Pro-tip: When you win a big court case giving you the go-ahead to suppress voter turnout for your political opponents, don’t gloat about it.
That is surely one of the lessons in the remarkable news that the U.S. Department of Justice is challenging new voting-rights laws in Texas and elsewhere even after the Supreme Court ruling that eviscerated the part of the Voting Rights Act that the feds had relied on for decades to challenge voting restrictions. What made the ruling especially galling was the celebration that followed from Republicans in states, including Texas, who immediately vowed to proceed with voting restrictions that had been challenged under the now-undermined part of the VRA.
The alacrity with which Texas, North Carolina and other states have rushed to take advantage of the ruling seriously weakened the sober conservative argument, from Chief Justice John Roberts and others, that Southern states no longer needed to be singled out for special scrutiny because they had long since left their discriminatory ways behind. And it all but invited Attorney General Eric Holder to take this new step, to announce that his department would still do everything in its power to ensure fairness at the polls.
This will of course be decried as executive overreach and an assault on checks and balances, but the case for declaring it such would be much easier to make if Texas and other states hadn’t been so gleeful in their rush to capitalize on the ruling. Texas takes the cake for the speed of its response, but North Carolina surely takes the prize for sheer brazenness: The legislation making its way through Raleigh is so extreme that it earned even a tut-tut from arch-conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore. The legislation will not only add a strict Voter ID requirement by the polls, but reduce early voting days from 17 to 10 (early voting has been used disproportionately by African-Americans in the state), prohibit counties from extending polling hours in extraordinary circumstances, like unusually long lines, and eliminate provisional ballots for voters who show up at the wrong precinct, among other changes. A separate bill seeks to give a tax penalty to parents whose dependent children register to vote somewhere in the state other than where the parents reside, a nifty way to discourage voting by college students.
What impact would the changes have? My colleague Nate Cohn, who has generally warned against over-reaction on voter suppression measures, ran the numbers and found that the Voter ID provision alone could swing enough votes to win the state for Republicans in a close statewide election—and that’s not accounting for the early voting cutbacks and other changes. The New York Times has declared North Carolina “first in voter suppression,” a judgment quoted approvingly by election-law expert Rick Hasen, also not one prone to overstatement.
Holder is now, essentially, using the giddy brazenness of the voting-restriction push in these states to justify federal challenges even in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. Under the “pre-clearance” provision in Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was eviscerated by the ruling, a whole swath of states and municipalities, mostly in the South, had to submit voting law changes to the feds for approval as a matter of course. Holder is now threatening to use a different part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 3, which allows the federal government to demand pre-clearance rights by “bail-in.” As the Times puts it, if “the department can show that given jurisdictions have committed constitutional violations, federal courts may impose federal oversight on those places in a piecemeal fashion.” In other words, if the states’ recent track record on voting rights is sufficiently egregious, they may still need federal approval.
That is not to say, though, that the Supreme Court ruling was not enormously consequential. It will be much harder for the federal government to press its case by the Section 3 route. And whether the DOJ decides to make the effort to move against states will depend even more on which party holds the White House. As South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley boasted when I saw her on the stump in Greenville with Mitt Romney in early 2012, whereas the Obama administration had challenged her state’s stringent new Voter ID law, “President Romney [will say] that’s our right.”
By: Alec MacGillis, Senior Editor, The New Republic, July 26, 2013
“Public Ninth Amendment Fund?”: Ohio PAC, “We’re Buying George Zimmerman A New Gun And We Need Your Help”
The Buckeye Firearms Association, an Ohio-based political action committee, has issued a startling statement in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial: “We’re buying ZIMMERMAN a NEW GUN – We need your help.”
The PAC is in fact not just buying Zimmerman a new gun, but asking the public for donations — “$100 … $50 … $25 … even just $10” – to fund the replacement of his “firearm, holster, and other gear.”
The statement even reminds readers that Zimmerman – who stood trial for the fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida – has “no current source of income.”
