“Election Rigging, Culture War Edition”: Republicans Relying On Gerrymandering And Voter Suppression To Hold Onto Power
Republicans in Texas have managed to finagle a world in which a gun permit counts as proof of voter eligibility, but a student ID does not.
A divided Supreme Court handed a big defeat to the Obama administration and numerous civil rights groups early Saturday morning when it ruled that Texas can enforce its 2011 voter ID law in November that some have called the strictest in the country. Three justices dissented from the ruling that rejected an emergency request that had been filed by the Justice Department and civil rights groups.
The decision appears to mark “the first time since 1982 that the Court has allowed a law restricting voters’ rights to be enforced after a federal court had ruled it to be unconstitutional,” notes Scotus Blog’s Lyle Denniston. A federal judge had struck down the law last week, saying that some 600,000 voters—mostly black or Latino—would face difficulties at the polls due to a lack of proper identification. The law, which was approved in 2011 but only came in effect in 2013 lays out seven approved forms of identification—a list many have questioned for including concealed handgun licenses but not college IDs, notes the Associated Press.
Earlier this week Rachel Maddow called these tactics exactly what they are: cheating. There’s no sense in which a gun permit is a more reliable form of identification than a student ID, and no sense in which it’s constitutional or fair to require a person who tends to move every year or more and often depends on public transit, to have a current driver’s license in order to vote.
It’s election rigging, plain and simple, designed to give Republican and conservative voters the opportunity to vote while denying the franchise to traditionally more Democratic and progressive demographics.
But while these tactics are an outrage, they are in a sense a mark of desperation by the Right. They know that they can’t compete electorally, and that demographics work more and more against them with every election cycle. They see the handwriting on the wall, and unable to win the argument on policy, they rely on gerrymandering and vote suppression to hold onto power for just a few more years.
A slim extremist majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is helping to enable these tactics, but it won’t serve them for long. Democrats have gotten very good at voter turnout operations, and it won’t be long before demographic pressures overwhelm the ability of conservatives to win elections by suppressing and slicing away a few percentages here and there. It simply delays the inevitable.
By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 19, 2014
“A Purposefully Discriminatory Law”: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Pens Scathing Dissent On Texas Voter ID Law
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a six-page dissent early Saturday morning, blasting the court’s decision to allow Texas to use its new voter ID law in the November elections. She was joined in the dissent by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.
“In any event, there is little risk that the District Court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral process,” she wrote. “Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years (from 2003 to 2013) and in five federal general elections.”
Ginsburg argued that the Fifth Circuit was remiss to ignore the findings of a full trial in district court, which found that the law was “enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would yield a prohibited disriminatory result.”
District Court Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos struck down the law earlier this month on the grounds that it would serve as a deterrent to a large number of registered voters, most of them black or Hispanic. “Based on the testimony and numerous statistical analyses provided at trial, this Court finds that approximately 608,470 registered voters in Texas, representing approximately 4.5% of all registered voters, lack qualified SB 14 ID and of these, 534,512 voters do not qualify for a disability exemption,” Gonzalez Ramos wrote.
Ginsburg echoed these findings in her dissent, though Texas officials dispute these figures. “The potential magnitude of racially discriminatory voter disenfranchisement counseled hesitation before disturbing the District Court’s findings and final judgment,” Ginsburg wrote. “Senate Bill 14 may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification. A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.”
Ginsburg pointedly added that “racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”
By: Braden Goyette, The Huffington Post Blog, October 18, 2014
The poll tax is looking pretty tempting in the rear-view mirror. It was $1.50 in 1964, when the 24th Amendment outlawed it as a requirement for voting in federal elections. Adjusted for inflation, the tax would be less than $12 today. That makes it a lot cheaper — and infinitely easier — than getting hold of exactly the right documentation to cast a ballot under some state laws.
The recent wave of rulings and opinions on voter ID laws makes for depressing, at times infuriating, reading. There is the parade of “practical obstacles” summarized by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, writing on the Wisconsin law. Trying to learn what you need, collecting the documents, getting to and standing on line at one or more state offices that are open only during business hours, and perhaps having to deal with multiple other state and federal agencies to address discrepancies — just skimming the list will make your stomach clench and your head ache. It’s a major undertaking for a high-income, highly educated person with flexible work hours and access to public officials. It’s prohibitive in multiple ways for others.
There are the calculated choices majority Republicans made in Texas about what kinds of ID to accept and reject. They said yes to gun permits and military IDs and didn’t mess with absentee ballots — all ways to “broaden Anglo voting,” U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos wrote. They rejected student IDs, state government employee IDs and federal IDs, all “disproportionately held by African-Americans and Hispanics.”
