U.S. Supreme Court clears way for Flint, Mich. class-action lawsuits

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio as reported by NRDC, 3/28/17.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio as reported by NRDC, 3/28/17.

Two class-action lawsuits by residents of Flint, Mich., based on lead contamination of the water supply, can proceed under civil rights statutes, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined.

Reuters reported on the decision, which “left in place a July 2017 ruling by the Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that revived the litigation after the lawsuits were thrown out by a lower court.”

While the Flint water contamination gained much media coverage, The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) provided a good overview of the timeline: “On April 25, 2014, officials looking to save money switched Flint, Michigan’s drinking water supply from the Detroit city system to the Flint River. This new water was highly corrosive. Because city and state officials broke federal law by failing to treat it, lead leached out from aging pipes into thousands of homes.”

A separate legal settlement requires the city and the State of Michigan to replace Flint’s lead and galvanized steel service lines within three years and $97 million to pay for the replacement of pipes, the NRDC reported.

Silver Gets More Time Before Serving Federal Jail Sentence

Former Democratic New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver exits Manhattan Federal District Court after being sentenced to 12 years on corruption related charges, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Bryan R. Smith / Bryan R. Smith

Former Democratic New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver exits Manhattan Federal District Court after being sentenced to 12 years on corruption related charges, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Bryan R. Smith / Bryan R. Smith

The federal judge who sentenced former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to 12 years in prison has granted the 72-year-old two more months of freedom before he begin to serve time. The delay comes because the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case of a convicted Virginia governor and one of the issues is what constitutes an “official act.”

The judge also set up a five-week briefing schedule after the Supreme Court rules in former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s challenge to his corruption conviction. That time will allow her to decide if Silver is entitled to bail pending appeal because a reversal is likely.

Read the story via NY Newsday here:
Silver’s prison surrender delayed by 2 months

Supreme Court Begins Immigration Case With Sharp Questions

Demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court on Monday as it heard a challenge to President Obama’s plan to shield millions of immigrants from deportation and allow them to work. Photo Credit, New York Times report, 4/18/2016

Demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court on Monday as it heard a challenge to President Obama’s plan to shield millions of immigrants from deportation and allow them to work. Photo Credit, New York Times report, 4/18/2016

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Supreme court seemed “sharply divided” during extended arguments over a 26-state challenge to President Obama’s order to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work in the country legally.

The Times backgrounded that “… Scott A. Keller, Texas’s solicitor general, said Mr. Obama’s plan was unprecedented and unlawful. He faced skeptical questions from the court’s more liberal members about whether his state had suffered the sort of direct and concrete injury that gave it standing to sue. The case, United States v. Texas, No. 15-674, was heard by an eight-member court, and the absence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February, has altered the judicial dynamic. A 4-4 deadlock is now a live possibility, one that would leave in place an appeals court ruling that blocks the plan without setting a Supreme Court precedent.”

Back in January, when the high court agreed to consider the case, the possibility was that the court would issue a major decision – in effect, the thinking was, the court might ask if President Obama had met his constitutional obligations to enforce the nation’s laws.

Of course the case, formally entitled “United States v. Texas, No. 15-674,” is being considered by an eight-member court after the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. That opens the very real chance of a 4-4 deadlock, which would leave the lower court’s ruling against the president’s plan in place, but would not set a legal policy.

Read the NYT piece here:

9th Circuit Revives Challenge To Odd California Liquor Law

The federal Ninth Circuit Court has revived a challenge to California’s law against compensating alcohol retailers for advertising products, saying that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions conflict with that regulation. The lawsuit at issue involves Retail Digital Network challenging the law under First Amendment arguments. The company installs liquid-crystal displays in retail stores and then enters into contracts with people wanting to advertise on those displays. That activity is outlawed by the California law, one of the nation’s strongest.
Read more from the Courthouse News Service here.

Obama’s ‘Clean Plants’ Order Headed For Fast Supreme Court Decision

Litigation over President Obama’s climate-change order, “Clean Plants,” is headed for an emergency decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The plan requires a 32 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and is being opposed by 25 states, mostly Republican-led with Texas and West Virginia leading the way. But California and and about a dozen other states, mostly Democratic, are supporting the move by the EPA.
David G. Savage, writing in the Los Angeles Times, explains that the GOP-led side of the lawsuit is seeking an emergency decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to halt implementation of the new rule pending their legal battle. A District of Columbia court recently refused to do so, leading to the emergency appeal to the higher court.
Savage said that Chief Justice Roberts has asked for a response by Feb. 4 from the president’s lawyers and will likely refer the matter to the full court. While there’s no deadline, he added, the justices usually act in a few weeks on such emergency orders.

Supreme Court Will Hear Immigration Case Affecting Millions

Photo Credit: 1/19/16 CNN Politics video coverage

Photo Credit: 1/19/16 CNN Politics video coverage

Sweeping immigration reform implemented by President Obama’s executive order, which was frozen by federal courts, will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court announced this week that it will hear the case that would impact tens of millions of people. CNN notes that “the Supreme Court — which already has a docket bursting with consequential issues — will likely rule on the case by early summer. If the Court greenlights the programs that are considered a centerpiaece of the President’s second term, they will go into effect before he leaves office.”

The CNN report offers background: “At issue is the implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) aimed at the approximately 4.3 million undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, as well as an expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) targeting teenagers and young adults who were born outside of the U.S. but raised in the country. The President’s actions allow eligible participants to obtain temporary lawful presence and apply for work authorization as well as some associated benefits.”

See the report here: Obama immigration reform: SCOTUS to hear actions – CNNPolitics.com

U.S. Supreme Court Considers Huge Shift In Union Dues Collection

Photo: From Newsweek report, 1/18/16

Photo: From Newsweek report, 1/8/16

A 2013 California civil lawsuit is up for U.S. Supreme Court review this week and could dramatically change the organized labor landscape for public employees. The core issue in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is whether unions can collect fees from people who do not want to be in the union. The Los Angeles Daily News explains that “… since 1977, the court has allowed public-sector unions to charge the nonmembers whom they represent fees to cover the cost of bargaining over working conditions that will benefit those nonmembers as well as the union’s own ranks on the payroll… they cannot charge a fee to cover union political activity, such as lobbying or campaign spending…”

The case against the Teachers Association argues, in effect, that everything a union does is political – even bargaining. Everyone agrees that the controlling legal precedent is a case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which actually moved the case through the lower courts relatively quickly. The Daily News notes that justices have signaled a sea change: “Although the Abood ruling remains a controlling decision, the court has been dropping hints for the past two years that the precedent has become shaky. A majority of the Justices joined in the critique, most strongly expressed in 2014 in Harris v. Quinn. The court said then that it is a ‘bedrock principle that, except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.’

Thus, the challengers are turning their case into a ‘compelled speech’ dispute, treating union assessments as forcing nonmembers to embrace union goals.”
Read the Daily News story and follow the lawsuit here:

What the Supreme Court must decide about union dues

6th Circuit Allows Gay Marriage Bans

In a divided decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has backed same-sex marriage bans in four states, leading to speculation that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually tackle the issue. Reports the Vox.com news site: “Beyond stopping same-sex couples from marrying in several states, the decision makes it very likely that the Supreme Court will now step in to decide the issue of same-sex marriage.” 
Vox offers some background: “[The] nation’s highest court previously side-stepped the debate, largely because all circuit courts had been in agreement that states’ same-sex marriage bans violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. The decision not to act sparked a wave of court rulings ending same-sex marriage bans in several states, from Idaho to North Carolina.”

U.S. Chief Justice Pleads For More Funding, Warns Of Constitutional Issues

The new year began with a New Year’s Eve warning from U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts that sounds a lot like a federal version of what California has been going through for several years. In effect, the Chief Justice is warning that court cutbacks are threatening access to justice, especially when it comes to public defenders and other rights guaranteed by the constitution.
This is not exactly new. Chief Justice Roberts has repeatedly warned of funding problems, especially those caused by the so-called sequestration cuts. But this warning comes a few weeks after two top officials from the nation’s Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts issued similar warnings.
As usual, the debate focuses on criminal courts but civil court delays were also noted. The Chief Justice wrote that “… in the civil and bankruptcy venues, further consequences would include commercial uncertainty, lost opportunities, and unvindicated rights. In the criminal venues, those consequences pose a genuine threat to public safety.”

Inmate Release Offering Lessons For Civil Courts?

For those seeking court reform, whether civil or criminal, the ongoing issue of releasing some 10,000 California inmates offers some potential lessons. For one thing, it suggests that the only real reason this issue is being addressed is that a federal court has ordered the release, prompting a shift in attitude. Exhibit I in this discussion has become a Los Angeles Times editorial that even blamed poor news coverage for part of the problem.
And the Times did not hesitate to say that the “… [court]’s] population reduction order, and the courts’ hard line on enforcing it, has moved the state and counties, reluctantly, to set priorities for prison space and consider alternative community-based sentencing. There is little evidence to suggest that state officials will move faster or smarter if the order is softened.” 
In effect, the newspaper is saying that the only reason the issues of addiction and repeat crimes are being addressed is that a court order eliminated a “headline-by-headline” political approach that ignored core challenges. That’s not only quite an indictment, but it suggests that any reform movement on the civil side of the courts equation will face a long road before obtaining improvements. It also suggests that only federal court pressure, say from problems with ADA compliance, will force the state to move.
Check out the Times take here.