Department Of Justice Gets Its Guilty Plea In Prosecution Of Attempted Hate Crime

A federal investigation led to the arrest of a Florida man, who allegedly planned to bomb an area Jewish synagogue. Appearing on court for that arrest on Wednesday, the individual pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and to violating federal hate crime laws.
Although the guilty plea entered by James Gonzalo Medina seems to come on the heels of the recent violence in Charlottesville, North Carolina, this case was a long time in the making. Federal investigators had begun looking into Medina’s actions early in 2016, after attention had been drawn to the defendant’s anti-Semitic views. Concern was raised, when James discussed his plans to attack Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center with associates.
Mr. Medina had been “scoping out” the southern Florida synagogue in search of vulnerabilities, say authorities. Additionally, James had told one unnamed associate that he thought a Jewish holiday would be the optimal time to launch his attack and proceeded with that plan by purchasing a bomb.
In reality, the explosive device was only a facsimile provided by investigators and the seller of the device was an undercover agent.
Prosecutors have asked Medina how he would have felt, if the bomb had exploded, or if he felt remorse in connection to causing many deaths.
“Whatever happens,” Mr. Medina responded.
James Gonzalo Medina Faces A Long Prison Term
Pleading guilty, 41-year-old Medina faces a 25 year prison term for his hate crime and for attempting to damage religious property. Initially, James was reluctant to confess to his crimes, saying that he felt the undercover agent “manipulated” him into putting his plan into action.
Eventually, Medina told U.S. District Judge Robert Scola that he was guilty of plotting the bombing with the intention of killing innocent Jewish synagogue members. James added that he planned to carry out the violence and give credit to ISIS. The confession helped James avoid a life sentence and a lengthy criminal trial.
Instead, the plea agreement agreed upon by public defenders Hector Dopico and Eric Cohen and federal prosecutors Marc Anton and Michael Thakur sentences Medina to 25 years in prison.
Part of the agreement allows Mr. Medina to spend a portion of that term in a prison with a mental health facility. While there, he can be treated for schizophrenia and a bipolar condition, before returning to another maximum security prison to finish out his term.
The official sentencing hearing for James Gonzalo Medina is set for November 17.

Oregon Set To Ban Cigarette Sales To People Who Are Under The Age Of 21

Kate Brown, who is the governor of Oregon, recently signed a bill that will make it illegal for people who are under the age of 21 to buy cigarettes. The law will go into effect on January 1, 2018. California, Hawaii and New Jersey have the same law. Maine will also raise the smoking age to 21 in 2018.

The bill was approved by the House in March. In July, the bill was approved by the Senate. Kate Brown, who is a Democrat, was pleased to sign the bill.

Kate stated that she hopes that they will be able to reduce the number of young people who smoke. She also hopes that the number of people who smoke will drastically decrease. People who are for this law have stated that addiction rate among Oregons can be reduced. Additionally, they believe that the number of people who suffer from health-related issues due to cigarette smoking can also be decreased.

Diseases that are caused by smoking are among the leading causes of death in Oregon. According to the Oregon Health Authority, 7,000 deaths per year are caused by cigarette smoking. The earlier one starts smoking, the more likely they are to develop health problems due to it. People believe that raising the smoking age can prevent people from becoming addicts.

There are also some people who are against the law. They believe that people who are underage will still continue to buy cigarettes after the smoking age is raised. Some people have also compared this law to the alcohol prohibition, which took place from 1920 to 1933. Many people still brought alcohol during this time. Furthermore, there are some people who believe that this new law will violate personal freedom. They believe that if an 18-year-old can join the military, then they should be able to buy cigarettes.

Sujit Choudhry’s Address at the Semi-Presidentialism Round-table in Ukraine

On 10th July 2017, top researchers and constitutional experts converged at Kiev, Ukraine to discuss the constitutional challenges that Ukraine is experiencing. The event was hosted by the major think tanks in Ukraine, a global intergovernmental organization that supports sustainable democracy, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and the Center for Policy and Legal Reform. Sujit Choudhry adequately utilized the opportunity to speak at the semi-presidentialism roundtable and his remarks are to be implemented soon. The main agenda was on how to improve the governance system considering the semi-presidential system used in Ukraine.

 

Sujit Choudhry recognized the fact that it was privilege reasoning together with the top researchers and constitutional experts from Ukraine. He also pointed out that there has been instability in the governance of Ukraine for the past two decades and it’s mainly attributed to the executive powers and electoral system for the legislature. Other factors that Sujit Choudhry noted were the existence of separation of powers within the dual executive between the Prime minister and the President, weak political parties and the concentration of powers on the presidency. Also contributing to this instability is a poor electoral system for the legislature. He gave recommendations that could be applied for better governance of Ukraine.

