Florida

  • July 16, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman a slew of groups and individuals called for calm, for a jury had spoken -- a jury bound to adhere to laws that protect the aggressor, one who took the life a young black man in Sanford, Fla.

    Well fine, but we don’t have to or shouldn’t stay silent about Florida laws that provide too much protection, in the name of self-defense, to the aggressor and too often the racist. And Florida is not alone. More than 20 states have self-defense laws that give knee-jerk racial-profilers like George Zimmerman the ability to kill and get by with it. As The New York Times editorial board put it, Stand Your Ground laws combined with weak concealed carry-laws, work "essentially to self-deputize anyone with a Kel-Tec 9 millimeter and a grudge.” Noting the ridiculousness of Florida’s self-defense laws, The Times’ editorial concluded, “If only Florida could give him [Trayvon Martin] back his life as easily as it is giving back George Zimmerman’s gun.”

    Charles Blow, Andrew Cohen, Brittney Cooper, Ekow N. Yankah, The New York Times editorial board and many others have already gone where the attorneys in this case said they would not – race did play in this whole affair and the laws that ultimately allowed Zimmerman to target a young, unarmed black man, confront him and then kill him. These laws and others are part of an entrenched social disapproval of minorities. Zimmerman apologists cry that the matter had nothing whatsoever to do with race -- it was about a so-called neighborhood watchman defending himself.

    In a piece for the Atlantic, Andrew Cohen writes, “What the verdict says, to the astonishment of tens of millions of us, is that you can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime.”

    Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which provides significant legal protection to persons who kill others outside their homes claiming self-defense, may not have been specifically relied upon by the lawyers of Zimmerman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager in Florida. It did play a role in the instructions given to the jury and affected the mindset of police. As The New York Times reporter Lizette Alvarez, pointed out it helped Zimmerman, along with other outside influences typically not available to the vast majority of criminal defendants. That law, as University of Miami law school professor Tamara Lave said, did keep Zimmerman from being arrested and charged with a crime for some time.

  • February 4, 2013

    The NRA is fighting for a law in Florida that would bar doctors from asking children whether there are guns in their homes. If doctors “unnecessarily [harass] a patient about firearm ownership during an examination,” they face a fine of up to $10,000 and risk losing their license to practice medicine.

    posted by ESA

  • December 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    During his early morning re-election speech, President Obama took note of the difficulties scores of voters faced in casting ballots this year, such as standing in lengthy, slow-moving lines for hours. Something we have to fix the president said. 

    Many of the problems for voters this election year, as noted often on this blog, were created by lawmakers in a string of states apparently bent on making voting a more difficult procedure, though they cloaked the intentions in language about protecting the integrity of the vote. But a closer examination of the actions taken by those lawmakers – limiting early voting hours, clamping down on voter registration drives and implementing onerous voter ID requirements – revealed political efforts to keep certain people away from the polls, namely minorities, college students, low-income people and the elderly. See the ACS Issue Brief by Loyola law school professor Justin Levitt on many of the restrictive vote measures, which he concluded made for poor and potentially unconstitutional policy.

    The Washington Post editorial board in “Repairing America’s elections,” highlighting voting difficulties in Northern Virginia, noted in part, “Poorly trained poll workers get confused by constantly changing laws and procedures. Voter registration and record-keeping are getting more high-tech, but there are still many kinks. Many states lack policies that could take some of the pressure off, such as early voting.”

    The editorial reports that some in Congress, such as Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) are pushing a measure similar to the Obama administration’s educational “Race to the Top,” initiative. That measure, in part, would “dangle the possibility of grants to states that put together election reform programs” that include expansion of early voting and “more flexible registration rules ….”

  • November 6, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The evolution of the nation’s democratic process has been arduous, tragic and bloody. And the process which still excludes too many remains a work in progress.  

    It took a Civil War, constitutional amendments and eradication of Jim Crow for African Americans to be able to participate in democracy. But dogged bigots still worked on ways to keep blacks from the polls. The Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965, was a step by the federal government to drag recalcitrant states into line and stop harassment and oppression of African Americans at the polls. We now have several states with long, tawdry histories of discriminating against minorities at the polls, fighting to gut a major enforcement provision of the VRA. (Some of those state officials, in Alabama, for instance argue that discrimination at the polls does not exist anymore and therefore Section 5 of the VRA needs to be dumped. Congress, however, has found ample evidence that discrimination against minorities at the polls is not a thing of the past.)

    It wasn’t until 1920 when women gained the right to vote via a constitutional amendment. In summer 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified after a close vote in the Tennessee legislature. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of Sex,” it reads. And the ratification of the 19th Amendment didn’t happen overnight; it was nearly a 70-year work in progress.   

    Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan notes a “quick and comprehensive lesson” on voting rights, linking to a video, “Democracy Distilled: Examining the Evolution of our Nation’s Voting Rights.”

    The video, less than 4 minutes, notes, “When our nation was founded, voting rights were anything but equal. The freedoms we have today represent two centuries of successes and failures made by individuals constantly battling to make their voices heard.” Watch it here, or below the jump.

    The “battle” for voting rights though is one that we will likely drag on. The Supreme Court has given corporations greater power drown out individual voices and there remain too many state efforts to make voting difficult.

  • July 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Ten states with ridiculously restrictive voter ID laws could keep millions of people from participating in this year’s general election, The Brennan Center for Justice reports in an extensive study.

    The majority of the restrictive voter ID laws also would likely have the harshest impact, not surprisingly, on low- income individuals, the elderly, and minorities. Right-wing law makers in Florida are also defending a restrictive voter ID law. In Pennsylvania, one of the states included in the study, a Republican lawmaker said the law is aimed at helping the Republican’s presidential candidate carry the state.

    The report, “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification,” says that “nearly 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office,” which has limited hours of operation. Moreover the study reveals that 1.2 million black voters and 500,000 eligible Latino voters “live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office,” again with limited hours of operation.

    If states are going to require IDs for voting, which is more than a privilege, it’s a constitutional right, they must offer free IDs. But as the Brennan Center study notes, the restrictive voter ID laws are making it a major, and often costly, undertaking to attain those IDs. That is likely the intent behind those laws. This nation has a tawdry history of disenfranchising voters, and that tradition is being carried on.

    The states included in the study are: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

    One of the more disturbing parts of the Brennan Center study is the potentially devastating impact these laws will have on the nation’s poorest.

    “More than 1 million eligible voters in these 10 photo ID states fall below the federal poverty line and reside more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office,” a press release about the report states. “These voters can be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25.”

    “By comparison,” the statement continues, “the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era – cost $10.64 in current dollars.”

    In a recent speech before the NAACP, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the restrictive voter ID laws, such as the one in Texas, likening them to those poll taxes. His comment riled the right-wing governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who has complained about Holder’s critique.