The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and related rulings undermining the nation’s campaign finance laws opened the doors to massive corporate and right-wing spending. Nowhere have the results been more catastrophic than in North Carolina, where a right-wing takeover subjected state residents to an avalanche of far-right legislation targeting children, teachers, voting rights, and more.
Last year PFAW’s Miranda Blue and Calvin Sloan documented the far-right takeover of state politics that was funded by billionaire Art Pope with the help of GOP strategist and current U.S. Senate candidate from Virginia, Ed Gillespie. In 2012, Pope and his allies poured millions of dollars into elections for the state legislature and millions more to elect Gov. Pat McCrory.
Once they got into power, with Pope himself installed as McCrory’s budget director, North Carolina citizens were subjected to the full fury of a far-right, Tea Party-on-steroids legislative agenda. Education spending was slashed and thousands of teachers fired while tax dollars were diverted to school vouchers.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens were denied Medicaid and unemployment benefits while taxes were cut for the state’s richest residents. And in order to perpetuate the power of Pope’s puppets, one of the nation’s worst, most restrictive voting laws was put into place to disenfranchise voters, with an assist from the Supreme Court’s gutting of a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
But North Carolina has not given Americans only a terrifying look at what a Tea Party-run country would look like. It has also given us an inspiring example of grassroots organizing on behalf of a very different set of values. Led by Rev. William Barber, head of the state’s NAACP chapter, North Carolinans began “Moral Mondays” protests at the state capitol. They were dismissed as “morons” and outside agitators by right-wing legislators. One of Pope’s right-wing groups published personal information of protestors online.
But those efforts did nothing to squelch the Moral Mondays movement, which drew thousands of people to the weekly protests. Hundreds were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.
Now Barber and the diverse coalition he leads have put out a call to people across North Carolina and the rest of the country to come to Raleigh on February 8 for what they hope will become the largest civil rights gathering in the south since an interfaith, interracial group of people responded to Dr. King’s call to join civil rights marchers in Selma.
On Tuesday, Rev. Barber spoke to bloggers about Moral Mondays, the February 8 march, and the values-based “fusion” organizing that is sustaining the pro-justice movement in North Carolina. If you’re going to change America, he said, you have to change the south – with broad-based, locally led movements in every state.
Barber emphasized that his movement was not partisan – that many independents and Republicans have joined in the Moral Mondays protests against the extremist and unjust laws passed by the far-right faction that now runs the state government. What motivates the new coalition, Barber said, is a combination of the constitutional principle of the common good and the biblical principle of caring for the vulnerable. A few days before the march, a policy briefing will examine the moral, economic, political and social costs of the state’s regressive legislation.
One goal of turning February 8 into a national event, Barber said, is to discourage right-wing strategists who hope to duplicate Pope’s takeover and subsequent imposition of extreme policies that Barber describes as “constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane.”
You can find out more about the February 8 march at the event website.
WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, released the following statement:
“In its Shelby decision, the Supreme Court undermined some of the most important protections of the right to vote in our democracy. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) has long served as a shield to protect people of color and other vulnerable voters from the threat of disenfranchisement. We welcome Congress taking up the mantle to restore the Voting Rights Act and protect every American’s basic right to participate in every election.
“Since it was first passed, the VRA has boldly confronted a problem that has deep roots in our nation’s history and, sadly, our nation’s present – discrimination at the ballot box. We must have a working democracy that includes the voice of everyone. Making sure that all Americans are treated fairly at the polls, whether urban, suburban, or rural, is something many have fought, and even died for – now it’s up to us to honor that legacy so their struggles and deaths will not be in vain. We must restore strength to the VRA.”
WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“In the wake of last year’s damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision that opened the door to an influx of restrictive new laws around the country, we’re heartened that Congress has taken up the important work of replacing what the Voting Rights Act lost.
“This fight isn’t about partisan politics – it’s about the fundamental right to cast a vote that counts. It’s about all people being treated fairly at the polls. We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in our country’s history.”
People For the American Way recently launched a petition urging Congress to restore strength to the Voting Rights Act, and it currently has more than 137,500 signers.
This weekend People For the American Way Foundation turned out en masse for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.
Some could remember the original march well. Some had driven across the country to be there on Saturday.
Our reasons for being there were as diverse as the range of topics covered by the speakers. Some wanted to see an end to Stand Your Ground laws; others spoke in support of immigration reform, LGBT equality, or voting rights.
