GOP tries again to get high court to ax health care law
Legal Business | 2020/11/10 17:06
A week after the 2020 election, Republican elected officials and the Trump administration are advancing their latest arguments to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, a long-held GOP goal that has repeatedly failed in Congress and the courts. In arguments scheduled for Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear its third major fight over the 10-year-old law, popularly known as “Obamacare.” Republican attorneys general in 18 states and the administration want the whole law to be struck down, which would threaten coverage for more than 23 million people.

It would wipe away protections for people with preexisting medical conditions, subsidized insurance premiums that make coverage affordable for millions of Americans and an expansion of the Medicaid program that is available to low-income people in most states. California is leading a group of Democratic-controlled states that is urging the court to leave the law in place.

The case comes to a court that now has three justices appointed by President Donald Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett,  who joined the court late last month following her hurried nomination and confirmation to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The three Trump appointees have never ruled on the substance of the health care law. Barrett, though, has been critical of the court’s earlier major health care decisions sustaining the law, both written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The Supreme Court could have heard the case before the election, but set arguments for a week after. The timing could add a wrinkle to the case since President-elect Joe Biden strongly supports the health care law.

The case turns on a change made by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 that reduced the penalty for not having health insurance to zero. Without the penalty, the law’s mandate to have health insurance is unconstitutional, the GOP-led states argue.

If the mandate goes, they say, the rest of the law should go with it because the mandate was central to the law’s passage. But enrollment in the law’s insurance markets stayed relatively stable at more than 11 million people, even after the effective date of the penalty’s elimination in 2019. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, enrollment dropped by about 300,000 people from 2018 to 2019. Kaiser estimates 11.4 million people have coverage this year.

Another 12 million people have coverage through the law’s Medicaid expansion. The legal argument could well turn on the legal doctrine of severability, the idea that the court can excise a problematic provision from a law and allow the rest of it to remain in force. The justices have done just that in other rulings in recent years.

But in the first big ACA case in 2012, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas voted to strike down the whole law. Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have voted to uphold it. A limited ruling would have little real-world consequences. The case could also be rendered irrelevant if the new Congress were to restore a modest penalty for not buying health insurance. A decision is expected by late spring.



With counting winding down, Trump team pushes legal fights
Court News | 2020/11/06 19:59
Judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly dismissed Trump campaign lawsuits Thursday, undercutting a campaign legal strategy to attack the integrity of the voting process in states where the result could mean President Donald Trump’s defeat. The rulings came as Democrat Joe Biden inched closer to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, and Trump and his campaign promised even more legal action based on unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

Speaking in the White House briefing room Thursday, the president launched into a litany of claims, without proof, about how Democrats were trying to unfairly deprive him of a second term. “But we think there’ll be a lot of litigation because we can’t have an election stolen like this,” Trump said.

Earlier Thursday, a Biden campaign lawyer called the lawsuits meritless, more political strategy than legal. “I want to emphasize that for their purposes these lawsuits don’t have to have merit. That’s not the purpose. ... It is to create an opportunity for them to message falsely about what’s taking place in the electoral process,” lawyer Bob Bauer said, accusing the Trump campaign of “continually alleging irregularities, failures of the system and fraud without any basis.”

Trump is used to suing and being sued. A USA Today analysis found that he and his businesses were involved in at least 3,500 state and federal court actions in the three decades before he became president.  In this election, the court battles so far have been small-scale efforts to get a closer look at local elections officials as they process absentee ballots. A Michigan judge noted that the state’s ballot count is over as she tossed the campaign’s lawsuit.

In Georgia, a state judge dismissed a case over concerns about 53 absentee ballots in Chatham County after elections officials in the Savannah-area county testified that all of those ballots had been received on time. Campaign officials said earlier they were considering similar challenges in a dozen other counties around the state.  In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the Trump campaign won an appellate ruling to get party and campaign observers closer to election workers who are processing mail-in ballots in Philadelphia.

But the order did not affect the counting of ballots that is proceeding in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, as elections officials are dealing with an avalanche of mail ballots driven by fears of voting in person during a pandemic. The lawsuits in multiple states highlight that the Trump campaign could be confronting a political map in which it might have to persuade courts in two or more states to set aside enough votes to overturn the results. That’s a substantially different scenario than in the contested presidential election of 2000, which eventually was effectively settled by the Supreme Court, when the entire fight was over Florida’s electoral votes and involved a recount as opposed to trying to halt balloting.

Biden, for his part, has said he expects to win the election, but he counseled patience Thursday, saying: “Each ballot must be counted.” Trump campaign officials, meanwhile, accused Democrats of trying to steal the election, despite no evidence anything of the sort was taking place. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, in a call with reporters Thursday morning, said that “every night the president goes to bed with a lead” and every night new votes “are mysteriously found in a sack.” It is quite common in presidential elections to have vote counting continue after election day.


