Let Freedom (and Wedding Bells) Ring

With the far-right Roberts Court, it's usually good news when they choose not to address a case, and that's especially so this morning: The Court announced it will not be hearing the appeals of any of the pending marriage cases.

That means the stays of the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits' pro-equality rulings should be lifted and marriages should soon be allowed in Utah and Oklahoma (10th Circuit), Indiana and Wisconsin (7th Circuit), and Virginia (4th Circuit).

And in the other non-equality states in those three circuits, loving couples can now go to court and cite their circuit's ruling as binding precedent guaranteeing their right to marry. And they should win: Each circuit decision binds district courts and other three-judge appellate panels in the circuit. The only way to avoid the application of three-judge panel’s decision to other states in the circuit would be for there to be a contrary ruling by a panel - called an en banc panel - made up of all of the active appellate judges in that circuit.

Congratulations to the loving couples in those states for whom the Constitution's promise of liberty and equality will no longer be ideals withheld from them. This is a textbook case of the federal courts doing exactly what they were set up to do: vindicating those whose basic legal rights have been violated.

PFAW Foundation

Appeals Court Strikes Down Marriage Ban in Virginia, Ruling Will Also Affect Carolinas and West Virginia

Today the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

This is a historic step forward for equality in the South. Beyond Virginia, the ruling will also affect the other states covered by the 4th Circuit, including North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia, which have similar bans in place. In West Virginia, the district judge considering the challenge to the state’s ban said last month that he would not proceed until the federal appeals court had ruled.

In the majority opinion, the judges noted that bigotry and fear cannot be the basis for the denial of equal rights under the law:

We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.

…The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.

For those who claim that marriage bans are legitimate because they were adopted by popular vote, the court quoted a Supreme Court case from 1964:

A citizen’s constitutional rights can hardly be infringed simply because a majority of the people choose that it be.

That one sentence perfectly encapsulates why courts matter.
 

PFAW Foundation

Will Mark Sanford Listen to Mark Sanford's Lesson in Grace?

"I am one imperfect man saved by God's grace," Mark Sanford proclaimed yesterday as he declared victory in a special election for South Carolina's open House seat. "Until you experience human grace as a reflection of God's grace, I don't think you really get it," he said. "And I didn't get it before."

Sanford's victory wasn't a big surprise. He won as a Republican in a district that favored Mitt Romney by 18 points last year.

What would be a surprise, and what I would love to see, is if Sanford applied his new personal understanding of "human grace as a reflection of God's grace" to his new role in government.

He could, for instance, apply some of that grace to women facing often wrenching decisions about abortion, allowing them to make their own decisions rather than pre-judging them with burdensome regulations designed to humiliate them and severely restrict their choices.

He could apply some of that grace to gay and lesbian couples,who, like him, are simply trying to share their lives openly with the one they love. While many public figures have "evolved" on gay rights without even having to be "saved by grace," Mark Sanford just recently reminded us that he hasn't moved an inch.

He could perhaps share some grace with his fellow Americans who are struggling to raise children while working multiple low-paying jobs. Maybe with his newfound empathy, he will understand that pre-K education, health care and food assistance can help those struggling to get by keep themselves afloat in an unforgiving economy.

Maybe he will have some grace left over for undocumented immigrants who are trying to support their families and give back to the country they call home.

Perhaps he could convince his party, which claims to be in the market for a makeover, that a little grace and understanding would do it some good.

Maybe this will happen. But it seems more likely that Sanford's idea of grace, choice and personal freedom apply exclusively to people like him.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

PFAW

Nikki Haley Amplifies the GOP’s Assault on Voting Rights

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took to the stage at the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, asserting her unwavering support for voter identification laws that make it harder for Americans—particularly minorities, students, and the elderly—to  exercise their constitutional right to vote.

The Justice Department is currently suing to stop South Carolina’s new voter ID law from taking effect, charging that it discriminates against traditionally disenfranchised groups. The voter ID laws particularly violate Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices and gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and communities with a history of voter discrimination.
 
In an attempt to defend the voter ID measures in South Carolina, Haley affirmed the alleged necessity of voters showing a picture ID: “…if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America - the right to vote.”
 
Haley’s statement was met with a fervent standing ovation from the Republican audience.
 
What Haley failed to mention is the overwhelming evidence proving that the implementation of voter ID laws will severely hinder many minorities from casting their vote—a right that is preserved by the Constitution. The Constitution does not protect a citizen’s right to buy Sudafed or fly on an airplane.
 
Under the South Carolina law, anyone who wants to vote but does not have one of the five acceptable forms of photo ID must acquire a new voter registration card that includes a photo. A birth certificate can be used to prove identity. But the Obama administration says the law is vague about how the new cards would be distributed, raising the issue that voters might have difficulty obtaining a new card in time for the November 6 election.
 
