Citizens United

Two days ago, a protestor stood up during oral arguments at the Supreme Court to tell the justices that they created a legally sanctioned plutocracy with their decision in Citizens United. The whole thing was caught on camera because one was smuggled into the courtroom, which was almost more interesting than the protest itself.

It was pretty exciting. Justice Ginsburg almost woke up for it.

Now the Supreme Court protestor has spoken, and here’s what he had to say….

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A spectator who dutifully waited in line to gain admission to the Supreme Court’s hearing today just popped up out of his seat and started heckling the Court. It’s times like this that you really wish the Court would join the mid-20th century and install a camera or two so we could see how hard Justice Alito’s eyes roll back into his head when the person he’s listening to isn’t even a Supreme Court justice. I’m guessing it looks like when a Great White bites down.

The cops yanked away the protestor soon after he began. But obviously he succeeded in changing the world before they did.

So what issue got this protestor so riled up that he crashed the Supreme Court?

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It’s time for the State of the Union again, which means it’s time to gather around the TV and thoughtfully discuss the future of the country play a sophomoric game based on the events that we expect to unfold over the course of the evening.

Remember to follow your Above the Law editors covering the speech via Twitter. See @ATLblog@DavidLat@ElieNYC@StaciZaretsky, and @JosephPatrice.

Now, on to the game….

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This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC. In McCutcheon, the Court will rule on whether certain campaign finance restrictions violate the First Amendment. ATL’s Joe Patrice offered his thoughts on the oral arguments yesterday. Today, I offer an alternative perspective.

Currently, byzantine election laws restrict the total political contributions that a person can make in a two-year period, as well as the number of candidates a person can contribute the maximum amount to. The plaintiff, Shaun McCutcheon, is a suburban Alabama businessman, the owner and founder of an electrical engineering firm. McCutcheon wanted to contribute $1,776 (a very patriotic sum, indeed) to 27 candidates across the country. Each of those individual contributions in isolation was legal, falling below the $2,600 maximum amount allowed for individual contributions. Yet, had McCutcheon done so, his total contributions would have run afoul of the maximum total allowed, currently $48,600.

Supporting political causes and candidates of your choice is an exercise of your First Amendment rights. Like all constitutional rights, though, it is subject to an overriding compelling governmental interest. In the case of campaign finance restrictions, your speech rights are trumped by the government’s interest in preventing political corruption or the appearance of political corruption.

Here, McCutcheon was expressing his political values, innocently — even laudably — participating in the democratic electoral process as he contributed up to 2600 bucks to individual candidates . . . until he supported one candidate too many. Suddenly, the First Amendment no longer safeguards his political expression. Suddenly, the threat of corruption or the appearance of corruption is so great that democracy just cannot stand if Shaun McCutcheon is allowed to give a penny more to support a candidate who shares his values….

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Supreme Court arguments are off and running, and the Supremes wasted no time in getting to the fun stuff. In this instance, it’s McCutcheon v. FEC, the case billed as Citizens United II: Electric Boogaloo. The conservative wing of the Court is expected to side with McCutcheon in its continuing war to make American elections safe for multi-millionaires.

Anyway, the oral argument was marked by the usual humorous sniping amongst the justices and lots of fun exchanges where counsel and the conservative justices worked overtime to subordinate reality to ideology. Up to and including Justice Scalia arguing that $3.5 million isn’t that much money for one individual to spend on an election.

Here are 3 immediate, largely stream-of-consciousness thoughts based on reading the transcript (available at the end of the post) coming out of this oral argument:

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The most tragically stupid decision was greenlighting a reality show about lawyers. No one cares about watching real-life lawyering. That’s why Nancy Grace exists — to boil salacious cases down to sound bites so viewers don’t have to watch real lawyers.

But almost as stupid was greenlighting a show about a district attorney on the eve of an election and not expecting to run afoul of campaign finance laws.

Imagine running against an incumbent armed with a glossy, major network reality show constantly hyping his effectiveness in office. In the context of a district attorney election, imagine having to run against Adam Schiff after everyone watched a Law & Order marathon.

If that seems unfair, one challenger agrees with you…

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A minor scandal is brewing in Las Vegas. In a city known for its impeccable ethics and strictly above-board dealings, the legal community is astir over suggestions that a nominee to the federal bench earned her nomination by engineering a windfall for her political sponsor, Senator Harry Reid, with conveniently-timed donations from her law partners.

At what point does sucking up to politicians cross into the appearance of impropriety for prospective federal judges, and how much should the rest of us care?

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Justice RBG rocking her doily.

* As soon as Mary Schapiro announced she was stepping down as chairwoman of the SEC, Obama nominated another woman to take her place. Congrats to SEC Commissioner Elisse Walter! [WSJ Law Blog]

* In other breaking news that no one will care about now that bonus season is upon us, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg swapped out her neck doily for a blingy necklace from Glamour. [Josh Blackman's Blog]

* You know what the ancient Romans would’ve hated more than watching the fall of the Roman empire? The Citizens United decision. Cato, Cicero, and Julius Caesar wouldn’t have been impressed with this. [Slate]

* Why go to law school if you’re already doing well financially? Perhaps you’re just another prestige hunter. If you are, then all the better for you, because that seems to be what all of the law schools are selling these days. [Inside the Law School Scam]

* Don’t cry for Argentina: they may be in the middle of a billion-dollar bond dispute, but the uber-prestigious lawyers on either side of the case (Boies; Olson) are enough to make you forget about their troubles. [Reuters]

* A Biglaw attorney from Alston & Bird with a rare sleep disorder confronts Big Pharma and… doesn’t win. At least not yet. But on the bright side, she’s not sleeping for 18 hours anymore. [The Last Word on Nothing]

* We’re honored to announce that Above the Law was named as one of the ten law blogs in the ABA Journal’s inaugural Blawg 100 Hall of Fame. Please click here if you’d like to help us win again this year. [ABA Journal]

* After the jump, Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia speaks with Bill Lawlor, a Dechert partner, who claims “hope springs eternal for M&A attorneys.” Will the mergers and acquisitions market begin to boom once again?

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Justice Samuel Alito

Where did we go wrong?

– Justice Samuel A. Alito, imagining the reaction of Yale Law School professors to the fact that he and Justice Clarence Thomas were, for a time, the two YLS graduates on the Supreme Court. Justice Alito delivered the keynote address last night at the annual dinner of the Federalist Society.

(Additional highlights from Justice Alito’s speech, after the jump.)

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Whether or not you think Citizens United was rightly decided, you have to agree that Anthony Kennedy totally underestimated the affect his ruling would have on our political process. The unfettered influx of money into the process has been ridiculous. Super PACs are openly plotting how they can buy the election, and it’s even worse on the state and local level. Even the mayor of New York is unabashed about using his money to “influence” the election.

The latest negative outcome from the “money is speech”/”corporations are people”/”unleash the oligarchs” decision comes from a boss near you. Citizens United now allows bosses to email you and tell you who to vote for. Your boss, of course, cannot force you to vote for one candidate or the other. But they are free to scare the crap out of you with misinformation and threats….

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