“Two Tiered Discrimination”: Separate And Unequal Voting In Arizona And Kansas Are About Nullification And Voter Suppression
In its 2013 decision in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Arizona’s proof of citizenship law for voter registration violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
In 2004, Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, a stringent anti-immigration law that included provisions requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote and government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the proof of citizenship requirement, which it said violated the NVRA. Under the 1993 act, which drastically expanded voter access by allowing registration at public facilities like the DMV, those using a federal form to register to vote must affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are US citizens. Twenty-eight million people used that federal form to register to vote in 2008. Arizona’s law, the court concluded, violated the NVRA by requiring additional documentation, such as a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or tribal forms. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 7 percent of eligible voters “do not have ready access to the documents needed to prove citizenship.” The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling, finding that states like Arizona could not reject applicants who registered using the NVRA form.
Now Arizona and Kansas—which passed a similar proof-of-citizenship law in 2011—are arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision applies only to federal elections and that those who register using the federal form cannot vote in state and local elections. The two states have sued the Election Assistance Commission and are setting up a two-tiered system of voter registration, which could disenfranchise thousands of voters and infringe on state and federal law.
The tactics of Arizona and Kansas recall the days of segregation and the Supreme Court’s 1896 “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. “These dual registration systems have a really ugly racial history,” says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “They were set up after Reconstruction alongside poll taxes, literacy tests and all the other devices that were used to disenfranchise African-American voters.”
In the Jim Crow South, citizens often had to register multiple times, with different clerks, to be able to vote in state and federal elections. It was hard enough to register once in states like Mississippi, where only 6.7 percent of African-Americans were registered to vote before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And when the federal courts struck down a literacy test or a poll tax before 1965, states like Mississippi still retained them for state and local elections, thereby preventing African-American voters from replacing those officials most responsible for upholding voter disenfranchisement laws.
The Voting Rights Act ended this dichotomy between federal and state elections by prohibiting racial discrimination in voting in all elections. Section 5 of the Act, which the Supreme Court eviscerated earlier this year in Shelby County v. Holder, prevented states with the worst history of voting discrimination—like Mississippi—from instituting new disenfranchisement schemes. It was Section 5 that blocked Mississippi from implementing a two-tiered system of voter registration following the passage of the NVRA in 1993, which the state claimed applied only to federal elections. (A similar plan was stopped in Illinois under state court.) Arizona—another state previously subject to Section 5 based on a long history of discrimination against Hispanic voters and other language minority groups—is making virtually the same rejected argument as Mississippi in the 1990s, but, thanks to the Roberts Court, no longer has to seek federal approval to make the voting change. The revival of the dual registration scheme is yet another reason why Congress should revive Section 5.
The proposed two-tiered system of voting and the harmfulness of proof-of-citizenship laws warrant legal scrutiny. Over 30,000 voters were prevented from registering in Arizona after its proof-of-citizenship law passed in 2004. In Kansas, 17,000 voters have been blocked from registering this year, a third of all registration applicants, because the DMV doesn’t transfer citizenship documents to election officials. The ACLU has vowed to sue Kansas if the state continues its noncompliance with state and federal law.
Proof-of-citizenship laws and the new two-tiered voting scheme are the brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has done more than just about anyone to stir up fears about the manufactured threat of voter fraud. As the author of Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law and Mitt Romney’s nonsensical “self deportation” immigration plan, he’s fused anti-immigrant hysteria with voter-fraud paranoia. Kobach helped the American Legislative Exchange Council draft model legislation for proof of citizenship laws based on Arizona’s bill, which were adopted in three states—Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee—following the 2010 election.
To justify his state’s new voting restrictions (Kansas also has a strict voter ID law), Kobach told The Huffington Post, “We identified 15 aliens registered to vote,” but he seems unconcerned that 17,000 eligible Kansans have been prevented from registering. Moreover, there’s no evidence these fifteen alleged non-citizens actually voted—just as there’s no evidence that dead people are voting in Kansas, another erroneous claim from Kobach. As Brad Friedman noted, Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah wrote last year that Kobach “has a way of lying” about the threat of voter fraud.
