Today, August 26, marks Women’s Equality Day. It is also a little more than two months from the 2014 midterm elections. In my mind, these two things are inextricably linked.
Some of you may be asking, “What is Women’s Equality Day?” That’s a pretty easy question to answer. Every year since 1971, the President of the United States marks August 26 in commemoration of the day in 1920 that the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution — granting women equal voting rights — was certified into law.
Women fought long and hard for the right to vote. In 1848, the document produced by the Seneca Falls Convention was the first formal demand for women’s suffrage. During World War I, suffragists picketed the White House — possibly the first “cause” to do so. Many were arrested and participated in a hunger strike while in prison, leading to force feedings.
But not all women obtained access to the ballot box when the 19th amendment entered the law books. In the southern United States, Jim Crow laws kept most black women and men from voting. It wasn’t until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that the right to vote was extended to all adult citizens.
Sadly, the clock is turning back on voting rights. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, relieving dozens of state and local jurisdictions from having to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice. They have wasted no time erecting new barriers against voting. In state after state, GOP-dominated legislatures have enacted new rules aimed at suppressing the votes of specific types of people: younger voters, immigrant citizens, voters of color and unmarried women.
The specific voter suppression laws vary from state to state. The most restrictive states require voters to present a government issued photo ID (a driver’s license, a passport, military ID, etc.); currently, 34 states have voter ID laws, and 15 of those states require photo ID.
The voter-suppression crowd argues that requiring a photo ID for voting is not onerous. It’s just a driver’s license, and you have to have that to drive, or get on a plane, or buy alcohol. Besides, they say, we need photo IDs to prevent voter fraud.
Here’s why that’s all wrong: (1) Voter fraud is all but non-existent in the U.S., and photo ID doesn’t address the very few instances that have been found. (2) Just a reminder for anyone who wasn’t paying attention in middle school, voting is not like driving, buying alcohol or traveling by plane. Voting is a constitutional right and essential to the democratic process. (3) The notion that a photo ID is simply something everyone has presumes all eligible voters have the right paperwork (or the money to get the right paperwork, like a birth certificate), transportation to get to their local DMV, and the ability to take time off work to make the trip.
So, if there is no real voter fraud to worry about, what’s the real goal of voter suppression measures? Well, it turns out that the majority of voting-eligible people in the U.S. disagree with the right wing’s anti-woman, anti-social justice, anti-union agenda. Seven in ten Americans support Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. A majority support labor unions, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work. And 62-63 percent support comprehensive immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship.
The reality is, if enough voters actually turn out for this November’s elections, we could elect candidates who support our issues and turn our country around. Does anyone doubt that the folks trying to suppress our votes are hearing footsteps?
I’ve always been proud of NOW’s position as the grassroots arm of the women’s movement. Our activists and members throughout the country are already doing the hard work on the ground — knocking on doors, making calls, educating and mobilizing voters — to get the word out about how high the stakes are this year. Want to get in on the action? Join me and take NOW’s pledge to vote on November 4th.
The right to vote is precious. Our feminist foremothers were beaten, arrested, went on hunger strikes and endured force-feeding for that right. Our sisters and brothers in the civil rights movement were beaten, jailed and murdered for registering Black voters. This year, let’s honor our proud history by voting in such large numbers that even the most dishonest, most cowardly suppression efforts can’t stop us!
By: Terry O’Neil, President, National Organization for Women; The Huffington Post Blog, August 26, 2014
“What The Republicans Failed To Accomplish”: Vital Tasks The House Did Not Address Before Taking An Unnecessary Recess
Many House members were at the airport yesterday, desperate to begin their five-week vacation, when the chamber’s leadership called them back. An emergency bill to provide money for the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border had earlier been pulled from the floor because of objections from the hard right; now some Republicans wanted to try again.
“You can’t go home!” Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas said, according to the Washington Post. That would send a terrible message to President Obama: “You’re right, we’re a do-nothing Congress.”
Sorry, congressman. That message had already been broadcast long before the House tripped over its own divisions on the border bill. The failure of this Congress (principally the House) to perform the most basic tasks of governing is breathtakingly broad. Though members did manage to pass a bill overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs, here is a catalog of the vital tasks the House was unable to accomplish before taking an unnecessary recess:
- Passing a full slate of appropriations bills for the 2015 fiscal year, or a continuing resolution to keep the government open past Sept. 30.
