NAACP president and CEO Cornell William Brooks issued the following statement opposing the nomination of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general:
America yet stands at the beginning of presidential administration but also in the middle of a Twitter age civil rights movement based on old divisions.
U.S. Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is among the worst possible nominees for attorney general amid some of the worst times for civil rights in recent memory.
Following a divisive presidential campaign, hate crimes rising, police videos sickening the stomach while quickening the conscience, protesters marching in the streets and politicians mouthing the myth of voter fraud while denying the reality of voter suppression, Senator Sessions is precisely the wrong man to lead the Justice Department.
The NAACP, as the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, opposes the nomination of Senator Sessions to become U.S. attorney general for the following reasons:
• a record on voting rights that is unreliable at best and hostile at worse;
• a failing record on other civil rights;
• a record of racially offensive remarks and behavior;
• and dismal record on criminal justice reform issues.
Senator Sessions supported the re-authorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2006, but called the bill “a piece of intrusive legislation” just months earlier. Sessions has consistently voted in favor of strict voter ID laws that place extra burdens on the poor and residents of color, and drive voter suppression across the country. When the Supreme Court struck down federal protections in 2012 that prevented thousands of discriminatory state laws from taking effect since 1965, Sessions declared it was “a good thing for the South.” As a prosecutor in 1985, Sessions maliciously prosecuted a former aide to Martin Luther King for helping senior citizens file absentee ballots in Alabama.
Rather than enforcing voting rights protections, Senator Sessions has instead made a career of seeking to dismantle them. When Shelby County v. Holder gutted the protections of the VRA, Senator Sessions cheered. For decades, he has pursued the rare and mystical unicorn of voter fraud, while turning a blind eye to the ever-growing issue of voter suppression.
While Senator Sessions’ historical record on civil rights remains one of dismay, it is his unrepentant stance against the vote that remains our issue. The threat of voter suppression is not a historical but current challenge. At least 10 times in the past 10 months, the NAACP defended voting rights against coordinated campaigns by legislators targeting African-American voters in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and many other states.
While the NAACP could gain the assistance of the Justice Department in fighting back against voter suppression, a Sessions-led DOJ would likely lead to the exact opposite.During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach’s commitment to democracy allowed him to help write the VRA. Today, our nation stands on the verge of selecting an AG who has never shown the slightest commitment to enforcing the protections Katzenbach and others wrote into law.
How can our communities who have born the both historical and current brunt of the attacks on the right to vote, sit idly by while an enemy to the vote is now given the responsibility of enforcing this right? The simple answer is that we can’t.
Other Civil Rights
Notwithstanding, he has also repeatedly voted against the Violence Against Women Act that expanded protection for victims of domestic violence and repeatedly stood on the wrong side of immigration and LGBT issues.
During his failed 1986 federal judgeship hearing, four DOJ attorneys and colleagues of Senator Sessions testified that he made several racist statements. J. Gerald Hebert testified that Sessions had referred to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as “un-American” and “Communist inspired” because they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.
Additional accusations of racist behavior were attributed to Senator Sessions by Thomas Figures, an African American Assistant U.S. Attorney, who testified that Sessions said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” Sessions later said that the comment was not serious, but did apologize for it. Mr. Figures also testified that on one occasion, Senator Session railed against civil rights cases, threw a file on the table and called him the derogatory racist term “boy,” and later advised Figures to watch what he said to white people.
Criminal Justice Reform
In a time of expanding protests against the scourge of police brutality, Senator Sessions stands on opposite ground. He has repeated stood against the consent decree, a main tool of the DOJ to reel in racist and unaccountable police departments. In a report by the Alabama Policy Institute, Senator Sessions called consent decrees: “One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees. Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process.”
While under the administration of President Barack Obama, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division made investigating police departments charged with racism and police brutality a key focus by intervening in high-profile cases in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland to impose consent decrees and reforms to correct misbehavior and the violation of citizen’s civil rights.
Senator Sessions would become the Attorney General under a president who supports nationalizing the racist and disproven “stop and frisk,” strategy. Both Sessions and the incoming president are supporters of the DOD 1033 program which allows police department’s access to surplus military equipment including tanks, armored vehicles, grenade launchers and more. He also opposes the removal of mandatory minimum sentences and blocked efforts to reduce nonviolent drug sentencing despite wide bi-partisan support for doing so. If not enough, Senator Sessions has repeatedly voted against safe, sane, and sensible measures to stem the tide of gun violence.
