Showing posts with label judiciary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label judiciary. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Obama Nominates Centrist Appellate Judge For SCOTUS

Unless you've been living under a rock today, you're probably aware that President Obama has made his decision on who should replace the recently passed Justice Antonin Scalia, D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland. Now, while I've made it abundantly clear that the Senate should exercise its' power under the Appointment Clause to not hold either hearings or a vote on Judge Garland, I'm also of the opinion here that Garland's nomination was a shrewd move by President Obama, a nice marker laid down by him towards the Senate and the Republican majority.

Why? For two reasons (among others):
  1. In nominating Garland, who by most accounts is a judicial moderate, Obama is laying down a long bet that the Senate, at some point, will - at the very least - give the man a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, thus hoping to create some divisions within the Senate GOP majority
  2. In nominating Garland, Obama hopes to push public opinion in his direction, especially given that a couple of blue-state Republicans - most notably Illinois's Mark Kirk - are up for re-election this year and could be vulnerable come November.
Now, I still think the odds are long that Garland will be confirmed but then again, stranger things have happened....I mean, just look at who the GOP front-runner is at the moment, for instance.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dead At 79

One of America's leading conservative voices is now one with the Ages...
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died, the San Antonio Express-News reported on Saturday afternoon. He was 79. Scalia passed away in his sleep while on a hunting trip in Marfa, Texas. Foul play is not suspected. (Townhall)
Here's a good bit of background on Scalia's legacy in terms of the numerous court cases that he heard over the course of his time on the High Court, but it would be very safe to assume that the already contentious 2016 presidential campaign has just taken a major turn with Justice Scalia's passing.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

U.S. District Court: Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation Is Sex Discrimination

Glad to see the courts haven't been cowed by popular emotion...
A US District Court in California has ruled that there is no clear line of distinction between discriminating against someone based on their sexual orientation and discriminating against them based on their sex. From Erin Buzuvis at Title IX Blog:
--Two female athletes are suing Pepperdine University over discrimination they experienced as athletes on the basketball team. They allege that the head coach and other athletic department employees singled them out for unfair treatment because they suspected that the plaintiffs were lesbians and in a relationship with each other, and when they complained about mistreatment, they were forced off the team and lost their scholarships. The athletes sued the university under Title IX and other state laws. And while their case was initially dismissed, the athletes received permission to amend their complaint, and when they did, Pepperdine again moved to dismiss. This time, however, the court denied the university’s motion, which means that the plaintiffs can continue to litigate the case and begin preparing for trial.
The court’s decision is significant for how it treated Pepperdine’s argument that the plaintiffs cannot sustain a claim under Title IX because the statute does not cover discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Specifically, the court refused to consider sexual orientation discrimination a separate category of discrimination, but rather, viewed it as a subset of sex discrimination. The court reached this conclusion in two separate ways —  first, by viewing sexual orientation discrimination as a type of gender stereotype discrimination, and second by considering it a matter of  “straightforward” sex discrimination. (Title IX Blog via. AmericaBlog)
Now, mind you, this case is only getting to trial; it hasn't even begun making its' way up the judicial ladder - and a case of this nature is almost certain to do so in the partisanized legal environment of today - but as AmericaBlog's Jon Green points out, Title IX has long held that discriminatng against someone based on gender has long been illegal; what the Court here did in agreeing to hear the plaintiff's case is that they extended that provision to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation, something that most courts had shied away from in past Title IX cases. In addition, as the court determined in allowing the case to go forward, even if the courts later reject the orientation part of the ruling, the school could still be sued over gender discrimination as currently written in Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Ironically, another branch of the federal government - the EEOC, to be exact - has already touched on the issue in question, ruling that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Based on these two principles, it would not surprise anyone to see more & more cases such as the Pepperdine case above move through the courts, and it wouldn't also surprise anyone if even the Supreme Court decides that discrimination for reasons of sexual orientation is indeed discrimination under the Civil Rights Act....period, full stop.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