But everyone stood in solidarity with those who marched half a century ago, while calling attention to the ongoing need to fight for social, economic, and racial justice. Everyone raised their voices in support of justice for all.
We saw Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) – just 23 years old when he spoke at the original March on Washington – take the podium again, speaking passionately about the need to protect the right to vote. He called it “precious…almost sacred.” Lewis recalled:
I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote.…I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.
Members of the PFAW Foundation family also took the podium. Young People For (YP4) alum Sophia Campos spoke in personal terms about the need for change in immigration policies, saying:
I grew up in this country undocumented. My family is immigrant… A million people have been deported in the last five years….It’s our black and brown bodies in these cells that are being detained.
Another YP4 alum, Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, also spoke at the rally, calling on young people to take the lead in the progressive movement. Young people, he said, are “here today to join in a conversation that will shake the very foundations of this capital.”
And Rev. Charles Williams, an active member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, was named by the event organizers as being part of the next generation of leaders.
We came to honor those who marched 50 years ago, but also to call attention to the critical justice issues facing our country today. As PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan wrote last week:
That’s what this week is about: making sure that we, as a country, continue to strive to fulfill the promise of justice for all -- the American Way.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) accused President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder of acting like “despots” over the “outrageous” Justice Department decision to challenge new voter suppression efforts in Texas.
While the Supreme Court recently gutted a key enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, DoJ retains the right to ask a federal court to impose preclearance requirements on a particular state under Section 3 of the law, which the court’s ruling did not alter.
“He’s trying to reinstitute the Voting Rights Act in Texas; if I was a Texan I would be so doggone livid and mad about that I don’t think I’d ever get over it,” Hatch told NewsMax. “It just shows how this administration ignores the law; they act like they are tinpot despots.”
After arguing that the administration’s actions to protect voting rights are part of a plan to create permanent Democratic control, he claimed that Democratic-leaning states treat people of color the “like dirt”: “Some of the worst states are blue states where they treat minorities like dirt, don’t care of them, don’t do what’s right about them and frankly a lot of this liberal stuff comes out of those states.”
Texas Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott claims the Obama administration’s lawsuit against a redistricting plan, which a federal court unanimously ruled was designed to deliberately discriminate against Latino voters, is proof that the administration is actually discriminating against Latino Republicans.
With new legal battles heating up between the Justice Department and Texas over redistricting and voter ID laws, Abbott has taken to the Washington Times to argue that the Obama administration seeks to violate “the rights of Hispanic voters who preferred representatives” who are Republicans. “The administration’s approach reveals the Democrats fear that Republican candidates were making inroads with Hispanic voters,” Abbott writes.
While around 1.4 million Texans lack voter ID, Abbott claims that “crying ‘voter suppression’ is nothing but a cynical scare tactic designed to mobilize Democratic partisans, none of whom ever will be prevented from voting by these laws,” adding that “the Obama administration is sowing racial divide to score cheap political points.”
In redistricting, the Obama administration has aligned itself with Democratic state representatives and Democratic members of Congress who already are suing Texas. It is no surprise then that the legal position of President Obama’s attorneys seeks to improve Democratic candidates’ prospects. Of course, Mr. Obama’s attorneys conceal this partisan agenda with lofty rhetoric about minority voting rights. But it is no coincidence that every change to district lines supported by the administration benefits Democrats. Behind the empty allegations of racial discrimination lies one goal — helping Democrats in 2014.
The president’s partisan use of the Voting Rights Act actually hurts many minority voters in Texas. With the administration’s support, redistricting litigation already has unseated Texas state Reps. Jose Aliseda, Raul Torres, Aaron Pena and John Garza, as well as U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco. These representatives — all Republicans — won in 2010 in predominantly Hispanic districts. In 2011, however, the Obama administration and other partisan interest groups succeeded in getting a court to draw district lines so that only a Democrat could win these seats. As a direct result, all of these Republican Hispanic representatives lost their seats in 2012 except for Mr. Aliseda, who chose not to run for re-election. His district had been dismantled altogether at Democrats request.
The administration’s approach reveals the Democrats fear that Republican candidates were making inroads with Hispanic voters. Democrats could never “turn Texas blue” if that trend continued, so they got the courts to draw district lines that guarantee Democratic victory in predominantly Hispanic areas. What about the rights of Hispanic voters who preferred representatives such as Mr. Aliseda, you might ask? They apparently don’t matter to this administration.
Similarly, polling consistently shows that Hispanic Texans strongly support voter-ID requirements, another target of the administration’s litigious political strategy. Electoral fraud harms voters of all races, and voter ID is a simple, nondiscriminatory way to help stop it. Getting an ID is free of charge for any Texan who needs one. Voter-ID laws already have been upheld by the Supreme Court. Crying “voter suppression” is nothing but a cynical scare tactic designed to mobilize Democratic partisans, none of whom ever will be prevented from voting by these laws. The administration’s absurd claim that this common-sense fraud prevention device is actually a racist plot to prevent minorities from voting would be comical if it weren’t so depressing to see an American president stoop to that level.
After the Shelby County decision, the Voting Rights Act still works. It just no longer imposes an onerous and costly preclearance requirement that disrupts the state-federal balance of power enshrined in the Constitution. Instead of allowing the Voting Rights Act to work in a way the Constitution allows, the Obama administration is sowing racial divide to score cheap political points. The president is using the legal system as a sword to wage partisan battles rather than a shield to protect voting rights. This overreaching action undermines the Voting Rights Act and the rule of law. Texas will not tolerate it. So far, neither will the Supreme Court.
WASHINGTON – In response to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to require the state to obtain federal permission before implementing voting changes, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“In the wake of the Shelby County Supreme Court decision which gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, today’s announcement is heartening for those of us who care about protecting access to the ballot box for all. The Roberts Court decision did not affect the Justice Department’s ability under the VRA to ask a court to require preclearance as necessary for specific jurisdictions, including those that had been automatically covered by the now-defunct congressional formula in Section 4. The safeguard of preclearance is still urgently needed, and Texas’ rush to advance a discriminatory voter ID law just hours after the Supreme Court decision came down is a case in point. We applaud the Justice Department’s new effort to protect Americans’ fundamental right to cast a ballot. We also continue to urge Congress to adopt a new preclearance formula to restore this important civil rights statute.”
In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court rulings on critical civil rights issues, a new poll finds increasing support for marriage equality and falling support for the high court itself.
A national Princeton Survey Research Associates poll found that 55 percent of Americans think that marriages of same-sex couples should be legally recognized – the highest level of support ever. A similar percentage (53 percent) believe that affirmative action programs are needed, and more Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (49 percent) than support it (40 percent). In other words, the American people are not on board with the Supreme Court turning back the clock on our civil rights.
So it is not surprising that Supreme Court approval ratings are falling. The Princeton poll found the lowest level of approval (43 percent) in eight years, with slightly more Americans disapproving of the way the court is doing its job (44 percent). Similarly, a Rasmussen poll released yesterday found that the percentage of likely voters who think the Supreme Court is doing a poor job is rising.
What is more surprising is that both polls show that a greater percentage of Americans still believe that the high court is “too liberal” than believe it is “too conservative.” As PFAW President Michael Keegan pointed out in May, this is no accident:
“In recent decades, right-wing leaders have worked in popular culture to attack the courts as a liberal peril while successfully organizing to dominate and control legal institutions to create courts that no longer look out for the rights of all Americans. They have set up law schools and legal societies to promote corporate and right-wing commitments, have promoted the appointment of reactionary judges and Justices, blocked the appointment of even moderate jurists, and defined a legal agenda that subordinates individual rights to government power and public regulation to corporate power. Right-wing success in remaking the judiciary in the image of the Republican Party has not led conservatives to curb their bitter attack on ‘liberal judicial activism,’ a fantasy that is several decades out of date but indispensable to this smoke-and-mirrors operation.”
While conservatives continue to crow about “liberal judicial activism,” the American people are realizing that the Supreme Court’s conservative rulings on issues like voting rights and the rights of workers and consumers do not reflect their beliefs or the nation’s core constitutional values.
While civil rights leaders are denouncing the 5-4 Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is cheering. In an email alert sent at the end of the day on Tuesday, Perkins says, “With help from the U.S. Supreme Court, America may finally be turning a page on the racial politics that have haunted our last 50 years.” Oh, yes, giving a green light to the kind of blatantly discriminatory voter disenfranchisement efforts that we’ve seen in recent elections is certainly going to help America “turn the page” on racial politics.
