Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Brown Appoints Leondra R. Kruger, 38, to State Supreme Court

Will join a block of young Brown-appointed justices

by Brian Leubitz

Governor Brown is making judicial appointments for the long-term. After appointing now Justices Liu and Cuéllar, he has appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney General Leondra R. Kruger to replace Justice Joyce Kennard. Here’s the quick bio:

Leondra R. Kruger, 38, of Washington, D.C., has served as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel since 2013. She served as an Assistant to the Solicitor General and as Acting Principal Deputy Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General from 2007 to 2013. While serving in that office, she argued 12 cases on behalf of the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court.

*** **** ***

Kruger was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School in 2007 and an associate at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP from 2004 to 2006. She served as a law clerk to the Honorable John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court from 2003 to 2004 and to the Honorable David S. Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 2002 to 2003. Kruger was an associate at Jenner and Block LLP from 2001 to 2002.

Beyond the CV details, the press release highlights some very impressive credentials for somebody under 40. Praise from solicitor generals under both Bush-43 and Obama is nothing to scoff at.

But it is interesting that Brown, in his fourth term, is picking for the long-haul on the Supreme Court. Justices Liu and Cuéllar are 44 and 42 respectively, meaning that with an additional retirement in the next four years, there could be a Brown-selected majority on the California Supreme Court for 30 years. Think about that, 30 years is several lifetimes in politics. But Brown is in the process of laying his fingerprints all over one branch of California government for those lifetimes.

It would be hard to argue that any of these picks were anything less than completely qualified for the job, while bringing additional diversity to the Court that already had a minority-majority. Kudos to the Governor for the pick, and congratulations to the future Justice Kruger.

Prop 8 Likely to Be Repealed Narrowly; Court to Hear DOMA Today

It is never wise to predict U.S. Supreme Court decisions on oral arguments, or else Obamacare would have been repealed.  Based on the Justices’ line of questioning, however, it appears that they will overrule Proposition 8 – but on narrow grounds that will only affect California.  The Justices spent a significant chunk of time on “standing,” but they will likely consider the Prop 8 supporters as proper litigants.  But Justices Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts had clear problems with finding a “right” to same-sex marriage that would apply nationwide – and the “nine-state” compromise was widely panned.  I predict they will rule Prop 8 unconstitutional by applying the Romer precedent and sustaining the Ninth Circuit decision, i.e., Prop 8 was unique because it “took away” a right that same-sex couples already had.

Today, the Court will hear oral arguments on the federal Defense of Marriage Act – a case whose outcome should be more favorable.  A state can grant marriage to same-sex couples, but we still don’t have equality because DOMA denies them all federal benefits.  I also expect that the standing question in DOMA to be clearer.

Note by Brian: Amy Howe at SCOTUSBlog has a “plain English” review of the DOMA Case. It’s worth a read, as it covers some of the standing issues in that case as well as the merits of the case.

As I reported yesterday, there are five ways the Supreme Court could rule on Prop 8: (1) deny standing to Prop 8 supporters and make us win by default, (2) uphold Prop 8 and deny marriage to California couples, (3) sustain the Ninth Circuit decision that overruled Prop 8, but only in California, (4) overrule Prop 8 in a way that extends same-sex marriage to nine states or (5) extend marriage equality to all 50 states.

Standing Dominates Oral Arguments, But Court Likely to Rule on Merits

Unlike today’s DOMA arguments, the Supreme Court did not set aside time for the Prop 8 litigants to discuss “standing” – but Chief Justice John Roberts made all 3 lawyers yesterday explain their position at the outset.  This led to a robust back-and-forth, and many commentators now predict the Court will “punt” on Prop 8 – allowing same-sex marriage in California because the appeal was improper.

Here’s why I don’t believe that will happen.  The conservatives will vote to grant standing, as Samuel Alito argued that the whole point of an initiative process is to allow citizens to bypass elected officials.  But “swing” vote Anthony Kennedy also expressed concern that dismissing a case because the Governor & Attorney General refused to defend Prop 8 would result in a “one-way ratchet.”  Even liberal Sonia Sotomayor added that Ted Olson was not answering the “fundamental fear” of such a precedent.  The Justices asked about standing, but the votes are there to grant it.

Justices Not Likely to Determine Same-Sex Marriage a ‘Fundamental Right’

It was clear from the oral arguments that the 4 liberal Justices – Sonia Sotomayor, Elana Kagan, Stephen Breyer & Ruth Bader Ginsburg – believe that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, and probably that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right.  But while Anthony Kennedy – and even John Roberts – made some favorable comments, both were uncomfortable with the idea of expanding gay marriage to all 50 states.

The Obama Administration argued that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, wherever states grant civil unions or domestic partnerships to same-sex couples – but denied the right to marry.  Dubbed the “nine-state solution,” this ruling would have extended marriage equality to nine states including California – which sounded like a good political compromise.  But Justices from both sides of the spectrum blasted it for being legally and logistically inconsistent.  As the Huffington Post wrote, it probably just confused them.

Will Kennedy (and Roberts?) Vote to Uphold the Ninth Circuit Decision?

This leaves us with two possible outcomes: upholding Prop 8 (thereby putting the Court on the wrong side of history), or repealing Prop 8 in a narrow enough way that it only affects California.  Justices Kagan, Ginsburg and Sotomayor all asked questions that zeroed in on that option – perhaps as a means of getting a fifth vote.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit overruled Prop 8 because it actually repealed a right to same-sex marriage that the state had granted.  This makes Prop 8 unique among all other anti-gay marriage amendments because, applying the Romer precedent, it was malicious.

At one point, Justice Kennedy was uncomfortable with making same-sex marriage a fundamental right – calling it a “broad argument” that was far more extensive than the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.  But he then went on to call the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on Prop 8 a “very odd rationale” – which is disturbing.  However, it’s clear from reading the transcript (relevant passage is on page 42) that Kennedy was confusing what the Ninth Circuit had said on Prop 8.

Kennedy wrote the Romer decision in 1996, which overruled a Colorado state initiative that repealed non-discrimination ordinances.  The Ninth Circuit decision on Prop 8 heavily relied on Kennedy’s reasoning in Romer.  As a friend of mine said yesterday, “hopefully, his clerks will clear up the confusion.”

Would Roberts be a sixth vote to repeal Prop 8 on these narrow grounds?  At some points in the oral arguments, Roberts seemed amenable to the idea that Prop 8 not only denied same-sex marriage in California – it did so after the state Court found it was a right.  While less likely to do so than Kennedy, Roberts may do the right thing.

DOMA More Likely to Be Repealed, Paving Way for Full Marriage Equality

As I wrote when the California Supreme Court first granted same-sex marriage in 2008, we will never get real marriage equality until we repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.  

Even in states where gay couples can get married, DOMA denies them any and all federal benefits – such as joint tax returns, Social Security benefits, immigration or military benefits.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell may be gone, but gays in the military don’t get benefits for their spouse or partner.  If your husband is an immigrant, they can still get deported – even if you live in a state like Connecticut with same-sex marriage.

And in the case of Edith Windsor, who married her wife in Canada and then moved to New York, she was hit with $363,000 in federal estate taxes after her wife died.  If they had been a straight married couple, she would have been exempt from that.

Unlike the Prop 8 lawsuit, which was filed over serious objections by civil rights lawyers, the federal case against DOMA has been painstakingly planned for years.  The plaintiffs are legally married (no one disputes that), but the federal government is violating equal protection.  The strategy was to file several DOMA lawsuits across the country in various circuits, so by the time the Supreme Court hears it today we will have had multiple cases with a consistent string of victories.

DOMA, which President Clinton signed in 1996, does two things: (a) it denies all federal benefits to same-sex couples, regardless of their marital status and (b) it allows states to block recognition of gay marriages performed in other states.  Today’s lawsuit only challenges the former, but a Supreme Court victory would bring tangible benefits to thousands of married gay couples in America – not to mention the economic impact on states that have granted marriage equality.

Just like Prop 8, the federal government has refused to defend DOMA – forcing House Republicans to intervene as third parties.  The Supreme Court will rule on whether they have standing, and it’s clear that our odds are better than in Prop 8.  

Because Prop 8 was a citizen initiative, it can be argued that – in the absence of the state government defending it – those who collected signatures to place it on the ballot may “substitute” in to represent the state’s “interest.”  But DOMA was an Act of Congress, signed into law by the President.  Both Bob Barr (who wrote DOMA as a Congressman) and Bill Clinton (who signed it into law) have disavowed DOMA, and argue that it should be repealed.  An amicus brief has been filed by four U.S. Senators who voted for DOMA – and now argue that it was a mistake, and must be overruled.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, as I assess how the oral arguments on DOMA went.

Paul Hogarth has a J.D. from Golden Gate University Law School, and is licensed to practice law in California.  He was a legal intern at Equality California in the summer of 2005, was active in Bloggers Against Prop 8, organized volunteers in 2009 who traveled to Maine for the marriage campaign, live-blogged the Prop 8 trial for the Courage Campaign in January 2010 and in 2012 worked as a Campaign Consultant for United for Marriage – a project that sent volunteers to Maine, Maryland, Minnesota & Washington to supplement campaign field efforts.  Follow him on Twitter at @paulhogarth.

Prop 8 Plaintiffs, SF City Attorney File Briefs in Supreme Court

Argue that Prop 8 denies equal protection, proponents do not have standing

by Brian Leubitz

A busy day in the Prop 8 case today, as the City of San Francisco filed their brief, and the original plaintiffs filed their reply brief. The links will take you to Scribd to read them.

The Supreme Court asked two questions, one on the merits of the case, the other on whether the Prop 8 proponents have standing to appeal the case. After discussing why they don’t think there is standing, both move quickly on to the merits. The arguments are two-fold, that Prop 8 violates due process of the law, and that it is a violation of the equal protection clauses of the fifth and fourteenth amendments.

As the March 26 hearing approaches, I’ll dig into all of the briefs and summarize what to watch for at oral argument. You can peruse all of the various filings at AfER’s website.  

San Jose joins San Francisco’s Supreme Court Argument on Prop 8

Council votes to join over Mayor’s objections

by Brian Leubitz

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed was never really a traditional Democrat. He never really had a strong labor base, and was never particularly well connected to the LGBT community.  His objection to joining the Mayors for Marriage Equality campaign gave rise to much nashing of teeth in the Bay Area’s largest city.

However, the city council found a better way to put their city on record in support of the cause of marriage equality.

But this week Councilman Ash Kalra found an appropriate way to show support for equal marriage rights on behalf of San Jose, whose voters rejected Proposition 8 in 2008 when it passed statewide. With Councilmen Don Rocha, Kansen Chu and Xavier Campos, Kalra proposed that San Jose join in San Francisco’s argument to the United States Supreme Court that the same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

The motion passed by a surprising 9-1. Newly-seated District 10 Councilman Johnny Khamis did not vote, raising eyebrows when he left the meeting without explanation before the discussion. The lone no vote was Reed. So that would mean — yes, it’s true: Conservative Republican Pete Constant, who supported Proposition 8 and rarely sees eye to eye with Kalra on anything, concurred in the motion.(SJ Merc)

Constant is hardly a progressive, but somehow he found it within himself to support the right for loving couples to married, under civil law. Progress…

People, Not SuperPACs, Should Decide Our Elections

Maybe it’s our winter sunshine while snow falls elsewhere-or how we embrace innovation and welcome eccentrics rejected in other places. Some Californians presume our state a haven from the nastiest aspects of American life. But we are not.

