Shirley Preiss was born in Kentucky in 1910 — a full 10 years before American women gained the right to vote. She first voted in a presidential election in 1932, for FDR. She’s voted in every presidential election since, but that’s all about to change due to Arizona’s draconian voter ID law.
As Art Levine reported, Shirley effectively lost her right to vote when she moved to Arizona:
After living in Arizona for two years, she was eagerly looking forward to casting her ballot in the February primary for the first major woman candidate for President, Hillary Clinton. But lacking a birth certificate or even elementary school records to prove she’s a native-born American citizen, the state of Arizona’s bureaucrats determined that this former school-teacher who taught generations of Americans shouldn’t be allowed to vote.
The state’s voter ID law, passed in 2004, requires voters to show ID at the polling place and to provide proof of citizenship in order to register. But birth certificates weren’t issued in 1910 in Shirley’s birthplace of Clinton, KY, and her elementary school no longer exists.
Shirley appeared on the local news Monday night in Phoenix to tell her story:
She’s far from the only victim of this law. The Arizona Advocacy Network reports that nearly 40,000 voter registration forms have been rejected due to inadequate proof of citizenship. And it’s getting to be a national problem.
The Supreme Court gave Indiana the green light last month on its restrictive voter ID law, and other states have already or are in the process of passing similar laws. Everywhere such laws are enacted, the voting rights of thousands of Americans - especially among the poor, elderly, and minorities - are put at risk. Fortunately many other states have fended off voter ID laws, and I’m proud that People For the American Way’s Democracy Campaign played a role in many of those fights. Nothing short of a concerted effort by the progressive movement over the coming years will succeed in safeguarding the right to vote.
As George Orwell might put it, all Supreme Court decisions are important, but some are more important than others. And in the history of our country, there can be little doubt that one of the Court’s most important decisions was its unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, decided 54 years ago this May 17th. Overturning the shameful “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson and striking down school segregation laws, the ruling in Brown gave substance to the Constitution’s promise of equality for all. Without question, May 17, 1954 saw the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, at its very best.
In a 7-2 decision today, the Supreme Court held that current and former employees of FedEx who had sued the company claiming age discrimination could proceed with their lawsuit. At issue before the Court was whether one of the employees had filed a "charge" of discrimination with the EEOC — a prerequisite to being able to file suit under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act — when the form that she had submitted to the EEOC was not a "charge" form but rather an "intake questionnaire."
In 2006, the Rev. Hashmel Turner, a member of the Fredericksburg City Council, took the bizarre step of suing his own City Council. Councilor Turner’s complaint? As an elected government official, he wants the special right to begin City Council meetings by offering a City Council prayer in the name of Jesus — a sectarian, non-inclusive prayer that excludes many Fredericksburg citizens. The City Council, however, following the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, wisely adopted an inclusive policy requiring that any prayers offered to begin its meetings be nondenominational.
Sixty years ago, the California Supreme Court courageously became the first in the country to strike down a law that prohibited interracial marriage — a full twenty years before the United States Supreme Court effectively wiped such laws off the books nationwide. Tomorrow, the California Supreme Court will once again confront marriage discrimination as it hears oral arguments in the consolidated lawsuits challenging the state's refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry. Although the California legislature passed a bill that would have ended this discrimination , it was vetoed by the Governator, and it is now once again up to the state Supreme Court to ensure that, in California at least, equality under the law is a reality for all.
This week, the Bush Department of Justice filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court in the Indiana voter ID case (Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Board), supporting the state's imposition of the most restrictive voter ID barriers in the nation.
On Monday, December 3, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Sprint v. Mendelsohn, an employment discrimination case brought by Ellen Mendelsohn, a former Sprint employee who believes that she was unlawfully selected for a company-wide reduction in force because of her age. At trial, the judge prohibited Mendelsohn from presenting the testimony of other terminated workers who would have testified to age-related bias within the company unless those workers had the same supervisor that Mendelsohn had had. Mendelsohn lost at trial, but the court of appeals reversed, holding that the testimony of the other employees should have been allowed.
The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Federal Express v. Holowecki, an employment discrimination case in which the employee's access to justice through the courts is at stake, as we have previously described. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an employee who believes that she has been subjected to unlawful discrimination must file a "charge" with the EEOC before she can sue, and the EEOC must then notify the employer and attempt to resolve the matter.
One of the Supreme Court's disturbing 5-4 decisions last term — Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation — is already coming home to roost in the lower courts. On October 30, 2007, relying on Justice Alito's purality decision in Hein, a sharply divided three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit ruled, 2-1, in Hinrichs v. Bosma that taxpayers in Indiana do not have standing to challenge the practice of the state House of Representatives of opening its sessions with a sectarian (typically Christian) prayer.
In response to today’s Senate vote to confirm Leslie Southwick to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, People For the American Way Legal Director Judith E. Schaeffer released the following statement:
“Following the 2006 election, President Bush pledged to move ahead in a cooperative and bipartisan manner. But mere days after the new Congress was sworn in, he submitted the controversial nomination of Leslie Southwick.”
“Southwick’s disturbing legal record and lack of commitment to equality before the law make him unfit for a powerful lifetime seat on the federal bench. We are deeply disappointed in the Senate Democrats who acquiesced to the President today on Southwick’s nomination.
On September 24, 2007, People For the American Way Foundation, along with AARP, the National Employment Lawyers Association, the National Women's Law Center, the National Partnershipship for Women and Families, and the Asian American Justice Center, filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the Supreme Court in support of the employees in Holowecki. We've previously written about this case, which is an important employment discrimination case that the Court has already agreed to hear this term.
The first day of October will be the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term, and the justices have already chosen to hear several cases that may well be decided by narrow majorities, as Scalia and Thomas have been joined by Roberts and Alito to form a reliable, ultraconservative voting bloc, with Kennedy as the new swing vote on a Court transformed by Bush Administration nominees.
People For the American Way Foundation has published a preview of several of these cases — cases that could have a profound impact on the rights of Americans, the limits of presidential power, and the conduct of partisan politics. The issues at stake include: