The ACLU’s smart lawsuit shows it’s not just freaks who don’t have government-issued identification.
As the first big lawsuit against the Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law starts its third day at trial, arguments about the legality of the law have focused largely on who’s impacted by it. First, the secretary of the commonwealth estimated as many as 758,000 Pennsylvanians lacked the most common form of ID—those issued by the state Department of Transportation. A political scientist’s study showed that number to be around a million. Either way, it’s a lot of people, and we know a disproportionate number of them are poor, nonwhite, and elderly.
Still, those supporting strict voter-ID laws, which require citizens to show government-issued identification before voting, often cast suspicion on anyone without an ID. They argue that you need photo identification for pretty much anything these days, and people without them must be freaks or criminals—people we don’t want voting anyway. Republican Texas state Representative Jose Aliseda exemplifies this position; he recently said that anyone lacking a photo ID is probably in the country illegally or a recluse like the Unabomber.
In response, the ACLU, along with the other groups involved, made a brilliant move to publicize the stories of the ten plaintiffs. They’ve written up summaries of each person’s plight, made videos, and pushed the stories in the press. Those wondering just who these strange people without ID are getting an answer: Quite a few are little old ladies.
Of the ten people in the lawsuit, five are over 80. The chief plaintiff, Viviette Applewhite, is 93, and arrived in court in a wheelchair wearing “a gray sweater and a white lace hat,” according to Reuters. She was a civil-rights activist who marched in Macon, Georgia, with Martin Luther King, but even with all the time between now and the election, she’s probably not going to be able to get the necessary ID. Applewhite, who does not drive, took her husband’s name. That is the name she had on her Social Security card. But when her purse was stolen, the only document that she could get was a birth certificate—with her maiden name. Applewhite had a common-law marriage, so there’s no document to account for the mismatched name.
Applewhite isn’t the only elderly woman on the plaintiff list. There’s also Joyce Block, a spring chicken at 89, whose Social Security card and birth certificate were in her maiden name while her voter registration was in her married name. Block’s marriage certificate is in Hebrew and apparently the the clerks at the DMV were a little rusty in their ancient languages—they said the certificate could not be used as a proof of name change. Several of the other octogenarians in the case could not get copies of their birth certificates (necessary to get the IDs) because the state where they were born does not issue them.
Of course, older ladies aren’t the only ones in the lawsuit or the only ones with powerful stories. There’s Grover Freeland, a veteran whose only photo ID is his veteran’s card, issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But that card is not an acceptable form of ID under the Pennsylvania law. The ten plaintiffs all have different reasons why they cannot get an ID, but almost all of them are regular voters who now stand to lose their ability to cast a ballot.
Voting is a citizen’s fundamental duty and right, and those who fall outside of the mainstream have just as much of a right to vote as the mainstream. However, for the purposes of winning public support in this case, the ACLU was smart to choose and highlight relatable people who are impacted by the law. As with Republicans’ claims that voter ID laws were motivated purely by the need to cut down on voter fraud (which is virtually nonexistent), their claim that there’s something downright weird about people who lack photo IDs is now being exploded.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, July 27, 2012
When Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the law requiring welfare recipients to pass annual drug tests to collect benefits, he justified the likely unconstitutional law by saying it would save the state money by keeping drug users from using public money to subsidize their drug habits. Drug use, Scott claimed, was higher among welfare recipients than among the rest of the population.
Preliminary results from the state’s first round of testing, however, has seemingly proven both of those claims false. Only 2 percent of welfare recipients failed drug tests, meaning the state must reimburse the cost of the $30 drug tests to the 96 percent of recipients who passed drug tests (two percent did not take the tests). After reimbursements, the state’s savings will be almost negligible, the Tampa Tribune reports:
Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.
That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month’s worth of rejected applicants.
Net savings to the state: $3,400 to $5,000 annually on one month’s worth of rejected applicants. Over 12 months, the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800 to $60,000 for a program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year.
While the state will save little, if any, money on the drug testing racket, Scott’s family could stand to gain financially. A former health care executive, Scott founded Solantic Corp., a chain of walk-in health care clinics that provides, among other services, drug tests. Scott maintains that he has no involvement in the company, but he does have $62 million worth of the company’s shares contained in a blind trust under his wife’s name. Though there is no conflict under Florida law unless the company deals with the governor’s office directly, the company, and thus Scott’s investment, could benefit from the increased traffic from drug tests.
Meanwhile, the state’s already-small annual savings could be wiped out entirely by the cost of implementing the program and issuing the reimbursements. And as Derek Newton, the spokesman for the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Tribune, the cost of the program could skyrocket if the state has to defend it in court. The ACLU is still considering a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality, Newton said.
If the ACLU or anyone else were to challenge the law, the lawsuit would likely succeed. As UCLA law professor Adam Winkler wrote after Scott signed the law, “Random drug-testing is what is known as a ‘suspicion-less search,’” and outside of a few limited instances, courts have “generally frowned upon” drug testing that occurs at random and without probable cause. “Indeed, courts have stuck down policies just like the ones put in place by Florida,” Winkler wrote, citing two cases to back up the claim.
As for Scott’s second claim, that drug use is higher among welfare recipients, the test results also show that to be false. While only 2 percent of welfare recipients failed drug tests, a 2008 study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy found that approximately 8 percent of Floridians age 12 and up had used illegal drugs in the last month, and 9.69 percent had smoked marijuana in the last year.
By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, August 24, 2011
Underground abortions have returned to the United States, just as pro-choice activists have warned for years. And women have started going to jail for the crime of ending their own pregnancies, or trying to.
This week Jennie L. McCormack, a 32-year-old mother of three from eastern Idaho, was arrested for self-inducing an abortion. According to the Associated Press, McCormack couldn’t afford a legal procedure, and so took pills that her sister had ordered online. For some reason, she kept the fetus, which police found after they were called by a disapproving acquaintance. She now faces up to five years in prison, as well as a $5,000 fine.
Idaho recently banned abortions after 20 weeks, and McCormack’s fetus was reportedly between five and six months old. But according to Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, under Idaho law, McCormack could have been arrested even if she’d been in her first trimester because self-induced abortion is illegal in all circumstances. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an 8- or 10- or 12-week abortion,” says Kolbi-Molinas. “If you do what you could get lawfully in a doctor’s office—what you have a constitutional right to access in a doctor’s office—they can throw you in jail and make you a convicted felon.”
While horrific, McCormack’s case is not unique. In recent years, several women have been arrested on suspicion of causing their own abortions, or attempting to. Most have come from conservative rural states with few clinics and numerous restrictions on abortion. In America’s urban centers and liberal enclaves, the idea of women being prosecuted for taking desperate measures to end their pregnancies might seem inconceivable, a never-again remnant of the era before Roe v. Wade. In fact, it’s a slowly encroaching reality.
Even more, these cases demonstrate that criminalizing abortion means turning women who have abortions into criminals.
In 2005, Gabriela Flores, a 22-year-old Mexican migrant worker, was arrested in South Carolina. Like McCormack, she had three children and said she couldn’t afford a fourth, and so she turned to clandestinely acquired pills. (The drug she took, Misoprostol, is an ulcer medicine that also works as an abortifacient and is widely used in Latin American countries where abortion is illegal.) Initially facing two years in prison, she ended up being sentenced to 90 days.
In 2009, a 17-year-old Utah girl known in court filings as J.M.S. found herself pregnant by an older man who is now facing charges of using her in child pornography. J.M.S. lived in house without electricity or running water in a remote part of the state, several hours’ drive from the nearest clinic, which was in Salt Lake City. Getting there would have required not just a car—her area had no public transportation—but money for a hotel in order to comply with Utah’s 24-hour-waiting period, as well as for the cost of the abortion itself.
According to prosecutors, when J.M.S. was in her third trimester, she paid a man $150 to beat her in the hopes of inducing a miscarriage. The fetus survived, but she was charged with criminal solicitation to commit murder. When her case was thrown out on the grounds that her actions weren’t illegal under the state’s definition of abortion, legislators changed the law so they would be able to punish women like her in the future.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have appealed J.M.S.’ case to the Supreme Court, and observers expect it to rule against her. She could still face a trial and prison time.
A woman doesn’t even have to be trying to abort to find herself under arrest. Last year, a pregnant 22-year-old in Iowa named Christine Taylor ended up in the hospital after falling down a flight of stairs. A mother of two, she told a nurse she’d tripped after an upsetting phone conversation with her estranged husband. Though she’d gone to the hospital to make sure her fetus was OK, she confessed that she’d been ambivalent about the pregnancy and unsure whether she was ready to become a single mother of three.
Suspecting Taylor had hurled herself down the stairs on purpose, the nurse called a doctor, and at some point the police were brought in. Taylor was arrested on charges of attempted feticide. She spent two days in jail before the charges were dropped because she was in her second trimester, and Iowa’s feticide laws don’t kick in until the third.
These cases are a harbinger of what’s to come as abortion laws become increasingly strict and abortion clinics harder to access in the more conservative parts of the country. They demonstrate the lengths to which women will go to end unwanted pregnancies. But even more, they demonstrate that criminalizing abortion means turning women who have abortions into criminals.
The antiabortion movement likes to see itself as pro-woman. Most of its spokespeople talk about protecting women from abortion, insisting they’re not interested in seeing them punished. “It’s tragic that this young woman felt that this was her only way out,” National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said in a statement in response to questions about the McCormack case. “The pro-life movement has never supported jail sentences for women who are victims of the abortion culture and abortion industry.”
Tobias said her group calls on Idaho officials “to engage in more publicity about the network of pregnancy resource centers and about the existence of Idaho’s safe haven law—either of which would have helped this young mother and saved her child.” But she didn’t call on them to release McCormack or to change the laws under which she’s being charged. If these sorts of prosecutions aren’t what the antiabortion movement had in mind when it pushed wave after wave of state-level legislation, now might be a good time to speak up.
By: Michelle Goldberg, Contributing Writer, The Daily Beast, June 3, 2011