Category Archives: News

Political gerrymandering goes before the Supreme Court

(Wisconsin Legislative Technology Services Bureau)

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in a case that could reshape how legislative districts are drawn in the United States.  Every ten years, when the U.S. does a census, political maps across the country are redrawn by state legislatures.  This gives the political party in control of the state legislature enormous power because they are the ones who get to decide how these new districts will be drawn.  Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that you can’t draw districts based on racial lines (something they reenforced two times last term).  But making districts that benefit one party over the other by diluting the impact of the minority party’s vote?  That’s been totally legal.  

Today the Supreme Court will hear a challenged to the way Wisconsin drew its legislative map in a case called Gill v. Whitford.  Following the last census in 2010, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature redrew their districts map is such a way that, in 2012, Republicans carried less than half of the overall vote (48.6 %) but won nearly two thirds of the seats in the state assembly.  The Supreme Court is set to decide whether maps like Wisconsin’s are unconstitutional.

Learn more about the history of racially-based gerrymandering in our film One Person, One Vote

Happy Constitution Day!

230 years ago today, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania signed the Constitution of the United States.  

Celebrate the birthday of our foundering document and check out our latest film in The Constitution Project series, The Confrontation Clause: Crawford v. Washington.

Full Text of the Original Document.

 

 

 

 

 

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Watch our new film about the Confrontation Clause!

 

Check out our new film The Confrontation Clause: Crawford v. Washington.  You can find the whole film streaming online for free at the Annenberg Classroom website.  The film tells the story of how we got the right to confront our accusers in court (and what happened to one famous person who didn’t have that right).  But what happens when your accuser isn’t a person but a taped confession?

 

 

 

 

 

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Thurgood Marshall became the first African American Supreme Court Justice 50 years ago

 

The National Archives

50 years ago, Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) became the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States when he was confirmed by the Senate on August 30, 1967.  Marshall was one of the most prominent legal minds of the Civil Rights era, winning 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.  In 1952, he argued the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which overturned segregation and the doctrine of “separate but equal” that had ben in place in the South since Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).  Marshall served on the Court for 24 years.

Learn more about Brown v. Board of Education in our film An Independent Judiciary.

White House halts collection of data on gender wage gap

Lilly Ledbetter, who had a Federal Act named after her that makes it easier for women to file pay discrimination lawsuits.

 

The White House announced earlier this week that it is halting a rule that would have required employers with more than 100 employees (and federal contractors with more than 50 employees) to give detailed reports each year on how they compensate each employee by gender.  The rule, which would have gone into effect next year, was aimed at ensuring companies treat employees equally by forcing companies to be transparent on gender wage gaps.  Women in the United States make, on average, 20% less than men or $.80 for every dollar earned by their male colleagues.

Learn more about the fight for equal pay in our film A Call to Act.

 

 

 

 

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“Freedom of the Press: NY Times v. United States” wins a Clarion Award

Freedom of the Press: NY Times v. United States has been award a 2017 Clarion Award in the category of Education.  The Clarion Awards are given out by the Association for Women in Communications, which promotes the advancement of women in communications.  The Clarion Awards recognize “excellence in clear, concise communications” across multiple media fields.

For more information on Freedom of the Press: NY Times v. Sullivan and for a link to watch the film in its entirety, click here.

Happy 4th of July!

“Declaration of Independence,” by John Trumbull (Architect of the Capitol)

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, formally severing ties between the original 13 colonies of what would become the United States and Great Britain.  In the Declaration, the Founders lay out a series of grievances against the King, including taxation without representation, cutting off trade between the colonies and foreign countries, denying the colonists trial by jury in all cases, and refusing to allow the colonists to establish their own governments and laws, among other grievances.  The entire document can be read the National Archives.

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Remembering Dollree Mapp, whose landmark case was decided 56 years ago today

Dollree Mapp in Search and Seizure

Except in cases of probable cause, the police need a warrant to search your house without your consent in order for anything they find to be admissible in court.  But that wasn’t always the case.  In fact, until 1961, the police could barge right in and start searching.  Anything they found was perfectly fine to use against you in court, warrant or no warrant.  Sure, they were supposed to get one — but it wasn’t required.  So why bother?

This changed because of one woman: Dollree Mapp.  In 1957, a bomb went off in the home of Don King (yeah, that Don King).  Cleveland police went to Mapp’s house looking for a suspect.  When she refused to let them in without a warrant, they went in anyway.  In addition to the suspect, police found a stash of pornographic material and Mapp was arrested and convicted on obscenity charges

Mapp appealed her conviction on the grounds that the search of her house without a warrant or probable cause violated her Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”  On June 19, 1961 — 56 years ago today — the Supreme Court agreed.  And in the landmark opinion in Mapp v. Ohio, Justice Tom Clark wrote, “Having once recognized that the right to privacy embodied in the Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the States, and that the right to be secure against rude invasions of privacy by state officers is, therefore, constitutional in origin, we can no longer permit that right to remain an empty promise.”  Mapp’s conviction was thrown out.

Police were supposed to get a search warrant before Dollree Mapp.  Because of her they need one.  

Learn more about the case from Dollree Mapp herself in our film Search and Seizure.  Dollree Mapp passed away in 2014.

 

 

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Supreme Court takes case on partisan gerrymandering

(Leighton Ku)

The Supreme Court announced today that it would hear a case from Wisconsin that could decide if legislative districts drawn to favor one political party, or gerrymandering, violate the the Constitution.  A Wisconsin district court ruled that the Republican-drawn map violates many voters’ First Amendment rights by favor some political views over others as well as their right to equal protection of the law guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.  

The Court has repeated ruled that political maps based on race are unconstitutional (and did so again two times in recent weeks).  But the Court has long ruled that politically-based gerrymandering is not unconstitutional, most recently in a 2004 case called Vieth v. Jubelier, in which the Court ruled that “the Constitution provides no right to proportional representation.”

Learn more about the history of gerrymandering in our film One Person, One Vote

 

Magna Carta, limiting the whims of rulers for over 800 years

On June 15, 1215, on a field outside London, a group of barons met with the King of England to sign what would become one of the most influential documents ever written, Magna Carta.  King John, widely regarded as the one of the worst kings to ever sit on the English throne, had waged an unsuccessful war against France in an attempt to win back territory he had lost.  To pay for the ultimately unsuccessful war, King John seized lands, levied huge taxes, and charged exorbitant fines for small offenses.  Fed up, the barons revolted and seized London.  They forced the King, who saw him rule as ordained by God, to sign a document that would instead limit him by “the law of the land.” For the first time, Magna Carta offered protection against the arbitrary will of the King, preventing him from locking people up and seizing property without what would later become know as “due process.” 

Of course, a few weeks after Magna Carta was signed King John got the Pope to declare Magna Carta invalid, thrusting both sides back into conflict.  But subsequent kings and British legal minds, such as Sir Edward Coke, would bring Magna Carta back and ensure that its protections against the arbitrary whims of a ruler became the lasting law of the land.  And when colonists settled in the New World, they took those ideas with them, enshrining them in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.  

Magna Carta was the first step towards ensuring that no king, queen or president could be above the law — an idea that remains just as important today as it was on a field outside London over 800 years ago.

Learn more about Magna Carta and the limits of executive authority from our film Magna Carta and the Constitution.

 

 

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