There is the barrier of cost, addressed in an opinion on the Wisconsin law by Judge Richard Posner, a conservative named by Ronald Reagan to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He cited a Harvard Law School report that found the cost of documentation, travel and waiting time to get an ID to be $75 to $175. That’s 50 to 100 times more than that $1.50 poll tax, and all you’d have to do is pay at the polling station before voting.
The poll tax, in many cases applied selectively and used to discriminate, had no place in a democracy. Yet how different was it from the hurdles placed in the path of so many voters today?
These burdens, and possibly even the outcome of a close race or two, hang in the balance as the courts whipsaw back and forth in the weeks before the Nov. 4 election. Ramos blocked the Texas law last week, she was reversed by a three-judge appeals panel this week, and the next day the Supreme Court was asked to again block the law from taking effect. The Wisconsin law went through a similar judicial rollercoaster before the Supreme Court last week said it could not go forward this year.
Posner’s dissent in the Wisconsin case is memorable for personal asides that inject bracing reminders of the real world, and an overall scathing tone. His 11-page appendix, for instance, is called “Scrounging for your birth certificate in Wisconsin.” All 11 pages are required forms and instructions on how to fill them out.
“Scrounge” was the Seventh Circuit panel’s verb of choice in its short-lived ruling to let the law take effect. The panel referred disapprovingly to people “unwilling to invest the necessary time” to “scrounge up a birth certificate and stand in line at the office that issues driver’s licenses.” To which Posner responded that “the author of this dissenting opinion” — that would be him — “has never seen his birth certificate and does not know how he would go about ‘scrounging’ it up. Nor does he enjoy waiting in line at motor vehicle bureaus.”
Posner wrote that since voter-impersonation fraud is virtually non-existent, the only motivation for such requirements is “to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.” He uses charts to show that of the nine states with the strictest ID requirements, eight laws were passed by all-GOP legislatures and seven of the eight also had GOP governors.
The morality of all this is bad enough — we’re talking about voting, for Pete’s sake, the bedrock of the republic, a right people died to win. But the voter ID fad also reveals flawed political strategy. It courts backlash, in the form of higher minority turnout. And it will make it harder to repair relations with the affected groups when demographic reality takes hold and the GOP needs their votes.
If the Supreme Court decides to rule on the merits of voter ID laws, let’s hope it acts with more dispatch than it did on poll taxes. The taxes were declared constitutional in 1937. It was not until 1966, two years after the 24th Amendment banning them in federal elections, that the high court ruled them unconstitutional in all elections. We don’t need 29 years to know that voter suppression is wrong.
By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, October 16, 2014
“A Much More Difficult Response”: Should The Democrats Abandon Hope Of Getting Relief From Voter Suppression In The Courts?
Yesterday there were two rulings on voting rights cases, both of which were decided in favor of the liberal side of the argument. But don’t get too excited. I hate to be an eternal pessimist on this issue, but neither case is likely to turn out the way liberals and Democrats want. In fact, we’re almost at the point where — until the current makeup of the Supreme Court changes — liberals should keep themselves from ever thinking the courts are going to stop Republican efforts at voter suppression.
I’ll get to the consequences of that in a moment, but first let’s look at the two cases yesterday. The first was in Texas, where a federal judge struck down the state’s voter ID law. In refreshingly blunt language, the judge called the law an “unconstitutional poll tax,” and said that the legislators who passed it “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.” Which is absolutely true, but that doesn’t mean the ruling is going to be upheld by a Supreme Court that has made it clear that they have little problem with almost any restrictions on voting rights.
But what about the Wisconsin case? There, the Supreme Court halted the implementation of a voter ID law yesterday, so doesn’t that mean they’re open to striking down voter ID laws? Not really. Ian Millhiser explains:
Although the Supreme Court’s order does not explain why the Court halted the law, a short dissenting opinion by Justice Samuel Alito provides a window into the Court’s reasoning. Alito begins his dissent by admitting that “[t]here is a colorable basis for the Court’s decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election.” In a 2006 case called Purcell v. Gonzalez, the Supreme Court explained that judges should be reluctant to issue orders affecting a state’s election law as an election approaches. “Court orders affecting elections,” according to Purcell, “can themselves result in voter confusion and consequent incentive to remain away from the polls. As an election draws closer, that risk will increase.” It is likely that the six justices who agreed to halt the Wisconsin law relied on Purcell in reaching this decision.
Just the other day, the Court allowed a North Carolina voter suppression law to go forward, but in that case the law had already been implemented. And that’s why we shouldn’t be encouraged by the Wisconsin ruling: it doesn’t imply that the Court believes these restrictions are unconstitutional, only that it would be a mess to have them take effect just a few weeks before the election. It’s a narrow question of election procedure.
