Tag Archives: lawsuit

Sanctuary

You may have read about Jeff Sessions’ recent lawsuit against California. Sessions is pursuing the Trump Administration’s vendetta against immigrants (ostensibly against undocumented immigrants, but with rhetoric that signals distaste for anyone–legal or not–who is less pale than a Norwegian), and he’s determined to overcome any obstacles to that task.

Vox explains the lawsuit. 

The Department of Justice has just filed a lawsuitagainst the state over three laws it passed in 2017 that limit government officials’ and employers’ ability to help federal immigration agents, and that give California the power to review conditions in facilities where immigrants are being detained by the feds. Sessions, in a Wednesday speech to the California Peace Officers’ Association, a law enforcement union, is giving the message in person.

It’s a huge escalation of the Trump administration’s fight against “sanctuary cities” that limit local-federal cooperation on immigration enforcement. After a year of slow-moving or unsuccessful attempts to block “sanctuary” jurisdictions from getting federal grants, Sessions is moving to stop them from passing laws that limit cooperation to begin with. And he’s starting with a shot across the bow: targeting the bluest state in the union, whose 2017 bills represented a model for progressives to use federalism against the Trump administration’s immigration agenda.

Sessions’ is determined to pursue his punitive federal policy without having to deal with impediments to enforcement enacted by progressive cities and states. According to Vox, we should view this lawsuit as the next phase “in a battle the Trump administration and California are equally enthusiastic about having: an ongoing culture war between progressive politicians who feel a duty to make their immigrant residents feel as safe as possible, and an administration (and its backers) whose stated policy is that no unauthorized immigrant should feel safe.”

Vox is right to label this a culture war. I used to reserve that term for fights over the so-called “social issues”–abortion, same-sex marriage, prayer in schools, religious icons on public land and the like. That was before I realized that environmentalism had also become a culture war issue, and that the division wasn’t simply between religious and secular Americans, but also between adherents of very different religious worldviews.

We Americans are currently very polarized, to put it mildly. The expanded “culture war” of which immigration is a part is an outgrowth of our increasing tribalism, our stubborn  residence within bubbles populated primarily by our “own kind,” both intellectually and geographically.

The big question is whether this is an era of transition–a time of paradigm shift brought on by rapid changes in technology and especially communications–or whether it is something more lasting. The activism of the younger generation that we have seen in the wake of the Parkland shooting is a hopeful sign that it may be the former–that the fear and insecurity that have prompted recent, distressing eruptions of bigotry and racial resentment will pass as my generation dies off.

The challenge will be to keep the Donald Trumps and Jeff Sessions of the world from inflicting irreparable damage in the meantime.

Jeff Sessions And His War On Pot

Given the daily headlines generated by this Administration–everything from porn star lawsuits and tariffs to the escalating exodus from the White House (Bill Maher opined that this is the largest rush to exit since the British burned it)– it may have escaped most people’s notice that various cabinet officials are making a valiant effort to take America back to the last century.

Nowhere is that effort more concerted than in Jeff Session’s Department of Justice.

Sessions has refused to enforce consent decrees with various police departments. He has rolled back anti-discrimination measures. He’s re-instituted civil forfeitures (one of the few measures uniformly condemned by civil libertarians, criminal justice experts, and politicians from both parties). His retrograde policies about immigration have led him to sue California for its sanctuary efforts. His “tough on crime” initiatives ignore 25 years of criminal justice research.

But it is his unrelenting insistence on reinvigorating the discredited War on Drugs that best illustrates his passion for returning us to the 1950s. So it will be interesting to see what eventually happens with a lawsuit first filed last November.

Alexis Bortell, along with her father and other plaintiffs, including former NFL player Marvin Washington, filed suit in the Southern District of New York against the attorney general as well as the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency….

Alexis, whose family moved to Colorado from Texas to take advantage of the state’s legalization of recreational and medical marijuana, had been suffering since she was 7 from a form of epilepsy that cannot be safely controlled with FDA-approved treatments and procedures, the lawsuit says.

