Rep. Jerrold Nadler

  • February 4, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In 2006 when Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized Section 5, the major enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, it did so “at the height of its powers in regulating the intersecting areas of voting, race, and political rights,” a bipartisan group of congressmen state in a brief lodged in Shelby County v. Holder.

    On Feb. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the Shelby County case. Section 5 requires certain states and localities with deep histories of racial discrimination in voting to obtain “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. before making changes to voting procedures. Officials in Shelby County, Ala., lodged the lawsuit arguing that Section 5 is no longer needed. The officials, with the support of the state’s attorney general, argue that racial discrimination in voting is largely a thing of the past and therefore state officials should not need the federal government’s approval of changes to voting procedures.

    As noted on this blog, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), representing some voters in Alabama, is battling those claims in defense of the landmark law. (Other civil liberties groups are also urging the Supreme Court to uphold Section 5. To see some briefs and more information about the VRA, visit ACS’s Voting Rights Act Resource Page.)

    The friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-V.A.) and Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), also urges the high court to show judicial restraint and uphold Section 5. The group of House Judiciary Committee members served as leadership during the 2006 reauthorization of Section 5. The group details the process of creating a voluminous congressional record that supported the ongoing need for the VRA’s Section 5.

    Rep. Sensenbrenner in a press statement announcing the brief called the VRA “the crown jewel of the civil rights laws” that should be “ardently” defended. Rep. Conyers said Section 5 “remains critical to enforcing the constitutional rights of all voters, especially for voters in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.”

  • November 8, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A growing chorus of lawmakers and civil liberties groups is ratcheting up pressure for the federal government to respond to a slew of new, rigid state restrictions on voting.

    Today, leading House members announced they will conduct a forum on Nov. 14 to explore the possible ramifications the restrictions will have on forthcoming elections. House members scheduled to participate include House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Administration Committee Ranking Member Robert Brady (D-Pa.), House Judiciary Constitution Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). See here for more information about the forum.

    Last week, Hoyer and Brady sent a letter signed by nearly 200 of their colleagues to state officials calling on them “to oppose new state measures adopted over the last year that would make it harder for eligible voters to register or vote.” Their action was preceded by Conyers (pictured) and Nadler urging the House Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings on the restrictive new measures.

    Brave New Foundation and the Advancement Project launched a project tagging the conservative group the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC with writing much of the new restrictions that have been implemented primarily by Republican controlled statehouses.

    The project includes a video, posted on both groups’ websites, which details the extent of the restrictive voting laws, and charges that Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who have bankrolled Tea Party activities and efforts, such as the one in Wisconsin, to undercut workers’ rights, as also being involved in the movement attacking voting rights.

    “The Koch brothers are behind these laws because they want to cut off the participation of people who are not behind their corporate agenda,” Judith Brown Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project said. 

    NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous said, “We are in a moment right now where we are seeing the most aggressive attempt to roll back voting rights in this country that we’ve seen in over a century.”

  • November 3, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    State efforts to hamper voter registration are finally attracting the attention of lawmakers in Congress. Earlier this week Reps. John Conyers Jr. and Jerrold Nadler urged the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the new laws, which they say are aimed at suppressing the vote. The lawmakers cited a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice that the new voter registration laws, primarily hatched by Republican-controlled legislatures, “could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012."

    Today, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (pictured) and Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee Robert Brady sent a letter, signed by nearly 200 of their colleagues to state officials “urging them to oppose new state measures adopted over the last year that would make it harder for eligible voters to register or vote.”

    In a recent piece for Slate, Risa L. Goluboff and Dahlia Lithwick wrote about the slew of new rigid voter registration laws, noting, “Thirty-eight states have instituted new rules prohibiting same-day registration and early voting on Sundays,” and in Tennessee ominous “letters blanket black neighborhoods warning that creditors and police officers will check would-be voters at the polls, or that elections are taking place on the wrong day.”

    The proponents of the rigid new laws say, as they have over and over again, that rampant voter fraud is the reason for these changes. Critics of the new laws counter that no evidence exists to support the claim that voter fraud is a problem – as Goluboff and Lithwick write, these efforts are all about eradicating a “problem that is statistically rarer than heavy-metal bands with exploding drummers ….”

    The new voter regulations are in reality yet another disgusting, coordinated movement to keep African Americans, the youth and poor people from voting. Goluboff and Lithwick ask, “So why shouldn’t the proponents of draconian new voting laws have to answer for their ugly history?”

    No answer will be forthcoming, but lawmakers, such as Conyers, Nadler, Hoyer and Brady are raising awareness of the ignoble state efforts to undermine democracy, and urge authorities at the state level to take action to ensure that all people, regardless of race, age and station in life, can exercise their constitutional right to vote.

    As the letter spearheaded by Hoyer and Brady states, “public officials on all levels of government should be striving to facilitate [Americans] right to vote, not make it more difficult.”

  • July 20, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    TMPMuckraker provides video of Sen. Al Franken’s takedown of Tom Minnery of the Religious Right group, Focus on the Family, during today’s Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of bill to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA, which bars states from recognizing same-sex marriages, was passed during the Clinton administration, and is facing legal challenges in the federal court system.

    Minnery and Focus on the Family, longtime opponents of marriage equality, argue that gay marriages are a serious affront to Christian fundamentalists’ take on marriage, are bound to destroy the institution of marriage, and, by the way, gay couples can’t raise families. At the hearing today, Minnery mangled a Department of Health and Human Services study that he said proves that children are better “living with their biological and/or adopted mothers and fathers” as opposed to children in other types of families.

    Franken pointed out the study said no such thing, and added, “I don’t really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies this way.”

    The White House announced yesterday that it was “proud to support the Respect for Marriage Act,” which would repeal DOMA. The repeal bill was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jerrod Nadler. 

  • June 20, 2010

    The conservative wing of the Supreme Court has actively, and successfully, overturned and narrowed laws meant to protect workers' rights, minority voting rights, access to courts, as well as taking and construing cases to advance corporate interests, maintained several panelists at the final plenary panel of the 2010 ACS National Convention.

    Moderator Linda Greenhouse, a senior research scholar at Yale Law School and former Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times, asked constitutional law expert Pamela S. Karlan to explain the judiciary's role among the three branches of federal government.

    Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, said, "The Constitution is written in very broad language about very broad principles that were intended to endure for a long period of time and to be applicable to a nation that the framers knew would emerge, but they didn't know in what form. That's why the most important parts of the Constitution are written in broad and sweeping language."

    But at the second framing of the Reconstruction Amendments - the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments - the framers gave "Congress special power to enforce by appropriate legislation the guarantees that go into the rights of citizenship, the guarantees of the privileges or immunities clause, the equal protection clause, and the due process clause," Karlan said. "And they gave Congress that power in part because they distrusted the Supreme Court. I mean today the Supreme Court is living off of the fumes of Brown against Board of Education, that's why it has such power in our country."

    But, at the middle of Reconstruction, the high court, Karlan noted was "living off the fumes of Dred Scott." She said, "the Supreme Court was not the place you went to get equality, you went to the legislature."

    "So the Constitution's broad sweeping powers are given their real-life meaning by Congress. If you ask where did we get equality, it's from the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you ask ‘how is that the 15th Amendment actually enfranchised African Americans?' More African Americans were enfranchised in the first two years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 than in the entire prior century through judicial enforcement alone. And that's because Congress banned literacy tests [for voting] when the Supreme Court wouldn't. Congress gave people the right to register, when the Courts didn't."

    Karlan noted that it is just as important, if not more so, to confirm lower court judges who understand the role of the judiciary, the Constitution and are taking appropriate action. As she noted, it is not useful to pass health care reform law only to then have it hobbled by conservative jurists or to pass environmental regulations that are subsequently gutted by similar judges.

    Karlan co-authored a book published by ACS called Keeping Faith with the Constitution, which takes a critical look at the cramped constitutional interpretation promoted by many conservative jurists and lays out an alternative one that promotes fidelity to the Constitution. 

    Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) knocked the Roberts Court for its "campaign to shut the door on litigants." I've introduced a bill, Nadler said, to try to restore the pleading standards, but the business community and its lobbyists, such as the Chamber of Commerce, are targeting the bill, the Open Access to Courts Act. "I don't know if we can bring that to a vote this year or not," he said.

    Nadler continued, that the Roberts Court, contrary to Chief Judge Roberts' confirmation testimony, "has been a very activist court."

    Someone suggested a few years ago that maybe we start inserting into our legislation the words, "this time we mean it," Nadler added.

    John Payton, head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., said that Congress should take action to "shore up the Voting Rights Act," in light of the high court's recent 5-4 ruling that suggested the conservative wing, led by Chief Justice John Roberts' was seeking the necessary fifth vote to gut Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires a number of states and localities with a history of voting discrimination to get federal preclearance before making any change to voting practices or procedures. But, Payton said he didn't believe there was a "chance that Congress could take any action on the Voting Rights or any other major piece of Civil Rights legislation in this poisoned atmosphere."

    Video of the Congress and the Courts plenary: