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“Obama Will Make Some News Thursday, Too”: Will Call For The Restoration Of The Voting Rights Act On Its 50th Anniversary

As I write this post, political junkies are awaiting the official word on the list of candidates who will appear in Thursday’s first official Republican presidential debate. But in an example of questionable timing by Fox News, Thursday is the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And since said act was largely vitiated by a conservative majority of SCOTUS in 2013, and congressional Republicans have barely lifted any fingers to restore it, the president’s going to do everything possible to force voting rights into the national consciousness that day, and perhaps even into the GOP debate, as reported by The Hill‘s Jordan Fabian:

President Obama will call for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act on its 50th anniversary Thursday, the White House said.

Obama will hold a teleconference to commemorate the landmark legislation and call for its renewal, following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that voided one of its central provisions.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who rose to prominence in the 1960s as a civil rights leader, will participate.

The event will allow Obama to draw a sharp contrast with Republicans, many of whom argue some provisions of the 1965 law went too far. It will take place on the same day as the first GOP presidential primary debate.

You have to love this quote:

Asked about the timing of the event, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that “one person’s irony is another person’s serendipity.”

“Maybe there will be an opportunity for Republican candidates to discuss the right for every American to cast a vote,” he added.

It will tell you a lot about the GOP and about Fox News if the subject is not mentioned on Thursday night.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 4, 2015

August 5, 2015 Posted by | Fox News, GOP Primary Debates, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Strange Justice”: A Victory For Right-Wing Ideology, But A Profound And Deep Loss For Racial Justice

Yesterday marked the twentieth anniversary of one of the great wrong turns in American civil-rights history, a grotesque decision that helped those who falsely and nonsensically believe that eliminating federal efforts to establish racial equality will somehow, in and of itself, establish racial equality. The horror of that day still reverberates, the pain of that moment still sears.

On June 12, 1995, the United States Supreme Court, in a ghastly 5-4 decision known as Adarand Constructors v. Pena, gutted the legal infrastructure upholding the country’s affirmative action programs:

In refusing for the first time to uphold a federal affirmative action policy, the court said that such race-based policies enacted by Congress must now survive the same judicial standard that state and local programs have faced since 1989. Known as ‘strict scrutiny,’ it is the toughest judicial standard to meet. To survive, a program must serve a compelling governmental interest and must be narrowly tailored to address identifiable past discrimination.

“Government may treat people differently because of their race only for the most compelling reasons,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the court. She said the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws protects “persons, not groups” of people.

“It follows from that principle that all governmental action based on race – a group classification long recognized as . . . irrelevant and therefore prohibited – should be subjected to detailed judicial inquiry to ensure that the personal right to equal protection of the laws has not been infringed.”

O’Connor and her conservative court colleagues effectively struck Rep. John Lewis in the head one more time with this disgusting and destructive ruling, which was, of course, seized upon by right-wing ideologues to block pathways to black progress. The Adarand decision represented the Supreme Court’s shout-out to those who believed that the federal government had done too much to combat past and present-day discrimination.

Perhaps the most repugnant aspect of this decision was the concurring opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas–an opinion that rhetorically lynched his own black brothers and sisters. Then-TIME Magazine columnist Jack E. White was correct beyond refutation when he observed:

These days Washington seems to be filled with white men who make black people uneasy, like Newt [Gingrich] the slasher, Bill [Clinton] the waffler and Jesse the crank—Helms, that is, not Jackson. But the scariest of all the hobgoblins may well be a fellow African American, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In the four years since George Bush chose him to fill the “black seat” vacated by Thurgood Marshall, Thomas has emerged as the high court’s most aggressive advocate of rolling back the gains Marshall fought so hard for. The maddening irony is that Thomas owes his seat to precisely the kind of racial preference he goes to such lengths to excoriate. And as long as he is on the court, no other black need apply: Thomas fills a quota of one.

The most disturbing thing about Thomas is not his conclusions, but his twisted reasoning and bilious rage. In his written opinions, he begins with premises that no self-respecting black would disagree with, then veers off into a neverland of color-blind philosophizing in which all race-based policies, from Jim Crow laws designed to oppress minorities to affirmative-action measures seeking to assist them, are conflated into one morally and legally pernicious whole. He delights in gratuitously tongue-lashing the majority of blacks who disagree with him on almost every civil rights issue. He heaps scorn on federal judges who have used the bench to enforce and expand civil rights, accusing them of a paternalistic belief in black inferiority…

[Thomas] does not hesitate to incorporate dubious theories into his opinions when they suit his purposes. In his brief concurring opinion in the court’s Adarand Constructors v. Pena, in which the court suggested that federal set-aside programs for minority contractors may be unconstitutional, Thomas wrote, “Inevitably, such programs engender attitudes of superiority or, alternatively, provoke resentment among those who believe that they have been wronged by the government’s use of race. These programs stamp minorities with a badge of inferiority and may cause them to develop dependencies or to adopt an attitude that they are entitled to preferences.” That claim reflects the wisdom of Gingrich country, where, as the House Speaker opined last week, most problems poor black people face are caused by their own “bad habits.”

