“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
In 2008, under the best possible conditions for a Democrat, Barack Obama lost Georgia by just over 200,000 votes, or 5.2 percent of Georgians who voted. Four years later he lost again by just over 300,000 votes, or 7.8 percent of Georgians who voted. By any measure the state is a reach for Democrats. And yet, the party is optimistic, both now—Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter, its Senate and gubernatorial candidates, respectively, are running close races—and for the future.
The “why” is easy to answer: Georgia has roughly 700,000 unregistered black voters. If Democrats could cut that number by less than a third—and bring nearly 200,000 likely Democrats to the polls—they would turn a red state purple, and land a major blow to the national Republican Party. Or, as Michelle Obama said during a campaign rally on Monday, “If just 50 Democratic voters per precinct who didn’t vote in 2010 get out and vote this November—just 50 per precinct—then Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter will win.” Given 2,727 precincts in Georgia, that’s just 136,350 new voters.
Enter the New Georgia Project. Led by Stacey Abrams, Democratic leader in the state House of Representatives, the project is meant to do just that—register hundreds of thousands of blacks and other minorities. Their goal, says Abrams, is to “directly or indirectly collect 120,000 voter registration applications.” That could be enough to push Democrats over the top. And it makes the project one of the largest voter registration drives in recent Georgia history.
So far, it’s been a success. “In addition to the 85,000 we have collected as an organization directly,” says Abrams, “we have also supported the efforts of 12 organizations around the state. We know there are groups doing registration in the Latino community, in the Asian community, and in the youth community, and we wanted to support their efforts as well.” These groups, she says, have collected 20,000 to 25,000 applications, putting the New Georgia Project in striking distance of its goal two months before Election Day.
Which brings us to this week. On Tuesday, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp—a Republican—said his office was investigating allegations of voter fraud from the New Georgia Project, following complaints about voter applications submitted by the group. To that end, Kemp has issued subpoenas to the group and its parent organization, Third Sector Development.
“Preliminary investigation has revealed significant illegal activities’ including forged voter registration applications, forged signatures on releases, and applications with false or inaccurate information,” he wrote in a memo to county election officials.
To Abrams, this has less to do with protecting the process and more to do with suppressing the registration effort. After all, she notes, Georgia law “requires that we turn in all application forms we collect, regardless of concerns over validity.” It’s the job of the secretary of state, she says, to determine the status of the applications. “We do not get to make the decisions about whether or not a form is valid or not.”
She’s right. “A private entity shall promptly transmit all completed voter registration applications to the Secretary of State or the appropriate board of registrars within ten days after receiving the application or by the close of registration, whichever period is earlier,” says the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office website. Nowhere are private organizations asked or required to filter or discard applications.
There’s little information on the scope of the alleged fraud. But there is an aggressive subpoena that, Abrams says, “essentially demands every document we have ever produced.” She calls it a “fishing expedition” meant to “suppress our efforts.” A spokesperson for the New Georgia Project, the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, was a little more explicit. “I see this move by the secretary of state as the latest effort in voter suppression in the state of Georgia,” he said.
Kemp insists that this investigation is impartial and nonpartisan. “At the end of the day this is not going to be about politics,” he told a local reporter. “This is about potential fraud which we think happened.” At the same time, Abrams and Warnock are rightfully suspicious. Not only was Kemp a vocal supporter of the state’s divisive voter identification law, but he’s a Republican in a state where the GOP has worked hard to dilute the strength of black voters.
Under the old Voting Rights Act, Georgia officials had to clear voting changes with the Justice Department, and for good reason: The state had a long history of disenfranchisement, and “preclearance” was a way to pre-empt discrimination or prevent it entirely.
That changed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder last year, which struck preclearance from the VRA. Now, along with other Southern states, Georgia was free to change its laws and procedures for voting. And it did. That year, in Augusta—which has a large black population—officials moved municipal elections from their traditional November dates, a change with huge, negative effects on turnout. (For a case study, look to Ferguson, Missouri.)
Likewise, officials in rural Greene County implemented a redistricting plan previously blocked by the Justice Department, and lawmakers in Morgan County floated a plan to eliminate half the area’s polling sites, a move that would have its greatest effect on low-income and minority voters.
Then, Georgia Democrats realized they could play the same game. Last week officials in the large, mostly black area of DeKalb County announced plans for Sunday voting for the upcoming November election. The state’s Republican lawmakers have responded with outrage. “[T]his location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist,” said state Sen. Fran Millar, citing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway, “I’m sure Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are delighted with this blatantly partisan move in DeKalb.” Millar is investigating ways to “stop this action,” and hopes to “eliminate this election law loophole.”
Against this backdrop of voter suppression, it’s no surprise Abrams is suspicious of the state’s investigation: From the harsh accusations of “fraud” to the aggressive actions from Kemp, it looks like another attack on efforts to increase participation and diversify the electorate.
With that said, there’s only so long Republicans can hope to win through such divisive methods. Six years ago, a “purple” Georgia was a pipe dream. Now, in a year when Republicans have the national advantage, it’s a possibility. The pace of demographic change is so fast that, soon enough, Democrats like Abrams won’t have to work to change the electorate—it will have happened on its own.
By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, September 12, 2014
A trial begins today in a federal courtroom in Texas to determine the constitutionality of the state’s voter identification law, which is widely acknowledged to be the most restrictive in the nation. It has gone through a number of twists and turns: Passed in 2011, it was struck down in federal court in 2012 as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Then in 2013 the Supreme Court gutted the VRA. Now the law faces a new trial based on a different VRA section.
In the end, the Republicans who passed this law may prevail, particularly since the only racial discrimination the conservative majority on the Supreme Court apparently finds troubling is the kind that might affect a white person somewhere. But Republicans may have underestimated just how much damage they continue to do to their party’s image by trying, anywhere and everywhere, to make it as hard as possible for the wrong people to vote.
True, voter ID is not at the forefront of the national debate. Majorities do tell pollsters that you should have to show ID to vote, since it has a certain intuitive appeal. But when the subject is actually debated and discussed in the news, it drives people away from the GOP — and not just any people, but precisely the people the party wants so desperately to improve among to stay competitive in national elections.
First, some background. While there is a certain amount of voter fraud in American elections, almost all of it happens through absentee ballots. The only kind of fraud prevented by voter ID laws is in-person voter impersonation, which is incredibly rare. As Zachary Roth has detailed, when Greg Abbott became the state’s attorney general, he vowed a crusade against the “epidemic” of voter fraud in the state. How many cases did he find that would have been stopped by the ID law? Two. Meanwhile, according to the state’s own figures, almost 800,000 Texans lack the appropriate state-issued ID to vote.
The best you can say about the Texas law and others like it is that the motivation for them isn’t so much old-style racism as naked partisanship. The problem today’s Republicans have with black people voting isn’t the fact that they’re black, it’s the fact that they’re Democrats. Republicans also want to make it hard for Latinos to vote, and young people, and urban dwellers who don’t drive. When they wrote into the Texas law that a student ID from a state university wouldn’t count as identification but a concealed carry gun permit would, they made it quite clear that the point was to discriminate on the basis of your likelihood to vote Democratic. These laws often are accompanied by measures doing things like restricting early voting, particularly on Sundays when many black churches conduct voting drives.
So let’s dispense with the laughable notion that the reason many Republican-controlled states have passed a voter ID law is nothing more than deep concern for the integrity of the ballot. With the exception of the claim that laws mandating absurd restrictions on abortion providers are really just about protecting women’s health, there is probably no more disingenuous argument made in politics today. Yes, Democrats who oppose these laws are also thinking about their party’s political fortunes. But one side wants to make it easy for people to vote, and one side is trying to make it harder.
The success of voter ID laws in suppressing votes has been mixed. Some studies have found little or no impact on turnout, while others have shown significant declines in it. Where the laws fail to achieve their goal of suppressing votes, it’s probably because Democrats often undertake substantial effort to counteract them by registering people and helping them acquire the proper identification.
In any case, this law and others like it may well end up surviving. While this year courts have struck down voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the laws are likely to get a friendly hearing from the conservatives on the Supreme Court, which first upheld a voter ID law in 2008. And for Republicans, the calculation seems straightforward enough. They know that the groups with whom they’re strongest, like older white voters, homeowners, rural voters, married voters, and so on, are the ones most likely to have driver’s licenses and therefore not find an ID law to be a hindrance. Make voting an extra hassle for the wrong kind of voters, and you may get a few thousand, or a few hundred thousand, to stay home — making the difference in a close election.
But for a party that is struggling to appeal to precisely those demographic groups targeted by voter ID laws, such short-term gains risk getting swamped by long-term damage to its image. The voter ID debate reinforces everything the GOP doesn’t want people to think about it: that it’s the party of old white people, that it has contempt for minorities, that it knows nothing about the lifestyles and concerns of young people (who are far less likely than their parents were to get driver’s licenses), and that it will do virtually anything to win. You can’t spend a bunch of energy doing something that will make it harder for, for instance, Latinos to cast ballots, then turn around and say, “By the way, if you manage to make it past all these obstacles we’ve put in your path, we’d really like your vote.” But so far, few in the GOP seem to understand that.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, September 2, 2014