Election 2020 Today: No winner yet, Trump’s court threat
Court News | 2020/11/05 03:59
NO WINNER: President Donald Trump carried the prized battleground of Florida, then he and Democrat Joe Biden shifted their focus to three Northern industrial states ? Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania ? that could prove crucial in determining who wins the White House. A late burst of votes in Wisconsin from Milwaukee gave Biden a small lead, but the state remained too early to call early Wednesday. Michigan and Pennsylvania also remained too early to call with hundreds of thousands of outstanding votes in both states.

COURT CHALLENGE: Trump says he’ll take the presidential election to the Supreme Court, but it’s unclear what he means in a country in which vote tabulations routinely continue beyond Election Day and states largely set the rules for when the count has to end. Trump says “we want all voting to stop,” but the voting is over. It’s only counting that is taking place across the nation. No state will count absentee votes that are postmarked after Election Day. Biden’s campaign called Trump’s statement “outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect.”

STATUS QUO: Their hopes fading for Senate control, Democrats had a disappointing election night as Republicans swatted down an onslaught of challengers and fought to retain their majority. Several races remained undecided, and at least one headed to a runoff in January. It was a jarring outcome for Democrats, who had devised an expanded political map, eager to provide a backstop against Trump and his party’s grip on the Senate. The voters’ choices will force a rethinking of Democratic Party strategy, messaging and approach from the Trump era.

HOUSE CONTROL: Democrats are driving toward extending their control of the House for two more years but with a potentially shrunken majority. They have lost six incumbents and failed to oust any Republican lawmakers in initial returns. The only gains for Democrats have been two North Carolina seats vacated by GOP incumbents after a court-ordered remapping. Though Democrats seem likely to retain House control, the results have been disappointing for the party, which had hoped to make modest gains of perhaps 15 seats.

BALLOT MEASURES: A nationwide push to relax drug laws took a significant step forward. Voters in Arizona and New Jersey added their states to the list of places legalizing marijuana for adults. And Oregon became the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Louisiana voters approved an amendment saying there is no state constitutional right to abortion, but Colorado voters defeated abortion limitations. Florida voters approved a measure to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And Mississippi voters approved a new flag.

QUOTABLE: “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court ? we want all voting to stop.” ? Trump declared even though voting had ended and it’s only counting that is taking place across the nation.


Legal armies ready if cloudy election outcome heads to court
Legal Business | 2020/11/02 20:42
Signature matches. Late-arriving absentee votes. Drop boxes. Secrecy envelopes. Democratic and Republican lawyers already have gone to court over these issues in the run-up to Tuesday’s election. But the legal fights could take on new urgency, not to mention added vitriol, if a narrow margin in a battleground state is the difference between another four years for President Donald Trump or a Joe Biden administration.

Both sides say they’re ready, with thousands of lawyers on standby to march into court to make sure ballots get counted, or excluded.  Since the 2000 presidential election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, both parties have enlisted legal teams to prepare for the unlikely event that voting wouldn’t settle the contest. But this year, there is a near presumption that legal fights will ensue and that only a definitive outcome is likely to forestall them.

The candidates and parties have enlisted prominent lawyers with ties to Democratic and Republican administrations. A Pennsylvania case at the Supreme Court pits Donald Verrilli, who was President Barack Obama’s top Supreme Court lawyer, against John Gore, a onetime high-ranking Trump Justice Department official.

It’s impossible to know where, or even if, a problem affecting the ultimate result will arise. But existing lawsuits in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Minnesota and Nevada offer some hint of the states most likely to be ground zero in a post-election battle and the kinds of issues that could tie the outcome in knots.

Roughly 300 lawsuits already have been filed over the election in dozens of states across the country, many involving changes to normal procedures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 people in the U.S. and sickened more than 9 million.

Most of the potential legal challenges are likely to stem from the huge increase in absentee balloting brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In Pennsylvania, elections officials won’t start processing those ballots until Election Day, and some counties have said they won’t begin counting those votes until the following day. Mailed ballots that don’t come inside a secrecy envelope have to be discarded, under a state Supreme Court ruling.

“I still can’t figure how counting and verifying absentee ballots is going to go in some of the battleground states like Pennsylvania,” said Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley, an election law expert.

The deadline for receiving and counting absentee ballots is Friday, an extension ordered by the Pennsylvania’s top court. The Supreme Court left that order in place in response to a Republican effort to block it. But several conservative justices indicated they’d be open to taking the issue up after the election, especially if those late-arriving ballots could mean the difference in the state.


Supreme Court leaves NC absentee ballot deadline at Nov. 12
Legal Topics | 2020/10/30 04:46
The Supreme Court will allow absentee ballots in North Carolina to be received and counted up to nine days after Election Day. The justices, by a 5-3 vote Wednesday, refused to disturb a decision by the State Board of Elections to lengthen the period from three to nine days because of the coronavirus pandemic, pushing back the deadline to Nov. 12. The board’s decision was part of a legal settlement with a union-affiliated group.

