I read with some amusement Philip Rucker’s WaPo profile of the new, improved Rick Perry. The outgoing governor of Texas wants us all to know that he won’t make the same mistakes in this presidential cycle as in the last, and that he intends to project an image that’s distant from the strutting tear-the-head-off-the-donkey ferocity that excited conservative activists in 2011 before he disgusted them with his talk of compassion for the children of undocumented immigrants.
Unsurprisingly, Perry’s proto-message for 2016 will focus on his “economic miracle” claim, based on the exciting new idea of growing the economy by whorishly giving “investors” any damn thing they want. But as I have myself observed over the years, the trouble with encouraging governors to hang out with extremely rich people in the guise of “economic development” is that they start wondering Why ain’t I as rich as my new friends? And so we read this:
After Republican Greg Abbott is sworn in as governor on Jan. 20, Perry’s immediate priority will be to make serious money, something he has never done. He is considering writing a memoir — how a Boy Scout from Paint Creek became governor and presided over “the Texas miracle” economic boom — as well as giving paid speeches and serving on corporate boards, his advisers say.
So even as he’s sitting there with his tongue lolling out, trying to convince a political reporter he’s rough and ready to leap into a contest that’s already begun, Perry admits he’s going to have to take a little detour to lift himself and his family into the economic stratosphere. For a guy who hasn’t shaken two indictments just yet, he’s awfully confident he can run for president while becoming filthy rich, without engaging in any conflicts of interest or perhaps making voters wonder if he’s just in it for the dough.
Something tells me Ted Cruz is going to eat Perry’s lunch as the candidate of feral Texas conservatives while Perry’s trying to “make serious money” and convince people he’s not as stupid as he sometimes sounded four years ago.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 9, 2014
“A Relic Of Frontier Barbarism:” The Case Of Scott Panetti — And The True Meaning Of ‘Cruel And Unusual’
So what does “cruel and unusual” mean?
I once asked that of a law professor. The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment, but I figured there had to be some technical definition I, as a layperson, was missing. I mean, from where I sit, it’s pretty “cruel and unusual” to execute someone, but to judge from the 1,392 executions of the last 38 years, that isn’t the case.
Scott Panetti almost became number 1,393 last week, but within hours of his scheduled lethal injection, he was reprieved by a federal judge. The court said it needs more time to consider the issues his case raises.
In a rational place, it would not be news that Panetti was not killed. In a rational place, they would understand that state-sanctioned execution is a relic of frontier barbarism that leaves us all wet with the blood of the damned. In a rational place, they would say there’s something especially repugnant about applying that grisly sanction to the mentally ill, like Panetti.
But Panetti doesn’t live in a rational place. He lives in America. Worse, he lives in Texas.
They love their executions in Rick Perry’s kingdom. Since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an advocacy group, that state has killed almost 520 people. That’s nearly five times more than the next bloodiest state, Oklahoma, with 111.
There is no question Panetti deserves punishment. In 1992, he shot his estranged wife’s parents to death as she and the couple’s daughter looked on. He held them both hostage before releasing them unharmed.
But there is also no question that Panetti, 56, suffers from severe mental illness. At his trial, in which he was somehow, bizarrely, allowed to represent himself, he wore a purple cowboy suit with a 10-gallon hat and summoned a personality he called “Sarge” to explain what happened on the fateful day. His witness list included 200 people. Among them: John F. Kennedy, the pope, Anne Bancroft and Jesus Christ.
The state contends that Panetti, who was off his meds at the time of the killing, is faking it. During a 2004 hearing, the county sheriff called him “the best actor there is.” In its most recent filings, Texas accuses him of “grossly exaggerating” his symptoms.
If it’s an act, it’s been going on a long time. His attorneys say Panetti was diagnosed with schizophrenia 14 years before the shootings and was hospitalized 13 times between 1978 and 1991. Now a court decides on his life or death.
