The Right to Vote

Trump Gives Another Gift To Far Right With New Supreme Court List

According to news reports, Donald Trump is set to release today more names of individuals whom he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court if elected, a key part of his strategy to win over the Religious Right and the conservative establishment.

The new list includes Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who, as Peter noted earlier this year, is not only a staunch social conservative but also believes that large parts of the federal social safety net are unconstitutional:

Lee dismisses Supreme Court rulings upholding a women’s right to abortion . He called the court’s marriage equality ruling a “breathtaking presumption of power.” People For the American Way noted in a 2010 report that Lee “has denounced as ‘domestic enemies’ those who disagree with his radically limited view” of the Constitution.

Here are a few things that Sen. Mike Lee believes are unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

Lee also has some ideas about how he’d like to change the Constitution. We wrote when Lee was running for Senate in the Tea Party wave of 2010:

He wants to eliminate capital gains taxes and make the current tax system more regressive – more reliant on lower income taxpayers – and says his favorite approach to taxation would actually be to repeal the 16th amendment altogether, strip the federal government of the power to tax income, and leave it to the states to determine how they would tax their own citizens to pay for the limited federal government that would be left.

He’s a constitutional lawyer who’d like to make lots of changes to the Constitution: he has said he supports repeal of the 17th Amendment, which calls for popular election of U S Senators; he wants to "clarify" the 14th Amendment through legislation to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to parents who are not citizens or legal residents; he wants to amend the Constitution to require a balanced federal budget and to impose congressional term limits.

Other names on Trump’s expanded list are also sure to please those who are hoping to radically reshape American law.

The Trump campaign’s statement boasts that one potential pick, Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young, is part of a court majority that has “embraced originalism and led what one scholar described as a ‘textualism revolution.’” The article in question notes that much of the Michigan majority’s philosophy draws on the arguments of the late Justice Antonin Scalia (while differing with Scalia in some ways).

In 2007, Young wrote a majority opinion upholding Michigan’s voter ID law, writing that it was a “reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction designed to preserve the purity of elections and to prevent abuses of the electoral franchise."

The new list also includes Charles Canady, a Florida Supreme Court justice who served four terms as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1990s. In the House, Canady was the first to introduce the so-called ban on “partial-birth” abortion, a term that had been newly coined by anti-choice activists to stir up opposition to a specific abortion procedure and prompt a legal challenge to undermine Roe v. Wade.

Also on Trump’s list is Timothy Tymkovich, the chief judge of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, who wrote that court’s opinion in favor of Hobby Lobby’s attempt to cite religious objections to deny its employees health insurance coverage for contraception. That case later made it to the Supreme Court, resulting in a dramatic reinterpretation of the idea of religious liberty in America.

Trump’s new Supreme Court list is, like his original list released in May, clearly aimed at pacifying social conservatives who want assurance that his federal judges will uphold their policy priorities and by conservative legal groups intent on remaking American law.

True The Vote Wonders If Obama Orchestrated Hack In Order To Take Over Elections

True the Vote, a Tea Party group that’s working to organize poll-watchers to prevent a “flood of illegal voters” from stealing the 2016 election, organized a conference call last week to explain how a consent decree that the Republican National Committee signed in the 1980s “makes True the Vote the only hope for election integrity this year.”

True the Vote president Catherine Engelbrecht invited a man named Greg Phillips, who she said runs a cyber-security firm, to discuss potential threats to election security, including the recent reported hacks of elections systems in two states. Phillips dismissed the threat of cyberattacks against state elections systems, speculating that the Obama administration may have orchestrated the reported hack in order to justify taking control of elections in the states.

“What the left always does,” he said, “is they create a problem and then they solve their own problem by letting the federal government take it over … All of us in this industry know that the DOJ control of elections is what many of these presidents have wanted and certainly what the DOJ has wanted, but this lawless DOJ, whether it was under the previous attorney general or under the current attorney general, they seek to control all elections. And so they believe, I think, if they go out and they create a problem—they likely, it’s possible they even hired these hackers. They have scores of white-hat hackers that go around doing this kind of thing.”

Their goal in doing such a thing, he said, would have been “to raise enough fear” to justify a federal takeover of elections.

Engelbrecht responded that “there may in fact be a real threat [of] cyberattacks out there or we are citizens in a country whose government is trying to engineer an outcome that would spark fear enough to put elections into the hands of the federal government. It’s all pretty sinister.”

