Good news! Two states had their “Voter ID” laws, aka Voter Suppression laws struck down.
The overturn of the Texas voter ID law is great news for democracy. I call on @GregAbbott_TX to drop his defense of this “poll tax.”— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) October 10, 2014
On Wednesday evening, the Supreme Court overruled a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision reinstating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in North Carolina for the midterms. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.
It’s the second time the Supreme Court has ruled against voting rights in the past ten days, after the court also overruled an appeals court decision reinstating a week of early voting and same-day registration in Ohio.
The roots of the North Carolina case go back to June 25, 2013, when the Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, which meant that states with the worst history of voting discrimination – like North Carolina – no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government.
A month after that ruling, North Carolina passed the country’s toughest voting restrictions, repealing or curtailing every voting reform in the state that encouraged people to vote. The bill became far more extreme because of the Shelby decision and the federal government no longer had the power to prevent it from becoming law. As Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “These measures likely would not have survived federal preclearance.”
Key parts of the voting law were challenged in court this summer. A district court denied a preliminary injunction for the Justice Department and civil rights groups like the North Carolina NAACP and the ACLU, but the Fourth Circuit reinstated same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting on October 1.
The Supreme Court’s decision could have a very negative impact on the election. Nearly 100,000 voters used same-day registration during the early voting period in 2012, including twice as many blacks as whites. Roughly 7,500 voters cast their ballots in the right county but wrong precinct in 2012.
States with same-day registration, like North Carolina, have the highest voter turnout in the country. “Average voter turnout was over 10 percentage points higher in SDR states than in other states,” Demos reported for 2012. North Carolinians now have only two more days to register to vote before the October 10 deadline.
Hundreds of voters were prevented from casting ballots in the May primary when the state eliminated these reforms – a disturbing preview of what’s to come. North Carolina has one of the closest Senate races in the country between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis and is expected to have a large turnout this November. The Supreme Court’s decision could very well decide who controls the Senate.
There’s a cruel irony behind this ruling. The most popular conservative talking point during the Shelby County debate was that Section 2 of the VRA could replace Section 5.
"It seems to me that the Government can very easily bring a Section 2 suit," Justice Kennedy said during oral arguments.
But challenging voting discrimination under Section 2 has been far from easy of late. In three states where new voting restrictions have been struck down under Section 2 in the past year – North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin – the decisions have been reversed by the appeals courts or Supreme Court.
North Carolina’s new voting restrictions are now in effect until a full trial in July 2015. The Tarheel State is the case study for how devastating the Supreme Court’s gutting of the VRA has been.
In other Fox attacks on voters, one minute they point out that “young people are not voting,” then ask, “do we want them to vote if they don’t know the issues?”
If Fox is so concerned about having informed American voters, then perhaps they should stop misleading their viewers on a regular basis.
You see, when Fox says they don’t want young people to vote, they really mean they don’t want non-Fox viewers to vote, considering the average age of their audience is 68, and that age group generally votes Republican.
It also comes as no surprise that a study of public opinion found that Fox News viewers “are particularly likely to support voter ID laws,” which primarily affect women, black Americans, and Democrats. An estimated 11% of Americans do not possess government-issued photo identification.
Other voting groups conservatives have targeted or brushed off:
- Black Americans, including Ferguson residents.
- Single women. And women in general.
- Minorities. Minorities. Minorities.
- Democrats. Obama voters.
- Obamacare applicants
- Elderly voters
- Early voters
- Union members
- Welfare recipients
- Low income voters
- "Dumb" people
- College students
- Absentee voters
- Public employees
- Voters paying under $1k yearly in taxes
- 47% of Americans
Meanwhile, Fox can’t think of one Republican “who wants to take away the right to vote.”
Map of State Criminal Disfranchisement Laws
USA Today reported on Wednesday that the town of Ferguson has seen a huge surge in voter registration since the August 9th death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Less than two months after Ferguson police officer shot the unarmed black teenager six times, the community of roughly 21,000 has seen over 3,000 people register to vote. Overall, St. Louis County is reporting that 4,839 have registered to vote since August 9th — 3,287 of those people live in Ferguson.
In the aftermath of the tragic killing of Brown, both established and new organizations have taken the opportunity to help affect positive change in the community. There have been concentrated efforts on a daily basis to reach out to members of the community and not only register them to vote, but to also educate, mobilize and energize residents when it comes to the political process within their city, county and state. This is seen as especially important due to the fact that while two-thirds of the city’s population is black, the mayor, over 90% of the police force and five of the city council’s six members are white. The town’s seven-person school board has no black members.
Brown’s death and the subsequent reaction by police to protests, have helped energize the black residents of Ferguson to get more involved in the political machinations of the city. It has helped them realize that some of the change they are desperately seeking can occur at the voting booth. If they want to stop the apartheid-like atmosphere in their city and county, they need to utilize the tools available to them and mobilize against the old guard.
Ferguson has become sort of a ground zero for activism and community organization in the past few weeks. A number of offices and organizations have been set up since the protests began in August. Antonio French, a St. Louis city alderman, opened an office on W. Florissant Road that houses his new organization, HealSTL. The organization uses volunteers to set up voter registration tables throughout Ferguson on a daily basis. It also has a website that provides a portal to the state to register to vote online. HealSTL also sells t-shirts and uses the proceeds to help the community.
