The Supreme Court's 2014-2015 Term: PFAW Member Telebriefing

Yesterday, People For the American Way members participated in a telebriefing to discuss the Supreme Court’s upcoming term and to preview some of the important cases the Court will be hearing this year. The call was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by PFAW Director of Communications Drew Courtney. PFAW’s Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon reviewed highlights of his recent report previewing the Supreme Court’s upcoming term and answered questions from members. Also on the call and answering questions were Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Among the cases Gordon previewed were Young v. UPS, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, Mach Mining v. EEOC, Holt v. Hobbs, and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama / Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. The issues addressed in these cases range from employment discrimination and workers’ rights, to religious liberty and voting rights.

He also discussed potential cases that the Court could still add for this term, which included cases on marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, and contraception coverage by religious nonprofits—the “sequels to Hobby Lobby.”

Members’ questions focused on how the country can move forward to change some of the more damaging decisions like Citizens United, and what each person could do to effect change and impact the courts. Emphasizing what is at stake this election, both PFAW President Michael Keegan and Gordon called on people to vote in November because “when you vote … for the Senate, you are voting for the next Supreme Court justice.”

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.

 

PFAW

Failing to Defend the Right to Vote Is Simply Not an Option

Earlier this week, on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the important work of restoring the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). People For the American Way and its African American Ministers in Action program were among the many voting rights advocates who sent a loud and clear message that the VRA is still needed, and the time is now to right what the Court wronged.

As we work to ensure not only that President Obama receives legislation without undue delay, but also that whatever language he signs protects as many voters as possible from discrimination, it is important to remember those who died a half century ago fighting for this very cause.

On June 21, 1964, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were murdered in Mississippi while participating in the Freedom Summer campaign to register African Americans to vote.

Today, they are remembered by our friends at Bend the Arc.

Following "Bloody Sunday" on March 7, 1965, Reverend James Reeb traveled to Selma, AL to participate in a second attempt to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge. On the 9th, he was beaten. On the 11th, he succumbed to his injuries.

Today, members of one of his former congregations, All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC, are "singing on" for change.

Failing to defend the right to vote is simply not an option.

It wasn't then. It isn't now.

PFAW

Rubio and Sessions Can Prevent Delay of Critical 11th Circuit Vote

Get ready. There’s more Republican obstruction on the way.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on 11th Circuit nominee Robin S. Rosenbaum for this Thursday, which is an important step forward in the fight to address our judicial vacancy crisis. Fully a third of the 11th Circuit’s twelve active judgeships are currently vacant, and all four of its empty slots have been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Offices of U.S. Courts.

The vacancy crisis in the 11th Circuit is so bad that the court’s chief judge, Edward Carnes, issued an order in December temporarily suspending the standard rule that at least two judges on a three-judge 11th Circuit panel must be members of that court. That means that going forward, two of three judges on these panels could be visiting from someplace else, potentially outvoting the one 11th Circuit judge. It is vital that Judge Rosenbaum be confirmed in a timely manner. And that starts with a timely committee vote.

But it’s unlikely that’s enough reason for GOP Senators to drop their campaign of endless delays for judicial nominations.

Republicans are expected to delay that committee vote using a procedural tactic that they have deployed against all but five of President Obama’s judicial nominees.

That is, unless Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Jeff Sessions steps in.

Rosenbaum is from Florida, which gives Rubio a special responsibility to urge Republican senators on the committee not to delay the vote. It is a chance for him to prioritize his constituents over politics. Similarly, Sessions, who represents a state (Alabama) covered by the 11th Circuit, also has a unique responsibility, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, to avoid such needless delay.

Will either Rubio or Sessions step up and help move the process in a more functional direction? We’ll learn on Thursday, but if past events are a predictor of future behavior, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
 

PFAW

Representative John Lewis: "There's other bridges to walk across"

Just 11 days ago, on June 14, 2013, Representative John Lewis was honored as a 2013 Progressive Champion by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.


Starting at 4:13

Representative Lewis offered an impassioned call to action:

We've come too far. We've made too much progress to stop now or to go back. But we must move forward.

After recalling the ultimate sacrifice made by his contemporaries from the Civil Rights Movement, Representative Lewis continued:

We must be prepared to fight the good fight. And never, ever give up.

He was specifically urging his audience to press on regardless of the Supreme Court's imminent ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which we now know gutted the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 remains on the books and remains constitutionally valid, but without Section 4, no part of the country is actually covered by Section 5.

As Representative Lewis marks the 50th anniversary of his chairmanship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), we cannot forget that this is a man who put his life on the line to get the VRA passed in the first place.

