Category Archives: Laws/Legislation

Uncharted Waters: The Emergence of Low-Income Water Affordability in Philadelphia

Source: Robert W. Ballenger & Thu B. Tran, Clearinghouse Review, February 16, 2016

Philadelphia’s city council passed an ordinance on November 19, 2015, to establish a new income-based water rate affordability program for low-income Philadelphians. Mayor Michael Nutter signed the ordinance on December 1, 2015. The law marks the beginning of a fundamental shift in how the City of Philadelphia will assist low-income families in maintaining life-essential water service…. While we at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia have advocated for many water revenue assistance program approvals for individuals and achieved limited success with systemic improvements, the overarching problems of inaccessibility and unaffordability persist. The city’s new ordinance mandating a new income-based water rate affordability program stands in full recognition of longstanding problems with the current mode of water-bill assistance….

Supreme Court Citation Networks

Source: The Free Law Project and the University of Baltimore School of Law, 2016

With this free tool you can analyze and study lines of Supreme Court cases by creating citation networks. You can quickly access the full text of all the opinions in your citation network as well as examine all the associated case data from Supreme Court Database (Spaeth). Citation networks are visualized graphically and underlying data is also presented in sortable tables. You can save your networks, edit and comment upon them, and share them too. You can even embed interactive network visualizations in your website or blog. Learn more by looking below at our gallery of shared networks or by making one yourself. … In addition to showing the citation relationship between cases, this tool also leverages data about the cases available in the Supreme Court Database (Spaeth). Specifically, the tool visualizes Spaeth data concerning the decision direction of cases (liberal v. conservative) and vote count (9-0, 8-1, etc). Links to the complete text of all opinions and links to the complete Spaeth data for a given case are also provided. ….
SCOTUS Visualization Project Shows Lines of Cases — Literally
Source: Robert Ambrogi, LawSites blog, February 23, 2016

State Legal Information Census: An Analysis of Primary State Legal Information

Source: Sarah Glassmeyer, LLRX, February 21, 2016

This report presents findings from a survey of state level primary legal information. Primary legal information includes code (codified statutes passed by state legislatures), regulations (codified collections of rules passed by administrative agencies) and case law (appellate court decisions). This survey was done with the goal of reviewing the free and open status of this legal information.

Findings indicate that there exist at least 14 barriers to accessing legal information. These barriers exist for both the individual user of a resource for personal research as well as an institutional user that would seek to republish or transform the information. Details about the types of barriers and the quantity of their existence can be found under “Barriers to Access.” At the time of the census, no state provided barrier-free access to their legal information.

Furthermore, analysis of the legal information provided by states shows that it is impossible to do any but the most basic of legal research for free using state provided legal information sources. Current collections allow for citation retrieval and some basic keyword searching. No state allows for federated searching of legal information collections. The universal lack of a citator for case law renders these collections, as a practical matter, useless and would be considered malpractice for a legal practitioner to rely upon. There is also a worrisome lack of archival material maintained by states. Not only does this affect one’s ability to do comprehensive research, but it also could be indicative of a lack of adequate preservation.

States were scored and ranked based on the openess of their legal publication practices. On a scale of 0 – 24, the highest score achieved was 18. The lowest was 8 and the median was 14. These results were compared against the adoption of the Uniform Electronic Legal Information Act (UELMA) and it was found that adoption of UELMA did not correlate to barrier free publication practices.

What Does Justice Scalia’s Death Mean for Congress and the Nation?

Source: CRS Reports & Analysis, CRS Legal Sidebar, February 16, 2016

Over the weekend, the nation was shocked to learn of the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The death of the longest serving and, in the view of some commentators, most influential Justice on the current Court will have significant implications for the third branch of government. Justice Scalia’s absence may alter the outcome of several cases of interest to Congress pending before the Court and could mark a seismic shift in many legal doctrines, depending on who is confirmed to fill the newly vacant seat on the Court. The job of confirming the President’s nomination to fill the vacancy resides with the Senate, making Justice Scalia’s death likely to have a profound impact in both the short and long term on Congress. This sidebar, the first of several pending CRS projects on Justice Scalia and the new Supreme Court vacancy, provides an overview of the major implications of Justice Scalia’s death for Congress……

Tie Votes in the Supreme Court

Source: Justin R. Pidot, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, February 13, 2016

From the abstract:
What should the Supreme Court do with a tie vote? A long-standing rule provides that where the justices are evenly divided, the lower court’s decision is affirmed and the Supreme Court’s order has no precedential affect. While tie votes arise with some regularity due to the recusal of an individual justice, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016, and the possibility that his seat will not be filled until after the next Presidential election, raises the specter that the Supreme Court October Term 2015 could be replete with cases ending in ties. These include high-profile and contentious cases about public sector unions, the meaning of “one person, one vote,” the Obama administrations’ policy of deferring deportation for certain immigrants without legal status, and accommodations for religious organizations that object to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

This increased potential for tie-votes arises at a time when Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court at unprecedented levels. Politicians of all parties consistently accuse Supreme Court justices of pursuing their policy preferences rather than making principled legal decisions. Against that backdrop, tie votes only further disillusion the public. Such votes amount to an admission by the justices that they have failed to carry out the responsibility entrusted to them by the Constitution — that of definitively resolving consequential legal issues — because they could arrive at no compromise on which a majority of the justices could agree.

This Article presents an original empirical study of the 164 instances in which a tie vote occurred between 1925 and 2015. Those data reveal two important trends. First, where a case ends in a tie, the issue involved is either presented to the Supreme Court again in relatively short order or turns out to be of little significance. In other words, there is no pressing need to create a tie-breaker where the Supreme Court is deadlocked. Second, only 1 of the 164 cases would today fall within the Supreme Court’s limited mandatory jurisdiction. The remainder all would arrive at the Court on a writ of certiorari. This is important because the Court has discretion over its certiorari docket, and can exercise that discretion to avoid tie votes.