And last week, conservative author Brad Thor used Twitter to say that he would buy Zimmerman a new gun and “as much ammunition as he wants.”
The offers come after both Thor and the pro-gun group expressed their disagreement with the Department of Justice’s decision to put a hold on all evidence in the case, including the gun that he used to kill Martin, until it can determine whether or not to charge Zimmerman with violating Martin’s civil rights.
The Buckeye Firearms Foundation has now established what it calls the “Zimmerman Second Amendment Fund,” arguing that the fund is “about more than mere principle. …Gun owners must stand together and refuse to allow an injustice like this to go unanswered.”
The article also adds: “Zimmerman and his family now face daily threats on their lives. More than ever, he has a right to defend himself against those who would seek to do him harm.”
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “Public Ninth Amendment Fund” to protect those of us who have to share the streets with a gun-toting murderer while still being told we have the right to life.
By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, July 22, 2013
President Obama’s approval rating is up slightly and his popularity steady, but both the Republican Party and the Tea Party still have negative perception with voters, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday.
Only 32 percent of Americans have a positive perception of the GOP, with 41 percent negative, a net of -9. The Tea Party’s perception is up slightly since January of 2013 but only 26 percent report having a positive perception of the right-wing movement while 38 percent feel negatively, a net of -12. The number of Americans identifying with the Tea Party is up 4 percent to 24 but the share that says they’re not — 65 percent — has increased by one percent.
The IRS’s singling out of Tea Party groups that applied for non-profit “social welfare” status has renewed interest in the Tea Party movement. Earlier this year Republican strategist and fundraiser Karl Rove had created a new organization designed especially to hedge against Tea Partiers who could threaten safe seats by defeating establishment candidates in primaries. Since then, Republicans seem to have re-embraced the movement, using the IRS investigation to raise money and attack the president.
President Obama has a net positive of +7, which is unchanged since April, and his approval rating is slightly above water at 48/47, up from 47/48 a month ago.
The swirling accusations of scandal have slightly lowered the president’s reputation for truthfulness. Majorities say that the State Department’s handling of Benghazi, the Department of Justice’s handling of investigations of reports and the IRS’s focus on Tea Party groups raise doubts about the Obama administration.
The public supports investigations into these matters, saying they’re legitimate, not partisan, by a margin of 8 percent
But the public doesn’t seem to think the president is facing an unusually troubling time. In August of 2011, during the debt limit crisis, a majority said that the president was facing a “longer-term setback” that would be difficult to recover from. Now only 43 percent say the same in this poll. A total of 55 percent say that things are likely to get better or that the president is “not facing a setback.”
The share of Americans who identify with the Republican Party continues to decline with only 21 percent identifying with the GOP.
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, June 5, 2013
The fact that former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden decided to go public with his grievances against the U.S. government is certainly brave and bold.
People can and will accuse Snowden of many things. But no one will ever accuse him of not having the guts to stand up for what he believes.
Whether or not Snowden should be regarded as a “hero” for exposing what he believes is horrible intelligence gathering abuse by the U.S. government, however–as some are already suggesting he should be–remains to be seen.
Snowden has certainly made some startling claims about the scope of the U.S. intelligence and surveillance programs.
Most notably, Snowden claims that, as a 29 year-old security contractor, he had both the legal authority and the technological ability to “wiretap anyone — from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President.“
If that’s true, that is indeed very startling.
Snowden also claims that the National Security Agency now intercepts and records almost all global communications, and that these recorded communications can be easily accessed:
“…the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested [by the NSA] without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
Now, the NSA–or FBI, DOJ, or even your local police department–have always been able to get access to all of this information for U.S. citizens, provided they have a warrant from a judge allowing them to do so and provided you or your service providers have retained these records. But what seems new, based on Snowden’s description, is that the government is now maintaining its own records of all this information and, if I understand Snowden correctly, can now access and use any of it without a warrant.
If that’s true, it’s certainly worth asking whether we really want the government to be able to do that. It’s also worth asking whether the the government really does have the legal authority to do that–or whether it has gone way beyond what the lawmakers intended.
But, I, for one, would like some confirmation that what Snowden is saying is true before I denounce the government.
And some of the other things that Snowden has said have certainly made me wonder whether he isn’t just viewing all this from a perspective that mainstream Americans might consider, well, extreme.
Asked why he decided to leak classified information to the media, for example, Snowden said the following:
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
Asked whether surveillance might help deter or prevent terrorism, Snowden appeared to suggest that we shouldn’t pay so much attention to terrorism:
“We have to decide why terrorism is a new threat. There has always been terrorism. Boston was a criminal act. It was not about surveillance but good, old-fashioned police work. The police are very good at what they do.”
Asked whether he sees himself as “another Bradley Manning,” the U.S. Army private who sent a boatload of classified U.S. documents to Wikileaks, Snowden expressed nothing but admiration for Manning:
“Manning was a classic whistleblower. He was inspired by the public good.”
To address these statements in reverse order…
Bradley Manning may have been “inspired by” his own personal view of the “public good.” But, personally, I’m not convinced that what Bradley Manning did was actually good for the public. I don’t think it was terrible for the public. And it was certainly interesting to read some of those diplomatic communications. But I didn’t see anything in them that made me think they were so important that they were worth Manning breaking the law and risking a lifetime in jail to make them public.
(And, for what it’s worth, I do think that some things should be classified.)
I also confess that I am happy that there has not been another 9/11 since 9/11, and I wish the FBI had stopped the deranged Tsarnaev brothers before they allegedly killed four innocent people in Boston and maimed a few dozen others. I understand that the authorities will never be able to eliminate terrorism entirely, but I am glad that they’ve limited it as much as they have.
And, lastly, although I don’t relish the thought of having the government intercept and record all of my communications, I want to find out whether it’s actually true that the government is doing this before I freak out about it. Also, because I am not a terrorist, because this country has a well-developed legal system, and because I do not instinctively regard all government employees as evil power-hungry scumbags, I would also like to believe that, even if the government is recording all of my communications, this won’t necessarily wreck my life.
All of which is to say…
I’m not yet ready to pronounce Edward Snowden a “hero.”
I understand that he means well.
And I understand that he may think he’s a hero.
But he hasn’t persuaded me of that yet.
By: Henry Blodget, Business Insider, June 9, 2013
“Legally Challenged”: Judge Allows Florida Voter Purge To Move Forward Despite Federal Law Forbidding It
Federal Judge Robert Hinkle rejected the Justice Department’s request for a temporary order suspending Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) effort to purge tens of thousands of names from his state’s voter roles. According to the AP, Judge Hinkle relied on highly questionable reasoningin order to do so:
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit earlier this month to halt the purge, saying it was going on too close to a federal election. U.S. officials also said the list used by Florida had “critical imperfections, which lead to errors that harm and confuse voters.”
Hinkle in ruling from the bench said federal laws are designed to block states from removing eligible voters close to an election. He said they are not designed to block voters who should have never been allowed to cast ballots in the first place.
If this AP report is accurate, then Judge Hinkle is simply wrong. Here is the text of the federal law at issue in this case:
A State shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.
Although the law does include exceptions for voters who ask to be removed, felons, the mentally incapacitated and dead voters, none of those exceptions apply to this case. The law says that no state may engage in a Florida-style voter purge seeking to remove ineligible voters within 90 days of an election. Period.
Judge Hinkle’s apparent decision is not simply wrong as a matter of statutory text, it also defies common sense. No state should ever purge eligible voters from its voter rolls for reasons that should be obvious. The purpose of the federal law preventing purges of ineligible voters within 90 days of an election is to avoid a situation where a state wrongly flags an eligible voter as someone who cannot lawfully vote without providing that voter enough time to demonstrate that the state made a mistake. Hinkle’s apparently misreads this law to suggest that Florida is perfectly free to kick legal voters off its voter rolls so long as it does so more than three months before an election.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, June 27, 2012