Other notable persons who shared the forum with Sujit Choudhry included Thomas Sidelius of Dalarna University and Sumit Bisarya who represented International IDEA. There were other persons who shared the roundtable with Choudhry such as the UN representative of human rights council in Ukraine, Vladimir Vasilenko. The constitutional commission of Ukraine was represented by Sergyi Holovatyi while Viktor Musiaka represented the president in the supreme council of 1996. Also present was Ihor Koliushko who is a former MP and served as an advisor to the President of Ukraine from 2005 to 2006. The list of attendance is endless.

Having lectured in more than 24 countries globally, Sujit Choudhry is popularly known for being a constitutional advisor and he recently released a collection of notable academic contributions and case studies. Besides, classical articles on topics regarding constitutional law are also a part of his release. This book basically recounts examples of constitutional making decision and their outcomes. He also points out stable democracies like Chile are demanding for new constitutions untainted by their difficult and unpromising past. Each modern nation-state finds constitution as a central feature that is vital to its prosperity. It is important to note that a constitution is a backbone of democracy in all the countries and royalties all over the world.

More about constitutional transitions

The constitutional transitions is responsible for the generation and mobilization of knowledge in support of the constitutional building. This is done by assembling and leading international experts who are senior policy practitioners and scholars. The experts also boast of a vast field experience and are sourced from more than 25 countries. The constitutional transition is responsible for the generation of Journal Articles, Opinions, Policy Manual and working reports.

Choudhry had an opportunity to elaborate on changes in constitutional decisions put in place by transitional democracies. He further notes that it becomes a major challenge for leaders elected constitutionally to come up with evidence based policies in to back up the overall constitutional reform process.

 

Who is Sujit Choudhry?

Sujit Choudhry is a Professor of law at the Berkeley School of Law, University of California. He has also served as the dean at this institution. Sujit is an internationally acknowledged authority with an undoubted expertise in comparative constitutional law. Choudhry has an exhaustive experience in the constitution development process. He has been a part of constitution building process in many countries all over the world. Some of the democracies that have been beneficiaries of Choudhry’s expertise are Egypt, Jordan, Nepal, Libya, Sri Lanka Ukraine and Tunisia. He has also conducted several lectures in more than 24 countries. As part of the United Nations Mediator, a service based in United Nation Department of Political Affairs, he has ensured the success of a variety mediation processes in most of the UN member states. Sujit Choudhry also provides consultancy services to the UN Development Program and other the World Bank programs.

 

As the Director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions, he is a part of a great team that supports constitutional building by bringing together and leading interactions consortium of experts. The policy options have proven prudent to decision makers in several sectors such as NGOs, multilateral organizations and global networks all over the world. Currently, Choudhry is working with three global collaborative research projects in the constitutional building process. These projects will produce a series of research outputs and policies that are to be published this year. The projects are,

· Security sector oversight that will ensure the protection of Democratic Consolidation from Partisan abuse and Authoritarian Backsliding.

· Dealing with Territorial Cleavages that exist in Constitutional Transitions.

· Constitutional Transitions and security sector reforms in Emerging democracies.

In addition to the professional competence already highlighted, Professor Choudhry has published more than 90 articles, working papers, reports and book chapters. He has contributed extensively to the Canadian constitutional law. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law, the Institute of Integrated Transitions and the Indian Constitutional Law Review. Choudhry’s research addresses many issues regarding comparative constitutional laws and politics. Constitutional design which forms part of his research also ensure smooth transition from a chaotic conflict to tranquil politics. This constitutional design is characterized into minor categories such as, language policy, bills of rights and proportionality amongst others. All these are encompassed in Sujit’s research documents.

Overall the success of a nation relies on proper constitutional policies and good governance systems. The contribution of professionals like Sujit Choudhry in the success of a state like Ukraine cannot be underrated. A country also needs experienced policy makers to see it through every transitions. In fact, it is such policy makers and advisors to governments that lead to economic prosperity in a sovereign nation. The recommendations by Choudhry and the team of experts will be a great solution to problems facing Ukraine once implemented.

Further reading:

Constitutional Law Expert Sujit Choudhry Presents an Analysis of Freedom of Speech

Sujit Choudhry: A Proponent for Peace Through Constitutional Law

Constitutional Law Authority Sujit Choudhry Attends Workshop in Ukraine

 

Supreme Court Throws Out Gender Biased Immigration Law

A new Supreme Court ruling rejects gender bias in determining citizenship for children born to Americans overseas. The ruling threw out an immigration law that treated mothers and fathers differently when it comes to determining the citizenship of their children. The ruling in the Morales-Santana case said that immigration laws must treat both mothers and fathers the same.

The Supreme Court challenge was brought by a man born outside of the United States. Even though he wasn’t born in the United States, he moved to the United States soon after his birth. Later he committed a series of crimes. Because of his criminal convictions, U.S. officials tried to deport him. He replied that they couldn’t deport him, because he’s an American citizen. He argued he was a citizen even though his father didn’t meet the residency requirement.

The law said that in order for a child to receive American citizenship because of their American father, the father must have lived in the United States for at least 10 years. At least 5 of those years have to be after age 14. Mothers, on the other hand, could transmit American citizenship to their child by living in the United States for only one year. Thus, the law treats mothers and fathers differently.

If that rule applied, Morales-Santana wouldn’t have had American citizenship. His father hadn’t met the requirement for living in the United States for 10 years. However, his father had lived in the United States for more than 1 year.

The Supreme Court agreed that the rule was unfair. They ruled that the law treating mothers and fathers differently is sexist. Justice Ginsburg wrote that the law assumes that fathers are generally strangers to their children, while mothers are not. That kind of assumption is unconstitutional and unacceptable, the justices said.

They talked about a scenario where a father acknowledges paternity and raises the child in the United States from birth. Under the law as it was written, that child wouldn’t be an American citizen. They believed that this was unfair. The Supreme Court said that the United States must rewrite the law so that it’s equal to all groups. That includes married parents, unwed fathers and unwed mothers.

Although this law change may help children of unwed fathers born abroad, the ruling didn’t spare Morales-Santana from deportation. The court declined to extend citizenship to Morales-Santana. Instead, they’re applying a five-year residency requirement for all parents going forward. The U.S. government can still pursue deportation for Morales-Santana. The ruling overturns a Court of Appeals opinion that declared Morales-Santana a U.S. citizen.

Read More: https://www.jacksonlewis.com/publication/supreme-court-gender-based-distinctions-immigration-law-violate-equal-protection

Supreme Court Finds Ban on Offensive Trademarks Unconstitutional

On July 31st, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a federal rule that had prohibited any trademarks deemed to be “disparaging.” The court’s ruling was 8-0 in favor of throwing out the prohibition.

The court case, which is being heralded by proponents as a strong win for free speech, originally focused on a Portland, Oregon based band called The Slants. The Asian-American band had been denied a trademark on its name on the basis that the government believed their name to be disparaging towards Asian individuals. In order to challenge that ruling, The Slants’ band members argued that the prohibition against their name was a violation of their guaranteed constitutional rights to free speech under the First Amendment. In their ruling, the Supreme Court agreed.

It is not only The Slants who stand to benefit from the court’s ruling. The ruling will likely prove beneficial for the Redskins, a National Football League team who took their name in the 1930s but have been recently under criticism by Native American activists due to the racial associations of the word “redskins.” In 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team’s trademarks, citing that they were disparaging to Native Americans. The team’s dispute against the ruling had been put on hold while The Slants’ case was taking place.

Many individuals had comments to offer based on the ruling. The Redskins’ lawyer, Lisa Blatt, commented to Reuters that the ruling would put an end to the “long-standing dispute with the government” that the team had. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were instrumental in filing the legal papers for The Slants, and they cited the ruling as a true victory for The First Amendment. The ACLU was quick to point out that the government was attempting to protect minorities, but had in fact hurt the Asian-American members of the band.

As for the band, frontman Simon Tam has argued that the name was chosen in order to reclaim slurs often given to Asian people by other races. Moreover, Tam has said that the band wore their name as a “badge of pride” against others’ racial hatred. In a released statement, the band has acknowledge that the ruling has bigger consequences far beyond the band, and they encourage the government to recognize the ability of marginalized communities to determine what’s best for their own lives without government interference.

Resource:
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-band-idUSKBN19A1YP

Utah Passes Lowest Legal Limit in the United States

The legal limit used to be a .08 in the vast majority of states. That is, a driver is presumed to be a drunk driver if their bodily alcohol content is at or above a .08 per 210 liters of breath. The move to lower the legal limit to a .08 across the country began in the 1980s and continued until nearly all states enacted the limit by the early 2000s.

Now, the State of Utah is taking it a step further. They’ve enacted the lowest legal limit in the country. The .05 legal limit is set to take effect in 2018. Authorities say that a person can be over the legal limit after as few as just two drinks.

Utah lawmakers say that they’re basing the change on recommendations from federal traffic safety experts. They say that data shows a person’s ability to drive is influenced at as low as a .05. Others say that severe alcoholics that can drink to very high bodily alcohol levels are the drivers who cause most of the actual crashes and fatalities, so the law change is inappropriate.

