Legal Center Weekly Report: February 15, 2013

Voting Rights Act Defended in Supreme Court Brief by Bailed Out Jurisdictions in Shelby County v. Holder / Watchdogs File in Defense of Disclosure Laws in 10th Circuit in Free Speech v. FEC / Reformers Urge House Administration Chair to Hold Hearings to Address 2012 Election Abuses & Fixes / Office of Congressional Ethics Urged to Steer Clear of Rules Change Procedural Minefield / Reform Groups Commend House Leaders for Reauthorizing Office of Congressional Ethics / Senior Counsel Speaks at Penn Law Symposium / Executive Director Appears at University of Baltimore Law School / Legal Center Special Counsel Joins Brennan Center Panel on Modernizing Voting System

Voting Rights Act Defended in Supreme Court Brief by Bailed Out Jurisdictions in Shelby County v. Holder

On February 1, the Campaign Legal Center filed an amici brief to defend the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, on behalf of several jurisdictions that have bailed out under the Act by demonstrating a record of non-discrimination.

The amici brief refutes a string of inaccuracies and overstatements put forth by Shelby County, Alabama, regarding the burdens of the bailout process. The amici curiae Washington County, VA, the General Registrar of Voters of Essex County, VA and the City of Kings Mountain, NC explain that the bailout process to terminate coverage is financially feasible, and neither cumbersome nor complicated.  The brief further highlights that Shelby County itself would apparently not qualify for a bailout due to, among other things, a past violation of the Voting Rights Act by a city within the county.

“The covered jurisdictions from Virginia and North Carolina speak from experience in stating that the bailout provisions are neither onerous nor cost-prohibitive, despite the claims of Shelby County,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “The violations of the Voting Rights Act committed by the City of Calera in Shelby County are exactly the type of actions these provisions within the Act are designed to prevent in order to protect minority voters.”

Oral argument before the Supreme Court is scheduled for February 27.

To read the brief, click here.

Watchdogs File in Defense of Disclosure Laws in 10th Circuit in Free Speech v. FEC

On February 11, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in the latest challenge to federal disclosure laws.  Free Speech v. FEC is a challenge to the “subpart (b)” definition of “expressly advocating” (11 C.F.R. § 100.22(b)), as well as the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) methodology for determining when a group has campaign activity as its “major purpose,” an important step in the larger determination of political committee status.

“This suit, like many others before it, ignores Supreme Court precedent upholding disclosure laws by overwhelming margins,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “In particular the Free Speech brief ignores altogether the Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC in which the Court articulated its own test for the ‘functional equivalent of express advocacy’ which is virtually identical to the test being challenged in the Free Speech case.”

Free Speech began its challenge in March of 2012, by submitting an advisory opinion request to the FEC proposing to run a series of attack ads without registering as a political committee or complying with the disclosure requirements for political committees. Not getting the answer it wanted, the group filed suit challenging the FEC regulations in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. The Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments with the FEC and an amici brief with the district court in opposition to the Free Speech plaintiffs. In October 2012, the District Court refused to grant a preliminary injunction, citing a “wall of precedent” upholding disclosure laws.

To read the brief filed in the Court of Appeals by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.

To read the order in the District Court, click here.

Reformers Urge House Administration Chair to Hold Hearings to Address 2012 Election Abuses & Fixes

On January 30, the Campaign Legal Center joined with ten reform groups to urge newly installed House Administration Committee Chair Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) to hold hearings early in the 113th Congress to examine potential legislative solutions to repair the campaign finance system run amok in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The letter emphasized the broad public support for repairing the damage done to our democratic process by big donors and secret contributions.

Hearings were urged to discuss the myriad abuses of the current system in the 2012 elections that saw an explosion of outside money. Further, the letter urged hearings on proposed legislation to expand donor disclosure and bills designed to enhance the role of small donors to ensure a “government of the many, not of the money.”

Office of Congressional Ethics Urged to Steer Clear of Rules Change Procedural Minefield

On February 13, the Campaign Legal Center joined reform groups in sending a letter  to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) urging the agency to avoid the procedural minefield of rule changes proposed recently by several private attorneys who represent clients before the OCE.  The private attorneys had objected to its implementation of rules without a public hearing and suggested a series of rule changes that would burden the OCE’s ability to carry out its mission.

The reform groups pointed out that the OCE is merely a fact-finding agency with no authority to compel testimony, determine guilt or innocence, or in any way judge a case. The agency screens out frivolous cases and compiles useful information for the House Ethics Committee, if it is determined that further investigation is warranted.

Other groups signing the letter included the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, National Legal and Policy Center, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG.

To read the letter, click here.

To read the letter sent by the private attorneys, click here.

Reform Groups Commend House Leaders for Reauthorizing Office of Congressional Ethics

On January 18th, the Campaign Legal Center joined with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, Democracy 21, Judicial Watch, National Legal and Policy Center, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG to commend House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for reauthorizing the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) at the beginning of the 113th Congress and for appointing the agency’s board members in a timely fashion.  The letter noted that the OCE "has served as a responsible and reasonable partner in the congressional ethics process, thanks largely to the professionalism of its board."

CLC Senior Counsel Speaks at Penn Law Symposium

On February 8, 2013, Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan joined FEC Vice Chair Donald McGahn, John Samples of the Cato Institute and Robert Bauer, Partner at Perkins Coie and General Counsel of the Obama Campaign, in a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Journal of Business Law Symposium on Citizens United.  The panel was entitled “The Effect of Citizens United on the 2010 & 2012 Elections.”  Ryan detailed the unfulfilled promises of the Supreme Court that the post-Citizens United money in politics would be fully disclosed and truly independent from candidates and parties, explaining how more than $300 million was spent in the 2012 elections by groups closely related to candidates and parties, without disclosing where the money came from.

Executive Director Appears at University of Baltimore Law School

On January 23, 2013, Legal Center Executive Director Gerry Hebert appeared at a conference entitled “Protecting Democracy's Fundamental Civil Right: The Right to Vote” hosted by the University of Baltimore Law School.  The featured speaker was Thomas E. Perez, who serves as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice.  Mr. Perez provided an overview of the Department of Justice’s enforcement efforts under the Voting Rights Act.  Following his remarks, Mr. Hebert and University of Baltimore law professor Gilda Daniels provided commentary and analysis of Mr. Perez’s remarks. 

Legal Center Special Counsel Joins Brennan Center Panel on Modernizing Voting System

On January 24, Legal Center Special Counsel Beverly G. Hudnut participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Brennan Center for Justice, entitled "Creating a Modern Voting System."  Hudnut joined Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown; North Dakota Secretary of State Alvin A. Jaeger, Nevada Secretary of State (and current President of the National Association of Secretaries of State) Ross Miller, and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to discuss voter registration issues.  The Brennan Center's Wendy Weiser served as moderator of the panel discussion at the National Press Club.  Panelists discussed best practices that state election officials use to manage voter registration databases, and also suggested areas where the federal government might assist state efforts. 

To watch a video of the panel discussion, click here.


 

 
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