Bill Renewing NSA Internet Surveillance Program Advances Senate, Expected to Be Signed Into Law

The Senate this week made a move to advance a bill that renews a controversial National Security Agency internet surveillance program, Reuter’s reports.

The program, which allows the NSA to monitor a suspect’s internet usage without a warrant, has come under fire by some privacy advocates. The bill was advanced by a margin of one vote.

The advancement comes a few years after a 2013 leak by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed classified information regarding the program’s surveillance measures. Since the leak, many liberal Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans have been trying to redefine the measures by which the program is run.

The bill must now be signed by the senate and U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Otherwise, the program is set to expire on Friday, January 19, though the Reuters report notes that members of the intelligence community have said it could last through April.

If signed, the bill would extend the authorization, formally know as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), for another six years. No significant changes to the NSA’s scope of authority have been modified within the initial draft of the bill.

Last week, the same bill passed the House of Representatives. It was cleared easily by majority vote there.

While the surveillance program is supposed to primarily target foreigners, it incidentally can pick up communications by American citizens, including any communications an American might make with a suspect of interest overseas — without a warrant. This, says privacy advocates, is the program’s main flaw, and some have called into question the authorization’s constitutionality as it relates to American’s data being incidentally collected without a warrant.

Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden are two elected officials very much critical of the program, and subsequently the bill to renew its authorization. In a letter to their fellow senators earlier this week, the two acknowledged that the program in its current form, “without additional meaningful constraints,” could lead to the government collecting data on its citizen without a warrant.

The bill is expected to earn the simple majority vote in the Senate sometime later this week. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law once it reaches his desk.

 

US Supreme Court turns Away Legal Challenge to LGBT Law in Mississippi

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court ended the first legal challenge that had been sponsored by a law that was backed by legislators from the Republican Party. The law stipulated that government and business employees should not serve transgender, bisexual or lesbian American citizens because of their religion. The US Supreme Court Justice left in place a ruling that was issued in June last year by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans. The plaintiffs who include, civil rights advocates such as the leader of the state NAACP and couples from same-sex marriages and church leaders did not have the legal authority to challenge the legislation in a higher court.

The legislation was passed by the state legislature which is controlled by the Conservative Party and was assented into law by the state Governor Phillip Bryant who also hails from the Republican Party. The bill also had the backing of Republican activists from the church and now has not gone through implementation, and it is expected that there will be more legal battles. This challenge is set to be presented by attorneys who represent gay rights groups. One of the attorneys with the Lambda Legal gay rights group has said that that they will keep staging legal battles in the state of Mississippi until the bad law is overturned.

Once the law has been implemented, people who are denied services by business enterprises and government institutions may be forced to have a legal standing to stage a civil rights case against the legislation. The law was passed in 2016 after the historic ruling by the United States Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that made it legal to have same-sex marriage in America. The proponents of the law refer to it as a bill to religious liberty which gives protection to their sincerely held convictions and beliefs of their businesses and them on an individual level.

Critics say that the law gives authorization to have LBGT American citizens to be subject to discriminations which are a violation of the founding documents of the United States which decree that all men are created equal. The US constitution also stipulates that every American citizen should be accorded equal protection by the state and federal law enforcement and that the state and the church should be separated. One of the groups that are assisting the state of Mississippi in defending the law is the Alliance Defending Freedom which is a Republican Christian legal group.

A federal Judge blocks the Move to end the DACA Program by the Trump Administration

The move by President Donald Trump to terminate a program that was enacted by the Obama administration that a judge has blocked protected undocumented children who were brought to the United States from deportation. Judge William Alsup, who serves as a US District judge in San Francisco made a ruling on Tuesday that the DACA program must be maintained as the litigation unfolds over the decision by President Trump. The DACA program which stands for the deferment action on childhood arrivals allowed immigrants who amounted to over 800,000 to live, school and work in the United States without fear of being deported since its authorization in 2012 by former president Barrack Obama.

