You are here

constitutional law

Prison Gerrymandering Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that the city legislative districts in Cranston, Rhode Island, are unconstitutional because 3,433 inmates housed in the state's only prison are counted as city residents and allocated to a city ward, The Huffington Post's Cristian Farias reports.

Each of the city's wards are divided into 13,500 residents each, but one ward includes the 3,433 inmates. U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux concluded that this situation violates the one person, one vote principle of the U.S. constitution because including prisoners--who cannot vote--in one ward dilutes the voting power of all city residents, Farias reports.

Kentucky Supreme Court Sets Rules For Judicial Campaigns

The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that judicial candidates can identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats, but identifying themselves as conservative or liberal "runs afoul of rules to keep politics out of judicial campaigns," The Associated Press' Bruce Schreiner reports.

The court majority further said that a judicial candidate's declaration that he or she is a liberal or a conservative violates the state constitutional requirement that judicial elections be nonpartisan in "'truth and substance.'"

Court Overturns Employment Ban for People with Criminal Convictions

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Sun, 02/21/2016 - 22:11

How do you overcome the ax murderer taking care of Grandma problem?

Lawyer Peter H. “Tad” LeVan knows a thing or two about that.

A few weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, sitting en banc, ruled that the state's ban on former convicts working in elder care was unconstitutional.

LeVan gave me a recent interview about this litigation. It started with a challenge to the law's constitutionality on an individual basis; the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the law’s “employment ban was not rationally related to the Commonwealth’s legitimate interest in protection elderly citizens.” LeVan won that case in 2003. But then the Pennsylvania General Assembly never moved to amend the law after the court’s ruling.

So, in the spring of 2015, Levan, his co-counsel and his clients challenged the law on its face as unconstitutional.

It's always easier to attack the constitutionality of law by arguing that it’s unconstitutional “as applied” to particular plaintiffs, than arguing that the law is unconstitutional for everyone on its face.

The Pennsylvania Older Adults Protective Services Act was passed in the 1990s to create a lifetime ban on employment for convicted murderers and rapists in healthcare facilities; people convicted of felony drug violations and several other crimes were banned for a decade from working in healthcare facilities. The law, which was amended in 1997, required anyone who had been working at an eldercare facility for a year or less to be fired. However, people who had been working for a year or more could keep on working for their present employer.

By 2015, the social science had developed enough on reintegration and recidivism to support a challenge that the ban on people with criminal convictions working in elder care had zero “scope of rationality,” LeVan said.

“Social science research conducted subsequent to the [prior case] shows that the lifetime employment ban is built on a faulty premise because the risk of recidivism declines over time and eventually ‘loses any meaningful value in predicting future criminal conduct,’” Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote for the Commonwealth Court.

The court ruled that the employment ban violates the Pennsylvania Constitution.

“There is simply no rational basis to treat those employed for a year in a facility providing services to older adults as of July 1, 1998, as having rehabilitated themselves following their criminal convictions solely because of the amount of time they worked in one facility such that they do not pose a threat to older adults, but treat all other employees and applications as incapable of rehabilitation and forever a threat to adults,” Leavitt opined.

The two sides also disagreed on the correct standard for considering the plaintiffs’ challenge to the constitutionality of the employment ban.

Lawyers for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania argued that a law can be declared facially unconstitutional only if there is no set of circumstances under which the statute would be valid. LeVan argued on behalf of his clients that a statute is facially unconstitutional if a substantial number of its potential applications are unconstitutional.

The Commonwealth Court followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Washington State Grange v. Washington State in State Republican Party in deciding that challengers who argue that a law is unconstitutional on its face need only demonstrate that a substantial number of the “‘challenged statute’s potential applications are unconstitutional.’”

South Carolina Lawmaker Proposes Journalist Registry

A conservative legislator in South Carolina has introduced a bill that would require journalists to register with the government in order to work in the state, The Post and Courier's Gavin Jackson and Schuyler Kropf report. The bill also would create requirements for South Carolina journalists before they could being work.

State Rep. Mike Pitts, a Republican, said he introduced the bill because Second Amendment rights are demonized by the press.

The reporters note that the bill has "virtually no chance of advancing but is meant to reflect a lawmaker’s personal political statement."

Supreme Court Divided Over Puerto Rico's Autonomy

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on whether Puerto Rico has the legal authority to try two gun dealers for allegedly illegal firearm sales after they plead guilty in federal court, USA Today's Richard Wolf reports.

The Obama administration has taken the position that Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory, can't do so. But the Puerto Rico constitution gives the territory autonomous self-government.

A majority of the justices appeared to side with Puerto Rico during the oral arguments, Wolf reports.

Supreme Court Rules Florida's Death Penalty Law is Unconstitutional

Florida's death penalty law has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional, The Huffington Post's Cristian Farias reports. The reason? Allowing judges, instead of juries, to impose the death penalty violates the Sixth Amendment. The court ruled 8-1 that only a jury, not a judge, can decide the "aggravating circumstances" that would lead to the decision that execution is the appropriate sentence for a defendant.

 A judge in murderer Timothy Hurst's case independently decided to impose capital punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court, opined that the Sixth Amendment requires Florida to base Hurst's sentence on a jury verdict, not judicial factfinding.

Breyer: Mass Internment Doubtful in the United States

Even though Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer doubts that mass internment would happen again in the United States, ABC News' Alexander Mallin reports.

The Supreme Court has never overturned its decision approving of the Roosevelt Administration's detention of Japanese Americans in World War II. But, if mass detention of one group was attempted again in the U.S., Breyer said American courts would likely enforce the country's "'stronger traditions of civil liberties'" that have developed in the intervening 70 years.

Judge: SEC's Internal Tribunal Likely Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman of the Southern District of New York ruled last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission is likely to lose the fight to defend its use of in-house judges as constitutional, The Wall Street Journal's Eaglesham reports. Berman, who previously ruled the SEC’s system of having its in-house judges named by the staff, rather than the agency’s commissioners, may violate the constitution, said he thinks the SEC's appeals will fail.

The SEC in-house courts have been criticized as unfairly biased in favor of the agency's position in cases.

Charter School Law Ruled Unconstitutional

A charter school law backed by Bill Gates was found to be unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court, The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss reports. The court, 6-3, ruled that the Washington state constitution only allows public-school funds to support "common schools," and charter schools can't be common schools because their boards are not elected by the public.

Strauss, citing the law review article, “The Legal Status of Charter Schools in State Statutory Law,” notes that charter schools have operations that are basically private, even though they have public funding. Some charter schools are run by private education management organizations, and some charter schools refuse to share information in response to public-information requests.

The Business of Law Behind Police Brutality Cases

Fusion's Daniel Rivero has an interesting profile on the attorneys who are taking on police brutality cases. Not only do they find the work rewarding but they also are finding the case work lucrative, Rivero reports.

An attorney at the National Bar Association's annual conference said there's been $300 million in legal fees generated from police-misconduct cases in the last five years.

Chicago attorney Antonio Romanucci told Rivero that more lawyers are looking at police brutality cases because there are more civilian recordings of police interactions. But Dallas-area attorney Daryl Washington told Fusion that the cases are '"a more specialized field than just your normal personal injury law, because you’re dealing with violations to the constitution, and these cases tend to be in federal court.'"


Subscribe to RSS - constitutional law