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VoteCitizens United v. FEC  — the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision holding that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts in elections — turns five next week.

In recognition of this “milestone,” Reuters has a cogent explanation of the 5-4 decision and the havoc that’s followed.

Points that can’t be emphasized enough:

  • Outside spending has since dwarfed that of candidates and political parties.

In the wake of Citizens United, there has been an explosion in spending by outside interests the likes of which we have never seen before. They have spent almost $2 billion in total since the ruling five years ago.

Below the presidential level, this spending was largely concentrated in a handful of close races in key battleground states. Outside groups now routinely outspend both candidates and parties in pivotal races.

  • Individual “mega-donors” now control elections, while the rest of us barely matter.

Since 2010, the top 195 individual donors to Super PACs and their spouses gave nearly 60 percent of the total that Super PACs spent — many times the amount contributed by business corporations.

All this is happening as ordinary Americans are giving less to political campaigns. In 2014, the number of reported federal contributors (those giving $200 or more) dropped for the first time in decades. Small donations are also down.

During this time of historic wealth inequality, individual mega-donors have more clout than at any point since Watergate. While these few voices are now much louder, many others are increasingly muffled.

  • Elections are now opaque as dark money has exploded.

While federal candidates and political parties are required to disclose all their donors above $200, outside groups need only do so if they qualify as political action committees (PACs). Since the Citizens United ruling, 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations and other groups have emerged to spend money in elections. They do not register as PACs, and they can keep all their donors secret. This is the dark money that has influenced many races. Donors who want to spend six or seven figures in elections without being identified funnel their money through these groups.

[Dark money] played a critical role in Republicans winning the Senate in November. Consider, dark money accounted for fully 89 percent of all outside spending to support Cory Gardner, the winner in Colorado, 86 percent to support David Perdue, the winner in Georgia, and 81 percent for Thom Tillis, the winner in North Carolina.

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Of the estimated 7600 people involuntarily sterilized pursuant to state eugenics policies from the 1930s until 1974, only slightly more than ten percent have filed claims for compensation from the $10 million fund established by the state in 2013.

And of those who filed, only 220 have been approved for compensation by the state Industrial Commission and received an initial payment of $20,000.

Some whose claims have been denied will receive no money because the victim died before an arbitrary cut-off date of June 30, 2013 set by lawmakers — even though the facts otherwise establish liability.

Others have been denied simply because their sterilization came at the hands of a county official following state policy and for whom the state eugenics board has no records.

Attorneys from the UNC Center for Civil Rights, who have been helping victims navigate the claims process, are now asking state legislative leaders to clarify and amend the  law so that these victims — whose claims are otherwise substantiated — get the compensation they deserve.

“There is no question that eugenics victims excluded from compensation by these existing provisions of the compensation statute were sterilized by state actors against their will, and therefore are plainly part of the class that the statute was designed to reach,” Center Director Theodore Shaw and Senior Staff Attorney Elizabeth Haddix said in a letter sent to Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore yesterday.

“Even as they cost the state nothing, these legislative fixes will restore the public’s confidence in the sincerity of the program, and allow compensation for more victims of one of the most aggressive and longest-running government involuntary sterilization programs in history.”

According to the Charlotte Observer, several lawmakers have voiced their support for amending the law to reach as many victims as possible.

“The encouraging part of this is that it looks like any solution would not require an increase in the amount for the eugenics fund,” Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, told the paper in December. “So it’s not going to cost the taxpayers an extra penny to solve this problem.”

Former Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican who pushed for compensation while in the legislature, said he’ll urge his former colleagues to make it apply to all victims.

Concerning the distinction between victims with records at the state board and those sterilized at a county’s behest, Goolsby said:  “I don’t think anybody was really aware that there were both county and state boards of eugenics.”

Gerry Cohen, a former legislative attorney and head bill drafter, agreed.

“I don’t think there was any knowledge that county health departments were sterilizing people completely independent of the state.  The discussions that I heard all revolved around the state program.”

Read more about the state’s eugenics victims’ compensation program here.

News

marriage amendmentEarlier this week, State Senate President Phil Berger and former House Speaker Thom Tillis filed a petition for review at the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to overturn the October decisions by federal district court judges in North Carolina rejecting the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The federal court rulings followed the July decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Bostic v. Schaefer, overturning a similar Virginia ban.

