“More Consequential And Far-Reaching”: Why The Supreme Court Should Be The Biggest Issue Of The 2016 Campaign
Supreme Court justice and pop culture icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg left the hospital yesterday after having a heart stent implanted and expects to be back at work Monday. Despite various health issues over the years, Ginsburg insists that she is still of sound body at age 81 (her mind isn’t in question) and has no plans to retire before the end of President Obama’s term to ensure a Democratic replacement. If she keeps to that pledge, and presuming there are no other retirements in the next two years, the makeup of the Supreme Court could be a bigger campaign issue in 2016 than ever before. It certainly ought to be.
Ordinarily, the Supreme Court is brought up almost as an afterthought in presidential campaigns. The potential for a swing in the court is used to motivate activists to volunteer and work hard, and the candidates usually have to answer a debate question or two about it, which they do in utterly predictable ways (“I’m just going to look for the best person for the job”). We don’t usually spend a great deal of time talking about what a change in the court is likely to mean. But the next president is highly likely to have the chance to engineer a swing in the court. The consequences for Americans’ lives will probably be more consequential and far-reaching than any other issue the candidates will be arguing about.
As much as we’ve debated Supreme Court cases in recent years, we haven’t given much attention to the idea of a shift in the court’s ideology because for so long the court has been essentially the same: divided 5-4, with conservatives having the advantage yet liberals winning the occasional significant victory when a swing justice moves to their side. And though a couple of recent confirmations have sparked controversy (Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor were both the target of failed attempts to derail their nominations), all of the retirements in the last three presidencies were of justices from the same general ideology as the sitting president. The last time a new justice was radically different from the outgoing one was when Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall — 23 years ago.
Whether a Democrat or a Republican wins in 2016, he or she may well have the chance to shift the court’s ideological balance. Ginsburg is the oldest justice at 81; Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are both 78, and Stephen Breyer is 76. If the right person is elected and the right justice retires, it could be an earthquake.
Consider this scenario: Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2017, and sometime later one of the conservative justices retires. Now there would be a liberal majority on the court, a complete transformation in its balance. A court that now consistently favors those with power, whether corporations or the government, would become much more likely to rule in favor of workers, criminal defendants and those with civil rights claims. Or alternately: The Republican nominee wins, and one of the liberal justices retires. With conservatives in control not by 5-4 but 6-3, there would be a cascade of even more conservative decisions. The overturning of Roe v. Wade would be just the beginning.
Look at what the Supreme Court has done recently. It gutted the Voting Rights Act, said that corporations could have religious beliefs, simultaneously upheld and hobbled the Affordable Care Act, struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act and moved toward legalizing same-sex marriage, all but outlawed affirmative action, gave corporations and wealthy individuals the ability to dominate elections and created an individual right to own guns — and that’s just in the last few years.
Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, there is probably no single issue you ought to be more concerned about in the 2016 campaign than what the court will look like after the next president gets the opportunity to make an appointment or two. The implications are enormous. It’s not too early to start considering them.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 28, 2014
“The GOP Won’t Stop Suppressing Our Votes”: Access To The Ballot Has Become A Feverishly Partisan Issue
For me, voting rights aren’t a partisan matter. They are a fundamental right that all adult citizens should enjoy without restriction. I don’t even think there should be such a thing as “getting out the vote” because I think all citizens should be required to participate, even if it is just to express their lack of endorsement for any candidates, initiatives, or referendums. People should get themselves to the polls and political parties should focus exclusively on winning over their support. That’s how I feel, but I recognize that access to the ballot has become a feverishly partisan issue. And, I wonder if restricting ballot access was actually successful enough in these midterms that it changed the outcome of some elections. Perhaps in North Carolina?
Voters in fourteen states faced new voting restrictions at the polls for first time in 2014—in the first election in nearly fifty years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. The number of voters impacted by the new restrictions exceeded the margin of victory in close races for senate and governor in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Florida, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
In the North Carolina senate race, Republican Thom Tillis, who as speaker of the North Carolina General Assembly oversaw the state’s new voting law, defeated Democrat Kay Hagan by 50,000 votes. Nearly five times as many voters in 2010 used the voting reforms eliminated by the North Carolina GOP—200,000 voted during the now-eliminated first week of early voting, 20,000 used same-day registration and 7,000 cast out-of-precinct ballots.
The intention in placing these new roadblocks to voting was to change the outcome of elections. Only the worst dupe in the world thinks that the intent was to increase the integrity of the count. Even if these restrictions didn’t change any actual outcomes, the perception that they did in Republican circles assures that they will keep at it since they think it’s a winning strategy.
And it probably is.
By: Martin Longman, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 9, 2014
“Don’t Let Them Silence You: Vote, Dammit”: The Way We All Become Equal On Election Day Is That We Cast That Ballot
Our country’s oldest and longest struggle has been to enlarge democracy by making it possible for more and more people to be treated equally at the polls. The right to participate in choosing our representatives – to vote — is the very right that inflamed the American colonies and marched us toward revolution and independence.
So it’s unbelievable and frankly outrageous that in the last four years, close to half the states in this country have passed laws to make it harder for people to vote. But it’s true.
But don’t stop there. Engage, and start the conversation of democracy where you live — in your apartment complex, on your block, in your neighborhood. There is always at least one kindred spirit within reach to launch the conversation. Build on it.