Consumer groups say that they worry about what the law might do for tourism. They worry that large conference groups are likely to look for other locations because of the law. They worry that families and solo travelers might choose other places for personal vacations because of the change.

Lawmakers are reviewing the changes again to see if they want to make any changes before the law goes into effect. One of the things on the table is the possibility of reduced penalties for lower alcohol levels. Lawmakers also say they want to make sure that collateral consequences such as a driver’s license suspension that typically accompanies a conviction are proportional to the crime.

Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Steve Winward says that there are some that benefit from the new law. He says that ride-sharing services have seen a spike in traffic because many already believe the law is in place. He says that this is a sign that the law is helping drivers make responsible choices.

Legislators say the end goal is to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road. They hope to do that in a way that doesn’t unfairly restrict freedoms or unnecessarily punish drivers. However, they say they’re serious about taking steps to make the roads as safe as possible. If there aren’t any changes, the law goes into effect as written in 2018.

Tony Blair Won’t Have To Fear Prosecution Over Iraq War

Officials in the London High Court ruled that Tony Blair shouldn’t be subjected to war crime charges over actions taken in the 2003 Iraq War. Previously, Iraqi general Abdulwaheed al-Rabbat sought to initiate a private war crimes prosecution against Mr. Blair, but that action has now been blocked.

High Court Justices Say Tony Blair Hasn’t Broken Any Laws

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who serves as the lord chief justice of the high court and senior judge, Justice Ouseley, have declared that there was no applicable law under which Tony Blair could be charged. The justices sought a crime of aggression in compliance with Rabbat’s allegations, but nothing could be found.
In their statement, the two justices acknowledged the recent addition of a crime of aggression to international law, but added that there was no clause to allow for applying the law retroactively.

A Chilcot inquiry determined that the 2003 attack on Iraq was unprovoked and undermined the authority of the United Nations. As a result, the inquiry concluded Tony Blair should be prosecuted.

The purpose of that finding was to force former Prime Minister Tony Blair, former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and former attorney general Lord Goldsmith to answer for their actions in a court of law.

Michael Mansfield QC argues that a law against waging a war of aggression has been implied into English law since the 1940s. He explained that the law had been accepted, when then UK attorney general Sir Hartley Shawcross QC used the concept to prosecute Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.
In response, Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC argued that, until recently, the people of England and Wales were unfamiliar with the concept of a war of aggression law. In effect, Mr. Wright says that makes the desire to prosecute Mr. Blair a “hopeless” claim.

While the high court justices did admit that there should be an allowance for the prosecution of the crime of aggression, there currently isn’t a domestic law of that nature. Instead, the high court left it up to the parliament to establish such a law.

Upon hearing this judgment, Imran Khan, solicitor for Abdulwaheed al-Rabbat, said the high court has indirectly granted immunity to English officials.
“As long as it fails to enact legislation which makes the crime of aggression a domestic criminal offense, any leader can act as he/she chooses knowing that whatever action they take, it can be taken with complete impunity,” said Khan.
Meanwhile, other countries, including Kosovo, Germany, and Serbia, have enacted domestic laws governing war of aggression crimes.

Does President Trump Have Complete Power to Pardon?

On Saturday, President Donald Trump, through his twitter handle, stated that he had the absolute power to pardon. The tweet came hot on the heels of a Washington Post alleging that Trump had inquired from his advisers whether he had the authority to pardon aides, his own family, or himself. However, Trump’s lawyers dismissed the story on pardons as untrue. This story has spurred a huge debate among legal experts on the question of whether the president has the power to pardon himself. Some argue that the president cannot fight his own impeachment while others argue there is no legal provision to back this claim.

Different Opinions on The President’s Power to Pardon

Norman Eisen, former white house ethics lawyer, wrote an oped for the Washington Post disputing the power of the president to pardon himself. Eisen states the argument of the Justice Department that no one can be a judge in their own case. The constitution forbids the president from exploiting the pardon power to prevent his removal and impeachment. Additionally, the constitution states that any one removed through an impeachment is fully subject to criminal prosecution. This provision would be senseless if the president was allowed to pardon himself.

According to Jonathan Turley, a law professor at the George Washington University, the Constitution does not specifically forbid self pardons. In an article for the Hill, Turley argues that Article II of the constitution allows the president to grant pardons and reprieves for offenses against the U.S. except in circumstances involving impeachment. The constitution does not state who is not subject to a pardon. The president basically has the power to pardon federal crimes.

