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“Republicans’ Coup de Grace On Voting Rights?”: Putting The Interests Of The Republican Party Over The Interests Of Voters

Last week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case called Evenwel v. Abbott. The case involves an issue of increasing importance to American politics: congressional districting. It got to the Supreme Court because conservative litigators with a successful track record of fighting against the right to vote are trying to turn the logic of pro-voter rights decisions on their head. And it’s very possible that they may succeed again.

This most recent battle in the voting rights war involves two of the Warren Court’s most important decisions. One of the tactics that state legislatures used to disenfranchise African-Americans was to draw district lines (or refuse to revise them) in ways that left minority voters massively underrepresented. In Alabama in 1964, for example, some counties included 40 times more people than others. In Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court held that such schemes were illegal. States were required to adhere to a “one person, one vote” standard when apportioning their legislatures. Combined with robust enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, these landmark cases helped to end Jim Crow disenfranchisement schemes.

Perversely, this lawsuit hopes to use these decisions to turn back the clock and dilute the representation of minority voters. The theory of the lawsuit is that Texas violated the Equal Protection Clause when it drew its district lines based on total population rather than on the population of voters. The state, according to the theory, should only be able to conduct apportionment according to the number of eligible voters.

If adopted, the theory presents an obvious practical problem. Total population is measured with reasonable reliability by the Census. Eligible voters are much harder to measure, not least because the numbers change every election. (What should be counted — presidential election years? Off years? State elections? Some combination?) The discretion the measure would leave to legislators leaves the process open to more of the kind of manipulation that Reynolds v. Sims tried to minimize. Plus, it just seems illogical for a state’s representation in Congress to be based on total population, but its districts drawn by eligible voters.

Which brings us to the even bigger problem with the theory: In most cases, the effect of the rule change would be to overrepresent white voters and underrepresent minority voters. As Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick puts it, “if the plaintiffs win this appeal, power will shift markedly from urban voters to rural voters and to white and Republican districts over minority and Democratic ones.” To read the Equal Protection Clause to not merely permit but require the under representation of minority voters is, to say the least, perverse.

That the argument should be indefensible doesn’t mean that it can’t win. The group bringing this lawsuit scored a major anti-voting rights victory with the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. In that case, a bare majority of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Even worse, it did so by arguing that the explicit powers given to Congress to enforce the 15th Amendment were trumped by an alleged “equal state sovereignty” principle, an idea without support in the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedents not written by John Roberts, save for the infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford. If the Roberts Court is willing to cut the heart out of the most important civil rights statute since Reconstruction based on arguments that feeble, it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t put the interests of the Republican Party over the interests of voters in Evenwel v. Abbott.

That said, oral argument did not clearly indicate how the case will come out. The Court’s Democratic nominees were predictably hostile. Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, appeared curious but non-committal to the plaintiff’s novel theory. Even if the Court doesn’t buy the argument that the Constitution requires the states to use voters rather than total population, if it signals that this kind of districting is permitted the consequences could be dire.

This case has to be seen as part of a larger political struggle. The Republican Party faces a problem: Demographic changes are making its overwhelmingly white voter base a smaller part of the population. This year, their presidential primary, in which the major candidates try to out-xenophobe one another, will make this problem worse rather than better. To combat this, Republican states have adopted various measures to suppress minority voters — if you can’t attract their votes, keep ‘em from the ballot box or try to make their votes count less through gerrymandering. Their allies in the Supreme Court might well use this case to assist in this vote-suppression effort once again.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, December 15, 2015

 

 

December 16, 2015 Posted by | Gerrymandering, Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blacking Out The Vote”: Republicans Impose Second-Class Citizenship On People Who Threaten The Status Quo

Voters are facing an ugly surprise on their way to the voting booth on Tuesday. What most people don’t realize is that since 2006, some 34 state legislatures have worked diligently to chip away at the fundamental right to vote — and overwhelmingly, people of color are the target.

This year alone, 14 states have implemented legislation that would end same-day voter registration, limit early voting, and require voters to present forms of ID that many voters lack and cannot easily obtain. What do these measures have in common? Each would disproportionately impact African-American voters, making it more difficult for them to vote or have their vote count in a meaningful fashion.