Conservative Megadonors & John Ashcroft Buddies Try To Elect Ashcroft’s Son And Roll Back Voting Rights In Missouri

Missouri’s state constitution, unlike the U.S. Constitution, explicitly protects an individual’s right to vote.

But a group of prominent Republican donors, Christian conservative activists and friends of John Ashcroft, a former Missouri senator and governor who served as U.S. attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, have come together in an attempt to elect Ashcroft’s son Jay secretary of state of Missouri, with the hope that he will roll back that constitutional right and push through a strict voter ID law.

Jay Ashcroft has made voter ID a centerpiece of both his primary and general election campaigns. Last year, he took advantage of a Missouri law that allows citizens to propose ballot initiatives to file a proposed constitutional amendment that would roll back the state’s constitutional right to vote and allow the state to enforce a voter ID law. Ashcroft’s amendment will be on the ballot in November.

Ashcroft’s arguments center around the usual conservative voter-fraud boogeyman. “We’re talking about potential fraud that changes statewide elections,” he has argued.

Ari Berman of The Nation reported this year that “5 percent of the electorate [in Missouri]—220,000 registered voters—lack a government-issued photo ID, according to the secretary of state’s office, and [voter ID] would cost the state nearly $17 million to implement in the first three years.”

The current secretary of state, Democrat Jason Kander, is running for U.S. Senate, hoping to unseat Roy Blunt. Of the eight secretary of state races in the country this cycle, six are for offices that are currently held by Democrats.

Behind Ashcroft’s campaign to roll back the right to vote in Missouri is a confluence of big-money donors, Religious Right activists and friends of the candidate’s father. According to campaign finance reports, nearly half of the $824,788 donated to Ashcroft’s campaign has come from just four individuals, three of whom are related to each other.

David Humphreys has contributed $200,000 to Ashcroft’s campaign, while his mother Ethelmae and his sister Sarah Humphreys Atkins each donated $50,000. The Humphreys family are the owners of TAMKO, a manufacturer of building products. According to the Kansas City Star, the family has “poured $2.75 million into a political action committee that for months has been targeting Republicans who oppose a ‘right to work’ law.” David Humphreys also contributed $1,000,000 to a super PAC supporting Marco Rubio’s failed presidential campaign.

The last 990 tax form filed by the Humphreys’ family foundation shows that in 2014 the foundation contributed to a variety of organizations connected to the conservative Koch brothers, including a $500,000 contribution to Americans for Prosperity and smaller contributions to the Heartland Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Mercatus Center.

Another $100,000 donated to Jay Ashcroft’s campaign came directly from the corporate treasury of the CNS Corporation, a Missouri-based holding company owned by pastor and businessman Charles Sharpe. Sharpe Holdings is one of the numerous companies that filed suit against the Obama administration’s contraceptive insurance mandate, an issue that ended up being heard by the Supreme Court as part of the Hobby Lobby case.  

Sharpe is also the founder a school called the Heartland Christian Academy that has come under scrutiny for its sometimes extreme use of corporal punishment.

Beyond these four individuals, Ashcroft has received contributions from influential members of the Christian Right, including $5,000 from Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network. John Ashcroft is a professor at Robertson’s Regent University.

Other major funders include other friends of John Ashcroft, including his business partner David Ayers, Bush administration colleague Donald Rumsfeld, former Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, and the chair of Scooter Libby’s legal defense trust, Mel Sembler.

This group has joined together to fund a campaign that at its core is about rolling back the right to vote and the protection of that right in Missouri’s constitution.

Sandy Rios Wonders If Obama Will Try To Reverse Trump Victory By Blaming Russian Hackers

The American Family Association’s Sandy Rios wondered this morning if the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement that it may designate electronic voting systems as “critical infrastructure” in order to guard against cyberattacks is in fact the “creepy laying of groundwork” for an Obama administration plot to blame Russian hackers for a Trump victory in November in order to overturn the results.

Rios, the AFA’s governmental affairs director and an American Family Radio host, asked the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky about the news on her radio program this morning.

“So this really is, honestly, it just seems like, oh boy, the creepy laying of groundwork for something that could be really bad,” she said. “Like, okay, I’m going to step off the plank here. Let’s say maybe the election ends up being really, really close and because they’ve already laid the groundwork that Donald Trump is connected with Putin, they’re best buddies according to—well, he claimed that he had a relationship with him and then they claimed, the left claims that he has a really good relationship with him and now they’re inferring that the Russians may mess with the election.

“So, gee, if it’s close, maybe it’s probably the Russians, then, that are messing with our election apparatus and so then the Justice Department and the executive branch come in to kind of fix it. Right, Hans, something like that?”

