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“Just Secede Already!”: Texas Asks Court To Nuke The Voting Rights Act, Forever

When the Supreme Court dismantled a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last June, there were two small silver linings in this decision. The first was the possibility that Congress could revive the regime killed by the Court, where states with particularly poor records of racialized voter suppression must “preclear” their voting practices with the Justice Department or a federal court before those practices can take effect. The second potential silver lining is Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows a state to be brought back under the preclearance requirement if a court finds that it engaged in “violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief.”

Now, however, Texas wants to destroy these two silver linings as well. And there is a fair chance that the conservative Supreme Court will allow them to do so.

Late last month, the Justice Department joined a Section 3 lawsuit claiming that federal supervision of Texas’ election practices should be reinstated in light of very recent examples of intentional race discrimination by Texas. Among other things, a federal court found that Texas “consciously replaced many of [a] district’s active Hispanic voters with low-turnout Hispanic voters in an effort to strengthen the voting power of [the district’s] Anglo citizens.” These, the Justice Department explained, were “violations of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment” justifying federal supervision.

Texas’ response to the Justice Department does not simply reject the idea that it should be subject to preclearance, it calls upon the courts to declare virtually any preclearance regime unconstitutional. According to Texas, the Supreme Court’s decision hobbling the Voting Rights Act “threw out Congress’s reauthorization of a preclearance regime because the legislative record failed to show ‘anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965, and that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the Nation at that time.’” In other words, Texas wants a federal court order saying that any effort to reinstate the Voting Rights Act in Texas is unconstitutional unless Texas transforms into Mississippi at the height of the Jim Crow era.

And they may very well succeed in getting this order. While Texas’ theory cannot be squared with the text of the Fifteenth Amendment — which provides that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and gives Congress “power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation” — it is not that hard to square with the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion does indeed contain language suggesting that only something “approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965″ can permit a preclearance regime now. The fact that this language flies in the face of the Constitution is not likely to bother the five conservative justices who already signed onto it once.

As a final act of chutzpah, Texas also claims that it cannot be subject to preclearance because “Hispanic citizens in Texas registered to vote at higher rates” than Hispanics in other states not subject to federal supervision under the Voting Rights Act. That very well be true, but it’s also besides the point. The thrust of the Justice Department’s lawsuit is that Texas intentionally drew its district lines so that white votes would count more and Hispanic votes would count less. In other words, the whole purpose of these lines was to make sure that it didn’t matter if Hispanic voters registered at high rates because their voting power would still be diluted by gerrymandering. It’s like a basketball referee claiming that it doesn’t matter that he’s not counting all the points scored by one team because that team is taking more shots.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, August 9, 2013

August 10, 2013 Posted by | Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It Was A Bad Bill”: A Step Forward, Florida To Hold Hearings On Stand Your Ground Law

Florida House of Representatives Speaker Will Weatherfold (R) announced on Friday that Florida legislators will hold hearings in the fall concerning the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, which allows people to use deadly force in self-defense when they believe their life is at risk.

The announcement comes nearly a month after a not-guilty verdict was reached in the George Zimmerman trial. Two jurors stated that because of the Stand Your Ground law, they had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman, who fatally shot unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.

After the acquittal, Martin’s parents were joined by civic leaders, students, and political figures — including President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder — in urging Florida to review the law.

“Across Florida, representatives are receiving calls, letters, visits and emails from constituents with diverse opinions on ‘Stand Your Ground,’” Weatherfold said in his announcement.

He also asked: “Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?”

These are the same questions being asked across Florida and the nation by those who fear that the law only protects a few privileged groups of people.

Critics argue that the law is not applied fairly across the board, and also allows anyone who deems another person threatening – even if only because of race or gender – to use lethal force against that person.

Race also plays a significant role in how a person is prosecuted in the context of the law.

A national Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday found that most voters support the Stand Your Ground laws, but that gender, race, and ideology divide Americans on the question of whether to retreat or use deadly force in self-defense. The poll also found that a majority of white voters and men support the laws, black voters generally oppose them, and women are more evenly divided.

Just a year ago, Representative Dennis Baxley (R-FL) told MSNBC that since the Stand Your Ground law went into effect in 2005, Florida has seen a drop in violent crime. In an interview with PBS Newshour, Baxley added that he thought the law “has saved thousands of people’s lives.”

Crime rates in Florida had been declining years before Stand Your Ground took effect, however, and there is no way to prove the law is the reason behind the decline.

Others contend that “justifiable” deaths have actually increased since Stand Your Ground was implemented. Economist Mouhcine Guettabi, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, conducted a study by taking data from the 29 states that do not have “stand your ground” laws, and “weighted key factors like personal income, population density, percentages of white, black, Hispanic and Asian residents, and the crime rate.”

At the end of his study, Guettabi found that he could attribute 158 more deaths per year since the passage of Stand Your Ground in Florida; that number dropped to 144 when excluding the 14 accidental gun deaths.

Guettabi concluded that “crime rates did not go up or down after the law was added,” but “gun deaths were higher than they would have been without ‘stand your ground.’”

Former Florida Senator Les Miller has now come forward to say that he regrets voting in favor of the law and added: “It was a bad bill.”

In July, protesters met with Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) to discuss the law. Once the meeting was over, Scott told the protesters that he supported the bill and would not call a special session. Instead, Scott called for a day of prayer that following Sunday. Scott went on to urge protesters and critics of the law to call their local legislators and provide examples of why they believe the law has the potential to result in more violence.

Chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee Matt Gaetz (R) responded to Weatherford’s announcement by firmly stating, “I don’t intend to move one damn comma on the ‘stand your ground’ law. I’m fully supportive of the law as it’s written.”

Additionally, Gaetz claimed “any aberrational circumstances that have resulted are due to errors at the trial court level.”

Senate President Don Gaetz (R), the chairman’s father, has also maintained his support for the law.

Still, protesters are optimistic about the hearings.

Philip Agnew, head of demonstration group Dream Defenders, said, “It’s a critical step. We’re excited about having an open debate.”

Weatherford has not yet set a formal date for the hearings or stated how long they are expected to last.

 

By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, August 5, 2013

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Stand Your Ground Laws | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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