Like other Religious Right leaders, Perkins loves to denounce “judicial activism” when judges uphold reproductive choice or legal equality for LGBT people. But he happily embraces this ruling in which a narrow Court majority rejected a huge bipartisan congressional vote that reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 on a matter in which the Constitution specifically and intentionally gives Congress wide discretion. Perkins complains that “Congress insisted on reauthorizing a Voting Rights Act that was rooted in one of the darkest chapters of U.S. history.” And he claims that “In recent days, the Voting Rights Act has been a tool for a liberal and politically-motivated DOJ to shape laws to its advantage.”
Perkins seems deeply concerned about “the red tape of the Voting Rights Act” that he said has been “unnecessarily handcuffing” states whose history of disenfranchisement meant that they had to have changes in voting procedures pre-approved by the Justice Department or by a three-judge District Court in the District of Columbia. In contrast, Perkins seems utterly unconcerned about more recent voter disenfranchisement campaigns waged by the GOP and its allies.
Perkins cites Chief Justice John Roberts’ disingenuous suggestion that the court was not acting in a way that would encourage discriminatory disenfranchisement. "Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting," Roberts insisted. "Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions."
Is there anyone who thinks Roberts and Perkins actually want the federal-government-hating Tea Party Republicans who are calling the shots in the House of Representatives to support the creation of a new formula that would subject more states to federal oversight? Perkins makes his thoughts on that point abundantly clear with this comment about the Justice Department: “And in an administration as corrupt as President Obama's is proving to be, the less power it has over the states, the better!”
WASHINGTON – In response to the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder, People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“As the Supreme Court swerves further to the right, our constitutional liberties continue to take a beating. Today, the Supreme Court seriously undermined an important piece of the premier civil rights legislation of the past century – legislation that civil rights heroes gave their lives for. This decision sends a chilling message to all those Americans who continue to face politically-motivated hurdles on their way to the ballot box.
“In his confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts pledged to behave like an umpire—just calling balls and strikes, and staying out of the game. Today that umpire upended decades of civil rights law. His decision substitutes his own opinions for the findings of America’s elected representatives in Congress, who found numerous cases of ongoing, racially-based political gerrymandering and trickery. Moreover, it does so in an area in which the Constitution specifically and intentionally gives Congress wide discretion. Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act received near unanimous support in both houses of Congress just a few years ago, and was signed into law by President Bush. Today’s decision is a blatantly inappropriate exercise in legislating from the bench. Conservatives who have spent decades decrying judicial activism should take note.
“In two separate cases yesterday, Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to fix the damage done by decisions handed down by our nation’s highest court. That need is even greater today. Congress should move quickly to enact a coverage formula under Section 4 to protect voters whose right to participate in our democracy was badly undermined today. The American people deserve no less.”
Yesterday the Missouri House of Representatives gave first-round approval to a proposal requiring voters to present valid, government-issued photo identification in order to vote. As it did in a failed attempt in 2012, it includes both a constitutional amendment permitting a requirement for voter identification (which would be placed on the 2014 ballot) and legislation restricting the types of identification that can be shown at the polls. This change would have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, the elderly, low-income people, people with disabilities, and students, who are twice as likely to lack the required ID.
Reverend Isaac McCullough of St. Louis, MO, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, issued the following statement:
“Faith leaders in my state worked hard in the months leading up to November to get our communities to the polls. It is disheartening to see that some of our Representatives yet again want to discourage, rather than encourage, people from voting. Suppressive voter ID laws fall especially hard on people who are already marginalized, threatening to keep many Missourians from the polls in future elections. That’s not what our democracy is supposed to be about. As faith leaders, we have fought hard to protect the right to vote – and we are not about to give up that fight anytime soon.”
In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama used his bully pulpit to ensure that the critically important issue of voting rights is securely on the agenda in 2013. Calling it “our most fundamental right as citizens,” the President announced the formation of a non-partisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting.
One woman who was undoubtedly pleased to hear this news was 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami, seated in the House visitors’ gallery, who had waited in line for hours to cast a ballot in November’s election. President Obama noted that the country should follow her determined example: “As time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say,” he said.
After all, that is the issue at the core of a working democracy: whether folks get to have their say.
Leading up to the election, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs witnessed and stood up to efforts across the country – ranging from unnecessary registration obstacles to early voting restrictions – to suppress the votes of those who have traditionally been disenfranchised: communities of color, low-income communities, and youth. In the past two years alone, more than 65 suppressive voter ID bills were introduced in 34 states.
That’s why it is important that President Obama made it clear last night that he is serious about addressing the problems in our election system. With increased access to early voting and an end to discriminatory voter ID laws, we can ensure that all Americans “get to have their say” at the polls.