Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: January 2009 Archives

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January 31, 2009

Alabama: most expensive judicial race in the country

The Birmingham News reports: A spending surge the week before the Nov. 4 election helped paste a $5.3 million final price tag on the Alabama Supreme Court race, making it the nation's most expensive in 2008, according to new campaign disclosures and watchdog groups.

Republican Greg Shaw, Democrat Deborah Bell Paseur and a third-party group spent nearly $850,000 during the last week of the campaign to buy airtime for ads, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Total candidate spending was nearly $4.3 million - $2.5 million by Paseur and $1.8 million by Shaw, according to state campaign disclosures, including final accountings filed this week. Third-party groups spent at least $1 million more. ...

Shaw, Paseur and the Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom spent about $4 million on TV ads, according to disclosure forms and the Brennan Center, which tracks the influence of politics on the judiciary. That paid for nearly 11,000 ad spots, the Brennan Center said. -- Alabama high court race again garners most expensive pricetag in U.S. -

January 30, 2009

Illinois: can Blago use campaign bucks for legal defense?

The National Law Journal reports: Federal criminal corruption charges lodged against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have highlighted a gray area in the state's laws: whether the state's top executive can use campaign contributions for his legal defense fees.

Illinois State Board of Elections officials say there's no state law that bars spending the funds on legal fees because it's not in a list of prohibited personal uses. Still, the board has never taken a stance on the issue and could come down on either side if a complaint were filed, said Steven Sandvoss, general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections.

"You would have to determine whether or not this is personal or related to his serving as a public official," Sandvoss said.

The issue has cropped up in Illinois in the past and emerged as an issue in other states that have grappled with criminal wrongdoing by elected officials. New York and New Jersey have bills pending in their legislatures that would stop public officials charged with crimes from using campaign contributions for legal defense. -- - Can Blagojevich Use Campaign Contributions for His Legal Defense?

January 28, 2009

FEC lists Palin as "candidate for president 2012" -- but not so fast

McClatchy Newspapers reports: Ever since Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin opened up a political action committee yesterday, there's been a lot of speculation about why her name suddenly is popping up in the Federal Election Commission database as a candidate for president in 2012. (To see for yourself, click here, search for "Palin," and you'll get a list of committees with her name on them, including this one, which describes her as a candidate for president in 2012.) It's especially eyebrow-raising since a spokeswoman for Palin's new political action committee said yesterday that the new PAC is emphatically not a presidential exploratory committee for the former vice presidential candidate.

Here's how it happened: On Nov. 20, David L. Kelly of Colorado Springs, Colo., filed a statement of organization for a federal election committee: the 2012 Draft Sarah Committee. When Kelly did so, in the section that describes the type of committee it is, he checked off a box saying "this committee supports/opposes only one candidate, and is NOT an authorized committee." He wrote in "Sarah Palin" as the name of the candidate his committee either supports or opposes.

Basically, when the "2012 Draft Sarah Committee" wrote in Palin's name on its form, she got automatically entered into the FEC database as a candidate for president in 2012. Anyone whose name was entered in the form would have been designated as a candidate. -- More on Palin and the presidency - Yahoo! News

Population shifts will add congressional seats to red states

The Hill reports: As Republicans brace for a 2010 election cycle that begins their long road back to the majority, they do have one major weapon in their arsenal — redistricting. ...

The 2010 census could add multiple House seats to red-leaning states — as many as four districts to Texas and two each to Arizona and Florida. And it could subtract seats from blue-trending states like Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Most of the states slated to gain seats in reapportionment next cycle feature Republican-controlled state legislatures and governor’s mansions — the powerhouses that decide how to allocate congressional districts.

States expecting to lose seats are more of a mixed bag, with most facing split control in those branches of government, which generally results in compromise.

Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, said there will be a premium on total control of the redistricting process this time, since after the last round the Supreme Court showed reluctance to rein in extreme cases of gerrymandering. -- Redistricting is a hidden weapon for gloomy GOP

January 27, 2009

Minnesota: problems with Coleman's witnesses

TPM-DC reports on the Coleman-Franken contest: This afternoon the Coleman team was bringing in rejected absentee voters to show that their ballots were improperly tossed. So far the court has heard from six people, most of of whom said they were contacted by the Republican Party in the last few weeks. They mostly seemed sympathetic enough, putting a human face on the disenfranchised Coleman voter -- but at least two of them appeared to have been rejected properly under the conditions of Minnesota law.

One of the voters was Douglas Thompson, who admitted under oath that his girlfriend filled out his absentee ballot application for him, signing his name with her own hand and purporting to be himself. His ballot was rejected because the signature on his ballot envelope (his own) did not match the signature on the application (his girlfriend's). The Coleman team's argument appears to be that he is still a legal voter in Minnesota, as the signature on the ballot was his own, even if admitted dishonesty was involved in getting the ballot.

