CategoryFederal

U.S. Supreme Court finds partisan gerrymandering claims are beyond jurisdiction of federal courts

On June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in both Rucho v. Common Cause (North Carolina) and Lamone v. Benisek (Maryland) that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions that fall beyond the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary. The high court combined the cases and issued a single joint decision covering both.
 
Chief Justice John Roberts penned the majority opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. In the court’s opinion, Roberts noted that the Framers, “aware of electoral districting problems … [assigned] the issue to the state legislatures, expressly checked and balanced by the Federal Congress, with no suggestion that the federal courts had a role to play.” He said, “To hold that legislators cannot take their partisan interests into account when drawing district lines would essentially countermand the Framers’ decision to entrust districting to political entities.”
 
Roberts went on to address the assumptions underlying partisan gerrymandering claims: “Partisan gerrymandering claims rest on an instinct that groups with a certain level of political support should enjoy a commensurate level of political power and influence. Explicitly or implicitly, a districting map is alleged to be unconstitutional because it makes it too difficult for one party to translate statewide support into seats in the legislature. But such a claim is based on a ‘norm that does not exist’ in our electoral system—’statewide elections for representatives along party lines.'” Roberts also wrote, “[Federal] courts are not equipped to apportion political power as a matter of fairness, nor is there any basis for concluding that they were authorized to do so.”
 
Justice Elena Kagan penned a dissent, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Kagan wrote the following in her dissent: “The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives. In so doing, the partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people.”
 
The high court remanded both cases to the respective lower courts with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The lower court decisions had thrown out existing congressional district plans as impermissible partisan gerrymanders. As a result of the high court’s ruling, those district plans will remain in place heading into 2020. Earlier this year, a federal district court struck down Michigan’s congressional and state legislative district plans as partisan gerrymanders. That decision, which had been stayed by the Supreme Court pending resolution of Rucho and Lamone, will likely be vacated and remanded in light of the high court’s ruling.


Justice Department asks SCOTUS to consider equal protection claim in citizenship question case

The United States Department of Justice filed a request with the United States Supreme Court on June 25 asking the court to broaden the scope of Department of Commerce v. New York—a case challenging the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census—in order to consider new equal protection claims.
 
Plaintiffs in a separate pending challenge to the citizenship question, La Union del Pueblo Entero v. Ross, raised equal protection claims under the Fifth Amendment in light of new information derived from a deceased Republican consultant’s hard drive. The information, according to plaintiffs, suggests that the citizenship question was added in order to gain a Republican electoral advantage. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has stated that he approved the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in order to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. 
 
Judge George Jarrod Hazel of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, who ruled against the citizenship question in La Union del Pueblo Entero v. Ross on constitutional and procedural grounds, issued an order on June 19 stating that the new evidence could warrant reconsideration of the case. On June 25, a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remanded the case for reconsideration by Hazel.
 
The Justice Department responded to the Fourth Circuit’s decision by requesting that the United States Supreme Court also consider the equal protection claim in Department of Commerce v. New York, which challenges the citizenship question on constitutional and procedural grounds. “The Fourth Circuit’s order underscores the need for this Court to address the equal protection claim … so that the lawfulness of the Secretary’s decision can be fully and finally resolved,” wrote Solicitor General Noel Fransisco.
 
The United States Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in Department of Commerce v. New York by the end of June. If the court chooses not to consider the equal protection claim, Hazel could issue an injunction against the citizenship question in La Union del Pueblo Entero v. Ross on equal protection grounds and return the citizenship question challenge before the high court.
 


Trump picks Melania’s spokeswoman for new press secretary

Donald Trump chose Melania Trump spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham to serve as his White House press secretary Tuesday. Grisham will replace Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose last day will be Friday.
 
The First Lady said in a tweet: “I am pleased to announce @StephGrisham45 will be the next @PressSec & Comms Director! She has been with us since 2015 – @potus & I can think of no better person to serve the Administration & our country. Excited to have Stephanie working for both sides of the @WhiteHouse.”
 
Grisham is Melania Trump’s deputy chief of staff for communications and will continue to serve in that role when she becomes press secretary. She was a member of Trump’s presidential transition team and worked on former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign.
 


Keller outraised Friedenberg 3:1 in PA-12 special election

Based on final figures released by the Federal Election Commission, Fred Keller raised more than $600,000 to Marc Friedenberg’s $200,000 in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District. Keller won the election with 68 percent of the vote to Friedenberg’s 32 percent.
 
