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“Early Voting Under Attack In Wisconsin”: Republicans Putting Up Even More Obstacles To Civic Participation

It may soon get a lot harder to vote in Wisconsin.

State and federal courts are currently deliberating the outcome of Wisconsin’s enjoined strict photo ID law. Governor Scott Walker this week said he would call a special legislative session to modify the law if it’s struck down, so voter ID could be in effect for the November 2014 election. And, this Wednesday, Senate leadership muscled through a bill, SB 324, which would cut back on early in-person absentee voting in that state. The measure passed 17-16, with one lone Republican joining the state’s Democratic Senators in casting nay votes. If the vote in the Assembly falls along party lines like it did in the Senate, the rollbacks could very well become law. Governor Walker has stated that he is open to instituting cutbacks on early voting if the measure reaches his desk.

In Wisconsin, all voters who apply may vote absentee in advance of Election Day, either by mail or in-person at the local municipal clerk’s office. Early in-person absentee voting starts the third Monday before the election, and is available through the Friday preceding Election Day. The bill passed by the Senate would eliminate early voting on weekends, and require that all early voting during the week conclude no later than 7 p.m. The bill also proposes a 45-hour weekly cap on early voting. Under the current law, which has no such restrictions, two communities that are home to nearly 15 percent of the state’s total population and nearly half of the state’s non-white population, Milwaukee and Madison, offer extended hours to serve more voters.

Cutting back on early voting puts up obstacles to civic participation. Voters like it, and they use it. When people can choose to vote on a day and time that does not conflict with work, family care, or other obligations, they are more able to wait in lines and undertake the other administrative costs involved in voting. Over the last three presidential elections, an average of 14 percent of voters in Wisconsin cast early ballots. Despite what some lawmakers are doing to make it harder to vote, citizens around the country support increasing access to the ballot. For example, a recent Iowa poll found that people there overwhelming believe that ensuring every eligible voter gets to cast a ballot outweighs concerns over ineligible voters. And, as the Brennan Center found in its comprehensive 2013 study of early voting, it’s also popular with the people who administer elections, because it reduces stress on the voting system on Election Day, leads to shorter lines, and allows for more opportunity to discover and correct problems before the polls close.

In producing our report, we looked into which jurisdictions have most successfully implemented early in-person voting, and were able to distill a set of seven best practices. Wisconsin does begin its early voting period a full two weeks before Election Day, which is one of the identified best practices for administering early voting. Another is to offer early voting on weekends, including the last weekend before the election. In fact, in eight of the nine states with the highest early voting turnout in recent elections, jurisdictions are required by law to offer early voting on at least one weekend. Not only does current Wisconsin law not mandate any weekend hours—instead leaving that decision up to the individual jurisdictions—but under the proposed changes weekend voting would be actively prohibited. A third best practice is to offer extended early voting hours during the week outside of business hours. The bill approved by the Wisconsin Senate, conversely, limits how many early voting hours may be offered each week, and likewise prohibits evening early voting after a certain hour.

Given the popularity of early voting among those who vote and those who administer elections, it’s hard to understand why Wisconsin lawmakers are intent on limiting early voting systems and throwing up more and more obstacles to the franchise. Their efforts would be better spent making elections more free, fair, and accessible for their constituents.

 

By: Jennifer L. Clark, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, March 14, 2014

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Adegbile’s Denied Confirmation Is Affront To Our Principles”: A Handful Of Democrats Help Launch The Explosives

Last week, the floor of the U.S. Senate was the scene of a bipartisan travesty, an affront to the principles of the Constitution, an assault on the notion of American exceptionalism. With the help of several Democrats, Republicans refused to confirm Debo P. Adegbile, President Obama’s nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

The GOP’s resistance was expected since its senators oppose every nominee the president puts forward. But this time, Adegbile’s new job was torpedoed because a handful of Democrats stepped forward to help launch the explosives. They found objections in Adegbile’s résumé, despite his impeccable credentials, sterling reputation and years of advocacy in the causes associated with civil rights.