Now the fallout from a dangerous U.S. Supreme Court ruling is hitting our political landscape. Stopping the corrupting effects of the 2010 Citizens United decision is a serious and important challenge. The ruling has already prompted the rollback of some hard-won checks on special interests’ domination of elections in California. It further tilts the playing field against the election of community-based leaders and in favor of candidates bankrolled by special interests and beholden to their big-money marketing blitzes.

Citizens United threatens governance of, by, and for the people. It’s no coincidence that the first national election under this ruling was the first in 40 years in which the ranks of women state legislators actually shrank, significantly. California’s progress on diversity and openness in public service and our hopes of fixing revenue collection and preserving schools and vital services hang in the balance as long as Citizens United remains the law of the land. Because it hinders our capacity to elect leaders who truly reflect and will stay accountable to our communities, Californians should demand its reversal.

It was just over two years ago that a narrow 5-to-4 majority on the high court announced the sweeping decision in the case of Citizens United. The ruling bulldozed more than a century of curbs on corporate spending in elections, including California’s limits at the local, school board, and county level. This is not about a cash-filled brief case. We’re talking dump trucks. The ruling paved the way for millions of dollars in unlimited independent expenditures by businesses and political action committees on steroids called super PACs. The reasoning? That any barriers unfairly burden the free expression of companies.

Corporations as people, with spending called free speech? For Californians, the ruling worsens an election forecast already filled with mailers praising or deploring candidates, sent by outside interests disguised in pious names. Voters who scratch their heads trying to detect the origins of these postcards or glossy hit pieces that clog their mailboxes should get ready to rub their scalps raw, thanks to Citizens United.

Sharp criticism of the ruling has united a bipartisan coalition that ranges from Occupy Wall Street to President Obama to Reagan appointee to the Supreme Court and former justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Alarm bells that O’Connor has sounded about corporate money swaying races for judge and state supreme courts have motivated some Republicans to join in the reform push.

Right here in Los Angeles, the city council unanimously passed a resolution condemning the ruling. The Montana state supreme court showed courage in defying Citizens United and defending the state’s barriers to corporate electioneering. Lawmakers in both New Mexico and Hawaii passed similar resolutions, as have scores of cities, towns, and town meetings in states such as Vermont.

This push is too important to allow anti-labor activists to misdirect its passion. Some extremists in California have used the ruling, which unleashed union spending along with corporations’, as an excuse to launch a ballot measure meddling in how unions collect members’ dues and make their voices heard. With stats from 2010 showing that overall election spending by corporations outpaced unions’ by more than 4 to 1, and worse in many states, lashing out at labor is the wrong approach.

What’s needed is a full-scale challenge to the ruling, from state lawmakers, members of Congress, stockholders, and voters.

First, California lawmakers should join colleagues in other states by showing their resolve to undo the ruling and stand behind our local standards. California’s delegates in Congress should push for a constitutional amendment to reverse the ruling and allow states to set their own limits on special interests’ spending. Stockholders should tell corporations in which they’re invested that campaigning is best left to candidates and elections, to the electorate. Americans should stand behind the President who opposes the ruling, and whose appointee on the Supreme Court dissented from it. And California voters should turn a careful eye on candidates fueled by outside interests and turn back their efforts to dominate elections. Students, seniors, public servants, small businesspeople, and struggling middle class families are depending on someone to stand up for fairness and fight for them, not bend to the special interests. I know whose side I’m on.

Luis Lopez is a Democratic candidate for Assembly in the 51st District. The district covers East L.A., where Lopez was born and works as a nonprofit healthcare director, and Northeast Los Angeles, where he has lived and served for a decade as neighborhood council member and planning commissioner.  For more information, please go to LopezforAssembly.com

A Quick Summary of the Senate Map Legal Opinion

A quick, and probably wildly inaccurate, summary of the decision.

by Brian Leubitz

I read the decision very quickly (you can find it over the flip), so I likely missed many of the finer points.  Nonetheless, I figured I wanted to get this up quickly, so, my apologies for any errors.  At any rate, today the Court decided a few issues:

1) They have authority to intervene and provide a new map if a Redistricting map is challenged.