It’s a pregnant decision in a country where, apparently, it isn’t “cruel and unusual” to preside, as Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton did, over the execution of a man so profoundly impaired that he saved the pie from his last meal to eat later. Or to let a man gasp and snort for almost two hours as a lethal injection very slowly killed him, as happened in Arizona. Or to set a man on fire, as has happened at least twice in Florida’s electric chair. Or to execute people for crimes committed when they were children. Or to send innocent people to death row. Or to choose whom to execute based on color of killer, color of victim, gender, geography and class.
So what, exactly, might be too cruel and unusual for us to allow? The professor could not answer. Which, of course, is an answer.
As flawed and broken as our system of death is, we continue to embrace the puritanical morality of eye for eye and blood for blood. Most of the western world has left this savagery behind, but we insist on it, leaving us isolated from our national peers, those nations whose values are most like ours, but looming large among the outlaw likes of Somalia and Iran.
Now we are debating whether to kill a man so addled he tried to subpoena Jesus. And that leads to a conclusion as painful as it is unavoidable:
What’s “cruel and unusual” is us.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, December 8, 2014
For supporters of voting restrictions, opposition to voter-ID laws seems practically inexplicable. After all, they argue, having an ID is a common part of modern American life, and if these laws prevent fraud, the requirements deserve broad support.
We know, of course, that the fraud argument is baseless, but it’s often overlooked how difficult getting proper identification – never before necessary to cast a ballot in the United States – can be in practice. To that end the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU published a report this week on “stories from actual voters” in Texas who are facing disenfranchisement for no good reason. Emily Badger flagged one especially striking example:
Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver’s license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.
He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver’s license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas’s new photo ID requirement.
One person was prohibited from voting because his driver’s license ”was taken away from him in connection with a DUI.” Another Texan discovered he’d need a replacement birth certificate and a new ID, which required a series of procedural steps and a $30 fee he’d struggle to afford.
To hear opponents of voting rights tell it, voter-ID laws sound simple and easy. The practical reality is obviously far different – and in all likelihood, the laws’ proponents know this and don’t care. Indeed, a federal district court recently concluded that Texas’ law was designed specifically to discriminate against minority communities.
Under the circumstances, it seems hard to deny that we’re talking about a policy of modern-day poll taxes.
Jonathan Chait’s recent take of the larger dynamic summarized the issue perfectly.
During the Obama era … [Republicans] have passed laws requiring photo identification, forcing prospective voters who lack them, who are disproportionately Democratic and nonwhite, to undergo the extra time and inconvenience of acquiring them. They have likewise fought to reduce early voting hours on nights and weekends, thereby making it harder for wage workers and single parents, who have less flexibility at work and in their child care, to cast a ballot.
The effect of all these policies is identical to a poll tax…. It imposes burdens of money and time upon prospective voters, which are more easily borne by the rich and middle-class, thereby weeding out less motivated voters. Voting restrictions are usually enacted by Republican-controlled states with close political balances, where the small reduction in turnout it produces among Democratic-leaning constituencies is potentially decisive in a close race.
The simple logic of supply and demand suggests that if you raise the cost of a good, the demand for it will fall. Requiring voters to spend time and money obtaining new papers and cards as a condition of voting will axiomatically lead to fewer of them voting.
There is ample reason to believe that for Republican opponents of voting rights, this is a feature, not a bug. For all the rhetoric about “voting integrity” and imaginary claims about the scourge of systemic “voter fraud,” the underlying goal is to discourage participation, and in the process, improve GOP candidates’ odds of success.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 30, 2014
The Supreme Court’s weirdly busy October brings to mind an old Cadillac commercial showing a sedan gliding silently down the highway, driver calm and confident in a hermetic, leather-appointed cabin, while the announcer intones, “quietly doing things very well.” Whether the justices are doing their jobs well depends on your point of view. But there is no disputing that they have been doing their most consequential work in uncharacteristic silence in recent weeks. The justices’ moves on gay marriage, abortion and voting rights have been delivered all but wordlessly, as Dahlia Lithwick of Slate recounts. The notable exception to the rule is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the justice who refused to hold her tongue over the weekend, when six of her colleagues permitted Texas to enforce its new photo identification law in the November elections.