Von Spakovsky responded that while he “wouldn’t quite go so far as them blaming it on the Russians,” the Obama administration could use the DHS’s move to place “virulent left-wing partisans” from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in polling places to falsely claim that there is voter suppression taking place in swing states.

“So they would be in the polling places,” he said, “and they would be the ones coming out, maybe in a state that’s close, saying, ‘Oh, we saw all kinds of voter suppression efforts going on in that precinct, in that area, and therefore that throws in doubt the results of the election’ if their favored candidate loses.”

Rolling Stone Covers Voter Suppression Rock Star Kris Kobach

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a right-wing activist who has championed anti-immigrant and voter suppression efforts around the country and has helped to insert right-wing rhetoric into recent Republican platforms.  As Miranda reported this month, Kobach is pushing his fellow Republicans to adopt legislation modeled after the disastrously restrictive voting law he helped push through in Kansas. The September 8 issue of Rolling Stone looks at one of Kobach’s ventures in “The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters.”

The Rolling Stone story by journalist and author Greg Palast examines Crosscheck, a Kobach project that Palast calls “the culmination of a decade-long Republican effort to disenfranchise voters under the guise of battling voter fraud.” The Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program is ostensibly designed to target a virtually nonexistent form of voter fraud. In reality, it helps promote the Right Wing's bogus voter fraud narrative, which in turn provides justification for otherwise unjustifiable laws that restrict voting. In the worst case scenario, Crosscheck could lead to thousands of people, predominantly people of color and young voters, being wrongly purged from voting rolls in advance of November’s election.

Crosscheck compares voter registration lists in different states to identify individuals who are registered in more than one place. Theoretically, it requires matches on a voter's first, middle and last name, along with birth date and the final four digits of a social security number, but in reality, it doesn’t always work as advertised. As we noted a couple years ago, Crosscheck’s data was so unreliable that Florida and Oregon dropped out of the program

Palast says he was able to get his hands on Crosscheck lists from Virginia, Georgia and Washington state, and found that the lists often lacked a middle-name match and misidentified fathers and sons as the same voter.  He cites database expert Mark Swedlund, who criticizes Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He also notes that U.S. Census data indicates that people of color are statistically more likely to have last names in common, leading to an “astonishing” inherent bias in the results, with “one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian-Americans, and one in nine African Americans in Crosscheck states landing on the list.” And Donald Trump complains the election is rigged against him!

“God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name if Joseph or Jose,” says Swedlund. “You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

It is up to each state to decide how it uses the data from Crosscheck; some send the lists to county officials who don’t have the resources to verify their accuracy. Rolling Stone reports that Crosscheck “has flagged close to half a million voters” in Ohio, and that 41,000 people were knocked off voting rolls in Virginia when it was under Republican control.

Even if state and local officials don’t end up using the data to initiate major purges, Crosscheck’s inflated numbers can be used to buttress false right-wing claims that voter fraud is a big problem. That mythology has been particularly damaging in the aftermath of rulings from conservative justices on the Supreme Court dismantling key Voting Rights Act protections, which allowed Republican officials in many states to pass laws aimed at making it harder for some people, particularly people of color and young people, to register and vote. And, says Palast, gutting the Voting Rights Act also meant dropping the requirement for covered states to keep racial data on voters, making it harder to document discriminatory practices.

True The Vote Warns Of 'Flood Of Illegal Voters' In 2016 Election

Shortly after Donald Trump declared that if he loses the presidential election, it will probably have been “rigged,” his campaign announced that it would be recruiting poll watchers to “stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election.”

True the Vote, a group that has led the way in promoting the myth that massive voter fraud by undocumented immigrants is shifting election results, is heeding the call.

In an email to supporters yesterday, True the Vote president Catherine Engelbrecht, a former Texas Tea Party activist, asked for donations to train poll workers and relaunch the organization’s poll-watching app. The email linked to a video appeal in which Engelbrecht warns that a “flood of illegal voters” could “turn over the Senate, the House and thousands of down-ballot elections, with the Supreme Court as the ultimate prize.”

She warns that people registering to vote when they get coverage through the Affordable Care Act and the movement to provide drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants are part of the “assault on freedom” that will result in undocumented immigrants stealing elections.

In-person voter fraud, which is what voter ID laws are supposedly meant to combat, is exceedingly rare, as are cases of noncitizen immigrants casting ballots. Even those rare cases often involve legal immigrants who are confused about the rules, rather than undocumented immigrants, who could risk even harsher penalties.