2) The Commission map is the best map to use in the interim, as it does the best job of adhering to the goals set forth in the redistricting initiative, even if the referendum gets on the ballot.

The discussion at the hearing was sort of meandering, but touched on all of these issues.  Starting with the Commission’s map, the entire Court agreed that it was the best map to use both for June and November.  Interestingly, there were two semi-conflicting decisions from Supreme Court precedence to choose from.  Legislature v. Reinecke held that the 1972 maps, which were vetoed by Gov. Reagan, could not be used. Rather, the previous maps based on 1960 census data should be used. The maps proposed by the 1972 Legislature had only been presented in a “truncated” Legislative process.

On the other hand, Assembly v Deukmejian held that the maps signed into law Gov. Jerry Brown and put to a referendum by the Republicans should go ahead in 1982.  The Court reasoned that

Although the Constitution of our state grants the power to initiate a referendum to 5 percent of the voters, it does not require that the effect of that referendum be articulated in a manner that does such serious injury to conflicting and equally compelling constitutional mandates.

In other words, there were competing Constitutional interests. The right to a referendum, which is provided in the state Constitution, and the principle of “One person, One vote.” (OPOV) Using the old maps would have meant that districts would be out of balance.  In 1972, the Court held that the never really approved, because they were vetoed, maps could not be imposed, the principle of OPOV had to take a back seat because it would be far more destructive to impose the fake maps than it would be to just accept disproportionate districts for two more years. At the same time, because the 1972 district netted 2 Congressional seats, the Court let those be imposed on an interim basis.  So, apparently they weren’t so odious or destructive.

On the other hand, the legitimately passed 1982 maps were put in place, for reasons both of pragmatism and of principle.  The maps had been duly passed by the Legislature.  While the right of referendum was an important Constitutional right, it was not so important as to throw the system into chaos.  This was a 4-3 decision, with the dissenters basically calling the decision a wholly political one.

And with that in mind, the Court ultimately decided that the Assembly v Deukmejian was more applicable in this instance.  The referendum situation ultimately bearing more similarity to the newer case than the older.

The court considered several maps in the case the referendum is put on the ballot:

  1. The 2002 maps. They would have resulted in districts that varied by nearly 40% from largest to smallest. The court ultimately dismissed this as varying too far from the OPOV and not complying with the standards set in the 2008 redistricting initiative.
  2. “Nesting ADs” – The Republicans also suggested just nesting assembly districts, which I suppose might present them with somewhat better chances to get to 1/3 representation. However, these districts did not in any meaningful way meet the listed requirements of the 2008 initiative (now Article XXI) and would “defer” too many voters from their new districts for too long.
  3. The GOP Dream Plan – Basically, Republicans hired Anthony Quinn, an advisor to the GOP redistricting efforts in 1971 and 1981( and author one of five co-editors of the California Target Book) to come up with a set of maps when they first challenged the maps for legality, and now they want to try it again. The Court said this would take too long and would not yield a better map than the final option.
  4. The Commission map – The SoS and the Commission argued that the commission map best meets the goals of Art XXI, is ready to be implemented, and would cause the least amount of upheavel. Ultimately, the Court agreed, adding that any new plan would not be vetted by the public at all and yield additional hardship

Now, while seemingly less interesting, the question of authority seems to have been a more controversial question. In fact, Justice Liu wrote a concurring opinion, but pointed out that the Court did not need to come to a decision on whether they have the power to intercede in a situation where the referendum is only likely to succeed. I’ll not dwell too long on this issue, but if you are interested, read the concurring opinion down there at the end of the decision.