The Article suggests that the Supreme Court abandon the practice of affirming by equal division and instead dismiss cases as improvidently granted, a second procedural option for the Court. Doing so would avoid potential public backlash against tie votes, protecting the public perception of the Court’s legitimacy. Doing so would also reduce the potential for justices to write opinions to accompany affirmances by equal division that take public positions on issues that have not yet been resolved by the Court. Finally, as a matter of cognitive psychology, justices may feel internal pressure to remain consistent with a position once staked out in a vote. Dismissing the case, rather than affirming by an equally divided court, could alleviate that psychological pressures, allowing the justices to be more fair-minded when approaching the next case.

Who’s funding voter suppression?

Source: Amadou Diallo, February 12, 2016

Web of conservative funding groups lines up behind key voting rights Supreme Court case.

This is part three of a three-part series explaining why conservatives are pushing more restrictive voting laws and how such efforts disenfranchise minority voters. Part one looks at the myth of rampant in-person voting fraud. Part two looks at the partisan strategy of voter suppression.

Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes

Source: Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi, Lindsay Nielson, University of California – San Diego, [2016]

From the abstract:
The proliferation of increasingly strict voter identification laws around the country has raised concerns about voter suppression and inequality. Although there are lots of reasons to suspect that these laws could harm groups like racial minorities and the poor, existing studies have generally failed to demonstrate a link between voter ID laws and voter turnout among these groups. We question these null effects. We argue that because most of the studies occurred before states enacted the strictest photo identification requirements, they tend to uncover few effects. Focusing on the validated vote in recent elections using the Cooperative Congressional lection Study we are able to offer a more definitive test. The analysis shows that strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks, and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections. Voter ID laws skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right.
Voting Rights Challenges In the Wake of Shelby County
Source: Naila Awan, Dēmos, Policy Shop blog, February 4, 2016

In the summer of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 margin, struck down one of the most significant provisions of civil rights law ever enacted.

Race, Class, and Structural Discrimination: On Vulnerability within the Political Process

Source: Atiba R. Ellis, Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development, Volume 28 Issue 1, Summer 2015

From the abstract:
A number of recent judicial and legislative transformations have defined the modem scope of the right to vote. These transformations have arguably narrowed African-Americans’ ability to exercise the franchise. These changes include the decision in Shelby County v. Holder to limit the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the seeming consensus around the propriety of heightened regulation of the right to vote through implementing voter identification laws, and the long-standing consensus around felon disenfranchisement laws. All three of these issues implicate the African-American community in particular as some have argued that these are the enduring legacies of – and the imposition of – a new era of Jim Crow.

Yet, another more recent event must refocus our attention on the issue of the African Americans and the franchise. Specifically, the events in Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014 revealed police abuse in both the killing of Michael Brown and the militarized siege of policing in the wake of subsequent protests. The examination of Ferguson that followed the unrest of that summer and fall revealed a structure built on the poverty of the St. Louis suburb’s African-American residents. The media also discovered that these same residents of Ferguson were effectively locked out of the political process.

At the time, this appeared to be the result of the phenomenon of structural racism and exposed the vulnerability of such communities to political domination. Indeed, this paper seeks to extend that discussion and to give initial thoughts about the key issues that lie at the intersection of race and class within the American political process. From it, it is plausible to conclude that a lockout dynamic within the political process exists at a level that is far removed from concerns of typical high theory law-of-politics jurisprudence. As will be discussed below, this lockout problem has been examined on the levels of partisans and political process, with an accompanying disdain for the race-conscious vulnerabilities that seem to undergird the political problems that the Ferguson situation illustrates.

The goal of this paper is to illustrate this racially intersecting lockout problem and to argue for the importance of attending to this problem within the context of the law of democracy. Specifically, this paper will illuminate the heart of this problem: the intersecting vulnerabilities that poor people of color suffer from within the political and economic process. Such vulnerability lies at the heart of both the historical and present-day discrimination within the franchise (and the structures that affect it). This paper focuses on the idea that vulnerability to the majoritarian forces and inequities in the political process ought to serve as a factor in defining the harms that minority populations suffer within the political process. The contention here is that such vulnerability premised on the confluence of historical factors such as race and socioeconomic status creates a particular risk that the interests of such groups will not be met and that the people within these groups will not be able to participate fully within the political process.

Public Employee Unions and Pensions

Source: Posted on January 22, 2016 by Catherine Fisk and Brian Olney, OnLabor blog, January 22, 2016

Advocates of weakening public sector unions, both some who have filed briefs in the Friedrichs case and others who support anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and other states, assert that public sector unions contribute to state budget deficits and that public employee pensions are a main culprit. The truth is more complicated. Unionization doesn’t cause either budget deficits or unfunded pension liabilities. Bad governance does. Some unions may contribute to bad governance but they are not the sole cause, and unions can help solve the problem.

Although labor costs consume a relatively larger share of revenues in the public sector than in the private sector, studies show this is because government tends to provide more labor-intensive services, and also services that require a higher level of education and training (e.g., teachers and public health workers). Collective bargaining, in the states that allow it, is only one aspect of a complex web of law that, in every state, regulates compensation and working conditions for public employees. A bewildering array of state and local constitutional or charter provisions, statutes, and administrative rules specify pay, benefits, and pensions for government workers by job category. Elimination of collective bargaining will not eliminate the budget or pension funding deficits that exist. But it may eliminate the last defined benefit pension plans, which would be bad for workers and bad for the economy as a whole…..