Given that these are issues our nation the attorney general is sworn to protect and enforce his nomination represents an ongoing and dangerous threat to our civicbirthrights –particularly, and the right to vote.
We call upon the Senate to reject Sessions and for President-elect Donald J. Trump to replace Sessions with a nominee with a record of inclusion and commitment to protecting the civil rights of the American majority.
The NAACP does not believe that an election where the incoming president lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes represents a mandate to overhaul the America of the Majority. The vote remains the most important resource in making democracy real for all people.
As we have since 1909, the NAACP will continue to stand against Senator Sessions and any attempts to unravel the progress earned through the blood, sweat and tears of our people to enjoy the same rights under law as all Americans.”
Founded Feb. 12. 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots–based civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.
The Justice Department announced that its Civil Rights Division will deploy more than 500 personnel to 67 jurisdictions, including Milwaukee, on Election Day.
Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, Justice’s Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot on Election Day.
Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the department has regularly monitored elections in the field in jurisdictions around the country to protect the rights of voters.
“The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote, and the Department of Justice works tirelessly to uphold that right not only on Election Day, but every day,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in a statement. “We enforce federal statutes related to voting through a range of activities — including filing our own litigation when the facts warrant, submitting statements of interest in private lawsuits to help explain our understanding of these laws, and providing guidance to election officials and the general public about what these laws mean and what they require.
“On Election Day itself, lawyers in the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section will staff a hotline starting in the early hours of the morning, and just as we have sent election monitors in prior elections, we will continue to have a robust election monitors program in place on election day. As always, our personnel will perform these duties impartially, with one goal in mind: to see to it that every eligible voter can participate in our elections to the full extent that federal law provides. The department is deeply committed to the fair and unbiased application of our voting rights laws and we will work tirelessly to ensure that every eligible person that wants to do so is able to cast a ballot.”
Leading up to and throughout Election Day, Civil Rights Division staff members will be available by telephone to receive complaints related to possible violations of the federal voting rights laws (Toll free at 1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767 or TTY 202-305-0082).
In addition, individuals may also report such complaints by fax to 202-307-3961, by email to and by a complaint form on the department’s website: www.justice.gov/crt/votercomplaint.
Allegations of election fraud are handled by the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country and the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.
Complaints may be directed to any of the local U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the local FBI offices or the Public Integrity Section at 202-514-1412.
Complaints related to disruption at a polling place should be reported immediately to local election officials (including officials in the polling place).
Complaints related to violence, threats of violence or intimidation at a polling place should be reported immediately to local police authorities by calling 911.
They should also be reported to the department after local authorities have been contacted.
On Election Day, the Civil Rights Division will monitor the election on the ground in 67 jurisdictions for compliance with the federal voting rights laws:
- Bethel Census Area, Alaska;
- Dillingham Census Area, Alaska;
- Kusilvak Census Area, Alaska;
- Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska;
- Maricopa County, Arizona;
- Navajo County, Arizona;
- Alameda County, California;
- Napa County, California;
- Siskiyou County, California;
- East Hartford, Connecticut;
- Farmington, Connecticut;
- Hartford, Connecticut;
- Middletown, Connecticut;
- New Britain, Connecticut;
- Newington, Connecticut;
- West Hartford, Connecticut;
- Hillsborough County, Florida;
- Lee County, Florida;
- Miami-Dade County, Florida;
- Orange County, Florida;
- Palm Beach County, Florida;
- Fulton County, Georgia;
- Gwinnett County, Georgia;
- Hancock County, Georgia;
- Chicago, Illinois;
- Cook County, Illinois;
- Finney County, Kansas;
- Orleans Parish, Louisiana;
- Quincy, Massachusetts;
- Dearborn Heights, Michigan;
- Detroit, Michigan;
- Hamtramck, Michigan;
- St. Louis, Missouri;
- Douglas County, Nebraska;
- Mineral County, Nevada;
- Washoe County, Nevada;
- Middlesex County, New Jersey;
- Cibola County, New Mexico;
- Kings County, New York;
- Orange County, New York;
- Queens County, New York;
- Cumberland County, North Carolina;
- Forsyth County, North Carolina;
- Mecklenburg County, North Carolina;
- Robeson County, North Carolina;
- Wake County, North Carolina;
- Benson County, North Dakota;
- Rolette County, North Dakota;
