Some people are just not that interesting. No, I’m not talking about your great-uncle Ted, who when you see him on the Fourth of July and ask him how he’s doing he will say, “Fantastic. Par, par bogey bogey, par, par.” I’m talking about the nine members of the Supreme Court. Have you ever really read any of their opinions or their long-winded rulings? It’s like chewing on a paper towel.
We all know about their famous rulings such as, Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore or Brown v. Board of Education, but there are reams of others that are important as well, though some not as reader friendly. Next time you decide to read some of their work, call your lawyer first. Not to help you understand but to sue them for boring you to death.
But sometimes there are those rulings that you just can’t miss, that is if you’re paying a little bit of attention. Here’s one to consider. This ruling could potentially affect us right here in Chesterfield, and the BOS should have been abiding by it all along. At least how candidates react to their contributors when they see an issue involving the contributor standing in front of them asking for something at a public meeting.
Now I’m not a constitutional lawyer and I don’t play one on TV either, and how our local jurisdiction attorneys will deal with this I don’t know. But to me it seems to impact some of our local candidates, at least for those supervisors doing campaign business.
The Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan might just slip by as another newspaper item you flip by on your way to the crossword puzzle. But if the pages stuck together and you began to read about it, you would definitely say “hmmm.”
From “This week at the Court: In Plain English,” by Lisa McElroy, an internet blogger from the halls of the Supreme Court, or maybe across the street, you can find some reporting on a case of local significance. At least that’s what I’m saying.
With the end of the Court’s term drawing near, last Monday, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion on Nevada Comm. on Ethics v. Carrigan, the last case argued during this term.
McElroy wrote “The case involved Michael A. Carrigan, an elected member of the City Council in Sparks, Nevada, who voted on a casino construction project in which his campaign manager was involved. Although Carrigan disclosed his connection, he was censured by the Nevada Commission on Ethics, which concluded that he violated a state law prohibiting public officials voting on, or arguing for or against, any matter about which a reasonable person would have difficulty being impartial, in part because of a close relationship to someone affected by the vote.
“Although the law might sound logical and clear, Carrigan argued that there were two problems with it: his right to vote was protected by the First Amendment, and the specific provision of the law that he had been accused of violating was too broad because it prohibits someone from voting if his relationship to the person affected by the vote ‘substantially similar’ to a close family member or relative. In other words, how was a legislator to know what ‘substantially similar’ meant? And wouldn’t that restriction prevent too many votes from being cast, out of caution?”
After a lower court heard his case, the Carrigan pleading reached the Supreme Court, the final say in matters even affecting the Congress and the Presidency. Virginia has recusal laws - laws that say if you have a connection to a case through being related to a person involved or received money or special treatment from a person, a legislator, supervisor etc., one must not rule or vote on the issue such as a zoning case.
“A ruling in Carrigan’s favor could have had real impact on our political system,” wrote McElroy. But the Court voted unanimously that the law was not too broad.
In an opinion written by Justice Scalia, according to McElroy, the Court focused mostly on whether legislators have the right, under the First Amendment, to vote on a particular issue or bill. “The Court looked to the history and tradition of recusal laws going back to our country’s early years, when the Constitution was first drafted (a practice of which Justice Scalia, in particular, is a big fan). Because these laws have been part of our tradition and history, the Court explained, we presume that they are constitutional. The Court also distinguished between a lawmaker’s vote [in] his speech, explaining that a lawmaker simply votes on behalf of his constituents; he does not have a personal right to vote.”
It will be interesting to see how this affects Chesterfield’s Board of Supervisors. Although this law has been on the books in Virginia, I doubt that many local representatives have been called on it. There are not too many zoning cases going on right now, but there are some issues that come before the Board that could have close connections, meaning campaign contribution or family ties, that should preclude them from voting. I remember Kelly Miller, the former Board member from the Dale District, now deceased, recused himself from voting a number times. I wonder if our current or future Supervisors will have the ethical wherewithal that Miller had.