Keller was sworn in on June 3, 2019, and will serve the remainder of former Rep. Tom Marino’s (R) term. Marino resigned from office on January 23, 2019, to take a job in the private sector. Of the 18-member congressional delegation from Pennsylvania, there are nine Democrats and nine Republicans.
 
So far, four special elections have been called during the 116th Congress. Three of those are for seats in the U.S. House, and one is for a seat in the U.S. Senate. From the 113th Congress to the 115th Congress, a total of 40 special elections were held.


Former Rep. Sestak (D-Pa.) announces presidential candidacy

Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) announced he was running for president, bringing the number of noteworthy declared Democratic candidates to 25. This figure includes current or former elected officials and public figures. The former two-term congressman, who served 31 years in the Navy before retiring as a three-star admiral, said his priority would be addressing climate change and countering Russia and China on the international stage.
 
Sestak’s announcement makes him the first noteworthy Democratic candidate to launch a presidential bid in over a month—New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) launched his campaign on May 16. According to Federal Election Commission records, 259 Democrats have so far filed to run for president in 2020.
 
Sestak’s campaign launch is not late by historical standards. In 2015, 16 noteworthy major-party candidates had launched presidential campaigns as of June 23—12 Republicans and four Democrats. Seven more noteworthy candidates—Bobby Jindal (R), Chris Christie (R), Jim Webb (D), Scott Walker (R), John Kasich (R), Jim Gilmore (R), and Lawrence Lessig (D)—launched their 2016 campaigns after that date.
 
Then-Vice President Joe Biden (D), who was frequently mentioned as a potential candidate, did not rule out a bid until October 21, 2015.
 
Of the past five successful presidential candidates, both Donald Trump (R) and George W. Bush (R) launched their campaigns in June before the election year. George H.W. Bush (R) and Bill Clinton (D) launched their campaigns later, with both doing so in October in the year before the election. Of the last five presidents, only Barack Obama (D) launched his campaign prior to June before the election year, having done so in February 2007.
 
The debates this week, which will be held in Miami, are the first of 12 sets of debates planned ahead of the 2020 Democratic convention.
 


U.S. Supreme Court sends deference case back to 4th Circuit

In PDR Network, LLC v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals needed to answer several questions before it could decide whether the Hobbs Act requires district courts to uphold agency interpretations of certain laws.
 
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, which said that the 4th Circuit must first decide whether a 2006 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (Telephone Act) was a legislative rule, which carries the force of law, or an interpretive rule, which is non-binding. The opinion also directed the 4th Circuit to decide whether PDR Network had the chance to seek judicial review of the 2006 order before enforcement.
 
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion arguing that this case shows why the court should reconsider precedents like Chevron v. NRDC (1984), which held that courts should defer to reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous laws when Congress gives the agency the authority to administer those laws. Justice Kavanaugh wrote a separate concurring opinion arguing that the court was right to vacate the 4th Circuit’s judgment but that it should have also ruled that the Hobbs Act allows district courts to consider the validity of agency interpretations of law.
 
The case involved an incident from 2013. PDR Network, LLC sent a fax to Carlton & Harris, a West Virginia chiropractor, offering the company a free copy of the Physicians Desk Reference. Carlton & Harris sued PDR in federal court under the Telephone Act, which prohibits companies from using fax machines to send unsolicited advertisements. At issue is the definition of an unsolicited advertisement, which the FCC defined under the Telephone Act in a 2006 order.
 


Federal Register weekly update; highest weekly final rule total of 2019

The Federal Register is a daily journal of federal government activity that includes presidential documents, proposed and final rules, and public notices. It is a common measure of an administration’s regulatory activity.
 
During the week of June 17 to June 21, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,464 pages, bringing the year-to-date total to 29,370 pages. This week’s Federal Register featured a total of 616 documents, including 487 notices, three presidential documents, 36 proposed rules, and 90 final rules.
 
One proposed rule and two final rules were deemed significant under E.O. 12866—meaning that they may have large impacts on the economy, environment, public health, or state or local governments. Significant actions may also conflict with presidential priorities or other agency rules.
 
During the same week in 2018, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,284 pages for a year-to-date total of 29,434 pages. As of June 21, the 2019 total trailed the 2018 total by 64 pages.
 
The Trump administration has added an average of 1,175 pages to the Federal Register each week in 2019 as of June 21. Over the course of 2018, the Trump administration added an average of 1,301 pages to the Federal Register each week. During the Obama administration, the Federal Register increased by an average of 1,658 pages per week.
 
