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“Side Door To Voting Rights Pre-Clearance”: The Next Best Way To Enforce The Voting Rights Act

I mentioned this briefly at Lunch Buffet, but because the story will be with us for a while, let me quote from Lyle Denniston’s explanation at SCOTUSblog of Eric Holder’s strategy for re-establishing a preclearance requirement for states engaged in repetitive and egregious voting rights violations in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision:

The preclearance provision is contained in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It has been widely considered to be the government’s most effective legal weapon against race bias in elections, because it requires states and local governments with a past history of racial discimination in voting to get official permission in Washington before they may put into effect any change, however small, in voting laws or procedures.

The 1965 law provided two ways to impose a Section 5 obligation on a state or local government. One was a virtually automatic formula, contained in Section 4 of the law. If a state or local government had a sustained history of racial bias in its voting patterns in the past, that triggered a coverage formula that led directly to a Section 5 preclearance obligation. Preclearance can be sought either from the Justice Department or from a three-judge District Court in Washington.

The second way to get a state or local government put under a preclearance duty is the 1965 law’s Section 3 — the one that the Attorney General said the government will now be invoking. If a state or local government is found to have recently engaged in intentional race bias in voting, a court has the power to impose the preclearance duty on that jurisdiction for a set period of time. It is not an automatic method, in contrast to the coverage formula in Section 4.

While the Supreme Court in the Shelby County ruling did not disturb Section 5 and the preclearance requirement, it did strike down the Section 4 coverage formula. That has been the quickest and most effective way to lead to Section 5 preclearance. The Court’s majority ruled that the coverage formula was seriously out of date, and could no longer be used to trigger Section 5 for any state or local government anywhere in the country.

The Shelby County decision did not disturb Section 3 as a separate way to bring about a preclearance duty. That is why advocacy groups — and now the Obama administration — are turning to Section 3 as the next-best way to enforce the 1965 law through preclearance.

The immediate effort will be focused on Texas, thanks to past court findings of intentional discrimination. But challenges to new voting rules and districting decisions elsewhere–most notably those in North Carolina, which are setting a kind of Gold Standard for voter dilution and repression–could well be next, particularly if the Texas litigation is successful.

BTW, I’d like to note that Lyle Denniston is 81 years old. The clarity and comprehensiveness of Denniston’s writing gives this old goat hope for a journalistic second wind that lasts a while.

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 25, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Facing A Groundswell”: The Plotting And Scheming Of An Assorted Cast Of Cringe Worthy Conservative Clowns

If you’ve ever found it curious that far-right media activists all seem to say the same thing at the same time about the same issues, it’s not your imagination. David Corn offers an explanation.

Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington — including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner — has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for “a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation,” according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell — including aides to congressional Republicans — cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and “clueless” GOP congressional leaders.

There’s quite a bit to Corn’s scoop, including the fact that Groundswell really has no use for Karl Rove’s effort to protect more electable Republicans in GOP primaries.

There’s also quite a cast of characters at play, led in part by Ginni Thomas, and including an ignominious assortment of cringe-worthy clowns, including former ambassador John Bolton, former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), Ken Blackwell, Frank Gaffney, Jerry Boykin, and Capitol Hill staffers, including a top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Groundswell has collaborated with conservative GOPers on Capitol Hill, including Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Cruz and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a leading tea partier. At its weekly meetings, the group aims to strengthen the right’s messaging by crafting Twitter hashtags; plotting strategy on in-the-headlines issues such as voter ID, immigration reform, and the sequester; promoting politically useful scandals; and developing “action items.”

That may make Groundswell sound kind of scary, but there’s reason to believe these right-wing activists — surprise, surprise — aren’t especially sharp.

Notes from a February 28 Groundswell gathering reflected both their collective sense of pessimism and desire for aggressive tactics: “We are failing the propaganda battle with minorities. Terms like, ‘GOP,’ ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Conservative’ communicate ‘racism.'” The Groundswellers proposed an alternative: “Fredrick Douglas Republican,” a phrase, the memo noted, that “changes minds.” (His name is actually spelled “Frederick Douglass.”) The meeting notes also stated that an “active radical left is dedicated to destroy [sic] those who oppose them” with “vicious and unprecedented tactics. We are in a real war; most conservatives are not prepared to fight.”