It would be going too far to say that Democrats should just abandon all court challenges to these voting laws. You never know what might happen—by the time the next major case reaches the Supreme Court, one of the five conservatives could have retired. But the only real response is the much more difficult one: a sustained, state-by-state campaign to counter voting suppression laws by registering as many people as possible, helping them acquire the ID the state is demanding, and getting them to the polls. That’s incredibly hard, time-consuming, and resource-intensive work—much more so than filing lawsuits. But Democrats don’t have much choice.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 10, 2014
“Free Enterprise Groups”: How The Koch Brothers Helped Bring About The Law That Shut Texas Abortion Clinics
In Texas politics, abortion is front and center once again—and so is the role of so-called “free enterprise” groups in the quest for government control of women’s lives.
Yesterday, there were 21 abortion clinics available to the women of Texas, the second-largest state in the nation. Today, thanks to a decision handed down from a three-judge panel on the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, there are eight. But the story really begins with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, and the flow of money to anti-choice organizations from groups that profess to care only for the deregulation of industry and markets.
The closing of some 13 abortion clinics today in Texas hinges on a provision of the highly restrictive, anti-abortion bill passed in the state legislature in special session in 2013—the part of the law that requires clinics to comply with the building code standards for hospital-quality ambulatory surgical clinics, despite the assertion of nearly every credible medical association that such requirements are medically unnecessary.
In fact, the most significant effect of the facility requirements is to prevent women from obtaining safe abortions, since the clinics cannot not afford the alterations to their facilities demanded by the law. And given the state’s other restrictions on abortion—a mandatory and medically unnecessary sonogram, a 24-hour waiting period and a ban on abortions taking place 20 weeks post-fertilization—you’d be forgiven for thinking that most significant effect to be by design.
That aspect of the law, as well as others, were challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other pro-choice groups. In August, the groups won a reprieve from the requirement that clinics meet hospital building-code standards, as well as from another provision that requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius of the practice or clinic where they conduct the procedure. At that time, Judge Lee Yeakel of United States District Court in Austin ruled in the clinics’ favor.
Then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, appealed Yeakel’s ruling, yielding Wednesday’s ruling from the three-judge panel in a decision that was contemptuous of Yeakel’s decision, declaring him to have exceeded his judicial authority.
But even more astonishing in the 5th Circuit’s opinion is its assertion that the shuttering of most of the state’s abortion clinics will not place an undue burden—the standard set in the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—on women seeking abortions. According to the New York Times, some 5.4 million women of childbearing age live in the Lone Star State, which covers more than 268,000 square miles.
The ruling puts abortion politics front and center, once again, in the Texas gubernatorial race, just a month before Election Day. In truth, it’s the issue that’s provided the subtext of that race from the get-go, as the Democratic candidate, State Senator Wendy Davis, rose to national prominence for her fortitude in launching, on June 25, 2013, an 11-hour filibuster that temporarily forestalled passage of the law, as pro-choice demonstrators poured into the state capitol building. In his role as the state’s top lawyer, Abbott is charged with enforcing that law, and has done so with gusto
But, as I reported for RH Reality Check in November 2013, the rash of anti-abortion laws that flooded the agendas of state legislatures across the nation that summer were hardly the result of spontaneous uprisings; they were fueled with the dollars of such “free enterprise” groups as Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity, the Center to Protect Patient Rights and 60 Plus—all part of the fundraising network organized by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire principals of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States.
The brothers may care little about killing the right to choose, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hesitate to throw women under the bus if it helps them in their anti-regulatory, shrink-the-government crusade. Religious-right leaders, in recent years, theologized the free-market cause, providing the Kochs and their ilk with foot-soldiers willing to execute it, if only they could find their way to political power.
In the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which gave license to groups like those mentioned above to spend unlimited sums in elections without disclosing their donors, millions of free-enterprise dollars flowed to anti-choice groups and politicians. (In Texas, for example, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, the sponsor of the House version of the draconian 2013 abortion law, was also president of the state chapter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the influential right-leaning group, supported by the Kochs, that crafts legislation designed to cut regulations on corporations.) The Koch network money led to an unprecedented number of anti-choice politicians elected to state legislatures in 2010 and 2012.
With a month to go before voters hit the polls, Wendy Davis is gaining on Greg Abbott, but a recent poll still has her 9 points behind the Republican. He’s likely to enjoy a flood of outside spending on his behalf by the Koch-network groups.
Then there’s money in their respective campaign coffers. “In July, Abbott had $35.6 million on hand,” reports Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, “while Davis had $8.8 million.”
In Texas, as in much of the nation, it’s hard for a woman to catch a break.
By: Adele M. Stan, The American Prospect, October 3, 2014