However, it isn’t just HealSTL doing work in the community. Other grassroots organizations, mostly comprising of young activists from the greater St. Louis area, have popped up and are working with the young residents to motivate and educate them regarding the political process and the power of civil disobedience. Groups like Justice Core STL, Hands Up United, Operation Help or Hush, Lost Voices and Millennial Activists are on the ground daily in Ferguson and doing their best to get the word out. (I have spoken with Kayla Reed of Justice Core STL on multiple occasions. You can check out video interviews here and here.) Older organizations like Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment and Organization for Black Struggle have found new energy and are using their established connections to help organize activities in the community and abroad.
The protests continue on in Ferguson. While the mainstream media has largely moved its attention elsewhere, activists and demonstrators make their voices heard every day and night. Next weekend, a large event is planned in and around Ferguson known as Ferguson October (AKA A Weekend of Resistance). Local organizations are calling on people from around the nation to gather in Ferguson from October 10th through 13th to march and let their voices be heard regarding the epidemic of police violence against unarmed blacks. The weekend will consist not just of marches, but also planned gatherings and panels where there will be discussions regarding a number of issues.
A day before early voting was to begin in Ohio, a 5-4 split court stops lower court rulings from going into effect that allowed for more extensive early voting in the Buckeye state.
WASHINGTON — A day before early voting was due to begin in Ohio, the Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, stopped it before it began.
Although early voting will still happen in Ohio, the state’s NAACP had sued to stop a new state law and an associated order from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted that restrict early voting in the state from going into effect.
The group won at the trial court and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, but, on Monday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of this past week’s order from the 6th Circuit — putting the new rules back into effect.
The court’s more liberal members — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan — would have denied the state’s request for a stay.
Source: Chris Geidner for Buzzfeed News
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a trial court judge’s order blocking Ohio’s restrictions on early voting. A unanimous three-judge panel affirmed the preliminary injunction granted earlier this month by Judge Peter C. Economus, meaning that the cutbacks cannot go into effect until the case is resolved on the merits by the courts. The circuit judges agreed that the restrictions run afoul of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The law, enacted earlier this year, scaled back early voting in the Buckeye State from 35 days to 28 days and scrapped “Golden Week,” when residents could both register and vote in the same week.
From here the state of Ohio can either seek a full court — en banc — ruling at the 6th Circuit or appeal to the Supreme Court.
"With the press of time, it is not clear that Ohio is going to bother to try to change this for this election," wrote election law professor Rick Hasen of UC-Irvine. “But if and when this case gets to the Supreme Court, I expect 5 Justices could well adopt a much narrower definition of equal protection and the Voting Rights Act than offered here.”
National Voter Registration Day is just around the corner!
We all know someone who isn’t registered to vote. A handful of votes on November 4 will determine what direction our country takes.
Send them this link http://bit.ly/XMnmfu or tell them to text MYVOTE to 30644. https://www.facebook.com/WorkingAmerica/photos/a.10150179024053118.326871.92021268117/10152704457898118/?type=1
— Meg Gorski (@MegGorski)September 18, 2014
The Facebook page for the militia has since been scrubbed.
The group plans to follow people from polling locations to their homes, according to a Facebook post viewed by The Capital Times.
"Please private message us names of people you know are active voters and wanted on warrants. We can get our agents to watch their polling location, identify the individual, and then follow them to their residence. A call the police and they will be picked up for processing," the Facebook message read.
The group is using the website Put Wisconsin First to identify petition signers who have outstanding arrest warrants and those with tax defaults.
According to Politicus USA, the Facebook page for the group featured pictures of African-Americans, but the group denied that they are targeting blacks.
"We can assure you that we will be targeting all democrats, not just black ones," a Facebook message read, according to the Capital Times. "If you think we meant blacks only it is because you are a racist who thinks the only people with warrants are black. We know better because we have a nice list of people who are wanted democrat activist types. Most are actually white. We will target everyone."
Next week marks the Supreme Court’s first conference after the Court adjourned last June. The next week marks the formal beginning of its 2014-2015 term. Much of the drama that will unfold in this coming term, however, is likely to come from cases the justices have yet to agree to hear. Marriage equality, abortion and birth control are all fairly likely to wind up on the Court’s docket before the justices go back on vacation next June. In the meantime, however, the justices will consider the rights of pregnant women who face discrimination in the workplace, they will weigh the Voting Right Act for the first time since they gutted much of this law in 2013, they will thrust themselves into the delicate foreign policy problems raised by the tensions in Israel and Palestine, and they will examine when the First Amendment protects people who make violent threats online.
Here are six major cases the justices will consider this term, as well as a short list of issues they stand a good chance of taking up before the term is over:
Peggy Young was tasked with lifting boxes as heavy as 70 pounds in her job as a United Postal Service worker. When she got pregnant, her midwife recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds, and wrote a note asking her employer to put her on light duty. Had Young been written a similar note because Young broke her arm carrying boxes, or suffered from a disability, UPS would have put her on what is known as “light duty.” But UPS wouldn’t do it for Young on account of her pregnancy.