The DACA program was rescinded in September last year by the trump administration which has placed the fate of the undocumented immigrants popularly known as the dreamers in the decision that awaits to be made by Congress. The decision by President Donald Trump has triggered individuals, organizations and even state authorities to file lawsuits in US federal courts. The administration gave a 30-day grace period for applicants to respond or appeal to their decision after they announced on September 5, 2017. The program is set to expire on the 5th of March this year. However, the deadline to renew any applications made by the immigrants have already expired which in some way has sealed the fate of the 800,000 dreamers who are chasing the American dream.

In the ruling that was issued by Judge Alsup, DACA protection recipients who had in the past failed to register must be given another opportunity to register for the privileges and benefits of the Obama era program. However, the judge was very categorical that the federal government would not process applications which had never been received by the program before. Almost 22,000 recipients of the DACA program were not able to submit their application for the eligibility of the program successfully according to a survey that has been carried out by the Center for American Progress.

The study reveals that a median number of 122 recipients of the DACA program would eventually lose their legal protection on a daily basis in the six months period between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018. In a detailed judgment by judge Alsup, he noted that the Trump administration had failed to have the program needs of 689,800 DACA recipients who had to rely on the legal protection of the program to work and live in the United States.

German Officials Oppose Social Media Hate Speech Law

In late October of last year, German officials enacted new legislation that would foist incredible accountability upon social media sites for their users’ content. Twitter, Facebook, and similar online communities have historically been largely immune to the actions of their users. While outright illegal content could find the companies behind these websites in legal trouble, for the most part the actual degree of liability has been fairly negligible.

The new law authorized the government to bring hefty fines against websites that allow posts which violates the country’s notoriously strict hate speech laws. According to the law, fines can range as high as $60 million, making it a serious issues for websites that otherwise rely on ad revenue to stay online. Online communities with user counts above two million were specifically targeted, meaning sites like Facebook and Twitter, which boasts hundreds of millions for the latter and over a billion for the former, could face countless fines due to the difficulty of moderating such a large community.

The courts prudently gave websites until 2018 to improve their moderation staff and software, which in most cases occurred throughout the latter half of 2017. Facebook, for example, pushed to hire an additional 10,000 live moderators and also added improvements to their automated moderation tools, a tactic also adopted by video sharing site YouTube.

While the new law initially saw much support from within the German government, user responses were more divisive. Members of Twitter and other communities have rallied against the new law as an unabashed overstep into free speech rights, a perspective which is now being mirrored by several opposition parties within Germany. Free Democrats general secretary Nicola Beer argued that the ability to censor content in violation of German hate speech laws needed to remain in the hands of government officials and prosecuting authorities, rather than a foreign website’s moderation staff.

Green party leader Simone Peter echoed this sentiment, pointing out the problem of having U.S.-based companies wield such a degree of control over discourse in a foreign country. Peter highlighted the banning of an account held by Titanic, a popular German humor magazine which was accused of offensive comments towards Muslims. Alternative for Germany, a far-right group opposed to immigration, was similarly banned for alleged hate speech against Muslim communities. Parliament leader Sahra Wagenknecht also came out in support of dropping the law, thus bringing Germany’s Left Party to bear against the legislation.

 

Federal Government to Enforce Marijuana Laws

As states across the country move to legalize recreational marijuana, the federal government is doing just the opposite. Under the direction of President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ending long-standing federal policy of looking the other way at marijuana grow operations in the United States. Barack Obama and his administration refused to enforce federal marijuana offenses in the United States. Sessions is walking back that policy.

Sessions isn’t directing U.S. attorneys throughout the nation to aggressively go after marijuana growers. Instead, he’s leaving it up to each local U.S. attorney to make the judgment call. If the local U.S. attorney believes that it’s best to bring the charges, they’re able to bring the marijuana charges in federal court.

Obama’s representatives said that state marijuana regulations are “strong and effective.” They didn’t think it was necessary to put additional resources from the federal government into marijuana enforcement. Obama’s administration directed federal attorneys not to prioritize marijuana violations. Instead, they focused on violence, drug use and organized crime. Sessions and his supporters say that rooting marijuana out at the source will address problems of violence, drug use and organized crime too.

