US Supreme Court Nixes Appeal In Levee Case Against 97 Firms

Damage to wetlands caused by canals, such as seen here around the Delacroix community, was the focus of the failed lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.(Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune archives)

Damage to wetlands caused by canals, such as seen here around the Delacroix community, was the focus of the failed lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.(Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune archives)

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a Louisiana flood protection district that had sued 97 oil and gas companies over environmental damages. The NOLA.com website explains that “… the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East had appealed a March decision by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a 2015 decision by U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown that the lawsuit involved enforcement of federal laws and thus should be heard in her courtroom, rather than returned to a state court as the levee authority wanted.”

The case also drew attention because of how it was structured. The legal team had a provision that allowed it to continue the litigation via appeals, and if the Authority decided to terminate the effort it would face millions in legal fees. If the litigation was ultimately unsuccessful, it would owe no fees. That came into play as political winds shifted and the new appointed Authority leaders actually opposed the lawsuit – but would not end the case in the face-off those fees.

Read the NOLA.com coverage here:
http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/10/us_supreme_court_wont_hear_app.html

With Trump’s DACA Decision, A Look At Context

Tomas Martinez, with GLAHR, a grass roots organization from Atlanta, chants to excite the crowd in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 18, 2016. Hundreds gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to show their support for President Obama’s immigration executive action as the Court hears oral arguments on the deferred action initiatives, DAPA and expanded DACA.  Photo credit: Lexey Swall

Tomas Martinez, with GLAHR, a grass roots organization from Atlanta, chants to excite the crowd in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 18, 2016. Hundreds gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to show their support for President Obama’s immigration executive action as the Court hears oral arguments on the deferred action initiatives, DAPA and expanded DACA. Photo credit: Lexey Swall

The Texas Tribune continues excellent coverage of President Trump’s milestone decision on DACA, the Obama-era program that allows undocumented immigrants to stay in the county with some status if they came into the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger in June of 2012. The “dreamer” act is a big deal everywhere, but none more bigly a deal than in Texas.

The Tribune reminded its readers that Texas has a leadership role in opposing the plan, both with civil lawsuits and threats of legal action. They also note the relevance for the Lone Star State: “… as of August 2016, more than 220,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas had applied for a permit or a renewal of one under the program, and nearly 200,000 of those have been approved, according to government statistics. It’s the second-highest total behind California’s estimated 387,000 applications and 359,000 approvals during the same time frame.”

Texas, we are reminded, led 10 states in legal challenges to the Obama policy.

More context:

“The DACA initiative preceded a broader but ill-fated 2014 program, known as DAPA, which would have expanded the eligible population of the program and lengthened the work permits to three years. That program was never implemented after the state of Texas sued the Obama administration and successfully convinced a district judge and an appellate court that Obama overstepped his executive authority. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court split on the matter and upheld the appellate court’s decision.
“The Trump administration officially rescinded that policy earlier this month but said that DACA and some expanded DACA permits would remain in effect. Paxton argued in Thursday’s letter that that’s not good enough and warned that if the 2012 program isn’t rescinded, he and the other plaintiffs from the 2014 lawsuit would go back to court to settle the issue.
“If, by September 5, 2017, the Executive Branch agrees to rescind the June 15, 2012 DACA memorandum and not to renew or issue any new DACA or Expanded DACA permits in the future, then the plaintiffs that successfully challenged DAPA and Expanded DACA will voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit currently pending in the Southern District of Texas,” they write. ‘Otherwise, the complaint in that case will be amended to challenge both the DACA program and the remaining Expanded DACA permits.'”

Follow the debate from what amounts to Ground Zero in Texas here:

Texas leads 10 states in urging Trump to end Obama-era immigration program

Latino Community Rallies Around Clinton

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Sara Cocoran Warner, Founding Publisher of the California Courts Monitor

Read the latest Huffington Post article, “Latino Community Rallies Around Clinton,” by Courts Monitor Publisher, Sara Warner. Sara provides her thoughts about the importance of the Latino community to the presidential election, as well as the implications it has on the U.S. Supreme Court and issues like immigration and civil rights.

Colorado City Settles ‘Debtors Prison’ Case

Nicole Beemsterboer/NPR

Nicole Beemsterboer/NPR

You can add Colorado Springs, Colo., to the list of American cities learning that turning “civil” cases like traffic tickets into jail-time cases might be illegal. National Public Radio did a deep-dive into the situation this week, offering the context that “… debtors’ prisons have long been illegal in the United States. But many courts across the country still send people to jail when they can’t pay their court fines. Last year, the Justice Department stepped in to stop the practice in Ferguson, Mo. And now, in a first, a U.S. city will pay out thousands of dollars to people who were wrongly sent to jail.”