To put it as succinctly as possible, Justice Liu feels that the majority could have come to the decision of using the Commission’s map without deciding that “under California Constitution, article VI, section 10, this court is authorized to issue an order to show cause and decide which districts should be used in the event a proposed referendum directed at a Commission-certified redistricting map qualifies for the ballot, even in the absence of a showing that the proposed referendum is likely to qualify for the ballot.”

He felt that the decision could have been arrived at simply by looking at the superiority of the Commission’s map as an interim map. Legally, narrowly tailored decisions are preferred, so this one went too far. Perhaps Liu is right that at some point in the future this decision could be abused for political purposes, but ultimately it is a question that will bear more importance in the future than it does for the 2012 Senate maps.

And so, as they say, that is a quick summary of the case.

Redistricting Decision

CA Supreme Court: Use Commission Maps for 2012

As I mentioned earlier, the Supreme Court decided a few things on redistricting today. Obviously this is a major blow to the Republicans. Let the whining commence:

Republican State Sen. Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel, a leader of the referendum drive, blasted the ruling as “shortsighted and disrespectful” of California voters who signed petitions and are awaiting the opportunity to vote on the commission’s Senate maps.

“They kind of gutted the whole idea behind the referendum process,” said Dave Gilliard, another leader of the drive to kill the maps.

Peter Yao, current chairman of the commission, countered that use of the commission maps is important to maintain electoral stability and that the challenge is based on “partisan self interest” that has “cost precious taxpayer dollars to defend.”(SacBee)

Except that, as the court stated in the decision the power of referendum isn’t the only constitutional right in question in this case. The power of referendum, which grants to 5 percent of the state’s voters the power to put to a vote, does not override all other constitutional rights.

But whine as they may, the Commission’s maps do present a very good Democratic opportunity to pick up that fateful 27th seat.  With Sen. Blakeslee already saying he wouldn’t run in the Commission’s district, there are few routes for the Republicans to maintain 14 seats. Possible, certainly, but they’ll need a pretty strong election cycle.

It is all rather ironic, really. Now that Schwarzenegger got his wish in the redistricting initiative, the Republicans are freaking out. While the Republicans (and ProPublica) whine that the system was gamed, six Republican appointees just finalized (mostly) the process.

As was said on Twitter by many Sacramento-watchers, what could the CRP have done with all the money they just wasted on this measure. It now seems rather hard to fathom that the CRP either has the resources to pass this measure, or would even want to.  Who knows what other map is around the corner. This was really all about stalling the Commission maps for a cycle. It would have been expensive and unlikely that they could defeat the maps, and the CRP knew that. They were just hoping to hold on for one more cycle.

So much for that.  I’ll be posting a brief summary of the legal opinion shortly.

CA Supreme Court to Decide Senate Maps Today

Court must decide how they want to intervene with impending referendum possible in June

by Brian Leubitz

UPDATE: Here is the decision in PDF.  Basically the Court opted for the suggestion that I believe was made by Justice Liu to use the Commission’s maps on an interim basis if the referendum does succeed in getting on the ballot. At the hearing, Justice Liu noted that it was at the very least one way of meeting all the goals of redistricting initiative.  So, on that, we now know the maps we’ll be voting on in June and November. More in a bit.

At the beginning of the month, the courts held a hearing on what do about the Senate maps.  As you may recall, the Republicans spent a bunch of money, mostly from Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph, to gather signatures to put the Senate map to a referendum.  You see, the maps present something of an existential crisis for the Senate Republican caucus.  While it isn’t a sure thing that Democrats will exceed the necessary 27 Senators to attain 2/3 in the Senate, the new map presents an exceedingly good opportunity to do so.  Heck, Sam Blakeslee has already said he wouldn’t run again unless his district changes. After that, you basically only need to pick up one more seat from 2 or 3 lean-Dem opportunities.

And dipping below 1/3 of the Senate would basically mean that the swing vote would no longer be a Republican, but a conservative Democrat. It is a prospect that would dry up funding from lobbyists, as who really wants to lobby an irrelevant politician? Whatever power they do have through the supermajority revenue measure would do little for them. They claim they gathered sufficient signatures, but that is far from clear.  As of right now, the status of the initiative is that it had enough signatures to not be bounced at the random check stage, but not enough that it didn’t have to get a more thorough check.  The more thorough check won’t be decided until mid to late February.