- Cuyahoga County, Ohio;
- Franklin County, Ohio;
- Hamilton County, Ohio;
- Allegheny County, Pennsylvania;
- Lehigh County, Pennsylvania;
- Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania;
- Pawtucket, Rhode Island;
- Providence, Rhode Island;
- Bennett County, South Dakota;
- Jackson County, South Dakota;
- Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota;
- Shelby County, Tennessee;
- Dallas County, Texas;
- Harris County, Texas;
- Waller County, Texas;
- San Juan County, Utah;
- Fairfax County, Virginia;
- Prince William County, Virginia, and
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The department will gather information on:
• whether voters are subject to different voting qualifications or procedures on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group;
• whether jurisdictions are complying with the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act; whether jurisdictions permit voters to receive assistance by a person of his or her choice if the voter is blind, has a disability or is unable to read or write;
• whether jurisdictions provide polling locations and voting systems allowing voters with disabilities to cast a private and independent ballot;
• whether jurisdictions comply with the voter registration list requirements of the National Voter Registration Act;
• whether jurisdictions comply with the provisional ballot requirements of the Help America Vote Act.
Last month, the Justice Department announced efforts to ensure that all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots and have their votes counted free of discrimination, intimidation or fraud in the election process.
Earlier this fall, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan and Ron Kind sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for monitoring of the election in Wisconsin.
Moore and Pocan issued statement on Nov. 7:
“I take great comfort in knowing that personnel from the U.S. Justice Department will be on the ground in Milwaukee during this historic election,” said Moore. “Too many Wisconsinites, especially those in communities of color, face a host of unnecessary obstacles in their efforts exercise their constitutional right to vote. This is simply unacceptable. My colleagues and I in Wisconsin’s Democratic congressional delegation would like to thank the DOJ for ensuring that all voters, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology, have the right to take part in our democracy, free of discrimination or intimidation.”
Pocan said, “The decision by the Department of Justice, while welcome, is a bittersweet victory for those of us who want to ensure voting rights are upheld. Although the DOJ’s efforts to enforce federal voting-rights laws is essential to fending off the worst aspects of this relentless attack on the right to vote, my colleagues and I will fight to end the suppression and intimidation that have become normalized in this election. The bedrock of democracy is the robust participation of all of us in the political process—this has always been a core Wisconsin value. We cannot and will not tolerate the continued threat of disenfranchisement against hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites.”
Dear Attorney General Lynch: As you are aware, Wisconsin, which we represent, is among 14 states that have adopted new voter restrictions in advance of the November 8 election.
The state’s 2011 voter identification law, one of the strictest in the country, has been repeatedly challenged in federal court due to its discriminatory effects on vulnerable populations’ voting rights. Due to the law’s contentious nature and poor implementation, coupled with a political environment that is becoming increasingly intimidating, we are requesting the Department of Justice’s assistance in overseeing the state’s monitoring of the election, including by providing poll-monitoring services in Wisconsin.
In 2014, a U.S. district court noted that more than 300,000 Wisconsinites lacked the newly requisite form of identification, and that this population disproportionately included persons of color. Judge Lynn Adelman further observed that state officials “could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” casting serious doubt on the official rationale for the policy.
A second federal court determined earlier this summer that even the “safety net” built into the law to help voters who have trouble obtaining ID was a “wretched failure” that “disenfranchised citizens” who are “overwhelmingly African American and Latino.”
Deeming the provision unconstitutional, Judge James Peterson mandated changes in practice and public education to ensure that that process better serves all Wisconsinites with documentation challenges in obtaining identification so they can vote. Concurring with Judge Adelman, Judge Peterson also expressed “misgivings about whether the law actually promotes confidence and integrity,” and observed that prior to 2011, “Wisconsin had an exemplary election system that produced high levels of voter participation without significant irregularities.”
Unfortunately, since that court order in late July, we have continued to see how Wisconsin’s voter ID law puts the franchise of many Wisconsinites, particularly people of color, in real jeopardy. Over the last month, press reports have revealed that on numerous occasions, Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicle employees provided erroneous and incomplete information to potential voters who are unable to obtain IDs due to a lack of required documentation (like a birth certificate), despite their eligibility for alternative credentials.
