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SCOTUS Sketch

(Supreme Court sketch: Art Lien)

The U.S. Supreme Court gets a second shot at the Affordable Care Act this morning, with arguments set to start any minute in King v. Burwell.

If you were hoping to catch the arguments via live stream, well, you can’t. That’s because the nation’s highest court still does not allow cameras in the courtroom.

A number of open government organizations are taking advantage of the public interest in this case to make their case for the need of live coverage there, via the public announcement below.

In the meantime, some media outlets will be having reporters shuttling in and out of the courtroom with reports on the questioning and we’ll be posting some of those here as we see them.

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asking about standing of challengers to sue, per Wall Street Journal live blog:

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Here’s the mid-argument update from SCOTUSblog:

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Justices move from standing to questions about reading the statute literally — as challengers ask — and the problems with that.  More from SCOTUSblog:

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From Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen:

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Here’s what Justice Anthony Kennedy was asking, per SCOTUSblog update:

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Questioning going overtime:

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Plenty of questioning on the merits means likely no ruling based upon lack of standing, says SCOTUSblog:

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Justice Kennedy pushed government lawyer Michael Carvin, asking if “pressuring” states into creating their own exchanges is problematic. His response, per WSJ:

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Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor jump in, per WSJ:

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Questioning of the Solicitor General, arguing in favor of the reading that subsidies were availalbe under either exchange, wasn’t much easier. Per SCOTUSblog:

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Arguments have ended.  Here’s a few post-game predictions from legal experts and court watchers:

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News

Supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court is hearing argument today in a redistricting dispute out of Arizona that could bear directly on North Carolina voters.

In the case, aptly captioned Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commissionthe state legislature sued an independent redistricting commission approved by voters in 2000 to draw state and congressional voting lines.

The lawmakers contend that the delegation of that responsibility from them to the commission violates the Election Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for . . . Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”

SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe has more on the legal arguments in the case here, but of more import to North Carolina voters is the impact the court’s decision may have on developing efforts to reform the redistricting process here.

Two bills are now pending in the General Assembly that would change the overtly partisan nature of drawing voting lines in North Carolina.

House Bill 92, sponsored by Rep. “Skip” Stam and others, calls for a more bipartisan approach to map-drawing but keeps ultimate approval authority with lawmakers.

House Bill 49 on the other hand — sponsored by Rep. Charles Jeter and others —  delegates the map-drawing to an independent commission, which then presents three plans from which lawmakers can choose. If they don’t agree on a plan within a set period of time, the commission itself picks the redistricting plan that becomes state law.

The latter bill, which would require a constitutional amendment, is more like the Arizona law before the nation’s highest court, except that it still rests ultimate approval with the lawmakers — absent their failure to act.

But even that degree of delegation may be at risk, depending on how the Supreme Court rules.

As the Brennan Center for Justice points out here:

If the Supreme Court were to conclude that the Elections Clause prohibits citizen efforts to take the power to redistrict away from elected politicians, the decision could have far-reaching ramifications. A growing number of states in recent years, including California, have given independent commissions the power to set the boundaries of their congressional districts. In fact, almost half of the states now use redistricting commissions in some form, including as a backup if the legislature is unable to pass a redistricting plan. Efforts to adopt similar sorts of reforms are currently underway in Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin – with Arizona and California frequently serving as models for proposed reforms.

 

News

VoteWake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan  has refused to dismiss a case challenging the state’s voter ID law, sending the case to trial in July instead.

Under the so-called monster voting law passed in 2013, voters will have to show one of seven forms of photo identification to cast a ballot starting in 2016.

“On behalf of our clients, we look forward to trying this case in July and demonstrating the disenfranchising effect of the photo ID requirement,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s George Eppsteiner, one of attorneys for the parties challenging the law.

Those parties include 78-year-old Alberta Currie, whose family picked cotton and tobacco on Robeson County fields and who has no birth certificate because she was born at home. She has voted consistently since she first became eligible to vote in 1956. She does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate.

Joining her in the lawsuit, Currie v. North Carolina — filed in August 2013 when three federal actions were likewise filed — are several other individuals as well as the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and the North Carolina A. Phillip Randolph Institute.

Together they allege that the photo ID requirement creates a new qualification to vote and discriminates against African-American voters, all in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.

At a hearing in late January, both the state and the challengers asked the court enter judgment in their favor based solely upon their respective court pleadings.

In his order filed on February 24, Morgan ruled instead that the challengers’ claims that the photo ID requirement constituted an impermissible qualification on the right to vote and also violated Equal Protection provisions of the state constitution could only be decided after a full presentation of evidence at trial.

Read the full decision here.

 

News

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The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination of North Carolina native Loretta Lynch to serve as the country’s next Attorney General by a 12-8 vote.

The vote fell largely along party lines, with three Republican senators — Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake — joining all nine Democratic senators on the committee in voting “yes.”

North Carolina’s new senator, former state House Speaker Thom Tillis, voted “no” on the Lynch nomination, a decision he announced via Twitter just shortly before the committee meeting this morning.

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In a later release, Tillis elaborated on his reasons — which included the Justice Department’s voting rights lawsuit against the state and Lynch’s alleged stance on the President’s immigration policies — but said that if Lynch was confirmed he would work with her “on key areas of agreement.”

I hope she will prove my concerns unfounded by rebuilding the Department of Justice’s fractured relationship with Congress, put an end to the costly and politically motivated ligation against North Carolina, and most importantly, restore the Department’s reputation for legal integrity that is divorced from politics.

With the committee’s approval, Lynch now moves to a vote by the full Senate, on a date and time yet to be set. If confirmed there, Lynch will become the first African-American woman and the first native North Carolinian to serve in that role.

The daughter of a black Baptist minister and a school librarian who once picked cotton in the eastern part of North Carolina, Lynch made her way from Durham to Brooklyn, where she has twice led the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

As chief there, Lynch earned the respect of law enforcement officials and prosecutors from both sides of the aisle, many of whom voiced support for her nomination at the time of her committee confirmation hearing in January.

And prior to the committee vote this morning, even those Republican senators voting “no” on her nomination conceded that she was immensely qualified and had done an impeccable job leading one of the most active and effective U.S. Attorney’s offices in the country.

None had voiced opposition during Lynch’s confirmation hearing, but in the time since partisan pressure built among Republicans to defeat her nomination.

In a February 19 letter, fifty-one Republican senators urged Judiciary Committee members to oppose her nomination, saying they suspected that Lynch would likely continue the policies of Eric Holder, whom she’d succeed as Attorney General.

 

News

Loretta LynchThe U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote this morning on the nomination of North Carolina native Loretta Lynch to serve as the nation’s next Attorney General.

If approved by the Committee, her nomination will move to the full Senate for a final vote, and if confirmed there Lynch will become the first African-American woman to serve in that role.

The daughter of a black Baptist minister and a school librarian who once picked cotton in the eastern part of North Carolina, Lynch made her way from Durham to Brooklyn, where she has twice led the U.S. Attorney’s Office there.

Colleagues and adversaries alike have called her a tough, fair, and independent lawyer and a leader of one of the most active and effective U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the nation.

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton called her “a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor.

Former NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly praised Lynch as a person who “upholds the highest ethical standard” and “would serve our country well” as the attorney general.

And former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn’t think of “a more qualified nominee” and was “happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation.”

Lynch also garnered the respect of several senators serving on the 20-member Committee, before whom she appeared for questioning in late January.

Eleven of those senators are Republican — including newly-minted North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis – and nine are Democrats.

With a supporting vote, Tillis could help make Lynch the first North Carolinian to lead the Justice Department.

But he has not publicly announced his support, and his office did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.

Others on both sides of the aisle have expressed their support, though.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein called Lynch’s performance at her confirmation hearing one of the best she’d witnessed.

“I see the combination of steel and velvet,” Feinstein said.

And Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said he was impressed by Lynch and plans to support her.

Despite that support, an effort is apparently underway among Republicans in the Senate to derail her nomination, according to this report in the News & Observer.

Fifty-one Republican senators have signed a letter urging Judiciary Committee members to oppose her nomination, saying they suspected that Lynch would likely continue the policies of Eric Holder, whom she’d succeed as Attorney General.

Holder made few friends among Republicans in the Senate, and during her confirmation hearing, Lynch found herself being pushed to distance herself from that.

“If confirmed as attorney general, I would be myself,” she said in response to questioning.

“I would be Loretta Lynch.”