According to government data, the Federal Register hit an all-time high of 95,894 pages in 2016.
 
Ballotpedia maintains page counts and other information about the Federal Register as part of its Administrative State Project. The project is a neutral, nonpartisan encyclopedic resource that defines and analyzes the administrative state, including its philosophical origins, legal and judicial precedents, and scholarly examinations of its consequences. The project also monitors and reports on measures of federal government activity.
 
Click here to find yearly information about additions to the Federal Register from 1936 to 2016: https://ballotpedia.org/Historical_additions_to_the_Federal_Register,_1936-2016


District judge signals willingness to reconsider citizenship question challenge

Judge George Jarrod Hazel of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland issued an order on June 19, 2019, stating that new evidence from a deceased Republican consultant’s hard drive “raises a substantial issue” that could warrant reconsideration of a case challenging the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census.
 
Plaintiffs claim that the evidence demonstrates the Trump administration’s intent to add the citizenship question to the census in order to gain a Republican electoral advantage.
 
Hazel previously ruled against the citizenship question on procedural grounds in a consolidated case on April 5, 2019. The case is currently pending on appeal before the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. In order for Hazel to reconsider the case, the appellate court would need to return the case to the district court.
 
The United States Supreme Court is currently weighing a challenge to the citizenship question on procedural and constitutional grounds, _Department of Commerce v. New York_. A ruling is expected by the end of June.
 
If the new evidence motivates the district or appellate court to issue an injunction against the citizenship question on discrimination grounds, challengers could potentially return the case before the United States Supreme Court.
 


U.S. Supreme Court declines 5-3 to resuscitate nondelegation doctrine; Justice Gorsuch strongly dissents

In Gundy v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) did not violate the nondelegation doctrine, the constitutional principle forbidding Congress from delegating its legislative powers to the executive.
 
Justice Elena Kagan’s majority opinion noted that the court has only declared delegations of authority unconstitutional twice in its entire history and that past courts have upheld even broader delegations with less guidance from Congress. Justice Samuel Alito, who voted to uphold SORNA, wrote a separate opinion stating his willingness to reconsider how the court approaches future nondelegation doctrine challenges.
 
Justice Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion arguing that SORNA is unconstitutional because it gives the U.S. attorney general the power to write and enforce his own criminal code. He argued, “The Constitution promises that only the people’s elected representatives may adopt new federal laws restricting liberty. Yet the statute before us scrambles that design. It purports to endow the nation’s chief prosecutor with the power to write his own criminal code governing the lives of a half-million citizens. Yes, those affected are some of the least popular among us. But if a single executive branch official can write laws restricting the liberty of this group of persons, what does that mean for the next?”
 
Herman Gundy was convicted for failing to register as a sex offender under SORNA even though his offense occurred before SORNA passed. He argued that Congress improperly gave away legislative power to the attorney general when it allowed him to decide whether and how to apply SORNA to sex offenders who were convicted earlier.
 
The last time the U.S. Supreme Court found that Congress violated the nondelegation doctrine was in two 1935 cases involving the National Industrial Recovery Act passed during the New Deal.
 


Bullock is 21st Democrat to qualify for second 20-person set of debates

Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s campaign announced on June 18 that he had met the polling threshold to participate in the second set of Democratic presidential primary debates. The two CNN-hosted debates will take place July 30 and 31 in Detroit, Michigan.
 
Bullock is the 21st candidate to meet at least one of the two criteria to qualify, but no more than 20 candidates—10 per night—can participate. His qualification will trigger tie-breakers to the final candidate list.
 
The first set of rules to qualify are:
 
  • Receive 1% support or more in three national or early state polls—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and/or Nevada—publicly released between January 1, 2019, and 14 days prior to the date of the debate.
  • Receive donations from at least 65,000 unique donors and a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 states.
 
The tiebreaker will be decided according to the rules below, in order of preference:
 
  • Candidates who have reached both the polling and grassroots thresholds;
  • Candidates with the highest polling averages; and
  • Candidates with the highest number of contributions.
 
Four noteworthy Democratic candidates have met neither the polling nor fundraising criteria for the July 30 and 31 debates: Michael Bennet, Mike Gravel, Seth Moulton, and Wayne Messam.
 
Bullock is one of four noteworthy Democratic primary candidates who did not qualify for the first set of debates taking place June 26 and 27 in Miami, Florida. The others are Gravel, Moulton, and Messam.