The right’s preoccupation with manufactured fake scandals, however, is coming into sharper focus.

The notes from the March 20 meeting summed up Groundswell griping: “Conservatives are so busy dealing with issues like immigration, gay marriage and boy scouts there is little time left to focus on other issues. These are the very issues the Left wants to avoid but we need to magnify. R’s cannot beat Obama at his own game but need to go on the offense and define the issues.” The group’s proposed offensive would include hyping the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking controversy, slamming Obama’s record, and touting Benghazi as a full-fledged scandal.

To be sure, there’s nothing illegal or necessarily untoward about this kind of coordination, but the fact that these folks feel the need to get together to plot and scheme, as part of their perceived “war” with the left, explains quite a bit about the problems with much of the political discourse.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 25, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Cherry Picking The Facts”: Why The Right Doesn’t Really Want European-Style Reproductive Health Care

U.S. conservatives want Europe’s abortion restrictions, but they oppose the generous systems and legal exceptions that support women’s health.

Earlier this month, Texas lawmakers witnessed and participated in passionate debates about one of the nation’s most sweeping pieces of anti-choice legislation. That legislation, known as SB1, was initially delayed by Wendy Davis’s now-famous filibuster before Governor Rick Perry signed it into law last week during a second special legislative session. It bans abortions after 20 weeks, places cumbersome restrictions on abortion clinics and physicians, and threatens to close all but five of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Throughout the many days of hearings, anti-choice activists relied on religious, scientific, and political evidence to argue that the new Texas law is just and sensible.

Many of those arguments are tenuous at best, but it is the continued reference to European abortion laws that most represent a convenient cherry-picking of facts to support the rollback of women’s rights. Many European countries do indeed regulate abortion with gestational limits, but what SB1 supporters conveniently ignore is that those laws are entrenched in progressive public health systems that provide quality, affordable (sometimes free) health care to all individuals and prioritize the sexual and reproductive health of their citizens. Most SB1 advocates would scoff at the very programs and policies that are credited with Europe’s low unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.

Members of the media have also seized on European policies to argue that Texas lawmakers are acting in the best interests of women. Soon after the passage of SB1, Bill O’Reilly argued that “most countries in the world have a 20-week threshold,” and Rich Lowry, editor of the National Reviewwrote, “It’s not just that Wendy Davis is out of step in Texas; she would be out of step in Belgium and France, where abortion is banned after 12 weeks.”

It’s hard to imagine any other scenario in which O’Reilly and Lowry, and most conservative politicians and activists, would hold up European social policies as a beacon for U.S. policy. After all, the cornerstones of Europe’s women’s health programs are the very programs that conservatives have long threatened would destroy the moral fabric of American society. One cannot compare the abortion policies of Europe and the United States without looking at the broader social policies that shape women’s health.

Both Belgium and France have mandatory sexuality education beginning in elementary school (in France parents are prohibited from removing their children from the program). France passed a bill earlier this year that allows women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control. Emergency contraception in both countries is easily accessible over the counter, and in Belgium the cost of the drug is reimbursed for young people and those with a prescription. Both countries limit abortion to the first trimester but also make exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons. None of these exceptions are included in the new Texas law, and I’d guess it would be a cold day in hell before the likes of O’Reilly and Lowry advocate for more expansive health policies or for including such exceptions in abortion laws.

But it would be wise if they did. This availability of preventative care contributes to the overall health and wellness of women in Europe and enables them to make free and fully informed decisions about their bodies over the course of their lifetimes. The demonization and lack of progressive sexual health policies in Texas, and in the United States more broadly, drives high rates of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy, maternal mortality, sexually transmitted infections, and abortion.