SCOTUS Rules In Favor Of ACA Subsidies

This morning, the High Court released a pair of decisions, one of which had to do with the eligibility of the tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare) a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled upheld the legality of the tax subsidies contained w/in the law, essentially giving the ACA a second victory in the 5+ years since the law's controversial passage:
To understand what’s going on in this case and why today’s decision matters, it may be useful to start with a little bit of background about the Affordable Care Act more generally.  There are three key features to the law.  The first is what’s known as the “non-discrimination rule”:  health insurance companies must sell insurance to everyone, even people who are currently sick or have a history of chronic illnesses, at a reasonable price.
The second is the individual mandate, which requires everyone to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.  This provision ensures that there are enough healthy people in the insurance pool to balance out the sick people:  if healthy people aren’t required to buy health insurance, the thinking goes, but they know (because of the non-discrimination rule) that they can do so at any time, they will wait and only buy insurance if they get sick.
The subsidies are the third pillar of the system created by the ACA.  Many people get health insurance through their employers, but the people who don’t – because they are self-employed or unemployed, for example – need some way to buy it.  So the ACA provides for the creation of an online marketplace, known as an “exchange,” in each state.
 The drafters of the ACA had originally expected each state to set up its own exchange, but after many states declined to do so, the federal government (as authorized by another provision of the ACA) stepped in to create them instead.  And to ensure that everyone can afford the health insurance that they are now required to buy, the ACA also provides for subsidies for people who buy their health insurance through an exchange. Here is the heart of the dispute: one provision of the ACA indicates that subsidies are only available to people who purchase their health insurance on an exchange “established by the State.”  The plaintiffs in the case argued that this means that subsidies are not available to the millions of people who purchased their health insurance on an exchange that was created by the federal government, because the federal government is not a “State.”
Today, by a vote of six to three, the Court agreed with the Obama administration that the subsidies are available for everyone who bought health insurance through an exchange, no matter whether that exchange was created by a state or the federal government. (SCOTUSBlog)
Translation: the language of the statute gives the federal government the authority to allow tax subsidies for those purchasing health insurance through both state exchanges and through the federal exchange.

Now, how big of a bullet did the ACA dodge today? Well, as the quotes above point out, the tax subsidies are a major pillar of the act; knock out that provision and several million Americans would've found themselves w/out health insurance simply because they couldn't afford the insurance. (Whether they can afford it, given the high deductibles in most of the policies, is another story.)

On a political note, this makes the ACA a central pivot point come don't be surprised if both opponents of the law and supporters of the law use it during election season.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Another Set Of Decision Reached By SCOTUS

Just as they've done the past several weeks, the Supreme Court released several decisions earlier today as they continue to whittle down their 2014 case docket....
  • Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc. (13-720): In a 6-3 decision, the Court affirms a 9th Circuit decision concerning royalty payments in regards to expired patents, namely that the Court decided to preserve the current royalties payment system that was established following the 1965 Brulotte decision
  • City of Los Angeles v. Patel (13-1175): In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that a Los Angeles city ordinance requiring motel operators to keep guest records for periods of up to 90 days for inspection by law enforcement officials unconstitutional
  • Kingsley v. Hendrickson (14-6368): In this decision, the Court vacated and remanded back to the 7th Circuit a decision concerning pretrial detention, ruling that under Section 1883, a pretrial detainee must show only that the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable to prevail on an excessive force claim.
  • Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture (14-275): In this decision, the Court reversed a 9th Circuit ruling, declaring that the government pay just compensation when it takes personal property, just as when it takes real property.
With these cases done and dusted, the Court has, by most counts, seven cases remaining...and they're pretty much the big-ticket items of the Court's 2014 term: same-sex marriage, Obamacare subsidies, the death penalty, fair housing discrimination, etc.,,... *deadpans* ...and people wonder why I took a class or two on the Supreme Court back in college; it was for times of the year like this. *whistles innocently*