The chaos that has marked this election cycle will soon culminate in a perfect storm, a storm that will mask an underlying flood of illegal voters. Obamacare has registered millions since 2014. A year ago, illegals were given drivers’ licenses in states ranging from California to Maryland. A few months ago, leftists sued in federal court asking the judge to prevent states from stopping illegal aliens who are trying to vote. And the assault on freedom has continued into this summer, when Soros-funded leftists attacked voter ID laws in courts nationwide.

Now, while the American people are screaming to stop the madness, the Republican Party has chosen to cower and zero resources have been committed to election integrity. True the Vote is preparing to stand in that gap, stand against the storm that threatens to turn over the Senate, the House and thousands of down-ballot elections, with the Supreme Court as the ultimate prize. We plan to deploy thousands of people trained to keep watch for fraud, illegal voters and hackers bent on stealing the election, but we must raise $250,000 during August to ensure implementation.

As elections expert Rick Hasen has explained, while it’s common for campaigns to deploy observers to polling places, Trump’s “incendiary” rhetoric “seems to be an invitation to go and make trouble.”

True the Vote has a history of skirting this line. The group, which like Trump has suggested that Clinton could steal the upcoming election, sends volunteers to polling places, often in minority neighborhoods, leading to some charges of intimidating voters. When True the Vote launched its poll-watching app in 2014, it uncovered little evidence of even potential fraud but did unveil one case of an “African American woman” poll worker standing in a polling place in what one user thought was an intimidating manner.

In her email to supporters yesterday, Engelbrecht claimed that the Republican National Committee is powerless to “coordinate a ballot security program because of a consent decree they signed with the federal court.” She was referring to an agreement that the RNC signed after it was caught running a “voter caging” operation in minority neighborhoods in New Jersey in the 1980s. The agreement prevents the RNC from conducting such operations targeted at minority neighborhoods, but does allow the party to conduct “normal poll watching” activities.

Kris Kobach Wants His Disastrous Voting Restrictions Adopted In Every State

Breitbart’s Ken Klukowski has a dispatch from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s latest effort to spread his innovative voter suppression policies around the country. Over the weekend, Kobach spoke at an American Civil Rights Union event at the Republican National Lawyers Association convention in Colorado, where he urged his fellow election officials and lawyers to adopt legislation modeled after a law he helped push through in Kansas.

Kansas’ voter ID law is one of the harshest in the country, requiring that those registering to vote produce “proof of citizenship” such as a passport, birth certificate or naturalization papers. Since the law went into effect in 2013, it has been caught up in legal battles as it wreaks havoc with the state’s elections.

In May, a federal judge ruled that Kansas couldn’t require people registering using a federal form to produce the burdensome extra documentation. In response, Kobach tried to set up a two-tier voting system in which people who registered using the federal form could only vote in federal elections and would be barred from casting ballots in state and local races. Then, in a last-minute decision, another federal judge ruled that Kobach couldn’t throw out the primary votes of more than 17,000 people who hadn’t produced the extra documentation, including many who had registered using the federal form.

As Klukowski reports, this is precisely the model that Kobach hopes will be adopted in every single state:

The Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) held a national election law seminar in Denver on Friday and Saturday, and the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) convened an invitation-only event alongside RNLA’s seminar, featuring several secretaries of state, chief election officers, Republican former and current federal elections officials, and constitutional lawyers, to explore strategies to protect against voter fraud. Kobach spoke at both events.

During the ACRU event, Kobach touted his SAFE Act, which was designed to require proof of U.S. citizenship and proof of identity in a manner fulfilling the requirements the U.S. Supreme Court has held are consistent with the Constitution. It is model legislation for states to adopt as part of their election laws, rather than a federal law, since the Constitution entrusts the sovereign states with primary responsibility for holding elections.

Speaking exclusively with Breitbart News in Denver at the ACRU event, Kobach said, “Every time an alien votes, it cancels out the vote of a United States citizen. This is a nationwide problem.”

“Every state needs to address it and take steps to secure the most fundamental privilege of citizenship—the vote,” he added.

Kobach, who also specializes in draconian anti-immigrant legislation, acts like something of a one-man American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the group that helps spread conservative and corporate-friendly laws to state legislatures. In fact, Kobach responded on his weekly radio program last month to a critic who called him an “ALEC pawn,” saying that he is the one who is trying to get ALEC to spread voter restrictions across the country.

