian) prayer.

PFAW

PFAWF Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief In Employment Discrimination Case

On October 19, 2007, PFAWF joined 11 other civil rights groups in filing an amicus curiae brief in Sprint v. Mendelsohn, an employment discrimination case pending in the Supreme Court and one of the cases that we highlighted in our preview of the Court's term because of its importance to the right of employees who believe that they have been subjected to workplace discrimination to obtain justice in the courts. Other groups joining this brief include the NAACP, MALDEF, the National Women's Law Center, the Asian American Justice Center, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a diverse coalition underscoring the importance of this case to the civil rights community.

PFAW

Countering Time Magazine on the Court's Relevance to Americans

TIME magazine’s cover story this week told Americans they don't need to care about the Supreme Court because its decisions don’t make a difference in most people’s lives. That premise is just wrong, as the letter we submitted to TIME makes clear (see below). It’s also pretty astonishing to have that article appear the very same week that the GOP presidential candidates will appear before right-wing activists and the so-called "Values Voter Summit" and enthusiastically pledge to put more Justices like Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas on the Court — and cement for a generation the right-wing trends that are undermining Americans’ legal rights and protections.

PFAW

Proving Once Again That Courts Matter

American Federation of Labor, et al. v. Michael Chertoff, No. C 07-04472 CRB (N.D. Cal.)

A federal district court judge in California last week gave America another good example of why courts matter. Judge Charles R. Breyer put a stop, at least for now, to a governmental effort that would likely have resulted in the firing of potentially tens of thousands of legal workers this fall, all in the guise of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

PFAW

Today at the Supreme Court: Is New York's Method of Electing Judges Constitutional?

This morning, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a significant case involving the selection of trial court judges in New York, NY Board of Elections v. Torres. At issue is the constitutionality of New York state's highly controversial system for the election of trial court judges from candidates chosen by party conventions; the delegates to the convention are selected in primary elections. The plaintiffs contend that the system violates the First Amendment political association rights of voters and candidates because the system effectively closes the door to candidates who do not have the support of party bosses, and the lower courts agreed. However, that argument did not appear to gain much sympathy from most of the Justices in the Supreme Court today.

PFAW

Coming Up at the Court: Preview of Key Supreme Court Cases in the New Term

The first day of October will be the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term, and the justices have already chosen to hear several cases that may well be decided by narrow majorities, as Scalia and Thomas have been joined by Roberts and Alito to form a reliable, ultraconservative voting bloc, with Kennedy as the new swing vote on a Court transformed by Bush Administration nominees.

People For the American Way Foundation has published a preview of several of these cases — cases that could have a profound impact on the rights of Americans, the limits of presidential power, and the conduct of partisan politics. The issues at stake include:

PFAW