Some scholars refer to Article 1 of the constitution which says that impeached individuals are subject to an indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment. However, some law experts argue that if the president were to pardon himself, he could claim to be doing so in accordance with the constitution.

In the case of Schick v. Reed, the court stated that the pardoning power is provided for in the constitution and that its limitations should also be derived in the constitution.

Summing It Up

It is not clear what Trump meant when he stated that he had the absolute power to pardon. Although the constitution allows the president to issue pardons, the limitations of this law are not clear. However, one thing is for sure, no one is above the law. Therefore, no president can pardon themselves from an impeachment.

Prosecutors Shift Tactics in Response to Heroin Epidemic

There has been a drastic increase in heroin use in the United States in the last decade. According to a CNN report, more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015, and heroin was responsible for about 25 percent of those deaths. News stories about heroin overdoses are getting more and more common, and as the death toll rises, prosecutors are under immense pressure to intervene. As a result, some prosecutors are opting to bring criminal charges against the drug dealers in overdose cases.

Although it is well within the authority of prosecutors to charge drug dealers with negligent homicide or manslaughter for knowingly providing someone with lethal drugs, whether they have the ability to secure a conviction is less clear. Charging drug dealers in overdose cases comes with significant legal hurdles, and there are some good legal defenses that are difficult to nullify.

Charging people with the distribution of drugs resulting in death is also controversial, mostly because it is difficult to determine where the drug addict ends and the malicious dealer begins. Defense attorneys will argue, many successfully, that their clients are simply drug addicts and did not know that the drugs would lead to an overdose. To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove that the drugs were the cause of death, that the dealers knew the risks and that they sold the drugs regardless.

Though this may sound like an impossible feat, some prosecutors are up to the task. Recently, in Richmond County, New York, police arrested Stephen Cummings, a Staten-Island barber, for supplying the fentanyl-laced heroin that led to the death of his father’s friend, 51-year-old Richard Zeifert. According to the New York Post, this is the first case of its kind in Staten Island’s history. Many defendants enjoy the benefit of the doubt in a case like this, but Cummings will not be so fortunate; he allegedly bragged about both the potency of the drug and Mr. Zeifert’s death to an undercover police officer, according to The New York Times.

America’s drug problem never seems to slow down, and a lot of people contest that the War on Drugs was lost long ago. Many question whether charging dealers in overdose cases is ethical or even effective. These types of cases will undoubtedly be difficult, but they will hopefully send a message to drug dealers that the wanton disregard of human life will not be tolerated.

Constitutional Law Authority Sujit Choudhry Attends Workshop in Ukraine

Despite the controversy that swirled around the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the transition of power unfolded smoothly on Inauguration Day. This reflects the ongoing power and resiliency of the United States Constitution, which is regarded by many to be among the finest documents of its type ever produced. In fact, it is so highly regarded that countries around the world turn to it when seeking to transition to democratic governments. That is the case regarding the Ukraine, which since the fall of communism has famously struggled to strike an even keel with the balance of power in its government. Recently, comparative constitutional law expert Sujit Choudhry attended a workshop in Kiev, Ukraine, to discuss the challenges that the country is facing.

The workshop took place in Kiev, Ukraine, on July 10. In addition to Sujit Choudhry, numerous constitutional scholars were there to assist. The main topic of interest was the semi-presidential system of government of the Ukraine and the resulting constitutional challenges that are faced by the fledgling democracy. Ultimately, the discussion revolved around finding ways to improve governmental processes in Ukraine. With so many renowned minds in one room, it is safe to say that a lot of headway was made.

The attendance list for the Kiev workshop is a veritable who’s-who of constitutional law expertise. In attendance were Sergyi Holovatyi, who is a member of the Constitutional Commission of Ukraine as well as the Venice Commission; Sumit Bisarya of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, or International IDEA; Vladimir Vasilenko, who represents Ukraine on the United Nations Human Rights council; Viktor Musiaka, who is a representative of the president in Supreme Council 1996; and Thomas Sidelius of Dalarna University. The workshop was hosted by the Center of Policy and Legal Reform, which is a major Ukraine think tank, as well as International IDEA, which supports sustainable democracy around the world.

A variety of topics were discussed during the workshop, which was regarded as being highly productive. More than anything else, discussion focused on the ongoing instability of democratization in Ukraine, which has mostly been an issue because of the concentration of power in the presidency. Unlike the U.S., then, the country doesn’t have a balanced system of checks and balances, so democratic policies are more difficult to implement.

The scholars and experts, including Sujit Choudhry, also discussed the separation of powers within the dual executive branch. The government of Ukraine does not have just a president; it has a prime minister as well, so that is another way in which the government of this country differs from that of the United States. Another issue that was discussed to a great extent was the fact that the political parties of Ukraine are very weak. As a result, it is difficult for citizens to know parties’ stances on issues, and many other problems arise. The electoral system for the legislature of the country is also a major issue, and the experts focused on this one for a while as well.

As founding director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions, Sujit Choudhry has a unique understanding of the issues that are currently being faced by the Ukraine. The Center for Constitutional Transitions is currently conducting research into semi-presidentialism and constitutional instability in Ukraine. Ever since communism fell, the country has struggled to implement an effective democratic government. The legislature has overwhelmingly been far too weak, and the president has had far too much power. The organization hopes that its research will provide much-needed guidance to the country to help it establish a strong democratic government.

Ultimately, the goal of both the Center for Constitutional Transitions and those who gathered in Kiev on July 10 is to help Ukraine to develop a strong semi-presidential system of government. The work will not be easy to achieve, however, as the process has been underway for more than two decades already and very little real progress has been made. With so many great minds working on the issue, however, it is hoped that some real progress will be made in the very near future.

Scholars and researchers who have been working on this issue, both at the workshop in Kiev and at the Center for Constitutional Transitions, which is helmed by Sujit Choudhry, have identified many potential options that could help to establish a secure semi-presidential system in the country. This is an important and even crucial goal for a number of reasons, including:

  • To produce a strong, effective legislature that can exercise oversight over the president and the government as a whole. This will help to strike a better balance of power, which will facilitate the process of building a strong democratic government.
  • To facilitate an effective sharing of power between the president and the prime minister of the country. Up until now, far too much power has been concentrated in the office of the president, and this is one of the many reasons why Ukraine has struggled so much.
  • To ensure limited presidential power. When the president has an excessive amount of power, true democracy is impossible, and the country suffers.
  • To develop a government that is strengthened by presidential leadership during crises. Otherwise, the country flounders when major catastrophes occur, and the democratization process is weakened and threatened.

Sujit Choudhry was a welcome addition to the special workshop that was held in Kiev on July 10. An expert on comparative constitutional law, Choudhry holds law degrees from the University of Toronto, Oxford University and Harvard University. He also served as law clerk to Chief Justice Antonio Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada. As the founder of the Center for Constitutional Transitions, Sujit Choudhry has played an instrumental role in constitution building processes of countries around the world. The organization has more than 50 experts in more than 25 nations. Right now, it is co-leading three collaborative global research projects, including the one about semi-presidentialism in Ukraine.

Throughout his storied career, Sujit Choudhry has published nearly 100 book chapters, reports, articles and papers. Today, he serves as the I. Michael Heyman Professor of Law at the University of California and Berkeley School of Law. Choudhry is currently a member of the scientific advisory board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law; the executive committee of the International Society of Public Law, or ICONS; the editorial board of Constitutional Court Review; the international advisory council of the Institute for Integrated Transitions, or IFIT; and the editorial advisory board of Cambridge Studies in Constitutional Law. Without question, Choudhry will continue to play an active role in the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

Continue reading Constitutional Law Authority Sujit Choudhry Attends Workshop in Ukraine

End Citizens United Denounces Republican Efforts to Gut The Johnson Amendment

Last week, the US House Appropriations Committee rejected a proposal to remove a controversial rider from a spending bill that restricts enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. According to End Citizens United, a political action committee that advocates for campaign finance reform, the decision gives a green light for special interest groups to, “manipulate churches and funnel secret political money through the pulpit.”

The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the US tax code that forbids 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, which include most churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It was proposed in 1954 by Lyndon B. Johnson, who was a senator of Texas at the time.

The amendment has long been a sore spot for some conservatives, which is why President Donald Trump made repealing it a campaign promise. Repealing the Johnson Amendment would require an act of Congress, which is hard to come by these days, so opponents of the rule are looking for other ways to undermine its enforcement.

Rather than outright repeal, house republicans have included a rider in a spending bill that forbids the IRS from using funds to investigate churches for violations of the Johnson Amendment. Exceptions can be made by the IRS commissioner, who must report to Congress about all such investigations. Despite attempts from opponents to remove the language from the bill, the committee voted 28-24 to keep the controversial rider.

How is the Johnson Amendment Enforced?

Churches and other similar nonprofit organizations can engage in some political activities, such as voter registration drives, but the Johnson Amendment forbids endorsements of specific parties or candidates. The amendment was famously invoked in 1992 when a church had its tax-exempt status revoked for taking out a full-page ad in USA Today that implored Christians to vote against then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

Today, however, the IRS rarely investigates churches for political activities, and some pastors don’t shy away from voicing their political opinions from the pulpit. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative advocacy group, sponsors a campaign called Pulpit Freedom Sunday that encourages pastors to openly flout the law in protest. Although the IRS has audited at least one of the thousands of participating churches, no penalties have been issued. Nonetheless, the new language would make it almost impossible for the IRS to penalize churches for funneling money from their congregations to political campaigns.