On March 7, 1965, what became known as Bloody Sunday, voting rights marchers were beaten in their attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Fifty-eight marchers were treated at a local hospital for their injuries, including then twenty-five-year-old Lewis. It was a tragedy that touched many, including members of what would later become the PFAW Foundation family.

Representative Lewis concluded his ACS remarks with a message to those of us who weren't there that day in Selma:

You didn't walk across the bridge, but there's other bridges to walk across.

The Supreme Court's ruling in Shelby is a setback, or as Representative Lewis put it to ABC's Jeff Zeleny earlier today:

What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the very heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But it's also part of the voting rights bridge that we must continue fighting to get across.

PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court to Review Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court announced today that it will accept a case arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional: Shelby County v. Holder. Given the hostility of the Roberts Court's conservatives to voting rights and minority rights, this was not a surprise.

Since its adoption in 1965, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has been an essential protection against those who seek to deny Americans the right to vote based on race. Congress specified areas of the country with a history of discrimination where, in its judgment, any changes in voting laws would need federal approval before going into effect, either from the Justice Department or from a federal court. The Supreme Court upheld this as constitutional in 1966. Congress has reauthorized the VRA several times since then, most recently in an overwhelming vote in 2006. After considering the history of voter suppression in the years leading up to the most recent reauthorization, Congress chose not to alter the list of states and counties subject to Section 5 preclearance. As recently as 2009, the Court declined to rule on Section 5's constitutionality when it was raised in a case called Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One [NAMUDNO] v. Holder.

These past few months have seen a number of examples showing the vital role Section 5 plays in protecting the right to vote. Due to preclearance, a discriminatory redistricting scheme adopted by Texas, a Texas voter ID law with a racially discriminatory impact, and a severe cutback in early voting that disproportionately hurt minority voters in several Florida counties were all prevented from going into effect. Without Section 5, the discrimination and damage would occur before voters could go to court to try to stop it; they would have had a harder time enjoining enforcement of such laws, which could have remained in effect throughout the long months or years of litigation.

Far-right opponents of the Voting Rights Act note that racial discrimination in voting rights in the mostly southern states covered by Section 5 is not rampant as it was in the 1960s. (Hmmm, could Section 5 itself have something to do with that?) They argue that Congress's decision in 2006 to maintain the same list of covered areas from 1965, regardless of changes in intervening decades, was unconstitutional. Specifically, they argue that it exceeds congressional authority under the 15th Amendment (preventing denial of the right to vote based on race), violates the states' rights to regulate elections under Article IV and the 10th Amendment.

In announcing that it will hear the case, the Court threw another factor into the mix. The question it asked parties to brief was slightly different from what the plaintiffs asked for:

Whether Congress' decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution. (emphasis added to show new issue)

Many Court watchers expected the Court to strike down Section 5 in 2009 in the NAMUDNO case, but it declined then to address the constitutional issue. Clearly, the Court's conservatives feel it is time to do so.

In the 1950s and 1960s, many brave Americans gave their lives so that African Americans would no longer be denied the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act – and especially Section 5 – was the triumph of the best of American principles over the worst of American racism, often couched as "states' rights." By next June, we will learn whether Section 5 will fall before that all-too familiar altar of "states' rights."

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: State legislation shines national spotlight on voter ID

UPDATE: Back in March, we turned our attention to the 47th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. In the months since, we’ve crisscrossed the nation and detailed how the fights of 50 years ago are being resurrected today. The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen yesterday offered his own telling, invoking Dr. King’s famous quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” to break down the dangerous myths and machinations of voter suppression, concluding that “[t]hese new laws seek to bend the arc backward again, to take away from people their effective right to vote.” It’s important that we remain vigilant over the next nine weeks, so that on November 6 eligible Americans are able to cast a vote and have it count. In the words of LBJ, “Then with his vote and his voice he is equipped with a very potent weapon to guarantee his own dignity.” Click here and here for more from Andrew Cohen.

March 7, 2012 marked the 47th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” when voting rights marchers were beaten in their attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

NAACP President Ben Jealous joined activists from then and now in marking the occasion with another march, saying protest is just as necessary now as it was then.

"We need people to understand that not only is history not very distant, but we stand on the precipice of repeating it," Jealous said.

The NAACP leader said strict voter ID laws that won't allow people to vote without a driver's license or passport are unnecessary and will make it difficult -- and in some cases impossible -- for 5 million people to vote.

"We need to make sure that the principle of one person, one vote, is respected," he said.

