Category Archives: Politics

Judicial Politics and Sentencing Decisions

Source: Alma Cohen, Crystal S. Yang, Harvard Law School, May 7, 2018

From the abstract:
This paper investigates whether judge political affiliation contributes to racial and gender disparities in sentencing using data on over 500,000 federal defendants linked to sentencing judge. Exploiting random case assignment, we find that Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to 3.0 more months than similar non-blacks and female defendants to 2.0 fewer months than similar males compared to Democratic-appointed judges, 65 percent of the baseline racial sentence gap and 17 percent of the baseline gender sentence gap, respectively.These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion.

State Constitutions in the Era of a Shifting Supreme Court

Source: Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Government Law Center at Albany Law SchoolJuly 23, 2018

The Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Government Law Center at Albany Law School recently hosted “How Can State Constitutions Respond to a Shifting Supreme Court?” to examine the role state constitutions can play if the Supreme Court begins to roll back federal protections.

With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and the recent nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to take his place, the Supreme Court is expected to shift further to the conservative end of the ideological spectrum, with the potential for weakening or even extinguishing important constitutional protections.

Much attention is being paid to the possible implications for reproductive rights, protections for immigrants, affirmative action, environmental protections, LGBTQ rights, and other issues. So what does it mean for New Yorkers — or for states more generally? Although we often don’t think of state constitutions, many of them offer protections above and beyond what is provided in the federal Constitution.

What role can state constitutions play if the Supreme Court begins to weaken federal protections? In many ways, your position on the states-versus-federal rights issue often depends upon where you sit. Last year the Rockefeller Institute and Government Law Center at Albany Law School issued a report on the topic.

Related:
Protections in the New York State Constitution Beyond the Federal Bill of Rights
Source: Edited by Scott N. Fein and Andrew B. Ayers, the Government Law Center at Albany Law School and the Rockefeller Institute of Government, April 18, 2017

Purges: A Growing Threat to the Right to Vote

Source: Jonathan Brater, Kevin Morris, Myrna Pérez, Christopher Deluzio, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 2018

From the abstract:
Voter purges are an often-flawed process of cleaning up voter rolls by deleting names from registration lists. Done badly, they can prevent eligible people from casting a ballot that counts. This report examines the growing threat, and outlines steps every state can take to protect voters in November and beyond. This builds on the Brennan Center’s 2008 report, Voter Purges.

Young People Are Registering to Vote in Huge Numbers, New Study Finds

Source: Kara Voght, Mother Jones, July 19, 2018

In some battleground states, 18-to-29-year-olds now make up a far greater percentage of new registrants.

The March for Our Lives teens said they’d #VoteThemOut, and a new study suggests they could be poised to do just that. According to the political data firm TargetSmart, the percentage of newly registered voters who are under the age of 30 has grown significantly in a number of key battleground states since the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The surge could have big implications in this fall’s fight for control of Congress.

The study evaluated all new voter registrations in the 39 states with available data since February 14, 2018—the day of the Parkland shooting—and calculated the change in the share of new registrants who are 18 to 29 years old. Across the country, the share of youth registrants increased by a modest 2.16 percentage points. But in Indiana, Virginia, and New York—home to some of this year’s marquee House and Senate contests—the share of youth registrants increased by 9.87, 10.49, and 10.7 percentage points, respectively. In Pennsylvania—where voters will decide as many as nine competitive congressional races—the share of new registrants who are younger than 30 jumped by a whopping 16.14 percentage points. The study doesn’t evaluate how many of the new registrants may have been motivated by the #NeverAgain movement…..

Related:
Analysis: After Parkland Shooting, Youth Voter Registration Surges
Source: Tom Bonier, TargetSmart, July 19, 2018

A new TargetSmart analysis of voter registration data in the 39 states with available data show that registration rates for voters aged 18-29 have significantly increased in key battleground states over the last seven months, presaging the increased impact youth voters may have on the upcoming midterm and presidential elections. Using February 14, 2018, as a reference point ­­– the date on which the Parkland shooting happened, which spurred a youth-led movement to register young voters across the country — TargetSmart’s analysis found that the share of youth registrants nationwide has increased by 2.16 percent, a potentially impactful surge in youth enrollment. With more than a dozen states’ primaries still left and months until voter registration deadlines, the findings are an early quantitative sign that youth turnout is on the rise in this year’s midterm elections. The state-by-state analysis shows that younger voters are poised to have an outsized impact in key battleground races. Pennsylvania – which has November elections for U.S. Senator, Governor, and many critical House races – saw youth voter registration surge by over 16 points after February 14, jumping from 45.2 percent to 61.4 percent of new registrants.

Present consequences of unfunded pension liabilities and ways forward

Source: Jeffrey Cheng and David Wessel, Brookings Institution, July 16, 2018

Note: This paper will be presented at the 2018 Municipal Finance Conference on July 16 & 17, 2018.

State governments with large unfunded pension liabilities are paying more to borrow from capital markets than are other states, according to Chuck Boyer of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

In the paper, “Public pensions, political economy and state government borrowing costs,” to be presented at the 2018 Municipal Finance Conference at Brookings this week, Boyer argues that markets view states with large pension deficits as riskier investments. His evidence suggests that states are already paying for municipal government’s unfunded pension liabilities in the form of higher borrowing costs. He asks two questions: 1) how are state governments’ borrowing costs affected by unfunded pension obligations? and 2) do states with political constraints face higher borrowing costs?

Boyer constructs a panel dataset using each state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports for the period 2005 to 2016. He focuses on balance sheet variables—revenues, expenses, assets, and liabilities—to capture a state’s financial health and credit default swap (CDS) spreads – the premium paid to protect buyers from an issuer defaulting – to measure borrowing cost. The author reasons that CDS reflects market sentiments better than market yields because CDS are more liquid, and because they are standardized, whereas market yields may be affected by additional features of a particular bond.

Related:
Public pensions, political economy and state government borrowing costs
Source: Chuck Boyer, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, current draft: July 11, 2018

I find that public pension funding status has a robust and statistically significant relationship with state borrowing costs, as measured by credit default swap spreads. A one standard deviation increase in the net pension liability to GDP ratio is related to an 18 basis point increase in CDS spreads. This effect is most pronounced among states with constitutional protection for pension liabilities, suggesting the markets perceive these legal protections as material. I also find suggestive evidence that states with more powerful unions pay higher borrowing costs. Results are robust to using spreads from the underlying bonds themselves. These findings highlight the fact that states are already paying for potential future pension problems through higher borrowing costs.

Related: presentation slides

When Needed Public Pension Reforms Fail or Appear to Be Legally Impossible, What Then? Are Unbalanced Budgets, Deficits and Government Collapse the Only Answer?
Source: James E. Spiotto, Chapman Strategic Advisors, May 30, 2018

The problem of underfunded public pensions confronts a number of states and local governments in the United States. In the past, numerous public employers in the United States have agreed to pension benefits that now appear challenging to afford given current revenues and the increased cost of providing governmental services. Further, this challenge has been exacerbated by past failures to set aside sufficient moneys to meet the pension benefits obligations incurred to date. All of this is occurring on the heels of the Great Recession of 2007, followed by an anemic recovery, and at a time many states and local governments are faced with an aging infrastructure that must be attended to and increased demands for basic public services (sanitation, water, streets, schools, food inspection, fire department, police, ambulance, health and transportation) that must be met. Because the public pension underfunding problem pits the requirement of meeting pension obligations against the need to provide for essential public services, all citizens have an interest in the fair and equitable solution to the dilemma.

Unfortunately, a just and effective method of resolving unaffordable public pension obligations has been elusive for some public governmental employers and employees. This is due in part to promised pension benefits costs exceeding the government’s ability to pay and the failure to fund promptly the incurred obligations. In some cases, solving the problem has been complicated by the lack of any ability to adjust or modify pension benefits to those that are sustainable and affordable to the fullest extent possible without adversely affecting the funding of essential public services. This paper will provide a review of some legal and practical obstacles that have been making needed pension reform and balancing the budget difficult, if not impossible, and will suggest possible new approaches to the problem that have not yet been tried. …..

Related: presentation slides

Behind The Campaign To Get Teachers To Leave Their Unions

Source: Anya Kamenetz, NPR, July 19, 2018

….Last month, the Supreme Court in Janus v. AFCSME dealt a major blow to public sector unions. The court ruled that these unions cannot collect money, known as agency fees, from nonmembers who are covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Organizations on both sides across the country sprang into action.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, based in Michigan, is running My Pay, My Say as a national campaign. The Freedom Foundation, with headquarters in Washington state, is targeting teachers in Oregon, Washington and California with the slogan, Opt Out Today.

Other groups targeting teachers and public employees in specific states include: the Commonwealth Foundation, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, the Center of the American Experiment, the Center for Union Facts and Americans for Prosperity.

The outreach tactics include paper mail, phone calls, emails, hotlines, Facebook ads, billboards, TV advertising and even door-to-door canvassing. Organizations are using publicly available email addresses to reach their targets, as well as purchasing mailing lists. ….

…. The groups behind the opt-out campaign, which describe themselves as conservative, libertarian or free-market, share many donors in common, such as the State Policy Network, the Donors’ Fund and DonorsTrust. Many of these groups have long opposed not only agency fees, but teachers unions in general, on the grounds that they inhibit education reforms such as vouchers and charter schools.

According to an analysis of tax filings by the website Conservative Transparency, the top contributors to the Mackinac Center specifically include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, and the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative (formerly the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation). These are the family foundations of the U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and her husband’s parents. ….

Related:Trump Nominee Is Behind Anti-Union Legal Campaign
Source: Noam Scheiber, New York Times, July 18, 2018

Even before the Supreme Court struck down mandatory union fees for government workers last month, the next phase of the conservative legal campaign against public-sector unions was underway.

In March, with the decision looming, lawyers representing government workers in Washington State asked a federal court to order one of the state’s largest public-employee unions “to disgorge and refund” fees that nonmembers had already paid. Similar lawsuits were filed in California, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Ohio. ….

….Beyond their legal claims, the cases share another striking detail: The lead counsel in each is a conservative lawyer named Jonathan F. Mitchell.

Mr. Mitchell, 41, has a formidable résumé. He was a Supreme Court clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia; worked at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush; taught at several law schools, including Stanford; and spent more than four years as the solicitor general of Texas.

After the 2016 election, he served as a volunteer attorney on the Trump transition team, where he helped review future executive orders. In September, the president nominated him to head the Administrative Conference of the United States, a small federal agency that advises the government on improving its inner workings. His nomination awaits action by the Senate after the Judiciary Committee approved him on a party-line vote in March…..

The Supreme Court vs. democracy

Source: Ezra Klein, Vox, July 9, 2018

Even those most invested in the Court’s grandeur are finding it hard to defend its reality. ….

…. The first seat Trump filled opened under Barack Obama, but Senate Republicans refused to consider any replacements, hoping to win the 2016 election and see the seat filled by a Republican. Mitch McConnell’s bet paid off: Trump did win that election, though he lost the popular vote decisively, and Neil Gorsuch was named to the Court.

Such appointments are becoming the norm. With Kennedy’s replacement, four out of the Supreme Court’s nine justices — all of whom have lifetime tenure — will have been nominated by presidents who won the White House, at least initially, despite losing the popular vote.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. America, for all its proud democratic rhetoric, is not actually a democracy. Until and unless the country chooses to abolish the Electoral College, it will remain not-quite-a-democracy, with all the strange outcomes that entails. Liberals may complain, but the rules are the rules, and both sides know what they are.

But the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc doesn’t just reflect the outcomes of America’s undemocratic electoral rules; it is writing and, in some cases, rewriting them, to favor the Republican Party — making it easier to suppress votes, simpler for corporations and billionaires to buy elections, and legal for incumbents to gerrymander districts to protect and enhance their majorities.

The Supreme Court has always been undemocratic. What it’s becoming is something more dangerous: anti-democratic. ….

The Ties That Double Bind: Social Roles and Women’s Underrepresentation in Politics

Source: Dawn Langan Teele, Joshua Lalla, Frances Rosenbluth, American Political Science Review, Volume 112, Issue 3, August 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This paper theorizes three forms of bias that might limit women’s representation: outright hostility, double standards, and a double bind whereby desired traits present bigger burdens for women than men. We examine these forms of bias using conjoint experiments derived from several original surveys—a population survey of American voters and two rounds of surveys of American public officials. We find no evidence of outright discrimination or of double standards. All else equal, most groups of respondents prefer female candidates, and evaluate men and women with identical profiles similarly. But on closer inspection, all is not equal. Across the board, elites and voters prefer candidates with traditional household profiles such as being married and having children, resulting in a double bind for many women. So long as social expectations about women’s familial commitments cut against the demands of a full-time political career, women are likely to remain underrepresented in politics.