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Commissioner’s lawsuit against transportation sales tax dismissed in Hillsborough County, Florida

Florida Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas dismissed a lawsuit filed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White regarding a transportation sales tax approved by Hillsborough County voters in November 2018.

Referendum 2 was placed on the general election ballot in November after the group All for Transportation led a successful citizen initiative petition campaign. The measure received 57 percent approval from voters and authorized a 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects in the county. In December, County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the sales tax arguing that provisions of the initiative illegally allowed tax revenue to be allocated without the approval of the county commission. All for Transportation filed a motion calling for the lawsuit to be dismissed on January 24, 2019. The group argued that White did not have standing to file the lawsuit in his official capacity as county commissioner.



Two city officials competing in Minnesota House special

The special election for District 11B of the Minnesota House of Representatives is on March 19. Hinckley City Councilman Tim Burkhardt (D) and Clover Township Board Supervisor Nathan Nelson (R) are facing off in the general election.

The seat became vacant after Jason Rarick (R) won a special election for District 11 of the Minnesota State Senate on February 5. Rarick had represented District 11B of the state House since 2015. He was re-elected in 2018 with 59.7 percent of the vote in the general election.

The Minnesota House of Representatives currently has 75 Democrats, 58 Republicans, and one vacancy. Minnesota has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.



Washington Senate approves bill for year-round daylight saving time ballot measure

Voters in Washington could be asked to decide a ballot measure addressing year-round daylight saving time (DST). On March 12, the state Senate voted 46-3 to pass the bill for the ballot measure.

The ballot measure would provide for year-round DST if federal law is changed to allow states to adopt year-round DST. As of 2019, the federal Uniform Time Act allowed states to adopt one of two options: (a) adopt DST between the second Sunday of March or the first Sunday of November or (b) remain on standard time all year. The law did not allow for year-round DST. On March 12, President Donald Trump (R) tweeted, “Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!”

The state House of Representatives needs to pass the bill for the measure to appear on the ballot in November. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) would also need to sign the bill. The state House passed its own year-round DST bill on March 9, but that bill did not include a provision for a ballot measure.

If the measure appears on the ballot, Washington would be the second state to vote on a ballot measure addressing permanent DST. In 2018, Californians approved Proposition 7, which authorized the state legislature to adopt permanent DST if federal law changes.

There were 21 ballot measures related to time standards on the ballot between 1924 and 1972, including three in Washington. After 1972, the first measure addressing time was California Proposition 7 in 2018.



U.S. Senate confirms Rao to D.C. Circuit

The U.S. Senate voted 53-46 on March 13 to confirm Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrator Neomi Rao to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. All Republican senators voted in favor of Rao while all Democratic senators opposed her confirmation.

President Trump nominated Rao to the D.C. Circuit seat, which was vacated by Brett Kavanaugh following his confirmation to the United States Supreme Court, on November 13, 2018. Prior to joining the Trump administration as the administrator of OIRA in July 2017, Rao worked as an associate professor of law at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, where she founded the Center for the Study of the Administrative State. She also served as counsel to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary under U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R), as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and as a special assistant and associate counsel to former President George W. Bush (R).



DOJ asks SCOTUS to consider constitutional claim against census citizenship question

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requested on March 11 that the U.S. Supreme Court weigh in on Judge Richard Seeborg’s constitutional claim challenging the addition of a citizenship question on the U.S. Census when it hears Department of Commerce v. New York in April 2019. Seeborg’s ruling was the second decision by a federal judge since January challenging the addition of the citizenship question, which asks, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

Seeborg issued a ruling in State of California v. Ross on March 6, 2019, holding that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census was, in his view, unconstitutional and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Seeborg ruled that the question was unconstitutional because it prevented the federal government from carrying out its duty under the U.S. Constitution’s Enumeration Clause to count every person living in the United States every 10 years, which could distort the proper apportionment of congressional representatives. He also held that the question violated the APA because he interpreted the administrative record in the case as being contrary to law.

Seeborg’s ruling follows Judge Jesse Furman’s decision in January 2019 holding that the citizenship question violated the APA by failing to follow proper procedure. Though plaintiffs in the case had also argued that Ross violated the equal protection component of the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process Clause, Furman held that the due process claims fell short because the administrative record in the case did not demonstrate discrimination as a motivating factor for Ross’ decision. The U.S. Supreme Court announced in February that it would hear Furman’s case—Department of Commerce v. New York—in April 2019.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco sent a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court on March 11, 2019, asking the court to also consider Seeborg’s constitutional claims when they hear Department of Commerce v. New York. “In light of that finding, only if the Court addresses respondents’ Enumeration Clause claim can its decision definitively resolve whether the Secretary may reinstate a question about citizenship to the 2020 decennial census,” said Francisco. He continued, “In the alternative, if the Court has any concerns about addressing respondents’ Enumeration Clause claim in this case, it should grant the government’s petition in the California case and consolidate that case with this one for oral argument.”

Two additional lawsuits claiming that the citizenship question discriminates against immigrant and minority communities are pending before Judge George Hazel of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Hazel heard closing arguments in February.



2020 Democratic candidates campaign in Iowa State Senate district ahead of special election

On March 19, 2019, Cedar Falls School Board member Eric Giddens (D) and former state Rep. Walt Rogers (R) are running in a special election for the District 30 seat in the Iowa State Senate. The previous officeholder, Jeff Danielson (D), resigned on February 14, 2019. The two candidates were chosen by party conventions rather than primary elections.

Republicans currently hold a 32-17 majority in the chamber. If Rogers wins, Republicans will hold 33 seats. If Giddens wins, Democrats will hold 18 seats.

Still, the race is drawing attention as current and potential candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are coming to support and campaign for Giddens, trying to earn the favor of state and local party members in advance of the state caucus.

By election day, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) will have made appearances at events for Giddens or held their own campaign events in the district. Other 2020 hopefuls, like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), have sent campaign staff to canvass for Giddens.

Kevin Giken, the executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party, said the candidates coming to the district “shows that they’re committed to actually seeing Iowa Democrats succeed, and giving back resources rather than taking resources.”

Rogers said that the campaign visits would create an opportunity to nationalize the race. He has called his opponent an “avowed socialist” for donating to the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and said that their race was “sort of a microcosm of what’s happening in the country because I think socialism is going to be an issue in the coming election as well.”



Ten file for 4 Pittsburgh school board seats

Ten candidates filed paperwork to run in the May 21 primary for four of the nine seats on the Pittsburgh School District Board of Directors in Pennsylvania. The general election is on November 5, and the filing deadline was March 12.

Out of the four seats up for election, District 8 incumbent Kevin Carter was the only board member to file for re-election. He is running unopposed in both the primary and general election. District 2 incumbent Regina Holley, District 4 incumbent Lynda Wrenn, and District 6 incumbent Moira Kaleida did not file for re-election.

Nine candidates filed to run for the three open seats. In District 2, four candidates are running in the Democratic primary. One of those candidates will also appear on the Republican primary ballot. In District 4, three candidates are running in the Democratic primary. Two of those candidates will also appear on the Republican primary ballot. In District 6, two candidates have filed to run in the Democratic primary. In Pennsylvania, school board candidates can file to run as both Democratic and Republican candidates simultaneously.

Pittsburgh Public Schools served 22,359 students during the 2016-2017 school year.



Kentucky governor receives shortlist for supreme court nomination

On March 13, 2019, the Kentucky Judicial Nominating Commission sent three names to Gov. Matt Bevin (R) as possible choices to fill a vacancy on the Kentucky Supreme Court. The justice Bevin selects will be his first appointment to the seven-member court.
 
The three possible nominees are:
  1. David Buckingham: Judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals from 1997 to 2005 and judge on a circuit court from 1987 to 1996.
  2. Tyler L. Gill: Judge on a circuit court since 1995 and on a district court from 1993 to 1995.
  3. Carla Williams: Judge on a circuit court since 2004.
 