Another concern arising from these voter ID requirements is that many African Americans born in the era of segregation do not have accurate birth certificates or any birth certificate at all. Effectively, by requiring people to obtain a photo ID, which necessitates a birth certificate, states like South Carolina are encoding the segregation era into current voting laws.
 
 
Proponents of this law claim that it is a preventative measure that will end cases of voter fraud. Yet these claims are unfounded, as there have been no proven cases of voter misrepresentation fraud in South Carolina. During this week’s trial over South Carolina’s voter ID law, state Senator George “Chip” Campsen III even testified that he could not find cases of voter impersonation in South Carolina.
 
This law is an infringement on the constitutionally granted voting rights of minorities—a demographic that has historically maintained a liberal outlook and voted for Democratic candidates. These voter ID laws solve a problem that doesn’t exist in order to keep progressive-leaning voters from the ballot box.
 
 

 

PFAW

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

DOJ again rejects South Carolina voter ID

On June 29, the Department of Justice for the second time declined to approve South Carolina’s voter ID law, HB 3003, originally sponsored by ALEC member Alan Clemmons. State Attorney General Alan Wilson sued the federal government after DOJ first rejected the law last year. The trial has been set for September 24. With that late date, the law is unlikely to be in effect by November.

A new Brennan Center report details the extreme lengths to which HB 3003 would force many South Carolinians to go to in order to get required ID. Nearly 275,000 — 8 percent of eligible voters— live 10 miles or more from an ID office that is open more than two days per week. Of these, 7,000 do not have access to cars. Minorities are particularly hard hit, as they are less likely to already have an ID acceptable under these laws and more likely to live far away from an ID office.

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina, represented by the Brennan Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has filed a motion to intervene in the Justice Department’s suit against South Carolina.

Brennan Center Senior Counsel Keesha Gaskins:

It is wrong to pass laws that block some Americans from voting, and to deny them the opportunity to participate equally in our democracy. We are glad the Justice Department stepped in to reject this law, and we urge the federal court to do the same at trial.

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

UPDATE: Voter suppression’s on the menu in Michigan

UPDATE: The Michigan House has voted a trio of voter suppression bills out of committee, sending them to the floor for votes expected in the coming week. The bills have already passed the Senate and could soon go before Governor Rick Snyder. Part of Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s so-called Secure and Fair Elections package, they echo the nationwide attack on the right to vote. A fourth (House Bill 5061) is moving in the Senate.

Last month we reported on the citizenship question that came up during Michigan’s primary. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for voter suppression in the Great Lakes State.

Pending before the Michigan House are 3 bills that the Senate has already passed. Common Cause Michigan (links added):

Senate Bill 754 would make it more difficult for Michiganders to exercise their right to vote. Two provisions of this legislation: identification requirements for in-person voter registration and the imposition of further restrictions on organizations conducting third party voter registration offer a solution in search of a problem.

Senate Bill 751 would create confusion over the registration and absentee voting process in Michigan particularly affecting young voters, college students, and mobile citizens such as military families.

Senate Bill 803 would require voters to check a box that affirms and explains their residency status, which would needlessly duplicate an existing provision, since voters declare their citizenship upon registration already.

Sponsors of the latter two, David Robertson and Darwin Booher, both have ties to ALEC.

Also pending in the House are the chamber’s own contributions to the voter suppression menu, including:

House Bill 5061 would require those wishing to vote absentee to provide photo ID when obtaining their ballots, as well as amend requirements for the ballot tracker program, ballot coaching at residential care facilities, and provisional ballot affidavit reports.

House Bill 5221 would require all persons registering to vote to provide proof of citizenship before they are added to the rolls.

The latter bill is sponsored by Dave Agema. Not only does he have ties to ALEC, but his text shares some similarities (and a few differences) with the proof of citizenship bill in South Carolina (SB 304), sponsored by ALEC member George Campsen.

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

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

The Right to Vote under Attack: Latest News from the States

Voting rights and voter suppression, especially voter ID, continue to make headlines in many states. Below is a sample of the latest. For more information, click here and also 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.

Colorado

Voter ID (HB12-1111) made it through the House but was postponed indefinitely in the Senate. One of its lead sponsors, Representative Kenneth Summers, is an ALEC member.

Florida

Evidence continues to mount against what should properly be called the Voter Suppression Act for its disenfranchising impacts, including its reduction of early voting hours and its harsh new restrictions on community groups seeking to help register voters. HB 1355 was originally sponsored by Representative Dennis Baxley, who has ties to ALEC.

Minnesota

The voter ID constitutional amendment (HF 2738) sponsored by ALEC State Chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer has been approved by the state legislature and will now go to the voters in November. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says that it will “turn our state's entire election system upside down.” Mike Dean, Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota, “expects groups opposed to photo ID to challenge the amendment in court on the discrepancy between the ballot question and the actual changes to the Constitution.”

Missouri

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce struck down the proposed voter ID constitutional amendment (SJR 2) on the grounds that the ballot summary is “insufficient and unfair.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized, “In a perverted, poetic justice kind of way, it's pitch perfect that in their alleged attempt to stop voter fraud, Missouri Republicans committed, well, fraud.” Prospects for an appeal are unclear, but the legislature is already working on contingency plans. They might try to bring the same bill back up with a new amendment (HCR 53), or they might get around the court by passing HJR 89. Representative Shane Schoeller, an ALEC member, is behind both, as well as efforts (HB 2109) to pass proof of citizenship for voter registration.

Nebraska

Voter ID looked set to pass before voting rights advocates put the brakes on LB 239, sponsored by Senator Charlie Janssen, ALEC member. But that doesn’t mean their work is over. Nebraskans for Civil Reform and Nebraska Appleseed have called for an investigation into polling place closures in Douglas County. Omaha World-Herald: “But is that cost savings worth making it harder for some people to exercise their right to vote? Is it worth eroding the American voting franchise, discouraging voters from going to the polls, not only because of the extra distance but also because of longer lines?” A lawsuit may be looming.

New Hampshire

SB 289, which would require voters to present valid photo identification, and SB 318, which would alter residency requirements and make other voter registration changes that could have a profound impact, especially among the student population, have both passed the Senate and are due soon in the House, as early as April 10. SB 318’s lead sponsor, Senator Sharon Carson, is an ALEC member who also supports SB 289. Tabled in committee was a bill (HB 1301) concerning oaths for vote challengers and the voters they challenge.

North Carolina

The voter ID battle began last session when the state legislature passed HB 351, legislation requiring photo ID, whose 3 primary sponsors all have ties to ALEC. But the House failed to override Governor Perdue’s veto. Now voting rights advocates are concerned that HB 351 will be pulled out of the “veto garage.”

Ohio

In July 2011, Governor John Kasich signed a sweeping “election reform proposal” (HB 194) into law. Voting rights supporters were able to move forward with a referendum for repeal, which is set for the November ballot. Now the forces behind HB 194, sponsored by former Representative and ALEC member Robert Mecklenborg, want to head off what they worry will be an embarrassing defeat at the ballot box. Senator William Coley, also an ALEC member, has sponsored his own version of repeal through SB 295. It has passed the Senate and is expected in a House hearing on April 17. We’ll have to see what they try to replace it with, likely much of the same language.

Pennsylvania

Last month, Representative Daryl Metcalfe’s (an ALEC member) HB 934 passed the Pennsylvania Senate. It got through concurrence by a House vote of 104-88. Governor Corbett signed it as soon as it got to his desk. Though photo ID is now law in Pennsylvania, the legal debate continues, and voting rights supporters continue efforts to demonstrate the impacts, including what it means for students and what it really costs to have “free” ID.

South Carolina

With the state still embroiled in its battle over voter ID, the ACLU and League of Women Voters have moved to intervene, as has the Department of Justice, which rejected the law last year. HB 3003 was originally sponsored by Representative Alan Clemmons, an ALEC member.

Wisconsin

Evidence continues to mount against voter ID and now the issue is before the state Supreme Court. Act 23 (aka AB 7) was originally sponsored by Representative Jeffrey Stone and several others with ties to ALEC.

PFAW Foundation

Voter suppression’s on the menu in Michigan

Last month we reported on the citizenship question that came up during Michigan’s primary. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for voter suppression in the Great Lakes State.

Pending before the Michigan House are 3 bills that the Senate has already passed. Common Cause Michigan (links added):

Senate Bill 754 would make it more difficult for Michiganders to exercise their right to vote. Two provisions of this legislation: identification requirements for in-person voter registration and the imposition of further restrictions on organizations conducting third party voter registration offer a solution in search of a problem.

Senate Bill 751 would create confusion over the registration and absentee voting process in Michigan particularly affecting young voters, college students, and mobile citizens such as military families.

Senate Bill 803 would require voters to check a box that affirms and explains their residency status, which would needlessly duplicate an existing provision, since voters declare their citizenship upon registration already.

Sponsors of the latter two, David Robertson and Darwin Booher, both have ties to ALEC.

Also pending in the House are the chamber’s own contributions to the voter suppression menu, including:

House Bill 5061 would require those wishing to vote absentee to provide photo ID when obtaining their ballots, as well as amend requirements for the ballot tracker program, ballot coaching at residential care facilities, and provisional ballot affidavit reports.

House Bill 5221 would require all persons registering to vote to provide proof of citizenship before they are added to the rolls.

The latter bill is sponsored by Dave Agema. Not only does he have ties to ALEC, but his text shares some similarities (and a few differences) with the proof of citizenship bill in South Carolina (SB 304), sponsored by ALEC member George Campsen.

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