Democracy and Voting

  • August 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor, West Virginia University College of Law

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Summer protest, it is well worth reflecting on the how the movement challenged us to not only establish formal legal equality, but also to address enduring poverty. The Civil Rights Movement sought to persuade America that all Americans are equal. The Freedom Summer riders (and the many, many more who pressed for civil rights) sought to expose the inequality and oppression in the segregated south of 1964.

    The passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, still impact us today.  These enactments represent significant progress towards the goal of fostering equality. Moreover, with the contemporary tide of referenda and judicial rulings on marriage equality, the Civil Rights Movement continues to evolve to protect many people who fifty years ago weren’t deemed deserving of civil rights.

    Though we think of Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Summer, and formal legal equality when we think about the Civil Rights Movement, we should also remember that the struggle is really, as historian Jacqueline Dowd Hall explained, a “long civil rights movement.”  Hall’s work locates the genesis of the twentieth century movement in the 1930s with the social transformations that occurred due to economic disruption of the Great Depression.  Moreover, the long arc of legal transformation to foster equality began with the Civil War and the Reconstruction Amendments.  The civil rights struggle began with confronting the subordination and poverty slavery created.

    In this sense, the long civil rights struggle had economic equality of opportunity at its core from the beginning. As Jeremy Leaming discussed on this blog, the question of racial equality in twenty-first century America is at a crossroads in light of retrenchment in civil and voting rights.  Yet racial inequality and poverty walk hand and hand and continue to affect the lived experiences of people of color.

    NPR host Michel Martin recently wrote an article in the National Journal, discussing the key obstacles that women of color continue to face in the twenty-first century.  In discussing this article on NPR’s All Things Considered (where she called her essay her own “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”) she explained how poverty creates an enduring problem for racial minorities:

    People of color particularly — but not exclusively blacks and Latinos — are connected to poverty and to disadvantage in ways that often our white colleagues don't understand. That causes you to have to think about things that they aren't thinking about. And that's the kind of thing that I really feel a need to call attention to.

    Martin’s words -- especially as they reflect her own experience navigating the intersection of race and class-- remind us that poverty daily affects the lives of people of color, no matter how affluent.  Indeed, it is a yet-to-be-fulfilled civil rights issue of the long civil rights movement.

  • August 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Estelle H. Rogers, Legislative Director, Project Vote

    Not long ago in these virtual “pages,” I opined that judges were beginning to “get it” -- to understand that the enticing but superficial reasonableness of requiring photo ID to vote is far from the whole story. Yesterday, we encountered several judges who don’t get it at all, and Wisconsin’s voters are the worse for it.

    League of Women Voters v. Walker and Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Walker were split decisions in which majorities of the Wisconsin Supreme Court held the state’s strict photo ID law (”Act 23”) constitutional under the Wisconsin constitution, the same state constitution whose explicit right to vote provision led to contrary rulings by the trial courts in both cases.

    It is tempting at this point simply to quote extensively from the dissenters, among whom Shirley Abrahamson, the octogenarian Chief Justice of the court, stands out in her steadfast refusal to follow the majority’s tortured logic -- or rather, tortured conclusion.  It cannot really be called logic.

    In NAACP, for example, the court construed a state regulation – not even properly before it – that explicitly required certain documentary proof in order to receive the free ID.  Recognizing that obtaining those underlying documents may involve a fee, the court “saved” the regulation, and thus Act 23, by declaring that the need for underlying documents may be excused (though granting such an excuse rests in the discretion of state bureaucrats).  Therefore requiring photo ID does not constitute an undue burden.  Therefore it must be analyzed under a rational basis test.  Therefore as long as it is rationally related to a legitimate government interest, it is constitutional. 

    What is the legitimate government interest?  Prevention of fraud, of course.  Never mind that the one example of fraud advanced by the state in both cases was allegedly committed by a supporter of Governor Walker in his recall election, who has now been indicted on 13 felony counts of voter fraud for, inter alia, registering more than once, voting multiple times, voting where he didn’t live, and lying to election officials.  None of these offenses would have been prevented by the strict photo voter ID law at issue in the case, and indeed, all of them were discovered without such a law in effect.

  • July 18, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Gabriel J. Chin, Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    Practicing the art of the possible rather than seeking perfection may be an inevitable feature of civil rights legislation. Even the greatest and most honored laws have loopholes; the Thirteenth Amendment, for example, allows slavery based on conviction of crime, any crime, and the exception was liberally exploited in the former Confederacy after Redemption. The Fifteenth Amendment seems to countenance discrimination on the basis of sex, and a protection in earlier versions of the right to hold office was stripped out before enactment.        

    Nevertheless, I’ll take them; I do not criticize the Reconstruction Amendments or their makers for being merely as good as was possible at the time. Similarly, it would not have been better to give up what was good in the 1964 Act simply because of its deficiencies. At the same time, recognizing a law’s compromises and gaps is essential to understanding its real import, and to thinking about how policy can be shaped to fully reflect the principle at stake.

    Among the important compromises in the bill are exemptions from the employment discrimination prohibition of Title VII for businesses of less than 15 people, and the exemption from the Public Accommodations provision of Title II for small, owner-occupied motels and lodging establishments. Presumably, these exceptions exist for the benefit of racists who grew up in a racist system through no fault of their own. Congress might reasonably have concluded that forcing close contact between racial minorities and these racists might have been more trouble than it was worth.  But these exemptions should have been time-limited; at this point, all but the oldest business owners spent their entire lives, or at least their adulthoods, in a nation were discrimination has clearly been against the law and public policy. The case for continued compromise of the policy is not obvious.

    Another major gap in the Civil Rights Act is the lack of protection against discrimination of members of the LGBTQ community. Clearly, this was no oversight. The desegregation struggle was to some degree a Cold War propaganda effort. Fair treatment on the basis of race was a “cold war imperative,” and so too was controlling the potentially subversive effects of sexual minorities. Thus, the 1965 Immigration Act, a close cousin of the Civil Rights Act, eliminated discrimination on the basis of race in immigration law, but simultaneously clarified and strengthened a prohibition on gay and lesbian immigration. The Civil Rights Act makes little sense unless it recognizes a fundamental human dignity and equality. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act closed unjustified gaps in the coverage of the original law, and the prohibition on gay immigration is gone. Continuing to allow discrimination against gays and lesbians in the Civil Rights Act is indefensible.

  • June 3, 2014

     
    The Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania woman who attempted to poison her husband’s mistress cannot be prosecuted under federal law. The justices ruled that the federal ban on chemical weapons does not apply to Carol Anne Bond, whose attempt to poison her victim resulted only in “a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water.” Lyle Denniston as SCOTUSblog breaks down Bond v. United States.
     
    New voting laws across the country will pose an arduous task for minority voters in the midterm elections. In states like North Carolina and Texas, these restrictions will “disproportionately affect registration and voting by African-Americans as compared with whites.” Fanita Tolson discusses the issue in the Tallahassee Democrat.
     
    Trip Gabriel at The New York Times addresses why democrats in Kentucky are disillusioned by the Obama administrations’ ambitious proposal for regulating power plant emissions.
     
    At Just Security, Marty Lederman examines the Obama administration’s reasons for not waiting “30 days to complete the Bergdahl exchange.” 
     
    At Concurring Opinions, Ronald K.L. Collins provides a “snapshot of the Roberts Court’s record on free expression issues.” 
  • May 5, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Katherine Culliton-González, Senior Attorney, Director of Voter Protection, Advancement Project
     
    On April 29, the federal court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin found that the state’s photo ID law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. This decision marked the first time Section 2 has been used to strike down a discriminatory voter ID law, and it shows that the Voting Rights Act still has the power to do so—despite the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision eviscerating its preclearance provisions under Section 5.
     
    Advancement Project initiated the Section 2 litigation on behalf of Black and Latino individual plaintiffs and community organizations, including League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Cross Lutheran Church, and the Wisconsin League of Young Voters. Our pro bono counsel was Arnold & Porter LLP. Our case was consolidated with another suit brought by the ACLU for the purposes of trial last November. By then, our lead plaintiff, Bettye Jones, had unfortunately passed away. 
     
    Ms. Jones was 78 years old and, born at home during a time when hospitals were segregated, lacked the birth certificate needed to get a photo ID. Her daughter testified about the numerous inquiries—inquires which racked up burdensome time and financial costs—that it took to try get her mother an ID so that she could continue voting. After last week’s decision, she told us her mother would have been proud to know that her refusal to be silent made a difference in ensuring that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was preserved in 2014 and beyond.