Republicans had asked the high court to step in. Under the Supreme Court’s order, mailed ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must be received by 5 p.m. on Nov. 12 in order to be counted.  Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the three liberal justices in the majority. Three conservative justices, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, dissented. New Justice Amy Coney Barrett took no part in the case “because of the need for a prompt resolution and because she has not had time to fully review the parties’ filings,” court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat whose office defended the deadline extension in court, hailed the high court’s decision in a statement. “North Carolina voters had a huge win tonight at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court upheld the State Board of Elections’ effort to ensure that every eligible vote counts, even during a pandemic,” he said. “Voters must have their mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, but now we all have certainty that every eligible vote will be counted. Let’s vote!”

Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger said the high court’s order will undermine public confidence in government. “The question is simple: May unelected bureaucrats on a state panel controlled by one political party overrule election laws passed by legislatures, even after ballots have already been cast? If public confidence in elections is important to our system of government, then hopefully the answer to that question is no,” Berger said in a statement.

State and national Republican groups, including President Donald Trump’s campaign, had filed separate but similar appeals asking the high court to make the state revert to a Nov. 6 deadline for accepting late-arriving ballots that were postmarked by Election Day. That three-day timeframe was specified in state law.

The appeals, including one led by the state’s Republican legislative leaders, argued that the deadline change put in place by the State Board of Elections usurped legislators’ constitutional authority to set rules for elections. They also said the change made after early voting started would create unequal treatment of voters who had cast ballots under previous, stricter rules.

The State Board of Elections had lengthened the period as part of a late September legal settlement with the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans, a union-affiliated group represented by Marc Elias, a lawyer prominent in Democratic circles. The legal settlement, which also loosened requirements for fixing absentee ballots that lacked a witness signature, was approved by a state judge. The settlement said counties should have longer to accept ballots because of possible mail delays.


High court won’t extend Wisconsin’s absentee ballot deadline
Areas of Focus | 2020/10/27 23:27
The Supreme Court is siding with Republicans to prevent Wisconsin from counting mailed ballots that are received after Election Day.

In a 5-3 order, the justices on Monday refused to reinstate a lower court order that called for mailed ballots to be counted if they are received up to six days after the Nov. 3 election. A federal appeals court had already put that order on hold.

The three liberal justices dissented from the order that the court issued just before the Senate started voting on Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination.

Chief Justice John Roberts last week joined the liberals to preserve a Pennsylvania state court order extending the absentee ballot deadline but voted the other way in the Wisconsin case, which has moved through federal courts.

“Different bodies of law and different precedents govern these two situations and require, in these particular circumstances, that we allow the modification of election rules in Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin,” Roberts wrote.

Democrats argued that the flood of absentee ballots and other challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic makes it necessary to extend the period in which ballots can be counted. Wisconsin is one of the nation’s hot spots for COVID-19, with hospitals treating a record high number of patients with the disease.

Republicans opposed the extension, saying that voters have plenty of opportunities to cast their ballots by the close of polls on Election Day and that the rules should not be changed so close to the election.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler responded to the ruling by pledging Democrats would be “dialing up a huge voter education campaign” to prod roughly 360,000 people who hadn’t yet returned absentee ballots to hand-deliver them by 8 p.m. on Election Day, or to vote in person.

State Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt praised the ruling.

“Absentee voting in Wisconsin is extremely easy and hundreds of thousands of people have done it already - last-minute attempts to change election laws only cause more voter confusion and erode the integrity of our elections,” he said in a statement.

The justices often say nothing, or very little, about the reasons for their votes in these emergency cases, but on Monday, four justices wrote opinions totaling 35 pages to lay out their competing rationales.



Trump, Biden lawyer up, brace for White House legal battle
Attorney News | 2020/10/25 04:23
President Donald Trump’s and Democratic rival Joe Biden’s campaigns are assembling armies of powerful lawyers for the possibility that the race for the White House is decided not at the ballot box but in court.

They have been engaging in a lawyer’s version of tabletop war games, churning out draft pleadings, briefs and memos to cover scenarios that read like the stuff of a law school hypothetical more than a real-life case in a democracy.

Attorneys for the Republicans and the Democrats are already clashing in courts across the U.S. over mailed-in ballot deadlines and other issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. And as Trump tries to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election, both sides have built massive legal operations readying for a bitterly disputed race that lands at the Supreme Court.

“We’ve been preparing for this for well over a year,” Republican National Committee Chief Counsel Justin Riemer told The Associated Press. “We’ve been working with the campaign on our strategy for recount preparation, for Election Day operations and our litigation strategy.”

On the Democratic side, the Biden campaign’s election protection program includes a special national litigation team involving hundreds of lawyers led by Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, and Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under President Barack Obama, among others. Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to Obama, and Biden campaign general counsel Dana Remus are focused on protecting the rights of voters, who have been enduring long lines at polling places around the country on the belief that the presidential election will be decided by their ballots.

Both sides are informed by the experience of the 2000 election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. But this year, because Trump has pushed unsubstantiated claims about the potential for voter fraud with increased voting by mail, sowing doubt about the integrity of the result, lawyers are preparing for a return trip before the high court.


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