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  • October 3, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    There is no question voting rights are under attack across the country. Last year the conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and conservative lawmakers in some southern states didn’t miss a beat before passing laws making it much more difficult for minorities, younger voters and the elderly – all constituencies which typically vote Democratic – to pull the lever for their candidates. This week we saw the Supreme Court deal another blow to minority voters in Ohio, limiting early voting, an accommodation used widely by African American voters, again a solidly Democratic bloc. Meanwhile, opponents of Wisconsin's voter ID law are asking the Supreme Court to keep officials from enforcing it in the November election and the Arkansas Supreme Court will take up a voter ID lawsuit. But there is one place where it appears voters are taking the power back. That place is Ferguson, Mo.

    According to USA Today, more than 3,000 people have registered to vote in Ferguson since the death of Michael Brown — a surge in interest that may mean the city of 21,000 people is ready for a change. Three thousand new voters in less than two months. It’s a voting registration drive reminiscent of Freedom Summer.

    Ferguson is a city of 21,000 people. Two-thirds are African American. But the mayor and five of six city council members are white. The makeup of the police department: depending on what you read, either three or four of a 53 member force are black. Not every white cop is racist – in fact it’s possible few or none are – but the makeup of Ferguson’s police force does not represent the community it serves.      

    Change is needed in Ferguson. And it’s needed in communities like it across the country. The good news this week, is that it looks like change is on the way. Two days after Michael Brown was shot, Anthony Bell, St. Louis 3rd Ward committeeman, began registering voters.  According USA Today, the biggest issue on the Nov. 4 ballot will be the race for county executive of St. Louis County between Republican State Rep. Rick Stream and County Councilman Steve Stenger, a Democrat. Fast forward to April, and three Ferguson city council seats will be up for grabs.

  • October 3, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Lyle Denniston looks at what is next for same-sex marriage in the Supreme Court at SCOTUSblog.

     A ruling from the U.S. Court for the Fifth Circuit closed all but eight Texas abortion clinics, reports Sarah Kliff of Vox.

    In Alliance for Justice’s blog, Meghan Jones and Christopher Brook discuss State v. Heien and why law enforcement ignorance of the law is not an excuse for Fourth Amendment violations.

    Eliot Hannon reports in Slate on the religious discrimination case against Abercrombie & Fitch that the Supreme Court will hear this term.

    Daniel Gutiérrez discusses in Jacobin the how migrant workers bear the brunt of capitalism’s challenges to labor. 

  • 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
    BookTalk
    God vs. the Gavel
    The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty
    By: 
    Marci A. Hamilton

    by Marci A. Hamiltonthe Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

    *This post originally appeared on Hamilton and Griffin on Rights.

    How do you talk about the unspeakable? A decade ago, it was taboo to criticize religion or religious believers in print. They were a benign presence in America right next to apple pie.   I wrote God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law then to defeat this taboo, because it was masking a reality most Americans would want to know.

    There I stacked up transgressions of religious actors, including the sexual abuse and medical neglect (to death) of children, the forced marriage of adolescents into polygamous marriages, the violence of white supremacist or radical jihadist prison gangs, and even the questionable dealings of religious developers who forced incompatible uses like homeless shelters into residential neighborhoods. It was all for religion, with results that were not so benign.

    The destruction of the taboo was necessary in a just society. The perpetrators of 9/11 were religious zealots. So were the parents who let their children die. Roman Catholic bishops covered up for child abusers and endangered one child after another to protect the religious institution from scandal. Then the same pattern appeared across virtually all religious denominations. These were atrocities.

    Before these criminal acts reminded us of the power of religion to be both transcendent and horrible, Congress had ratcheted up the rights of religious believers by passing the misbegotten Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993 and 2000. Hardly anyone understood what it meant either time and no one was thinking of jihadists, clergy child predators, or children dying from medical neglect, in part because mainstream religious lobbyists intentionally presented a wholesome face to Congress, arguing that religious believers faced discrimination across the country that needed to be corrected by the statute.