These revelations led Judge Peterson to remark on October 12, “I’m very disappointed to see that the state really did nothing in response to my order,” noting that voters are “at the mercy of the DMV, and its staff wasn’t trained well enough to guide people through it.” We are deeply troubled by the prospect of such misinformation contributing to voter disenfranchisement in this election. While further scrutiny by the federal court has prompted state officials to institute additional training and public education efforts at the DMV, there is entirely too much at stake in the limited time left before the election to let this continue without additional oversight.
In addition to misinformation, we are also concerned about potential voter intimidation at the polling places, particularly in light of recent, high-profile rhetoric that alleges “election rigging.” National figures have suggested that there is widespread voter fraud in our country and have encouraged private citizens to monitor the voting behaviors of certain communities for potential misconduct.
Given the flawed efforts thus far by state officials to properly implement this law, with proof of demonstrably false information having been disseminated to voters just days before the election, we fear that irreparable harm may result—particularly to voters of color, who disproportionately bear the brunt of these policies and any Election Day intimidation efforts.
We ask the Department to provide any resources or assistance it can in order to help our state navigate these unsettling circumstances. For example, the Department has historically provided poll monitors on Election Day to help ensure that all eligible voters will be permitted to register and exercise their fundamental right to participate in our democracy. We therefore urge the Department of Justice to utilize any available election monitoring resources to ensure voters in Wisconsin are able to safely access the polls.
The right to elect our public representatives is unrivaled in its importance to a fully functioning democracy. With few days remaining until the election, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to limit the amount of harm caused to our state’s voters.
Thank you for your consideration of this request and for the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to ensure the fairness of all elections in our country.
Opponents of more than a dozen new Wisconsin election laws had made a “pretty decent case” that Republicans approved them to secure a partisan advantage, a federal judge said, but he isn’t convinced the measures actually had a dramatic effect.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson’s comments came in closing arguments of a lawsuit challenging the laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker since 2011.
Peterson promised to rule by the end of July but has said that will be too late to affect the Aug. 9 primary for the field of candidates running for dozens of state and federal races will be narrowed before the Nov. 8 general election.
An attorney for two liberal groups challenging the laws, including the requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls, argued that they should be found unconstitutional and stopped from being enforced. But a state Department of Justice attorney said there was no evidence to support a wholesale undoing of the laws.
“They’re going for the home run,” Assistant Attorney General Clay Kawski said. “They just haven’t shown that.”
The laws being challenged include provisions of the voter ID requirement, particularly the process used to grant free IDs to people who don’t have the required documentation, limitations on early voting times and places and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.
The judge said he didn’t “see anything powerful in either way” about what effect the laws have had on turnout.
“I don’t see anything really compelling showing the voter ID law or any of the other changes had a powerful impact on any of the elections,” Peterson said.
He referenced comments from Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, made in an interview in April, that he thought the voter ID law would help Republicans in the November election. Peterson said he didn’t think the evidence showed it would help Republicans significantly, or that it would hurt Democrats as much as was argued.
The plaintiffs argue that the laws discriminate against the poor, racial minorities and younger voters who are more inclined to vote Democratic. The state Department of Justice counters that they have not suppressed turnout and the state works hard to ensure everyone who needs a free ID to vote gets one.
Attorney Bruce Van Spiva argued that if the judge finds any parts of the laws are discriminatory, he must rule the entire laws unconstitutional and block enforcement. He said the evidence showed Republicans were motivated to pass the laws to suppress Democratic turnout and there was no need to make the changes.
He cited testimony of Todd Allbaugh, who was chief of staff to then state-Sen. Dale Schultz, a Republican. Allbaugh testified that Republican senators said in a closed-door meeting discussing the voter ID law that it was needed to improve the GOP’s chances of winning elections by reducing turnout in urban areas and college campuses.
But the judge raised questions about whether Allbaugh’s testimony could be trusted, given that he left the Republican Party partly out of disgust over passage of the voter ID law.
“It’s score settling. I’m not doubting his real sincerity but his perspective is hostile to his former party,” Peterson said. “He feels betrayed.”