“I’ve been trying to get the American Legislative Exchange Council interested in photo ID and proof of citizenship,” he said. “They never called me and said, ‘Hey, Kobach, would you do this?’ I’ve been trying to get them off their backside and get them encouraging other states to do it.”

They Built That: How The GOP Paved The Way For Donald Trump's Election-Rigging Conspiracy Theory

Many Republican leaders seemed shock that a candidate like Donald Trump would rise to become the party’s nominee after a campaign of demonizing immigrants, innuendo about President Obama and scapegoating Muslims, despite the fact that many top GOP leaders have launched similar attacks for years.

Trump has also benefited from Republicans’ frequent insistence that Democrats use voter fraud to win elections. Republican lawmakers have brushed aside studies that show that voter fraud is extremely rare — just 31 out of over a billion votes cast over 14 years may have been instances of voter impersonation — and instead have pursued sweeping legislation that would disenfranchise thousands of voters, particularly people of color and young people.

The GOP presidential candidate has told supporters that November’s election results will likely be “rigged” as people go “ to vote 10 times maybe” and charged that “phony” polls underrepresent his level of support because they don’t reflect his the size of the crowds at his rallies.

Ari Berman points out that if “Trump wanted to vote 10 times in New York — a state that requires voters to sign their names at the polls rather than show a photo ID — he’d have to vote in 10 different places, know the names and addresses of nine different registered voters in nine precincts, be able to forge their exact signatures, and know that they hadn’t voted yet. Each fraudulent vote would carry a penalty of five years in jail and a $10,000 fine, plus additional state penalties.”

Nonetheless, Trump believes that if he loses in November, it will be because the election was stolen: “I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it’s going to be taken away from us.”

Earlier this year, Trump said that people around the country “are voting many, many times.” He once blamed President Obama’s re-election victory on votes from “dead people.”

Such baseless rhetoric has obviously resonated with Republicans:Around half of GOP voters believe that Obama stole both of his election victories, a result of years of conservative complaints about how Democrats win elections thanks to massive fraud.

One anti-voting-fraud group, True the Vote, developed a smart phone app in 2014 to help users expose instances of fraudulent voting and “pull the curtain back on the myth that there is no voter fraud.” But as Miranda noted, “users recorded only 18 incidents of election irregularities,” and the vast majority had nothing to do with voter impersonation. Many right-wing fears about widespread voter fraud have made their way from chain emails to WorldNetDaily to Fox News, even though there is little evidence behind them.

Besides voter impersonation, many Republicans claim that undocumented immigrants are illegally voting in elections. Then-Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed that Obama unlawfully granted the right to vote to millions of undocumented immigrants before the 2012 election, even though Obama’s executive order on deportations did not grant anyone the right to vote. Fox News pundits have also raised the specter of undocumented immigrants illegally voting, even though in states like Arizona, there have only been two cases of undocumented residents voting in about 10 years. Several conservative commentators have even alleged that the Obama administration tried to win votes by handing out free cellphones.

In fact, far more common than actual cases of voter fraud or instances of conservatives admitting that the voter fraud myth is all about creating an excuse to pass restrictive laws that will help them win elections. Just a few months ago, former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, now president of the influential Heritage Foundation, said that voter ID laws are “something we’re working on all over the country, because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.” Shortly before that, Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman said that voter ID could make a difference in how his state votes in the upcoming election: “Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up and now we have voter ID and I think voter ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.”

Donald Trump has never met a conspiracy theory that he doesn’t like. This one was handed to him on a silver platter by the party that is now trying to distance itself from his wildest claims.

NC Voting Restrictions Struck Down as Intentionally Discriminatory

A three-judge circuit court panel unanimously agrees that North Carolina passed its law with the intent to discriminate against African Americans.
PFAW Foundation

A Renewed Cry to #RestoreTheVRA on the Anniversary of the Shelby County Decision

June 25, 2016 will mark the third anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act. A coalition of more than 100 organizations, including People For the American Way, are participating in a Week of Action to raise awareness about voter suppression and to pressure Congress to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed in hopes of bringing the United States closer to the promise of a true democracy: a political system in which all people can fairly and easily participate in government, regardless of race. One of the VRA’s most significant protections was found in Section 5, which requires states and localities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to seek federal preclearance to approve proposed changes to their voting process. This preclearance sought to address decades of voting practices that disenfranchised communities of color. The provision worked. For nearly 50 years, the VRA, and in particular, Section 5, helped curtail the disenfranchisement of voters of color and helped expand the electorate so that it became more representative of the populace. It succeeded in helping the United States progress towards a more inclusive democracy.

