Law

Occupying Grand Central Station

OWS rings in the new year with a fight against NDAA.

Sargeant Shamar Thomas protests against NDAA Tuesday at Grand Central Station.
Five hundred people returned to Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve, with drums, chants of "Whose Year? Our Year!", and a tent, which they say they gave to police in exchange for entrance to the park. An hour before midnight, police and occupiers attempting to remove metal barricades around Zuccotti had a violent confrontation and, by 1:30 a.m., police had cleared activists from the park. Tuesday, occupiers mobilized against the National Defense Authorization Action signed by President Obama on New Year's Eve. After a lunchtime march to the offices of New York senators, occupiers gathered in the Grand Central train station, where multiple people were arrested while leading "People's Mic" recitations of an anti-NDAA script. The indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA have become a lightning rod for Occupy actions, including Philadelphia—where activists presented "Fascist of the Year" awards to actors portraying their Senators—and Iowa, where they occupied the hotel headquartering the...

Forever After

Is Israeli rule of the West Bank really a temporary occupation? As if.

Courtesy Dror Etkes.
Courtesy Dror Etkes The Natuf Shafir quarry. I'd really like to be angry at Dorit Beinisch, the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court. On the eve of her retirement, Beinisch abandoned her role of pushing the Israeli government to honor legal restraints in the occupied territories. Instead, in what could be her last major ruling on Israeli actions in the West Bank, she has given a stamp of approval to colonial economic exploitation. But let's put petulance aside. One message of Beinisch's judgment is that judicial resistance can stretch only so far. Even the highest tribunal in the land cannot reverse a national policy as basic as continuing to rule the West Bank. Another message—whether or not Beinisch intended it—is that treating a situation that has lasted 44 years as "temporary" is absurd. The occupation is not an acute disease; it is a chronic one. Beinisch's ruling came in a suit filed three years ago by the Israeli human-rights group Yesh Din, based on the work of land-use...

Calling for a Convention

Amending the Constitution is our best bet for fixing Congress.

To keep money from corrupting our democratic politics, we need constitutional change. No doubt lots can be done by statute alone—meaningful transparency rules, such as the Disclose Act, and small-dollar public funding, such as the Fair Elections Now Act. The Supreme Court, however, has all but guaranteed that these won’t be enough. Transparency by itself won’t build trust; public funding can only be voluntary; and independent expenditures are all but certain to swamp even the best reforms tolerated by the Court. If we’re ever going to get a Congress “dependent,” as James Madison put it in Federalist Paper No. 52, “upon the People alone,” and not “the Funders,” it is clear that Congress will need new constitutional authority. Yet it is also clear that Congress won’t ask for this authority itself. The chance that this Congress, or any Congress elected in the current environment, could muster 67 votes in the Senate to alter Washington’s economy of influence is zero. Congress is the...

Citizen Bopp

Art by John Ritter (Source Photo: Evan Vucci / AP) W edged up against the Illinois border on the banks of the Wabash River, Terre Haute, Indiana, has seen better days. Many factories have closed, and downtown has too many vacant storefronts. But there are signs of activity: Indiana State University has grown, the federal prison still provides reliable jobs—and the ten-lawyer litigation machine that occupies the offices of attorney James Bopp Jr. at the corner of 6th and Wabash is going full tilt. Bopp is best known as the lawyer behind a case involving a 90-minute film made in 2008 attacking then–presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Bopp’s suit ultimately resulted in the landmark 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, in which the Supreme Court held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts such as the movie and its promotional ads were legitimate expressions of free speech and couldn’t be limited by campaign-finance laws. The ruling...

Voting Wrongs

When Barack Obama entered the White House, liberals hoped that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice might return to its proper mission. The agency had been gutted during the Bush years, litigating individual cases of bias without tackling the systematic levers of discrimination that affect a far larger share of the population. Obama beefed up the agency's staff and DOJ started hiring actual civil rights attorneys (unlike the strict ideological conservatives without civil rights experience who entered during the Bush administration). More recently, Attorney General Eric Holder has advocated for an aggressive stance on protecting civil rights during Congressional hearings and visited Austin, Texas, earlier this month to lay out his vision for an expansive take on voter protection. There had been some early evidence of this new direction beyond the tough talk—primarily challenges to city police departments and an objection to Texas' redistricting plans. But it wasn't...