Some U.S. attorneys say that they’re hesitant to prosecute marijuana offenses if state law makes marijuana legal. Even though federal laws overrule state law, some say that it’s hard to enforce federal marijuana laws when the public perception is that marijuana use is legal. There’s nothing that a state or local government can do to override a federal law. However, defendants have a right to a jury trial in federal court, and prosecutors may encounter a practical problem of little support on the jury.

The marijuana debate is shaping up to be another point of controversy for the already controversial Sessions. California’s new year brought with it the state legalization of recreational marijuana use. Michigan also has new laws for commercialized production of marijuana. Now, federal attorneys are free to pursue prosecution of these establishments. The industry is up in limbo. Sessions’ supporters say that’s a good thing for public safety. Opponents say that it’s not good for the tax revenue that legalized marijuana is expected to generate.

Another question is the effect that the policy shift will have on medical marijuana production and distribution. There’s a federal law that prohibits U.S. officials from pursuing and prosecuting medical marijuana production. Some wonder if the policy shift will have a cooling effect on medical marijuana production in the United States.

New Law Will Affect Pet Ownership In Divorces

A new law in Illinois will affect the way that pet ownership will be handled in divorce cases. Pets will be treated the same way that children are treated. People could get joint or partial custody after a divorce.

Jennifer Behme is an attorney who practices in Belleville, Illinois. She stated that states will have the ability to award sole or joint custody to pet owners. She also stated that the only pets that will be affected are the ones that were adopted during the marriage. If a spouse had an animal before they got married, then they will be able to keep it.

Jennifer stated that there are a lot of things that the judge will consider before awarding custody. Who is taking care of the pet, who takes the animal to the veterinarian, and the agreement that the party made before the divorce are some of the things that will be taken into consideration. A judge will award joint custody if it is the best interest of the dog. This law will not affect service animals.

Jeffrey Knipmeyer is an attorney who practices in Chicago. He stated that most couples do not have a hard time determining custody arrangements. He has been in practice for 21 years, and this has never been an issue. There has been a 30 percent decrease in pet custody cases going to court over the past three years.

However, if a pet custody case does reach the court, then this law can be beneficial. Pet custody cases are more common among two-income couples who do not have any children. This law allows the judge to decide what is best for the pet instead of what the people want. Many people only think of a pet as property. Others see their pets as members of the family.

 

New Year, New Marijuana Laws

As the new year begins, new laws go into effect across the country. One of the most controversial laws is California’s new law legalizing recreational use of marijuana. If you’re at least 21, when you’re in California, you can walk into a pot shop and walk out with the marijuana of your choice. Marijuana is big business, and now the world’s biggest marijuana sales market is the Golden State.

Marijuana enthusiasts eagerly lined up as early as 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day to begin making purchases. California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control oversees licensing and regulation of marijuana shops. They expect marijuana sales to boom throughout the state.

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom welcomes the changes. He says law enforcement officials can focus their efforts on “real crime.” Legalizing marijuana is a matter of economy, he says, because law-enforcement officials can now spend their time on more important matters. He says it’s best to move marijuana out of the black market.

California has always been at the forefront of the marijuana movement. Voters legalized medical marijuana 20 years ago. Voters approved the move to fully-legalized marijuana in 2016. Analysts say that the marijuana economy is worth as much as $7 billion. They say sales will bring approximately $1 billion into tax coffers each year.

Sellers see the legalization of marijuana sales as an opportunity. They expect busy sales. Only eight states allow marijuana use without a medical need.

The world is watching. If all goes well, it could pave the way for more states to fully legalize marijuana. If there are problems, it could be a warning sign to other states.

Analysts expect the industry to thrive in California because of the booming tourism industry. Millions of people visit California each year. Economists expect many tourists to make marijuana a part of their travel plans. Proponents of the legalization of marijuana say it’s a great opportunity to show all tourists that legalized marijuana can work.

Good or bad, California’s marijuana economy is about to take the spotlight. Adults can have as much as an ounce of marijuana. It’s also okay to grow six marijuana plants at home. Just like it’s illegal to smoke a cigarette in public, it’s illegal to use marijuana in public. In addition to these changes, people with marijuana convictions from years past can petition the court to have the convictions removed from the public record. However, some say it’s unfair to remove a record of a person breaking a law even if marijuana is now legal.