Kobach claimed in 2011 that sixty-seven non-citizens had illegally registered, out of 1.7 million on the state’s voter rolls, but he “was unable to identify a single instance of a non-citizen illegally casting a vote, or any successful prosecution for voter fraud in the state,” according to the Brennan Center. As I’ve asked before, why would a non-citizen, who presumably is in the United States to work, risk deportation and imprisonment in order to cast a ballot? Kobach once suggested in a radio interview that perhaps their coyote was paying them to vote, which defies all logic.
There’s also no evidence that using the NVRA’s federal form to register leads to higher incidents of voter fraud. “Nobody has ever been prosecuted for using the federal form to register to vote as a non-citizen,” Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, told me earlier this year.
In reality, the two-tiered system of registration being set up in Arizona and Kansas has less to do with stopping voter registration fraud, which as shown is a very rare problem in both states, and more to do with “nullifying” federal laws that Republicans don’t like, such as Obamacare. There’s symmetry between shutting down the government and creating separate and unequal systems of voter registration. It’s a strategy that dates back to Jim Crow, when fierce segregationists like John Calhoun of South Carolina tried to prevent the federal government from taxing the Confederacy and Southern Democrats instituted a policy of “massive resistance” to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling desegregating public schools.
Wrote Sam Tanenhaus in “Why Republicans Are The Party of White People”:
When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun’s ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.
The Confederates and Dixiecrats of yesteryear are the Republicans of today.
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, October 15, 2013
“Shunning People Away”: Kansas Secretary Of State Kris Kobach’s Bold New Plan To Keep People From Voting
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has become a national figure by advising other states on how to implement anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures, has come up with a new creative way to make it harder for Kansans to vote: barring those who register to vote with a federal form from casting ballots in state elections.
Back in June, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona elections law that required those registering to vote to show proof of citizenship beyond what is required by federal voter registration forms. In Kansas, Kobach has been struggling to deal with the implementation of a similar proof-of-citizenship law, which has left the voting status of at least 12,000 Kansans in limbo.
These voters, many of whom registered with the federal “motor voter” form at the DMV, were supposed to have their citizenship information automatically updated, a process that was delayed by a computer glitch. Kobach then suggested that these 12,000 voters be forced to cast provisional ballots – a suggestion that the state elections board rejected.
Now, the Lawrence Journal-World reports, Kobach has a new idea to deal with the problem that he created. The paper reports that Kobach is considering a plan to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision in the Arizona case by creating two classes of voters. Under this plan, those who register with a federal form would be allowed to vote only in federal elections until they produced the state-required citizenship documents. Those who meet the state registration requirements would then be allowed to vote in state-level elections.
In Kansas, a new state law requires proof of citizenship to register to vote.
Kobach, a Republican who pushed for that law, said he is considering a proposed rule change that would allow those who use the federal form to register to vote to be allowed to vote in federal elections, such as presidential and congressional contests. The federal voter registration form does not require proof of citizenship documents, but includes a signed sworn statement that the individual is a U.S. citizen.
But those people would not be allowed to vote in state elections, such as contests for governor, other statewide offices and the Legislature.
Those who register to vote by providing proof of citizenship will be able to vote in both federal and state elections under the proposal.
Voting rights advocates in the state are understandably skeptical:
Dolores Furtado, president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said she would strongly oppose such a plan.
“It won’t work,” Furtado said. “When we can’t handle registrations, the process of applications and processing registrations, how are we going to separate ballots?” she said. “This is creating a problem. Whenever we make things complex, people shun away.”
When the elections board rejected his provisional ballots plan, Kobach was taken aback, saying that those who register to vote with the motor voter form aren’t likely to vote anyway, so disenfranchising 12,000 of them wasn’t “a major problem.” That seems to be his justification for the two classes of voter plan as well. According to the World-Journal, “Kobach said few Kansans register to vote using the federal form, so it shouldn’t affect too many voters.”
By: Miranda Blue, Right Wing Watch, August 2, 2013
“Nullification, Symbolism Over Substance”: How States Are Making It A Felony To Enforce Federal Gun Laws
In mid-April, Kansas passed a law asserting that federal gun regulations do not apply to guns made and owned in Kansas. Under the law, Kansans could manufacture and sell semi-automatic weapons in-state without a federal license or any federal oversight.
Kansas’ “Second Amendment Protection Act” backs up its states’ rights claims with a penalty aimed at federal agents: When dealing with “Made in Kansas” guns, any attempt to enforce federal law is now a felony. Bills similar to Kansas’ law have been introduced in at least 37 other states. An even broader bill is on the desk of Alaska governor Sean Parnell. That bill would exempt any gun owned by an Alaskan from federal regulation. In Missouri, a bill declaring federal gun laws “null and void” passed by an overwhelming majority in the state House, and is headed for debate in the Senate.
Mobilizing the pre-Civil War doctrine of “nullification,” these bills assert that Congress has overstepped its ability to regulate guns — and that states, not the Supreme Court, have the ultimate authority to decide whether a law is Constitutional or not.
The head of the Kansas’s State Rifle Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, says she put the bill together and found it a sponsor. While the NRA regularly lauds passages of states’ gun-rights laws, it stayed silent on Kansas’ law, and, so far, has kept a low profile on nullification. (The group did not respond to our requests for comment.)
Many observers see nullification bills as pure political theater, “the ultimate triumph of symbolism over substance,” as UCLA law Professor Adam Winkler put it. He said he doubts the laws will ever be enforced, and, if they are, expects them to be struck down by the courts.
Winkler and others say nullification laws violate the Constitution, which makes federal law “the supreme law of the land…anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Indeed, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter last week to Kansas governor Sam Brownback, asserting that Kansas’ law is “unconstitutional.” (Brownback, who signed the bill into law, did not immediately respond to our requests for comment.)
But the growing number of such bills — which have passed by large majorities in at least one chamber of seven state legislatures–highlight the challenge gun control advocates face in their attempt to fight for gun regulation at the state level.
It also shows how nullification is fast becoming a mainstream option for state politicians. In Pennsylvania, 76 state legislators signed on to sponsor a measure that would invalidate any new federal ban of certain weapons or ammunition. The bill would impose a minimum penalty of one year in prison for federal agents who attempt to enforce any new law.
Supporters of nullification are not simply frustrated at what they see as congressional and presidential overreach. During a hearing about one of the nullification bills she had introduced, Tennessee state senator Mae Beavers called the Supreme Court a “dictatorship.”
“You think that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of any of these laws. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it was ever granted the authority under the Constitution,” Beavers was quoted as saying in The Tennessean. (Reached by phone, she asked to comment later, then did not respond to further requests.)
The Supreme Court rejected nullification in 1958, after Southern states tried to use the concept to avoid desegregating public schools. “No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his solemn oath to support it,” the Court ruled.
Winkler, the UCLA law professor, said that even though the nullification trend was likely to be ineffectual, “It represents a strong, powerful opposition to our government.”
The concept of nullification has had a resurgence since the beginning of President Obama’s administration. More than a dozen states have introduced bills to nullify Obamacare.
The Tenth Amendment Center, a group that advocates nullification as the solution to a range of policy issues, from marijuana legalization to Obamacare, publishes model gun nullification language. The center has little direct contact with state legislators, Michael Boldin, the center’s founder, said.
The roots of guns law nullification trace back nearly a decade.
In 2004, Montana gun rights activist Gary Marbut drafted a bill stating that any guns manufactured and retained in Montana are not part of interstate commerce, and thus are exempt from federal regulation. The bill failed twice, but it became law in 2009 after Republicans took control of the state House. By Marbut’s count, at least eight states soon enacted “clones” of the Montana law. (Those laws don’t go quite as far as the more recent nullification legislation. For instance, most of them don’t make it a crime to enforce federal law.)
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms responded to the earlier laws with letters to local firearms dealers explaining that federal laws and regulations “continue to apply.”
The day the Montana law went into effect, Marbut filed a lawsuit in federal court asserting the right to manufacture weapons in the state without a federal license. The suit, now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, has been backed by a large group of supporters, including Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Goldwater Institute, and a group of nine attorneys general, some of them from states that had passed their own versions of the Montana law.
Representatives of Goldwater and the Cato Institute said they see the case as not primarily about guns. Instead, they say, it’s meant to persuade the Supreme Court to roll back the Congress’ power to regulate commerce within a state.
“The likelihood of victory is low,” said Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies.
The latest set of bills — including Kansas’ new law —represent a far broader and more aggressive challenge to federal law. Even conservative organizations have been skeptical of the trend.
“A state law that criminalizes federal activity — I would oppose that as both imprudent and wrong,” Burrus said. The Cato Institute’s chairman wrote an op-ed recently arguing this kind of nullification is invalid.
Goldwater Institute’s Nick Dranias, a Constitutional expert, said the term “nullification” is sometimes applied to legitimate attempts to exert state sovereignty, “and sometimes it is essentially lawless civil disobedience.”
States should only pass laws challenging federal power “when there is a reasonable legal argument for sustaining them,” he said. And the penalty for enforcing federal law in “hard cases” should be “a misdemeanor at most.”
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, released a “fact sheet” last year titled “Nullification: Unlawful and Unconstitutional.” (The fact sheet does not address guns in particular.)
The Montana activist who helped inspire the nullification movement in Kansas is also a bit skeptical. While he simply chose to challenge the federal government’s commerce power, Kansas is “bucking federal power more generally,” he said.
“I think, maybe tactically, they may have gone a little further than they needed to,” Marbut said.
Though he supports the principles behind the Kansas law, “I don’t know how much of that they can uphold when it gets to the courts.”
But Marbut hopes that the rapid spread of gun law nullification bills across the country will encourage the Supreme Court to hear his case.
“I see the tide moving our way,” Marbut said. “I think the Supreme Court has figured out that the people of America are gathering their torches and pitchforks and it’s time to settle things down by reeling in the federal giant.”
A spokeswoman for Alaska’s Parnell, who has not either approved or vetoed the state’s nullification bill, said last month that “he is supportive of it.” But, she added, “The bill (as with all bills that pass) is currently undergoing a thorough review by the Department of Law.”
In Kansas, Patricia Stoneking, the president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, said she was recommending that Kansans not start manufacturing guns under the new law until its legal status has been clarified.
Even if Kansas’ law ends up being struck down in court, “We actually are not going to roll over and play dead and say, ‘Oh, no, shame on us,’” Stoneking said. “The fight will not be over.”
By: Lois Beckett, ProPublica, May 3, 2013
Every Saturday morning, President Obama releases a weekly address, issued over the air and on radio, followed by an official Republican response. Ordinarily, they’re intended to reinforce the parties’ message of the week, or push some new initiative, and they’re not especially newsworthy.
But this week’s GOP address, delivered by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), struck me as more interesting than most.
National party leaders selected Brownback so that he could tout Kansas’ new tax policies, which Republicans apparently now consider a model for the nation. The governor specifically called his tax agenda an example of “ideas that work.”
“They involve a more focused government that costs less. A taxing structure that encourages growth. An education system that produces measurable results. And a renewed focus on the incredible dignity of each and every person, no matter who they are.”
The next question, of course, is, “Ideas that work for whom?”
Brownback’s initial approach to tax reform was ludicrously regressive — sharply reducing tax rates for the wealthy, while punishing the poor. For his next phase of “tax reform,” the Kansas governor, with the help of a Kansas GOP legislature that’s been purged of moderates, intends to eliminate the state income tax altogether, while making matters even worse for families that are already struggling by raising sales taxes, eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, and scrapping tax credits for things like food and child care.
Remember to keep the larger context in mind: Brownback’s agenda is awful for Kansas, but Republican Party officials at the national level chose the governor to deliver their weekly address, not just because they heartily endorse his tax policies, but because they want to see them implemented elsewhere. Indeed, with a debate over tax reform on the horizon, GOP leaders in Washington are sending a not-so-subtle signal: Brownback’s regressive vision is the kind of plan they have in mind.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 8, 2013
Republicans have a problem. For years they could shout down any attempt to point out the extent to which their policies favored the elite over the poor and the middle class; all they had to do was yell “Class warfare!” and Democrats scurried away. In the 2012 election, however, that didn’t work: the picture of the G.O.P. as the party of sneering plutocrats stuck, even as Democrats became more openly populist than they have been in decades.
As a result, prominent Republicans have begun acknowledging that their party needs to improve its image. But here’s the thing: Their proposals for a makeover all involve changing the sales pitch rather than the product. When it comes to substance, the G.O.P. is more committed than ever to policies that take from most Americans and give to a wealthy handful.
Consider, as a case in point, how a widely reported recent speech by Bobby Jindal the governor of Louisiana, compares with his actual policies.
Mr. Jindal posed the problem in a way that would, I believe, have been unthinkable for a leading Republican even a year ago. “We must not,” he declared, “be the party that simply protects the well off so they can keep their toys. We have to be the party that shows all Americans how they can thrive.” After a campaign in which Mitt Romney denounced any attempt to talk about class divisions as an “attack on success,” this represents a major rhetorical shift.
But Mr. Jindal didn’t offer any suggestions about how Republicans might demonstrate that they aren’t just about letting the rich keep their toys, other than claiming even more loudly that their policies are good for everyone.
Meanwhile, back in Louisiana Mr. Jindal is pushing a plan to eliminate the state’s income tax, which falls most heavily on the affluent, and make up for the lost revenue by raising sales taxes, which fall much more heavily on the poor and the middle class. The result would be big gains for the top 1 percent, substantial losses for the bottom 60 percent. Similar plans are being pushed by a number of other Republican governors as well.
Like the new acknowledgment that the perception of being the party of the rich is a problem, this represents a departure for the G.O.P. — but in the opposite direction. In the past, Republicans would justify tax cuts for the rich either by claiming that they would pay for themselves or by claiming that they could make up for lost revenue by cutting wasteful spending. But what we’re seeing now is open, explicit reverse Robin Hoodism: taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich. That is, even as Republicans look for a way to sound more sympathetic and less extreme, their actual policies are taking another sharp right turn.
Why is this happening? In particular, why is it happening now, just after an election in which the G.O.P. paid a price for its anti-populist stand?
Well, I don’t have a full answer, but I think it’s important to understand the extent to which leading Republicans live in an intellectual bubble. They get their news from Fox and other captive media, they get their policy analysis from billionaire-financed right-wing think tanks, and they’re often blissfully unaware both of contrary evidence and of how their positions sound to outsiders.
So when Mr. Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks, he wasn’t, in his own mind, saying anything outrageous or even controversial. He was just repeating a view that has become increasingly dominant inside the right-wing bubble, namely that a large and ever-growing proportion of Americans won’t take responsibility for their own lives and are mooching off the hard-working wealthy. Rising unemployment claims demonstrate laziness, not lack of jobs; rising disability claims represent malingering, not the real health problems of an aging work force.
And given that worldview, Republicans see it as entirely appropriate to cut taxes on the rich while making everyone else pay more.
Now, national politicians learned last year that this kind of talk plays badly with the public, so they’re trying to obscure their positions. Paul Ryan, for example, has lately made a transparently dishonest attempt to claim that when he spoke about “takers” living off the efforts of the “makers” — at one point he assigned 60 percent of Americans to the taker category — he wasn’t talking about people receiving Social Security and Medicare. (He was.)
But in deep red states like Louisiana or Kansas, Republicans are much freer to act on their beliefs — which means moving strongly to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted.
Which brings me back to Mr. Jindal, who declared in his speech that “we are a populist party.” No, you aren’t. You’re a party that holds a large proportion of Americans in contempt. And the public may have figured that out.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 27, 2013