Indeed, it is precisely that advocacy that led to the assault on his qualifications. His alleged misstep? Adegbile, a lawyer, was tangentially involved in filing a court challenge on behalf of a former Black Panther named Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Adegbile was litigation director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it filed a brief contesting the jury-sentencing instructions, an argument which resulted in commutation of Abu-Jamal’s sentence from death to life in prison in 2012.

That process is embedded in decades of case law. Defense attorneys are supposed to vigorously represent accused criminals — no matter the crimes with which they have been charged, no matter their guilt or innocence, no matter how radical their demeanor or vile their behavior — especially in capital cases.

Among the people who ought to understand that is Pennsylvania’s senior Democratic senator, Bob Casey. If he had any decency, any gumption, any courage, Casey would have helped to smooth Adegbile’s path.

He would have noted that American justice rests on the idea that each person stands equally before the bar, a credo that cannot be upheld without defense attorneys for the accused. The senator might have pointed out that in the U.S. armed forces, even the most heinous criminals are represented by competent defense counsel. And he might have reminded Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police that Adegbile did not spare Abu-Jamal’s life. A federal court did so because it agreed that instructions to the jury were unconstitutional.

Instead, Casey led the Democratic opposition. He explained his refusal to support the nominee with this statement:

“I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime. (But) it is important … citizens … have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed. The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the city of Philadelphia.”

That statement is confusing, contradictory and just plain dumb. Casey will ignore the system of law because of the awful grief borne by Maureen Faulkner? I cannot begin to imagine what her family has endured since her husband was gunned down shortly before his 26th birthday, but we don’t allow the anguish of families to dictate justice. If we did, they could serve as jurors, judges and executioners. But that wouldn’t be any different from a lynch mob, would it?

Similarly, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) explained his stick-in-the eye to Adegbile by speaking of the pain endured by the Faulkner family, even while acknowledging that “an attorney is not responsible for the actions of their client.” That wasn’t as outlandish as the rhetoric from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who claimed that Adegbile was “seeking to glorify an unrepentant cop-killer,” but it was a non sequitur.

In this shameful episode, the person who best represented American values was Adegbile, the son of a Nigerian father and an Irish immigrant mother. He clearly puts more faith in the fundamental principles of his homeland than the 52 senators who voted against him.

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 8, 2014

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Constitution | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Platinum-Level Citizenship”: Highly-Religious Christians’ Battle To Change The Very Nature Of The First Amendment

Ask a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you’re likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a “war on religion” since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there’s little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind.

In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They are demanding that our laws stake out for them a kind of Citizenship Platinum, allowing them an exemption from any law or obligation they’d prefer to disregard. They would refashion the First Amendment in their image.

Last week saw a number of new developments in the effort to create this elevated status for religious people, as bills seeking to enshrine discrimination against gay couples moved forward in two states. A bill in Kansas would explicitly allow both businesses and government to discriminate against gay couples in pretty much any way they wanted. A movie theater could turn gay couples away at the door, or a paramedic could refuse to treat a gay person having a heart attack, and they’d be immune from prosecution or lawsuits. After passing the Kansas state house overwhelmingly, the bill died in the state senate, in a brief (though likely temporary) moment of sanity.

A bill in Arizona did better, passing both houses, and it now awaits Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. This one was written more broadly, without the direct focus on gay couples, but its effects would be the same. It grants to any person, organization or corporation a nearly unlimited right to assert their “sincerely held” religious beliefs as a shield against lawsuits for discrimination.

Similar bills are pending in a number of conservative states; this won’t be the last we hear of them. And the Supreme Court will soon hear the case of Hobby Lobby, the retail chain that would like to be exempt from some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act because its owners are Christians, and therefore they should be able to select the provisions they’ll abide by and not bother with those they find religiously objectionable.

The implications couldn’t be clearer. Let’s consider the put-upon Christian florists of Arizona, who might be subjected to the unspeakable horror of taking a gay couple’s money. What if one of those florists decided that since being born again through Christ is the one and only path to heaven, selling flowers to Jews or Muslims or Catholics would violate his deeply felt religious beliefs? Would he then be free to put up a sign in his window saying, “We only serve Protestants here”? According to the Arizona law, he would, regardless of what that pesky Civil Rights Act says. Or what if the owner of an accounting firm decided that since his religion places men above women, all his female employees will be paid half of what he pays male employees for doing the same job? It’s his religious belief, after all.