Reviewing President Trump’s Inaugural Year from a Legal Perspective

Millions of Trump voters cast their vote for the president out of hopes that he would appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court. In that sense, conservative voters got what they bargained for in that President Trump nominated – and the Senate later confirmed – Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Trump’s Supreme Court Appointment

Surprisingly, this game-changer of a shakeup on the Supreme Court may have been overshadowed by Trump’s travel ban and the ongoing dispute of whether Trump’s divestments from his business violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause or not. In other words, lawyers and legal experts had their hands full throughout 2017 trying to parse exactly how the Trump administration’s actions fit into an historical and legal context.

The most remarkable aspect of Trump’s Supreme Court appointment may not have had anything to do with Trump per se. Before the 2017 appointment of Neil Gorsuch, there were two dozen individual instances in which a Supreme Court vacancy sprang up in the president’s final term of office. In 21 of those 24 instances (over 85%), the U.S. Senate rushed to confirm the nominee.

Obama experienced something rather unprecedented in the sense that his nomination of Merrick Garland, an erstwhile darling of the Republicans, was blocked around every turning. There were no hearings for Merrick Garland, let along a Senate vote for the nominee. Democrats, though, may have the last laugh in 2018 if they win back one or both houses in the mid-term elections.

Cooper Vs. Harris Case

The Supreme Court voted 5-3 to preclude the use of race in drawing election districts.

Trump’s Ongoing Interaction with the Supreme Court

President Trump has been one of the more vociferous critics of Supreme Court decisions in recent history. The Gloucester County School Board Vs. G.G. case that questioned whether civil rights laws ushered in under President Johnson applied to discrimination against transgender students seemed to inspire a wealth of opinions from President Trump.

Another Supreme Court case was heard vis-a-vis the National Labor Relations Act and its safeguarding of employee arbitration agreements. Trump took a position contrary to Obama’s and essentially sided with management over labor. The resulting division had the National Labor Relations Board on the side of labor and the solicitor general on the side of management. Similar splits are expected in 2018.

Supreme Court Mulls Over Same-Sex Cake Decision

Is it unconstitutional to refuse to make a wedding cake if you disapprove of the marriage? That’s the question the U.S. Supreme Court is debating right now. After hearing oral arguments on the matter, the Supreme Court justices are debating the issues and preparing a decision. Supreme Court watchers say that the case may come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy. They say that he’s a moderate justice whose vote could make the difference in the case.

It all started when a Colorado bakery declined to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding. They refused to make the cake on religious grounds, saying that they believe marriage should be between only a man and a woman. Lawyers for the bakery say that they should have the right to practice religion on their own terms. They also say that requiring them to make the cake violates their right to free speech which includes artistic expression.

Justices like Elena Kagan wondered out loud where to draw the line. Kagan pointed out that any business owner could violate the rights of others citing religious grounds. Kennedy worried that voting in favor of the bakery might lead to outright harassment of same-sex couples.

On the other hand, Kennedy also expressed agreement with the bakery owner’s right to practice his own religion. He seemed to agree with the bakery’s lawyer that individuals in a free society must tolerate beliefs that they don’t agree with. If this decision hinges on Kennedy, it’s ironic, because he’s the same judge who wrote the opinion that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. However, experts say that Justice Kennedy is known for taking free speech rights seriously.

Public accommodation laws require places like hotels and restaurants to provide services without discrimination. A hotel can’t turn away an interracial couple, for example. The bakery says this is different because their religion isn’t racism. They say that they don’t make cakes for Halloween, either.

When the bakery refused to make the cake, same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal in Colorado. The men said that their marriage was in another state. When the baker offered to make other goods for them, he said that the men “stormed out.” They made a complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission which ruled against the baker. From there, the baker took the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals. For their part, the couple says that the case is about more than just a wedding cake. They say that it’s about equality for everyone.

 

 

A US Court directs that the Travel Ban by Trump Should Not Affect Citizens of Friendly Countries

The United States courts of appeal has said that the ban on immigration by the Trump administration to citizens of six nations that have a Muslim majority should not apply to individuals with close ties to the United States. The 9th US circuit court of appeals based in San Francisco said that the Friday ruling would be put on hold. The court of appeals which has jurisdiction in some west coast states noted that the latest version of Trump administration travel ban that was ruled by the United States Supreme Court would be put on hold.