Some of the law changes being challenged include: reducing early voting from 30 days before an election to 12 days; limiting the hours it can take place and restricting early voting to one location per municipality; eliminating straight ticket voting; doing away with requiring special election deputies be assigned at high schools; and prohibiting local governments from requiring landlords to distribute voter-registration forms to new tenants.
The lawsuit was brought by the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute Inc., social justice group Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and 10 voters.
There will be no change to Wisconsin’s voting laws before the August primary, including the requirement that photo identification be shown at the polls, a federal judge hearing a challenge to more than a dozen election laws said in late May.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson told attorneys at the beginning of the final day of testimony in the two-week trial that he will make a ruling by the end of July, which won’t leave enough time to enact any changes he may order before the primary where the field of candidates running for a host of state and federal races will be winnowed.
“Obviously I feel urgency in getting the decision out,” Peterson said, adding that he didn’t think it would be realistic to have it done before the end of July. He scheduled final arguments for June 30.
Two liberal groups and voters are challenging more than a dozen voting-related laws signed by Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in the past five years. That includes provisions of the voter ID requirement, particularly the process used to grant free IDs to people who don’t have the required documentation, limitations on early voting times and places and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.
The plaintiffs argue that the laws discriminate against the poor, racial minorities and younger voters who are more inclined to vote Democratic. The state Department of Justice, which is defending the laws, argues that they have not suppressed turnout and the state works hard to ensure everyone who needs a free ID to vote gets one.
At least five primaries in congressional races are expected in the Aug. 9 election, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican challenger Paul Nehlen and contests on both sides in the open 8th Congressional District in northern Wisconsin. There will also be at least 23 state Assembly districts and seven state Senate races. The deadline for candidates to submit required paperwork to get on the ballot was this week.
The winners will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.
“There’s no way the decision will have an impact on the August election,” Peterson said. He also said he expected his ruling to be appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but didn’t say whether he would put it on hold until there is a final determination, perhaps by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’m sure whatever I do will make one side or the other unhappy,” Peterson said. “There’s a god chance everyone will be unhappy, which I guess will be justice.”
Testimony in the case has relied heavily on experts on both sides presenting conflicting evidence about the effect of the laws on turnout both generally and among minorities. The former chief of staff to then-Sen. Dale Schultz, a Republican, testified that GOP state senators were “giddy” about passing the voter ID law because they saw it as increasing their chances of winning elections.
Defenders of the law, including Walker and Republican lawmakers, have said publicly that their goal was to make elections more secure and combat voter fraud. But evidence presented at trial showed there are very few documented cases of voter fraud. Election clerks from Republican parts of the state also testified that they experienced no significant problems running elections under the new laws, including the photo ID requirement.
Dozens of civil rights groups want to shift the focus of presidential candidates from the early voting states to citizens’ voting rights.
A coalition of groups, led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, is pressing presidential debate moderators to ask candidates in both parties about protecting access to the polls.
The next opportunities for such questions will be on Nov. 6, when the Democratic candidates gather for a forum in South Carolina, and on Nov. 10, when the Republicans assemble at the Milwaukee Theatre for a sold-out debate hosted by the Fox Business Network.
“Voting is the language of our democracy,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the LCCHR. “Every candidate seeking our nation’s highest office must explain their position on the crucial voting rights legislation in Congress and say what they would do to make sure that no citizen is denied the right to vote.”
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for state-based campaigns to make it more difficult for certain populations to vote.
In Wisconsin, conservative lawmakers passed a voter photo ID law and reduced polling hours.
Legislation in the U.S. House and the Senate would strengthen the Voting Rights Act, but few presidential candidates have taken stands on the pending legislation.
The moderators for the Milwaukee debate — set to begin at 8 p.m. — are FBN managing editor Neil Cavuto, FBN markets editor Maria Bartiromo and Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker.
A news release from FBN said the debate would focus on “jobs, taxes and the general health of the economy, as well as domestic and international policy issues.”
Milwaukee to host GOP Debate
The GOP presidential candidates will debate in Milwaukee on Nov. 10. The main debate will be at 8 p.m. and the candidates in the lower tier will debate at 5 p.m. at the Milwaukee Theatre.
Calls to join a protest outside the theater on Nov. 10 went out in mid-October from the Black Lives Matter movement. Others organizing a protest include the Milwaukee Antiwar Committee, Youth Empowered in the Struggle-UWM, U.S. Palestinian Community Network-Milwaukee, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, UWM students for a Democratic Society, Iraq Veterans Against the War, No Drones Wisconsin, ACLU Student Alliance-Marquette, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Occupy Milwaukee and more.
One of the nation’s more liberal nonprofits and one of the most conservative U.S. think tanks may not agree on the best outcomes of the new Supreme Court term, but there’s concurrence on the most significant cases before the justices.
There also seems to be all-around agreement that progressives may not win the type of landmark victories achieved in the 2014–15 term, most notably the high court’s ruling in late June that paved the way for marriage equality across the country. Conservative wins are far more common from the Roberts court.
The court began its new term on Oct. 5, with 34 cases already on the docket and many more expected. The justices will hear arguments in 10 cases this month and arguments in another 10 in November.
Days before the term opened, the liberal People for the American Way issued its “term preview” and the conservative Heritage Foundation issued its “overview.” Both groups said the most significant cases to be heard this fall will deal with affirmative action, organized labor and redistricting. The court also is likely to take up cases dealing with religious liberty, abortion rights and affordable health care.
PFAW, in its preview, cautioned that the justices “have chosen to hear a number of cases that risk continuing the aggressive rightward march that has characterized the past decade. The 2015–16 term may be yet another one where the American people enjoy less liberty, less equality, less power and less control over our own democracy on the last day of the term than we had on the first.”
The Heritage Foundation did not issue such a warning.
A look at new term …
To be argued:
• Redistricting. Perhaps the most prominent case currently before the court is Evenwel v. Abbott from Texas. The justices will decide whether states can or must exclude those not eligible to vote or not registered to vote from population counts in redistricting.
The case deals with equal representation in elected bodies, the constitutional guarantee of “one person, one vote.” The plaintiffs, who live in rural Texas, maintain that the Constitution requires each vote to be equal, so districts should have equal numbers of eligible voters not equal populations. Current practice is to count everyone in the district.
Another case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Commission, involves a state redistricting plan adopted by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which was created as a result of a ballot initiative aimed at removing partisanship from the mapping process.
The plaintiffs argue that the commission, for partisan reasons, created a map that carved out districts for both parties but to the disadvantage of Republicans.
• Affirmative action. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The court will hear this case for a second time. The plaintiff’s first equal protection challenge to the use of race in undergrad admissions at UT was heard in 2013. Then, the court said schools must prove their use of race in admissions decisions is narrowly tailored to further compelling government interests and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Heritage says the justices will decide whether UT’s diversity rationale for enrolling more minority students from majority-white high schools justifies using race in admissions.
• Union representation. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In this case, the plaintiffs argue that because they are not union members, they should not pay fair share fees toward the public employee union’s costs in representing members and non-members alike. The plaintiffs’ claim is that public sector collective bargaining is like lobbying and their fair share fees support political activity, violating their First Amendment rights.
PFAW says, “The decision in this case will have an enormous impact on working people’s ability to join together and effectively negotiate for fair wages and benefits.”
• Abortion rights. Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole out of Texas. The case is a challenge to Texas’ requirements that licensed abortion facilities meet the same building requirements as an ambulatory surgical center and that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Doctors and choice advocates maintain that these types of regulations — adopted in Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker — are medically unnecessary and infringe on women’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights.
Another case, Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenges a court ruling against a Mississippi admitting-privileges law.
Conservatives would like the court to hear Currier and progressives would like the court to hear the Texas case.
• Religious liberty. Multiple petitioners want the court to address the accommodation for religious nonprofits to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirement. The faith-based groups argue that even the accommodation violates religious liberty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“This is our Selma,” the president of the North Carolina NAACP said, rallying activists and denouncing Republican efforts to suppress the vote 50 years after the brutal, bloody marches for voting rights in the South.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the leader of the state NAACP, joined other civil rights activists in mid-July in a massive march in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They were marking the start of a federal trial over a state law restricting when and how people can vote. The outcome of the trial could have sweeping implications for voting rights nationwide.
“North Carolina was the first state to pass a restrictive voting law after the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act of 2013, and it is the worst voter suppression law the country has seen since 1965,” Barber said. “The people of North Carolina are standing up — in the courts and on the streets — because we refuse to accept the revival of Jim Crow tactics used to block access to the ballot for African-American and Latino voters.”
