Today the Supreme Court will hold a scheduled one hour of oral argument on the constitutionality of two key sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, which calls into question one of the law’s key provisions: Section 5. That section of the Voting Rights Act requires states with a history of racial discrimination to have any changes to their voting laws pre-approved by the Justice Department’s civil rights division or the D.C. federal court. Alabama’s Shelby County argues that the Section 5 “pre-clearance” requirement “exacts a heavy, unprecedented” cost on the rights that states and local jurisdictions have to craft their own laws. Nine states are required to get pre-clearance under Section 5, as are certain jurisdictions in seven other states. As recently as 2009, the Supreme Court expressed its skepticism of the continued need for Section 5. That year, when the court considered one Texas jurisdiction’s right to “bail out” of Section 5 pre-clearance, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that “these federalism costs have caused Members of this Court to express serious misgivings about the constitutionality of [Section 5].”
Senate lawmakers this week are beginning what appears to be their final push to pass gun control legislation in response to the deadly massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December. On Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is chairing a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the “Assault Weapons Ban of 2013,” which she introduced last month. The following day, the Judiciary Committee plans to consider the assault weapons ban, which would also ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as three other bills. The assault weapons ban is seen as having virtually no chance to get through Congress. The decision by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to nonetheless consider it in committee signals that the Senate is taking a piecemeal approach to passing gun control legislation, rather than trying to pass a comprehensive bill. The other gun control bills scheduled to be taken up Thursday are a Leahy-backed measure to combat illegal arms trafficking; a bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., focused on school safety; and a bill mandating universal background checks sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Federal immigration officials have released hundreds of detainees from detention centers around the country in recent days in a highly unusual effort to save money as automatic budget cuts loom in Washington, officials said Tuesday. The government has not dropped the deportation cases against the immigrants, however. The detainees have been freed on supervised release while their cases continue in court, officials said. A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, said the detainees selected for release were “noncriminals and other low-risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories.” Officials said the releases, which began last week and continued on Tuesday, were a response to the possibility of automatic governmentwide budget cuts, known as sequestration, which are scheduled to take effect on Friday. Immigration officials said that they had no plans to release substantially more detainees this week, though they warned that more releases were still possible depending on the outcome of budget negotiations. They refused to specify exactly how many detainees were released, or where the releases took place. But immigrants’ advocates around the country have reported that detainees were freed in several places, including Hudson County, N.J.; Polk County, Tex.; Broward County, Fla.; New Orleans; and from centers in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and New York.
At least six fired police officers want their disciplinary cases reopened after the Los Angeles Police Department began reinvestigating the termination of a former officer who left a trail of violence to avenge his firing. Police Protective League President Tyler Izen wouldn’t provide details on the former officers who asked to have their cases revisited, but he said the decision by Chief Charlie Beck to reopen Christopher Dorner’s case is unprecedented and “has left many of our members in absolute limbo.” Beck reopened Dorner’s case and ordered a review of the LAPD disciplinary system after the black ex-cop’s online manifesto accused the department of racism and bias in his firing and vowed to get even with officers and their families. Dorner killed four people, including two police officers, in his rampage before he apparently committed suicide during a fiery shootout in a mountain cabin two weeks ago. Beck has said the review is being conducted to ensure public confidence. The department has worked hard in recent years to overcome a bad image after multiple investigations into racism, corruption and abuse, including the Rampart Scandal and the 1991 beating of Rodney King.
Gov. Chris Christie signed a measure today allowing internet gambling in Atlantic City, a move his administration expects to nearly double casino revenue and provide a lifeline to the struggling seaside resort. The state Treasury said today it expected the new law — combined with the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and additional advertising — to sharply increase casino revenue from $235 million in the current fiscal year to nearly $436 million in fiscal 2014. Last month, securities analysts with Wells Fargo were even more optimistic, saying that online wagering could generate from $650 million to $850 million in the “near term.” The legislation received bipartisan approval in the Legislature today. The Assembly passed the measure (A2578) by a vote of 68-5, with one abstention, and the Senate signed off on the bill (S1565) by a 35-1 vote.The law will allow any game played in the city’s 12 casinos to be played on the internet — exclusively in New Jersey at first but later in other places willing to partner with the state. Licenses will be limited to the Atlantic City casinos and require the companies to keep most of the equipment to run the operations on site.