Tracking the latest developments in the fight for a fair America
AFJ’s new Judicial Selection Dashboard brings the statistics to life
Alliance for Justice long has been the definitive source of information concerning judicial vacancies. We track the status of every vacancy for a lifetime appointment to a federal judgeship. Now, we’re also the leader in presenting the data in an easy to access, visually-striking form.
Find out at a glance where the vacancies are most severe. Where have they gone on the longest? Where have they reached the status of Judicial Emergencies? How many vacancies are there in your state?
Developed by Data Revelations the dashboard lets you zoom in – literally – on any state. Filter by the party affiliation of a state’s senators, by circuit or district court vacancies, by when the vacancy was announced or when the judgeship became vacant, by whether a nominee is pending in committee or on the Senate floor – or by almost any other variable you can think of.
We’ve preserved all the detailed information you’re used to about judicial vacancies. Now it’s in a format that allows you to customize it to your needs.
But pretty graphics are not an end in themselves – they’re a way to drive home the point we’ve been making for years: There should be a judge for every vacancy on the federal bench. And, as AFJ President Nan Aron noted in her recent letter in The New York Times we need those vacancies filled now!
We could say more, but the Dashboard “speaks” for itself!
Making Change at Walmart (MCAW) is a campaign that works to strengthen our economy and working families by demanding Walmart improve policies in pay and working conditions. In the days leading up to Black Friday, routinely the busiest shopping day for Walmart and other retailers, MCAW and local Walmart workers are protesting and holding Walmart accountable. In the guest blog below, Walmart worker Cantare Duvant describes what the campaign is demanding, how advocates are standing up, and how you can get involved.
By Cantare Duvant
I’m a 30-year old part-time Customer Service Manager at the Apple Valley Walmart store in Minnesota.
This November, I’ve been standing up with my fellow workers and members of OUR Walmart—an organization of current and former Walmart associates—for change at America’s largest private employer.
It’s time for Walmart and the Waltons—America’s richest family—to finally pay their associates a living wage of $15 an hour so that American taxpayers no longer have to subsidize Walmart’s workforce when they end up on welfare or food stamps, because they don’t earn enough to survive.
Associates also need access to full-time hours. Even those of us who make closer to $10 an hour can’t make ends meet when we are only given 16 hours a week to work—like me.
Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the consolidated appeals of Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama. The cases are being watched closely by states, political parties and voting rights advocates because they raise thorny issues of when, and to what degree, race can or cannot be used by state legislatures in drawing district lines.
At issue are Alabama House and Senate district plans that were adopted based on the 2010 Census and in the wake of the 2010
general election that gave Republicans a super-majority in both houses. The plans maintained both the same number of “majority-minority” districts and the same percentages of African Americans within those districts as existed under the previous districting plan.
Under the Voting Rights Act, race-conscious line drawing has long played a proper role in redistricting to guard against the fragmentation or packing of minority populations, and to provide minority voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice where they would otherwise be prevented from doing so by racial bloc voting and other electoral factors. Majority-minority districts are presumptively constitutional unless it can be established that traditional districting considerations were subordinated to race in the drawing of the plan, and even then, the plan must fail to meet strict scrutiny in order to be held unconstitutional.
The plaintiffs in the cases heard by the Court on Wednesday do not challenge the legislators’ decision to retain the existing number of majority-minority districts. Instead, they argue that the Alabama Legislature used race as the predominant factor in setting unconstitutional “racial targets,” which mandated that pre-existing majority-minority districts be maintained with the same African American percentages—regardless of whether such percentages were necessary to give minority voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The State claimed this policy was mandated by the non-retrogression standard under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits covered jurisdictions from enacting new districting plans that make it more difficult for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.
Coupled with the State’s decision to keep district populations within two percent of each other, which the State argued was set to comply with the constitutional requirement of “one person, one vote,” the State’s decision to retain existing demographics in the districts resulted in shifting large numbers of African Americans into under-populated majority-minority districts under the plans. According to the plaintiffs, this had the effect of preventing African Americans from forming voting coalitions with white Democrats and other racial minorities outside of the majority-minority districts.
The Court has at least three possible ways to resolve the case: 1) affirm the district court’s decision which denied the plaintiffs any relief; 2) remand the case to district court for further proceedings; or, 3) reverse the district court altogether and determine that Alabama’s redistricting plans constituted a racial gerrymander. Based on the justices’ questions and comments during the argument, it appears most likely the Court will affirm the district court’s decision or remand the case.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia appeared sympathetic to Alabama’s contention that it retained the same percentages of African Americans in majority-minority districts to avoid problems under the non-retrogression standard of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the other hand, did not view the argument favorably.
Although the State of Alabama never expressly stated that its use of racial targets was a partisan effort to shore up the Republican super-majority’s chances for reelection, several justices, including Justices Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, appeared to hold the view that the legislature’s plans may have been adopted for such partisan, rather than racially discriminatory, reasons.
Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that the Court could remand the case to determine on a district by district basis whether the State’s redistricting plans were, in fact, enacted for the legitimate purpose of complying with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus plaintiffs had made district-specific challenges to the plans in the District Court, which are typical in cases of racial gerrymandering. If the State’s redistricting plans are determined to be constitutionally infirm, the Alabama Legislature will be given the first opportunity to redraw the plans. In that event, the State will be unable to rely on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as justification for any districts drawn in future plans since, under the Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, the State is no longer subject to that provision.