The problem with that is that it would leave precious little time to come up with some other map to vote on for the June “primary” election. The Supreme Court’s hearing thus addressed which of many map options they could use, what the meaning of “likely to qualify” is, and whether they could use the Commission’s map instead of drawing their own.  

The decision is expected at 10AM today, and will be published on the Court’s website.  You can also find the video of the oral hearing here.

Supreme Court Hears Medi-Cal

High Court to consider massive cuts to services and reimbursement rates.

by Brian Leubitz

The United States Supreme Court opened up its 2011-2012 term, and oh yeah, they’re talking California:

The Supreme Court began a new term Monday by refereeing a major healthcare dispute to decide whether cash-strapped states like California can cut their Medicaid payments to doctors and hospitals who serve low-income patients.

*** **** ***

Lawyers for California and the Obama administration urged the court to rule that Medicaid is a “voluntary” effort to provide medical care for the poor and that disputes over funding should be resolved by healthcare officials in Sacramento and Washington, not by federal judges in San Francisco.

*** **** ***

But Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan spoke up for the medical providers who sued. They said California was seeking to cut its reimbursements even before the state had cleared the move with federal Medicaid officials in Washington. Ginsburg said there is no effective way to enforce the Medicaid Act if patients and providers cannot go to court when spending is slashed. (LA Times)

And really, that is kind of the point, right?  The poor have a very difficult time complaining about the cuts, and they have a smaller financial interest than the medical industry.  I don’t think this is necessarily the best way to go about a health care system, but denying the providers access to the courts means that there will be no challenges at all.

Sure, we need single payer or something that will actually work, but we need to be sure that we don’t close the courthouse door in the interim.

Welcome to Our New Supreme Court Justice, Goodwin Liu

Jorde Symposium 2010Swearing-in ceremony comes at a time of pressure for the court system

by Brian Leubitz

Goodwin Liu officially got the thumbs up yesterday, and will be sworn in as the 4th Asian-American Justice of the 7 member panel.  The occasion also marks the first time the Court has ever had an Asian-American majority.

But the state court system has taken a beating over the last eighteen months, right along with the rest of the state government.  Of the three billion dollars that used to come from the general fund for the courts, that number is down to about $2.1 billion. In other words, a cut that is roughly 30% of the state’s share.  And, as a side note, the general fund is still the greatest source of revenue for the courts.

The cuts have hit different counties in different ways, however.  I’ve written about the struggles at the San Francisco courts, where the cuts were felt most acutely.  However, it seems that Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein has reached a deal with leaders of the Administrative Office of the Courts to save a big chunk of what was to be cut:

An emergency funding compromise reached with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) would significantly reduce the San Francisco Superior Court’s staff layoffs from 177 to 75 and allow the Court to keep 11 civil courtrooms open, including both complex litigation departments, Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein announced today.  The agreement, which was struck after negotiations that began late last week and continued over the weekend, must be approved by the Judicial Council in a special meeting on September 9, 2011.

“This agreement represents a true compromise with the AOC to help the San Francisco Superior Court lessen the blow on access to justice,” Judge Feinstein said. “If the Judicial Council approves the terms of the agreement, our Court would reduce civil courtroom closures from 25 to 14 and lay off 15 percent instead of 40 percent of our staff.”

You can check the full release here.  Judge Feinstein has never had particularly good relations with the AOC, as they have clashed over local court funding. But while this agreement saves civil justice in San Francisco for 18 months or so, the crisis is far from over.  The courts, allegedly a co-equal branch of government, need funding just to keep the lights on.

Rumors of a possible ballot measure have been floated, but as of yet, neither the funding nor the will has been present.  Another cycle of court funding crisis will likely change that.