August 2012

  • August 31, 2012

    By Jeremy Leaming

    The effort to trump the Supreme Court’s disastrous corporate elections spending case, Citizens United v. FEC, received a presidential stamp of approval this week, but because of the media’s heightened coverage of a political convention in Florida, it went largely undetected.

    But while politicos gathered in Tampa to do what they inevitably do, provide a boring, predictable show, President Obama in a Reddit conversation said a constitutional amendment might be the only way to go about staunching or at least curbing corporate America’s increasingly disconcerting grip on elections for public office.

    A bit of hyperbole above, because some press did notice Obama’s comments made during the Reddit discussion. As Politico reported, the president said, “Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it.). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-Pac phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”

    Politico noted that Citizens United greatly weakened federal regulation of corporate spending on elections, thereby allowing business interests to become even more involved in controlling political outcomes and influencing political parties.

  • August 30, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Whether it’s outrageous and wholly unwarranted new restrictions on voting or new voting districts concocted to keep minorities from participating in democracy, rightwing lawmakers and their corporate backers, over the past two years, have stridently pushed an ignoble and tawdry campaign of voter suppression.

    But federal courts this week dealt the anti-democracy campaign some setbacks. First, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s in State of Texas v. U.S. swept aside the state’s redistricting plans as discriminatory. The new Texas voting districts, the federal court found violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because they discriminated against Latino voters.

    Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle said he would sign a permanent injunction against a provision of Florida’s voting overhaul law that made it much more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters to conduct voter registrations.

    Deidre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida told The Associated Press that the state’s “anti-voter law created impassable roadblocks for our volunteers, who have been bringing Floridians into our democratic process for over 72 years.”

    Florida, along with Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, has sought to implement some of the more onerous restrictions on voting. Not only did Florida seek to shut down voter registration drives, it also enacted rigid voter ID requirements and sought to greatly limit early voting opportunities.

    Earlier this month the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia held that Florida’s curtailment of early voting opportunities ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act, which applies to states and localities that have a history of voter discrimination. The court held that curtailing early voting opportunities in Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties would have a discriminatory impact on African American voters. The state, the court held, “failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters,” and that the restrictions on early voting was “analogous to closing polling places in disproportionately African-American precincts.”

    Today the efforts of Texas to manipulate the vote were dealt yet another blow. The state’s onerous voter ID law also violates the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia ruled in State of Texas v. Holder.

  • August 30, 2012

    by John Schachter

    Forty-five years ago today, the U.S. Senate voted 69-11 to confirm Thurgood Marshall as the 96th Justice of the Supreme Court. That historic vote made Marshall the nation’s first African American justice and helped blaze a trail for others to follow.

    When President Lyndon Johnson nominated Marshall to the high court, he understood the historic importance, not just for the future of the court itself but for the broader issue of civil rights. Said Johnson, “I believe it's the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man, and the right place.”

    Times sure have changed; only one of those 11 votes against confirmation came from the Republican side of the aisle. But Johnson did get some 20 other southern senators to abstain from the vote; they faced the choice of alienating portions of their constituencies who couldn’t stomach an African American on the highest court or voting against the president and his historic choice.

    Marshall’s background is well known, from his more than two decades with the NAACP to his myriad arguments before the Supreme Court, culminating in the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that rejected the “separate but equal” doctrine in public education. President John F. Kennedy put Marshall on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and then Johnson made him solicitor general before the final promotion.

  • August 29, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In its ruling yesterday rejecting several new Texas voting districts, a federal court in Washington, D.C. blasted the efforts of Texas lawmakers as seeking to suppress the vote of Latinos.

    Janell Ross for The Huffington Post noted that the federal court’s opinion provided a “sharply worded” and exhaustive account of “Texas officials’ plans to draw districts for four new congressional seats created by the state’s booming Latino population that were almost certain to elect Congress members preferred by white Republican voters. And it’s a ruling that should serve as a cautionary tale, according to voting rights advocates.”

    Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), told Ross, “For other states thinking of doing anything to dilute the [power] of their minority voters or their fast-growing minority populations, this not just a warning. This is a warning in the strongest terms.”

    Indeed as noted on this blog yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that Texas lawmakers failed badly in proving that their redistricting plans did not violate Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act applies to states and localities with a history of discriminating against classes of voters, and requires those jurisdictions to get preclearance for redistricting from the Department of Justice or a federal court.

    In State of Texas v. U.S. the federal court said Texas failed to show that its new voting maps would not discriminate against voters on “account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”

    MALDEF, which intervened on behalf of Latino voters to challenge the state’s new voting schemes, said the federal court had found the state’s congressional plan was created with “discriminatory racial intent,” and its State House redistricting plan undercut “voting strength,” while the state Senate redistricting plan “was enacted with discriminatory racial intent.”

  • August 28, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Texas lawmakers’ plans to create new voting districts fail the parameters of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Latino voters, a federal court ruled today.

    Texas like a number of other states and localities must abide by the Voting Rights Act, which includes a section that requires those jurisdictions to receive preclearance for redistricting plans. The Voting Rights Act applies to states and localities that have a history of discriminating against classes of voters. Texas did not seek administrative preclearance and instead sought approval of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

    The federal government opposed preclearance for some of Texas’s redistricting plan, but the three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court concluded that none of the state’s redistricting plan “merits preclearance.” (Texas sought to create new voting districts for its congressional delegation and its State House of Representatives as well as for the Texas Senate.)

    In attaining preclearance Texas needed to prove that “its redistricting plans have neither the effect nor the purpose of abridging minority voting rights.” The federal court found that Texas whiffed on that requirement. Texas tried to persuade the federal court that precedent allows the state to use its own method to determine whether its new voting districts would harm minority voters. The federal panel said, the state “is entitled to advocate its preferred methods of measuring minority voting strength, as we address those arguments below, but we need not defer to a state’s legal theory on how best to measure minority voters’ ability to elect.”

    After meticulously going through the various plans for the new voting districts, the federal court concluded in State of Texas v. U.S. that Texas failed to prove that its U.S. congressional and State House plans would not undercut Hispanic voters, “and that the U.S .Congressional and State Senate Plans were not enacted with discriminatory purpose.” The state therefore failed to “carry its burden” in showing its proposed voting districts would not “have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”