[C]omplaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging pregnancy discrimination have only increased, prompting the Commission to remind employers recently that they still can’t discriminate against pregnant women.
A federal appeals court sided with UPS, finding that granting “light duty” to Young would give pregnant employees an advantage over other other employees and that Young didn’t suffer pregnancy discrimination. But other than those lone judges, UPS doesn’t have many allies in Young v. UPS. Briefs filed on behalf of state and local lawmakers, national medical associations, the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Solicitor General, and even 23 pro-life organizations defend Young’s right to a work accommodation. They say the Fourth Circuit’s ruling was counter to the intent of anti-discrimination laws, that it was bad for the health of mothers and children, that it was bad for the economy, bad for business, and even could encourage women to get abortions. In all, 11 amicus briefs were filed supporting Young and none supporting UPS. Even the members of Congress who passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act explained that they intended for the act the court was interpreting to protect people just like Young, and that the court ruling against her “ignored the unambiguous mandate of the PDA requiring employees to consider only the ability or inability to work in determining a pregnant worker’s entitlement to benefits.”
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from treating pregnant women differently from other employees who are “similar in their ability, or inability, to work.” The act was passed in response to rampant mistreatment and misperceptions of women workers. But these misperceptions persist, even as women now make up about half of the workforce and a large proportion of them will either leave the workforce at some point to have a child, or may be viewed as a woman with the potential to one day leave the workforce for that reason.
In fact, complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging pregnancy discrimination have only increased, prompting the Commission to remind employers recently that they still can’t discriminate against pregnant women.
As a group of women’s advocacy groups and law professors point out in their brief, the ruling against Young is likely to harm the women most in need of pregnancy discrimination protection — those in “low-wage jobs and traditionally male-dominated occupations who are most likely to experience temporary conflicts between the physical effects of pregnancy and job requirements,” and already experience disproportionate discrimination, according to recent statistics.
Despite all of the support and very little public opposition for enforcing pregnancy discrimination laws, the five justices on the Roberts Court most likely to vote against Young are known for having what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to as a “blind spot” when it comes to women. In 2007, these five men rejected Lilly Ledbetter’s fair pay lawsuit, in a decision later overturned by an act of Congress. In 2011, they turned backthe largest-ever class of women alleging gender discrimination by Wal-Mart. And in 2013, that same voting bloc held that many corporations get to decide when their female employees should have access to contraception. Commenting on this blind spot, Ginsburg said in an interview recently, “[T]he justices continue to think and change so I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow.”
When the state of Alabama redrew its legislative districts in 2012, it applied a method one judge described as “naked ‘racial quotas.’” In each district where African Americans were in the majority under the previous maps, according to testimony from one of the legislative leaders involved in the redistricting process, the legislature tried to “at least maintain” or “increase” the percentage of black voters under the new maps. The result was that black voters were packed into relatively few districts, many of which had black supermajorities, rather than having some of those voters be spread into other districts where they could potentially swing the outcome of an election away from the candidate preferred by most whites. In a state where voters are largely polarized on the basis of race — in 2008, 98 percent of African Americans voted for Obama and 88 percent of whites voted for McCain — a racial redistricting scheme that reduces minority voting power also benefits Republicans over Democrats.
When the state of Alabama redrew its legislative districts in 2012, it applied a method one judge described as “naked ‘racial quotas.’”
Alabama justifies its redistricting scheme primarily by arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Actrequired each majority black district to maintain its black population levels after a redistricting. This interpretation of Section 5 is very much in doubt, however. And even if it is the correct reading, the Supreme Court largely neutered Section 5 in its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, so it’s not at all clear that an appeal to Section 5 can still justify racially motivated district lines. The thrust of the Court’s recent affirmative action cases has been that “racial categories or classifications” are subject to the most skeptical level of constitutional scrutiny. If the Court treats Alabama’s racially conscious redistricting process with similar skepticism, it is difficult to see how it survives.
When What You Say On Facebook Lands You In Jail
It’s always been difficult to assess when one person is truly threatening another. But it’s especially difficult on the Internet and social media. If someone tells us they’ll kill us, we may take them at their word out of fear. But what if a similar threat is broadcast to a much broader audience, on social media? Is the threat directed at that person, or is it a form of expression or therapy, directed at a much broader, now-readily available audience? That question has big implications, and it is at the center of the case that is likely the most prominent to assess how we view constitutional principles like free speech in light of evolving cultural and technological norms. In Elonis v. United States, plaintiff Anthony Elonis made some seriously violent comments on Facebook about his wife, who left him and took their children. He said in one status post, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die, bitch, so I can bust this nut all over your corpse from atop your shallow grave. I used to be a nice guy but then you became a slut. Guess it’s not your fault you liked your daddy raped you. So hurry up and die, bitch, so I can forgive you.”
Unsurprisingly, his wife perceived the comments as threatening, particularly after she filed a protective order against him. But the comments also read like rap lyrics. And Elonis says they were not meant to be literal. In fact, he posted on his Facebook page several comments that could be perceived as disclaimers, including one that says, “Art is about pushing limits. I’m willing to go to jail for my constitutional rights. Are you?” In another comment, he mimics a sketch from the satirical troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know, saying, “Did you know that it’s illegal for me to say I want to kill my wife?” Elonis has spent three years in prison for the posts.
The question before the court gets to the heart of how we decide what is known as a “true threat.” The lower court that convicted him decided based on whether an objectively reasonable person would perceive his comment as a threat. But the criminal law often assesses the intent of the person committing the crime. So Elonis argues that the standard should instead whether he intended the statements as threatening.
[W]hen the Wu Tang Clan says “I’ll hang your ass with this microphone,” they are asserting their metaphorical, lyrical dominance.
That’s the debate over the legal standard. But there’s also a cultural and racial one. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes, this case has also become “something of a referendum on the question of whether rap lyrics are an art form.” This isn’t the only case in which communication that is or resembles rap has been used against a defendant in court. There are many other criminal cases in which defendants’ rap lyrics have been used against them, without what rap music scholars sayis a proper appreciation for the standard use of “exaggeration, metaphor, and, above all, wordplay” that are common in rap.
“Without an understanding of the history and traditions of hip hop culture, its artistic elements are vulnerable to misinterpretation,” scholars Erik Nielson and Charis E. Kubrin assert in their amicus brief. The term “body bagged” in rap, for example, means a victory over a rapper’s opponent in a rap battle. Likewise, when the Wu Tang Clan says “I’ll hang your ass with this microphone,” they are asserting their metaphorical, lyrical dominance.
Interestingly, this case, too, has united unlikely allies. In another amicus brief filed in the case, several pro-life groups and anti-abortion protesters joined with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to also endorse a subjective interpretation of true threats, reasoning that an objective standard infringes on the First Amendment right to protest. And several free press organizations also warned that the inherently provocative content of some journalism could be chilled by an objective standard of what constitutes a true threat. No domestic violence or other groups have weighed in to defend the objective standard.
Religious Liberty in Prison
There’s no question that Abdul Maalik Muhammad, an Arkansas inmate and the plaintiff in a lawsuit calledHolt v. Hobbs, is a very dangerous man (the briefs in this case identify him as “Gregory Houston Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad”). He once pled guilty to charges that he threatened to “kidnap and harm the two daughters of President George W. Bush.” A few years later, he “broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend, slit her throat, and stabbed her chest.” Muhammad is undoubtedly a security concerns for the guards in the prison where he is currently incarcerated.
But the fact that Muhammad has a history of violent behavior does not strip him of his right to practice his religious faith. To the contrary, a federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) gives inmates broad religious liberty protections, and permits the government to impose a “substantial burden” on their exercise of religions only when they have an exceptionally good reason to do so. In Mr. Muhammad’s case, he wishes to grow a beard that he believes to be required by his religious faith. In an acknowledgement of the prison’s legitimate security concerns — a too-long beard can be used to conceal contraband or weapons — Muhammad has agreed to limit the length of his beard to only a half-inch.
[T]he fact that Muhammad has a history of violent behavior does not strip him of his right to practice his religious faith.
In their brief, Arkansas officials argue that even the short beard Muhammad wishes to grow presents a security problem. A bearded inmate might hide a piece of a razor blade in their facial hair, or they could hide contraband in their mouth and the resulting “subtle bulge in the cheek” would be disguised by the beard. They might also shave the beard to quickly change their appearance and prevent guards from recognizing them. Yet Muhammad’s attorneys have a fairly convincing response to these objections — “at least forty-four American prison systems would permit [Muhammad’s] half-inch beard, either for all prisoners or for prisoners with religious reasons to grow a beard.” If so many prison systems are indeed capable of managing the security concerns raised by a short beard, it is unclear why Arkansas’ prison system cannot.
Israel and Palestine
Every president since Harry Truman, the president who was in office when the State of Israel was formed, has maintained a policy of neutrality over the question of whether the city of Jerusalem is part of Israel — or, indeed, whether it is part of any other nation. During the Truman Administration, the State Department explained that “the United States cannot support any arrangement which would purport to authorize the establishment of Israeli … sovereignty over parts of the Jerusalem area.” More recently, during the George W. Bush Administration, the State Department explained that “[a]ny unilateral action by the United States that would signal, symbolically or concretely, that it recognizes that Jerusalem is a city that is located within the sovereign territory of Israel would critically compromise the ability of the United States to work with Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region to further the peace process.”
Nevertheless, in an apparent effort to undermine this policy of neutrality regarding which nation may lay claim to Jerusalem, Congress enacted a law in 2002 laying out what purports to be the “UNITED STATES POLICY WITH RESPECT TO JERUSALEM AS THE CAPITAL OF ISRAEL.” A provision of this law provides that U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem may have their birthplace listed as “Israel” on their passport, and the plaintiff inZivotofsky v. Kerry now wants to invoke this law. Both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration countered that the law is unconstitutional because it interferes with the president’s exclusive authority over American foreign policy.