The irony here is how the State of Alabama seeks to have it both ways: It justifies its redistricting plan through Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which it successfully sought to nullify as an amicus in Shelby County. To accept the State’s argument, as the Lawyers’ Committee argued in our amicus brief, would paradoxically make Section 5 both “dead and alive” in redistricting cases. The Lawyers’ Committee believes that an appropriate disposition would be for the Supreme Court to remand the case to the district court for reconsideration of the racial gerrymandering issue under the proper legal standards.
By Trevor Boeckmann
AFJ Dorot Fellow
It’s no surprise to see the majority on the United States Supreme Court siding against consumers, employees, and everyday
Americans. In the past, we’ve told you about the Court upholding forced arbitration clauses that keep those harmed by big businesses out of court, preventing women from banding together to stop employment discrimination, and allowing employers to impose their religious views on employees.
At some point, one would think the majority would start to feel bad about how their actions affect us. Apparently not.
This week, the Court heard oral arguments in a case involving health insurance for retirees. M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett involves a chemical company in West Virginia that had a series of collective bargaining agreements with its employees’ union. At issue was a clause in the agreement that said retired employees “will receive a full company contribution towards the cost of [health] benefits.” The union argued the benefits were guaranteed for life. The company argued it could take away these benefits whenever it chose—which it did in 2007.
As Professors Susan Cancelosi and Charlotte Garden wrote in a previous post: “The equitable case for retirees is compelling: they devoted their working lives to their employer with the expectation that they would then have health insurance to see them through their retirement.” Compelling, unless you’re Justice Antonin Scalia.
During oral argument, Justice Scalia mused:
You know, the nice thing about a contract case of this sort is you can’t feel bad about it. Whoever loses deserves to lose. I mean, this thing [the duration of the health benefits] is obviously an important feature. Both sides knew it was left unaddressed, so, you know, whoever loses deserves to lose for casting this upon us when it could have been said very clearly in the contract. Such an important feature. So I hope we’ll get it right, but, you know, I can’t feel bad about it.
Justice Stephen Breyer was quick to disagree:
Well, you know, the workers who discover they’ve been retired for five years and don’t have any health benefits might feel a little bad about it.
Listen to the comments of Justice Scalia and Justice Breyer:
And if the majority sides with the chemical company, that won’t be anything new either.
By Prof. Susan Cancelosi & Prof. Charlotte Garden
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in M&G Polymers v. Tackett, a potential landmark case for retired workers who rely on their former employers for health insurance. A ruling in favor of the chemical company M&G could open the door for many other employers to walk away from decades-old commitments to workers, forcing countless retirees to find new ways to obtain needed healthcare.
The case asks how courts should interpret union collective bargaining agreements that require employers to provide retiree health insurance. In the early 1990s, M&G negotiated with its unionized workforce and agreed to pay for retiree health benefits. Today, M&G argues that its commitment expired at the end of the contract term, and that it is accordingly free to cut or eliminate benefits. M&G’s retirees—like hundreds of thousands of other union retirees who have faced similar claims—argue that the company’s commitment was intended to last their lifetimes.
The equitable case for retirees is compelling: they devoted their working lives to their employer with the expectation that they would then have health insurance to see them through their retirement.Unfortunately, though, their collective bargaining agreement did not state clearly how long their health benefits would last, opening the door to M&G’s argument that benefits were to last only until the contract expired. Still, the lower court ruled for the retirees, ordering that their health insurance be continued without changes.
Now, M&G wants the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt a rule that bargained-for retiree health benefits are not guaranteed for life unless an agreement contains unequivocally clear language—a deviation from standard contract interpretation principles. The company argues that its proposed rule captures the likely intent of most employers that signed collective bargaining agreements offering health insurance to retirees. As the argument goes, healthcare costs are so expensive and unpredictable that no rational employer would ever agree to be on the hook for a retiree’s lifetime. At oral argument, Justice Alito nodded to this argument when he asked the following question: “This is an important benefit and an expensive one. Why is it that in this collective bargaining agreement and apparently many others . . . there isn’t anything explicit [about whether benefits are vested] one way or the other?”
The problem with M&G’s position (and with the premise to Justice Alito’s question) is that it ignores history. Decades ago, when employers and unions negotiated the terms of most retiree health plans, these benefits were cheap. It may seem impossible today, but some insurance companies actually once offered retiree coverage to employers as a “freebie” to win contracts to cover active workers. That meant employers could use lifetime retiree health insurance as a low-cost bargaining chip to trade in negotiations with strong unions.
That was then; this is now. Skyrocketing health costs have transformed those formerly low-cost benefits into major financial obligations, and benefits that were once easy to give now seem out of reach. One can understand why companies today regret their promises of the past. But regret does not void a contract.
As the Supreme Court considers this important case, we hope the Justices look at the historical context of these agreements, rather than viewing them through the lens of what an employer might be willing to agree to today. A ruling making it easier for companies to reduce or cancel retiree health benefits would prioritize companies over their former workers, who negotiated and relied on their employer’s promises for the future. Retirees deserve better.
Susan Cancelosi and Charlotte Garden are law professors at Wayne State University Law School and Seattle University School of Law, respectively. They filed an amicus brief in M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett in support of the retirees, on behalf of 34 labor and employee benefits legal scholars.