Since Trump took the reins of power in January, he has struggled with the enactment of a federal ban that qualifies for court muster. A previous decision from a subordinate court was narrowed by a bench made up of three judges from the 9th US circuit of the court of appeals to favor those people who had close ties with America. The court of appeals defined the condition for exclusion as any individual who had bona fide relations that were credible with the United States.

The court of appeals also stated that although the US president had a broad array of powers to restrict immigrants into the US, those powers also had limits. The three-judge bench said that the issuance of the immigration proclamation by President Trump exceeds the scope of his powers of delegation.

The Trump immigration ban has targeted citizens from Iran, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya and Chad who want to travel to the United States. President Trump argued that the ban was applied to protect American citizens from the threat of terrorism. The state of Hawaii, however, challenged the travel ban in court and a federal judge in Honolulu ordered that the ban exceeded the powers of the US president under the US laws of immigration.

The travel ban by the Trump administration also includes citizens from Venezuela and North Korea. Lower courts have given an order that allowed the law to be implemented. The travel ban issued by the US president in January to ban citizens of Muslim majority nations from entering the US sparked protests and chaos in immigration offices and airports. After courts of the law blocked the first travel ban, President Trump issued a revised version of the ban in March. The March version would expire in September this year after numerous court battles and be replaced by the current version of the travel ban.

President Trump is set to Press the Brake on Immigration Laws

Since he took office in January, President Trump and his administration have pursued his agenda on immigration noticeably and loudly. This has led to undocumented or illegal immigrants being arrested by the federal authorities and even some being deported to their countries. One of the most critical immigration policies has been the ban on travel for citizens from most Muslim nations and pressing that a wall should be built on the international border between the United States and Mexico. However, Trump’s immigration policies have slowed many ways in which non-citizen could immigrate to the United States legally.

This has happened with very little resistance and very quietly. Officials from the state and immigration departments have been instructed to be more stringent on the scrutiny of eligible immigrants or for tourists who wish to visit the US. According to attorneys who represent a class of foreign businessmen, the strict immigration laws have become a hurdle on the free flow of both goods and human resources. Foreign nationals working in the United States who wish to have their working contracts extended are also having a rough time. The President-elect for the African Immigration Lawyers Association, Anastasia Tonello says that the immigration policies enacted by the current administration are a real wall built against foreigners.

The implementation of these changes in the immigration department show the commitment by the administration to fulfill the President’s agenda on immigration. During his campaigns tours and the acceptance speech after clinching the presidency, Trump promised that his government would put America first. He also pledged to curb on the number of foreign nationals entering the United States for commercial purposes and taking jobs that were meant for American citizens. The administration has implemented the Executive Orders that were signed by President Trump soon after taking office. The executive orders were intended to protect American workers from the competition by foreign nationals and reduce the risks posed by terrorism.

One of the Executive Orders, the Buy American, hire American, has the H-1B visa program singled out. Proponents of the order say that it is critical to promoting American products and innovation. However, H-1b has also disguised as a way that American workers are replaced by cheap labor from foreign workers. According to the limits that have been set out by Congress, 85,000 H-1Bs are available to American firms annually. When the economy is in a state of health, the demand is far higher than supply which prompts the US government to organize a lottery.

End Citizens United Denounces Republican Efforts to Gut The Johnson Amendment

UPDATED December 12th, 2017 – End Citizens United announces their “Big Money 20” for the 2018 elections. The political action committee is targeting these 20 republicans and will spend roughly $35 million dollars to help keep money out of politics.

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.

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Sujit Choudhry and Geography’s Threat to Democracy

Sujit Choudhry is the founding director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions and an internationally recognized authority on comparative constitutional law and politics. The focus of his research spans across a wide variety of comparative constitutional law and politics issues. In 2014, he and his colleague, Michael Pal from the University of Ottawa – Common Law Section; Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation, published an article in the Canadian Political Science Review. The article, Still Not Equal? Visible Minority Vote Dilution in Canada, discusses voting power for visible and non-visible minorities for the 2004 federal electoral map as well as for provincial electoral districts in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. The major conclusion was that the concept of vote dilution is prominent in regions of visible minorities.

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

The democratic political power path is bifurcated. One side is demography, or satisfying interests and beliefs of the largest group of people and winning their votes. The other path is geography, referring to securing voters in the many regions that are scarcely populated. In other words, by focusing on the geography principle, this bifurcation enables the adoption of public policies that are not always appealing to the majority. At the moment, the majority of the democratic world is largely based on geographic rather than demographic politics.

 

The most famous example of this is the situation in the United States, where both the presidency as well as the Senate can be won via geography rather than demography. The effect of geography is especially evident in the fact that despite a strong majority of the American people having liberal, racially tolerant and international-minded views, they have been overpowered by a faction of the Republican Party that is associated with U.S. President Donald Trump.

 

Even back in 2010, at a time when the broad center-left voting coalition under the former U.S. president Barack Obama seemed to dominate U.S. politics, Joel Kotkin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute prognosticated that, “Demographics may seem a long-term boon for Democrats,” he wrote, “but geographic trends tilt in the opposite direction.” This became evident in the victory of President Trump who was favored by the increasingly non-diverse, older populations residing in the underpopulated center. Even though the vast majority voted against him, out of the 592 counties that supported him, 520 were populated by fewer than 50,000 individuals, and won almost every county populated by fewer than 10,000 individuals.

 

This problem spans beyond the American borders, too. Europe is affected by fringe parties of intolerance and in some cases a parliamentary majority via the geography approach. The extreme-right Alternative for Germany that had a strong showing in October’s national election was in large part due to focus on the sparse and depopulated regions of former communist East Germany. Poland is another example, whose Law and Justice Party governs after appealing more to rural areas by turning nationalist and xenophobic. France, too, played the geography card when its National Front made it to the first round of presidential elections.

 

Canada is also not immune to this threat to democracy when leaders with fringe ideas take power by appealing to underpopulated regions of the country. The Canadian democratic system is most vulnerable due to the great imbalance between rural and urban as well as suburban ridings, the latter two of which are more densely populated. While the 2011 Fair Representation Act added equality to Canada’s provinces by introducing 30 new ridings, rural overrepresentation remained unaddressed.

 

This is where the study by Choudhry and Pal is of such importance. According to their findings, introducing new ridings had two downsides. Not only did those rural ridings have more voting power, but Canadians from racial-minority backgrounds living in metropolitan areas were severely underrepresented. The researchers found that for every Canadian’s vote power of 1, those in ridings that are more than 99% white have a voting power of 1.37. Canadians who reside in ridings that are more than 30% non-white have a voting power of 0.88. This means that the electoral clout of voters residing in all-white ridings is 55% higher than that of voters in diverse ridings. The scholars refer to this concept as vote dilution that is present among the diverse ridings. It carries particular demographic, policy and constitutional considerations significance, and the scholars conclude their study by highlighting that a reform is critical.

 

Overall, it is the moderate parties that must work on winning back geography. The inherent struggle that America’s Democrats are facing is the discrepancy between geography voters in the northern states, who felt that their candidate while too liberal on social issues, and those who are in safe Democratic urban districts thought the opposite. As the term ‘too liberal’ has many meanings, the solution to this may be in delivering different election-year messages and not focusing on changing policies. However, the overall conclusion of the 2016 U.S. election is that the in-between places must not be ignored as there is a method to win for a party that is ready to bet on symbolic resentments and fears of residents in scarcely populated areas.

 

Sujit Choudhry is the founding director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions and I. Michael Heyman Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He works as constitutional advisor to emerging democracies across the world. He is currently also a member of the United Nations Mediation Roster and was a consultant to the World Bank Institute at the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program.

 

Choudhry has also been a constitutional advisor for over two decades. He has expertise in facilitating public dialogue sessions with civil society groups and other stakeholders, leading stakeholder consultations, performing detailed advisory work with technical experts, training civil servants and bureaucrats, engaging party leaders and parliamentarians, and drafting technical reports and memoranda in the field. He is currently also a member of the United Nations Mediation Roster and consultant to the World Bank Institute at the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program.

