Articles Posted in Constitutional Rights

In this year 2015, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”) was heralded as “the most effective civil rights law in the history of the United States,” Richard L. Engstrom, Race and Seven Politics, 10 ELECTION, L.J. 53, 53 (2011). The 50 years since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was made law was predated by many U.S. Congressional acts or attempts to enact protection of the voting rights of all American citizens. In fact, in 1870, Henry Cabot Lodge proposed a “Forced Bill,” a law that would reinforce an 1870 law that gave force to the federal government to make sure that all phases of registration and voting, particularly in Southern states, was protected. This bill passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. From that time, through the 1880s, right up to the present day and including 1965, the right to vote has been under attack or has been in some places limited by voter IDs and other state law measures to limit the number of poor, elderly, convicted felons and others from voting in local, state and national elections.

In the 2013 decision of Shelby County, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was weakened by a 5-4 decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that held that Section 4 coverage formula was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court asserted that that section was not adequately grounded in “current conditions.” Shelby County, 133 S.Ct. at 26-29.

Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court, in limiting the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, did so even though Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Acts in 2006 by overwhelming votes in both the U.S. House and the Senate. There were reports that Congress reviewed 15,000 pages of evidence showing persistent discrimination in voting in the 9 southern states of jurisdictions that were covered under the Act.

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On Sept. 27, 2011, Darius Young, who was 15 at the time, participated in a dice game on a Chicago street with several individuals. One of them, Daniel Glen, who was in a wheelchair, won all of Young’s money during the game; however, he began to suspect that another individual, Jonathan Harris, was trying to cheat him.

When Glen rolled the wheelchair into an alley “to relieve himself,” he claimed that Harris approached him holding a 9 mm handgun and demanded money. Glen stated that Harris put the gun to his back and directed Young to search him for the money he lost. Young grabbed the money from Glen’s pocket, and he and Glen “tussled,” according to his trial testimony, knocking Glen out of his wheelchair. Glen testified that Young and Harris fled, but returned a few minutes later.

Young then put Glen back in his wheelchair and threw $45 at him stating, “I just wanted my birthday money back, my $120.” The incident was reported to the Chicago police by Glen, who identified Young by his nickname and Harris from a lineup.

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In July 2003, Evan Miller and Colby Smith killed Cole Cannon by beating Cannon with a baseball bat and burning his trailer. Cannon was inside. At the time, Miller was 14 years old. After Miller’s arrest, he was transferred from Lawrence County Juvenile Court to Lawrence County Circuit Court to be tried as an adult for capital murder. In 2006, a grand jury indicted Miller. At trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The trial sentenced Miller to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Miller filed a post-trial motion for a new trial. He argued that the sentencing of a 14-year-old defendant to life without the possibility of parole constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The trial judge denied the motion. Miller appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court of Alabama denied Miller’s petition for writ of certiorari.

There was a companion case in whih the petitioner was also 14 years old at the time. He had robbed a local movie store in Blytheville, Ark., which led to the murder of the store clerk. There were three boys involved; all were 14 years old at the time. After a trial for the murder of the store clerk, one defendant was tried and convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery. The trial court sentenced him to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

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Retired United States Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens spoke at the 15th Annual Justice John Paul Stevens Award Luncheon. The Justice John Paul Stevens Award was conceived by Justice Stevens’s former law clerks. The first time it was presented was in September 2000. The award is given by both The Chicago Bar Foundation and The Chicago Bar Association. Justice Stevens, who is a Chicago native and practiced law in Chicago before his elevation to the bench, has been honored for his lifetime efforts to improve the system of justice and his active participation and dedication to The Chicago Bar Association.

The award that is given annually and is bestowed upon distinguished attorneys who exemplify Stevens’s commitment to integrity and public service in the practice of law. This year’s honorees included lawyers and judges from state court, federal court and the Illinois Supreme Court.

Justice Stevens has recently published one of his many books and this one is somewhat controversial but extremely well-written and provocative. It is titled,  Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. The book is an excellent summary of not just of the Constitution, but the rigors required to revise the Constitution, which has been done only 18 times during the nation’s history — revisions to the Constitution as opposed to the 27 Amendments to it.

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If it isn’t hard enough for parolees to manage a new life after serving their time in prison, at least they do not face unlimited searches and reduced expectation of privacy, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The court of appeals in Chicago rejected the “astonishing proposition” that parolees who knowingly violate the terms of their release are subject to virtually any and all searches.

The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals conceded that the parolees have a reduced expectation of privacy. However, that doesn’t mean that searches of parolees “conducted at random and based on no suspicion whatsoever” automatically pass muster under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

“Society is prepared to accept that parolees have an expectation of privacy, even if they are up to no good,” wrote Justice John Daniel Tinder.

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The City of Chicago began the business of reapportioning its 50 aldermanic wards. To accomplish this goal, the City Council conducted public hearings in 2011 to solicit opinions from citizens regarding the redrawing of ward boundaries.

Under Illinois law, the City Council was required to get the approval of 41 aldermen in order to prevent a referendum on the redistricting plan. In January 2012, the City Council approved the redistricting plan by a vote of 41-8.

The wards created by the redistricting map deviated from an even distribution of population by a maximum of 8.7% per ward.

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Wisconsin has a long history of protecting private and public labor unions. In fact, before 2011, Wisconsin granted broad protections and privileges to public-sector unions. This all changed when the Wisconsin legislature passed a new budget bill known as Act 10. This act reduced state and municipal employers’ collective-bargaining obligations to non-public safety employees in the public sector.

In a lawsuit brought by two public employee unions and an individual union member, the defendants argued that the changes by the Wisconsin legislature infringed on their First Amendment petition and association rights, and that Act 10 denied the union members equal protection under the law.

The U.S. District Court granted the state’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and the unions, the plaintiffs, brought this appeal.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago has affirmed the decision of a district court judge regarding the conviction of Henry R. Brown. Brown was convicted after a jury trial of conspiring to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine and was sentenced to life imprisonment because of his prior convictions.

On appeal, Brown argued that the district court should have prevented the prosecutor from introducing information obtained from a GPS system that law enforcement officers attached to a car in 2006.  It turned out that the car the GPS unit was attached to was owned by one of Brown’s confederates, Kevin Arms.  Arms alerted police that Troy Lewis was driving the vehicle to Milwaukee to deliver 10 kilograms of cocaine for Arms, Brown and their co-conspirators.  The police used the GPS device to locate the Jeep and perform a stop in Racine, Wis., where the drugs were discovered.

At Brown’s trial, Lewis and Arms testified against him.  Brown argued that the installation of the GPS should be considered reasonable only if the police first obtained a warrant with probable cause.  The panel rejected that argument.

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At a Breakfast @ 65 forum held May 15, 2013, panelists David Hoffman, former Inspector General, Kathleen Petrowsky, Federal Security Director at O’Hare International Airport for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Thomas Durkin, Chicago civil rights attorney and widely known for his commitment to the rule of law, took the podium to discuss safety, security and privacy in light of the April 15, 2013 terrorist attack in Boston.

Panelists discussed protection of the public’s safety and security while still providing for civil liberties under the U.S. Constitution. 

Mr. Hoffman addressed the issue of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution relating to unreasonable search and seizures and the right to remain silent. Mr. Hoffman discussed the advances made in technology that deal with security in all areas, from surveillance by drones to eavesdropping and e-mail monitoring. 

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