Video Interview

  • December 29, 2011
    Video Interview

    by Jonathan Arogeti

    While a recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice has received wide publicity for spotlighting new state laws that have the potential to suppress access to the polls,  the report also highlights the perennial issue of felon disfranchisement. “Many people don’t know that when it comes to voting, your rights are not automatically restored if you’re a felon,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, the director and counsel of the center’s D.C. office during a video interview with ACSblog.

    To combat this disenfranchisement, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced the Democracy Restoration Act, which would immediately restore voting rights in federal elections for individuals who have served their time in prison for a felony.

    Austin-Hillery points to two states, Florida and Iowa, whose felon voting law have “retrogress[ed].” The same day Republican Gov. Terry Branstad assumed office, he rescinded a law that automatically restores voting rights to felons who had completed their sentences. In 2005, then-Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack issued the opposite order.

    Two months after assuming his office, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced new rules that required a Clemency Board to review all applications and revoked the automatic restoration of voting rights to felons who had completed their sentences.

    Austin-Hillery also points to Kentucky and Virginia, two states where former felons practically “never get [their] right to vote restored.” The Commonwealth of Virginia required many “draconian, cumbersome steps” to restore the rights to vote, including individually petitioning the Governor. It “really goes against the tenets of democracy,” laments Austin-Hillery.

    Watch the full interview with Austin-Hillery below.

  • December 28, 2011
    Video Interview

    by Jonathan Arogeti

    The Asian American Justice Center’s Terry M. Ao recently spoke with ACSblog about how the Voting Rights Act, which protects American voters generally from disenfranchisement, specifically bolsters the franchise for Asian Americans.

    Ao, the director of Census and Voting Programs at AAJC, said that for Asian Americans, “one of the largest hurdles that voters face is the language barrier.” Section 203 of the VRA extends protections to members of language minority communities in jurisdictions with significant language minority populations. “Where it has been properly implemented,” she said, “we’ve seen increased voter participations and it’s really done a lot to help break down these language barriers for the Asian Americans.”

    The Voting Rights Act requires the Census Bureau to determine political jurisdictions that are subject to minority language assistance provisions. Following the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau determined that Section 203 covers 43 Asian American populations in 22 jurisdictions (counties, boroughs, census areas or cities) in 11 states. Furthermore, the provisions cover eight language groups, an increase from five from the last determination in 2002.

    “Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires language assistance for voters, for the covered languages in covered jurisdictions,” said Ao, “but that really means that the assistance has to occur throughout the voting process; so that’s both pre-Election Day as well as on Election Day.”

    Increasing voting participation in Asian American communities requires a coordinated public education effort aimed at voters, poll workers and public officials. Ao said, “It includes things like written materials--translated written materials as well as oral assistance at the polls -- and publicity of the availability of language assistance to the covered language groups.”

    Watch the full interview with Ao below.

  • December 27, 2011
    Video Interview

    by Jonathan Arogeti

    A new rule adopted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will simplify elections to form unions and delay the appeals process until after those elections. The board said the changes are slated to take effect on April 30, 2012, The Blog of Legal Times reports.

    “This rule is about giving all employees who have petitioned for an election the right to vote in a timely manner and without the impediment of needless litigation,” said NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce.

    These changes are part of a more comprehensive rules reform proposal put forth by the board in July. In a release announcing the changes, the NLRB said it would hold for further review the most debate-generating proposals, but that they would push forward with these “less controversial” ones.

    AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (pictured) hailed the move, saying, “It's good news that the NLRB has taken this modest but important step to help ensure that workers who want to vote to form a union at their workplace get a fair opportunity to do so.” He warned, though, “Many more improvements are needed to protect workers' rights. We hope the Board will quickly move to adopt the rest of its proposed reforms to modernize and streamline the election process.”

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce immediately moved to counter the rule change, filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

    Meanwhile, similar future decisions by the NLRB are in jeopardy, as the Board is slated to lose its necessary quorum at the end of the month. Currently, only three of the five seats are filled; that number will go down to two when Craig Becker’s recess appointment expires Dec. 31. The Supreme Court held last year in New Process Steel v. NLRB that the NLRB could not legally operate with less than three members, and voided more than 400 NLRB rulings made by only two members. 

     Victor Williams, a professor at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, writes in Jurist that the Republican obstruction of two pending confirmations to the board amounts to “nullification” and urges president Obama to use his power make recess appointments. Williams argues that senators’ attempt to block recess appointments by holding sessions every three days during the holiday break is without legal authority.

    He writes:

  • September 16, 2011
    Video Interview

    This video interview is part of an ACSblog Constitution Week Symposium. By Nicole Flatow

    The role of U.S. courts as a “corrective for the dangers of majoritarian abuse” has been stymied by conservatives and originalists, University of Chicago Board Chair Geoffrey R. Stone explains in a video interview with ACSblog.

    “I think one of the real problems that we have had in the last 40 years in the United States is that conservatives have effectively taken control of the public discourse and the academic discourse about the proper role of courts and of constitutional interpretation,” says Stone, chair of the American Constitution Society Board of Directors.

    This is dangerous not just because originalism and judicial restraint are “wrongheaded” on their own terms, but also because conservatives are misleading people about what the courts are actually doing, he explains.

    “The public actually tends to believe that conservative judges and justices behave in a way that can be explained and justified in terms of judicial restraint and originalism when in fact, the actual jurisprudence of the existing majority on the Supreme Court and many Republican-appointed judges on the lower courts does in fact not fit,” he continues.

    This problem is the subject of a new ACS Issue Brief by Stone and University of North Carolina law professor Bill Marshall, The Framers' Constitution: Toward a Theory of Principled Constitutionalism, which discusses how progressives can reframe the discussion about the Constitution and the courts.

    The Framers’ Constitution … is designed to illustrate why [originalism and judicial restraint] are deeply flawed, and why they don’t in fact put forth a coherent or persuasive theory of constitutional interpretation,” Stone explains.

    Watch the interview below.

  • September 14, 2011
    Video Interview

    This video interview is part of an ACSblog Constitution Week Symposium. By Nicole Flatow.

    Attempts to undo the constitutional guarantee that those born in the United States are citizens are “flatly and incontrovertibly unconstitutional and completely at odds with our constitutional history,” Georgia State University law professor Neil Kinkopf tells ACSblog during a video interview.

    Kinkopf traces the history of birthright citizenship in the United States, noting that the common law understanding was that all residents born here were citizens.

    He continues:

    That understanding was upset in the worst decision in the history of the Supreme Court, Dred Scott, when Chief Justice Taney ruled that descendants of Africans cannot be citizens and cannot have rights that a white person is bound to respect.

    It was the rejection of Dred Scott that led to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment and that led to the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment, which expressly puts into the Constitution birthright citizenship. It’s a fundamental commitment of our nation. It constitutes us as a people -- that we are not a country club, that everyone who’s born here is a citizen of the United States, and that our government cannot distinguish among us.

    Watch the video interview below.