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vote2In an order issued today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to expedite an appeal of a lower court’s refusal to block voting law changes from taking effect this November, and has scheduled argument on that appeal for September 25 in Charlotte.

That lower court refusal came in the form of  a 125-page decision released at 5 p.m. on August 8 by U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, who ruled that the upcoming November elections would go forward under provisions of the new voting law enacted by the General Assembly in 2013.

For North Carolina voters, that meant that for this election cycle, there would be no same-day registration, early voting days would be reduced from 17 to 10, and votes cast out-of-precinct would not be counted.

Here is the order.

For more background on the case and the lower court order, read here.

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The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. has vacated a July ruling by a three-judge panel of that court striking down Obamacare subsidies issued through the federal exchange.

The full panel of the court will instead review that challenge in arguments expected in December.

Democratic appointees on the full court outnumber Republicans, and as Elise Viebeck notes in this post at The Hill, the ruling for a review by the full court is a victory for the Obama administration.

In July, the three-judge panel had ruled in Halbig v. Burwell  that tax credits under the Affordable Care Act can only be available to people who enrolled in new exchanges set up in states — not those who enrolled in the default federal program.

Hours later, though, the Fourth Circuit issued a contrary decision in King v. Burwell, upholding the availability of Affordable Care Act tax credits to health insurance purchasers on both state exchanges and the federal exchange.

In North Carolina, which did not set up a state exchange, more than 350,000 residents purchased health insurance on the federal exchange — and more than 90 percent did so with the assistance of subsidies.

 

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Last night’s debate between Sen. Kay Hagan and former state speaker Thom Tillis included plenty of bantering about who cares more about women’s health issues — most of which concerned access to contraception after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

Sen. Hagan called the decision as she saw it — a blatant effort to restrict access to contraception, while Tillis defended the rights of small businesses with a professed religious affiliation and announced a new-found affection for the expansion of contraception by a variety of means — making birth control pills available over-the-counter as opposed to through a prescription, for example.

Of course, contraception is only one piece of the women’s health pie, and a decision out of Texas late last week reminds us that the fight over restrictive state abortion laws continues to percolate in the federal courts.

In that decision, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel — a George W. Bush appointee — ruled that the state’s requirement that abortion facilities be outfitted as ambulatory surgical centers unduly burdened women without any countervailing legitimate state interest.

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Gay marriage 3Federal courts in North Carolina have stayed proceedings in the same-sex marriage cases here while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Bostic v. Schaefer, finding Virginia’s marriage ban unconstitutional.

Five petitions for review of lower court rulings on the issue are now pending before the high court in various stages of readiness — one each from Utah and Oklahoma and three from Virginia (from different parties).

Lyle Deniston at SCOTUSblog has this full rundown of where the cases stand. Here’s his suspected timing:

Following the series of lower-court rulings on same-sex marriage, petitions posing that issue began arriving at the Court on August 5.  In the twenty-four days since then, the other four petitions have come in, so at this stage cases from Oklahoma and Utah are close to being ready for the Justices to consider promptly, as are at least two of the three petitions about Virginia’s ban.

Whether the Court is prepared to step into the controversy at an early point may depend upon whether the Justices are convinced that there is a split on the core issue among lower federal appeals courts.  There is a split, but it depends upon taking into account an appeals court decision years before the Court’s ruling last year in the Windsor case.   Every federal court ruling on the issue since then has resulted in a nullification of state bans, relying on the reasoning in the main Windsor opinion.

The Justices may want to wait to see if a new split is going to develop at the appeals court level.  Many observers now appear to believe, in the wake of a recent hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, that that court may uphold one or more state bans in the four cases it heard.

A split in the circuits may now also be bolstered by today’s ruling from a federal judge in Louisiana, upholding that state’s ban.  Of course that decision — the first from a federal district court to uphold a state ban — would have to pass through the Fifth Circuit first, and likely not in time to make it up to the Supreme Court this term.

Here is the order staying proceedings in Fisher-Borne v. Smith and Gerber v. Cooper.

Here is the order staying proceedings in General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper.

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Supreme courtTwo reports out today reveal a public disenchanted with their court systems and suspicious of the influence that campaign cash is having on judicial conduct.

One, a survey commissioned by the Coalition for Court Transparency to assess perceptions about transparency at the U.S. Supreme Court, reveals that the public strongly wants to see more of the high court in action. 

As noted in the Legal Times, “seventy-four percent of the respondents favored live camera access and 72 percent said the court should at least allow the broadcast of audio of oral arguments and other public court proceedings.”  Those polled also overwhelmingly wanted more financial disclosure by the justices  – who they rated negatively and suspected were rendering opinions based upon personal or political views.

State court systems didn’t fare much better — at least those in states where, like North Carolina, judges have to campaign for their seats on the bench.

As the executive director of Justice at Stake Bert Brandenburg notes in this Politico piece:

recent survey showed that an overwhelming 87 percent of Americans fear that campaign cash is affecting decisions in the courtroom. Even more chilling: A poll by the National Center for State Courts and Justice at Stake shows that nearly half of state judges agree. “It’s pretty hard in big-money races not to take care of your friends,” said retired West Virginia Chief Justice Richard Neely in 2006. “It’s very hard not to dance with the one who brung you.”

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