However, three years ago, on June 25, 2013, democracy in America was dealt a major blow. On this day, the Supreme Court, in its controversial Shelby County v. Holder decision, struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which defined what areas were covered by Section 5 preclearance. States immediately began to implement new voting restrictions, including strict voter identification laws, limitations on early voting, and the elimination of same-day voter registration. These barriers to voting — implemented under the guise of making elections more efficient and limiting so-called “voter fraud” — disenfranchised eligible voters across the country, disproportionally affecting underrepresented communities such as people of color, women, students, the disabled, and low-income individuals. We have already seen the negative effects of these voting restrictions in our midterm elections and presidential primaries.

Come November, the stakes will be raised. As the Leadership Conference Education Fund notes in their new report on the likely impact of the Shelby County decision in this election cycle:

2016 will be the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. It is also an election that could be won or lost in just a few key states – states where minority voters could determine the outcome.

The report notes that five states formerly covered, in whole or in part, by preclearance — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia — will all see competitive races in the fall, in which voters of color could be decisive. But voters in these states are now without the full protections of the VRA. The Shelby County decision still has very real consequences, and could alter the face of our political landscape in 2016.

As Election Day rapidly approaches, now is the time to call on Congress to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. The Shelby County decision was a huge setback to American progress towards a truly fair and accessible democracy, but we can move forward again. Legislation aimed at restoring the protections of the VRA is already pending in Congress. Tell your representatives that a democracy in which eligible voters are unable to cast their ballots is a broken democracy, and that it is their duty to help mend it.  

PFAW

VRA on the Brink a Half Century after Freedom Summer

Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman did not give their lives 52 years ago today so that Congress could allow the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the voting protections it achieved to continue to unravel. We owe it to them and the countless others who put everything on the line in defense of voting rights to make sure – once and for all – that all eligible citizens can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts.
PFAW

Virginia Rev. Gregory King, Sr. Statement on Supreme Court’s Decision in Wittman v. Personhuballah

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the challenge to a lower court’s ruling that rejected racial gerrymandering, Virginia Rev. Gregory King, Sr., a pastor at Russell Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, released the following the statement:

“Yesterday, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the challenge to a lower court’s decision against partisan gerrymandering, thus ensuring that the right to vote of African Americans in Virginia is equal to all others in the state. This was not the first and certainly will not be the last time we fight against racial discrimination at the ballot box, and I’m thankful that the Supreme Court did the right thing by leaving in place the lower court’s decision to protect our voting rights.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council represents an ecumenical alliance of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all. 

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Jim DeMint: Voter ID Helps Elect 'More Conservative Candidates'

Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator and Tea Party firebrand who is now the president of the Heritage Foundation, became the latest in a string of conservatives to admit that restrictive voting laws such as voter ID requirements are an attempt to help Republicans win elections, telling a St. Louis radio host yesterday that voter ID laws help elect “more conservative candidates.”

Talk radio host Jamie Allman asked DeMint about Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s move to restore the voting rights of people in the state who had served time for felonies, a draconian restriction that disproportionately affected African-Americans by design. DeMint responded that McAuliffe’s action was “awfully suspicious” and tied it to what he claimed was a Democratic plan to get votes from “illegals” and through “voter fraud.”

“Well, it’s awfully suspicious coming into a big election in a state where it’s actually pretty close,” he said. “I mean, states can decide who votes, but the governor themselves without legislative action, that seems over the top to me. I haven’t seen an complete analysis here, but the left is trying to draw votes from illegals, from voter fraud, a lot of different things, so this kind of fits right in to trying to find another group that they can basically count on to vote their way.”

“So it’s really a bigger issue,” he added, “and that’s why the left fights voter ID or any kind of picture ID to know that it is actually a registered voter who’s voting. And so it’s something we’re working on all over the country, because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.”

PFAW Applauds Restoration of Voting Rights in Virginia

WASHINGTON – On Friday Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that he would take executive action to restore voting rights to over 200,000 previously incarcerated people in the state. The move would remove one of the nation’s harshest restrictions on the voting rights of ex-offenders, which disproportionately affects the African American community: according to The Sentencing Project, in Virginia currently one in five African Americans is unable to vote. The state previously blocked people with prior felony convictions from voting for the rest of their lives.

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“We applaud Gov. McAuliffe for taking this important stand in support of a democracy that works for everyone. Restrictions on the voting rights of ex-offenders are one of the most pernicious forms of voter suppression. His move on this issue should be a model for other states looking to live up to our country’s core principle of government of, by and for the people.

“This is a historic step forward towards a country where all people have access to the ballot box — a promise that so many have fought to make a reality throughout our country’s history. It’s especially significant in a state that for years was one of the worst offenders in voter disenfranchisement. When people who have served their time are still categorically prevented from participating in our democracy, that’s not only morally wrong, it weakens our political system for everyone. Our democracy is at its strongest when every voice can be heard and every person can cast a vote that counts.”

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Democracy Awakens in Historic Mobilization Weekend

This past weekend something truly historic was set in motion. The 2016 Democracy Awakening was a first-of-its-kind event, uniting multiple movements working to promote voting rights and  money in politics reform as well as advocating for fair consideration of the president’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Environmentalists, social justice advocates, organized labor, and communities of faith all came together to demand a government that works for everyone, not just those with the biggest bank accounts who can buy access and influence at the expense of everyone else.

democracy awakening

The Democracy Awakening began on Saturday, April 16, with a day of workshops, trainings and film screenings and concluded on Monday April 18th with a Congress of Conscience where hundreds of people were arrested on the steps of the capitol as a massive crowd rallied alongside in solidarity. The Democracy Awakening peaked on Sunday afternoon, with a rally with thousands in attendance on the National Mall followed by a march in front of the Capitol and Supreme Court. Chants of “Money Out, People In” and “Do Your Job”  could be heard reverberating off federal buildings as marchers took over the streets.

democracy awakening

More than 300 organizations came together to participate in the Democracy Awakening and promote it to their members, demanding that Congress pass four particular bills, two that promote voting rights and two that promote money in politics reform. Additionally the Democracy Awakening demands that the Senate give fair consideration to the President’s Supreme Court nominee, which means hearings and an up-and-down vote.  Many of the organizations that collaborated on this event had previously never worked together, and there is a collective sense that things are just getting started, and that we won’t stop until we have a government that is of, by and for the people.

PFAW

Kobach: Maybe Obama Opposes Proof Of Citizenship Laws Because He's Not A Citizen

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the influential anti-immigration operative who has been involved in both Donald Trump’s border wall policy and the immigration case currently before the Supreme Court, called into question President Obama’s birthplace on his radio program this weekend.

In response to a caller who wondered if the Obama administration’s opposition to restrictive voting laws such as a proof-of-citizenship requirement in Kansas is because the president himself is “not a citizen of the United States,” Kobach said that there are “interesting things” about the question of Obama’s citizenship that “just made you scratch your head.” He added that “maybe” the caller’s theory about the president’s opposition to voting restrictions was correct.

Kobach was speaking on his radio program on Kansas City’s KCMO on Sunday about a column in the Kansas City Star — which Kobach calls the “Kansas City Red Star” — blasting him for his role in enacting restrictive voting laws in Kansas and around the nation, when a listener identified as “Jim from Iowa” called in.

Jim told Kobach he didn’t understand “what the big deal” was about a law championed by Kobach requiring people to present proof of citizenship when registering to vote “because our president, his little grandma said he was born in Africa, he waited two years before he sent out that fake birth certificate, he got a scholarship to a place, a college in California that only gives it to foreigners, so what’s the difference?”

(Just to be clear, Obama’s grandmother did not say he was born in Kenya,his birth certificate is not fake, and he did not get a scholarship meant for foreign students.)

At first, Kobach didn’t address the birther issue, noting instead that Obama is indeed “opposed to Kansas” and “doesn’t like voter ID laws.”

But the caller persisted, saying, “He’s not going to bring up proof of citizenship because he’s not a citizen of the United States, he’s not supposed to be the president, his own grandma said he was born in Africa, what else do you need? And that birth certificate thing was all fake, it took him two years, like I said, to get it sent out. How did he get the scholarship to that college in California that only foreign people get it? How did he get that? How come everybody lets it go?”

“You know, you’re right,” Kobach responded, “and of course that issue’s kind of water under the bridge these days, but there were some interesting things. Like there was that one thing, it just made you scratch your head, there was that one thing that the Harvard Law Journal printed which described Barack Obama as a ‘young student born in Kenya.’ Now, he says that was wrong, and maybe it was wrong, but anyway, maybe you’re right, maybe that’s why he doesn’t talk about proof of citizenship, because he, you know, he would rather not bring up the citizenship issue. Of course, now he’s got nothing to worry about, he’s in office for the remaining year.”