What Thomas, O’Connor and their right-wing friends will never admit is that bigotry will always be with us; it is hard-wired into our very nature, and thus the federal government will always need to take measures to ensure that bigotry does not strangle the aspirations of Americans of color. To that end, there will never be a day that we can get rid of affirmative action. We will always need goals, timetables, set-asides, preferences and yes, even the dreaded quotas, as they are nothing more than tangible measures by which we seek to reduce racial inequality.

The Adarand decision did great violence to the dream of racial equality. It empowered aggrieved right-wing whites to attack affirmative action programs with vicious vehemence, and put white progressives on the defensive against dubious claims of so-called reverse discrimination. The case was a victory for right-wing ideology, but a profound and deep loss for racial justice.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 13, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racial Justice, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John Lewis Tells His Truth About Selma”: Reflections Of A Legacy Of Resistance That Led Many To Struggle And Die For Justice

The role of art in our society is not to reenact history but to offer an interpretation of human experience as seen through the eyes of the artist. The philosopher Aristotle says it best: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.”

The movie “Selma” is a work of art. It conveys the inner significance of the ongoing struggle for human dignity in America, a cornerstone of our identity as a nation. It breaks through our too-often bored and uninformed perception of our history, and it confronts us with the real human drama our nation struggled to face 50 years ago.

And “Selma” does more than bring history to life, it enlightens our understanding of our lives today. It proves the efficacy of nonviolent action and civic engagement, especially when government seems unresponsive. With poignant grace, it demonstrates that Occupy, inconvenient protests and die-ins that disturb our daily routine reflect a legacy of resistance that led many to struggle and die for justice, not centuries ago, but in our lifetimes. It reminds us that the day could be approaching when that price will be required again.

But now this movie is being weighed down with a responsibility it cannot possibly bear. It’s portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s role in the Selma marches has been called into question. And yet one two-hour movie cannot tell all the stories encompassed in three years of history — the true scope of the Selma campaign. It does not portray every element of my story, Bloody Sunday, or even the life of Martin Luther King Jr. We do not demand completeness of other historical dramas, so why is it required of this film?

“Lincoln,” for example, was a masterpiece, a fine representation of what it takes to pass a bill. It did not, however, even mention Frederick Douglass or the central role of the abolitionists, who were all pivotal to the passage of the 13th Amendment. For some historians that may be a glaring error, but we accept these omissions as a matter of perspective and the historical editing needed to tell a coherent story. “Selma” must be afforded the same artistic license.

Were any of the Selma marches the brainchild of President Johnson? Absolutely not. If a man is chained to a chair, does anyone need to tell him he should struggle to be free? The truth is the marches occurred mainly due to the extraordinary vision of the ordinary people of Selma, who were determined to win the right to vote, and it is their will that made a way.

As for Johnson’s taped phone conversation about Selma with King, the president knew he was recording himself, so maybe he was tempted to verbally stack the deck about his role in Selma in his favor. The facts, however, do not bear out the assertion that Selma was his idea. I know. I was there. Don’t get me wrong, in my view, Johnson is one of this country’s great presidents, but he did not direct the civil rights movement.

This film is a spark that has ignited interest in an era we must not forget if we are to move forward as a nation. It is already serving as a bridge to a long-overdue conversation on race, inequality and injustice in this country today. It may well become a touchstone, a turning point for another generation of activists who will undertake the next evolutionary push for justice in America.

It would be a tragic error if Hollywood muted its praise for a film because it is too much a story and not enough an academic exercise.

Whenever I have a tough vote in Congress, I ask myself what would leaders of courage do? What would King and Robert Kennedy do? What is the right thing to do? What is the fair and honest thing to do?

The people have already spoken. They are marching to the theaters, arrested by the drama of this film, moved by ideas too long left to languish, driven to their feet and erupting in enthusiastic applause.

 

By: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the leaders of two of the Selma marches, is portrayed in “Selma.” He has been a member of Congress since 1987; Op-Ed Opinion, The Los Angeles Times, january 16, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr, Selma | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Protest 101, A Chance To Change The World Again”: Some Thoughts As We Wait To See Whether Ferguson Burns

Last week, I spent a day at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where some students and I talked about protest. Des Moines is six hours up the road from Ferguson, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot to death by a police officer in August, prompting weeks of often violent clashes between protesters, rioters and heavily militarized police.

Some of the kids have ties in that area, so they were waiting — even more tensely than the rest of us — to see if a grand jury would indict the officer and whether the failure to do so would mean renewed violence. These were serious-minded young people concerned about the state of their nation and they were wondering what they could do to effect change.

I’ve had similar talks on college campuses going back before most of us ever heard of Ferguson. I’ve lost count of how many students have told me: “I want to change things, but I don’t know how. What can I do?”

It amazes me that half a century ago people their age fought for civil rights, women’s rights and an end to a useless war in Southeast Asia using no technology more sophisticated than mimeograph machines and rotary dial telephones, while kids with iPads and social media accounts feel helpless to make themselves heard. I’ve walked away from many encounters with students feeling that they were earnest, well intentioned — and utterly clueless about their power to better the world.

Nor am I alone in that. I often hear older people, those who marched, leafleted and shouted for justice in the ’60s, complain that Kids These Days are too complacent. They lament what they would do if they were just young enough. Rep. John Lewis, the hero of the voting rights campaign in Selma, often puts it like this: “Young people today are too quiet.”

But here’s an idea: Instead of just criticizing them, why don’t their elders teach them? Meaning not just icons of the struggle for human rights like Gloria Steinem, Diane Nash and Tom Hayden, but lesser-known footsoldiers whose names never made the history books. Why don’t they put together college campus lectures, church basement meetings, podcasts?

Call it Protest 101, a seminar in how to organize effectively for change. It would be a gift to the next generation, one the elder generation is uniquely positioned to give.

I vacillate on what John Lewis said. Sometimes it seems to me that young people are, indeed, entirely too quiet, too narcotized by gadgets, games and irrelevancies to notice the world is going to heck around them. Other times, it seems that they simply don’t know what to do about it, that they have been made to feel too helpless and small to make a difference.

But as the Occupy movement a few years ago demonstrated and Ferguson reiterates, there is a new ferment among young people — and people not so young — as they see civil rights gains whittled away, as they see elections rigged like a casino slot machine by monied interests, as they see unarmed black boys gunned down without consequence, as they see robber barons too big to fail game the economy and get away scot-free while the full weight of American jurisprudence and media indignation drops like a brick on poor people and immigrants.

What a waste if that energy goes only into the breaking of windows. What a loss if that moral authority is burned up in fire.

This nascent, inchoate movement knows how to get attention, but has no idea what to do after that. It is undisciplined and unformed and does not know how to articulate an agenda for change. I submit that that’s where their elders come in.

The ’60s generation once changed the world. Here’s a chance to change it again.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 17, 2014

November 20, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cleaning Up The Supreme Court’s Democracy Mess”: Voting Discrimination Is Far From Ancient History

One year ago this week, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and took yet another step toward undermining our democracy. Since then, civil rights leaders have been hard at work trying to clean up the Court’s mess.

The Shelby decision was a devastating loss, especially for those who fought to see the original Voting Rights Act enacted. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, accused the Supreme Court of “stab[bing] the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart.” Civil rights advocates mourned the naïve assumption that Selma had been relegated to ancient history and that racial discrimination in voting went with it. People For the American Way’s director of African American religious affairs noted on the day of the decision: “Those who sided with the majority clearly have not been paying attention, reading the paper, attending community meetings, living in America.”

Indeed, anyone who has been paying attention knows that voting discrimination is far from ancient history. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found nearly 150 documented instances of voting rights violations since 2000, with each case affecting between hundreds and tens of thousands of voters.

Happily, reform is finally underway in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to put the VRA back together again. It’s a critically important first step in getting our country’s laws back to where they need to be on voting rights protections. But so far House Republican leadership has refused to move forward. Maybe they think that if they pretend a problem doesn’t exist, they won’t have to fix it.

The push for voting rights protections isn’t the only effort underway to clean up the mess the Supreme Court has made of our democracy. With the 2012 election the most expensive in history, this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous 2010 ruling that paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. Like Shelby, Citizens United was a contentious 5-4 decision with a strong dissent. Also like Shelby, it set our democracy back dramatically. Citizens United let corporate bank accounts overwhelm the voices of everyday Americans. Shelby made it easier for state and local governments to create barriers to voting.

But Americans know that the answer to attacks on our democracy isn’t despair — it’s action. Sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics like the one moving forward in the Senate, and that number is growing rapidly.

National leaders are also speaking out. President Obama has expressed his support for an amendment to overturn Citizen United multiple times since the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are just a handful of other high-profile amendment supporters. And earlier this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not hold back her disdain for the recent democracy-harming decisions coming from the Supreme Court’s majority: “Like the currently leading campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I regard Shelby County as an egregiously wrong decision that should not have staying power.”

The Supreme Court has made some very bad calls when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to participate meaningfully in our political system. But Justice Ginsburg is right: These wrong-headed decisions shouldn’t have staying power. And if the American people have anything to do with it, they won’t.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, June 25, 2014

June 26, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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