Unfortunately, Texas couldn’t be further from France or Belgium when it comes to the care it provides to women and families before, during, and after delivery, as I’ve written about before. The Texas teen birth rate is nearly nine times higher than that of France and nearly 10 times higher than that of Belgium. Nearly 90 percent of all teens in France and Belgium reported using birth control at their last sexual intercourse, compared with only 53 percent in Texas. The infant mortality rate in Texas is twice that of Belgium and France. The poverty rate among women in Texas is a third higher than that of women in Belgium and France, and the poverty rate among Texas children is 1.5 times higher. Less than 60 percent of Texas women receive prenatal care, while quality care before, during, and after pregnancy is available to nearly all women throughout Europe.

None of those hard facts were compelling enough to amend – let alone negate – the new law. It seems impossible these days to find a common ground between anti- and pro-choice individuals, but if conservatives wanted to have a conversation about enacting European-style sexual and reproductive health policies in the United States, that just might be something that could bring everyone to the same table. The more likely scenario is that once conservatives have plucked out the facts that help advance their anti-choice cause, they will promptly return to tarring and feathering Europe’s socialized health system.


By: Andrea Flynn, The National Memo, July 24, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Abortion, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Standing Our Ground”: Stand Your Ground Laws Are Not Making Us Safer, They’re Making Us More Barbaric

This is not the time for evanescent anger, which is America’s wont.

This is not the time for a few marches that soon dissipate as we drift back into the fog of faineance — watching fake reality television as our actual realities become ever more grim, gawking at the sexting life of Carlos Danger as our own lives become more dangerous, fawning over royal British babies as our own children are gunned down.

This is yet another moment when America should take stock of where the power structures are leading us, how they play on our fears — fan our fears — to feed their fortunes.

On no subject is this more clear than on the subject of guns.

While it is proper and necessary to analyze the case in which George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin for what it says about profiling and police practices, it is possibly more important to analyze what it says about our increasingly vigilante-oriented gun culture.

The industry and its lobby have successfully pushed two fallacies: that the Second Amendment is under siege and so are law-abiding citizens.

They endlessly preach that more guns make us safer and any attempt at regulation is an injury to freedom. And while the rest of us have arguments about Constitutional intent and gun-use statistics, the streets run red with the blood of the slain, and the gun industry laughs all the way to the bank.

Gun sales have surged. And our laws are quickly being adjusted to allow people to carry those guns everywhere they go and to give legal cover to use lethal force when nonlethal options are available.

This is our America in a most frightful time.

When Illinois — which has experienced extraordinary carnage in its largest city — enacted legislation this month allowing the concealed carrying of firearms, it lost its place as the lone holdout. Now “concealed carry” is the law in all 50 states.

And as The Wall Street Journal reported this month, “concealed carry” permit applications are also surging while restrictions are being loosened. Do we really need to have our guns with us in church, or at the bar? More states are answering that question in the affirmative.

And now that more people are walking around with weapons dangling from their bodies, states have moved to make the use of those guns more justifiable.

Florida passed the first Stand Your Ground law (or “shoot first” law, as some have called it) in 2005. It allows a person to use deadly force if he or she is afraid of being killed or seriously injured. In Florida, that right to kill even extends to an initial aggressor.

After Florida’s law, other states quickly followed with the help and support of the N.R.A. and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Ironically, the N.R.A. and other advocates pushed the laws in part as protection for women, those who were victims of domestic violence and those who might be victimized away from home.

The N.R.A.’s former president, Marion Hammer, argued in support of the bill in 2005 when she was an N.R.A. lobbyist: “You can’t expect a victim to wait and ask, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Criminal, are you going to rape me and kill me, or are you just going to beat me up and steal my television?’ ”

But, of course, the law is rarely used by women in those circumstances. The Tampa Bay Times looked at 235 cases in Florida, spanning 2005 to 2013, in which Stand Your Ground was invoked and found that only 33 of them were domestic disputes or arguments, and that in most of those cases men invoked the law, not women.

In fact, nearly as many people claimed Stand Your Ground in the “fight at bar/party” category as in domestic disputes.

And not only is the law rarely being invoked by battered women, it’s often invoked by hardened criminals. According to an article published last year by The Tampa Bay Times:

“All told, 119 people are known to have killed someone and invoked stand your ground. Those people have been arrested 327 times in incidents involving violence, property crimes, drugs, weapons or probation violations.”

