Saturday, November 8, 2008

Supreme Court's 2007-08 Term: The Defining Decisions (Part 4: Political Process)

With the election this past week, it could not be more appropriate to now consider the "political process" decisions--the last of the decisions that we've (ok, I've) deemed to be "defining" of the Court's last term. The three in this final category all pertain to elections. They involve voting, nominating, and campaign spending.

[For previous discussions on the New York Court Watcher about other categories of last term's defining decisions, see
Another GRAPH-ic Recap - Supreme Court's 2007-08 Term: The Defining Decisions (Discrimination+Cultural Issues+Law & Order), Oct. 24, 2008; Supreme Court's 2007-08 Term: The Defining Decisions (Part 3: Law & Order [nifty graph included!]), Oct. 14, 2008; GRAPH-ic Recap - Supreme Court's 2007-08 Term: The Defining Decisions (Parts 1 & 2 Recap in Graphs: Discrimination & Cultural Issues), September 24, 2008; (Part 2: Cultural Issues), September 20, 2008; (Part 1: Discrimination), September 16, 2008.] Here are the decisions:
Davis v. Federal Election Commission (2008) - the so-called Millionaire's Amendment to the federal campaign finance law of 2002 violates the First Amendment, because it penalizes a self-financed candidate for using his own money for campaign speech, by imposing significantly different spending limits on him and his opponent if he exceeds the set spending limit.
Votes (5-4): Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito [wrote Court's opinion] versus Stevens [wrote partial dissent], Souter, Ginsburg [also wrote a partial dissent], and Breyer.

New York State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres (2008) - New York's political party convention system for nominating candidates to run for election for state supreme court [the state's trial court] does not violate the First Amendment; political parties have the right to nominate whatever candidates they believe will serve their interests, even if such a system favors party loyalists and denies others a "fair shot" at nomination.
[The Court reversed the 2d Circuit. Indeed, both the district court and the court of appeals had found that New York's system was unconstitutional because it resulted in the "uncompetitive"--i.e., fixed--selection of judicial nominees.]
Votes (9-0): - Roberts, Stevens [wrote concurring opinion], Scalia [wrote Court's opinion], Kennedy [wrote separate opinion], Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito.

Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd. (2008) - Indiana's voter identification law, at least on its face, does not violate Constitutionally protected voter rights; the state's interest in preventing voter fraud justifies the burden upon voters of obtaining a government-issued photo ID.
Votes (6-3): Roberts, Stevens [wrote Court's opinion], Scalia [wrote separate opinion], Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito versus Souter [wrote dissent], Ginsburg, and Breyer [also wrote dissent].

[The decision in Crawford is more accurately described as 3-3-3. Stevens' opinion for the Court, joined only by Roberts and Kennedy, was only that the voter ID law as read--but not necessarily as applied--was valid. Scalia's separate concurring opinion, which was joined by Thomas and Alito, took a much more unqualified position in favor of the law. That opinion argued that strict scrutiny of the law was unwarranted (because whatever burden might be imposed on voters was uniform and was not severe) and it rejected any case by case approach to insure that no impermissible burdens were being imposed on some voters (because that should be left to the state itself.) The three dissenters, of course, all voted that the law was unconstitutional.
So, the 6-3 vote for the result in the case was actually: 3 votes for a narrow holding that a mere reading of the law did not disclose constitutional invalidity; 3 votes for a broader holding that the law was entirely constitutional, period
, on its face and in its possible applications; and 3 votes that the law was inescapably invalid because it necessarily emburdened constitutionally protected voter rights.]

These, then, are the three "political process" decisions that help to define the Court's last term. They paint a revealing picture--if not an entirely surprising one--of the Court when they are viewed together with the decisions on "discrimination," "cultural issues," and "law & order" which we looked at in the previous posts.

In the next--and probably last--post in this series, we'll put it all together in a graph or two and a few paragraphs.