Keep in mind: Thompson's story came up during the direct examination by Coleman lawyer James Langdon. So the Coleman camp fully knew this information and decided to make him into a witness. -- TPMDC | Talking Points Memo | Coleman's Supposedly Friendly Witnesses Backfire

District of Columbia: voting rights bill to be reintroduced

The Washington Times reports: Supporters of the long effort to secure D.C. voting rights will return with renewed optimism Tuesday to Capitol Hill, where new legislation faces its first vote.

With a Democrat as president and more Democrats in Congress, the legislation should pass the House easily, but it still faces a close vote in the Senate.

The D.C. House Voting Rights Act will be reintroduced by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat and the District's non-voting House member, and Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

The legislation would give one House vote to the District and a fourth one to Utah, which narrowly missed getting an additional seat after the last U.S. Census. Utah, which traditionally leans to the right politically, now has one Democrat and two Republicans in the House and is the next to receive a new seat based on the last census. -- Washington Times - D.C. voting rights act gets another chance

January 26, 2009

Alabama: voter I.D. bill might have hard time in the legislature

AP reports: A bill pushed by Attorney General Troy King to require Alabama voters to show photo identification at the polls has modest support but enough foes to make it difficult to pass, according to an Associated Press survey of legislators.

The survey found 45 percent of House members who responded and 47 percent of senators saying they support legislation requiring voters to show government-issued identification that includes a photo, like a driver's license, a non-driver's identification card or a military ID card.

But 38 percent of House members responding and 37 percent of senators said they oppose the measure, a degree of opposition that could make it difficult for the bill to come up for a vote or to stop debate in the House or Senate. ...

Supporters believe this is the right time to push the legislation because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld an Indiana law photo ID law. That law requires voters to present a state or federal photo ID card at the ballot box.

But opponents, mostly members of the Legislature's black caucus, say the law would make it harder for some people to participate in democracy, particularly elderly and rural voters, who may not have a photo identification card and little means to get one. -- AP Survey: Ala. voter photo ID no lock for passage - NewsFlash -

January 18, 2009

"This land is your land"

Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sing "This land is your land" with all the verses (today at the Lincoln Memorial):

The words are here if you want to sing along.

January 17, 2009

"When inspiration calls, ...

... you don't send it to voicemail.", on NPR's Morning Edition, 17 Jan. 2009.

January 15, 2009

Alabama: 2 teachers claim NEA forced them to contribute to Obama

The Mobile Press-Register reports: Two Daphne Middle School educators allege in a complaint filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission that their teachers union illegally funneled funds to a political action committee, and ultimately forced them to contribute to President-elect Barack Obama's campaign, according to the document.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit based in Springfield, Va., that joined and filed the complaint on behalf of the educators, asked the FEC in Washington to investigate a "union scheme" that seeks to divert members' money to the National Education Association's political action committee, according to the complaint. The Right to Work Foundation provides free legal aid to employees who feel that a union violated their human or civil rights, according to the agency's Web site.

Robert Chanin, general counsel for the National Education Association in Washington, said he hasn't seen the complaint yet, but his office will represent the local and state affiliates. Generally, officials receive instruction in federal law compliance, he said. Chanin said he believes a review of the facts will prove the association followed the law, as has been the case in previous challenges. ...

Daphne Middle School Assistant Principal Jeanne Fox and eighth-grade science teacher Claire Waites allege in their complaint that after they were elected to serve as local delegates to the July National Education Association convention in Washington, they were forced to make a donation to the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education. -- Two Daphne educators say teachers union made them to contribute to Obama campaign -

January 10, 2009

Texas: Supreme Court agrees to hear challenge to Section 5 of VRA

The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would decide whether Congress overstepped its constitutional authority in 2006 by extending a central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The plaintiff in the case, a Texas municipal utility district, has argued that Congress did not take sufficient account of more than four decades of progress toward racial equality that culminated in the recent election of the nation’s first black president.

The court’s decision, expected by June, will help define the Roberts court. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. opposed efforts to expand the voting rights law in 1982 as a young lawyer in the Reagan administration and has expressed skepticism on the court about racial classifications made by the government. The decision will also have significant practical consequences for elections in 16 states. ...

The case concerns the requirement in Section 5 of the law that certain state and local governments, mostly in the South, must obtain permission, or “preclearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes that affect voting. -- Supreme Court Takes Voting Rights Case -

January 9, 2009

R.I.P.: Charles Morgan Jr.

The Washington Post reports: Charles "Chuck" Morgan Jr., 78, a civil rights lawyer who challenged the racist society of his native South and won numerous landmark cases for equal rights before the U.S. Supreme Court, died Jan. 8 at his home in Destin, Fla. He had Alzheimer's disease.