As a result, she often had multiple seizures a day. “Nothing she tried worked,” the suit states. When her family finally tried a form of marijuana, the girl found “immediate relief from her seizures.”

“Since being on whole-plant medical Cannabis, Alexis has gone more than two years seizure-free,” the suit says.

 Alexis won’t be able to return to her native Texas where she qualifies for free college, because she would be subject to arrest if she continued to use marijuana to control her seizures.

Unfortunately, in February, the Judge dismissed the claims, citing precedent.

The Second Circuit has already determined that Congress had a rational basis to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug,” Hellerstein writes, “and any constitutional rigidity is overcome by granting the Attorney General, through a designated agent, the authority to reclassify a drug according to the evidence before it. … There can be no complaint of constitutional error when such a process is designed to provide a safety valve of this kind.”

However, Hellerstein immediately follows this conclusion with a paragraph suggesting that he is sympathetic to assertions that marijuana has medical uses.

“I emphasize that this decision is not on the merits of plaintiffs’ claim,” he points out. “Plaintiffs’ amended complaint, which I must accept as true for the purpose of this motion, claims that the use of medical marijuana has, quite literally, saved their lives, One plaintiff in this case, Alexis Bortell, suffers from intractable epilepsy, a severe seizure disorder that once caused her to experience multiple seizures every day. After years of searching for viable treatment options, Alexis began using medical marijuana. Since then, she has gone nearly three years without a single seizure.”

Alexis wasn’t the only plaintiff: she was joined by six-year-old Jagger Cotte, who treats with cannabis for Leigh Syndrome, a horrible, terminal neurological disorder; former NFL linebacker Marvin Washington, who makes cannabis-based products for head trauma; Iraq War veteran Jose Belen, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and was given the option of “opioids or nothing” from the Veterans Administration; and the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit concerned with racial disparities in drug policy enforcement.

All indications are that the dismissal will be appealed to the Second Circuit, and no matter who wins there, probably to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Jeff Session’s Justice Department will continue to ignore both the overwhelming consensus of research and the undeniable, abject failure of the 20th Century’s drug war.

In Trump’s America, of course, evidence and expertise are irrelevant.

A Lawsuit Worth Supporting

Yesterday, the NAACP, Common Cause and several individual plaintiffs brought a lawsuit that I consider overdue.

A bit of background: Indiana law allows early voting, and also allows counties to establish satellite voting centers to make casting those votes more convenient. The law requires a unanimous vote by the County’s Election Board members in order to open a satellite center. Some Boards establish several  in order to accommodate their voters. Lake County, with fewer residents than Marion County, has eight.

Marion County is the most populous county in the state, but for the past several years, the lone Republican on the three-member board has adamantly opposed opening any satellite sites.

As the Complaint notes,

  1. Marion County had 699,709 registered voters in 2016 but because of the MCEB’s refusal to approve satellite voting locations, it had but a single early voting location due to the MCEB’s failure this decade to approve a resolution establishing satellite sites for early voting, a ratio of one (1) early voting site to 699,709 registered voters.
  2. By contrast, Hamilton County had 230,786 registered voters in 2016. Its election officials unanimously approved two satellite voting locations in addition to the office of the circuit court clerk, a ratio of one early site for every 76,929 registered voters.
  3. Hendricks County had 109,903 registered voters in 2016. Its election officials approved three (3) satellite voting locations in addition to the office of the circuit court clerk, a ratio of one early voting site for every 27,476 registered voters.
  4. Johnson County had 107,546 registered voters in 2016. Its election officials approved five (5) early voting sites in addition to the office of the circuit court clerk, a ratio of one early voting site for every 17,924 registered voters.

The refusal to open satellite sites in Marion County has caused  long lines and extended wait times at the sole available site–the office of the circuit court clerk in Indianapolis.

The refusal to approve satellite voting sites has also resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of voters who cast an early in-person absentee vote in 2012 and 2016 as compared to the numbers of voters who voted early in 2008 when satellite locations were approved and used, which has the further effect of causing a higher percentage of Marion County voters to cast an in-person ballot on Election Day, thus resulting in increased lines and wait times at precinct polling places.