Tillis and Berger then intervened in two North Carolina cases for purposes of appeal after state Attorney General Roy Cooper refused to move forward, saying that the courts had now settled the question.

A third district court judge in North Carolina has also rejected the state’s marriage ban, but did not allow the lawmakers to intervene for purposes of appeal. That case, along with the two now before the nation’s highest court, is winding its way through the Fourth Circuit but is not part of the petition for review.

In October, the nation’s highest court refused to take several appeals overturning state marriage bans, likely because at that time all of the underlying decisions reached the same conclusion and no circuit split existed.

Since then, though, the Sixth Circuit has upheld bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, creating the necessary split of authority on the issue.

The justices have been considering petitions for review in cases out of each of those states and may decide as early as this Friday which, if any, they will take. If they do hear any of the appeals, argument will likely be in April with a decision expected near the end of the term in late June.

Notably, the justices did refuse on Monday to take a case out of Louisiana which, like the North Carolina cases, had not yet been reviewed by the circuit court of appeals.

As SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston notes:

The Court’s denial of review in the Louisiana same-sex marriage case is not a reliable indicator of the Court’s current interest in the authority of the states to ban same-sex marriage. The couples in the Louisiana case had asked the Court to bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and take on the case without waiting. The Justices’ response probably indicates a desire not to intrude into the review by the Fifth Circuit, which held a hearing on the Louisiana case, and two others, just last Friday. The Court seldom chooses to bypass appeals courts, although it clearly has the authority to do so.

State Rep. Tim Moore, sworn in as the new House Speaker yesterday, will now take the place of Tillis in the petition. Moore has long opposed gay marriage and has said that he and his Republican colleagues “owe it to the voters” to take all steps to uphold the state’s ban.

Recent polling shows, however, that most state residents now favor gay marriage.

The petition, though filed on January 9, was not docketed by the court until Tuesday. Read it in full here.

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As same-sex marriage bans continue to fall in the courts, states on the losing side of the battle are finding themselves on the hook for attorneys’ fees incurred by proponents of marriage equality, to the tune of more than $800,000 thus far, according to Zoe Tillman in this National Law Journal post.

And requests for millions more are still pending in cases making their way through the appellate courts, Tillman notes.

In the cases pending here, the requests themselves have been put on hold while appeals play out.  State Senate President Phil Berger and former House Speaker Thom Tillis intervened in those cases to appeal district court judgments overturning the state’s same-sex marriage ban, following the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on a similar ban in Virginia in Bostic v. Schaeffer.

But several of the attorneys in the Bostic cases are recovering fees.  Says Tillman:

After the Fourth Circuit declared Virginia’s marriage ban unconstitutional, officials reached fee agreements with the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Virginia will pay $60,000 to lawyers in Harris v. Rainey, a class action joined with another case, Bostic v. Rainey, on appeal. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said the terms of an agreement with the Bostic lawyers were still being finalized.

In Harris, Jenner & Block worked with the ACLU of Virginia and Lambda Legal. Attorney fees will go to the nonprofit lawyers. In Bostic, Theodore Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner were co-lead counsel. Olson argued in the Fourth Circuit. Representatives from Gibson Dunn and Boies Schiller declined to comment about fees.

 

 

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(Source:  Freedomtomarry.org and Mic via Vox.com)

(Source: Freedom to Marry and Mic via Vox)

Color the state of Florida red in the maps above, as a state court judge in Miami-Dade County today allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry there.  The judge’s action followed an August 21 federal court ruling striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, a decision which the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently refused to stay.

That makes 36 states now where same-sex marriage is legal, including North Carolina, which followed suit after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond overturned Virginia’s marriage ban in July 2014 — a decision that was binding here and in all other states in the circuit.

Another nine states have court rulings pending appeal.

Against that backdrop, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider petitions for review from five states — Tennessee, Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky — at conference on January 9, and it is likely that the court will take at least one, given that conflicting decisions have now been issued by federal courts of appeal.

Read the Vox update on where each state stands here, and read more from Freedom to Marry on the cases pending before the Supreme Court here.