Supreme Court Case That Could Topple Teachers Unions

Rebecca FriedrichsFaced with the greatest legal challenge to their core source of revenue, California unions have braced for defeat and scrambled for alternatives.

Some time after its new term begins this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which challenges the union’s collection of mandatory fees from members. The case’s stakes have been raised as high as possible by plaintiffs’ supporters. “We are seeking the end of compulsory union dues across the nation,” said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“Since 1997, the Supreme Court has held that requiring non-union members to pay the cost of collective bargaining prevents ‘free riders,’ meaning workers who get the benefits of a union contract without paying for it,” as NBC News noted. “But in subsequent rulings, several of the court’s conservatives have suggested that the decision should be overruled.” Legal analysts suggested the track record implies a victory for California’s plaintiffs. Erin Murphy, a federal appeals lawyer, told NBC News she “would not feel very good about my prospects if I were the unions.”

Crisis mode

At the end of the Legislature’s final session, pro-union Democrats attempted an unusual “gut and amend” maneuver, wherein a bill’s contents are wiped out and completely replaced without revisiting the standard hearing process. The new language would have required one-on-one, union-sponsored “public employee orientation” for existing and new employees. The content of the orientation “would be the sole domain of the union and not open to negotiation,” with employees “required to attend in person during work hours. Taxpayers would pick up the tab,” the Heartland Institute added in a critical summary.

Although the effort failed, it was a notable reflection of state unions’ concern that they can’t rely on the Supreme Court to protect their current practices. “Public employee unions haven’t had mandated orientations because they don’t need them,” U-T San Diego’s Steven Greenhut observed, calling the last-minute gut and amend a “pre-emptive strike” on the court’s hearing of Friedrichs. “Newly hired workers must already pay dues to the recognized union.”

Not all union supporters have framed the impending decision as a crisis, however. “Even some pro-union voices have argued the Friedrichs case doesn’t portend the end of the world for public-sector unions, in that it might force them to become more responsive and democratic,” Greenhut suggested.

But the court’s decision is likely to hinge on more fundamental questions pertaining to the very definition of a union.

What’s a union?

One element of the problem has been that unions fear members just won’t pay dues if they can get away with it — the so-called “free rider” problem, familiar from the idea that many fewer Americans would pay taxes were they merely voluntary. “No one knows how many would, with annual dues in the CTA, for example, often topping $1,000,” according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “That makes this a life-and-death case for the unions,” which fear the political power of their main adversaries — certain large corporations and high-net-worth individuals — would go undiminished. It would be very difficult, in other words, for the court to successfully separate the question of unions’ political power from the question of their existence.

That has led analysts to focus on a second aspect of the problem of what a union really is. One Justice, Antonin Scalia, has indicated in the past that the existence of unions within the American system of law depends on their ability to generalize the burdens of keeping them running. “In a 1991 case, he wrote that because public sector unions have a legal duty to represent all employees, it’s reasonable to expect all workers to share the costs,” the Daily News noted.

For that reason, the question of what counts as political expenditures would likely come to the fore before the court. But the plaintiffs in Friedrichs have anticipated the controversy, because they see it as the foundation of their entire case. “All union fees, they argue, are in some way used for political activities and since they don’t always agree with the union’s stance, having to pay any fees is an infringement on their first amendment rights,” the Guardian reported.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Pair of Federal Lawsuits Could Undo CTA’s Dominance.

brochure04_MyCTAThe U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in the fall. The 2013 lawsuit on behalf of Orange County teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, nine other teachers, and a professional association of Christian educators, takes aim at the constitutionality of California’s “agency shop” law, which forces public-school educators to pay dues to a teachers’ union, whether they want to or not. Friedrichs is now front-and-center in a concerted legal effort to constrain the outsize political influence of teachers’ unions in California and around the United States. “This case is about the right of individuals to decide for themselves whether to join and pay dues to an organization that purports to speak on their behalf,” said Terry Pell, president of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights, the public-interest law firm that is representing Friedrichs. “We are seeking the end of compulsory union dues across the nation on the basis of the free-speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Earlier this year, the teachers’ unions were hit with yet another lawsuit challenging the current compulsory dues-paying mandate. StudentsFirst, the Sacramento-based activist group founded by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, filed Bain v. California Teachers Association, et al. in federal district court in April on behalf of four CTA members. The case challenges a union rule regarding members who refuse to pay the political portion of their dues. While teachers don’t have to join a union as a condition of employment in California, they must pay dues to the union anyway. Most join and pay the full share, which typically runs over $1,000 a year. But according to the CTA, about 29,000 — or 10 percent — of its active teachers opt out of paying the political or “non-chargeable” part, which brings their yearly expenditure down to around $600. However, to become “agency fee payers,” those teachers must resign from the union and relinquish many perks they had as full dues-paying members.