The Constitution’s text provides little clear guidance on whether Congress or the president should prevail in this dispute. Nevertheless, in resolving this case in the president’s favor, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pointed to a history stretching back to the Washington Administration suggesting that the president has “exclusive power to recognize foreign nations.” It also quoted several prior Supreme Court decisions establishing that the President is the “sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations,” or that if “the executive branch … assume[s] a fact in regard to the sovereignty of any island or country, it is conclusive on the judicial department.” The question presented by Zivotofsky is whether Congress can, in effect, trump the president’ s judgment on a matter of foreign policy such as this one, or whether the executive branch’s authority in this area is truly exclusive.
When Cops Stop You By Mistake
Every first year law student learns the fundamental criminal law concept that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” What this means is that, when someone violates the law, it doesn’t matter whether or not they knew what the law said. If it’s a crime, and they are found to have committed the elements of that crime, they are guilty.
Every first year law student learns the fundamental criminal law concept that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” … The same rule may not apply to cops enforcing the law, however.
The same rule may not apply to cops enforcing the law, however. Nicholas Heien was pulled over on a North Carolina interstate for having a broken tail light. But it turns out that one broken tail light is not a violation of North Carolina law so long as one of the two lights are working. Nonetheless, the cops used that purported violation as a reason for pulling Heien over, and then found cocaine once they searched his car.
Heien argued that because the officers made what is known as a mistake of law, the police had no basis to stop him in the first place, and the later search was invalid. The North Carolina Supreme Court nonetheless upheld the stop 4-3, reasoning that officers in this case made a “reasonable” mistake because the text of the law was not explicit. The case gives the Supreme Court the chance, for the first time, to consider when stops, searches, and seizures are ok even if police misunderstand the law.
As Heien’s lawyers argue, “if motorists were subject to seizures based on mistaken interpretations of arguably imprecise laws, it also would be much more difficult –indeed, sometimes downright impossible – for people to avoid being exposed to traffic stops.” It’s unclear whether drivers can avoid stops anyway. As legal scholar Orin Kerry puts it, “if an officer can’t find a traffic violation to stop a car, he isn’t trying very hard.”
As far as test cases go, Kerr points out that this one case has very good facts for the state of North Carolina, because the traffic law was ambiguous and it is far easier for the officers to say they were acting reasonably when they made a mistake. But the ruling gives the justices an opportunity to re-examine the leeway of officers to make traffic stops, at a time when stops continue to fall disproportionately on African Americans and other minorities. Underlying this case is a larger question: Will justices draw the line?
What Is Yet To Come
In addition to these cases, which the Court has already agreed to hear this term, there are three other high-profile issues that could come before the justices in the coming months, including whether the justices will agree with nearly every single federal judge who has considered the issue that the Constitution forbids marriage discrimination against same-sex couples. It is also fairly likely that the Court will need to clarify justhow far its recent Hobby Lobby decision cuts into the ability of workers to obtain birth control coverage. Although the Hobby Lobby decision itself suggested that the government has some leeway to ensure that workers whose employers object to birth control on religious grounds may still obtain contraceptive coverage through a somewhat complicated process, an order the court handed down shortly after Hobby Lobby suggests that the justices may apply much broader limits on the rights of workers.
There is also an unusually high chance that the justices could take a major abortion case this term. Several cases examining so-called TRAP laws — sham health regulations enacted by lawmakers seeking to restrict access to abortion — are winding there way through the federal court system. Additionally, last term the Court agreed to hear a case concerning whether a state may enact a law that restricted access to medication abortion which was justified by a questionable appeal to women’s health. The Court eventually dismissed the medication abortion case without reaching the merits. It is fairly likely, however, that the Court will want to hear another abortion case as soon as this term which presents the question of when states can use doubtful appeals to women’s health in order to restrict abortion.
There is also an unusually high chance that the justices could take a major abortion case this term.
Finally, there is a small-but-not-zero chance that the justices could take a lawsuit seeking to gut the Affordable Care Act by cutting off subsidies to millions of Americans who currently enjoy subsidized health insurance under the law. It would be highly unusual for the justices to take this case, as there is not currently a disagreement among the lower federal courts regarding whether the subsidies may be paid to all Americans who qualify (although two federal appellate judges did rule against the subsidies earlier this year, their decision was later withdrawn by the full appeals court). Given the extraordinarily partisan environment surrounding all things Obamacare, it is possible that four of the Court’s Republican members — and it only takes four votes for the Court to take up a case — could allow their desire to undermine this law to cloud their legal judgment. Nevertheless, such a decision would open the justices to legitimate concerns that they are placing politics before the law and potentially diminish the prestige of an institution which depends upon its reputation as a neutral arbiter of the law to maintain its legitimacy. That should deter the Court even further from taking this case.
True the Vote is one of the most influential groups working to make it harder to vote by pushing for restrictive voter ID laws and launching challenges against people it thinks might be ineligible to vote, tactics which are supposedly directed at preventing voter impersonation fraud and double voting — crimes that in reality are exceedingly rare.
In order to cover up the fact that voter ID laws keep many times more people from the polls than the miniscule number of voter impersonation cases that they might prevent, groups like TTV try to conflate in-person voter fraud — the only thing actually targeted by voter ID laws — with faulty voter registration and with rare but persistent kinds of small-scale voter fraud by elected officials that they have no intention of actually combating.