In a career full of significant cases, Mr. Morgan's most important might have been the "one-man, one-vote" ruling he won in 1964 from the Supreme Court. The case, Reynolds v. Sims, forced the Alabama legislature to create districts that were equal in population, giving black voters a better chance to elect candidates.

He also forced Alabama to integrate its prisons, successfully challenged the Southern practice of barring women and blacks from jury duty, and represented Julian Bond when the Georgia General Assembly tried to prevent the newly elected legislator from taking his seat after he spoke out against the Vietnam War.

"He was one of the most important people" in civil rights litigation, said Bond, now the chairman of the NAACP's national board. "He did in the South through the courts what Martin Luther King did in the streets."

The Reynolds case "ended gerrymandering," said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "It was one of the seminal cases in the march for voting rights in this country and was the death knell for voting discrimination in the South. Chuck's work in voting rights cases and jury discrimination cases changed the landscape of the South completely." -- Charles Morgan Jr.; Lawyer Championed Civil, Voting Rights -

January 8, 2009

New York: 3 charged with conspiracy to interfere with voting rights

AP reports: Three Staten Island men, riled by Barack Obama's victory, spent election night hunting down black people to beat up and yelled insults about the president-elect, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

The men beat a Liberian immigrant teenager, pushed a black man to the ground, and drove their car over a white man they thought was black, according to the indictment.

Ralph Nicoletti, 18, Michael Contreras, 18, and Brian Carranza, 21, were arrested early yesterday. All three pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to interfere with voting rights. -- 3 charged in election night attacks - The Boston Globe

Alabama: suit attacks residency requirement for one circuit court

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: An Elmore County man is suing the state's top election official over a law that imposes residency requirements on candidates running for circuit judge in the 19th Judicial Circuit.

Attorney Jerry M. Blevins filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Beth Chapman because of a recent change to state law that would require him to live in a specific county in the 19th Judicial Circuit to be a candidate for one of the three judge positions.

The 19th Judicial Circuit covers Autauga, Chilton and Elmore counties, and an amendment that passed the state Legislature during the 2008 regular session requires judges to live in the county over which they preside.

Blevins wants to run for the No. 3 judge seat in 2010, but because of the change to the law, he would have to live in Chilton County to be eligible.

Under the new amendment, Blevins would only be eligible to run for seat No. 1 because he lives in Elmore County. -- Man sues to be in race for judgeship | | Montgomery Advertiser

January 7, 2009

Minnesota: what should be said in a notice of contest?

Eric Black at criticizes the Coleman Notice of Contest: The petition has an almost generic quality. Think of every imaginable way that a vote for Coleman that should have been counted was rejected, add every way that a ballot given to Franken should have been disqualified, assert that all of these things happened and that if the courts will simply revisit the entire recount they will come to a different outcome. -- Senate recount: It's unlikely Coleman will win in court

I don't know anything about Minnesota election contests (and don't intend to find out), but in Alabama a notice of contest is just about the first and last pleading in the case. There are only six legal grounds to contest an election, and any good notice of contest alleges them all. The notice cannot be amended after the (very short) deadline for filing it. So the practice in Alabama is to allege everything and figure it out later.

Minnesota: Coleman's lawsuit

TPM Election Central reports: I've been reading through the lawsuit that Norm Coleman has filed against the result of the Minnesota Senate race, and it's a marvelous thing.

The complaint ignores the existence of counter-evidence, employs one maneuver when it is self-benefiting and opposes the same maneuver when it goes against them, attacks not just the recount but votes that were counted for Franken all along, and overall throws everything against the wall to see what sticks. -- TPM Election Central | Talking Points Memo | Coleman's Lawsuit: This Whole Election Stinks -- And I Won

NOTE: The article has more details and a link to the Notice of Contest.

January 5, 2009

Florida: suit against DNC's primary schedule set for argument on Thursday

The Fulton County Daily Report reports: While the nation prepares to inaugurate a new president this month, at the federal appeals court in Atlanta a few Democrats are still arguing about the presidential primary process.

On Thursday the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a challenge to the way the Democratic Party chooses its presidential nominee. Victor DiMaio, a Florida-based Democratic political consultant, contends that the party violates the federal Constitution by taking states' racial makeup and other factors into account in its rules on presidential primary dates. ...

In May, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara of Tampa rejected DiMaio's new complaint, granting summary judgment to the party. Within days, the Florida delegates were no longer critical because Hillary Clinton began backing Barack Obama, and in August all Florida's delegates received a full vote at the convention.

But in their 11th Circuit brief, the party's lawyers write that they can't say the issue DiMaio raises won't come up again, as the state law setting the primary date ahead of what party rules allow remains in effect -- which DiMaio calls a "train wreck" waiting to happen. The 11th Circuit recently requested additional briefing on whether the case is moot given that the election is over, said DiMaio's lawyer, Michael A. Steinberg of Tampa. -- - Primary Election Battle Continues in Federal Court