Election law

  • February 10, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel, Political Participation Group, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
    * Ms. Aden is a member of the litigation team in Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP et al. v. Jindal et al.
    Last week, nearly 60 years after the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc’s (LDF) client, Autherine Lucy, sought to become the first Black student to integrate the University of Alabama, LDF and cooperating Louisiana attorney Ronald L. Wilson filed a federal lawsuit to empower Black voters in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana to elect their candidates of choice for the 32nd Judicial District Court for the first time in the Parish’s history.
    The lawsuit, Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP et al. v. Jindal et al., filed on behalf of the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP and several Black voters in Terrebonne, challenges the Parish’s at-large method of electing judges for this state court as a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
    For nearly two centuries, Terrebonne Parish has used at-large voting to maintain a racially segregated 32nd Judicial District Court. That system for electing judges has guaranteed that Black voters, in spite of having tried in election after election, cannot elect their judges of choice for this court. As a result, a Black candidate has never been elected as a judge on the 32nd Judicial District Court. Meanwhile, a sitting judge on this parish court has been suspended for wearing blackface, an orange prison jumpsuit, handcuffs, and an afro wig to a Halloween party as part of his offensive parody of a Black prison inmate.
    This lawsuit seeks to bring greater inclusion and democratic legitimacy to Terrebonne Parish’s political process through district-based voting. For too long, at-large voting, in combination with racial bloc voting, has functioned as a structural wall of exclusion to this parish court.  Although Black voters comprise nearly 20 percent of the Parish’s voting-age population, and consistently vote together in parish-wide elections, the at-large electoral method dilutes their cohesive vote for their preferred candidates of choice.
  • February 10, 2014

    The U.S. Department of Justice announced an expanding federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Human Rights Campaign reports on the policy change that has Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. calling for the DOJ “to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages.”
    Writing for Balkinization, Gerard N. Magliocca anticipates a lengthy opinion from the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Magliocca explains why the justices should make it brief.
    Reporting for The Washington Post, Brian Fung explores why it is likely that net neutrality will not reach our nation’s highest court.
    In “Slavery, By the Numbers,” Henry Louis Gates, Jr. provides readers of The Root with “28 statistics every American should know this Black History Month.”
  • February 7, 2014
    The New York Times editorial board cited an amicus brief in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores authored by Frederick Mark Gedicks, Faculty Advisor for the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School ACS Student Chapter. The paper calls for the Court to recognize the Establishment Clause’s precedent in the lawsuit against the Obama administration. Gedicks also authored an ACS Issue Brief examining the challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception policy and laid out an argument against granting religious exemptions to for-profit corporations on ACSblog.
    Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, released a statement praising the Senate Judiciary Committee for its favorable report of Debo Adegbile to be the Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. In the statement, Ifill says Adegbile “has precisely the type of broad civil rights experience that is required at this pivotal moment in our country.”
    Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required federal review of voting laws in states with a history of voter discrimination. Adam Ragusea of NPR reports from Macon, Georgia on the repercussions felt by the city’s minority voters.
    Human Rights Watch explores the legal and ethical implications of a growing trend among probation companies to “act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers.”
    The Honorable Robert L. Carter is in the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s “Black History Month Spotlight.”
  • February 6, 2014
    Writing for The Huffington Post, distinguished George Washington University Law School Prof. Alan B. Morrison and co-author Adam A. Marshall argue in favor of the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement. In his article, Morrison—a faculty advisor to the ACS Student Chapter at GWU—explains why the current state of the Electoral College is a major deficit to American democracy and how the NPV movement would facilitate a more representative voting system.
    Writing for SCOTUSblog, Jody Freeman explains why the greenhouse gas cases pending at the U.S. Supreme Court will have little impact on the EPA and the government’s ability to regulate emissions.
    The Associated Press reports on the developing case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that has Utah state attorneys insisting that same-sex marriage will devalue the family structure and lead to economic crisis.
    David H. Gans of Slate breaks down Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit against the Obama administration to reveal why, when it comes to the free exercise of religion, most corporations are sitting this one out.
    At the blog of Legal Times, Todd Ruger notes the diversity of President Obama’s judicial nominees.


  • January 23, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Marian Schneider, Senior Attorney, Advancement Project
    In a win for democracy, last Friday Judge Bernard J. McGinley of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania struck down Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. Among other problems cited in the court’s decision, this restrictive law violated the right to vote, which is expressly guaranteed in Pennsylvania’s Constitution. The decision is important not only because hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters, who lack one of the limited forms of acceptable photo ID previously required under the law, can now cast their ballots without burdensome obstacles – but also because of the court’s willingness to enforce the guarantee of a fundamental right to vote as enshrined in the Pennsylvania Constitution.
    Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Pennsylvania Constitution explicitly recognizes the right to vote, stating that “no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” The Commonwealth Court reaffirmed that this right is fundamental, as well as “pervasive of other basic civil and political rights.” As the court explained, elections are “free and equal” only when they are public and open to all qualified voters, when every voter has the same opportunity to cast a ballot, when that ballot is honestly counted, and when the regulation of elections does not deny the exercise of the right to vote.
    According to the court, the voter ID law violated the state constitution because it required photo ID without mandating any legal, non-burdensome way for voters to get it. Instead, the measure merely required that the existing non-driver photo ID issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) be provided for “free.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, already held in 2012 that PennDOT failed to uphold that requirement because of the underlying documents required, such as a birth certificate (which can be costly or, in some cases, not exist at all); the limited PennDOT locations where ID cards were even available; and the burdens faced by voters who had to travel to one of these centers and wait in line to get an ID. In light of these obstacles, the Department of State attempted to create a “just for voting” ID (DOS ID), but the Commonwealth Court held that this ID was an unauthorized agency creation that failed to pass constitutional muster. The DOS ID suffered from similar problems as the PennDOT ID because it created barriers that prevented voters who lacked compliant ID from getting it.