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Supreme Court Rules California Can’t Compel Abortion Speech

 

Abortion and free speech came together in a Supreme Court decision announced in late June. In a case over California’s law mandating that crisis pregnancy centers must tell patients about abortion services, the high court ruled that this type of requirement violated the First Amendment.

 

The case at question is National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra involving the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act. That law mandated that crisis pregnancy centers, which are set up by pro-life organizations to give prenatal counseling and provide post-birth services, must inform their clients about the health care services offered by the state, including subsidized abortions.

 

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates sued the state, saying that the state could not compel individuals with anti-abortion views to counsel people about abortion services. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed that this likely violated the First Amendment.

 

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the California law “imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest.” In other words, it may be permissible for the state to require a disclosure about health care services, but it cannot single out these clinics to do so. He went on to write, “By requiring  petitioners to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized  abortions—at the same time  petitioners try to dissuade women from choosing that option—the licensed notice plainly ‘alters the content’ of petitioners’ speech.”

 

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent, joined by three of his colleagues. He said that the majority opinion was written broadly enough to potentially undermine many government regulations requiring disclosure. He also pointed out that the court has ruled in prior abortion cases that doctors or other health care professionals can be compelled to offer advice that discourages abortion. He asked, “If a State can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able, as here, to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive healthcare about childbirth and abortion services?”

 

Do you agree with the Supreme Court decision that crisis pregnancy centers cannot be forced to provide information about abortion?

 

Pennsylvania Looks to Change Judicial Elections

 

Voters elect legislators by districts, so should they elect appellate judges by district, too? That is the question that Pennsylvania legislators are currently considering.

 

As part of a larger anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment, state senators in mid-June inserted a provision that would require appellate judges (including state Supreme Court justices) to run by district. Currently, these judges are elected statewide.

 

The senators who support this concept point out that most of the state appellate judges come from a few areas of the state (generally around Pittsburgh or Philadelphia). Electing them by districts, according to these legislators, would provide much-needed geographic diversity for the judicial branch.

 

Opponents say this is a Republican attempt to attack the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court. They contend that there is no good reason to divide up judicial seats by geographic area, since these judges decide on statewide issues.

 

This proposed change to judicial elections came during consideration of a constitutional amendment that would establish a nonpartisan commission to draw election districts. The state Supreme Court recently invalidated the districts drawn by Republican legislators.

 

The state House of Representatives must now consider this proposed amendment. To go before voters, both houses of the General Assembly must pass an identical version of the amendment during two consecutive legislative sessions. If the House rejects the Senate’s idea, it would doom the overall nonpartisan redistricting effort.

 

Do you think that state Supreme Court justices should be elected statewide, or should they be elected by districts that would give more geographic diversity?

 

Supreme Court Allows Political Attire at Polling Places

 

When you go to vote this year, you are now free to wear a t-shirt proclaiming your support for your favorite candidate or political cause. The Supreme Court recently ruled that states cannot prohibit a person from wearing attire with a political message when they vote. Observers see this as a major victory for free speech.

 

In 2010, a man wearing a t-shirt that said “Don’t Tread on Me” and had the logo of a national Tea Part group tried to vote in Minnesota. Election officials said that his clothing violated a state law banning political attire in polling places. In Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the high court ruled that this law was a violation of the First Amendment.

 

The court’s vote was 7-2, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion. He noted that the state may indeed ban some kinds of electioneering inside a polling place, but that the Minnesota ban on political apparel was overly broad. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan joined him in his finding.

 

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented from this ruling. Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court should not have made a sweeping First Amendment ruling on this case; instead, the court should have sent it to the Minnesota Supreme Court to make a more narrow judgment.

 

Many states have bans on political apparel or signs in polling places. Chief Justice Roberts noted that some of those laws have more specific bans than Minnesota did, so they may be permissible. However, this ruling does lay the groundwork for anyone to challenge these laws under the First Amendment. Thanks to this ruling, there is an expectation that states should favor free expression, not restrictions on political attire.

 

Do you think that people should be able to wear clothes and buttons with political messages when they vote?

 

Florida Supreme Court Considering Quality Education Standard

 

What does it take to provide a “high quality” education? Florida voters, judges, and lawmakers have been wrestling with this issue for years. Soon the state Supreme Court will decide if courts should play a role in deciding how the state constitution’s quality education mandate should be interpreted.

 

In 1998, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that mandated the state provided a “high quality education system.” Advocacy groups and the state have waged a long legal battle to determine what these words mean. Groups suing the state say that the judicial branch should have a role in determining what constitutes a “high quality education system.” The state says that this is an inherently political question, so the courts should stay out of it.

 

In states like Connecticut and New York, judges have become involved in setting education spending levels in order to meet similar constitutional provisions in other states. Florida advocates want something similar in that state. They say that if there is no authority for the judiciary to mandate ways to comply with that constitutional provision, the education amendment is toothless.

 

The state pushes back against that argument, noting that there is no agreed-upon standard that will produce the mandated “high quality education system.” The state says that this is an inherently political decision, and that judges should not be setting education policy or determining education spending levels.

 

Lower courts have agreed with Florida’s arguments in this matter. The state Supreme Court, however, can overturn these lower court decisions and give the judicial branch authority to involve itself in the fight over Florida’s education policy.

 

Do you think that judges should be able to set education spending levels or determine what constitutes a “high quality” education?

 

Senate Ramping Up Court Confirmations

 

Donald Trump made the appointment of federal judges a key part of his appeal to Republican voters when he ran in 2016. He has not ignored this issue since taking office, and neither has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In recent weeks, much of the Senate’s time has been devoted to confirming these judges – something that pleases the president’s conservative base but worries liberals.

 

So far this year, the Senate has confirmed the following circuit court nominees:

 

David Ryan Stras, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit: 56-42

Elizabeth L. Branch, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit: 73-23

Stuart Kyle Duncan, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit: 50-47

Kurt D. Engelhardt, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit: 62-34

Michael B. Brennan, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 49-46

Michael Y. Scudder, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 90-0

Amy J. St. Eve, of Illinois, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 91-0

Joel M. Carson III, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Tenth Circuit: 77-21

John B. Nalbandian, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit: 53-45

 

These judges, who can serve for life, will sit on circuit courts that are one level below the Supreme Court in terms of jurisdiction. The U.S. is divided into twelve judicial circuits, with a panel of judges serving on each court.

 

The appointees to these circuit courts has become increasingly contentious over the past two decades. Members of both parties began to use the filibuster to block appointments to these courts, forcing the president’s party to come up with 60 votes to confirm a judge. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid ended the filibuster for circuit court nominees. That allowed some of President Obama’s circuit court picks to advance over the objection of Republicans, but also paved the way for relatively easy confirmation of President Trump’s nominees.

 

While two of President Trump’s nominees received unanimous votes (those of Amy St. Eve and Michael Scudder), the Senate was closely divided on many of the others. This has been the pattern for many of the president’s nominees, whether for judicial posts or for executive branch positions.

 

Are you happy that the Senate has confirmed so many of President Trump’s judicial nominees? Or do you think that President Trump’s judge picks will reshape the federal judiciary in a way that you disagree with?

 

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