Last fall’s The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation, details how the fights of 50 years ago are being resurrected today. Indeed we’ve seen the strict laws that Jealous mentions pushed in states including Virginia, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas, among others, along with the rise of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Following what happened in Virginia, Washington Post editorialized against strict ID.

Even if Republican lawmakers aren’t personally acquainted with people who don’t carry ID, they exist. And provided they are legally registered to vote, they should be allowed to cast their ballots — without encumbrances manufactured by the state.

Ari Berman wrote in Rolling Stone about what he believes are the political motivations and consequences.

March 2012:

Since the 2010 election, Republicans have waged an unprecedented war on voting, with the unspoken but unmistakable goal of preventing millions of mostly Democratic voters, including students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly, from casting ballots in 2012. More than a dozen states, from Texas to Wisconsin and Florida, have passed laws designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process, whether by requiring birth certificates to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, requiring government-issued IDs to cast a ballot, or disenfranchising ex-felons.

Within days, the crucial battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and Virginia will become the latest GOP states to pass legislation erecting new barriers to voting. If, as expected, the new laws lead to fewer Democrats casting ballots in November, both states could favor Republicans, possibly shifting the balance of power in Congress and denying Barack Obama a second term.

August 2011:

Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. "I don't want everybody to vote," the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. "As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP's effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.

Then there’s Roll Call.

Rock the Vote is one of several dozen organizations, from civil rights groups to Latino, labor and women’s groups, that have launched a multipart campaign to push back against new registration rules for voters that have been enacted in many states. The fight over voter access has triggered state-level lobbying, ballot initiatives and lawsuits, and the issue will likely land before the Supreme Court.

Voting rights activists are responding to a wave of state laws enacted after the 2010 elections, which ushered in GOP majorities in more than two dozen state legislatures. Voting rights advocates have struggled to gain traction amid public indifference and more visible collective bargaining fights, but they are starting to win attention at the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill.

However voter ID is resolved, it’s clear that it’s an issue of national concern, not one isolated to a few states.

Or even international. Jealous and the NAACP have put the issue before the United Nations Human Rights Council. Click here to read their report, Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: NVRA enforcement crucial for voter participation

UPDATE: On Wednesday two federal judges approved a settlement in a case brought by the Black Political Empowerment Projectand ACTION United against Pennsylvania public assistance agencies that failed to provide voter registration opportunities for their clients. Under the provisions of the settlement, they will now offer voter registration applications on their websites and will post signs with registration information at their offices. They will also implement additional training and oversight for their employees. And when assistance recipients update their claims, voting-related forms will be mailed to them automatically. ACTION United president Lucille Prater-Holliday: "Without full and robust compliance with the NVRA the disenfranchisement and disengagement of these citizens is only perpetuated. We are glad that the Commonwealth has bound itself to a meaningful implementation of the statute." Earlier we reported about a settlement in a suit over NVRA violations in Massachusetts.

With voting rights under attack nationwide, we must remember our democracy is only strongest when all citizens have the opportunity to participate – which is exactly why the enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act has grown increasingly paramount ahead of the November election, especially its provision affording public assistance recipients the opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies.

A coalition of voting rights advocates is working to hold states accountable. Litigation citing NVRA violations has been brought against nine states – most recently in Nevada against Secretary of State Ross Miller and Department of Health & Human Services Director Michael Willden. Litigation could soon follow in Alabama where Demos has joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Project Vote in filing notice against Secretary of State Beth Chapman.

Sarah Brannon, Project Vote:

When done properly, public agency registration is one of the most effective means of ensuring that all citizens are offered the opportunity to participate in their government. It reaches people who are less likely to register to vote through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, the elderly, and the disabled.

Lonnie Feemster, Reno-Sparks NAACP:

To empower those without a voice is our most important work and we will continue to fight to allow those without great wealth to speak truth to power. Full participation in the electoral process empowers the poor and disadvantaged.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

NVRA enforcement crucial for voter participation

With voting rights under attack nationwide, we must remember our democracy is only strongest when all citizens have the opportunity to participate – which is exactly why the enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act has grown increasingly paramount ahead of the November election, especially its provision affording public assistance recipients the opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies.

A coalition of voting rights advocates is working to hold states accountable. Litigation citing NVRA violations has been brought against nine states – most recently in Nevada against Secretary of State Ross Miller and Department of Health & Human Services Director Michael Willden. Litigation could soon follow in Alabama where Demos has joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Project Vote in filing notice against Secretary of State Beth Chapman.

Sarah Brannon, Project Vote:

When done properly, public agency registration is one of the most effective means of ensuring that all citizens are offered the opportunity to participate in their government. It reaches people who are less likely to register to vote through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, the elderly, and the disabled.

Lonnie Feemster, Reno-Sparks NAACP:

To empower those without a voice is our most important work and we will continue to fight to allow those without great wealth to speak truth to power. Full participation in the electoral process empowers the poor and disadvantaged.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Getting the inside scoop on voter suppression

The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation explains the methods the Right is using to suppress the vote under the guise of preventing non-existent “voter fraud.” It also shows the disproportionate effects that this has on minorities and other vulnerable populations. We’ve continued to highlight a national trend toward massive disenfranchisement, such as requests for citizenship data to purge the voting rolls and voter ID.

Last Thursday a Heritage Foundation panel discussion featured people who are leading the charge.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler:

We’ve got bloated and inaccurate voter rolls. We have a very loose honors system when it comes to voting in this country when it comes to both registration and voting as well, often times for example […] no photo ID required. And over time we have seen the increased use of mail-in ballots, which has good points, but also increases a very common avenue for voter fraud.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach:

When I was sworn in as Secretary of State in Kansas in January 2011 my primary objective was to set about drafting the strongest anti-voter fraud law possible in any state […] The Secure and Fair Elections Act made Kansas the first state to combine three things. Some states had done one or more of these, but we’re the first state to have photo ID at the polls, equivalent protection for mail-in ballots, so that you have to have signature verification on the ballot application before the mail-in ballot is sent out and you have to have either a photo copy of a qualifying photo ID or full Kansas driver’s license number or non-driver ID with the application coming in. And then thirdly, Kansas requires proof of citizenship at the time newly registered voters register to vote. [Link added]

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson:

When you hear out there that the implementation of voter ID and photo ID requirements in various states is akin to taking us back to the Jim Crow era or back to a time in the civil rights movement I find it insulting for those who actually lived through that time for people to make those analogies. When people say that this is an attempt to suppress minority votes, or that this is a solution in search of a problem, I find that very disconcerting.

Former Congressman Artur Davis:

[Waving his driver’s license] It’s a very tiny little thing that will fit in a breast pocket, will fit in a wallet. Carry it next to your pager, your Blackberry. It is not a billy club, if you look at it that’s clear. It’s not a fire hose.

Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote:

We’re helping to support hundreds of citizen-led election integrity organizations […] If our rate of growth continues we believe it is entirely possible that we might mobilize up to a million new volunteers into the election process between now and November 2012.

These Heritage panelists represent more examples of how the Right continues to adamantly deny the disenfranchising effects of the laws they are pushing, while redoubling their efforts to keep voters from the polls. And if recent events are anything to go by, those True the Vote volunteers will make the election more intimidating, less free, and less fair.

In other news heard straight from the horse’s mouth, former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer admitted recently that Republican officials have made deliberate attempts to prevent blacks from voting. Greer’s deposition, though part of his own criminal corruption trial, lends eyewitness testimony that these efforts are designed to subvert the right to vote. They certainly aren’t short on intention.

PFAW Foundation

House votes to slam courthouse doors shut to immigration cases

Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. United States, a case that will examine key provisions of Arizona’s infamous and draconian immigration law, SB 1070. Sponsored by ALEC member and former Senate President Russell Pearce, and several others with ALEC ties, SB 1070 was developed in close consultation with ALEC and now stands as one of its model bills.

The Department of Justice argues that Arizona unconstitutionally usurped the federal government’s role in enforcing immigration law. PFAW and other opponents cite evidence of wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and discrimination, especially against Latinos and other minorities.

Now efforts are being made in to block court challenges to SB 1070 and similar laws in other states. On May 9, the US House passed Amendment 1063 by a 238-173 vote.

An amendment to prohibit the use of funds to be used by the Attorney General to originate or join in any lawsuit that seeks to overturn, enjoin, or invalidate Immigration Enforcement Laws in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, Utah, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Note the especially selective list of states, through which anti-immigrant forces seem to be trying to muzzle DOJ only where they approve of the legislation that is (or might be) challenged, showing a profound and dangerous contempt for the rule of law.

As the ACLU put it:

The DOJ’s filing of this lawsuit proves [that] the department takes its role in stopping rampant racial profiling seriously. Congress should support the DOJ’s role in protecting the constitutional rights of those subjected [to] racial profiling, not tie the department’s hands as the House has with the Black amendment. It is now up to the Senate to ensure that the Black amendment doesn’t become law.

Thankfully, it’s likely that the Senate will do just that.

For more information on ALEC’s role with SB 1070 and other controversial bills, check out PFAW Foundation’s report on ALEC in Arizona (and its April 2012 update).

PFAW