Moreover, because Marion County has the highest percentage (28%) of African-Americans in Indiana, and because African-American voters are more likely than other voters to utilize early voting, the MCEB’s refusal to approve multiple satellite locations for early in-person absentee voting as permitted by Indiana law has disproportionately resulted in the denial or abridgement of the right of African-American voters to cast an early in-person absentee ballot.

The suit asks the Court to find that the Republican member of the Election Board has caused the Board to violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, the Voting Rights Act and the Indiana Constitution, and to issue an order “enjoining Defendants from continuing to obstruct, interfere with and block the establishment of at least two satellite voting locations in Marion County for the federal elections in 2018 and beyond.”

It’s bad enough that Indiana’s polls close earlier than all but one other state, and that our Voter ID law operates to suppress the votes of the poor and elderly. But to limit early voting to a site inconvenient to so many and where parking is so difficult is just another way of giving the finger to minority and Democratic voters in Indianapolis.

If you agree that this suit is meritorious and overdue, join me in supporting the crowdfunding effort that has been established to cover litigation expenses. The estimable Bill Groth (a local hero!)–is handling the case pro bono, but Defendants are sure to run up the expenses that will have to be covered.

This cynical effort to suppress votes rather than competing for them “fair and square” needs to be defeated.

Even Jerks Have Rights

A couple of days ago, the Indianapolis Star ran a story about a group of very odd bedfellows who are urging the Indiana Supreme Court to accept and reverse a case that presents significant First Amendment issues. I was one of those “bedfellows,” and I will admit that I would never have imagined teaming up with Phyllis Schafly’s Eagle Forum, or the “First Amendment” organization run by Jim Bopp! (I have more in common with other members of the group: Jim Brown, former Dean of IUPUI’s Journalism School, the Indianapolis Star itself, the Hoosier State Press Association, and a variety of other organizations.)

The case that gave rise to this challenge was a divorce and custody battle. The Judge awarded custody of the children to the wife, and the husband was furious. He vented his displeasure in a series of blog posts that were–well, just let’s say they were not complimentary. Among other things, the husband compared the decision to award custody to the mother to child abuse.

From what I can tell from the record, the guy is missing a few screws, and is fairly unpleasant to boot.

Being unpleasant, however, is not equivalent to waiving one’s right to free speech. In this case, the lower courts ruled that the husband’s online rants had violated an Indiana statute prohibiting intimidation. That Statute defines intimidation as a threat or threats that have the purpose of making their target behave in a certain way (for example, the man who tells his girlfriend that he will break her arms and legs if she leaves him). The Indiana Court of Appeals decided that the husband’s stated intention to continue publicly criticizing the Judge amounted to such a threat.

If that interpretation stands, the statute would criminalize common, constitutionally protected forms of speech. The purported “threat” was along the lines of “If you don’t reverse your decision, I’ll continue to badmouth you.” As Eugene Volokh, the constitutional scholar and law professor who is representing our group, puts it in his brief, this sort of “threat” is indistinguishable from the following:

(1)  a columnist’s writing, “Legislator A’s vote on issue B is ridiculous, and I intend to ridicule him until his constituents view him with contempt.”

(2)  an advocacy group’s picketing a store with signs saying, “The store owner’s decision to stock product C is disgraceful, and we hope our speech will expose the owner to disgrace and ostracism.”

(3)  a politician’s saying, “The incumbent’s decision D is so foolish that, once I tell the voters about it, he will be the laughingstock of the state.”

The truth is, the right to free speech is often exercised by people who have nothing of value to say. It is often a shield for vulgarity and stupidity. It protects people who use words to attack and diminish others. But so long as the weapon of choice is language–so long as there is no threat of non-verbal harm–the speech is protected against reprisals from government. As numerous courts have reminded litigants, the antidote to bad speech isn’t government suppression; it is more and better speech.

As tempting as it is to use the government to shut down annoying jerks, it’s well to remember that a government with that power can also silence the rest of us.