Anyone could say that almost any belief they have springs directly from their faith and their reading of scripture, and the state would be required to abide by it. Your faith tells you not to obey laws against discrimination? Well, maybe mine tells me that paying taxes is an offense to God. And my neighbor is a biblical literalist, so when his teenage son mouthed off to him, he arranged for the boy to be stoned to death, just like the Lord instructs quite clearly in Deuteronomy 18 and Leviticus 20. Surely we can’t convict him of murder, since he was only following his sincere religious beliefs.

You might say, well, those beliefs are ridiculous. Maybe they are. And maybe I find your opinions about gay people ridiculous. But up until now, neither one of us has had to have our own liberty compromised because of what the other believed, because we defined the First Amendment’s free exercise clause through religious practice. The government can’t tell you how to worship your god, and it can’t do things that make it difficult for you to worship as you’d like.

But now, conservatives are pushing a much broader conception of religious freedom, one that extends beyond religious practice to virtually anything a religious person does. But it’s when you take your religious practices outside of your own faith, your own beliefs, and your own practice and start applying them to other people that you lose the special privileges that religion is accorded. As an old saying has it, my right to swing my fist ends precisely where your nose begins.

Any Christians who want to can believe that gay people are sinful and wicked, or that gay marriage is a terrible thing. What they can’t do is use those beliefs as a get-out-of-jail-free card that gives them permission to break the law or escape civil liability when they harm other people.

Up until now, the distinction between religious practice and the things religious people do when they enter the secular world has worked pretty well. Anti-discrimination laws don’t mean that a rabbi has to conduct a wedding for two Baptists. Religious organizations can hire only people of their own faith. But once you enter into other realms, like commerce, you have to obey the laws that govern those realms.

If we grant religious people the kind of elevated citizenship conservatives are now demanding, where the special consideration given to religious practice is extended to anything a religious person does, the results could be truly staggering. Why stop at commerce? If things like employment law and anti-discrimination laws don’t apply to religious people, what about zoning laws, or laws on domestic abuse, or laws in any other realm?

The supporters of these laws, and of Hobby Lobby, argue that religious people shouldn’t have to put aside their beliefs when they act in the secular world. “It’s alien to me that a business owner can’t reflect his faith in his business,” said one Republican Arizona legislator. But when your business puts you in contact with people who don’t share your faith, putting aside your religion is precisely what you have to do, if “reflecting” that religion means violating the law.

For many years, conservatives would argue that they didn’t really object to equal rights for gay people, they were just against “special rights.” In practice, what they meant by “special rights” were things like the right not to be fired from your job or evicted from your home because of your sexuality, rights that weren’t special at all. But today, religious conservatives are demanding truly special rights for themselves. They want one set of laws that applies to everyone else, and another set that applies only to the religious. Or more precisely, they want religious people—but no one else—to be able to pick and choose which laws apply to them, and which they’d prefer to ignore. That’s a twisted version of the liberty the First Amendment was supposed to guarantee.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prsopect, February 24, 2014

February 25, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Discrimination, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Night Of The Living Bigots”: Religious Discrimination Laws Are Just Zombie Jim Crow, Legalizing Anti-Gay Prejudice

Back in November, I wrote this piece on so-called “religious discrimination.” In short, a florist in Washington state refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding because it violates her religion. That’s right, she claims she won’t engage in the for-profit business of commerce because her religion tells her not to for certain groups of people. To quote “South Park’s” Mr Mackey “mkay.”

Now I thought maybe this was just a one-off. I mean sure, there are going to be a few folks, a few businesses around the country who won’t serve black people or maybe someone won’t photograph a gay wedding. But these types of things are few and far between, not the norm in society right?

Actually, while they happen more than you may think, as a part of the whole of American society, this isn’t some widespread thing popping up all across the country. What is rearing its ugly head up is the conservative movement’s insistence on using state legislatures to fighti what they claim is gay marriage’s “attack” on family values across the country. Lawmakers in Arizona, Kansas, Idaho, Tennessee, South Dakota and Maine have all debated and/or passed “religious discrimination” bills to protect for-profit businesses from having to serve gays and lesbians. The Arizona legislature just yesterday passed legislation and it’s now on its way to Gov. Jan Brewer.

I know, I know, the states are the incubators of democracy, where great ideas come from but this, my friends, is pure unadulterated crap. Jim Crow was supposed to have died a long time ago but like some horrid episode of “The Walking Dead,” Zombie Jim Crow has arrived with a vengeance.

Do conservatives actually think it’s OK to deny someone a meal, a photograph or a flower arrangement by using God as their reason? Will national Republican leaders try to pass similar legislation in Washington, D.C. or is it better for this type of Jim Crow foolishness to remain under the radar screen (in other words in the state legislatures)? I wonder how Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus feels about these types of bills being promulgated across the country. He is, after all, the national leader of the Republican Party right?

I really don’t have a problem if a business owner thinks I’m gay. I actually don’t have a problem if a business owner doesn’t like that I’m gay. But here’s the deal business owners of America: I have money and you have a for-profit business that opens its doors to the public. That means you that you don’t get to put up a sign in your window that says “We cater to heterosexual trade only” like this one from a Lancaster, Ohio business during Jim Crow. If I walk into your place of business and am willing to pay what you’re asking for your service or product, who I marry is none of your damned business. I’m a huge fan of equality. I don’t get to ask you if you’re a bigot and you don’t get to ask me if I’m, well, gay.

If you want to be a church, a non-profit or a private club, then you have the right to tell me you don’t want my money. That’s really stupid of you but hey, it’s your inalienable right to be stupid in America. I also have the right to tell my friends you don’t want my money because it’s gay money. And they get to tell their friends, and then we’ll treat you like we did Anita Bryant back in the 1970’s. That didn’t turn out so well for her.

I’m not angry about what’s happening in these state legislatures. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised frankly. Like I said, there are a lot of dumb people out there. But what no one in this country should be allowed to do is profit from bigotry. What no business in this country should be allowed to do is tell me their God tells them I’m a second-class citizen.

 

By: Jimmy Williams, U. S. News and World Report, February 21, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Discrimination | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Protected Class Isn’t A Privileged Class”: No, Employment Protections Aren’t Like Segregation

Since the 1960s, federal law has recognized various protected classes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color or religion; the 1990 Disabilities Act on the basis of disability. It should be screamingly obvious that a “protected” class isn’t a “privileged” class — but apparently it isn’t.

In recent years, progressives have been lobbying for an Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would make it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Opponents have advanced various arguments against it, including the notion that it will subject schoolchildren to discussions of homosexuality and that it’s a recipe for lawsuits.

Another bogus claim is that ENDA would create “special” rights for gays and lesbians.

On Tuesday The Las Vegas Sun ran a story on Republican State Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, who’s campaigning to represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in the House. It explained that Mr. Hardy opposes ENDA because: “When we create classes, we create that same separation that we’re trying to unfold somehow. By continuing to create these laws that are what I call segregation laws, it puts one class of a person over another. We are creating classes of people through these laws.”

Yes, he went there: He not only compared employment protection to segregation, he said such protections are a form of segregation.

It’s possible he got this idea from The Heritage Foundation. In November Ryan T. Anderson of Heritage argued that ENDA “does not protect equality before the law; instead it would create special privileges that are enforceable against private actors.”

Actually ENDA prohibits “preferential treatment or quotas” and merely makes it illegal for an employer to fire an employee just because he’s gay.

This idea that protections against discrimination put “one class of a person over another” has surfaced in other areas, too.

As I wrote not long ago, Fox’s Martha MacCallum deployed this type of reasoning when she called the Paycheck Fairness Act a “special handout” for women. So did Justice Antonin Scalia when he called the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement.”

 

By: Juliet Lapidos, The New York Times, February 20, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Segregation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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