Tag Archives: amicus

Civil rights alliance weighs in with high court on voter ID

A broad alliance of civil rights groups representing voters most affected by Wisconsin’s photo ID law pressed the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the measure enacted during Gov. Scott Walker’s first term.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, meanwhile, are asking the high court to reject the appeal.

The case, Frank v. Walker, is pending before the Supreme Court, on appeal filed after the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the statute last October. After the appellate ruling, challengers secured from the Supreme Court a temporary hold that kept the law from being implemented for the 2014 midterm election. However, the high court has not indicated whether it will hear the case on merit.

Earlier in February, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel asked the justices to let the appeals ruling stand. He wrote in his brief that Act 23 does not place an undue burden on voters: “In Wisconsin, as everywhere, the overwhelming majority of voters already have qualifying ID. For those who lack ID, obtaining one and bringing it to the polling place is generally no more of a burden than the process of voting itself.”

But the plaintiffs — including the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin, Cross Lutheran Church, Wisconsin League of Young Voters Education Fund, and the Milwaukee Area Labor Council of the AFL-CIO — disagree. They maintain the law, which requires voters to present specific types of government photo ID, disenfranchises Wisconsinites, because an estimated 9 percent of all registered voters lack the necessary ID to vote. Many of those voters are young people, older citizens and minorities.

A flurry of friend-of-the-court briefs filed in mid-February support the challenge to the legislation, which is similar to a model bill drafted and circulated by the American Legislative Exchange Council backed by conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch.

“The briefs filed in the Supreme Court send a resounding message about the urgency of addressing restrictive voter ID laws in our nation’s highest court,” said Penda D. Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, which is challenging Act 23. “There are approximately 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters at risk of losing their right to vote if this law is not overturned. These citizens are disproportionately people of color, and in a real democracy, we all deserve equal access to the fundamental right to vote.”

Friends include: the Congressional Black Caucus, Latino Justice PRLDEF, National Council of La Raza, Hispanic National Bar Association, Hispanic Federation, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, League of Women Voters, The National Council on Independent Living, OurTime.org, Rock the Vote, Color of Change, The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, the Cyber Privacy Project, the Civil Rights Clinic at Howard Law School and One Wisconsin Institute.

One Wisconsin’s brief argues that a severe lack of access to the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles creates a barrier to ballot access and makes the state agency a “virtual gatekeeper to ballot access for thousands of legal voters.”

The brief states that the state has 92 DMVs spread across 56,145 square miles, leaving roughly 50,000 voters without access to public or private transportation more that 10 miles from a DMV service center. 

In addition, most of Wisconsin’s DMV service centers are open limited hours. Only a third are open five days a week; most open two-three days a week; some only open a day or two a month; and one is open only six days each year.

One Wisconsin legal counsel Rebecca Mason, who wrote the brief, stressed that Wisconsin citizens have significantly less access to DMVs to obtain a state identification than citizens in Indiana, where the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a voter ID law.

“The politicians that passed the Wisconsin photo ID law and those charged with administering it are well aware of the barriers a lack of DMV access creates for otherwise legal voters,” concluded Ross.

In another brief, the League of Women Voters encourages the court to hear the Wisconsin case, but to wait to hear arguments until a similar challenge from Texas reaches the justices.

“Strict voter ID laws do nothing to improve elections, and they cause confusion and other problems for many voters. In some cases, they make it impossible for a qualified citizen to cast a ballot and have it counted, and that is unacceptable,” said Melanie G. Ramey, president of League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

On the docket

The case: Frank v. Walker

The questions:

• Does Wisconsin’s voter ID law violate the federal Equal Protection Clause if the evidentiary record establishes that the law substantially burdens the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of the state’s voters and that the law does not advance a legitimate state interest?

• Does Wisconsin’s voter ID law violate Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act by disproportionately burdening and abridging the voting rights of African-American and Latino voters compared to white voters?

The status: Pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

— Lisa Neff

Join the ‘people’s brief’ | Join in the Supreme Court case for marriage equality

The Human Rights Campaign on Feb. 10 launched an unprecedented “People’s Brief” to the U.S. Supreme Court. The effort offers people the opportunity to sign on to a friend-of-the-court brief for marriage equality in advance of oral argument before the Supreme Court this spring.