The NPR story said that Colorado Springs and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado announced “… a settlement that will end the practice of jailing people too poor to pay their court fines. The city will even give payouts to people who were incorrectly sent to jail. Last year, the ACLU of Colorado discovered nearly 800 cases where people had gone to jail in Colorado Springs when they couldn’t pay their tickets for minor violations. Most of the people were homeless — and they were ticketed for things such as panhandling or sleeping in a park overnight. The settlement calls for people to receive $125 for each day they were in jail. One man featured in the story, illegally jailed after being fined for holding up a sign at roadside, will receive some $11,000.

NPR quoted ACLU attorney Mark Silverstein explaining that “… putting people in jail when they can’t pay their fines — without giving them alternative options such as community service — has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court” and also cited their previous work on the issue: An NPR investigative series in 2014 found the practice is widespread across the country. “The law is supposed to treat us equally,” Silverstein says. “So when people with means can simply pay a fine and move on and then the poor get sentenced to jail, because they’re poor, that’s a two-tiered system of justice that violates the principle of equal protection of the laws.”

That previous NPR investigation, which is truly alarming, noted that “… one of the first instances NPR found of fees charged to criminal defendants was in 1965 when California required payments to reimburse crime victims. By the 1980s, states started billing criminal defendants to reimburse taxpayers. Michigan, in 1984, passed the first law to charge inmates for some of the costs of their incarceration. By 1990, Texas reported that fees from offenders made up more than half the budget of the state’s probation agencies.” California now can charge people for their jail stays, public defender costs and other fees, as can 48 other states.

Read the Colorado Springs story here:

Colorado Springs Will Stop Jailing People Too Poor To Pay Court Fines

California Teacher’s Union First Post-Scalia Winner

Demonstrators supporting Rebecca Friedrichs, a plaintiff in the case, outside the Supreme Court in January. Photo Credit New York Times report, 3/29/16

Demonstrators supporting Rebecca Friedrichs, a plaintiff in the case, outside the Supreme Court in January. Photo Credit New York Times report, 3/29/16

When a case involving California public schoolteachers – and by implication any union’s ability to collect fees from workers who choose not to join and do not want to pay for collective bargaining agreements – was first argued before the U.S. Supreme Court back in January, it seemed headed for another 5-4 vote that would greatly diminish the power of collective bargaining organizations.

But now, in what the New York Times calls “… the starkest illustration yet of how the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month has blocked the power of the court’s four remaining conservatives to move the law to the right…” it has been upheld on a 4-to-4 vote.

The times reports that “… a ruling in [the union-opposed teachers] favor would have affected millions of government workers and weakened public-sector unions, which stood to lose fees both from workers who objected to the positions the unions take and from those who simply chose not to join while benefiting from the unions’ efforts on their behalf.”

Read the NYT take the landmark case here: Victory for Unions as Supreme Court, Scalia Gone, Ties 4-4

Justice Scalia Was Leader In Civil Justice Decisions

Photo Credit: The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Saturday in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. NPR report, 2/15/16

Photo Credit: The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Saturday in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
NPR report, 2/15/16

The political and criminal-law fallout from the sudden death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is, of course, being widely discussed as President Obama prepares to nominate a successor. But NPR has done a good job at detailing a half-dozen cases that really illustrate how much Justice Scalia sculpted the modern civil litigation landscape.

For example, remember the huge Wal-Mart lawsuit over treatment of female workers? NPR backgrounded the case: “The issue before the Supreme Court was whether female employees as a group could be certified as a single class, suing Wal-Mart at a single trial. Lawyers for the women introduced evidence showing that female employees held two-thirds of the lowest-level hourly jobs at Wal-Mart, but only one-third of the management jobs, and that women overall were paid on average $1.16 per hour less than men in the same jobs, though the women had more seniority and higher performance ratings.”

Scalia was widely noted as a reason Wal-Mart prevailed in its appeal to the high court. Other cases of illustration, like Hobby Lobby and Citizen’s United, can be found here: 6 Major Supreme Court Cases That Would Have Been Different Without Scalia

Housing Rules Yet Another Huge SCOTUS 5-4 Decision

 

Photo from CNN report: Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court

Photo from CNN report: Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court

Obamacare and same-sex marriage naturally dominated attention over recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but a huge housing issue also got a 5-4 ruling that leans toward the court’s liberal side. The court, in effect, re-affirmed a federal law passed in 1968 to combat housing discrimination by, as CNN explained, “… holding that the law allows not only claims for intentional discrimination but also, claims that cover practices that have a discriminatory effect, even if they were not motivated by an intent to discriminate.”
 
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 opinion for a closely divided Court concerning the scope of the Fair Housing Act. He noted that “… much progress remains to be made in our nation’s continuing struggle against racial isolation.” His opinion was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer.
 
Opponents including the state of Texas argued that the law punished outcomes without any intent of harming anyone, and actually injects more, not less, race into housing development decisions.
 
Read the CNN coverage here.