Supreme Court

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The Rise and Fall of America’s Labor Unions

Includes interactive charts
SEIU Janitors Protest Firing by JPMorgan Chase

SEIU union janitors protest in Los Angeles (Flickr/Slobodan Dimitrov)

The Supreme Court this week dealt a blow to the nation’s struggling labor unions. In a 5-4 decision along  ideological lines, the court ruled that some government workers who decline membership in the unions that represent them can’t be forced to pay collective bargaining fees.

Just over 11 percent of the U.S. workforce belongs to a union today, the lowest rate in more than 70 years.  Continue reading

Explaining the Latest Supreme Court Ruling on Campaign Spending Limits

SCOTUS DecisionThe Supreme Court on Wednesday removed a 40-year-old cap on the total amount of cash  individuals can contribute to political candidates and party committees. The latest in a string of rulings chipping away at longstanding campaign finance limits, the court’s 5-to-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission is expected to let new flood of money pour into America’s already cash-saturated political process.

What the decision actually does

It removes the cap on the combined amount of cash that any one person can directly give to candidates running for federal office, or to political party committees. Continue reading

Explaining Insurance Exchanges and Other Sexy Healthcare Lingo

Includes video animations

I’m going to go out on a limb here in suggesting that the nitty gritty of the Affordable Care Act may not be the most exciting topic of conversation. But now, even as the government settles into shutdown mode, state insurance exchanges across the country are opening their virtual doors for business, offering a healthcare marketplace to the million of uninsured Americans. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation produced this series of short animated explainers on some of the central components of the law and the programs it establishes. These are concepts that get thrown around a lot in the news but are pretty hard to grasp. So take a look (and just maybe, you’ll be the hit of the cocktail party). Also, check out KQED’s comprehensive interactive Obamacare guide to explore the topic in greater depth.

Health Insurance Exchanges

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How California’s Prop. 8 Clawed its Way Up to the Supreme Court

Includes multimedia visualization

How did the Prop. 8 case go all the way from California to the U.S. Supreme Court? Scroll through this interactive to trace the path. Use the arrows to advance, and zoom in to blow-up text size and images. It can also be viewed in full screen mode (click on bottom left button).

Abigail Fisher’s Fight with Affirmative Action

Includes interactive timeline

Update July 24: The Supreme Court sent a challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions process back to a lower court.

The compromise ruling throws out the decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Texas admission plan.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said the appeals court did not test the Texas plan under the most exacting level of judicial review. He said such a test is required by the court’s 2003 decision upholding affirmative action in higher education.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter.


Next week the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision on the constitutionality of race-based admissions policies at public universities. It will be the latest ruling in a long history of challenges to various affirmative action efforts. Specifically, the court will determine whether the goal of greater racial diversity on campus justifies preferential treatment for minority applicants.

Abigail Fisher, a white honors student who was rejected from the University of Texas in 2008, didn’t think so. She sued the school, claiming that its race-conscious admissions policy unfairly favored black and Hispanic applicants over whites and Asians. She said:

“There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in who were being accepted into UT, and the only difference between us was the color of our skin… For an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me.”

The case came before the Supreme Court last October. The court’s upcoming ruling could have broad implications for universities and employers around the country.

Scroll through the timeline below for a history of game-changing events in the evolution of affirmative action.

(Best viewed in full screen mode

How Did Prop. 8 Get to the Supreme Court? Tracking the Winding Path of Justice

Includes multimedia presentation

On March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban. Since voters approved the measure in 2008, there has been a dizzying string of state and federal court cases and appeals (and that, of course, doesn’t include the many years of political wrangling over the issue before Prop. 8 passed). Now the decision is in the hands of the High Court’s nine justices. But how did it go all the way from a California ballot measure to a Supreme Court case that could have a huge national impact? This presentation walks you through the many steps of the multi-tiered justice system that Prop. 8 had to pass through on its way to the highest court in the land.

Beneath the presentation is a diagram by the NY Times illustrating the various outcomes of the case.

Note: the presentation is best viewed in full-screen mode; use the arrows to advance and zoom in/out on any text or image

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10 Resources To Help Make Sense of the Health Care Decision

Includes: resource links

In the week since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling upholding key parts of President Obama’s health care law (“Obamacare”) – namely, the individual mandate that everyone buy insurance -  Americans have been inundated by an endless deluge of analysis and commentary. Making sense of it all is challenging, so here are 10 good resources that help connect the dots. Continue reading