Unlike the plaintiffs in Friedrichs, the Bain teachers want to remain in the union. But they don’t think they should be effectively forced out of it and lose certain benefits because they’re unwilling to fund the leadership’s political agenda. Some teachers object that union political spending goes in one direction only: leftward. CTA spends millions each year on controversial, non-education-related liberal causes, such as establishing a single-payer health care system, expanding the government’s power of eminent domain, instituting same-sex marriage, and blocking photo ID requirements for voters — while giving virtually nothing to conservative candidates or causes.

The teachers argue that this violates their constitutional right to free speech. Affected teachers lose insurance benefits along with the right to vote for their union representative and contracts. They are barred from sitting on certain school committees. They also lose legal representation in employment disputes and at dismissal hearings, as well as compensation for death and dismemberment, and disaster relief. The plaintiffs in Bain are asking why teachers who pay for union representation won through collective bargaining should lose out on those benefits simply because they refuse to pay for the union’s political campaigns.

That question has generated a great number of half-truths, lies, and general non-answers from the media and union leaders alike. For example, EdSource’s John Fensterwald wrote, “Both the CTA and CFT are obligated to negotiate contracts dealing with pay, benefits and working conditions on behalf of union and non-union teachers.” That’s true; all teachers do become “bargaining unit members,” but only because the unions insist on exclusive representation. The unions would have a better case if they would forego their monopoly status and free dissenting teachers to negotiate their own contracts. A Los Angeles Times editorial claimed the case at its core represents “an attack on the power of any public employee union to engage in politics.” Nonsense. If Bain is successful, unions would remain free to “engage in politics”; they would simply have fewer coerced dollars to spend. Alice O’Brien, general counsel for the NEA, said in a statement, “The Bain lawsuit attacks the right of a membership organization to restrict the benefits of membership to those who actually pay dues.” More nonsense. The teacher-plaintiffs are all dues payers and would remain dues payers if their case is successful.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the teachers in the Friedrichs case, it’s unclear what may become of Bain. The two cases have a key difference: Friedrichs claims that all union spending is political, and therefore non-member teachers should not be forced to contribute any dues at all. Bain would help teachers who want union benefits but don’t care for union politics. A favorable outcome in Bain could lead to a more flexible membership scenario, whereby teachers could still be union members, with all the benefits of membership, but not be forced to pay for what has been traditionally regarded as political spending. In any event, the teachers’ unions’ heavy-handed tactics seem to be losing force, and their days of unbridled power may be numbered. That can only be good news for those for whom the unions’ presence in education has become an albatross—teachers, kids, parents, and taxpayers alike.

On Health Care, Obama worked the Refs and Got His Way

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson says he finds referees “a very interesting group of people.”

If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll remember that Jackson has used plainer words about referees, and this has cost him a lot of money over the years. During the 2009 NBA Finals he was fined $25,000 for complaining about “bogus” calls. The following year he was fined $35,000 twice in two weeks.

Why did he complain so publicly?

Jackson may have hinted at the answer in a recent video for a youth sports organization. “It’s an impossible game to referee,” he said. “It’s totally impossible. There’s a foul on every play. You have to decide what you’re going to call and what you’re not going to call, who you’re going to attack and who you’re not going to attack.”

So those costly criticisms may have been an investment in helping the officials make better decisions in the future.

The president of the United States happens to be a basketball fan. Maybe he’s seen this trick work a few times.

Speaking in Germany after the G7 summit on June 8, President Obama lectured the U.S. Supreme Court on how to interpret the Affordable Care Act. “It should be an easy case,” he said, “Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.”

The next day the president spoke again about the law, describing a pre-Obamacare America where parents who didn’t have money could only “beg for God’s mercy” to save their child’s life. But thanks to the health care law, he said, a woman has thrown away her wheelchair, an autistic boy now can speak, a barber was cured of cancer. The president said miracles are happening in hospitals every day. “This is now part of the fabric of how we care for one another,” he concluded. “This is health care in America.”

On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the administration’s interpretation of the health care law, which Chief Justice John Roberts said was necessary to avoid “a calamitous result.” Who would want to be blamed for preventing “miracles”?

Although the justices are insulated from politics by lifetime appointments, they strive to maintain the public’s respect for the institution of the Supreme Court. They can’t put their orders into effect without the aid of elected officials. The judiciary has “neither force nor will, but merely judgment,” Alexander Hamilton explained in the Federalist Papers.

It’s this vulnerability—the Supreme Court’s reliance on the esteem of the public—that Obama attacked in 2010 during his nationally televised State of the Union address. The president slammed the justices, some of whom were seated right in front of him, for their ruling in a campaign finance case.

Longtime political experts were startled by the breach of protocol, but basketball fans would not have been.

With his remarks in Germany, Obama signaled that he was ready to denounce the Supreme Court, perhaps for decades, if the justices blew the whistle on the IRS rule that went around the literal wording of the Affordable Care Act. Sure enough, the call went his way.

Presidents have done this kind of thing before. Franklin Roosevelt famously threatened to pack the court with more justices in order to get the majority he needed to uphold the New Deal. But it was the other Roosevelt, Teddy, who best explained this Progressive technique.

“I may not know much about law,” TR thundered in 1912, “but I do know one can put the fear of God into judges.”

Phil Jackson would have been fined a million dollars for that remark.

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Reach the author at Susan@SusanShelley.com or follow Susan on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

SCOTUS’ Decision To Hear Friedrichs Case Has Unions In A Tizzy

Rebecca FriedrichsOn June 30th, the Supreme Court decided to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al, a case that could seriously change the way the public employee unions (PEUs) do business. If the plaintiffs are victorious, teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, etc. would be able to work without the financial burden of paying union dues. The responses to the Court’s decision from the teachers unions and their friends have ranged from silly to contradictory to blatantly dishonest.

In a rare event, leaders of the NEA, AFT, CTA, AFSCME and SEIU released a joint statementexplaining that worker freedom would be a catastrophe for the Republic. Clutching their hankies, they told us that, “big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance.” And then, with an obvious attempt at eliciting a gasp, “…the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America.” (Perhaps the labor bosses misunderstood the wording of the preamble to the Constitution, “In order to form a more perfect union….” No, this was not an attempt to organize workers.) While the U.S. is not without its problems, removing forced unionism will hardly dent the “fundamental promise of America.”

The California Federation of Teachers, which typically is at the forefront of any class warfare sorties, didn’t disappoint. The union claims on its website that the activity of union foes “has resulted in a sharp decline in median wages for working people and the decline of the middle class alongside the increasing concentration of income and wealth in the hands of the one per cent.” But wait a minute – the unions are the most potent political force in the country today and have been for a while. According to Open Secrets, between 1989-2014, the much maligned one-percenter Koch Brothers ranked 59th in political donations behind 18 different unions. The National Education Association was #4 at $53,594,488 and the American Federation of Teachers was 12th at $36,713,325, while the Kochs spent a measly $18,083,948 during that time period. Also, as Mike Antonucci reports, the two national teachers unions, NEA and AFT, spend more on politics than AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined.”

So the question to the unions becomes, “With your extraordinary political clout and assertion that working people’s wages and membership in the middle class are declining, just what good have you done?”

Apparently very little. In fact, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research reports that when disposable personal income – personal income minus taxes – is adjusted for differences in living costs, the seven states with the lowest incomes per capita (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia) are forced-union states. “Of the nine states with the highest cost of living-adjusted disposable incomes in 2011, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming all have Right to Work laws.” Overall, the cost of living-adjusted disposable income per capita for Right to Work states in 2011 “was more than $36,800, or roughly $2200 higher than the average for forced-unionism states.”