Thursday, June 18, 2015

SCOTUS Releases Raft Of Decisions

As expected, the Supreme Court released a bunch of decisions Thursday morning as they continue to clear the docket of 2014 cases...
  • Brumfield v. Cain (13-1433): In this case, the Supreme Court vacated a Louisiana state death sentence, holding that Brumfield has satisfied the requirements of §2254(d) prohibiting states from executing individuals deemed mentally retarded/deficient
  • Ohio v. Clark (13-1352): In this case, the Court overturned an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in regards to the Constitution's Confrontation Clause (i.e. the right of an individual to confront their accusers in court) and whether someone reporting incidents of child abuse to state authorities is considered a law enforcement officer for purposes of that clause; the decision held that introducing said statements doesn't violate the Confrontation Clause
  • Davis v. Ayala (13-1428): In this case, the Court reversed a 9th Circuit ruling, stating that a California state court's refusal to consider a defendant's Batson challenge did not rise to the level of a constitutional challenge
  • Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans (14-144): In this decision, the Court held that Texas's specialty license plate design constitutes government speech, and thus Texas was entitled to refuse to issue plates featuring the proposed Confederate Veterans' design; in essence, the Court ruled that when government speaks (in this case, through the issuance of license plates), it is not barred by the 1st Amdt.'s Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says
  • McFadden v. United States (14-378): In this case, the Court vacated a 4th Circuit ruling, declaring that when a controlled substance is an analogue, the statute requires the government to establish that the defendant knew he was dealing with a substance regulated under the Controlled Substances Act or Analogue Act; in other words, the government must show that the defendant consciously knew the substance in question was illegal for purposes of said laws
  • Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Az. (13-502): In this decision, the Court reversed a 9th Circuit ruling, declaring that (the town's) sign code's provisions are content-based regulations of speech that do not survive strict scrutiny; in other words, the town's sign code provision unfairly restricted content in violation of the 1st Amendment
More decisions are expected next week on Monday and, more than likely, on Thursday as well as the Court continues whittling away its' 2014 docket...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Another Set Of SCOTUS Decisions

For the past month, Court Kremlinologists have been watching the decisions come down week-by-week, given some of the high-interest issues the Court has heard over the past year...well, they issued a few more decisions:
  • Reyes Mata v. Lynch (14-185): In this decision, the Court reversed a 5th Circuit immigration ruling, stating that the Fifth Circuit erred in declining to take jurisdiction over Mata's appeal. A court of appeals has jurisdiction to review the Board of Immigration Appeals' rejection for an alien's motion to reopen.
  • Baker Botts, L.L.P. v. ASARCO, L.L.C. (14-103): In this case, the Court ruled that bankruptcy courts do not have to award fees to attorneys handling defenses of fee applications
  • Kerry v. Din (13-1402): In this case, the Court ruled that the State Department did not deprive an individual of due process rights in refusing a visa to the woman's husband
As expected, most of the big-ticket opinions (those involving same-sex marriage, Obamacare subsidies, the death penalty, housing disparity, etc.) have yet to be issued and given the time of year, its' expected that the Court will begin issuing decisions on Mondays & Thursdays, possibly beginning this week.

Monday, June 8, 2015

SCOTUS's 2014 Case Docket Gets Slimmer...And Slimmer...

Past SCOTUS case snippets....
This morning, the Supreme Court continued to lighten off its' 2014 case docket w/a couple of decisions...
  • Zivotofsky v. Kerry (13-628): In this decision, the High Court, using their power of original jurisdiction, ruled that on matters regarding recognition of foreign sovereignty, the power of recognition exists solely with the President and not with the Secretary of State. The case here involves whether an individual born of U.S. citizens in Jerusalem is allowed to list their place of birth as Israel rather than as Jerusalem, which is recognized solely as an international city; however, the Court also ruled that Congress has a role in foreign diplomacy through the passage and debate of laws, treaties and agreements between the United States and other countries
  • Jackson v. San Francisco (14-704, pg.11 of SCOTUSOrder - 8 June 2015): In a 7-2 denial of certiorari, the High Court denied a request for a hearing on the constitutionality of San Francisco's gun laws, in particular Sect. 4512 which restricts the right of an individual to own or possess a firearm unless it is kept w/in a locked firearms case. This is the first case of note to examine the limits set forth in the 2008 Heller decision, something that both the 9th Circuit and the Supreme Court acknowledged (especially in regards to the dissents on denial of cert by Justices Scalia and Alito)
With the one decision settled above, the Court has roughly 20 cases left, but with only three weeks remaining in the Court's term, it is widely expected by Court Kremlinologists that the Court may end up issuing decisions on either Thursdays or Fridays as an effort to lighten the Monday case dumps, which will likely be the days we see the Court's major decisions released...

Monday, June 1, 2015

SCOTUS Continues Clearing Its' 2014 Case Log...No Marriage Equality Ruling Yet

For the past two weeks, Court watchers have been playing Kremlinologist as the High Court continues clearing its' 2014 case docket and today was no exception as SCOTUS issued several decisions on various items of Constitutional interest:
  • Mellouli v. Lynch (13-1034): In this case from Kansas, the Court ruled that for purposes of criminal deportation, misdemeanor possession of prescription pills isn't enough to trigger said action
  • Bank of America v. Caulkett (13-1421): In this reversal of an 11th Circuit decision, the Court ruled that the debtor in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding may not void the debt owed on a junior mortgage lien when the debt owed on a senior mortgage lien exceeds the current value of the property if the creditor's claim is both secured by a lien and is allowed under the Bankruptcy Code.
  • EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch (14-86): In this reversal of a 10th Circuit decision, the Court held that to prevail in a disparate treatment claim, an applicant need show only that his need for accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision, not that the employer had knowledge of his need.
  • Elonis v. United States (13-983): In this case regarding what constitutes a criminal threat under 1st Amendment exceptions, the Court holds that the Third Circuit's instruction requiring only negligence with respect to the communication of a threat is not sufficient to support a conviction under the federal law at issue in this case.
With these four cases out of the way, the High Court has roughly 21 or so cases remaining on its' docket and most of this term's high-traffic issues: the death penalty, housing discrimination, same-sex marriage, Obamacare subsidy eligibility, etc., are still out there in the judicial ether, which means the next few weeks are going to be very interesting...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Supreme Court To Hear Jury Selection & Redistricting Cases

In and amongst the various opinions and orders issued today by the High Court for hearing in the Court's next term, two cases stand out: Evenwel v. Abbott (14-940) and Foster v. Humphrey (14-8439).

In Evenwel, the Court will hear a Texas case involving redistricting of state legislative district and what standard shall be used to draw said districts, a standard known as "One person, one vote" originally set in the 1964 decision Reynolds v. Sims; in essence, the Court will pretty much have to decide whether the standard in Reynolds should be of "total population" or "voter population" (and to a lesser extent, whether state legislative districts should be bound by the same standards used for Congressional district).

In Foster, the Court will clarify the ban on the use of race in excluding jurors from a trial jury, a ban set forth in the 1986 Batson v. Kentucky decision; in this case, the Court will be examining whether a Georgia prosecutor illegally used race as a factor in striking prospective black jurors from a death penalty case (Think Progress has a great commentary on the case and what it could mean for trial juries going forward).

No SCOTUS Ruling On Marriage Equality

Last week, the High Court released several decisions, none of which involved the various same-sex marriage cases that were heard earlier this year...well, the Court released several more decisions this week as they continue to whittle down the case load still remaining. Cases announced were the following (quoting SCOTUSBlog):
  • KBR Inc. v. United States ex rel Carter (12-1497): The Court reversed and remanded a 4th Circuit decision concerning the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act, namely that the act only applies to criminal acts and not civil violations
  • Commil USA v. Cisco Systems (13-896): In a 6-2 decision (Justice Breyer recused himself from the case), the Court vacated and remanded a Federal Circuit (a/k/a D.C. Circuit) ruling that a defendant's belief concerning patent validity is not a defense to patent infringement (i.e. just because you believe a patent may not be valid doesn't mean you can infringe on said patent)
  • Wellness Intl. Network, Ltd. v. Sharif (13-935): In a split 6-3 decision ("split" meaning some justices concurred in part & dissented in part), the Court reversed & remanded a 7th Circuit decision, stating that Article III of the Constitution permits bankruptcy courts to consider claims submitted under rules set forth in the 2011 Stern decision; prior to this, bankruptcy courts could not hear claims submitted to non-Article III courts
With these decisions, there are 25 cases remaining on the Court's docket for this term, including most of the major decisions (those involving marriage equality, the death penalty, Obamacare, etc.) are still yet to be decided.

Monday, May 18, 2015

No SCOTUS Ruling On Marriage Equality

Caught this in my blog feed; although the High Court remains silent on the issue of marriage equality, the Court did issue several decisions today on various issues...

  • Henderson v. United States (13-1487): in this case, the Court vacated an 11th Circuit decision and ruled that although felons may still not possess firearms, they are allowed to sell or transfer their firearms to a third-party, either through open sale or through a direct transfer to a third party
  • Comptroller v. Wynne (13-485): in this case, the Court ruled that Maryland's personal tax regime violates the Constitution's Commerce Clause, namely in regards to double taxation of income of out-of-state residents
  • City & County of San Francisco v. Sheehan (13-1412): in this case, the Court dismissed a challenge to the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring police to provide accommodation to a violent, mentally ill suspect while said person is under their custody
  • Tibble v. Edison International (13-550): in this case, the Court vacated a 9th Circuit decision and ruled that the filing of an ERISA claim (a/k/a retirement claim) shouldn't be based on when the fiduciary filed but when the individual represented by the fiduciary filed (i.e. a timing issue)
  • Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson (13-1333): in this case, the Court affirmed a 6th Circuit decision and ruled that, under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the law's three-strikes provision does apply even if a petitioner's litigation is in the appellate stage
  • Harris v. Viegelahn (14-400): in this case, the Court reversed & remanded a 5th Circuit case involving an individual going through bankruptcy; the Court ruled that any debtor within Chapter 13 bankruptcy who converts said bankruptcy over to Chapter 7 is entitled to the return of all wages not yet distributed through Chapter 13
Prior to today, there were 34 cases remaining on the High Court's docket; these decisions reduce that number to 28, which means that some of the Court's other major decisions involving the death penalty, Obamacare and marriage equality, are still up in the air.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments On Same-Sex Marriage

Earlier today the High Court heard over two hours of arguments on the issue of same-sex marriage, with the Court asked two fundamental questions:

  1. Whether the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriages
  2. Whether states can prohibit same-sex marriages but nonetheless be required to recognize same-sex marriages that legally took place somewhere else
On the first question, the Court spent about ninety minutes or so and by most appearances, about the only scare that the pro-SSM community had to deal with was Justice Kennedy's reference to being hesitant to change the millenias'-long definition of marriage...that said, based on the questioning in this section, the Court's familiar fissures were apparent: Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer and Ginsberg seem ready to affirm SSM, while Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas are on the opposite side of SSM. As usual, Justice Kennedy was being his usual self and also, as usual, Chief Justice Roberts was all-but-silent on the issue. On the second question, the Court spent about an hour and the fissures there as just about as apparent, with one key exception: during the second part of oral arguments, on the second question above, the Chief Justice seemed to ask a lot more questions than during the arguments of the first question, which posited a comment over at SCOTUSBlog by commentator Kevin Russell, to wit:
So where does this leave us?  Once again, it may all come down to Justice Kennedy, and he didn’t tip his hand during his questions and comments in the first part of today’s arguments. Kevin Russell, who contributes frequently to this blog, has suggested that the Chief Justice’s questions during the second part of the oral argument could be part of an effort to broker a compromise, in which the Court rules that there is no right to same-sex marriage but still gives the plaintiffs much of what they are seeking by requiring states to recognize same-sex marriages that happen somewhere else.  Notably, however, Justice Anthony Kennedy was quiet during the arguments on the recognition question.  Does that silence mean that he had already decided to rule for the plaintiffs on the first question, eliminating any need to worry about the second one? (SCOTUSBlog)
If I had to hazard a guess, Russell's comments almost suggest that a 5-4 vote in favor of both arguments is in the cards, with either the Chief Justice or Justice Kennedy being the deciding vote....Kennedy's silence in the second part of today's arguments is also interesting as well; even though he did mention the marriage definition thing early on, that tends to make me think that he - or the Chief Justice - are looking for some Solomonic way to decide the issue without antagonizing either the pro or anti-SSM crowd.

That said, trying to predict how the High Court rules on any decision, especially a high-profile decision is akin to being a Kremlinologist during the height of the Cold War; you 'bout have almost better odds of winning the Powerball lottery - or of scoring a date with U.S. Women's soccer star Alex Morgan, for that matter - than of correctly predicting how the Court will rule.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Justice Ginsberg: I Wasn't 100% Sober During SOTU

I don't know why this should matter off-hand - it should - but given what President Obama's done over the past 6 years, I'd be half-in-the-bag too at the SOTU:
There is a reason Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is known as the Notorious R.B.G. in certain Internet circles. Ginsburg admitted Thursday night that she was not “100 percent sober” during President Obama’s State of the Union. No, she wasn’t playing the unofficial SotU drinking game, she just over-indulged during the Supreme Court’s pregame dinner party.
“The audience for the most part is awake because they are bobbing up and down and we sit there, stone faced,” Ginsburg said during a panel at George Washington University. “But we’re not, at least I was not, 100 percent sober.”
“I vowed this year – just sparkling water, stay away from the wine – but in the end, the dinner was so delicious it needed wine.” (Chicago Sun-Times)
FWIW, I really hope she's 100% sober when deciding Supreme Court cases....

Friday, January 16, 2015

Supreme Court To Decide Marriage Equality Issue

At least now there will be some sort of end-game on the issue of marriage equality:
Taking on a historic constitutional challenge with wide cultural impact, the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon agreed to hear four new cases on same-sex marriage.   The Court said it would rule on the power of the states to ban same-sex marriages and to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in another state.  A total of two-and-a-half hours was allocated for the hearings, likely in the April sitting.  A final ruling is expected by early next summer, probably in late June.
The Court fashioned the specific questions it is prepared to answer, but they closely tracked the two core constitutional issues that have led to a lengthy string of lower-court rulings striking down state bans.  As of now, same-sex marriages are allowed in thirty-six states, with bans remaining in the other fourteen but all are under court challenge. (ScotusBlog)
Going by the Court's order announcing their intent to hear the issue, it appears that they're looking at two principle questions...

  1. Does the State have the right to ban same-sex marriages, the Constitution's Article IV, Sect. 1 full faith & credit clause notwithstanding, and
  2. Do states where same-sex marriage is banned have the right to refuse to recognize said marriages, irrespective of both the full faith & credit and the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause
At present, thirty-six states allow for same-sex marriage while the remaining 14 states currently ban such marriages either through state legislation, constitutional amendment and/or of the big unknowns with the Court's decision to hear this is that, should the Court opt to not recognize SSMs', it has the potential to throw lots of turmoil into the lives of those who are currently in same-sex marriages. However, given the High Court's October decision to not hear past marriage equality cases from several of the appellate courts, if I had to hazard a guess as to what direction the Court is leaning at the moment, I'd say that the odds are better than 50-50 that, come late June, marriage equality will be the law of the land in all 50 states.

Arguments before the Court are scheduled for sometime in late April, with friend-of-the-court and amicus briefs from both sides due before the Court between late February to late March 2015.

Monday, December 29, 2014

ObamaCare Fines To Increase In 2015...

...and if you didn't have healthcare insurance in 2014, be prepared to pay:
Don't have health insurance? Get ready to pay up. The ObamaCare-mandated fines for not having insurance are rising in 2015 -- and for the first time, will be collected by the Internal Revenue Service. 
The individual requirement to buy health insurance went into effect earlier this year. But this coming tax season is the first time all taxpayers will have to report to the IRS whether they had health insurance for the prior year. 
The fines for the 2014 year were relatively modest -- $95 per person or 1 percent of household income (above the threshold for filing taxes), whichever is more. But insurance scofflaws face a sharp increase if they don't get covered soon. The fine will jump in 2015 to $325 or 2 percent of income, whichever is higher. By 2016, the average fine will be about $1,100, based on government figures. (Fox News)
...and people still think the ACA was a good thing? Here's a question: given how unpopular the IRS is at present, what are the odds that they'll go after anyone who is required under the law to pay up? Anyone want to gamble on those odds?

At the very least, someone should give a tip-of-the-hat to the Supreme Court from their 2012 decision affirming the ACA as law, for it was the Court that said that the individual mandate penalty was a valid use of the Constitution's General Welfare Clause (a/k/a the Taxing & Spending Clause) which now puts Americans in the position of either having to purchase health insurance or paying the IRS a nice sum for not having it. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place....

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

District Court Rules Obama Executive Action Unconstitutional

Expect this to get fast-tracked through the federal judiciary....
Earlier Tuesday, a federal court in Pennsylvania declared aspects of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration policy unconstitutional.
According to the opinion by Judge Arthur Schwab, the president’s policy goes “beyond prosecutorial discretion” in that it provides a relatively rigid framework for considering applications for deferred action, thus obviating any meaningful case-by-case determination as prosecutorial discretion requires, and provides substantive rights to applicable individuals.  As a consequence,  Schwab concluded, the action exceeds the scope of executive authority.
This is the first judicial opinion to address Obama’s decision to expand deferred action for some individuals unlawfully present in the United States. (Washington Post)
Translation: just because Congress hasn't, to paraphrase the president, "passed a bill" doesn't mean that the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue can do what it wants instead; there are constitutional limits to the president's powers and this case illustrates them. Throw in the current lawsuit filed by two-dozen states on the issue of the president's recent executive action on immigration and, as I said earlier, expect this to get fast-tracked to the High Court in due time.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Is There A Way To Break The IRS Stonewall?

Surprisingly, yes:
Congress should proceed carefully but steadily. First, see if Judge Jackson secures the IRS documents for Cause of Action. The agency could appeal her ruling and delay for a few months, but it cannot simply refuse a judge’s order. To ensure that the documents are not heavily redacted, Paul Ryan and Orrin Hatch, respectively the new chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, should exercise their unique legal right to review the raw documents without deletions. If stymied, they too should sue. (Wall Street Journal)
Unfortunately, the WSJ article is behind a paywall, so I'm having to go off of the information discussed in Thomas Lifson's article over at American Thinker (hat-tip to AT) but its' interesting to say the least. Basically, if the IRS appeals the judge's decision should she rule against them, Congress could then review the documents themselves as they were originally written, not as they were presented in Cause of Action's FOIA request...
This is a fascinating wrinkle.  I had no idea that there was a special right available to Congress to see un-redacted material.  Perhaps this is a corollary to national security issues, where members of Congress are authorized to view confidential documents.  Professor Lipson continues:
If the documents show repeated, politicized contacts between the IRS and the White House—and only then—the House and Senate should vote to establish a joint congressional committee to investigate. The committee’s senior members should be seasoned prosecutors, aided by outside counsel with deep experience investigating white-collar crime. Such a body would raise the issues before a skeptical or hostile mainstream media, and overcome the disorganized grandstanding that undermines so many hearings.
The heavy lifting, particularly taking depositions under oath, should be done behind closed doors, beginning with lower-level people who might have seen unauthorized documents or their political uses. Give them transactional immunity and make clear they face serious legal peril if they fail to testify fully and truthfully. Then follow the chain of testimony up the organizational chain. A well-conducted investigation would either clear the White House’s senior political aides or implicate them in serious wrongdoing. (Wall Street Journal)
With two years remaining in the Obama Administration, they could very well try to continue stonewalling Congress on the IRS issue here, but if Congress sets itself to it and begins digging in as the good professor above explains, they could very well break this whole story wide open...and that would be a good thing for America all around.