The Court’s announcement came down at the ungodly hour of 5am on Saturday. It followed a federal district court decision on October 9th that the Texas law was discriminatory in both intent and effect and “constitutes a poll tax”—a ruling that was stayed by the Fifth Circuit Court on October 11th. The stay prompted an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court via Antonin Scalia, the justice assigned to the Fifth Circuit. The six justices who denied the request to lift the stay before dawn on October 18th were mum as to why; they released no reasoning for the decision, which effectively gives Texas’s questionable voter law a pass. But Justice Ginsburg and her clerks apparently ordered pizza and downed some Red Bull on Friday evening, pulling an all-nighter to compose a six-page dissent, which Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined. (Rick Hasen asks why Justice Stephen Breyer, the fourth liberal justice, did not sign on to the dissent; one strong possibility is that he was asleep.)
Octogenarian Supreme Court justices are not known for burning the midnight oil, but Justice Ginsburg had an unusually good reason to do so in Veasey v Perry. The Texas law she opposed is a transparent attempt to help Republican candidates by keeping racial minorities, who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, home on Election Day. In the words of the trial judge, the law “creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” Justice Ginsburg’s wee-hours dissent drew on the district court’s ruling to issue a scathing rebuke to the Fifth Circuit and, by implication, to the six justices who refused to lift the Fifth Circuit’s stay. “In light of the ‘seismic demographic shift’ in Texas between 2000 and 2010, making Texas a ‘majority-minority state,’ ” Justice Ginsburg wrote, “the District Court observed that the Texas Legislature and Governor had an evident incentive to ‘gain partisan advantage by suppressing’ the ‘votes of African-Americans and Latinos.’ ”
Justice Ginsburg also criticised the law’s defenders who claim it is necessary to fight voter fraud: “Texas did not begin to demonstrate that the Bill’s discriminatory features were necessary to prevent fraud or to increase public confidence in the electoral process.” The upshot is disturbing: by refusing to act, the Supreme Court majority is allowing a law to take effect that “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.”
What was the majority’s reasoning for deferring to the Fifth Circuit, and by extension to Rick Perry, the governor of Texas? We don’t know; they didn’t tell us. The rationale probably has to do with Purcell v Gonzalez, a 2006 case in which the Court decided that courts should be wary of changing voting rules too close to an election. But Purcell does not lay down an ironclad rule against last-minute changes. And as Rick Hasen writes, “[i]t appears to be unprecedented to let a law that was deemed racially discriminatory go into effect simply to avoid the risk of voter confusion and election administration inefficiency.” If the six justices voting to let Texas law take effect thought that voter confusion was more worrisome than racial discrimination, they should have put that reasoning down on paper.
John Rawls, an influential political philosopher who died in 2002, described the Supreme Court as an “exemplar of public reason”, a tribunal that accounts for its decisions with reasoned reference to the laws and traditions of the country. “It is the only branch of government,” Mr Rawls wrote, “that is visibly on its face the creature of that reason and of that reason alone”:
To say that the court is the exemplar of public reason also means that it is the task of the justices to try to develop and express in their reasoned opinions the best interpretation of the constitution they can, using their knowledge of what the constitution and constitutional precedents require.
Echoing Kant, for whom the “publicity” of public decisions is a key component of a constitutional republic and is, indeed, the “transcendental principle of public right”, Rawls insisted that “the court’s role…is part of the publicity of reason” to which citizens should enjoy full and unfettered access. Normally the justices acquit themselves quite well in this regard: they spend months drafting and polishing lengthy opinions in argued cases, and they release their decisions to be consumed, interpreted and scrutinised by everybody. But this month, by keeping their reasoning close their robes on several big decisions, the justices are falling down on their duty to share what they are thinking.
Six justices allowing Texas to enforce a voter-identification law that a federal judge had characterised, in a 147-page decision, as a racist poll tax—and to do so with pursed lips—is not merely rude. It is a breach of the Court’s legitimacy in a constitutional democracy. When the stakes are this high, all the justices should follow Justice Ginsburg’s lead and stay up all night to explain to America just what they are up to and why.
By: Steven Mazie, Democracy in America, The Economist, October 22, 2014
“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