“Where Is The Republican Voter Expansion Project?”: Republicans Used To Support Voting Rights—What Happened?
During a speech on Friday at the National Action Network, President Obama made his strongest and most extensive comments yet on the topic of voting rights. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Obama said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”
The election of the first black president and the resurrection of voter suppression efforts was hardly a coincidence. New voting restrictions took effect in nineteen states from 2011–12. Nine states under GOP control have adopted measures to make it more difficult to vote since 2013. Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in June 2013, half of the states (eight in total) previously covered under Section 5 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions.
These laws, from voter ID to cutting early voting to restricting voter registration, have been passed under the guise of stopping voter fraud, although there’s scant evidence that such fraud exists. Obama cited a comprehensive study by News21 that found only ten cases of in-person voter impersonation since 2000. “The real voter fraud,” the president said, “is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.”
Obama’s speech highlighted how Democratic leaders are embracing the cause of voting rights. (Attorney General Eric Holder has made it a signature issue, with the DOJ filing lawsuits against new voting restrictions in Texas and North Carolina last year.)
A day before arriving in New York, Obama spoke about civil rights at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act—where the subject of contemporary attacks on voting rights came up often. “Is this what Martin Luther King gave his life for?” asked Bill Clinton. “Is this what Lyndon Johnson employed his legendary skills for? Is this what America has become a great thriving democracy for? To restrict the franchise?”
Democratic presidential hopefuls like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have recently championed voting rights. The Democratic National Committee has launched a new Voter Expansion Project and veterans of the Obama campaign started iVote to elect Democratic secretaries of state in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio and Nevada. Democrats hope that an appeal to voting rights will help mobilize key constituencies, like in 2012, when a backlash against GOP voter suppression efforts increased African-American turnout. “The single most important thing we can do to protect our right to vote is to vote,” Obama said on Friday.
It’s great that Democratic leaders are finally recognizing the severity of the attack on voting rights. But it’s sad that Republicans are almost unanimously supporting the restriction of voting rights rather than the expansion of the franchise.
Things weren’t always this way. In his new book about the Civil Rights Act, An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Todd Purdum tells the story of Bill McCulloch, a conservative Republican from Ohio who championed civil rights as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. The Politico excerpt from the book was titled “The Republican Who Saved Civil Rights.”
There would have been no Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Voting Rights Act of 1965 without the support of Republicans like McCulloch and Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois. For decades after the 1960s, voting rights legislation had strong bipartisan support in Congress. Every reauthorization of the VRA—in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006—was signed by a Republican president and supported by an overwhelming number of Republicans in Congress.
Republicans like Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, an heir to McCulloch who as the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee oversaw the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA and is co-sponsoring a new fix for the VRA, used to be the norm within the GOP. Now he’s the rare Republican who still believes the GOP should remain the party of Lincoln. Where is the Republican Voter Expansion Project?
It’s also unfortunate that many in the media continue to report on voting rights like it’s a left-versus-right issue, as if supporting a fundamental democratic right suddenly makes one a flaming liberal. Jamie Fuller of The Washington Post called voting rights “the Democrats’ most important project in 2014.” Michael Shear of The New York Times dubbed Obama’s speech an effort “to rally his political base.”
The right to vote used to be regarded as a moral issue, not a partisan one. As President Johnson said when he introduced the VRA before Congress: “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”
As long as Democrats are the party of voting rights and Republicans are the party of voter suppression, the right to vote will continue to be under siege.
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, April 14, 2014
There’s a new report out today from McClatchey on the CIA’s torture program based on that Intelligence Committee report. They got a closer look at it than journalists have before, so there are some more details. But there’s a danger in how this could be interpreted that will serve to let people who were complicit in the torture program off the hook, so we need to be careful about how we deal with this information. But first, here are their bullets:
- The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
- The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
- The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
- The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.
And now to put this in context:
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel found that the methods wouldn’t breach the law because those applying them didn’t have the specific intent of inflicting severe pain or suffering.
The Senate report, however, concluded that the Justice Department’s legal analyses were based on flawed information provided by the CIA, which prevented a proper evaluation of the program’s legality.
“The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” the report found.
Several human rights experts said the conclusion called into question the program’s legal foundations.
“Proper legal analysis” my ass. This paints a picture that is completely at odds with everything else we know about what was going on in the Bush administration at the time. The report would have us believe that Bush administration lawyers came up with a reasonable, well-grounded definition of torture that allowed the CIA to interrogate people in an “enhanced” way, but the CIA went rogue and tortured their prisoners. I’m sorry, but that’s a joke.
The truth was this: the administration wanted to torture people. Lawyers in the White House Counsel’s office, then run by Alberto Gonzales, wrote a series of memos justifying it, using positively laughable logic and arguments sending a clear message to any official who might have a prisoner in their custody that you could do just about anything you wanted to him, and we’ll back you up by saying it wasn’t really “torture.” For instance, the infamous “Bybee memo” argued that it’s only torture if you’re acting with “specific intent” to cause pain and suffering, and if the causing of pain and suffering isn’t the intent for its own sake, but rather that using the pain and suffering to extract information is your intent, then presto, you’ve only tortured with “general intent,” and therefore you haven’t actually tortured. Bybee also wrote that though the statute forbidding torture mentioned the infliction of “severe” pain, we could construe pain to be “severe” only if it rose “to the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment of a significant bodily function.” In other words, if I take a pair of pliers and tear out your fingernails, then I haven’t actually inflicted “severe” pain on you, because you’re still alive, your organs are intact, and you can still use your fingers. And therefore there hasn’t been any torture.
And that wasn’t even the only one; there was another infamous memo from John Yoo arguing that, in effect, if the president orders it, it’s not torture. This is the kind of “legal guidance” the CIA was getting from the White House. So the idea that they just went too far and exceeded the legal justification for what they were doing is baloney. The CIA may have been lying about what kinds of intelligence the torture was yielding, and they may even have been lying about exactly what methods they were employing. But everything they did—every waterboarding session, every use of stress positions, every use of sleep deprivation, and even every impromptu beat-down that may have occurred—happened because George W. Bush, through the lawyers who reported to him, told the CIA that it was A-OK to torture prisoners.
Bureaucratic conflicts between agencies are certainly of interest to historians. But the last thing we should ever do is let a report like this make us absolve anyone of responsibility for the torture program. The President, the Vice-President, the lawyers, the CIA—they all dove into that moral sewer together.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 11, 2014
Two weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) handpicked legal team issued a report – it was more taxpayer-financed propaganda than legal analysis – clearing their client of wrongdoing. As part of the public-relations push surrounding the stunt, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked the governor, “So this report has just come out, it exonerates you completely. Do you feel exonerated?”
Christie responded, “Yes, I do. But I also always knew that this is where it would end.”
A federal grand jury has begun hearing testimony in the criminal investigation of the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal, and Gov. Chris Christie’s chief spokesman is among those who have testified, his lawyer said Friday.
The grand jury action is considered a major development in the ongoing controversy that has enveloped the Christie administration for months. What began as a preliminary inquiry into whether federal laws might have been “implicated” has morphed into a deepening criminal probe to determine whether federal laws have actually been broken.
And really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since these revelations on Friday, the developments have grown even more alarming.
David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official at the center of the George Washington Bridge lane-closings scandal, spent several days meeting with federal prosecutors in Newark last week, according to a report posted online by a Washington-based publication that says it covers “insider news” about the U.S. Department of Justice.
The publication, called “Main Justice,” is also reporting that Charlie McKenna, former chief legal counsel to Gov. Chris Christie, met secretly in mid-January with investigators in the office of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.
Esquire’s Scott Raab had a related report on Wildstein cooperating with federal prosecutor’s office, which has reportedly added to the number of attorneys working on this case.
If Christie thinks his own lawyers freeing him of responsibility “ended” the scandal, he’s going to be awfully disappointed. Look for more on this on tonight’s show.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 7, 2014
Suspending Preschoolers?: Troubling Pattern Of Zero-Tolerance School Policies That Disproportionately Impact Minority Students
There’s nothing especially surprising about the notion that some kids will get into trouble and face school suspensions. But the fact that in the United States, thousands of preschoolers get suspended, and the pattern disproportionately affects African-American children, is very surprising, indeed.
A staggering new report released by the Department of Education and the Justice Department on Friday highlights a troubling pattern of zero-tolerance school discipline policies that disproportionately impact minority students in general, but also trickle down to the nation’s youngest students.
Overzealous enforcement of school discipline policies and all of the negative outcomes associated with them are often framed around older children and middle and high school students, but the government’s report shows just how deeply the disparities extend.
The entirety of the report is online here.
“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this morning. “In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed.”
Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, told the AP, “I think most people would be shocked that those numbers would be true in preschool, because we think of 4- and 5-years-olds as being innocent.”
“Shocked” is certainly the right word. Trymaine Lee’s report included this remarkable statistic: “While black children represent only 18% of preschool enrollment nationally, they make up 42% of students suspended once and nearly half of students who are suspended more than once.”
Let’s also not overlook the consequences of such punitive measures.
Jamelle Bouie had a good piece on this.
Suspensions lead to more absences, as students become disconnected from the school. In one study of 180,000 Florida students, researchers found that just one suspension in ninth grade can drastically reduce a student’s chance of graduating in four years. What’s more – compared to their white peers – black teenagers are more likely to be stopped by the police and arrested for drug possession, despite similar rates of drug use.
When you put all of this together, you have a world where African American youth – boys and girls – have vastly higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison…. In other words, we have a status quo that’s nearly designed to deliver the worst outcomes to African American students.
Good for Duncan and the Department of Education for shining a light on the problem. Now it’s time for educators to address these policies in practical, sensible ways.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 22, 2014
“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