- Passing a long-term transportation bill. (The one approved this week expires in 10 months, and is full of gimmicks made necessary by the failure to raise the gas tax.)
- Passing comprehensive immigration reform.
- Renewing the Export-Import Bank and terrorism risk insurance.
- Raising the minimum wage.
- Extending unemployment insurance.
- Passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help ensure that women are paid equally to men.
- Fixing the Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by the Supreme Court.
- Passing any form of legislation to impose background checks on gun buyers.
- Passing any long-term legislation to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
But there is one thing House Republicans did enthusiastically before packing their bags: They voted to sue the president for taking executive actions they disliked — actions that were necessary because Republicans failed to do their jobs.
By: David Firestone, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, August 1, 2014
Relax. This is not a slippery slope.
So Justices Samuel Alito writing for the majority and Anthony Kennedy writing in concurrence, take pains to assure us in the wake of the Supreme Court’s latest disastrous decision. The same august tribunal that gutted the Voting Rights Act and opened the doors for unlimited money from unknown sources to flood the political arena now strikes its latest blow against reason and individual rights.
By the 5-4 margin that has become an all-too-familiar hallmark of a sharply divided court in sharply divided times, justices ruled Monday that “closely held” corporations (i.e., those more than half owned by five people or fewer) may refuse, out of “sincerely held” religious beliefs, to provide certain contraceptive options to female employees as part of their health-care package. The lead plaintiff was Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores based in Oklahoma and owned by the Green family, whose Christian faith compels them to pay employees well above minimum wage, play religious music in their stores, close on Sundays and donate a portion of their profits to charity.
Unfortunately for their employees’ reproductive options, that faith also compels them to object to four contraceptive measures (two IUDs, two “morning-after” pills) that they equate with abortion. Most gynecologists will tell you that’s a false equation, but Alito said that wasn’t the point.
Rather, the point was whether Hobby Lobby was sincere in its mistaken belief. That it was, the court decided, meant that the Affordable Care Act provision requiring Hobby Lobby to provide the disputed contraceptive measures violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prevents government from doing anything that “burdens” the free exercise of religion.
Apparently we now have greater solicitude for the feelings of corporate “persons” than for the health of actual persons. This ruling places women’s reproductive options at the discretion of their employers, which is awful enough. But it has troubling implications beyond that.
Not to worry, writes Alito, this ruling is “very specific.” Not to fret, concurs Kennedy, this is not a ruling of “breadth and sweep.” Let no one be mollified by these assurances.
Under the court’s logic, after all, it’s difficult to see why a corporation owned by a family of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t deny blood transfusions to its workers. Or why one owned by conservative Muslims can’t deny employment to women. Or why one owned by evangelical Christians can’t deny service to gay men and lesbians.
This is not just hypothetical. In the last decade, we’ve seen Christian pharmacists claim faith as a reason for refusing to fill — and in some cases, confiscating — contraceptive prescriptions. We’ve seen Muslim cabbies use the same “logic” in declining to serve passengers carrying alcohol.
What is the difference between that outrageous behavior and Hobby Lobby’s? By what reasoning is the one protected, but the others are not? It is telling that Alito and Kennedy are virtually silent on this question.
Apparently, it’s a narrow ruling because they say it’s a narrow ruling. Apparently, we are simply to trust them on that. But even if you could take them at their word, this would be a frightening decision, the imposition of religion masquerading as freedom of religion. And the thing is: You can’t take them at their word.
So here we stand: a corporate “person” celebrating a dubious victory as millions of actual persons wonder if they’ll have birth control tomorrow. Or be denied a prescription, a job, a wedding cake.
Not a slippery slope? They’re right. This is a San Francisco sidewalk coated with ice, slicked with oil and littered with banana peels. God help us.
And look out below.
By: Leonard Pitts, Columnist forThe Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 2, 2014
“Unaccountable Power”: Thanks To The Roberts Court, Corporations Have More Constitutional Rights Than Actual People
The big media talk a lot about stalemate in Congress, but they are missing the real story. While representative democracy is dysfunctional, the Supreme Court has taken over with its own reactionary power grab. In case after case, the court’s right-wing majority is making its own law—expanding the power of corporations and the very wealthy, while making it harder for ordinary citizens to fight back.
Worst of all, the Roberts Court is trying to permanently inhibit the federal government’s ability to help people cope with the country’s vast social and economic disorders.
This is not a theoretical complaint. Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative Republican Court is building a barbed wire fence around the federal government—creating constitutional obstacles to progressive legislation in ways that resemble the Supreme Court’s notorious Lochner decision of 1905. That case held that property rights prevail over people and the common good.
For more than thirty years, the conservative Justices used that twisted precedent to invalidate more than 200 state and federal laws on major social and economic concerns like child labor, the minimum wage, bank regulation and union organizing. New Deal reformers were stymied by Lochner at first, and they only managed to overturn it in 1937 and only then when FDR mobilized a take-no-prisoners campaign to reform the Supreme Court by weakening its unaccountable power.
The Roberts Court has so far produced a slew of precedent-smashing decisions designed to hobble left-liberal reform movements before they can gain political traction. Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate money; McCutcheon scrapped the dollar limits on fat-cat donors. Roberts gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, implicitly endorsing the GOP’s crude campaign to block racial minorities from voting. The US Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable have won numerous victories, large and small, expanding the rights of their corporate sponsors.
“We are in an era of very aggressive corporate litigation to expand the constitutional prerogatives of business,” Kent Greenfield, Boston College law professor, explained. “We are on the verge of going back to the Lochner era where every new regulation will be subject to numerous constitutional attacks—any regulation of content in commercial speech attacked on First Amendment grounds, anti-discrimination law or healthcare legislation attacked on religious grounds. You’ll see financial legislation challenged on due-process grounds.”
Despite his genteel manner, Justice Roberts is a “smart strategist” who plants provocative phrases in his decisions that he can cite later as false precedents, according to Law Professor Gregory Magarian of Washington University in St. Louis. “Roberts tells a story that sounds like they are not making radical change,” Magarain said. “But they are still making things up, still making up social policy. And the judgments are still pointed toward the past.”
Anxious Democrats applauded Roberts when he upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare, but many realized after-the-fact that Roberts rejected the Commerce Clause of the Constitution as the standard basis for justifying federal interventions on social and economic problems. This means the Supreme Court now has a five-vote majority in favor of shrinking federal authority. In effect, the Roberts Court was mimicking the narrow logic of the Lochner court 100 year before. The words and reasoning are there, just waiting for the right case to apply them.
Magarian sees a reactionary perspective motivating Roberts and his brethren. The Justices are trying to thwart a future of renewed activism and social rebellion, Magarian suspects, because they were rattled by political unrest they saw in their youth.
“The Court believes that corporate power is virtuous,” Magarian explained. “They are empowering corporations to help maintain a kind of political stability. The First Amendment in the view of the Roberts Court is not about people at the political margins. I think the Roberts Court wants to empower large, stable, wealthy and powerful institutions like the corporation so as to help maintain political and social order. These guys don’t want any social upheaval. They are like interesting echoes of the sixties.”
In the absence of aggressive political resistance, there is nothing to prevent this right-wing power grab from succeeding. But corporations are vulnerable in numerous ways that timid Democrats have not exploited. To stop the Roberts Court, the other side must get serious and begin to attack corporate power and air grievances that the public fully shares.
The corporation, after all, is not a “person” who possesses “inalienable rights.” The corporation is a legal artifice created by the government and given special protections and privileges. When the Supreme Court treats corporations as though they are living, breathing creatures who have constitutional rights just like human beings, they are embracing the fundamental contradiction in the nature of the corporation. Sometimes, they want to be people. Other times, they want to be treated better than people—that is, legally shielded from the consequences of their actions.
Companies and their owners want to have it both ways. The Roberts Court is helping them do so. The Hobby Lobby case now before the Supreme Court illustrates this contradiction. On one hand, the company’s conservative owners claim their religious rights under the First Amendment are violated when the federal government insists they include birth control coverage in their healthcare plans. If Roberts buys that argument, any employer can dream up religious values that exempt it for almost any regulatory law they choose.
On the other hand, the Hobby Lobby owners are not about to surrender their own “limited liability” protection from lawsuits against the company or criminal liability for the company’s violations of law or its failure to pay its debts. You can’t sue the shareholders for wrongful actions by their company. That is a cornerstone of American capitalism. It is also a principal source of corporate irresponsibility.
What we need now is a ferocious counterattack against these corporate owners—a campaign that demands they surrender these special privileges the government has given them. Why protect shareholders from blame when they claim the same constitutional rights—free speech, freedom of religion—that people possess? Human beings are held responsible for their debts, they go to prison for their crimes. Perhaps the owners of corporations should be made to take responsibility for theirs.
A similar contradiction is embedded in the Roberts Court decisions that have effectively destroyed the laws on campaign finance. The billionaires and their mammoth companies, banks and investment houses have been granted unlimited power to influence elections or, as we might say, buy the candidates. The Supreme Court has unilaterally unhinged the standard meaning of elections. Elections are no longer collective decisions among citizens choosing their governors. They have become bidding wars among fat cats and powerful economic interests, choosing representatives for the rest of us and thereby choosing our laws.
“We don’t let people stand up and shout in town meetings and drown out everyone else,” Greenfield observed. “When we come to elections where we make collective decisions, an equality norm comes into play, especially when the money comes from corporations. Corporations are creatures of the state; their purpose is not to affect the state and change. A reasonable thing to say to corporations is we are not going to let you skew the political process that created you.”
Magarian expands the point. “The limited liability corporation,” he observed, “owes its form and existence to a particular act of government, then the corporation turns around and says, ‘We are going to use our advantages and leverage them to influence the political process.’ Given the advantages corporations gain from government largesse and protections, the society should not have to suffer the loss of its influence. We want to sever their corporate influence from the decisions we the people make about economic questions.”
“In the long view,” Greenfield said, “we are in this bind because of the nature of corporations, not the nature of constitutional law. Over the last generation, the rise of shareholder primacy has meant that managers manage the company to maximize the share price. Willing to serve Wall Street, the corporation has really become the tool for the 1 percent. We need to rethink the nature of corporations. Rather than be a servant of a tiny sliver of the American people, the corporation should have a much more robust public obligation and should be managed in a more pluralistic way.”
Meanwhile, angry citizens do not need to wait on reform. They should get out their pitchforks and spread the message to those corporate lawyers who are corrupting democracy and to those cloistered right-wing justices who have such great solicitude for the privileged minority.
By: William Greider, The Nation, May 20, 2014
In case you were wondering if Rand Paul’s three-day revolt against the War on Voting his party is waging was either stimulating or might reflect a moment of glasnost on the subject, MSNBC’s Zachary Roth has some cold, cold water for you:
Paul’s walk-back is the inevitable result of some much larger trends. It’s not just that polls show voter ID remains popular—though that’s undoubtedly affecting the picture. More important is the GOP’s strategy for winning elections. For all the talk about the need to court Hispanics, the reality is that the easiest short-term path to victory for Republicans is to double-down on their advantage white voters, and work to make the electorate as white as possible. That means restrictions on voting—which hit blacks and Hispanics hardest—are likely to be a page in the party’s playbook for a while.
It’s no coincidence that some of the most important presidential swing states—Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and North Carolina—have been the sites of the fiercest voting rights battles. Republicans know that without most of those states, they could be shut out of the White House for decades.
Nor is it a surprise that the list of Paul’s potential rivals for the nomination includes Republicans, like Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich, who have led the way in blocking access to the ballot. Not a single GOPer in the 2016 conversation has opposed voter ID—including Paul.
The Republican National Lawyers Association—the closest thing there is to an official GOP position on voting issues—is certainly showing no signs of retreating. Not only does the group defend voter ID as zealously as ever—it even opposes a recent recommendation from a bipartisan presidential commission to expand early voting.
The GOP’s approach to the Voting Rights Act is even more revealing about the direction it’s heading. In 2006, the overwhelming majority of Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats to reauthorize the landmark civil rights law. But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican, has so far failed to get party leaders to sign on to legislation to fix the law after it was weakened by the Supreme Court last year—even though it contains a special carve-out for voter ID, designed to win GOP support.
I would add that despite all the talk (abating lately) of Republicans needing to change positions, strategy and tactics to look less hostile to minority voters, you almost never hear Republicans admitting that hostility to voting rights is part of their problem. That may have been Rand Paul’s most important heresy: even bringing the subject up. Bet that won’t happen again.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 15, 2014