DOJ Rejects South Carolina Voter-ID Law

The Department of Justice announced late Friday afternoon that it was rejecting South Carolina's new voter photo identification law because it discriminates against minority voters. Under Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, states with a history of low minority turnout must submit any changes to their voting laws to the DOJ or to a federal court for approval. South Carolina is one of the six states that passed laws in 2010 requiring voters to present a form of government-issued photo identification before they will be granted a ballot. These laws have all been pushed by new Republican majorities, which claim the restrictions are intended to combat widespread voter fraud that threatens the integrity of elections. But studies don't back up their claims, and voting-rights advocates allege that the ID laws are intended to suppress voter turnout, particularly among groups that tend to vote for Democrats. Even if that is not the intent, it would be the effect of these laws: Up to 25...

Friday Miscellany, Year-End 2011

Herewith a few things to think about before you disappear into 2012: Sweeties. On Wednesday, the Virginian-Pilot ran what I thought was an adorable story about a Navy first. Apparently, when ships come in, someone gets the honor of disembarking for the first official welcome-home kiss with their beloved. It's been three months since the dock landing ship left home for Central America, and all of the usual fanfare is waiting to greet its crew: crowds of cheering families, toddlers dressed in sailor suits, and the lucky, excited woman who's been chosen to take part in a time-honored Navy tradition - the first homecoming kiss. The twist: this was the first time that the Chosen Kisser had a same-sex partner. The two young women involved, who are engaged, are just cute as buttons. The story made me smile. Channeling my great-aunts, when I watched the video, I wanted to pat their pretty heads and wish them a long, happy, healthy life together. But apparently I'm an outlier...

Gingrich's Judicial Attack Wins Over Religious Right

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA —Newt Gingrich's redefinition of separation of powers from the understanding of the past few centuries continues to come under fire from his fellow conservatives. "His comments about the justices and the Congress, sending the Capitol police to bring in judges—that’s not exactly a practical idea or a constitutional idea,” Mitt Romney said on Fox News last night. Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey shared that sentiment, telling The New York Times that "it would lead us to become a banana republic, in which administrations would become regimes, and each regime would feel it perfectly appropriate to disregard decisions of courts staffed by previous regimes." The impractical proposal is doing Gingrich no favors with national conservatives, but I speculated yesterday that they weren't his true audience; he's instead signaling to evangelicals—particularly in Iowa—that he is on their side. Gingrich hosted a town hall in Davenport, Iowa Monday where a small crowd...

The Latest Proposition

Opponents of California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, have started collecting the 807,615 signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot. It’ll be a slog—they have to have them all by May 14. Earlier this year, Equality California, the largest organization in the state fighting for same-sex marriage rights, declined to participate in the effort to gather signatures, citing the uncertainty of a win at the ballot box and the pending lawsuit against Prop. 8, which the Ninth Circuit is set to decide on soon. This leaves Love, Honor, Cherish (LHC)—another gay-rights organization—leading the way. It’s difficult to guess whether LHC will succeed in its effort to put Prop. 8 to a vote. But it is woefully underprepared to launch an advocacy campaign that can outgun the opposition. LHC is pretty short on cash; whereas Equality California received $3.2 million in contributions in 2010, LHC says it has only $500,000. The results of a recent poll—in which 48 percent...

Full Court Press

DAVENPORT, IOWA —Newt Gingrich's preposterous claim that, as president, he would ignore court decisions he didn’t like and subject the judiciary to congressional and presidential review has received the proper amount of ridicule from the press today. Scott Lemieux and Paul Waldman have already delved into the topic here at the Prospect , but these attacks aren’t solely coming from the left. This morning the Wall Street Journal ran the headline "Gingrich vs. Courts Echoes South's Criticism of 1950s Segregation Decisions," which even among the most conservative crowds won't be a favorable comparison. It's a proposal so unhinged that it might be the final straw that forces establishment Republicans to distance themselves from Gingrich. But it's a popular sentiment on the judiciary among the caucus voters Newt needs to win Iowa. Judicial politics have become the cause célèbre among the state's social conservative grassroots ever since Varnum v. Brien, the landmark 2009 decision in which...