But the most galling and downright fraudulent union allegations about Friedrichs concern the “free rider” issue. If the case is successful, public employees will have a choice whether or not they have to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. (There are 25 states where workers now have this choice, but in the other 25 they are forced to pay to play.) The unions claim that since they are forced to represent all workers, that those who don’t pay their “fair share” are “freeloaders” or “free riders.” The unions would have a point if someone was sticking a gun to their collective heads and said, “Like it or not, you must represent all workers.” But as Iwrote recently, the forced representation claim is a big fat lie. Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst James Sherk explains:

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows unions that demonstrate majority support to negotiate as exclusive representatives. If they do so they must negotiate fairly on behalf of all employees, including those who do not pay dues. However unions may disavow (or not obtain) exclusive representative status and negotiate only for their members. Nothing in the National Labor Relations Act forces exclusive representation on unwilling unions.(Emphasis added.)

Mike Antonucci adds:

The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a ‘privilege’ we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.

If there are still any doubters, George Meany, the first president of the AFL-CIO, whose rein began in 1955 and continued for 24 years, told Congress:

When a union has exclusive recognition with a federal activity or agency, that union is required to represent all workers in that unit, whether or not those workers are members of the union. We do not contest this requirement. We support it for federal service, just as we support it in private industry labor-management relations.

While the NLRA applies only to private employee unions, the same types of rules invariably govern PEUs. Passed in 1976, California’s Rodda Act allows for exclusive representation and it’s up to each school district and its local union whether or not they want to roll that way. However, it is clearly in the best interest of the union to be the only representative for teachers because it then gets to collect dues from every teacher in the district. It’s also easier on school boards as they only have to deal with one bargaining entity. So it is really a corrupt bargain; there is no law foisting exclusivity on any teachers union in the state.

So exclusive representation is good for the unions and simplifies life for the school boards, but very bad for teachers who want nothing to do with organized labor. It is also important to keep in mind that the Friedrichs case is not an attempt to “bust unions.” This silly mantra is a diversionary tactic; the case in no way suggests a desire to do away with unions. So when organized labor besieges us with histrionics about “the promise of America,” the dying middle class, free riders etc., please remind them (with a nod to President Obama), “If you like your union, you can keep your union.” In this case, it’s the truth.

Originally published by Unionwatch.org

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

CA’s Remarkable and Powerful Gay and Lesbian Political Leadership – What is Next From Them?

For some years Californian’s have given gay and lesbian politicians extraordinary leadership opportunities and power in the state. The power these politicians possess in state government is from stronger positions and relatively larger numbers than that of many other minority groups, including Asian elected officials, in a state where Asians comprise 14% of the population, and they arguably possess more political power than African-American politicians, whose affinity group represents close to 7% of the state population. California’s gay and lesbian elected officials have wielded this power even as those same California voters disapproved gay marriage at the ballot, as in 2008, when just over 52% of voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage.  (The same voters gave Barack Obama over 61% of their votes in the same election.) But times are changing, and California’s highly influential gay and lesbian elected officials, who have been so successful on civil rights issues for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and have worked so hard on issues like same-sex marriage, have surely played a role in the remarkable changes in California public opinion since 2008.  According to a September 2013 Public Policy Institute of California poll (taken well before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision approving same sex marriage as a Constitutional right), a record high 61% of Californians and 64% of likely voters favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, and in apparent remorse for the 2008 vote on Proposition 8, solid majorities of Californians (59%) and likely voters (63%) approved of the U.S. Supreme Court’s earlier decision to let stand a lower court ruling that put a “stay” on Proposition 8′s ban on same-sex marriage in California. One might guess that public opinion in California in favor of same-sex marriage is even more popular today than in PPIC’s last survey.

Who are these notably powerful gay and lesbian leaders? They are almost all liberal Democrats, and have served in responsible leadership positions (some retired only because of term limits) in the last decade and include current Assembly Speaker (the state assembly’s most important position) Toni Atkins of San Diego, the state’s first out lesbian Speaker, and her immediate predecessor John Perez of Los Angeles, the state’s first out gay Assembly Speaker.  Included also are former State Senator Sheila Kuehl from Santa Monica, now serving in the significant position of Los Angeles County Supervisor, current State Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, the State Senate’s first out gay State Senator and a possible successor for Nancy Pelosi’s Congressional seat,  former State Senator Carole Migden of San Francisco, along with retired State Senator Christine Kehoe of San Diego and retired Assembly member Jackie Goldberg of Los Angeles. Congressman Mark Takano of Riverside is an out gay, as is San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts. They are all Democrats and are joined by many more gay and lesbian elected officials throughout the state in other state and local offices.

A few influential gay and lesbian elected officials are Republicans, and they are generally representing southern California constituencies.  Bonnie Dumanis, holding the important office of District Attorney of San Diego County, is a lesbian and a Republican. But Republican gay and lesbian candidates have been less successful at the ballot box than their liberal Democrats counterparts. Carl DeMaio was elected to the San Diego City Council, but he lost close races for Mayor of San Diego and the 52nd Congressional seat to straight Democrats. Kevin James lost his race for Mayor of Los Angeles in 2013, but was appointed after the election to the powerful Public Works Commission. Some gay Republican elected officials have not been “out” about themselves.  In at least one example, former GOP State Senator Ray Ashburn was considered in a published account as a “fierce opponent of gay rights” until he was arrested for drunk driving after leaving a gay nightclub in Sacramento one night, leading to his coming “out” as a gay man. Ashburn’s term ended in the State Senate in 2010 and he lost a shot at a political comeback when he ran for Kern County Board of Supervisors in 2012 and lost. (He had previously served 12 years as a supervisor, before his election to the state Legislature.)

California’s powerful liberal Democratic gay and lesbian elected leaders of course can’t claim credit for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, but the result is something they have doggedly and passionately worked on for many years. It is a huge goal to be considered now accomplished. So the question is, what will they do with their formidable power now?

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci asked more-or-less that question in a recent article. She quotes Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, as saying there is growing concern that “we see people coming out of religious communities being very threatened by the advances we made, and we really need to work on that.”  “Here in California,” he said, “we’re still seeing continued attacks by the religious right on the transgender community, and ballot measures by the same right-wing extremists who brought us Prop. 8.”

Zbur’s rhetoric may also be a growing concern. If it was “right-wing” extremists who brought about Proposition 8, they were supported by 52% of the state, the same state that elected Obama in a landslide in the same election.  There should not be growing concerns on the part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community given the changes we have seen in California and society in general since 2008. As I said earlier, polling shows a markedly different attitude today among Californians on the issue of same-sex marriage than just seven years ago, and those changes in voter attitudes aren’t just about changes in demographics. They have a lot to do with political leadership in the state. In my opinion, the growing concern for the state is not about what right-wing extremists are going to do, rather, it is about how far California’s supporters of LGBT rights are going to push their advantage into the new realm that will pit personal property rights against discrimination claims in the state.

Housing, employment, insurance, renting, leasing, buying, selling, personal service agreements; all these activities involve personal property rights protected by many of the same parts of the constitution as same-sex marriage now is protected.  It is these activities that will likely become the focus of new state legislative proposals intent on building on the U.S. Supreme Court case and this is where the coming tension between constitutional interests will be at the most important. The constitutionally protected right to privacy will also be an issue, as in efforts by opponents of the so-called “transgender” bathroom legislation adopted by the state in 2013. It will be interesting to see how Californians react in polls and voting on an initiative measure pitting personal privacy rights in a bathroom against the right of a transgender person to self-identify.  But let us be clear: privacy, rightly or wrongly, is not a constitutional right that has held much of a trump card with the U.S. Supreme Court in recent decades, as in The Patriot Act decisions. However, personal property rights have indeed mattered to a continuing majority of the modern court, and California’s gay and lesbian leaders should be very careful about how they play their current winning hand, because pushing too hard might just be seen as an attempt not to address a civil right, but to achieve a favoritism in law, and that could easily become a 5-4 losing hand.

Originally published by the Flashreport

CARTOON: Obamacare Ruling

Obamacare cartoon

 

California Gun Limits Face Court Challenge

As reported by the Wall Street Journal:

California’s requirement that residents looking to carry firearms in public have a good reason to do so is facing a high-level court challenge, one that gets to a key question surrounding the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

On Tuesday, 11 judges of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will hear arguments over California’s requirement that applicants show “good cause” before they are allowed to carry a concealed handgun in public. The challengers are taking issue with the rules in two California counties — San Diego and Yolo — where sheriffs say that concern for one’s personal safety alone isn’t considered justification enough for a concealed-carry permit.

In a 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled definitively that people had the right to bear arms in their homes, even in municipalities with strict gun-control laws. But aside from a 2010 case that extended the reach of that ruling, the court has been quiet on how far the right extends beyond the front door, largely leaving lower courts little guidance. The California case will likely give the high court another opportunity to more clearly define the law.

Click here to read the full article

Strict SF Gun Laws Survive Challenge in Courts

GunContinuing its reticence to reach beyond a landmark decision seven years ago, the Supreme Court handed a victory to tight regulations on gun use in San Francisco.

Twin ordinances

“The court on Monday let stand court rulings in favor of a city measure that requires handgun owners to secure weapons in their homes by storing them in a locker, keeping them on their bodies or applying trigger locks,” the Associated Press reported. “A second ordinance bans the sale of ammunition that expands on impact, has ‘no sporting purpose’ and is commonly referred to as hollow-point bullets.” The first ordinance passed in 2007; the second, in 1994.

The NRA and gun rights advocates had expected that the court’s 2008 decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller gave them a strong chance at overcoming the regulations. “Gun owners challenged both ordinances after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Constitution guarantees the right to possess guns at home for self-defense, then ruled in 2010 that state and local laws that substantially burdened that right were invalid,” observed the San Francisco Chronicle. “Gun groups are also relying on those rulings to challenge California’s licensing requirements for concealed weapons, and ordinances in San Francisco and Sunnyvale that ban the possession of high-capacity gun magazines.”

Failure on appeal

As Bloomberg reported, plaintiffs were convinced “that the San Francisco law was similar to the Washington, D.C., trigger-lock requirement invalidated in the high court’s 2008 decision.” But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against them, teeing up a showdown at the Supreme Court. “The Ninth Circuit Court held that the city had a legitimate purpose in applying laws that reduce the danger of guns,” Al Jazeera America recounted, “and that while it did burden the rights of gun owners, it didn’t burden them so much they couldn’t exercise the rights to self-defense enshrined in the Second Amendment.”

“‘The record contains ample evidence that storing handguns in a locked container reduces the risk of both accidental and intentional handgun-related deaths, including suicide,’ Circuit Judge Sandra S. Ikuta wrote in the court’s opinion in March of last year.”

Among Supreme Court Justices, however, only Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas signaled their willingness to take the case.

“In a six-page dissent, Thomas, joined by Scalia wrote that the San Francisco gun laws are ‘in serious tension with Heller‘ and that the prior court rulings had ‘failed to protect’ the Second Amendment,” National Public Radio noted. “San Francisco’s law allows residents to use their handguns for the purpose of self-defense, but it prohibits them from keeping those handguns operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense when not carried on the person,” according to Justice Thomas.

Mixed messages

Although some legal experts immediately noted that the court’s decision raised questions about just how much protection the Second Amendment now could afford, others noted the court’s recent decision to side with the NRA in a different case.

Just last month, the court drew acclaim from the NRA for its unanimous ruling that convicted felons could sell firearms confiscated by law enforcement.

“The decision came in response to a case involving former U.S. Border Patrol agent Tony Henderson,” Western Journalism reported, “whose 19 guns were confiscated by the FBI upon his arrest on drug charges.”

“Following his guilty plea, Henderson was a felon prohibited from possessing firearms; however, he did not want to simply lose the roughly $3,500 his gun collection was worth. He petitioned a lower court in an effort to allow a third party to take possession of the guns and attempt to sell them on his behalf. That effort was unsuccessful at every stage of appeal up to the Supreme Court level.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Court Case Pits Voting Rights of ‘Citizens’ Against ‘Residents’

From the San Diego Union-Tribute, written by Steven Greenhut:

California legislators have over the years been softening the distinction between citizens and noncitizens through a variety of measures that make it harder to deport unauthorized immigrants — and provide them with access to state programs.

While a U.S. Supreme Court case won’t affect a state’s right to pass such measures, it could force state officials to make a firm distinction between citizens and noncitizens in divvying up electoral districts. This Texas voting-rights case, known as Evenwel v. Abbott, could shift power away from poorer, immigrant-heavy urban areas to wealthier and more Republican counties — and from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Legal experts were surprised when, last month, the court decided to accept the case. Critics of that decision, including Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, argue it “could lead to a system of political segregation that only counts three-fifths of our population — and essentially ignores the rest.”

Click here to read the full column

Will The Supreme Court Remake California Politics?

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Like a bolt out of the blue the US Supreme Court has suddenly thrust front and center the most important question in a democracy: who should exercise political power.  Should it be all the people, or should it just be those citizens qualified to vote?  The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case out of Texas that challenges the 50-year methodology of using all the people in drawing legislative districts.  The ruling could drop on California politics like a brick on a tea cup.

Beginning in 1962, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren handed down a series of rulings that said legislative and congressional districts must be drawn on the basis of equal populations – one person, one vote.  This did away with the old rural-based state senates, including California’s where three small counties had one senator and Los Angeles had one senator.  “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres,” said Warren in explaining why malapportioned districts were unconstitutional.

But the Supreme Court never said who the people were.  The Texas plaintiffs say representation should be limited to just the “citizen voting age population” (CVAP).  They have sued their state claiming that some districts have more voters than other districts, because in some districts almost everyone is a citizen while in others many residents are non-citizens, and thus non-voters.  This violates “one person-one vote,” plaintiffs say

So the issue will be: should districts be drawn on the basis of the voters and potential voters in a state; the over-18 citizen population; or can they be drawn as they are now on the basis of the whole population with citizens and non-citizens counted equally.

While this sounds technical and boring, it has huge political impact.  If California went from all residents in drawing its districts to just CVAP, central Los Angeles with its large non-citizen population and younger population would lose a significant number of districts; they would be shifted to the suburbs and rural California, areas with fewer children and non-citizens.

The Los Angeles State Senate district of Democratic President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon is 67 percent Latino by population, but only 52 percent Latino in CVAP.  So if it were redrawn based on CVAP, the district would need to increase in size thus pressuring neighboring Latino districts and ultimately leading to fewer Latino districts in Los Angeles as districts shifted to higher citizen population areas.

Theoretically at least, Republicans could be winners in this new scheme as their areas tend to be suburban and rural with more citizens.  Latinos and the inner cities would lose out, which is why Latino and liberal groups are already panicking over what the Court might do.  “It would devastate Latinos and Asians and the districts currently held by Latinos, Asians and African Americans in California,” said one redistricting expert.  “The question is whether the cities should enjoy the same per capita representation as their suburban and rural, whiter, older counterparts,” wrote one unhappy academic.

Unfortunately for those on the academic left, the answer might be yes.  The Warren Court rulings said we must equalize the rights of voters to elect their representatives.  But if you have some districts full of non-voters, are you not discriminating against those neighboring districts with lots of voters?

The Warren Court did not face this issue half a century ago because the census did not provide a way to count only citizens.  But now the US Census provide counts of those over and under the age of 18, and the census itself has developed a methodology to determine CVAP in census units.  Meridian Pacific has published an analysis of all the districts drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011 and also provides CVAP for every California district.

The Supreme Court itself seems somewhat enamored by CVAP.  In a 2009 case called Bartlett v Strickland the Court ruled five to four that in drawing minority districts a minority group must constitute a numerical majority of the voting-age population in an area.  This required the Citizens Commission to consider CVAP in drawing most of the Los Angeles districts because of the size of the minority populations, so CVAP has already been used in one instance in California.

My guess is that four of the five justices who made up the majority in that ruling voted to hear the Texas case, and that there are five justices ready to define the Warren-era “one person-one vote” standard to mean those who actually can vote: citizens over the age of 18.

If they do, California might have to completely redistrict before the 2018 election, and that would vastly increase the number of rural and suburban districts in this state.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily