Voting rights

  • October 2, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Kareem U. Crayton, associate professor of law, the University of North Carolina School of Law

    Voting has been described by the Supreme Court as “preservative of other basic civil and political rights.” So when law and policy leave voting insecure, the core project of governance itself faces grave risk. 

    During oral arguments preceding the June 2013 decision to invalidate a key feature of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Anthony Kennedy dismissed concerns that voting would become less secure for racial minorities. Even absent Section 5’s preclearance oversight for states with egregious histories of discrimination, Kennedy asserted, Section 2 of the law would allow citizens to use traditional litigation to block discriminatory laws. A year into the post-Shelby County era, we have initial evidence of how this litigation has fared in practice.

    One test of Section 2 is playing out in North Carolina, where this week the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the North Carolina NAACP and allied groups in their challenge of a state law that is widely recognized as the nation’s most restrictive. The Court’s decision ordered a preliminary injunction for two provisions of the law – the elimination of same-day registration, and the prohibition of out-of-precinct ballots from being counted. The decision means that these rules will not apply in the November election, contrary to an earlier decision by a U.S. District Court to deny this preliminary injunction. A full trial regarding the merits of the law will go to court next July.

    According to the 4th Circuit, “The district court got the law plainly wrong in several crucial respects" in assessing whether North Carolina’s measure, known as H.B. 589, was likely in violation of Section 2. They continued, "When the applicable law is properly understood and applied to the facts as the district court portrayed them, it becomes clear that the district court abused its discretion in denying plaintiffs a preliminary injunction and not preventing certain provisions of House Bill 589 from taking effect while the parties fight over the bill's legality."

    North Carolina’s H.B. 589 enacts multiple changes to the state’s election system. It eliminates same-day voter registration, prohibits out-of-precinct ballots from being counted, shortens the early voting period by a week, eliminates a successful pre-registration program for 16- and 17-year-olds, prohibits counties from extending Election Day poll hours to account extraordinary circumstances (such as long lines), permits poll observers to challenge voters, and implements a strict photo ID requirement.

  • October 2, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Ari Berman explains in The Nation the recent voting rights victory in North Carolina.

    In The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse looks at the next nine years for the Roberts’ Court in light of the beginning of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s tenth Supreme Court term next Monday.

    Chris Conover reports for Forbes that the Supreme Court is poised to consider the Affordable Care Act once again.

    Marci Hamilton provides a preview for Hamilton and Griffin on Rights of Holt v. Hobbs, an upcoming Supreme Court case on whether prison rules placed a substantial burden on a Muslim prisoner’s free exercise of religion.

    In USA Today, Richard Wolf reports that the Supreme Court has delayed action on same-sex marriage. 

  • October 1, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Walter Shapiro writes for the Brennan Center blog on how allowing candidates to buy more cheap television time could dull the influence of Super PACs.

    The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus considers what the departure of Attorney General Eric Holder says about the next nominee.

    The Supreme Court has lost significant interest in education cases, reports Mark Walsh for Education Week.

    Trevor Boeckmann of Alliance for Justice argues that Ohio is on the cutting edge of voter suppression.

    Jeffrey Toobin explains why Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was right on Hobby Lobby in The New Yorker

    Thomas B. Edsall considers in The New York Times whether liberals are fundraising hypocrites and considers the case of the American Constitution Society and the Democracy Alliance. 

  • September 30, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Robert Barnes of The Washington Post discusses Erwin Chemerinsky’s new book and bold criticisms of the Supreme Court. Chemerinsky recently contributed to the ACSblog Book Talk to discuss his work.

    In The Atlantic, Dawinder Sidhu looks at the next religious freedom case facing the Supreme Court and how it will test how the justices apply Hobby Lobby to minority religions.

    Adam Liptak writes in The New York Times that an answer from the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage is likely to come next June.

    Bloomberg writer Greg Stohr reports that the Supreme Court has blocked an early voting period in Ohio and reinstated voting limits the state passed this year.

    John Nichols writes for The Nation on the Ohio early voting decision and what it says about the Supreme Court’s priorities. 

  • September 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Judy Appelbaum, Visiting Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Acting Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, 2009-2013.

    When Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2009 on his nomination to serve as Attorney General, he pledged to faithfully execute his duties by adhering to the precepts and principles of the Constitution, and to do so in a fair, just and independent manner. He also promised to reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Department of Justice and emphasized that one of his top priorities would be to safeguard what he called our precious civil rights.  He has lived up to those commitments, and he will leave office with an extraordinary record of accomplishment. 

    I was privileged to have a close-up view of Attorney General Holder’s stewardship of the Department when I helped lead DOJ’s office of legislative affairs for the first four years of his tenure. Right at the beginning, I saw the determination and energy he put into passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which gave the Department new tools to address violent hate crimes and for the first time enabled DOJ to protect LGBT victims.  After the bill became law, he made sure that the Department aggressively investigated and pursued such crimes wherever warranted by the facts and the law. 

    Demonstrating his commitment to fairness in the criminal justice system, early in his term Attorney General Holder also pressed Congress to pass the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce crack-powder sentencing disparities that disproportionately penalized African American offenders.  He didn’t rest on that legislative success, either. He then launched the Smart on Crime Initiative, which led to a series of path-breaking reforms. These include a change in the Department’s charging policies to avoid triggering excessive mandatory minimum penalties for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, and measures to reduce barriers faced by ex-offenders as they re-enter society. Under Holder’s innovative Access to Justice Initiative, the Department has found ways to help ensure that indigent criminal defendants receive adequate legal representation.