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“So Much For Sacred Obligations”: It’s Open Season On Voting Rights Right Now In America

Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, it was hard not to wonder how long it would take for Republican state lawmakers to begin imposing new voting restrictions on Americans they don’t like. As it turns out, GOP policymakers were apparently already revving their engines, just waiting for the green light that came 24 hours ago.

MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin noted that the Supreme Court’s majority said the Voting Rights Act “probably wasn’t a deterrent against new restrictions.” Sarlin added, “Oops.”

Quite right. Just yesterday, Republican state lawmakers in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas all moved forward, with great enthusiasm, on new election measures intended to make it harder for traditional Democratic voters to participate in their own democracy. It is, as Rachel noted on the show last night, “open season on voting rights right now in America,” thanks to the Republican-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, the responsibility for “fixing” the Voting Rights Act is now in the hands of Congress, where one GOP leader was willing to say … something.

Earlier this year, [House Majority Leader Eric Cantor] participated in the congressional delegation that Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., leads back to Selma, Ala., annually. That pilgrimage visits the sites of the civil rights movement, particularly one where, during a nonviolent demonstration, an explosion of police brutality erupted that left Lewis, then a young activist, with severe injuries.

“My experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all,” Cantor said. “I’m hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a reasonable path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected.”

That wouldn’t be especially noteworthy were it not for the fact that Cantor, to his credit, was literally the only member of the House congressional leadership — in either party — to issue a statement in response to the high court ruling. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn all said nothing.

Looking ahead, to put it mildly, this matters.

Indeed, why is it they were so reluctant to say anything at all? One of their colleagues was willing to explain the situation fairly accurately.

Most House Republicans were relatively subdued in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Tuesday decision to strike parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Conservative Arizona Rep. Trent Franks said that was no accident, but the result of a fear that their remarks would be interpreted as racism.

I suspect that’s a fair summary of the party’s fears, but I hope Republican lawmakers will consider the larger context. If they’re afraid of commenting for fear of looking racist, how do they suppose they’ll look when they reject efforts to “fix” the Voting Rights Act itself?

Boehner, McConnell, and company may not have a plan just yet, and they very likely would have preferred that the Supreme Court not drop this in their laps, but they’re going to have to come up with a strategy very soon.

And while they’re at it, I’d also encourage the Republican National Committee to think long and hard about voting rights in the coming months. Reince Priebus has been on a “listening tour” in recent months, making what appears to be a sincere effort to reach out to minority communities.

But whether the RNC realizes it or not, the party is in an untenable situation — Republicans can’t reach out to minority communities with one hand and wage a war on voting with the other, at least not if they expect their outreach efforts to be taken seriously.

Put it this way: if Republicans think they have a demographic problem now, imagine what it’ll look like after the party refuses to back a revamped Voting Rights Act.

No wonder Boehner and McConnell were feeling shy yesterday.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 26, 2013

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Supreme Conflicts”: The Peaks And Valleys That Illustrate Our Country’s Worse Divisions

Like most families, my brood is a complex configuration of souls, so I greeted this week’s flurry of Supreme Court decisions with a conflicted heart.

This is true for most anyone who paid attention to the court rulings, I imagine. This latest round reflects parts of our culture we either want to embrace or want to reject. No middle ground here. It’s all peaks and valleys, the perfect graphic to illustrate our country’s divisions these days.

Initially, I was overjoyed to hear that the court had struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act — a ridiculously named law that did nothing but harm to innocent people and their families for 17 years. Finally, the U.S. government must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples, and the earth didn’t tremble, not even a little bit.

Immediately, my mind was flooded with the faces of so many gay men and women who populate our daily lives — good people, crazy loyal and with a patience no one has the right to ask of them.

My mood was quickly tempered by the wake-up jolt of reality. Thirty-nine states still treat their gay citizens like modern-day lepers, passing bills and referenda as redundant as they are hateful. The DOMA decision does nothing to stop states from continuing to discriminate against men and women whose only crime is to be different from the people who fear them for reasons they can’t explain, even to themselves.

A lot of people who oppose marriage equality like to blame God for their bigotry. In my version of heaven, I get to watch them try to explain themselves.

Meanwhile, down here on earth, every time I hear someone talk about how God hates homosexuality — that whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” malarkey — I think of my late mother, whose faith survived countless trials in her 62 years.

“Being a Christian means fixing yourself and helping others,” she used to say, “not the other way around.” That’s a lifetime of work summed up right there.

Nine years ago, my husband and I were married by a minister who still cannot wed her longtime partner simply because they live in Ohio instead of Massachusetts, say, or any other state in New England where same-sex marriage is legal.

To this day, friends and family who attended our wedding want to talk about how moved they were by Pastor Kate’s sermon at our service. To this minute, Pastor Kate cannot legally claim Jackie — beloved to all of us — as her spouse, even as she works for the United Church of Christ every single day.

God’s will, you understand.


Also this week, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act by ruling that Section 4 of the 1965 law is now unconstitutional. This particular section provides a formula to determine which jurisdictions are subject to federal government clearance before they can change their voting laws.

Historically, the voters targeted by these attempts to reduce their numbers are people of color. Also historically, Republicans are behind these changes, but they pinky-swear that it has nothing to do with how few people of color vote for them.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve written about these Republican stunts to suppress the vote. I can’t think of anything more patriotic than helping every eligible voter cast a ballot.

As I age, however, and our children grow up and marry, my patriotic fervor has become to-the-bone personal.

Our 5-year-old grandson bears his mother’s family name, which is Puerto Rican. Our future son-in-law emigrated with his family from El Salvador when he was a child. Republicans are not, shall we say, big fans.

As Columbia University professor Rodolfo O. de la Garza explained in an op-ed in February for The New York Times, America’s Latinos are increasingly the new Republican target for all things sinister.

“The nation does not acknowledge the discrimination Latinos have undergone,” he wrote. “Today, many public officials from states across the nation seem to feel free to treat Latinos as unwelcome newcomers and view Latino voters with suspicion. Republicans are especially leery of Latino voters who are perceived to be noncitizens or, even worse, Democrats.

“Without the law’s threat of federal intervention, I fear that the promise of Latino political equality will stagnate.”

That’s my family he’s talking about.

Fortunately, by 2043, that will be most American families in this country, as the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that that’s the year the white majority will be history.

This white granny’s going to eat a really healthful diet between now and then, because I want to live to see that day.


By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, June 27, 2013

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Marching Back Across The Bridge”: Once Again, White Southerners Get To Decide Who’s Worthy To Vote

With a kind of sick fascination, I’m trying to keep track with how rapidly southern Republicans take advantage of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to restrict the franchise. You’d think after years of claiming that Section 4 and Section 5 were unnecessary, they’d pause a decent interval before proving the point of voting rights advocates that prior review of voting changes in the Deep South were a practical necessity. But oh no, per this AP story from Bill Barrow:

Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.

After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.

Meanwhile, in Washington, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a lonely Republican voice indicating, however nonspecifically, an interest in congressional action to “fix” Section 4. From the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader, we’ve heard crickets. And across the South, we’ve heard cheers from Republicans eager to return to a time when the feds didn’t interfere with the sovereign ability of white southerners to decide who was worthy to vote. It’s like watching a tape of the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma in reverse.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 26, 2013

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blindspots, Symbols And Symptoms”: What Paula Deen Could Teach The Supreme Court

Why, in a week of multiple important Supreme Court decisions, are we so focused on the racial sins and multiple apologies of country cooking’s Paula Deen?

In part, of course, it’s because we brake for train wrecks, preferring them even to this week’s twin local animal stories about Rusty the runaway red panda and the black bear cub running through backyards in Northwest Washington.

But we’re also clicking on the Deen-athon because the “Oprah of food,” as one of the cook’s 2.7 million Facebook fans calls her, is a symbol and a symptom — a walking, talking, crying and deep-frying reminder of how much we still need both affirmative action and a fully functional Voting Rights Act.

Deen, who told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I is what I is and I’m not changing,” was wrong about that: She’s already lost her cooking show, her deals with Smithfield Foods, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target. All that and more slipped away since the news that she’d admitted in a legal deposition that “of course” she’s used a racial slur in the distant past, and dreamed of throwing her brother Bubba a “plantation-themed” wedding dinner served by an all-black wait staff.

Now even Novo Nordisk has, by supposedly mutual agreement, “suspended” the woman who brought the world skillet-fried apple pie as spokeswoman for its diabetes drug. But she is the perfect spokeswoman for a week in which a number of the biggest stories circle back to the issue of inequality. To our flawed efforts to live up to that shimmery line in our Declaration of Independence about the apparently not-so-self-evident truth that we are all created equal.

In Florida, where George Zimmerman is on trial in the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin, the friend Martin was on the phone with right before he died testified that he told her, “That ‘N-word’ is still following me now,’ ” she told the court. “I asked him how the man looked like. He just told me the man looked ‘creepy.’ ‘Creepy, white’ — excuse my language — ‘cracker. Creepy [expletive] cracker.” So we’ve been told that Zimmerman saw Martin through a racial lens. And now know that Martin saw Zimmerman that way.

In California, same-sex couples will soon be free to marry, but they still can’t walk down the aisle in 38 other states. And despite the high court’s thumbs down on the Defense against Marriage Act, we’re still nowhere near equality for an awful lot of Americans.

Which is why the saddest headline of the week had to be the one announcing that, as the civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis put it, “the Supreme Court has stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act” and “gutted the most powerful tool this nation has ever had to stop discriminatory voting practices from becoming law.” Now Mississippi and Texas can implement voter ID laws that, whatever their intent, will disenfranchise minority voters.