As this country began, only white men of property could vote, but over time and with agitation and conflict, the franchise spread regardless of income, color or gender. In the seventies, we managed to lower the voting age to 18. Yet a new nationwide effort to suppress the vote, nurtured by fear and fierce resistance to inevitable demographic change, has hammered the United States.
And this must be said, because it’s true: While it once was Democrats who used the poll tax, literacy tests and outright intimidation to keep Black people from voting, today, in state after state, it is the Republican Party working the levers of suppression. It’s as if their DNA demands it. Here’s what Paul Weyrich, one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement, said back in 1980: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
So the right has become relentless, trying every trick to keep certain people from voting. And conservative control of the Supreme Court gives them a leg up. Last year’s decision – Shelby County v. Holder – revoked an essential provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and that has only upped the ante, encouraging many Republican state legislators to impose restrictive voter ID laws, as well as work further to gerrymander Congressional districts and limit voting hours and registration. In the past few weeks, the Supreme Court has dealt with voting rights cases in Texas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio and upheld suppression in three of them, denying the vote to hundreds of thousands of Americans. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in opposition, “The greatest threat to public confidence… is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminating law.”
The right’s rationale is that people — those people — are manipulating the system to cheat and throw elections. But rarely – meaning almost never — can they offer any proof of anyone, anywhere, showing up at the polling place and trying illegally to cast a ballot. Their argument was knocked further on its head just recently when one of the most respected conservative judges on the bench, Richard Posner of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, wrote a blistering dissent on the legality of a Wisconsin voter ID law. “As there is no evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is a problem,” Posner declared, “how can the fact that a legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one? If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?”
The real reason for the laws is to lower turnout, to hold onto power by keeping those who are in opposition from exercising their solemn right — to make it hard for minorities, poor folks, and students, among others, to participate in democracy’s most cherished act.
And you wonder why so many feel disconnected and disaffected? Forces in this country don’t want people to vote at the precise moment when turnout already is at a low, when what we really should be doing is making certain that young people are handed their voter registration card the moment they get a driver’s license, graduate from high school, arrive at college or register at Selective Service.
In a conversation for this week’s edition of Moyers & Company, The Nation magazine’s Ari Berman put it this way: “This is an example of trying to give the most powerful people in the country, the wealthiest, the most connected people, more power. Because the more people that vote, the less power the special interests have. If you can restrict the number of people who participate, it’s a lot easier to rig the political system.” And Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, noted, “For people who don’t have the power to engage in terms of money in the political process, the way we all become equal on Election Day is that we cast that ballot… [So] it’s not just about corporate interests. It is about power. And it is about trying to suppress the voice of those who are the most marginalized.”
So vote, dammit. It is, as President Lyndon Johnson said when he signed the Voting Rights Act, “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.” But don’t stop there. Engage, and start the conversation of democracy where you live — in your apartment complex, on your block, in your neighborhood. There is always at least one kindred spirit within reach to launch the conversation. Build on it. Like the founders, launch a Committee of Correspondence and keep it active. Show up when your elected officials hold town meetings. Make a noise and don’t stop howling. Robert LaFollette said democracy is a life, and involves constant struggle. So be it.
By; Bill Moyers and Michael Winship; Moyers and Company, Bill Moyers Blog, October 24, 2014
“Confused Voter Or Disenfranchised Voter?”: In Texas, You Can Vote With A Concealed Handgun License—But Not A Student ID
Texans casting a ballot on Monday, when early voting begins, will need to show one of seven forms of photo ID. A concealed handgun license is okay, but a student ID isn’t. The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to go forward with this controversial voter ID law. A federal judge had previously struck down the law, arguing that it could disenfranchise 600,000 voters or a full 4.5 percent of registered voters, many of them black and Latino.
Critics say voter ID laws, especially the one in Texas, amount to voter suppression, because it can be both difficult and costly to get the required identification. In a powerfully worded dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, wrote, “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.”
Saturday’s decision marks the third time this season that the Supreme Court has allowed a controversial voter law to take effect. The other two were about measures in Ohio and North Carolina. This may not seem surprising, given that the Roberts Court has struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, but the rationale for this (and the other decisions) may have been more about timing than substance—in particular, observing the precedent of Purcell v. Gonzalez, in which the Court has blocked last-minute changes in voting laws in order to avoid confusion. Still, what’s worse? A confused voter or a disenfranchised one? The latter, Ian Millhiser argued at ThinkProgress: “If a confused voter brings an ID to the polls that they do not need to have, they will still get to cast a ballot. But if the same voter mistakenly forgets their ID (or fails to obtain one) because they were confused and believed that their state’s voter ID law was not in effect, then they will be disenfranchised.”
Actual voter fraud, which is the problem that Republican legislation supposedly addresses, is difficult to find. Ginsburg noted that there were “only two in-person voter fraud cases prosecuted to conviction” in Texas in almost a decade. The consequences of voter ID laws, on the other hand, are much easier to track. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, existing ID requirements reduced turnout in some states during the last presidential election, particularly among young and black voters. Now, imagine the impact is even larger, because it is spread over the 33 states that now require some form of photo ID to vote. The same report found that the costs of acquiring the needed ID ranged between $14.50 to $58.50 for 17 of the states.
By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, October 20, 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