“Vulnerability Of The Vote”: Insurance Against Racial Suppression Should Not Be On A Backwards Slide
An odd scene unfolded in Washington on Wednesday: as the president and leaders of Congress were dedicating a statue to Rosa Parks, the lifelong activist whose defiance on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus helped spark the Civil Rights Movement, across the street the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on one of the signature piece of civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act.
Specifically, the court heard the case of Shelby County v. Holder, in which that Alabama county seeks to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965. That section requires states — and some municipalities — to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department or the District of Columbia federal court before making any changes to voting laws.
The fundamental question is whether states that have a history of voter suppression should forever have to live with the legacy of that past.
The problem with the law, in my mind, is that it should be expanded rather than struck down.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University maintains that “Section 5 is an essential and proven tool.” According to the center:
“Although progress has been made since the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, voting discrimination still persists. Between 1982 and 2006 (when Congress overwhelmingly renewed the law), the Voting Rights Act blocked more than 1,000 proposed discriminatory voting changes. Without Section 5’s protection, these changes would have gone into effect and harmed minority voters.”
The center calls the passage of the Voting Rights Act “a reflection of the promise of our Constitution that all Americans would truly have the right to vote without facing discrimination, poll taxes, and other abuses,” and I wholeheartedly agree with that point of view.
The problem that the law may run into is that it’s too narrow.
In a 2009 ruling questioning the constitutionality of Section 5, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote:
“The evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance. The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions. For example, the racial gap in voter registration and turnout is lower in the States originally covered by Section 5 than it is nationwide.”
If the Voting Rights Act covered all states and not just some, Justice Roberts’s argument would be null. In fact, there is growing evidence that such a national requirement would be prudent. Many of the states that sought to install voter suppression laws leading up to last year’s election were in fact not covered by Section 5.
Roberts hammered this point home Wednesday during oral arguments, asking, “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?”
Seven of the nine states covered by Section 5 are in the south (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia). The other two states are Arizona and Alaska. Some counties and townships are covered in other states.
The Southern states that Section 5 applies to span the Black Belt of the south, a region with the most glaring electoral abuses in the 1960s.
A November Pew Research Center report points out the obvious: blacks were the largest minority group in 1960, but that is no longer the case.
According to the report, blacks were 11 percent of the population, while Hispanics were 3.5 percent and Asians were .6 percent. Since then, the demographics of the country have changed dramatically. According to Pew, in 2011 blacks were 12 percent of the population, while Hispanics were 17 percent and Asians were 5 percent. And the numbers are projected to change even more. By 2050 Pew estimates that blacks will be only 13 percent of the population, while Hispanics will be 29 percent and Asians 9 percent.
To boot, Hispanics and Asians geographically dispersed differently than blacks.
We not only need to keep Section 5 in place, we also need to consider expanding it so that every voter has fair and equal access to the ballot. There are hurdles to achieving this goal, of course. The court might also find that it’s unconstitutional to broaden that section of the law, deeming it too onerous and an infringement on states’ rights — particularly those states that don’t have a demonstrable, endemic, systematic history of discrimination.
Still, it’s worth some thought.
During oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia went so far as to call Section 5 the “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” (That guy…) It’s not a racial entitlement, sir, but insurance against racial suppression.
In the president’s remarks at the statue dedication, he rightfully hedged his words. Instead of saying that because of people like Parks our children grow up in a land that is free and fair and true to its founding creed, he said that because of them it is “more free and more fair; a land truer to its founding creed.” (Emphasis mine.)
We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet, and the last thing we want or need now is to slide backward.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 27, 2013
As a statue paying tribute to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was unveiled in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, which will decide the Constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that bears Ms. Parks’ name.
Section 5 of the VRA requires election officials in selected states and regions, mostly in the South, to pre-clear any changes to voting laws. This provision has been called the “cornerstone of civil rights law” in America.
“Is it the government’s submission that citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?” asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said no.
Roberts noted that Massachusetts had the lowest turnout rate of black voters while Mississippi had the highest. He and all of the conservative justices on the court expressed skepticism of the continued relevance of a law that was originally intended to be an emergency accommodation.
The Voting Rights Act was renewed for 25 years by a Republican Congress and signed by George W. Bush in 2006. But right-wing organizations and donors have waged a two-decade campaign to destroy Section 5.
The law was deemed Constitutional in 1999, before Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito joined the Court. Justice Clarence Thomas has previously called Section 5 unconstitutional and Justice Antonin Scalia’s antipathy to the law was clear to all in attendance.
Scalia called Section 5 a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” and suggested that Congress could never be convinced to let the law lapse. “They’re going to lose votes if they vote against the Voting Rights Act. Even the name is wonderful.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor twice asked Scalia, “Do you think Section 5 was voted for because it was a racial entitlement?” He did not answer either time.
Experts believe that Justice Anthony Kennedy will be the deciding vote on the case. He appeared extremely troubled by the idea of pre-clearance, saying it put some states under the ”trusteeship of the United States government.”
“Times change,” Kennedy said at one point.
“Kennedy asked hard questions — that’s his job,” Myrna Perez, a senior counsel with the Brennan Center, told the Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent. “But the questions didn’t signal the law’s demise.”
Verrilli pointed out that jurisdictions can “bail out” of the pre-clearance requirement once they’ve demonstrated a 10-year discrimination-free record — nearly 250 of the 12,000 state, county and local governments covered by the law have bailed out.
Justice Elena Kagan noted that the covered jurisdictions hold 25 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 56 percent of voting-rights lawsuits.
Sotomayor asked Bert Rein, the lawyer representing Shelby County, Alabama, ”Why would we vote in favor of your county, whose enforcement record is the epitome of the reasons that cause this law to be passed in the first place?”
In his brief, Rein argued that conditions that made the law necessary no longer exist.
The Nation‘s Ari Berman, who was at the hearing, noted that the rash of legislative attempts to restrict voting rights since 2010, which he’s called the “GOP’s War on Voting,” never came up during the arguments.
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, February 27, 2013
They’re willing to give him a pass on the first time, but if Chief Justice John Roberts swears in President Barack Obama this time around, the birthers are ready for him.
In an op-ed published last week by WND, Craige McMillan says Roberts could be impeached by Congress if he swears in the president, whom McMillan says is not a natural-born citizen.
From McMillan’s op-ed:
If you choose the easy course of ignoring our Constitution, it does not change the fact that Mr. Obama is barred by that same Constitution from acting as president. I am sure that if you turn your judicial mind to the ramifications of this fraud, both foreign and domestic, you will understand that the harm you will have done insures your impeachment and eternal dishonor at some point down the road: If not this House of Representatives, then the next, or the next, or the next.
These things do not end well. One need only look to the aftermath of World War II and the Nuremberg Trials to see what awaits. Illegal wars. Illegal debts. Illegal laws. Will the rest of the Supreme Court’s justices, now knowing they are violating their own oath of office, continue the sham through a second presidential term?
The rant, first brought to our attention by The Huffington Post, goes on to urge Roberts to refuse to administer the oath of office.
But The National Memo, a political newsletter and website, is not having it.
In an op-ed called “Today In Crazy,” the publication writes “the reliably unhinged crazies over at WorldNetDaily” are just being melodramatic.
From The National Memo:
“Too bad this particular trip to Batty Birtherville, despite its darkly turgid undertones, is about as legitimate as all the others. It’s the same old song and dance… they demand to see the birth certificate. They are shown the birth certificate. They claim birth certificate can’t be real. Then they start shrieking that he “refuses” to show the birth certificate. They are again shown the birth certificate. They’re then shown the birth announcement from the local Hawaii newspaper from 1961. So they scream louder, “WHERE’S THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE?” because the proof that it exists is overwhelming, and everyone knows that the louder you scream, the more right you are… even in the face of mounting and irrefutable proof that you’re wrong.”
By: Abby Rogers, Business Insider, January 10, 2013
A national poll released this week shows that in the wake of a number of blockbuster decisions, the Supreme Court can be a winning issue for progressives in 2012.
By big margins, Americans trust President Obama much more than they trust Mitt Romney to pick Supreme Court Justices, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday. The poll, which comes two weeks after the Supreme Court narrowly upheld President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, shows that the Supreme Court is the issue on which the president has the clearest and largest lead over Romney — 11 points among all voters and 12 points among independents.
Americans know judicial extremism when they see it, and are rejecting Romney’s promise to bring an already far-right Court even further out of the mainstream.
The current Supreme Court is, by a number of measures, the most conservative in decades. Under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative majority on the Court has struck down hard-won clean elections laws, made it more difficult for women to sue for equal pay, squashed class action suits, and consistently favored large corporations over individual citizens seeking justice. Even the Affordable Care Act decision, while undeniably a victory for the president and for individual Americans, was excruciatingly close and packed with regressive language on the scope of Congress’ powers. The fact is, under a more balanced Court, the decision would not have even been close.
Mitt Romney, however, has promised to bring the Court even further to the right if he is elected president. Romney sent a clear signal to the far right when he chose former Judge Robert Bork to head his judicial advisory team. Bork, whose own Supreme Court nomination was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the Senate in 1987, has for decades set the standard for far-right judicial extremism. His outspoken extremism on everything from workers’ rights to censorship is detailed in People For the American Way’s recent report, “Borking America.”
Last week, Romney moved his position on Supreme Court appointments even further to the right. While the candidate had previously held up Chief Justice Roberts as a model for the type of Supreme Court Justice he would appoint, Romney changed his mind after Roberts voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Declaring one of the most conservative Justices in Supreme Court history to be not conservative enough, Romney has signaled that he would usher in a new era of conservative judicial extremism. Americans can only guess at how many rights could be lost under a Romney Court.
These new polling numbers show that Americans aren’t buying the Tea Party’s — and Mitt Romney’s — skewed view of the Constitution. Emphasizing the importance of the courts and the impact the next president will have on them will be a winning issue for President Obama in 2012. As the close call in the Affordable Care Act case showed, every issue that voters care deeply about — from Wall Street reform to health care to LGBT rights to consumer safety to intentional discrimination in the workplace to the right to vote in future elections — will ultimately end up in the hands of a closely divided, enormously influential, Supreme Court.
In a speech Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden urged Americans: “Close your eyes and imagine what the Supreme Court will look like after four years of Gov. Romney. Imagine what it will act like. Imagine what it will mean for civil rights, voting rights, and for so much we have fought so hard for.”
Voters are beginning to imagine a Romney Court — and they’re rejecting what they see.
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, July 12, 2012
NPR legal reporter Nina Totenberg spoke to Bloomberg Law yesterday about the Supreme Court’s recent healthcare reform decision and the subsequent series of stories on the deliberations based on leaks to reporters from court insiders. She made this interesting observation:
“[The leaks] had the earmarks of somebody — somebody or two bodies — who are very angry. Now that’s not necessarily a justice. Could be a justice, could be a law clerk, could be a spouse of a justice.”
Totenberg goes on to say that of course she never tries to learn the identities of other reporters’ sources, but that’s still an interesting bit of … fairly specific speculation, there.
We already know her husband, Clarence Thomas, is an extraordinarily angry and bitter person, thanks to his memoir, “I Am Still an Incredibly Angry and Bitter Person on Account of That Time Anita Hill Told the Complete Truth About Me.” (And Clarence Thomas is apparently buddies with CBS’s Jan Crawford.) And Ginni made a living, for years, touring the nation telling everyone how awful and unconstitutional healthcare reform was, which means she was probably pretty upset when her husband told her John Roberts voted to kill liberty forever. She’s also known for having really poor impulse control, if her still-hilarious early Saturday morning voice mail for Anita Hill is any indication. So let’s all just assume she’s leaking everything, because she and her husband are so mad and crazy.
(Though Ginni Thomas is still doing video interviews in which she inexplicably doesn’t actually appear for Tucker Carlson’s “The Daily Carlson,” so why didn’t she leak to one of the Caller’s many fine reporters, like Mickey Kaus or the guy who says a black person probably stole his bike? She is an enigma!)
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 12