When first introduced in 2013, the North Carolina measure consisted of 12 pages and called for requiring voters to present photo IDs. That measure, inspired by a model bill drafted by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council — which is heavily influenced by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch — proved objectionable to progressives.
But it got much worse.
After the Supreme Court ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder voting rights case, lawmakers expanded the bill to 40 pages. The measure — H.B. 589, which passed along party lines — shortens the early voting period by a week, eliminates same-day registration, prohibits counting provisional ballots cast out of precinct, expands the ability to challenge voters, eliminates a pre-registration program for teenagers and requires photo IDs.
Post-Shelby, other state legislatures reduced access to the polls and created new restrictions on voting. But in North Carolina, lawmakers rolled all the right-wing voting restrictions advocated by ALEC into an omnibus measure that passed swiftly, with minimal public comment, just before the end of the 2013 legislative session. At the time, critics compared Republicans’ drive in North Carolina to the suppression strategy carried out by Republicans in Wisconsin. Since 2011, Wisconsin has twice reduced in-person early voting, introduced restrictions on voter registration, changed residency requirements, eliminated straight-ticket voting, limited opportunity to obtain an absentee ballot by fax or email and imposed a voter ID requirement.
In the North Carolina House, every Democrat asked to speak against the bill.
“The whole Democratic caucus, after the bill passed, stood up and bowed their heads in a moment of silence,” said state Rep. Henry “Mickey” Michaux, who testified at the trial.
As in Wisconsin, the ACLU and the League of Women Voters organizations in North Carolina are leading the challenge to the voter suppression law, along with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
They maintain the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against voters of color.
Throughout the trial, witnesses repeatedly testified that lawmakers’ intent with H.B. 589 is to make it more difficult for black and Latino voters to register and cast ballots by eliminating opportunities and access used at disproportionately higher rates by voters of color.
Other challenges to other voter suppression laws have argued that lawmakers’ intent was to make it more difficult for people who traditionally vote Democratic to cast ballots. In North Carolina, the focus is on race and racism, not partisanship.
In 2012, about 900,000 North Carolina voters cast ballots in the seven days of early voting eliminated a year later by the Legislature. About 70 percent of those voters were African-American. Lawmakers knew that percentage before changing the law. They also knew that an estimated 200,000 votes were lost in Florida in 2012 after cuts to early voting.
In the 2012 and 2008 elections, more than 90,000 North Carolina voters used same-day registration. African-Americans relied on same-day registration at twice the rate of white voters — another fact known to lawmakers before they eliminated same-day registration.
Before 2013, if a voter appeared at the wrong precinct, North Carolina used to count the ballot for all offices in which the person would be eligible to vote — including statewide offices and for president. Now ballots cast at the wrong precinct are discarded.
UW-Madison professor Barry Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center, told the court about the “calculus of voting,” a model used to determine the financial, educational and psychological costs of voting. “In general, disruptions to voting habits raise costs and deter participation,” he said. “What may appear to be equal costs imposed by a restriction on voting practices are, in fact, more acute for black and Latino voters. These groups are doubly burdened because they have fewer resources needed to overcome those costs and vote.”
North Carolina, in its defense, has maintained that the changes in H.B. 589 are “neutral on their face” — the same claim made for poll taxes and literacy tests.
“The law teaches that it is the impact that matters … not whether a law explicitly says African-Americans or Latinos are not allowed to vote,” said Penda D. Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group.
The state also has said H.B. 589 was needed to curb voter fraud, but the state elections board said from 2000 to 2014 there were two claims of voter impersonation out of 35 million votes.
“Any fair reading of the sequence of events before the bill’s passage leads to the conclusion that (the legislators) were voter suppressors in search of a pretext,” Hair said of the North Carolina process. “There was no legitimate problem they were trying to solve.”
The ACLU of Wisconsin on July 13 issued its summer term report card on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — and he’s failing.
The Republican governor, who on July 13 was formally announcing his bid for president, is at odds with the defenders civil liberties on many issues, including:
Marriage equality and equal treatment under the law. Not long after he was sworn in, Walker stopped defense of the state domestic partner registry that provided a few rights and benefits of marriage for same-sex couples.
He also aggressively fought the ACLU’s case which won marriage equality in the state.
More recently, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, Walker said, “I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake… In 2006 I, like millions of Americans, voted to amend our state constitution to protect the institution of marriage from exactly this type of judicial activism. …As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.”
Women’s reproductive freedom. As governor, Walker has signed a number of abortion restrictions, including a law (opposed by major medical associations) that unnecessarily required hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers and required women seeking abortion to have an ultrasound and their doctors to narrate that ultrasound, even if the woman doesn’t want to view the ultrasound or listen to the narration.
Part of this law has been challenged by the ACLU of Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood and is currently blocked by the federal courts.
Also, Walker just signed a bill banning all abortions after 20 weeks of fertilization, even in cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest — and in fact reportedly requested that the ban not contain rape and incest exceptions.
The Walker administration also stopped enforcing a Wisconsin state law that had required health insurers to cover birth control.
Walker also supported the repeal of a Wisconsin law requiring age-appropriate, medically-accurate sexual education curricula in public schools.
Education: Walker, said the ACLU, has presided over both the largest budget reduction for public schools in state history and the dramatic statewide expansion of the state’s taxpayer-funded, largely unaccountable, private school voucher program.
The vast majority of the voucher schools are pervasively sectarian and, under Walker’s administration, the number of these religious voucher schools increased by 172 percent.
Every one of the 68 voucher schools on the statewide list is a religious school.
The ACLU of Wisconsin and Disability Rights Wisconsin have filed a complaint, currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that voucher schools routinely fail to serve students with disabilities.
Moreover, despite receiving tax dollars, these hypersegregated schools continue to be free from meaningful accountability, and the limited comparisons conducted have shown that they frequently under-perform public schools.
Free speech. Walker’s administration instituted a policy for the state Capitol forcing groups as small as four to obtain a permit from the government before they engaged in expression “for the purpose of actively promoting any cause.”
The rules also prohibited people from gathering in state buildings including the Capitol for any performance, ceremony, presentation, meeting or rally without a permit.
Demonstrators remained unintimidated, however, and continued to protest, and the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit that blocked the permit requirement for small groups and ultimately led to a settlement.
The governor also proposed elimination of tenure protection for academic freedom and public employee organizing.
Voting rights. Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law and numerous other election law changes adopted by Walker’s administration make it substantially harder for persons of color, persons with disabilities, seniors and other lower-income people to vote, said the ACLU.
In a voter ID trial brought by the ACLU, Walker’s own legal team estimated that at least 150,000 voters lacked the kind of ID they needed to vote and a federal judge found that there was simply no evidence of voter fraud to justify the restrictions imposed on those voters.
While many states are moving towards simplifying voter registration, Walker has signed multiple pieces of legislation to make it harder and more complicated for Wisconsin voters to register.
He has also substantially cut back early voting and eliminated it on weekends.
And while states like Arizona have made efforts toward non-partisan redistricting, the Wisconsin redistricting plan Walker signed is considered the most secretive, partisan, redistricting plan in Wisconsin’s history.
Immigration. In 2010, Walker said he supported an anti-immigrant law like Arizona’s SB 1070, which would have dramatically expanded local law enforcement authority to arrest and seek to deport immigrants — a law later found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2011, Walker proposed and signed a law that repealed a Wisconsin state law that had provided in-state tuition at state universities for undocumented immigrant youth who graduated from Wisconsin high schools.
In 2011 he also proposed and signed a budget that took away food stamps from many legal immigrant residents of Wisconsin. He has expressed opposition even to legal immigration, and he is currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit that has blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action which would provide some protections for millions of hardworking, undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Open records. Walker’s office has admitted that it worked in coordination with legislative leaders to create an 11th-hour motion that would dramatically inhibit the public’s ability to request information about how its government works.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “the changes would have blocked from release nearly all communications and records that help the public understand how lawmakers do their jobs.”
Only tremendous backlash from the public and media watchdogs prevented this from remaining in the state budget.
The ACLU, in its report card on Walker, said, “Overall, Gov. Walker’s track record indicates a disregard for essential civil liberties and civil rights. Gov. Walker has again and again placed the power of the government over the rights of individuals and families and we strongly encourage citizens to weigh his record on these critical issues.