The Ball's in Your Court

At the December 15 debates in Sioux City, Iowa, nominal frontrunner Newt Gingrich argued that the “courts have become grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful, and I think, frankly, arrogant in their misreading of the American people.” Showing the discipline and moderation for which he has long been known, Gingrich followed up with assertions that judges that issue First Amendment rulings he disagrees with should be arrested and impeached and that he would ignore court rulings that didn't suit him. Many of the proposals deriving from these intemperate critiques are dangerously radical, others inadvertently reasonable. But what is strange about them is that they all assume a liberal federal judiciary that hasn’t existed for decades. More than forty years later, Republican elites seem to not to have heard about Earl Warren’s resignation from the Supreme Court. While the federal courts have not been bastions of progressive constitutionalism for a long time, conservatives have had...

Newt v. Judiciary

In what seems to be an ongoing effort to convince Republican primary voters that he's the most radical Republican in the presidential race, Newt Gingrich decided to go after the "judicial activism"-haters by declaring yesterday that what we need is more witch hunts of judges. In Gingrich's view, when members of Congress -- a group of people well known for being sober and responsible and avoiding grandstanding and demagoguery -- feel like it, they should be able to haul judges in front of them to explain their rulings, and if the judges don't like it, federal marshals should arrest them. Furthermore, he believes that the president should be able to simply overrule any Supreme Court decision that displeases him. As he said on Face the Nation , "Nine people cannot create the law of the land, or you have eliminated our freedom as a people." Newt would essentially like to overturn Marbury v. Madison and declare the last two centuries of Supreme Court jurisprudence invalid. It should be...

A Ninja in Our Sites

An aggressive federal enforcement effort targets online piracy—and threatens the open Internet.

I n February 2008, Ninja Video went online and quickly distinguished itself in the unsightly, often malfunctioning world of Internet piracy. The site’s silver, black, and crimson palette spoke to a punk aesthetic, but the content and layout were fastidiously organized. The main page posted a nightly lineup of colorful movie and television banners, rather than the drab link text found on most pirate sites. Popular TV programs like Lost and Fringe would be up five minutes after the latest episode ended. New movies were often on the site before their nationwide premieres. The Ninja staff bundled cinema packages devoted to LGBT issues, classic films, and presidential debates. News services otherwise unavailable in the U.S., like Al Jazeera and the BBC, were streamed live, and Ninja offered one of the largest documentary collections on the Web. Everything was free. All a user had to do was click a logo and press play. PC World named Ninja Video one of the top 100 products of 2009,...

Putting the Brakes on Voter Supression

Voters in most states have little recourse to combat the onslaught of restrictive voter-ID laws Republican majorities have passed in 2011. For the most part, they'll have to wait until the 2012 election to replace their legislators and hope that these laws (such as photo-ID requirements and repeals to same-day registration) can be taken off the books. But a number of states will tackle voter suppression directly via ballot referendums. Last month, both Maine and Mississippi tested restrictive voting laws through popular votes; in Maine, voters overruled their legislators and reinstituted same-day voter registration, a major win for voter-rights advocates. But in Mississippi, things took a turn for the worse; voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification for access to the ballot. Ohio is up next after organizers gathered more than 300,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot next year. The state's Republican majority had passed severe restrictions to...

Supreme Court Could Tilt US House Majority

The US Supreme Court issued a surprise stay late Friday evening that in effect could decide which party controls the US House majority after the 2012 election. A little over two weeks ago, a three-judge panel in San Antonio threw out new congressional maps drawn by the Texas legislature earlier this year. One of the fastest growing states in the country, Texas gained four additional US House seats after the 2010 census. Most of that growth can be attributed to the state's booming Hispanic population, which now represents almost 40 percent of the state. Yet when the Republican legislature went to redraw the maps, they gerrymandered the new seats to favor their party and shut the minority population out. Civil rights groups appealed and convinced the federal court to create a more representative map, increasing the number of majority-minority districts from 10 to 13, giving Democrats a strong possibility of gaining three of the four new House seats next year. Texas Attorney General Greg...

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