A great example of this happened yesterday, when TTV reprinted a short blog post by former Bush Justice Department official and conservative activist J. Christian Adams linking to a story about “Three PA Elected Officials Charged With Voter Fraud.”
Adams offers his commentary, implying that this story proves that the numerous studies discrediting the voter ID push are just wrong:
I am curious to see if this barely reported case of voter fraud ever makes it onto one of the ‘academic’ studies purporting to demonstrate very little voter fraud. Those studies are characterized by false negatives.
A quick look at the story in question, however, shows that what happened in Pennsylvania has nothing to do with voter ID or any so-called “voter integrity” laws that Adams and TTV are promoting.
Pennsylvania requires that people requesting an absentee ballot provide a reason, which can be “illness or physical disability” that makes the voter “unable to attend his/her polling place or to operate a voting machine.” Those voters must also provide a copy of their photo ID.
The case that Adams and TTV are touting is that of three township supervisors who were charged with violating election laws in 2011, two for helping 13 elderly voters to apply for and fill out absentee ballots , despite the fact that all were physically able to go to the polls on Election Day and were thus ineligible to obtain absentee ballots in Pennsylvania. One of the supervisors is charged with helping an eligible absentee voter fill out a ballot but failing to report that he had assisted the voter.
None of this would have been prevented by a voter ID requirement. Instead, this is an instance of, at best, a misunderstanding and at worst, public officials using their insider influence to tinker with ballots.
If it’s the latter, all sorts of laws are currently on the books to prevent such instances of election fraud. But it is not something that so-called “voter integrity” activists have shown any interest in addressing, perhaps because it’s already against the law and policed. As the Brennan Center wrote in a 2007 report, such conduct “has been an issue since Senators wore togas” and is a completely separate issue from the kind of supposed fraud that groups like True The Vote claim to be fixing with suppressive voting restrictions.
It is extremely rare for individuals to vote multiple times, vote as someone else, or vote despite knowing that they are ineligible. These rare occurrences, however, are often conflated with other forms of election irregularities or misconduct, under the misleading and overbroad label of “voter fraud.” Some of these other irregularities result from honest mistakes by election officials or voters, such as confusion as to whether a particular person is actually eligible to vote. Some irregularities result from technological glitches, whether sinister or benign: for example, voting machines may record inaccurate tallies. And some involve fraud or intentional misconduct perpetrated by actors other than individual voters: for example, flyers may spread misinformation about the proper locations or procedures for voting; thugs may be dispatched to intimidate voters at the polls; missing ballot boxes may mysteriously reappear. These more common forms of misconduct are simply not addressed by the supposed “anti-fraud” measures generally proposed.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
Asshole of the Day: Georgia Secretary Of State Laments That Democrats Are Registering Minority Voters [TW: Racism, Ethnocentrism, White Privilege, Voter Intimidation]
The audio was released a day after the Senior Deputy Whip for the Georgia Senate Republicans vowed to block early voting dates and locations he felt would attract African American voters.
A day after the Senior Deputy Whip for the Georgia Senate Republicans vowed to block early voting dates and locations that he felt would attract African American voters, a progressive group released audio on Wednesday of Georgia’s Secretary of State warning fellow Republicans that Democrats might win because they are registering minority voters.
The audio, posted on YouTube by Better Georgia, features a man identified as Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp telling fellow Republicans at a July 12, 2014 event in Gwinnett County:
In closing I just wanted to tell you real quick, after we get through this runoff, you know the Democrats are working hard, and all these stories about them, you know, registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November. But we’ve got to do the exact same thing. I would encourage all of you, if you have an Android or an Apple device, to download that app, and maybe your goal is to register one new Republican voter.
Listen to the audio:
The admissions by both Kemp and Senator Fran Millar that minority voters are almost certainly going to vote against the GOP in November contradicts the recent spin by the national party. Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus announced last year that his party would spend millions to reach out to minority groups. The RNC’s own autopsy report on the party’s 2012 election defeats found that many minorities “think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country,” (wrongly, the report argued). Latinos and African Americans voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2012, citing concerns about salary, wages, affordablehealthcare, and immigration.
On Tuesday, Kemp launched a “voter fraud” investigation into a voter registration effort he suspects may have “forged voter registration applications, forged signatures on releases, and applications with false or inaccurate information.” Accusations of voter fraud have been a frequent tool of Republican secretaries of state.
A year ago, Kemp warned that allowing citizens to register to vote on Election Day would undermine their “individual freedoms.” In 2012, he spearheaded an error-riddled effort to purge voters from the rolls just months before the November elections.
Better Georgia executive director Bryan Long said in a statement that Kemp’s and Millar’s comments suggest the investigation is aimed at voter suppression. “The right to vote is sacred, and we should all want to encourage people to vote instead of making it more difficult,” he wrote, adding that, “GOP candidates in Georgia know they cannot win if the electorate reflects the increasing diversity of our state, so Sec. Kemp is using the power of his office to restrict minority voting access. The Justice Department should investigate.
A spokesman for Kemp did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about the remarks.
Source: Josh Israel for ThinkProgress
It is rare for a politician to publicly deride efforts to boost voter turnout. It is seen as a taboo in a country that prides itself on its democratic ideals. Yet, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week slammed efforts to simplify voter registration.