To make matters worse, the Supreme Court pulled the rug out from under decades of effective voting rights protections in its decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The court’s decision gave a free pass to state and local politicians manipulating voting laws for their own gain, allowing them to pick and choose who will be able to vote. That is why the right to vote is in danger across the country.

Some of these state legislatures, while attacking the right to vote, also diminish the value of each vote counted through all kinds of creative methods. Some recent examples include drawing boundaries of an election district to ensure that minority voters cannot constitute a majority, and “packing” minorities in only one or a limited number of districts to ensure they are a majority, which weakens the voting power of minority groups that could otherwise constitute an influential voting bloc. Smaller districts can also be drawn in such a way that the voting power of a minority group is reduced by dividing minorities into several districts that are predominantly white.

I know, the term “voting matters” has probably lost its value over the years because of over use, but it really does matter. Voting isn’t just about electing candidates. It’s about feeling a sense of dignity and empowering people to take part in the democratic process. It’s about influencing policies and holding the federal and state governments accountable for promoting social and economic equity for ALL people.

Withholding the right to vote is a way to impose second-class citizenship on people who threaten the status quo. Throughout our country’s history, the right to vote was denied to white men without property, African-Americans, women, Native Americans, Chinese-Americans, and adults under 21 years of age.

While the 15th Amendment was adopted in 1870 and prohibited denial of the right to vote on account of race or color, in reality, African-Americans who wanted to exercise their right to vote were beaten, chased by dogs, bludgeoned by police and sometimes killed. It’s somewhat unimaginable that African-Americans were only able to vote within recent memory — with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But that’s all history, right?

Some claim today, that America is no longer plagued by the racial injustice of the civil rights era. Unfortunately, less overt strategies have been implemented more recently to block African-Americans and other minorities from the ballot. I can’t believe how close we are to losing what many fought so hard, and sometimes died, to achieve.

Now more than ever, new tools are needed to prevent voter discrimination before it happens. In January 2014, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) to repair the damage done by the Shelby decision. Congress had the opportunity to pass a new, flexible and forward-looking set of protections that work together to guarantee our right to vote — however, they failed to act on it.

In September, voting rights advocates, including myself, delivered petitions from over 500,000 voters seeking to restore VRA protections to the office of Speaker John Boehner. We found ourselves confronted by a locked door, perfect symbolism for the disenfranchisement many voters of color will experience come Tuesday. Next year the Voting Rights Act will be celebrating a dubious 50th anniversary, unless Congress acts immediately to pass new protections. Next week, voters of color will be immersed in the least protected election since the passage of the act in 1965.

The Voting Rights Act was born from the premise that all Americans have the right to vote — regardless of race or language proficiency. It was critical to the civil rights movement, turning hateful policies like poll taxes and literacy tests into historical footnotes. We cannot allow those footnotes to be rewritten into modern forms of vote suppression.

If you have any questions about your right to vote in this upcoming election, contact the ACLU at letmevote@aclu.org or call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).

 

By: Laura W. Murphy, Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union; The Huffington Post Blog, November 3, 2014

November 4, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, Minority Voters, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is Not Your Independence Day”: Celebrating The Birth Of An Imperfect Union As The Fight For ‘Freedom’ Has Yet To Be Won

Every year, proud U.S. citizens across the country take a break from daily life to commemorate the birth of America. Dusting off the grill, buying frozen meat en masse, attempting to retreat to the nearest body of water, and putting sparklers in the hands of small children might not be exactly what our founding fathers envisioned, but who am I to argue with a long weekend? I enjoy a good fireworks show as much as the next girl. And beachside BBQs? I’m in. Red, white, and blue happens to be the color scheme of my most flattering bikini, so by all means, pass the veggie dogs and pump up the revelry.

But amidst the pomp and circumstance, please don’t wish me a “Happy Independence Day!”

The 4th of July might commemorate the independence of our country — but it also serves as a bitter reminder that in 1776, the country that I love had no place for me in it.

