Fred Wertheimer is President of Democracy 21.

The United States Constitution provides a “right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It does not say that a citizen can be charged a fee for exercising that right.

But, in essence, here’s what a unanimous Supreme Court said yesterday in interpreting a federal law enacted to protect the integrity of government and of the right to petition:

Citizen X meets with her representative to ask for help in setting up a meeting with a government agency. The representative says I’m happy to set up the meeting if you give me a check for $15,000. No check, no meeting.

The American people clearly would see this as selling your office for personal gain.

The Supreme Court pointed to the routine actions that officeholders undertake for constituents in finding that the facts of McDonnell v. United States do not fall within federal laws designed to ensure that officeholders provide “honest services.” But there was nothing “routine” about what happened in this case.

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Amid prospects that the Supreme Court will still be operating with one fewer Justice well into its next Term, the Justices on Tuesday added eight new cases for hearing and decision after the summer recess, with major controversies among the cases.  The Court also put off, probably for many months, a chance to settle the heated controversy over union fees assessed on public employees who do not belong to a union, denying rehearing of a case that had ended with a four-to-four split on that question (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association).  That issue will have to be confronted anew, first by lower courts..

It now appears that the eight added cases, along with others previously accepted for the new Term, will be heard by the Justices before the end of this calendar year, and by only eight Justices.  There appears little prospect that a ninth Justice would be approved by the Senate before then.

Perhaps the most significant of the disputes that the Court agreed to hear, in the final orders of the now-ended Term, is a test of who may sue mortgage lenders and housing operators for racial discrimination in housing.  The specific issue is whether city governments — here, the city of Miami, Fla. — are among those whom Congress has given permission to sue to enforce the equality guarantees of the Fair Housing Act.  That question will be heard in the consolidated cases of Bank of America v. Miami and Wells Fargo & Co. v. Miami.  Lower courts are deeply split on the issue.

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Erika Bachiochi is a Visiting Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a Research Fellow at the University of St. Thomas Law School.

There is no question that the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is a win for abortion clinics and their doctors. Whether the decision is a victory for women and for liberty, we ought not be so sure.

Abortion-rights organizations quickly claimed that the decision was this generation’s Roe v. Wade, and in certain ways, they are right. First, Roe was first and foremost a victory for doctors, whose rights, Justice Harry Blackmun later suggested, were the real objective of his opinion. In this case, abortion doctors and clinics putatively acted on behalf of their patients (as allowed by a procedural exception atop an exception). Yet clinics’ pecuniary interest to avoid additional health-and-safety standards, like that of other businesses that lobby against the same, stands athwart the interest of their patients. So when the clinics win, as they did yesterday, can we be so sure that women facing unexpected pregnancies have won as well?

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Jeffrey T. Green serves as National Co-Chair of the Amicus Committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

Ivan J. Dominguez is the Director of Public Affairs & Communications at NACDL.

In McDonnell v. United States, the Supreme Court unambiguously rejected the government’s effort to convert into federal crimes conduct not prohibited by the federal bribery and corruption statutes under which the charges were brought. Nevertheless, many in the media immediately led with headlines along the lines of “Supreme Court makes prosecuting corruption more difficult,” as though the decision of the Court yesterday was something other than a unanimous opinion vacating Governor Bob McDonnell’s conviction on federal bribery and corruption charges. The headline should have been: “Supreme Court rejects novel prosecution theories that convert traditional constituent services into federal crimes.”

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Kevin C. Walsh is a Professor of Law at the University of Richmond School of Law.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt began with the potential to be a big case in a big Term. It has ended as a doctrinally insignificant but ideologically ominous case in a transitional Term.

This Term’s defining event was the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, not any decision by the Court. But even while Scalia’s absence likely made very little difference in yesterday’s decision, the dueling majority and dissenting opinions illustrate why confirmation of his successor remains unlikely any time soon.

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Pete Patterson and John Ohlendorf are attorneys at the Washington, D.C. law firm Cooper & Kirk, PLLC, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee supporting Governor McDonnell. The views expressed here are their own.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in McDonnell v. United States is a significant victory for the authority of the states to regulate the conduct of their own elected officials. It also is a significant defeat for the federal government’s efforts to transform federal bribery law into a comprehensive code of good government for local and state officials. By adopting a sensible interpretation of the reach of federal bribery law, the Court has done much to cabin the temptation for federal prosecutors in this politically charged context to pick defendants they think they should get, rather than cases that need to be prosecuted.

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We live-blogged this morning as the Court issued orders. The transcript is available at this link.

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Tuesday round-up

By on Jun 28, 2016 at 7:30 am

Yesterday the Court issued decisions in three cases.  In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, it struck down two provisions of a Texas law regulating abortions.  Molly Runkle rounded up early coverage for this blog, with other coverage coming from NPR’s Nina Totenberg, Erik Eckholm of The New York Times, and Howard Fischer for the Arizona Capitol Times, who focuses on the ruling’s effect in that state.  Coverage focused on the decision and the 2016 presidential campaign comes from Alan Rappeport of The New York Times, Nolan McCaskill and Nick Gass of Politico,and Sarah Ferris of The Hill, while Amber Phillips of The Washington Post interviews Texas state senator Wendy Davis, who filibustered the law for eleven hours in 2013. Continue reading »

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Petition of the day

By on Jun 27, 2016 at 11:24 pm

The petition of the day is:

15-1443

Issue: Whether, under this Court’s decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, personal jurisdiction may be asserted over a corporate defendant only in the defendant’s place of incorporation or principal place of business, except in extraordinary circumstances.

Menu of today’s content

By on Jun 27, 2016 at 9:12 pm

This morning the Court issued its three final opinions in argued cases for the Term:

  • Voisine v. United States, holding that a domestic-violence conviction is a misdemeanor crime of violence for purposes of limiting access to firearms;
  • Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, holding that Texas’s admitting-privileges and surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution;
  • McDonnell v. United States, holding that political-corruption prosecution requires that the government official took formal action on a pending matter; the Court vacated the jury instructions and required a retrial in Governor Bob McDonnell’s corruption case.

Lyle provides our coverage in McDonnell v. United States and also in Whole Woman’s Health. Rory Little reports on the decision in Voisine. Molly rounded up other early coverage of Whole Woman’s Health and Voisine and McDonnell.

Mark Walsh provides a “view” from the Courtroom, while Jennifer Prohov presents a photographic view from outside the Court.

John Elwood composes a Relist Watch in advance of tomorrow’s orders.

Tom posted on our annual “running of the trolls” on Twitter, as well as the technological problems that ensued.

We are also hosting two symposia, on the rulings in Whole Woman’s Health and McDonnell. The contributions to those symposia are available here and here, respectively.

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