What do Americans Think About the Johnson Amendment?

Among American voters, there isn’t an overwhelming consensus on the issue of religion in politics. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 66 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with the thought of churches endorsing candidates, but a vocal minority of conservative Christians believe that the Johnson Amendment restricts freedom of speech.

Some religious group are actually adamant about maintaining the Johnson Amendment. Dozens of nonprofit organizations including the Episcopal Church, the American Jewish Committee, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty co-signed a letter to the House Appropriations Committee voicing opposition to the measure.

“Weakening current law would allow politicians and others seeking political power to pressure churches for endorsements,” the letter states.

What do Experts say About the Johnson Amendment?

Charles Haynes, a religious freedom historian at Washington DC’s Newseum, told the Washington Post that the language, “puts a further chilling effect on any attempts by IRS staff to enforce the Johnson Amendment with respect to pulpit speech.” However, the problem doesn’t stop at speech.

“At its worst, the provision keeps IRS staff from doing its job to prevent charitable donations to flow to political campaigns,” Haynes says.

While the Johnson Amendment forbids any nonprofit group from endorsing candidates, the language in the spending bill specifically exempts religious organizations from such oversight. Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, told the Washington Post that giving religious organizations preferential treatment violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Tiffany Muller, who is the President and Executive Director of End Citizens United, released a statement condemning the House Appropriation Committee for restricting enforcement of the Johnson Amendment.

“The Johnson Amendment has been critical to ensuring churches and charities can carry out their missions free from manipulation of Big Money special interests and partisan politics,” said Muller. “Today, extreme House Republicans approved a rider in a must-pass bill that leaves churches vulnerable to being used as tools of political mega-donors looking to push their agenda.”

About End Citizens United

End Citizens United was founded in 2015 to counter the effects of the landmark 2010 Supreme Court case that allowed corporations to make unlimited undisclosed donations to political candidates. It uses grassroots tactics to support candidates who are committed to reforming campaign finance law. By raising awareness of the issue of money in politics, End Citizens United advocates for legislation that will limit the flow of dark money to campaigns.

Arizona’s Ban On Ethnic Studies Heads For The Courts

Immigration laws have been a source of contention for many decades. Some people argue in favor of laws that are more lax. They say the country needs more people and that all should be allowed to come here. Others argue that the country should have laws that stricter and focus primarily on skills and education rather than merely inviting any given able bodied person to America. In Arizona, this issue has been of particular concern. As a state bordering Mexico, many residents fear being swallowed up by the large neighbor just to the south. In response to this issues, efforts have been put forth to urge those settling in the state from Mexico to assimilate into the broader American culture.

A New Law

In 2010, the Arizona governor and other state officials decided to take action against the perception that perhaps more needs to be done in order to encourage unity. Jan Brewer, a highly popular governor, signed a bill called HB 2281 into law. This law mandates what can and cannot be taught in the local public schools in Arizona. The law states that all state public school districts are not allowed to offer what has been deemed ethnic studies classes to their students. The aim of the law is to prevent teachers from teaching children classes that state officials feel promotes ethnic solidarity rather than suggesting that all pupils are individuals with widely differing needs. The law is actually aimed at a specific part of the curriculum that has been in place in one specific school district.

Tucson School District

The subject of the lawsuit is one that is based on Mexican-American studies program. This program has been taught many Tucson public schools for over two decades without comments. Many of those who are in favor of this program have argued that it enables students in the area to improve their self-esteem and do far better in school. They have also argued that this program should be retained. However, in the last seven years the program has been a source of contention for legislators who feel that it does not help students or the overall goal of the state in regards to assimilation into the broader culture.

Back In The Court System

Since that time, the court system has taken the issue in question under consideration. The issue is back in the court system right now. Federal courts in Arizona have taken up this case and expected to issue a ruling soon. Many Republicans support the legislation as they feel this law is a source of problems in the Hispanic community and teaches Latinos to view those who are not Latinos as their enemies. Others feel that it helps students by linking them to a culture that many find familiar and comforting. They argue that those students who take it have better test scores and a lower high school drop out rate. They also argue that the law is not constitutional and will not stand up in court.

Senator Sends Letter To DOJ About Trump Administration

Senator Amy Klobuchar has sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) asking them to reject any push by the White House to get politics involved in mergers. She apparently felt the need to bring this up because there have been rumors that the White House has been considering using politics against television network CNN.