And, as the paper pointed out, “more than a third of the defendants had previously been in trouble for threatening someone with a gun or illegally carrying a weapon.”

In fact, after Marissa Alexander, a battered Jacksonville wife, fired a warning shot at her abusive husband (to make him get out of the house, she said), her Stand Your Ground motion was denied. She is now facing a 20-year sentence.

Something is wrong here. We are not being made more secure, we are being made more barbaric. These laws are an abomination and an affront to morality and common sense. We can’t allow ourselves to be pawns in the gun industry’s profiteering. We are real people, and people have power.

Attorney General Eric Holder told the N.A.A.C.P. last week: “It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods. These laws try to fix something that was never broken.”

We must all stress this point, and fight and not get weary. We must stop thinking of politics as sport and spectacle and remember that it bends in response to pressure. These laws must be reviewed and adjusted. On this issue we, as Americans of good conscience, must stand our ground.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 24, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“So Much For The Fabric Of Freedom”: When Republicans Thought It Was Okay For Judicial Nominees To Have Opinions

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent yesterday’s confirmation hearing on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Nina Pillard harping on two points: first, that they think the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need its three vacancies filled, and second, that they think Pillard’s arguments as an academic mean she would disregard the law as a judge.

As it happens, when George W. Bush was the one nominating federal judges, the very same senators held the exact opposite view on both of these issues.

As People For the American Way has extensively shown, the argument that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need judges holds no water – in fact, Bush nominees Thomas Griffith and John Roberts (now Chief Justice) were confirmed to the D.C. Circuit when each active judge’s caseload was significantly lower than it is today.

And Republican attacks on Pillard’s academic writings also directly contradict their previous statements on Bush nominees with academic records. As Pillard noted in her hearing, “Academics are paid to test the boundaries and look at the implications of things. As a judge, I would apply established law of the U.S. Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit.”

Just a few years ago, Republican senators agreed. On the nomination of Tenth Circuit judge Michael McConnell, who took a number of far-right stands as an academic, including disagreeing with a Supreme Court decision declaring that a university ban on interracial dating constituted racial discrimination, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “The diversity of backgrounds and points of view are often the stitches holding together the fabric of our freedoms.”

“Surely, we can’t vote for or against a nominee on whether they agree with us on any number of a host of moral and religious issues, ” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said of Eleventh Circuit nominee William Pryor, a far-right culture warrior who was outspoken in opposition to gay rights, women’s rights and the separation of church and state.

Then-Sen. Jim Demint defended D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, one of the most outspoken conservative ideologues on the federal bench today, by saying, “A person with strong beliefs and personal convictions should not be barred from being a judge. In fact, I would rather have an honest liberal serve as a judge than one who has been neutered by fear of public opinion.”

And before the Senate confirmed Arkansas District Court Judge J. Leon Holmes, who used Todd Akin’s line about pregnancy from rape before Todd Akin did, Hatch told concerned colleagues,  “This man is a very religious man who has made it more than clear that he will abide by the law even when he differs with it.”

These Bush nominees held positions that were clearly far out of the mainstream, yet Senate Republicans demanded and got yes-or-no confirmation votes on them, helping Bush to shift the federal judiciary far to the right.

What some Judiciary Committee Republicans objected to at yesterday’s hearings is what they apparently see as Pillard’s excessive support for women’s equality, both as an attorney and an academic. Pillard won the Supreme Court case opening the Virginia Military Institute to women and worked with Bush administration officials to successfully defend the Family and Medical Leave Act.  She has strongly defended reproductive rights and criticized abstinence-only education that sends different messages to boys and girls. It’s this record that  her Republican opponents have distorted beyond recognition.

By any measure, Pillard is well within the mainstream, and has made it very clear that she understands that the role of a judge is to apply existing law regardless of one’s personal views. But while Senate Republicans made plenty of excuses for Bush nominees who were far outside the mainstream, they are accusing Pillard of being just too much of a women’s rights supporter to fairly apply the law.


By: Miranda Blue, Right Wing Watch, July 25, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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