Election law

  • July 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Alan B. Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service, George Washington University Law School

    *This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    When most people propose changes in our electoral system, they generally do so in order to achieve a political end, not because the change conforms to a platonic ideal of what elections should be like. So it is with the plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott, No. 14-940, which the Supreme Court will hear this fall. Their claim is that, when states draw their legislative districts, the Equal Protection Clause requires that they use the numbers of voters, instead of the number of people, as the basis for allocating seats within the states.

    The Supreme Court has ended the most blatant forms of gerrymandering and required legislative districts at both the state and federal level to be equal in composition within each state. The Court's rulings have been labeled "one person, one-vote," and the general assumption has been that, in dividing up each house by districts, the denominator has been the total population of the state.

    Evenwel challenges that assumption and argues that, because the goal of one person, one vote is to have each person's vote count the same as every other person's, the denominator should be total voters and not total population. If this were the law, the main groups that would no longer be counted are children, illegal immigrants, those not registered to vote, and felons who are precluded from voting. Until the actual lines are drawn for all the districts in a state, the results are not certain. But we do know that the backer of this lawsuit (Edward Blum) also supports Fisher v. University of Texas, which seeks the elimination of affirmative action in university admission. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that he believes that the change would have an adverse impact on minorities and their Democratic supporters, or at least it has that potential in some states, including Texas where the case was brought.

  • January 30, 2015

     
    Five years after the Supreme Court in Citizens United struck down restrictions on corporate spending in elections, the American political landscape has become one where influence can be bought and the voices of wealthy donors drown out other perspectives. 

    Almost immediately after the Citizens United decision, outside spending in elections spiked.  Over the next five years, it more than doubled.  Super PACs used hefty budgets to produce attack ads against candidates who were not to their liking—affecting outcomes in not only political races, but also in state judicial elections. 

    Judges perceived as being unfriendly to PACs’ interests were attacked under the pretense of being “soft on crime,” resulting in measurably harsher treatment of criminal defendants by state supreme court justices.  Further, the last five years have seen a flood of dark money into elections.  As many commentators have noted, donor secrecy breeds mistrust and, possibly, corruption.

    Americans expect the courts to be fair and impartial, but as special interest groups spend more and more money to influence courts, public faith in these institutions is waning.  Soon, the Supreme Court will have to decide how important judicial independence is to our justice system in Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar, a case that could, if wrongly decided, further diminish public trust in the courts.  For those concerned about Citizens United, Williams-Yulee, or the corrosive impact of unrestrained special interest spending on our democracy, see the following ACS resources:

    Skewed Justice: Citizens United, Television Advertising and State Supreme Court Justices’ Decisions in Criminal Cases, Joanna Shepherd and Michael S. Kang

    Five Years Later, Citizens United Wreaks Havoc on Our Democracy, Fred Wertheimer, ACSblog

    The Top Five Myths About the Democracy For All Amendment, John Bonifaz, ACSblog

    Supreme Court Briefing: Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar, Video

    Interview with Professor Tracey George on Williams-Yulee, Video

    Democracy and Our State Courts: Fighting Back After Citizens United, Video

     

  • November 7, 2014

    by Abbie Kamin, Legal Research & Communications Associate for the Lone Star Project and Field Director for the Campaign Legal Center’s Voter ID Assistance Pilot Program in Harris County, TX.

    Tuesday’s Election was a loss for voting rights throughout the country. While countless citizens could not vote because of the implementation of discriminatory voting laws, one can only hope these experiences in Tuesday’s election will galvanize the civil rights community to push even harder to breath life back into the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Until Congress amends the VRA, costly and time-consuming state-by-state litigation will be the key to protecting the right to vote.

    Discriminatory voting laws have already been enacted in several states via highly restrictive voter photo-ID requirements. Because these restrictive laws are working, effectively preventing many citizens from voting, we will likely see an increase in these types of laws

    We have seen first-hand here in Texas the enactment of suppressive voting measures by our state legislature, leading to separate court findings of intentional discrimination by the State on three different measures: congressional redistricting, state senate redistricting, and voter photo ID (SB 14). Texas has been at the forefront of recent efforts to discriminate against minority voters.

  • November 5, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    At Salon, Luke Brinker considers the implications of the midterm elections on the fight for marriage equality.

    Sarah Kliff at Vox reports on the five personhood defeats for abortion opponents throughout the country.

    Today the Supreme Court hears oral arguments for Yates v. United States. Nina Totenberg of NPR previews the case, which considers whether a fisherman violated the anti-shredding provision of an act passed after the Enron scandal when he threw undersized fish from his boat.

    At the blog for Southern Poverty Law Center, Booth Gunter interviews a 94 year-old Alabama woman on her reflections on poll taxes, literacy tests, and the new measures to limit voting.

    Leslie Griffin writes for Hamilton and Griffin on Rights about the oral argument in DHS v. MacLean, a case that will help define when federal employees are prohibited by law from revealing information that they believe shows a “substantial and specific danger to public safety.”

  • November 4, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Today your Facebook and Twitter feeds are likely full of posts from your friends telling you to vote. This morning when I turned on my computer I was instantly bombarded with ads and posts telling me who to vote for and others saying it doesn’t matter who I vote for, as long as I vote.  Admittedly I shared the first post I saw, which depicted a big button that said “Vote.” I added my own little commentary saying I hope my friends in D.C. and back home in Wisconsin vote today. I voted early last week, so in my mind I had done my civic duty. I smiled at my Facebook post thinking all my friends will see how civic-minded I am. Then reality hit.

    It was easy for me to vote early last week. I had the luxury of taking a long lunch hour and walking to the early polling place with two colleagues. As I walked in I was a tad annoyed when I was told there would be about a five minute wait. There was no line, how could there be a wait, I thought. But it was no big deal, for me anyway. I’m paid salary, not hourly, and I have an understanding boss who encourages me to vote. I didn’t have to worry about missing work, not making money while I took the time to walk to the polling place and cast a ballot. My biggest worries were the sudden drop in temperature which made it a rather chilly day and the ridiculous five minute wait, which actually ended up being only about a three minute wait. Still I rolled my eyes.

    But I voted and my vote will be counted, there’s no question about that. Regardless of whether the people I voted for win, I know I wasn’t disenfranchised. I never even had to worry about that. That’s not the case for far too many people in this country.