Roberta Kaplan, the civil rights attorney who won the landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, is the author and lead counsel on the brief. The “People’s Brief” campaign allows any American who has read the brief and agrees with its contents to sign on and to show their support for marriage equality directly to the Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court will hear oral arguments this spring and is expected to resolve the issue of national marriage equality this summer.

The “People’s Brief” marks the first time that many fair-minded Americans will have the opportunity to have their voices formally heard in a civil rights case of this magnitude, according to the HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

People can find the brief at HRC.org and, after reading the brief, they can affix their name to the document that will be entered into the record, distributed to the Supreme Court justices and considered by the highest court in the land.

Edie Windsor, the plaintiff who successfully challenged the federal marriage ban in DOMA, was the first signatory on the People’s Brief, one of dozens of amicus briefs to be submitted in support of marriage equality.

“When it comes to marriage equality, the Supreme Court has heard from business leaders and elected officials, faith leaders and even the President of the United States,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in a news release. “But, until now, they’ve never heard from the fair-minded American majority who simply wants to see their LGBT friends and neighbors treated fairly and equally under the law. As we fight to guarantee marriage equality for all Americans, the People’s Brief will show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the country is ready for marriage and that love can’t wait even a single day longer.”

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that laws passed based upon a desire to discriminate against gay people offend the equal protection principles of our Constitution,” said Kaplan. “Such laws treat gay people as second class citizens—exactly what the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits. Over the course of decades, the American people have come to realize that their gay friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues have the same dignity and the same aspirations to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as everyone else. This brief describes that phenomenon and its impact on the law.”

HRC is launching a campaign to collect signatures on the brief over the next four weeks.

Here is a summary outline of the brief:

“Times can blind us to certain truths,” Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a major 2003 LGBT rights opinion, “later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact only serve to oppress.”

Many voters and legislators really were blinded by the times when they supported laws and constitutional amendments banning marriage equality. They did not realize that they knew LGBT people personally, and could not recognize the contributions that LGBT people and their families make—as employees, as neighbors, as part of the social fabric in every community in America. Some saw the LGBT community as strangers, not as people with the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. 

In many respects, those oppressive times are behind us. In poll after poll, the broad majority of Americans now support marriage equality. Many people who once opposed it are unafraid to admit their views have evolved. Why? They’ve simply met LGBT people in their own lives.

In other words, the laws challenged in this case are more than fundamentally unfair. They were adopted at a time when many did not understand that LGBT Americans are individuals deserving of dignity. The Supreme Court has already recognized in US v. Windsor that LGBT people have an inherent right to dignity. In light of this undeniable truth, it’s time to leave the blindness of the past behind and guarantee the equal protection our constitution promises to every American.

The brief will be formally submitted to the Supreme Court in advance of the March 6 deadline for such submissions.

Prominent marriage allies petition court

Dozens of friend-of-the-court briefs from prominent and popular allies have been submitted in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments in two same-sex marriage cases,

The arguments take place March 26-27.

One case involves a challenge to Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The other involves a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The court is expected to release opinions in late June.

The first filings came from opponents of marriage equality, including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Westboro Baptist Church, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum, a group of Republican senators and a coalition of attorneys general from states that ban gay marriage.

But in the final week of the submission storm, amicus briefs calling on the court to overturn Proposition 8 and the federal marriage ban came from varied parties – the president, Democrats, Republicans, NFL players, Hollywood celebrities, corporate America and civil rights leaders.

The Obama administration filed as an LGBT friend in both cases – the brief against DOMA was expected, the brief against Prop 8 was wished for and arrived at the court on deadline Feb. 28.

“The government seeks to vindicate the defining constitutional ideal of equal treatment under the law,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “Throughout history, we have seen the unjust consequences of decisions and policies rooted in discrimination. The issues before the Supreme Court in this case and the Defense of Marriage Act case are not just important to the tens of thousands of Americans who are being denied equal benefits and rights under our laws, but to our nation as a whole.”

Other friends on marriage equality include:

• More than 200 members of Congress who signed a brief against DOMA. Among the signatories is openly gay U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who said, “Having been happily married for more than five years, I look forward to a time when my partner and I will be treated equally to every American in a ‘traditional’ marriage by our government. The march toward full equality is unending, but I am confident we will be able to put this discriminatory relic behind us in the near future.”

• More than 130 Republican leaders who signed a brief against Prop 8, including Mary Bono Mack, Alex Castellanos, James B. Comey, Gary Johnson, Stephen Hadley, Jon Huntsman, James Kolbe, Ken Mehlman, Steve Schmidt, William F. Weld, Christine Todd Whitman, Meg Whitman and Clint Eastwood.

• More than 300 companies signed onto briefs against DOMA and Prop 8. Companies in the Prop 8 brief include Apple, Facebook, Xerox, Verizon, Cisco and Levi Strauss. Employers calling on the court to overturn the federal ban include Google, Starbucks, Amazon and Citigroup.

• NFL players Brendan Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, two high-profile advocates for equality. They wrote, “When we advance the idea that some people should be treated differently because of who they are, demeaned in public as lesser beings, not worthy of the same rights and benefits as others despite their actions as good citizens and neighbors, then we deny them equal protection under the laws. America has walked this path before, and courageous people and the court brought us to the right result. We urge the court to repeat those actions here.”

In anticipation of the historic hearings, activists on both sides are planning demonstrations.

For March 26, the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage is planning a Marriage March. A NOM poster asks, “Do you believe that every child deserves a mom and a dad?” and invites opponents of gay marriage to “be heard. Protect marriage.” 

In late February, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent American dioceses a letter urging priests to encourage parishioners to attend or show solidarity for the anti-gay effort.

Meanwhile, longtime gay rights activists David Mixner and Cleve Jones have encouraged a “National Equality Action” outside the court on March 26-27. The activists aren’t proposing a national march, but they are endorsing a gathering. “If you can be in Washington, D.C., there will be peaceful and civil demonstrations of support for the cases at the Supreme Court on March 26 and 27,” they wrote in a joint statement. “While there you can also visit your members of Congress to lobby for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and Uniting American Families Act as well as marriage equality. Our opponents will also be marching – ignore them.”

The activists also encouraged “peaceful demonstrations for LGBT equality in every city and town across our country at sunset” on March 25.

Lambda urges court to drop aggravated assault charge based on HIV status

Lambda Legal has filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the New York Court of Appeals to drop an aggravated assault charge leveled against a man because he’s HIV positive.

“The last time I checked, being HIV-positive is not a crime,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV project director with the New York-based group. “And a person should not face criminal punishment – or, as in this case, significantly enhanced penalties – simply because he or she happens to be living with HIV.”

The case dates to September 2006, when David Plunkett was arrested following an altercation with police during which Plunkett allegedly bit an officer.

Later, Plunkett revealed to police that he is HIV-positive. That resulted in the man being charged with aggravated assault upon a police officer, a felony premised on the use of a “dangerous instrument.”

Schoettes said, “There was no possibility of transmission here. The real ‘dangerous instrument’ appears to be in the hands of the prosecutors, who are twisting this law to trump up the charges against a man who is living with HIV.”

“The notion that saliva can transmit HIV is contrary to the scientific evidence. As an association representing HIV care providers and scientists, a key tenet of our work is to advance accurate and evidenced-based policies, including on how HIV is transmitted. Prosecutions like this one fuel HIV-related stigma and discrimination and set back HIV prevention efforts,” said Andrea L. Weddle of the HIV Medicine Association.

At the American Academy of Medicine, Bruce Packett II said, “It’s really disheartening that after three decades there is still confusion in the legal system about the ways by which HIV can be transmitted and the ways by which it cannot. HIV criminalization laws and prosecutions built on these misconceptions stoke unfounded fears and can lead to discrimination against people living with HIV.”

Lambda Legal’s argues that the “realities of HIV transmission risk do not support prosecuting Mr. Plunkett under a law addressing the use of a dangerous instrument and that this charge leads to public misunderstanding of how HIV is transmitted, contributes to stigmatizing people with HIV and undermines important public health goals.”

The case is People of the State of New York v. Plunkett.

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