Across the land, meantime, disappointed white college applicants have effectively been invited to challenge race-conscious admissions plans like the one in Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin, which the Supreme Court sent back to a lower court for further review. “The worst forms of racial discrimination in this nation have always been accompanied by straight-faced representations that discrimination helped minorities,” Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion. He’s long seen affirmative action as a vote of non-confidence, suggesting that maybe minorities aren’t as good as anybody else.

I’m not puzzled about why he might feel that way; when someone recently observed — pleasantly, with a hug and no ill intent — that my contribution to a certain group was to keep it from being all-male, I smiled on the outside yet inside, narrowed my eyes and gave him the invisible Death Stare.

But the problems caused by affirmative action are nothing compared to what the lack of diversity gets us: Just for example, a 66-year-old millionaire who still doesn’t know not to brag that she has a friend who is “black as a board.”  Who somehow reached retirement age and became a big darn deal without ever learning that yes, the racial slur in question is offensive. Or that “plantation-style” is not a festive party theme.

Matt Lauer finally did make me feel for her with his blunt questions while she was in tears, acting like some latter-day Jean Le Maistre demanding on behalf of the Inquisition that Joan of Arc forsake men’s clothing in prison. (Though if Joan responded that he who is without sin should “pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me,” I don’t want to know.)  We all pay the price for that kind of not-at-all-benign cluelessness. And for her blind spots and all of ours, what better antidote do we have than the civil rights remedies undermined this week by our highest court?


By: Melinda Henneberger, The Washington Post, She The People, June 27, 2013

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Affirmative Action, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congress Reinterprets Jesus”: Serve Banksters Or Serve The Poor?

Thank God for Congress, right? When things get out of balance in America, we can always count on our legislative stalwarts to recalibrate the scales of justice.

Take greed, for example. The barons of Wall Street, whose raw greed and casino scams wrecked our real economy five years ago, are back to shoving great gobs of bonus pay into their pockets. Meanwhile, the middle class remains decimated, and millions of workaday Americans who were knocked all the way down into poverty are still stuck there. In this nation of fabulous wealth, our poverty numbers are shocking and scandalous: 50 million people are officially poor; another 51 million are “near poor.” A third of our country!

You’ll be pleased to know, then, that only last week, U.S. House members turned their legislative guns on the greed that’s sapping the moral vitality of our society. Unfortunately, their aim was a bit off. Instead of popping the privileged, they hit the most unprivileged: families who need food stamps to make ends meet.

The food stamp program is out of control, they shrieked, noting that it’s been expanding even as the unemployment rate has been coming down. Yoo-hoo, knuckleheads, the jobless rate has ticked down largely because job-seekers have become so discouraged by the absence of opportunities that they’ve quit looking. Plus, getting a job no longer gets you out of poverty — just ask the barista who’s making your next latte about the joys of working for poverty pay. Food stamp rolls have reached record numbers, because — guess what? — there are record numbers of Americans in poverty!

Yet, the House called for cutting some $2 billion a year (and 2 million Americans) out of the program. On June 20, however, the members balked — not because the cut was too severe, but because it was not enough for Tea Party Republicans, who have been demanding a total food stamp gut job, proposing to slash the program by $25 billion a year.

Also, the GOP majority lost the votes of nearly all Democrats by adding a couple of fiendish amendments to punish poor people for the crime of being poor. One was to put additional work requirements on families seeking the food benefit. “We cannot continue to deny able-bodied people the dignity of work,” blathered a worked-up know-nothing named Steve Southerland of Florida. Then, Rep. Michele Bachmann had a tempest in her teapot of a brain, offering her support of Southerland’s amendment in a sort of Biblical falsetto: “If anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

Hello, Michele — that’s not exactly in keeping with the moral message of the Biblical Jesus. Nor is it in keeping with reality — today’s poverty does not stem from any unwillingness to work. Indeed, millions of food stamp recipients are working, but not being paid enough to put adequate groceries on the family table. And many more are in desperate search for jobs that aren’t there.

In fairness, though, let me note that House Republicans did try to give hard-hit families something extra in this legislation: drug testing. Following in lockstep with the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council — which has been peddling this vile, insulting slap at poor people all around the country — the House majority added a urine-test provision to its bill. That really puts the mean in “demeaning” — and this from small-government poseurs who piously decry government intrusion into people’s lives!

Once again, the Tea Party congresscritters should have used their ever-present Bibles for instruction, rather than just for thumping. They would’ve learned that Jesus, at the Sea of Galilee, distributed free fish and loaves to everyone there — with no pee-in-the-cup requirement. And if he had wanted to test whether anyone was on drugs, he would’ve passed cups to bankers first, then to lawmakers.

A society’s response to poverty is one measure that speaks directly to its essential character. In particular, a wealthy society’s nonchalant tolerance of poverty in its midst, the willingness of that society’s leaders to disregard the spread of poverty and the callous calculations by some that it is permissible and even profitable to denigrate those mired in poverty — these are three flashing indicators of a meltdown in our society’s moral core.


By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, June 26, 2013

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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