Voting rights

  • February 18, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Ryan P. Haygood, Deputy Director of Litigation, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

    *This post is part of our two-week symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

    The history-making events of “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, ultimately freed the vote for millions of Black voters.  But 50 years later, as we commemorate the march that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we are also reminded that more than two million Black people continue to be denied the right to vote by one of the vestiges of American slavery.

    Black voter registration in Selma in 1965 was made virtually impossible by Alabama’s relentless efforts to block the Black vote, which included requiring Blacks to interpret entire sections of Alabama’s constitution, an impossible feat for even the most learned.  On one occasion, even a Black man who had earned a Ph.D. was unable to pass Alabama’s literacy test.

    On Bloody Sunday, John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams led almost 600 unarmed men, women and children in a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize to the nation their desire as Black people to participate in the political process.

    As they crossed the highest part of the bridge, the marchers were viciously attacked by Alabama state troopers, who ridiculed, tear-gassed, clubbed, spat on, whipped and trampled them with their horses.  In the end, Lewis’s skull was fractured by a state trooper’s nightstick, and 17 other marchers were hospitalized.

    In direct response to Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon Johnson five months later signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.  Considered by many to be the greatest victory of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act removed barriers, such as literacy tests, that had long kept Blacks from voting.

    Despite the promise of increased political participation by Black people and other people of color created by the Voting Rights Act, which twice led to the election of a Black president, its full potential has not been realized by one of the last excluded segments of our society: Americans with criminal convictions.

    Today, more than 5 million Americans are locked out of the political process by state felon disfranchisement laws that disqualify people with felony convictions from voting.

    The historical record reveals that to prevent newly freed Blacks from voting after the Civil War, many state legislatures in the North and South tailored their felon disfranchisement laws to require the loss of voting rights only for those offenses committed mostly by Black people.

  • February 9, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Katherine Culliton-González, Chair, Voting Rights Committee of the Hispanic National Bar Association

    This morning the D.C. Circuit federal court heard important oral argument about the fundamental right to vote of persons born in the United States.  That’s right—in Tuana v. United States, the federal court will decide whether U.S. nationals have the right to vote. 

    Like millions of U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico, millions of “nationals” born in the “unincorporated U.S. territories” in American Samoa and other Pacific Islands cannot vote in the elections of the country that governs their existence.  The overwhelming majority are voters of color—and as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we must wonder why any U.S. citizen or “national” governed by our laws and subject to our jurisdiction would be so flatly and unequivocally denied the fundamental right to vote. 

    Puerto Ricans living on the Island cannot vote in federal elections because they have only limited citizenship under the Jones Act of 1917.  Yet they serve in the military and must abide by the laws of the United States.  Puerto Rico is home to nearly 4 million Latino U.S. citizens who cannot vote to elect congressional representatives or the president.  This Catch-22 can also be traced to a controversial series of Reconstruction-era Supreme Court decisions known as the Insular Cases, which created a doctrine of “separate and unequal” status for more than 4 million Americans living in “unincorporated U.S. territories” such as American Samoans.  First Circuit Judge Juan Torruella argued at a Harvard Law School conference that “the Insular Cases should be soundly rejected because they represent the thinking of a morally bankrupt era in our history that goes against the most basic precept for which this nation stands: the equality before the law of all of its citizens.” 

  • November 11, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Paul Krugman of The New York Times criticizes the new Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act and argues that the challenge is based on an “obvious typo.”

    In The Wall Street Journal, Jess Bravin discusses Justice Stephen Breyer’s comments at on his faith the Jewish Federations of North America convention.

    Jeffrey Rosen argues in The New Republic that this term may decide the legacy of Chief Justice John Roberts.

    In Slate, Richard L. Hasen previews the upcoming oral argument for the Alabama redistricting cases in which the Supreme Court will consider whether gerrymandering in the state was an attempt to disenfranchise black voters. 

  • 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.”