Referring to Illinois joining other states — including many Republican-led ones — in passing a same-day voter registration law, Christie said: “Same-day registration all of a sudden this year comes to Illinois. Shocking. It’s shocking. I’m sure it was all based on public policy, good public policy to get same-day registration here in Illinois just this year, when the governor is in the toilet and needs as much help as he can get.”
Christie was campaigning for Illinois GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed the same-day registration bill into law in July.
Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, denounced the effort to boost voter turnout as an underhanded Democratic tactic, despite the Illinois State Board of Elections being composed equally of Democrats and Republicans. Referring to the same-day voter initiative, Christie said Quinn “will try every trick in the book,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Christie said the program is designed to be a major “obstacle” for the GOP’s gubernatorial candidates.
The trouble with such rhetoric – beyond its anti-democratic themes — is its absurd assertions about partisan motives. After all, many of the 11 states with same-day registration laws currently have Republican governors.
In reality, same-day registration is all about turnout, not partisanship. According to data compiled by the think tank Demos, average voter turnout is more than 10 percent higher in states that allow citizens to register on the same day that they vote. Demos also notes that “four of the top five states for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election all offered same-day registration.” There was some evidence in Wisconsin that same-day registration boosted Democratic turnout, but the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison reports that “Republican areas also saw heavy use of the state’s last-minute registration law.” The registration system been also been adopted by such deeply Republican states as Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.
Unlike Christie, most Republicans who have fought voter turnout efforts like same-day registration have argued that same-day registration would increase voter fraud. This has allowed the GOP to position itself as battling crime — not as trying to block legal voters. But the GOP has been unable to substantiate that voter-fraud claim, and there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Demos, for example, surveyed data from six states with same-day registration and found that “there has been very little voter fraud in [same-day registration] states over the past several election cycles.” In GOP-dominated North Dakota — which requires no voter registration at all — Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger, a Republican, reported that “voter fraud has not been widespread in North Dakota” and that there have been “very few known incidents of voter fraud” in the state.
Those findings confirm a recent analysis of primary, general, special and municipal elections by Loyola University professor Justin Levitt. He found that since 2000, more than a billion ballots have been cast in the United States and there have been just 31 credible incidents of voter fraud.
In light of that data, Republican efforts to prevent same-day registration and preclude voting betray a fear that has nothing to do with voter fraud and everything to do with political power. Essentially, the GOP fears that when more Americans exercise their basic democratic rights, Republicans may have less chance of winning elections.
If Judge Peter Economus’ reasoning is ultimately upheld by a higher court, that would be a serious blow to efforts by many state lawmakers to enact laws restricting the franchise.
Ohio’s attempt to reduce the number of days voters may cast an early ballot is unconstitutional and violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA), according to a decision handed down Thursday by a federal court in that state. Though the decision has a difficult road to travel before Ohio voters can be certain that it will stand — it will appeal to the Sixth Circuit, which has a conservative majority, and ultimately to the same Supreme Court that struck down a key provision of the VRA — Judge Peter Economus’ decision may be the strongest voting rights decision handed down since the justices’ attack on the VRA. Or, at least, it may be the strongest decision in the sense that it calls for a very strong shield to be erected around the right to vote. If his reasoning is ultimately upheld by a higher court, that would be a serious blow to efforts by many state lawmakers to enact laws restricting the franchise.
Much of Judge Economus’ opinion is devoted to explaining how limits on early voting disproportionately impact African-American voters. Many black churches, for example, conduct “Souls to the Polls” events that encourage churchgoers to vote after attending Sunday services — as an Ohio NAACP leader explained, “Sunday was a focal point also because many churches already provide transportation to take people to church, and carpools are also arranged so that everyone is together” — yet the new restrictions on early voting limit these churchgoers’ opportunities to vote on Sunday. Additionally, the new early voting schedule eliminates “Golden Week,” a period when voters can register and vote on the same day. The same NAACP leader testified that African-Americans are especially likely to take advantage of this period because “people in the African-American community in [his community] move frequently, especially since the 2008 recession.”
Empirical data also demonstrates that black voters are more likely to take advantage of early voting. Indeed, according to University of Florida Research Professor Daniel Smith, an expert witness who testified in this case, the rate of early voting in areas that are entirely African-American is more than twice the rate in areas that are entirely white. Additionally, Smith explained that “there is strong empirical evidence in Ohio that a greater proportion of blacks not only cast [early] ballots than whites but do so on early voting days that have been eliminated by” the new voting schedule.
This data matters because, under one of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that was not struck down by the Roberts Court, “[n]o voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Moreover, as a precedent cited by Judge Economus explains, this provision of the VRA “does not require proof of discriminatory intent. Instead, a plaintiff need show only that the challenged action or requirement has a discriminatory effect on members of a protected group[.]”
The VRA prohibits laws that abridges black people’s right to vote. Restricting early voting abridges black people’s right to vote. Therefore it violates the VRA. Q.E.D.
Yet, while this is the strongest argument presented by Economus’ opinion, that doesn’t mean that it will be upheld on appeal. For one thing, as Sean Trende, a political analyst for the news site Real Clear Politics explained in expert testimony on behalf of the state, “’Ohio maintains one of the most expansive systems of early voting in the country,’ with an early-voting period twice the national median.” Though reducing the number of early voting days in Ohio reduces the opportunities for African-Americans to vote from its previous baseline, it is far from guaranteed that a Supreme Court which has been hostile to the Voting Rights Act in the recent past will hold that Ohio is required to maintain its prior baseline.
Indeed, just last month a George W. Bush-appointed judge in North Carolina refused to suspend cuts to early voting in that state, arguing that it was “speculative” to assume that black voters will not shift their voting patterns to other days when voting is allowed. This argument could resonate with a conservative Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, it this decision stands it will be a very important victory for voting rights. Among other things, as Attorney General Eric Holder noted in a press conference Thursday afternoon, Economus’ decision uses some of the “same legal reasoning that underlies the Department’s pending challenges to voting measures” to states like Texas and North Carolina, where lawmakers and state officials are aggressively taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down much of the VRA.
Source: Ian Millhiser for ThinkProgress
This weekend, the Dallas Morning News ran a long investigative piece exposing for the first time an armed raid that state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office ordered on a Houston voter registration operation, Houston Votes, back in 2010. The aftermath played out like ACORN in miniature: Despite the fact that nobody at Houston Votes was charged with any wrongdoing, the organization folded under the pressure of Abbott’s investigation.
The story provides an interesting look at the mechanics of the GOP’s obsessive search for certain types of extraordinarily rare voter fraud in order to justify extreme measures making it harder to cast a ballot. And it also stars two people who have since become familiar names in the national effort to make it more difficult to vote: Abbott, who is now the GOP nominee for governor of Texas, and Catherine Engelbrecht, who now runs the national group True the Vote, but who got her start running a Texas Tea Party group called King Street Patriots.
The raid on Houston Votes was part of a larger campaign by Abbott to uncover what he calls an “epidemic” of voter fraud, in an apparent effort to build support for a restrictive Voter ID law in Texas. Abbott’s campaign hasn’t exactly been a success: According to MSNBC’s Zach Roth, “over the 13 years of Abbott’s tenure, his office can only cite two fraudulent votes that might have been stopped by the ID law.” In the meantime, Abbott’s effort has resulted in some strangely zealous prosecutions, including those of a group of Tea Party activists who tried to cast protest votes in a resident-less utility district.
Dallas Morning News reporter James Drew explains how a racially charged speech by Engelbrecht led to Abbot’s investigation of and raid on Houston Votes:
On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.
The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.
His critics, however, say that what Abbott has really sought to preserve is the power of the Republican Party in Texas. They accuse him of political partisanship, targeting key Democratic voting blocs, especially minorities and the poor, in ways that make it harder for them to vote, or for their votes to count.
A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.
The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.
Fred Lewis formed Texans Together in 2006.
The nonprofit community organizing group used volunteers to register voters in 2008 under the name Houston Votes. It registered only about 6,000 people that year.
For the next big election, in 2010, Lewis wanted to register 100,000 new voters in Harris County. He knew he couldn’t hit that number with volunteers. Houston Votes decided to use paid workers.
By that summer, Houston Votes had come to the attention of the King Street Patriots, a Houston-based tea party group. At the group’s regular meeting in Houston, its leader, Catherine Engelbrecht, talked about the New Black Panther Party. She then played a Fox news clip of an unidentified black man saying: “We have to exterminate white people off the face of the planet.”
The clip was 5 years old. It came from a forum in Washington about media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. But after the clip ended, Engelbrecht showed a picture of a house in Houston. She said it was the office of the New Black Panthers, at Main and Dowling streets.
Dowling Street is infamous for a 1970 gun battle between police officers and African-American militants, one of whom was killed.
“Houston has a new neighbor,” Engelbrecht said. She added that a person outside the house appeared to be an employee of Houston Votes.
The house shown on the screen was the office of Houston Votes. It had nothing to do with the New Black Panther Party. And it was about 9 miles from Dowling Street.
Two weeks later, the King Street Patriots held another meeting. Paul Bettencourt, the former Harris County tax assessor-collector, was a guest speaker.
He said Houston Votes was worse at registering voters than ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Dozens of ACORN employees across the nation were convicted of voter registration fraud.
The next day, Bettencourt’s successor as tax assessor-collector, fellow Republican Leo Vasquez, held a news conference.
“The integrity of the voter roll of Harris County, Texas, appears to be under an organized and systematic attack by the group operating under the name ‘Houston Votes,’” he said.
Houston Votes had submitted about 25,000 voter registration applications. Vasquez said many were duplicates, or already registered. Only 7,193 were “apparently new voters,” he said.
Houston Votes later pointed to public records showing that at the time of the news conference, about 21,000 of the 25,000 who applied to register were already validated by the county and pending final approval by the secretary of state. Among those 21,000, the state had already given final approval to 7,193.
Vasquez announced he was referring the matter for “investigation and possible prosecution” to the Texas secretary of state and the Harris County district attorney.
The secretary of state, who advises local election officials on election laws, forwarded Vasquez’s information to the attorney general’s office on Sept. 14, 2010.
Abbott’s office opened a criminal investigation soon after.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW