Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Big Days at SCOTUS

Linda Greenhouse has a good roundup in the NYTimes of several important cases that the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this week (no, not the Anna Nicole Smith case).

In one of today's cases, Randall v. Sorrell, the Court will decide whether states (Vermont, in this instance) can limit campaign expenditures. This may be a chance for the Court to reexamine its tortured Buckley v. Valeo ruling, which "upheld limits on political contributions but determined that campaign spending was a form of political speech that the First Amendment did not permit the government to curtail." However, a federal appeals court in New York last year agreed with Vermont that certain justifications ("deterring corruption, and relieving politicians of the distractions of nonstop fund-raising") could allow expenditure limits to pass constitutional muster. How the justices decide this case will have an important impact on all future campaign finance rules at the state and federal levels, and today's argument may offer some clues as to how the current justices are inclined. As far as I know (please correct me if I'm wrong) the Court is not planning to release the audio of today's hearing immediately, so we'll have to wait for the Lithwick and Greenhouse dispatches later on to find out how things went.

When it comes to money in politics I tend to take the rather uncommon Justice Stevens view that money is property, not speech; I believe that states and the federal government do have legitimate interests in regulating its use in campaigns - but the rest of the Court's not there yet, so hopefully at least we'll get a clearer ruling than the mud they've given us so far.

On Wednesday the Supremes will take up four combined challenges to the now-infamous 2003 Texas redistricting procedure, under the umbrella name League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry. The Court will have another chance to address the question of partisanship in redistricting; in the last case on the subject two years ago, Justice Kennedy wrote that he believes there may well be lines beyond which partisanship is not allowable. Those appealing the redistricting will argue that "an unnecessary redrawing of district lines designed solely to replace representatives from one party with representatives from another" serves "no legitimate governmental purpose" and should be declared unconstitutional.

Again, a very important case for future reforms, this time in the redistricting arena. If Justice Kennedy agrees with the appellants that the Texas districts were unconstitutionally redesigned, the move to reform the way redistricting is done will gain some serious new steam, I hope. It is time to kill the gerrymander once and for all, and declare an end to partisan redistricting.

The Texas case, as Greenhouse notes, also bears on questions of race and minority voting rights: "One question before the justices is whether black voters, accounting for less than one-quarter of the district's voting-age population, can challenge the new lines under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which guarantees minorities the right to 'participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice' to no less a degree than 'other members of the electorate.'"

Two hours have been set aside tomorrow for the Texas cases, and again I'll try to post excerpts or audio files as soon as they're made available.


At 10:11 AM, Blogger The Cynical Liberal said...

Don't forget Anna Nicole Smith's case going before the Supreme Court.

That's very important.


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