Voting rights

  • May 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel, Political Participation Group, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

    When Black voters in Fayette County, Georgia took to the polls during a primary election earlier this month, they experienced, for the first time in the county’s 191-year history, the opportunity to elect their candidates of choice to the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education.

    It is more than just serendipity that this election took place almost exactly 60 years to the day that our nation celebrated the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954. Brown ended legally enforced segregation in our country’s public schools and overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine that segregated all aspects of American society. The Brown decision also breathed life into the Civil Rights movement, which in turn led to the creation of the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, widely considered the movement’s greatest victory.

    But for the voters of Fayette County, that victory was a long time coming. Prior to the historic election in May 2014, Fayette County used at-large voting to maintain a racially segregated Board of Commissioners and Board of Education. Although Black voters comprise nearly 20 percent of Fayette County’s population, are geographically concentrated within the County, and consistently vote together to attempt to elect candidates of their choice, no Black candidate has ever been elected to either body under the at-large system of election. Indeed, because Black-preferred candidates are not meaningfully supported by white voters, who comprise 70 percent of Fayette County’s population, those candidates cannot win a county-wide election under the at-large electoral scheme.

  • May 5, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Katherine Culliton-González, Senior Attorney, Director of Voter Protection, Advancement Project
     
    On April 29, the federal court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin found that the state’s photo ID law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. This decision marked the first time Section 2 has been used to strike down a discriminatory voter ID law, and it shows that the Voting Rights Act still has the power to do so—despite the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision eviscerating its preclearance provisions under Section 5.
     
    Advancement Project initiated the Section 2 litigation on behalf of Black and Latino individual plaintiffs and community organizations, including League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Cross Lutheran Church, and the Wisconsin League of Young Voters. Our pro bono counsel was Arnold & Porter LLP. Our case was consolidated with another suit brought by the ACLU for the purposes of trial last November. By then, our lead plaintiff, Bettye Jones, had unfortunately passed away. 
     
    Ms. Jones was 78 years old and, born at home during a time when hospitals were segregated, lacked the birth certificate needed to get a photo ID. Her daughter testified about the numerous inquiries—inquires which racked up burdensome time and financial costs—that it took to try get her mother an ID so that she could continue voting. After last week’s decision, she told us her mother would have been proud to know that her refusal to be silent made a difference in ensuring that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was preserved in 2014 and beyond. 
     
  • May 1, 2014

    Justice Antonin Scalia is facing criticism for “flatly misstating core facts from one of his own prior opinions.” In Environmental Protection Agency v. EME Homer City Generation, decided Tuesday, Justice Scalia’s dissent cites to his 2001 opinion in Whitman v. American Trucking Association.  However, “the EPA's stance in [Whitman] was the exact opposite of what Scalia said it was in Tuesday’s opinion.”  Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo highlights an “unusually major mistake” at the high court.
     
    Controversy continues to surround Oklahoma’s botched execution of Clayton D. Lockett. Erik Eckholm and John Schwartz at The New York Times report on Gov. Mary Fallin’s response to the troubling event “defending the death penalty but order[ing] an independent autopsy of Mr. Lockett and a thorough review of the state’s procedures for lethal injections.” In response to Gov. Fallin’s proposal, the ACLU of Oklahoma stated that the governor’s planned efforts “create a serious conflict of interest” and that the “Attorney General and Governor fought every attempt at transparency or accountability in our execution process.” Steven Erlanger at The New York Times notes the “outrage in Europe over the flawed execution.”
     
    The Honorable Lynn Adelman, U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, ruled that Wisconsin’s state’s voter ID law violated the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Ari Berman at The Nation has the story.
     
    Alex Kreit at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform comments on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s unlawful user law that “makes it a crime for anyone who ‘is an unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance’ to possess a firearm.” 

     

  • April 25, 2014

    On Monday, the Supreme Court “declined to review an executive order issued by Florida Governor Rick Scott that had required all state employees take random drug tests,” leaving in place a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that Gov. Scott’s order was too broad.
     
    Shalini Goel Agarwal of the American Civil Liberties Union, who represents the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in the litigation, stated that “without a threat to public safety or a suspicion of drug use, people can't be required to sacrifice their constitutional rights in order to serve the people of Florida.” Lawrence Hurley at Reuters has the story.
     
    On Tuesday, the high court heard oral argument for a case involving “a request from television broadcasters to shut down Aereo, an Internet start-up they say threatens the economic viability of their businesses.” Adam Liptak at The New York Times breaks down American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.
     
    Writing for The Daily Beast, Michael Waldman explains why, when it comes to “executive actions to improve our democracy” President Obama “should go further on voting and transparency to make government work better.”
     
    TPM’s Sahil Kapur notes “the Supreme Court's unprecedented public clash over race.”
  • April 15, 2014
    At The Daily BeastGeoffrey R. Stone—former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapterexplains why “the press isn’t free if it has fear of prosecution for leaks” and why “it’s time to give reporters the same type of privilege attorneys and doctors have.”
     
    A growing trend of private probation companies is influencing our court and prison systems. Implemented now in ten states, these companies provide an inexpensive means for courts to ensure that fines are paid. However, in what is referred to as the “debtor’s prison,” many of today’s poor are being jailed because they can’t afford to pay their fines. PBS NewsHour reports on this controversial phenomenon which is proving how “without funds to pay fines, minor incidents can mean jail time.” 
     
    Calls for an investigation into the leak of a classified Senate report on torture to McClatchy newspapers continue. The leak came after Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accused the Central Intelligence Agency of illegally searching her committee’s computers. Adam Serwer at MSNBC  has the story.
     
    Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic explains why President Obama is right to speak out on voter suppression, “but he needs to preach to someone other than the converted.”
     
    At Roll Call’s Hawkings Here, David Hawking discusses Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus and whether lying in political campaigns is unconstitutional.