Category Archives: Laws/Legislation

Conquerors of the Courts

Source: David Montgomery, Washington Post Magazine, January 2, 2019

Forget Trump’s Supreme Court picks. The Federalist Society’s impact on the law goes much deeper.

…. The conservative and libertarian society for law and public policy studies has reached an unprecedented peak of power and influence. Brett Kavanaugh, whose membership in the society dates to his Yale Law School days, has just been elevated to the Supreme Court; he is the second of President Trump’s appointees, following Neil Gorsuch, another justice closely associated with the society. They join Justice Clarence Thomas (who said last spring he’s “been a part of the Federalist Society now since meeting with them … in the 1980s”), Chief Justice John Roberts (listed as a member in 1997-98) and Justice Samuel Alito (a periodic speaker at society events). The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.

But having allies on the highest court of the land is just the top layer of the Federalist Society’s expanding sway. For one thing, there is the judicial nomination process itself. When Trump was campaigning in 2016, he made the shrewd and un­or­tho­dox move of publicizing a list of 11 conservative legal stars that he promised to draw from if he got a chance to pick a Supreme Court justice. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, played a key role in suggesting the names, along with Trump’s future White House counsel, Don McGahn (also a society member), and the conservative Heritage Foundation. The list was expanded twice to include Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and others. Leo took a leave from his job at the Federalist Society to advise the White House on the confirmation process for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — reprising a role he played for the George W. Bush White House in putting Roberts and Alito on the court.

The next most important segment of the judiciary — the federal appeals courts — is also filling up with Federalist Society members: Twenty-five of the 30 appeals court judges Trump has appointed are or were members of the society ….

Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich Get Richer

Source: Center for Public Integrity, 2019

An in-depth look at how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 avoided scrutiny and made the rich richer.

The first part in our new series, “Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich get Richer,”  investigating the origin and impact of the 2017 tax law: 

THE TRUMP TAX LAW HAS BIG PROBLEMS. HERE’S ONE BIG REASON WHY
Source: Peter Cary, Allan Holmes, Pratheek Rebala, Center for Public Integrity, January 15, 2019

There’s no shortage of agenda items for the new Congress that’s just been seated in Washington. But lost among the anguished cries to reopen the government and enact ethics reform will be a lesser-advertised but crucial item: addressing major problems in the 2017 tax bill that President Donald Trump signed into law a year ago.

That the law needs fixing is not in dispute. Why it needs fixing is most vividly illuminated by contrasting it with another massive piece of tax legislation, the Reagan-era Tax Reform Act of 1986.

In the months leading up to passage of the 2017 tax act, Trump administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress giddily compared the scope of their bill to that very law. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, called their new bill, “the first action in 31 years since President Reagan’s reforms in 1986.” Then-National Economic Director Gary Cohn said the legislation represented the “most significant tax reform legislation since 1986.”

Measured by the magnitude of changes to the tax code, that is true. But in terms of how the bills were developed, deliberated and drafted by Congress — not to mention their substance — the bills could not be less alike. And therein lies an illuminating — some would say frightening — story.

Lone Medicaid Expansion Defeat Offers Lessons for Other States

Source: Michael Ollove, Stateline, December 17, 2018

Perhaps the chief takeaway from the rejected citizen initiative to expand Medicaid in Montana last month is this: Be careful when you poke a giant.

Montana was one of four red states with Medicaid expansion on the ballot, and the only one where it failed. And the reason why, many close observers both inside and outside of the state agree, almost certainly came down to a tactical decision to link expansion to an increase in the state’s tobacco tax.

Supporters thought that strategy would boost their effort with voters, but it attracted Big Tobacco into the fight, along with the $17.2 million it spent, much of it on a television advertising blitz. Opponents raised nearly $19 million to defeat the measure, finance reports filed with the state show.

Proponents, with about $9.7 million to spend, simply couldn’t keep up….

Evaluating Shepard’s, KeyCite, and BCite for Case Validation Accuracy

Source: Paul Hellyer, Law Library Journal, Vol. 110 no. 4, Fall 2018

This study evaluates and compares how accurately three legal citators (Shepard’s, KeyCite, and BCite) identify negative treatment of case law, based on a review of 357 citing relationships that at least one citator labeled as negative. In this sample, Shepard’s and KeyCite missed or mislabeled about one-third of negative citing relationships, while BCite missed or mislabeled over two-thirds. The citators’ relative performance is less clear when examining the most serious citator errors, examples of which can be found in all three citators.

Election 2018: Midterm Analysis

Source: Tim Storey and Wendy Underhill, State Legislatures Magazine, November-December 2018

Republicans Still Control Most of the Nation’s Legislative Seats, but the Gap Between the Parties Narrowed Considerably

Related:
Voters Make Policy
Source: Patrick Potyondy, State Legislatures Magazine, November-December 2018

Citizens Had Their Say on More Than 150 Ballot Measures That Could Transform Their States

Republicans Brazenly Gut Voting Rights in Lame Duck Before They Lose Power

Source: Ari Berman, Mother Jones, December 3, 2018

Four states are taking unprecedented steps to strip power from Democrats and make it harder to vote.

Related:
Case Studies in Voter Suppression: Profiling Voter Suppressors
Source: Danielle Root and Aadam Barclay, Center for American Progress Action Fund, November 26, 2018

Caselaw Access Project

Source: Caselaw Access Project, 2018

The Caselaw Access Project (“CAP”) expands public access to U.S. law.

Our goal is to make all published U.S. court decisions freely available to the public online, in a consistent format, digitized from the collection of the Harvard Law Library.

What data do we have?

CAP includes all official, book-published United States case law — every volume designated as an official report of decisions by a court within the United States.

Our scope includes all state courts, federal courts, and territorial courts for American Samoa, Dakota Territory, Guam, Native American Courts, Navajo Nation, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Our earliest case is from 1658, and our most recent cases are from 2018.

Each volume has been converted into structured, case-level data broken out by majority and dissenting opinion, with human-checked metadata for party names, docket number, citation, and date.

We also plan to share (but have not yet published) page images and page-level OCR data for all volumes.

Voter Suppression During the 2018 Midterm Elections: A Comprehensive Survey of Voter Suppression and Other Election Day Problems

Source: Danielle Root and Aadam Barclay, Center for American Progress, November 20, 2018

During the 2018 midterm elections, voter participation was more than 10 percentage points higher than it was in the 2014 midterm elections, demonstrating Americans’ demand for change and increased enthusiasm for exercising their civic duty to vote. That said, nearly 120 million eligible Americans did not participate in the November elections.

Widespread voter suppression—particularly against historically marginalized groups—is a reoccurring problem in the United States. Each election cycle, untold numbers of eligible Americans are prevented from voting due to barriers in the voter registration process, restrictions on casting ballots, and discriminatory and partisan-rigged district maps. Voter suppression measures can differ by state and even by individual county. And while some voter suppression measures actively seek to discriminate against certain groups, others result from innocent administrative errors and glitches. Regardless of its form or intent, however, voter suppression is relentlessly effective in preventing voting-eligible Americans from contributing to the electoral process.

This year—perhaps uncoincidentally—severe voter suppression occurred in states with highly competitive political races, including Georgia, Texas, Florida, and North Dakota. Policies and practices that limit participation by even a few thousand votes can mean the difference between victory and defeat in competitive elections. When voters cast a ballot, they expect their votes to matter in choosing representatives who are responsive to, reflective of, and accountable to the communities they represent. Yet when voter suppression occurs, election results may be less reflective of constituents’ actual will.

This report describes some of the voter suppression measures and other Election Day problems that potentially kept millions of eligible Americans from participating in the 2018 midterm elections. These include:
1. Voter registration problems
2. Voter purges
3. Strict voter ID and ballot requirements
4. Voter confusion
5. Voter intimidation and harassment
6. Poll closures and long lines
7. Malfunctioning voting equipment
8. Disenfranchisement of justice-involved individuals
9. Gerrymandering

This report also offers recommendations for combating voter suppression and making voting more convenient for all eligible Americans.