When our founding fathers penned, “All men are created equal,” they meant it. Not all people. Not all humans. Just all men — the only reason they didn’t feel obliged to specify “white” men is because, at the time, men of color were considered less than men, less than human.

The 4th is not my Independence Day — and if you’re a Caucasian woman, it isn’t yours either. Our “independence” didn’t come for another 143 years, with the passage of The Woman’s Suffrage Amendment in 1919. The 4th of July is also not Independence Day for people of color. It wasn’t until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 that all men had the right to vote regardless of race — on paper, that is, not in practice. People of color were systematically, and all too successfully, disenfranchised for another century. July 4th of 1776 was certainly not a day of Independence or reverence for Native Americans. It wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans could unilaterally become citizens of the United States and have the voting rights to go with it.

Now, before anyone argues that Independence is about more than voting rights, I’d like to point out that our Founding Fathers would fundamentally disagree with you. The Revolutionary War was fought, in large part, because of “taxation without representation” — the then English colonists believed they were not free because their voices were not represented. The right to vote, the right to have your say is the delineating characteristic of a democracy.

There is nothing finite about freedom. July 4, 1776 was a definitive step forward in the struggle toward freedom and democracy but we were a long way off from achieving it. And while we have advanced in leaps and bounds — my patriotic swimwear goes over way better in Williamsburg, Brooklyn than it would have in Colonial Williamsburg — we are still a far way off from the freedom and independence we’re celebrating.

A resurgence in voter ID laws put in place to once again disenfranchise minorities challenges our collective independence.

This week’s Hobby Lobby ruling — deciding that a woman’s employer has any say in her health care — is a challenge to the ideology of freedom and autonomy our country was founded upon.

The on-going fight for marriage equality prevents same-sex couples in many states from the pursuit of happiness that they are constitutionally guaranteed.

So by all means, enjoy your long weekend. Raise a beer to the ideals of progress and democracy that the 4th of July represents.

But remember that you are celebrating the birth of an imperfect union, remember that the fight for ‘freedom’ has yet to be won — and if you must wish someone a “Happy Independence Day!”, make sure you’re doing something to maintain and advance the Independence you have come to appreciate.

 

By: Carina Kolodny, The Huffington Post Blog, July 3, 2014

July 4, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Democracy, Founding Fathers, Fouth of July | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Need Of A Constitutional Rationale”: Supreme Court Judicial Activism At Its Worst, Because They Felt Like It

There’s something about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby that’s bothered me all day. It’s probably unimportant — Jonathan Adler, feel free to jump in and set me straight — but as I read the ruling (pdf) this morning, I was looking for something specific: why the court majority considers Sec. 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

I’m not an attorney, so I’ll concede my background is limited, but in the rulings I’ve read striking down federal laws, there’s some kind of explanation as to the part of the Constitution the law ostensibly contradicts. A statute violates the First Amendment, or the Commerce Clause, or the Due Process clause, etc., and is therefore unlawful.

So on what grounds, exactly, did the court find Sec. 4 of the VRA unconstitutional? I have no idea.

Assuming I’d missed something important, I asked the Constitutional Accountability Center’s David Gans to help me out. He told me:

“Your question highlights a fundamental flaw in Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court strikes down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional without ever explaining what provision of the Constitution commands this result. Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion for the conservative majority argued that the Voting Rights Act provision was inconsistent with the ‘letter and spirit of the Constitution,’ but he never really explained why.

“His majority opinion emphasized that the Voting Rights Act diminished the sovereignty of states, ignoring that Fifteenth Amendment expressly gives to Congress broad power to prevent all forms of racial discrimination in voting by the states. As Justice Ginsburg’s powerful dissent demonstrates, the Court’s opinion cannot be squared with the text, history, and meaning of the Fifteenth Amendment.”

Judicial restraint is often a rather amorphous concept, which sometimes means different things to different people. But in this case we have a piece of civil-rights legislation that was approved by the people’s representatives, and then re-approved with large majorities several times. It was signed into law by an elected president, and then reauthorized to great fanfare by subsequent presidents of both parties. It’s been subjected to judicial scrutiny over the course of several decades, and a judicial precedent has been set: the Voting Rights Act is legal.

Or put another way, when federal law is endorsed by the House, the Senate, the president, and the public, and it’s consistent with decades of Supreme Court precedent, a court majority probably ought to have a very good reason for tossing all of that aside.

But in Shelby, five conservative justices gutted the Voting Rights Act anyway, deeming it inconsistent with the Constitution because, well, they said so. These jurists said the same law used to be perfectly constitutional, but somehow morphed into being unconstitutional without anyone noticing, and without violating anything specific in the Constitution itself.

I’d argue this is the opposite of restraint; it’s activism. The justices decided to substitute their judgment for the people’s and their elected lawmakers, because they felt like it.

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

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

“Memorial Day Deserves Better”: Between The Holiday Sales, Give Thought To Those Who Gave Their Last Full Measure Of Devotion

The observance of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops in the District occurred this week, only a few days before Memorial Day. It seems fitting that the sesquicentennial of the Colored Troops Bureau falls close to the day originally set aside to remember those killed in the Civil War.

More than 180,000 African American soldiers and sailors served in the Union Army and Navy. Nearly 68,000 died.

Those African American service members were honored Wednesday at a wreath-laying ceremony and a program at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum on Vermont Avenue NW.

The event, organized by the museum’s founder and director, Frank Smith, was well-attended and inspirational but low-key. There was not even a cameo appearance by Mayor Vincent Gray or a member of the D.C. Council. If any D.C. elected official sent a representative to the commemoration, the gesture went unannounced and unnoticed.

Those “colored troops” deserved better from this city. After all, the 28th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops and soldiers with Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, were among the units assigned to the defense of Washington during the Civil War.

Paid less than their white Union comrades, those black soldiers and sailors courageously fought in nearly 500 engagements, including, according to military records, 39 major battles.

My great-grandfather, Isaiah King of New Bedford, Mass., was one of the black Union soldiers. He enlisted at 16 and was assigned to Company D of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry in 1864. He participated in the Siege of Petersburg that year. His unit, according to official records, was among the first Union regiments to enter Richmond on April 3, 1865.

The African American troops fought to keep the Union together and to free their enslaved brothers and sisters in the South. They volunteered to fight at a time when the country that sent them off to war did not treat them as equals.

In a speech urging President Abraham Lincoln to allow freed blacks to fight in the Union Army, the famed 19th-century black abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass said: “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket; and there is no power on the earth . . . which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

Those black soldiers and sailors served, fought and died years before the 15th Amendment, granting African American men the right to vote, was ratified in 1870 — a right that, in reality, went unfulfilled for nearly a century.

But that is not what this weekend is all about.

This is the time to honor those Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, national origin or sexual orientation, who have given their all in service to our nation.

“The blood of heroes never dies,” Moina Michael wrote in a 1915 poem.

The fallen from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and all of the conflicts in between deserve a moment of respect. This ought to be a time when the living set aside their daily cares, albeit temporarily, to remember and honor those who made the supreme sacrifice.

Think of those boys who walked off farms and away from families to take up arms on behalf of a nation fighting to keep from falling apart.

Think of kids loaded on planes and ships and sent to foreign lands to fight in defense of their country’s interests. Think of the families left with only memories — and graves to decorate.

Doing that may be easier said than done.

Holiday observers will be competing against events such as Best Buy’s “Memorial Day Kickoff to Summer Event,”Home Depot’s “Memorial Day Savings” and “Marlo’s Memorial Day Sale — Furniture 50% Off Entire Store.”

The choice: Attend a Memorial Day parade or visit a cemetery to remember our fallen, or navigate to Coupons.com and get Memorial Day sales and “extra discounts on top of already low prices from hundreds of stores including: Macy’s, JCPenney, Home Depot, Target, Walgreens, DressBarn, and BabiesRUs.”

It may be all Memorial Day can do to get a word in edgewise.

In between the holiday sales and tips on how to enjoy a three-day weekend, give some thought to those in our country’s history who gave their last full measure of devotion.

That’s what this Army veteran will do.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 24, 2013

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Civil War, Memorial Day | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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