The White House has long been battling against CNN because they believe that the network has been a propaganda wing against the White House. They claim that the network makes up stores out them or otherwise creates falsehoods that need to be addressed. As such, people in the Trump Administration have considered pulling some strings in a merger between AT&T and Time Warner. This matters because Time Warner is the parent network of CNN. If the White House were to use the DOJ to reject the merger of those two companies, they could literally punish CNN for not playing ball.

The Department of Justice is the organization that reviews all potential mergers. They are supposed to consider the benefit of the public with these types of things. It is their role to try to break up monopolies and avoid having any one company become too powerful. Now, the White House is considering asking the DOJ to move forward with considerations about these mergers with politics in mind.

An interesting element in this story is that Senator Klobuchar has actually expressed concerns about the merger between AT&T and Time Warner because it is such a large deal. She is worried that it might in fact be the definition of a monopoly. That is what the DOJ is supposed to break up, so Klobuchar had her concerns to begin with. Now, she is just making the point that she does not want to see politics injected into the mix.

Both the White House and the Department Of Justice have declined to comment on the story. Trump has not made any comments to the public about this particular deal so it is unclear what his position may be. Some more Senators are sure to make a big deal out of this if nothing changes going forward, but the politics of how this all plays out is yet to be seen.

Despite International Pressure, Virginia Man Executed

Supporters who tried to convince Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, that a man sentenced to die suffered from mental illness failed in their attempts as the convicted double murderer was put to death last Thursday. Governor McAuliffe did not grant clemency to William Morva, a Hungarian national convicted of killing a sheriff’s deputy and a security guard in 2008.

According to Jurist.org, a psychiatrist appointed by the courts diagnosed Morva with a delusional disorder. Supporters who wanted the governor to grant clemency said Morva was not mentally fit when he committed his crimes. The psychiatrist stated that Morva may have been suffering from delusions at the time the murders occurred.

Human rights workers from the UN pleaded with Governor McAuliffe to grant clemency, stating Morva did not receive the “proper accommodations” during trial, and that the courts nor the prosecution did not notify the jury Morva was mentally ill. Although McAuliffe opposes the death penalty, he released a statement saying Morva was given a fair trial and there was substantial evidence presented to the jury regarding Morva’s mental health issues. The governor concluded by saying in the statement that there was not enough evidence to justify overturning the decision of the jury. Dozens of members of Virginia’s General Assembly and three house representatives from the state opposed the execution of Morva.

The death penalty remains a hot topic of conversation nationwide. The governor of Florida, Rick Scott, recently scheduled the execution of a man convicted of murder, which will be state’s first execution in over 18 months. The state had halted the death penalty when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the way Florida handed down death sentences was unconstitutional. A new Florida law took effect in March that only allows judges to sentence defendants to the death penalty if there is unanimous consent by the jury.

What you should know about Abortion Law in Northern Ireland

The court of appeal in Belfast, Northern Ireland has made the decision that abortion law should be determined by Stormont Assembly and not the courts. In a recent case, the high court ruled that there was a flaw in the current abortion laws in Northern Ireland. The country’s abortion laws breached the European Convention on Human rights, the court determined. In an explanation that followed, the high court explained that the law didn’t give direction on sexual crimes pregnancies as well as fatal foetal abnormality that would require abortion to save the life of the mother. However, the ruling was later challenged by Northern Ireland attorney general and the country’s justice department. Compared to other countries in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has much stricter laws concerning the issue of abortion.

The court of appeal decision was made by three judges who decided to overturn the lower court’s ruling. They instead found out that the current laws in Northern Ireland were not in line with UK’s Human Rights Act Obligations. Things didn’t end there as the Court mentioned that the case could be heard in the Supreme Court if legal submissions are made on time. In a layman’s language, the ruling determined that the issue of abortion should not be determined by courts or the local governments. Instead, the judges ruled that there are other issues that should be used in determining the case such as religious beliefs and complex moral issues.

After the ruling, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission criticized the decision saying that the court should have done better. To better understand the ruling, it’s good to know what the law says in Northern Ireland. For a woman to be allowed to abort, the pregnancy must be posing serious risks to her life. This could be physical health or mental health. Anyone caught to have breached this law is punished by life imprisonment.

This case had been presented to the court of appeal by the NI Human Rights Commission. The commission had introduced other grounds for abortion that were quashed by the court hence the disappointment. A woman known as Sarah Ewart revealed that she had to travel to England to take care of the fatal foetal abnormality. With this condition, her child would not have survived and yet, the law in Northern Ireland didn’t allow termination. She explicitly said that she had been devastated by the ruling and they would appeal.