“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
When he announced his leave-taking last week, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke of Robert F. Kennedy as his inspiration for believing that the Justice Department “can — and must — always be a force for that which is right.”
There are many reasons our nation’s first African American attorney general might see Kennedy as his guide, but this one may be the most important: If ever a public figure was exempt from Holder’s much contested depiction of our country as a “nation of cowards” on race, it was RFK, a man who was in constant struggle with his demons and his conscience.
Few white men were as searing as Kennedy in describing how the world looked to a young black man in the late 1960s. “He is told that the Negro is making progress,” Kennedy wrote, following the racial etiquette of his time. “But what does that mean to him? He cannot experience the progress of others, nor should we seriously expect him to feel grateful because he is no longer a slave, or because he can vote or eat at some lunch counters.”
“How overwhelming must be the frustration of this young man — this young American,” Kennedy continued, “who, desperately wanting to believe and half believing, finds himself locked in the slums, his education second-rate, unable to get a job, confronted by the open prejudice and subtle hostilities of a white world, and seemingly powerless to change his condition or shape his future.”
Yet Kennedy was never one to let individuals escape responsibility for their own fates. So he also spoke of others who would tell this young black man “to work his way up, as other minorities have done; and so he must. For he knows, and we know, that only by his efforts and his own labor will the Negro come to full equality.”
Holder and his friend President Obama have lived both halves of Kennedy’s parable. Like social reformers in every time, they strived to balance their own determination to succeed with their obligations to justice. Doing this is never easy. It can’t be.
Kennedy was not alone among Americans in being tormented by how much racism has scarred our national story. That’s why I was one of many who bristled back in 2009 when Holder called us all cowards. For all our flaws, few nations have faced up to a history of racial subjugation as regularly and comprehensively as we have. And Holder and Obama have both testified to our progress.
Yet rereading Kennedy is to understand why Holder spoke as he did. That the young man Kennedy described is still so present and recognizable tells us that complacency remains a subtle but corrosive sin. One of Holder’s finest hours as attorney general was his visit to Ferguson, Mo., after the killing of Michael Brown. Many young black men still fear they will be shot, a sign that the “open prejudice and subtle hostilities of a white world” have not gone away. We have moved forward, yet we still must overcome.
Holder leaves two big legacies in this area from which his successors must not turn away. In the face of a regressive Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, he has found other ways to press against renewed efforts to disenfranchise minority voters. And it is a beacon of hope that sentencing reform and over-incarceration, central Holder concerns, are matters now engaging conservatives, libertarians and liberals alike.
The New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo captured the irony of Holder’s tenure with the observation that his time as attorney general “is unique in that his biggest supporters are also among his loudest critics.” Many progressives have been troubled by his record on civil liberties in the battle against terrorism, his aggressive pursuit of journalists’ e-mails and phone records in leak investigations, and his reluctance to prosecute individual Wall Street malefactors.
That these issues will long be debated is a reminder that Holder was first a lawyer and public servant, most of whose work had nothing to do with race. That he singled out Kennedy as his hero shows that none of us need be imprisoned by race. That Holder cajoled and provoked us on the need “to confront our racial past, and our racial present” is itself an achievement that transcends the color line.
Kennedy, who spoke of those who braved “the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society,” would understand the risks that Holder ran.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 29, 2014
“Executive Orders To Undo Executive Orders”: Does Rand Paul Want To Repeal All Executive Orders? Depends When You Ask
Does Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation? It depends on when you ask him.
Senator Paul raised the subject during a Thursday night appearance in Manchester, New Hampshire. During a question-and-answer session with Republican activists, a young man reportedly asked Paul, “If you were to receive the presidency, would you repeal previous executive orders and actually restrain the power of the presidency?”
“I think the first executive order that I would issue would be to repeal all previous executive orders,” Paul replied, as quoted by Real Clear Politics.
This would be problematic for a number of reasons. Although Republicans would presumably love to do away with President Obama’s executive order protecting some young immigrants from deportation, for example, repealing others would be a tougher sell. Would Paul really want to reverse President Lincoln’s order freeing the slaves, President Truman’s order desegregating the armed forces, or President Kennedy’s order barring discrimination in the federal government?
Well, not when you put it that way.
“Well, I mean, I think those are good points, and it was an offhand comment, so obviously, I don’t want to repeal the Emancipation Proclamation and things like that,” Paul told Real Clear Politics when questioned on the broader impact of his plan. “Technically, you’d have to look and see exactly what that would mean, but the bottom line is it’s a generalized statement that I think too much is done by executive order, particularly under this president. Too much power has gravitated to the executive.”
In reality, President Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any president since Franklin Roosevelt. But still, Paul’s point is clear: He was speaking extemporaneously, and doesn’t actually want to repeal all executive orders.
That excuse would be easier to swallow if Paul hadn’t made the same promise to the Louisville Chamber of Commerce in August:
Asked directly if he would issue executive orders as president, Paul said the only circumstance would be to overturn the ones made by his predecessors.
“Only to undo executive orders. There’s thousands of them that can be undone,” said Paul. “And I would use executive orders to undo executive orders that have encroached on our jurisprudence, our ability to defend ourselves, the right to a trial, all of those I would undo through executive order.”
Paul later backed away from that comment in much the same way, telling reporters that “It wasn’t sort of a response of exactness.”
In fairness to Senator Paul, it seems highly unlikely that he really wants to resegregate the military in an effort to roll back executive overreach. But his clunky attempt to get on both sides of the issue has become a theme for him, which has repeated itself on Medicare, immigration, foreign aid, and a multitude of other topics.
His Democratic rivals have taken notice.
“Rand Paul’s problem isn’t that he changes positions — it’s that he insists that he can simultaneously hold multiple, contradictory positions on a litany of key issues,” Democratic National Committee press secretary Michael Czin said in a statement. “As Paul gears up for a presidential run, he changes positions to suit the moment or to match the views of the group in front of him. From confronting ISIL to ending aid to Israel to whether he supports the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, Rand Paul disingenuously tries to have it every way.”
Paul may be able to get away with clunky flip-flopping in the Senate, but it will become a major liability for him if he pursues the presidency in 2016. Clearly, Democrats are ready and eager to attack his lack of consistency. If Paul isn’t careful, they could set the narrative for him long before the first votes are cast.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, September 15, 2014