The vacancy was created by the retirement of Justice Bill Cunningham. Under state law, if there is a midterm vacancy on the state supreme court, the governor appoints a successor from a list of three names provided by the Kentucky Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission is made up of the chief justice of the court, two attorneys elected by the Kentucky Bar Association, and four citizens appointed by the governor equally split by political party.
 
A special election will take place in November 2019 for the remainder of Cunningham’s term, which expires in January 2023. Bevin’s replacement will serve until the winner of that election is sworn in, and may choose to run in the November special election.


Senate confirms second circuit court nominee without approval from home-state senators

On March 12, the U.S. Senate confirmed Paul Matey to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit on a vote of 54-45. President Trump nominated Matey to the court on April 12, 2018. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V. ) was the only Democratic senator to vote in favor of the confirmation.

Matey will join the court upon receiving his judicial commission and taking his judicial oath. Once he joins the court, Matey’s confirmation will result in a 7-6 Republican-appointed majority on the 3rd Circuit. Before Matey’s confirmation, the court had six judges appointed by Democratic presidents, six judges appointed by Republican presidents, and two vacant seats.

As of March 2019, no other circuit courts would change partisan balance based on an appointing president’s party, but Trump’s nominees could impact two courts by nearing the number of Republican-appointed judges to the number of Democratic-approved judges. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which has two current vacancies and two pending nominations, currently has a 7-4 Democratic-appointed majority. Should the Senate confirm the two nominees, the court’s balance would shift to a 7-6 Democratic-appointed majority. Similarly, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has five vacancies and five pending nominations. The court has a 16-8 Democratic-appointed majority.

Matey was the second circuit court judge confirmed without blue slip approval from home-state senators. Eric Miller was the first circuit court judge confirmed without support from both home-state senators. A blue slip is a piece of paper a home-state senator returns to the Senate Judiciary Committee chair to express support for a federal judicial nominee. Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) decided not to require blue slip approval for federal judicial nominees to the U.S. circuit courts of appeals.

Home-state Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, both Democrats representing New Jersey, said the White House did not consult them before nominating Matey. Booker, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the confirmation without blue slip approval “goes right to the ability of any senator in this body to truly represent their state.” Menendez expressed concern for Matey’s record and his role in the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R).

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Democrats were responsible for changing the blue slip process, referring to changes Democratic senators introduced in 2013. “The day that you dealt yourself out as a minority to have a say about who gets on the court was the day that everything changed,” he said. He also stated that senators from one state should not be able to block circuit court nominees, since circuit courts serve multiple states.



Utah legislature refers four constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot

The Utah legislature, set to adjourn on March 14, 2019, has referred four constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot.
 
HJR 1, Municipal Water Resources Amendment:
This amendment would allow a municipality to commit water resources or supply water outside its boundary or exchange water resources and revise provisions surrounding municipal water rights.
 
HJR 4, Legislator Qualifications Amendment:
This amendment would specify that qualifications of a legislator—such as age and voter registration—must apply as of the time of election or appointment rather than the time a legislator assumes office.
 
HJR 8, Removal of Exception to Slavery Prohibition for Criminals Amendment:
This amendment would remove part of the Utah Constitution that says slavery and involuntary servitude are allowable for the punishment of a crime. A similar amendment was referred to the 2020 ballot by the Nebraska State Legislature.
 
SJR 7, Gender-Neutral Constitutional Language Amendment:
This amendment would remove gender-specific language in the state constitution and replace it with gender-neutral language. For example, the amendment would update constitutional language to say things like “all persons” rather than “all men.”
 
At the general election on November 3, 2020, the amendments must be approved by a majority of voters voting in the election (not just a majority of voters voting on the amendment). Citizen initiatives can also be put on the 2020 ballot through signature petitions in Utah.
 
From 1996 through 2018, the state legislature referred 42 constitutional amendments to the ballot. Voters approved 38 and rejected four of the referred amendments. All of the amendments were referred to the ballot for general elections during even-numbered election years. The average number of amendments appearing on the general election ballot was between three and four. The approval rate at the ballot box was 90.48 percent during the 22-year period from 1996 through 2018. The rejection rate was 9.52 percent.