Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: California, Texas in the Hot Seat for Voting Violations

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

California is under scrutiny for not following federal laws about voter registration, and there might be a Voting Rights Act-like reboot coming for Texas.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

The League of Women Voters of California and other voter advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in federal court against the California Department of Motor Vehicles because it failed to offer voter registration opportunities to millions of Californians, as required by the National Voter Registration Act.

After the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder by freeing states from preclearance—constraining states from passing new voting laws without federal approval—court rulings that Texas passed voting laws intentionally to discriminate against voters of color may subject the state to preclearance again.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization of atheists, has filed a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s “religious liberty” order, claiming that it allows faith groups to preach from the pulpit in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

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The Supreme Court met last week to discuss whether law enforcement needs a warrant to force mobile phone companies to turn over their customers’ cell data. Ordinarily, such data would be considered a business record and mobile companies can turn that information over voluntarily. However, in the case of cell phone data that can paint a picture of a defendant’s whereabouts, such warrantless tracking may invade cell phone users’ privacy.

Richard Simmons, America’s favorite fitness guru circa the 1980s, is suing the National Enquirer for libel based on the publication’s claim that Simmons is living as a transgender woman.

A member of Sacramento’s Oklevueha Native American Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church was arrested at Stockton Airport in California and charged with possession and intent to distribute marijuana. He claims that the marijuana is a sacrament and therefore protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA protects peyote (a hallucinogenic substance made from a cactus) use for Native religions, but not marijuana use. We’ll see what the court has to say.

A lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleges that law enforcement in Madison County, Mississippi, one of the most segregated areas in the country, has “implemented a coordinated top-down program of methodically targeting Black individuals for suspicionless searches and seizures,” in an effort to keep the county segregated. Isn’t postracial America grand?

In West Virginia, anti-LGBTQ assaults aren’t a hate crime under state law, according to its Supreme Court.
Hillary Lynne Burgess, a former visiting law professor at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia, is suing the school under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, claiming that the school failed to protect her from an aggressive and disruptive student who allegedly groped other classmates and drugged and raped another staff member. Burgess alleges that the school was indifferent to her concerns and retaliated against her by making her do extra work without compensation.

Now that Trump is president, Texas is asking the government for federal money to support the state women’s health program, which it decimated after Obama pulled funding because Texas barred Planned Parenthood as a provider. Texas is pressing its luck and will probably succeed.

Last week, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in response to the “Election Integrity Commission” recently announced by Trump to investigate his false claims of rampant voter fraud during the 2016 election.

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