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“I Don’t Follow That Every Day”: Selma’s Senator Not Really Sure What’s Going On With That Voting Rights Stuff

It was just last weekend that people flooded into Selma, Alabama, to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights marches there — marches that led to the Voting Rights Act.

Dozens of lawmakers made the trek, including Democrats who have been desperately seeking Republicans to help them pass legislation to restore the landmark 1965 law. The Supreme Court in July 2013 struck down a key provision that determined which states and localities with a history of suppressing minority voters had to get permission from the Justice Department to change their voting laws. The court ruled 5-4 that the section of the law was outdated, and left it to Congress to come up with a new formula for designating which regions of the country warrant special scrutiny.

Lawmakers have put forward a bill that offers a solution: It would update the formula to make it apply to states and jurisdictions with voting violations in the past 15 years. But supporters have had a hard time getting Republicans to sign on, which prevented the measure from moving in the last Congress. This year, the House bill has a handful of GOP co-sponsors; the forthcoming Senate bill has none.

Asked Tuesday if he supports efforts to restore the law with historic roots in his state, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he’s not sure what that’s all about.

“I’m not on the Judiciary Committee. I don’t follow that every day,” said Shelby. “You probably need to talk to one of the people who would do the initial action there.”

Shelby said he didn’t read the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, but remembers seeing something about it in the newspaper. He said he doesn’t know anything about how members of Congress are proposing to fix the law.

“No, no, no,” said Shelby, when asked if he’s familiar with a bill aimed at restoring the law. “But my colleagues are. I deal with banking and appropriations … I don’t know what the court did. I know what they did — they struck down something. But let the Judiciary Committee look at that. I will listen to them.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced last year’s Voting Rights Act bill and held hearings on it, has been vocal in his quest to find a GOP co-sponsor. He plans to reintroduce his bill again soon.

“I have been working for the past six months to find a single Senate Republican to join me,” Leahy said Friday. “Restoring the Voting Rights Act should not be a partisan issue.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who teamed up with Leahy in sponsoring last year’s Voting Rights Act bill, told HuffPost last week that Republicans have given him different reasons for not supporting the bill. Some don’t think it’s necessary, he said, and others want to make broader to changes to the law.

But other Republicans may be more amenable, and the challenge for Democrats may simply be in singling them out and bringing them up to speed on the legislation.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), for one, said Tuesday that he’s not opposed to restoring the Voting Rights Act.

“I supported the last one,” Flake said, referring to the last time Congress reauthorized the law itself. “It just hasn’t been on my radar screen. I’ll take a look.”

 

By: Jennifer Bendery, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 11, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Richard Shelby, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Adegbile’s Denied Confirmation Is Affront To Our Principles”: A Handful Of Democrats Help Launch The Explosives

Last week, the floor of the U.S. Senate was the scene of a bipartisan travesty, an affront to the principles of the Constitution, an assault on the notion of American exceptionalism. With the help of several Democrats, Republicans refused to confirm Debo P. Adegbile, President Obama’s nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

The GOP’s resistance was expected since its senators oppose every nominee the president puts forward. But this time, Adegbile’s new job was torpedoed because a handful of Democrats stepped forward to help launch the explosives. They found objections in Adegbile’s résumé, despite his impeccable credentials, sterling reputation and years of advocacy in the causes associated with civil rights.

Indeed, it is precisely that advocacy that led to the assault on his qualifications. His alleged misstep? Adegbile, a lawyer, was tangentially involved in filing a court challenge on behalf of a former Black Panther named Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Adegbile was litigation director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it filed a brief contesting the jury-sentencing instructions, an argument which resulted in commutation of Abu-Jamal’s sentence from death to life in prison in 2012.

That process is embedded in decades of case law. Defense attorneys are supposed to vigorously represent accused criminals — no matter the crimes with which they have been charged, no matter their guilt or innocence, no matter how radical their demeanor or vile their behavior — especially in capital cases.

Among the people who ought to understand that is Pennsylvania’s senior Democratic senator, Bob Casey. If he had any decency, any gumption, any courage, Casey would have helped to smooth Adegbile’s path.

He would have noted that American justice rests on the idea that each person stands equally before the bar, a credo that cannot be upheld without defense attorneys for the accused. The senator might have pointed out that in the U.S. armed forces, even the most heinous criminals are represented by competent defense counsel. And he might have reminded Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police that Adegbile did not spare Abu-Jamal’s life. A federal court did so because it agreed that instructions to the jury were unconstitutional.

Instead, Casey led the Democratic opposition. He explained his refusal to support the nominee with this statement:

“I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime. (But) it is important … citizens … have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed. The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the city of Philadelphia.”

That statement is confusing, contradictory and just plain dumb. Casey will ignore the system of law because of the awful grief borne by Maureen Faulkner? I cannot begin to imagine what her family has endured since her husband was gunned down shortly before his 26th birthday, but we don’t allow the anguish of families to dictate justice. If we did, they could serve as jurors, judges and executioners. But that wouldn’t be any different from a lynch mob, would it?

Similarly, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) explained his stick-in-the eye to Adegbile by speaking of the pain endured by the Faulkner family, even while acknowledging that “an attorney is not responsible for the actions of their client.” That wasn’t as outlandish as the rhetoric from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who claimed that Adegbile was “seeking to glorify an unrepentant cop-killer,” but it was a non sequitur.

In this shameful episode, the person who best represented American values was Adegbile, the son of a Nigerian father and an Irish immigrant mother. He clearly puts more faith in the fundamental principles of his homeland than the 52 senators who voted against him.

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 8, 2014

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Constitution | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Senate GOP Blocks Veterans’ Bill”: Shame On Republicans For Bringing Base Politics Into A Bill To Help Veterans

As a rule, legislation related to veterans’ benefits tends to garner bipartisan support, but as we were reminded this afternoon, there are exceptions.

Senate Republicans stopped Democrats from advancing a bill that would have expanded healthcare and education programs for veterans.

In a 56-41 vote Thursday, the motion to waive a budget point of order against the bill failed. Democrats didn’t have the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican roadblock.

Only two of the Senate’s 45 Republicans – Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) – voted with the Democratic majority. That was obviously not enough to end the GOP’s obstruction.

The bill, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Pay Restoration Act, was quite expansive. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a co-sponsor, posted an overview of the legislation, highlighting its expanded VA health care access, tuition assistance, and job training. These certainly sound like the sort of things GOP lawmakers could go for.

So why did Senate Republicans block it?

Some GOP senators said they were unsure of the pay-for provisions – helping veterans matters, but making sure the deficit isn’t slightly larger really matters – but perhaps the biggest complaint had to do with Iran.

Senate Republicans demanded a vote on their own alternative legislation, which included a provision to impose new sanctions on Iran, and which would imperil the delicate international nuclear talks that are still ongoing.

GOP senators want a vote on the sanctions, regardless of the consequences; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) won’t go along; so the Republican minority blocked the bill on veterans’ benefits.

“I hope all the veterans groups have witnessed all the contortions the Republicans have done to defeat this bill,” Reid said this afternoon. “Shame on Republicans for bringing base politics into a bill to help veterans.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 27, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Senate, Veterans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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