 

His publication record includes over ninety articles, book chapters, working papers and reports. He is author of several books and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Society of Public Law, the International Advisory Council of the Institute for Integrated Transitions, the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law, the Editorial Board of the Constitutional Court Review, the Editorial Advisory Board for the Cambridge Studies in Constitutional Law, and is an Honorary Member of the Advisory Council of the Indian Constitutional Law Review. More information on Sujit Choudhry can be found on his personal website sujitchoudhry.com as well as on LinkedIn, Twitter (@sujit_choudhry), Instagram (@sujitchoudhry) and on Facebook.

Trump’s Travel Ban Is Upheld By the Supreme Court

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court offered its consent to a travel ban
proposed by President Donald Trump. The travel ban is aimed at people from six
Muslim-majority nations. Despite legal challenges in lower courts, the ban is
expected to go into full effect.

The Supreme Court was divided on the matter with two liberal justices
dissenting. The court allowed the government’s request to lift injunctions
imposed by the lower courts that had blocked the travel ban. This is one of the
contentious policies that Trump first sought when he took office in January.

A Victory For The Trump Administration

Attorney General Jeff Sessions lauded the action by the Supreme Court and
declared a significant victory for the American people. The ban had been
challenged in several lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union and the state
of Hawaii. The argument in these lawsuits was that the ban was an act of
discrimination against Muslims which amounts to a violation of immigration
laws.

When Trump was vying for office, he promised to shutdown Muslims entering
the U.S.  According to ACLU lawyer, Omar Jadwat, Trump has repeatedly shown his anti-Muslim prejudice. His latest anti-Muslim sentiments were expressed in a post on Twitter where he shared anti-Muslim videos posted by a British party leader.

The lower courts had recently limited the extent of the ban to people who
had no family connections in the U.S. or former relationships with U.S. based
entities like resettlement agencies and universities.

Trump’s ban is not restricted to Muslims but further applies to North
Koreans and government agents from Venezuela. The high court declared in a one-page order that the rulings by the lower courts that partially blocked the latest travel ban would be put on hold under the federal appeals courts in Richmond, Virginia, and San Francisco review the cases.

No Hope For A Reversal Of the Ruling

Monday’s action was a strong sign that the court was going to uphold the ban
even after it returns to the appeals courts. However, there are exceptions to
this ban. Some people from each of the targeted nations may still be allowed to
apply for a visa for business, tourism, or education purposes.

Trump’s first travel ban targeted Muslim-majority countries in January. In
March, Trump issued a revised the initial ban after the federal courts blocked
the first one. In September, the second travel ban expired and was later
replaced by the current version.

North Carolina New Law Limits Judges in Waiving Fines and Fees

A new law in North Carolina, believed to be the first of its kind nationwide, took effect on Friday, Dec. 1, curbing the state’s judges’ ability to waive fees and fines for poor people.

The General Assembly, controlled by a Republican majority, passed the law to circumvent a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1983 according to which judges are allowed to waive costs for the poor and cannot jail individuals for the sole reason they are too poor to be able to afford fines and fees.

The law goes against a general nationwide tendency for reform that looks to alleviate the burden on poor people, enabling them to pay in small installments and enabling judges to reduce or waive fees altogether.

According to the new law, judges are allowed to waive fees and fines but are required to give a 15 days’ notice to all affected agencies before the waiver. This requirement can prove a considerable obstacle, as the state imposes 52 different fees for a vast array of infractions including a $50 fee for failing to pay a fee. Court costs in the state can easily surpass $1,000. These fees are routed to four different state agencies and 611 counties and municipalities, making the notice requirement a potentially expensive exercise that can cost the state’s counties thousands of dollars in extra postage every week and further burden their often-understaffed offices.

Some Democrat state representatives are making an effort to mitigate the new law’s impact by alerting all agencies to it and to their open option to send counsel to any court session and be heard on any fee waiver. Nevertheless, as courts rely on fees for half of their budget, the new law is in the interest of those who hold budget considerations above other concerns.