(We don’t know what head-scratching “Harvard Law Journal” article Kobach was referring to, but he could have been getting it mixed up with a promotional flier for one of Obama’s books that mistakenly described him as being born in Kenya, which birthers have made much of.)

When Jim asked if Obama could still “get in trouble” for lying about his birthplace, Kobach responded that “at this point there’s not really any forum in which the facts will be further” examined.

“Well, why didn’t everybody do something about this eight years ago?” Jim demanded.

“Well,” Kobach said, “as you may recall, there was quite a kerfuffle about it back then.”

“Did you notice everybody that was complaining, they shut up like overnight?” Jim said. “I think they were all threatened just like Old Lady Clinton threatens everybody if you don’t do what she wants. I think they’re all threatened, that’s why they all shut up real fast.”

“Well, who knows?” Kobach said. “That whole issue has been a truly strange one, that’s for sure.”

Perhaps they will have to wait until Trump, Kobach’s preferred candidate for president, fulfills his promise to write a book about Obama’s real birthplace.

"I Was Arrested to Send a Message to Congress. Here's Why."

Laura Arrested

On Monday, People For the American Way staffer Laura Williamson was one of many activists arrested outside of the U.S. Capitol during the Democracy Awakening protests. Laura writes:

Yesterday I sat on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with 300 others, singing, chanting, and eventually being arrested, to send a message to Congress --  amend the Constitution to get big money out of politics, restore the right to vote for all Americans, and do your job on the Supreme Court. With our arrests, we joined hundreds of others who have been arrested since last Monday as part of the Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening; all told, more than 1,400 people were arrested as part of this escalated effort to save our democracy.

 

As I marched to the Capitol and occupied those steps  --  our steps  --  my spirit was buoyed thinking of the rich legacy of civil disobedience in our country.

The risks we faced sitting at the Capitol were negligible compared to the dangers associated with civil disobedience over the course of our nation’s history. However, the imperiled state of our democracy today must be taken just as seriously. In 2010, the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections, and three years later in Shelby v. Holder it held that the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, that so many fought and died for during the Civil Rights Movement, were no longer necessary. Both decisions delivered devastating blows to our democracy, but from both new movements of conscience have been born.

 

Read Laura's full story here.

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If Republicans Get Their Wish On The Supreme Court, What Would Trump Or Cruz Do?

By Miranda Blue, Elliot Mincberg and Brian Tashman

Republicans in the Senate, pushed by outside conservative interest groups, are promising to block President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and arguing that the next president should fill the current vacancy, in the hope that a Republican president will name a conservative ideologue to the bench.

Even if the Senate does confirm Garland, the next president will likely be charged with nominating at least one person to the Supreme Court, and possibly more. Since it looks like either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will win the Republican presidential nomination, looking at both men’s past statements gives us an idea of the kind of justices that Republicans are hoping for.

Trump and Cruz have both signaled that they would appease their base by nominating justices who would shift the court far to the right. Cruz has lamented that some justices nominated by Republican presidents have strayed from the party line on issues like abortion rights and has vowed that he would appoint “rock-ribbed conservatives” who have a “long paper trail” to demonstrate their “conservative” bona fides.

Trump, dogged by worries among movement conservatives that he would betray them when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, has promised to pick any Supreme Court nominees off a list he develops in partnership with the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

Both candidates have indicated that they would nominate judges who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark abortion rights and marriage equality decisions. Trump, although he appears not to understand the central legal issue of Roe, has said that the decision “can be changed” through the right judicial nominations since “you know, things are put there and are passed but they can be unpassed with time.” Cruz has warned that unless a true conservative like him picks the next justice, the Supreme Court will soon be “mandating unlimited abortion.” Trump has said that Obergefell was wrongly decided, while Cruz has called the decision “fundamentally illegitimate” and said it can be ignored by the president.

Cruz has made the future of the court a centerpiece of his campaign, while Trump may not actually understand how the Supreme Court works. But both have made clear that as president they would work to shift the court even farther to the right on the issues important to social conservatives and to the corporate Right.

What would a court shaped by a President Trump or a President Cruz look like? Looking at a few of the possible judicial nominees whose names have been dropped by candidates or who have been recommended by the Heritage Foundation, we can get an idea of the kind of ideological conservatives whom Republicans are hoping to put on the bench.

William H. Pryor

One possible Supreme Court nominee whom Trump has specifically praised is William H. Pryor, selected by President George W. Bush to be on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Formerly Alabama’s attorney general, Pryor has a history of extreme right-wing activism, severely criticizing not just women’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade but even the constitutionality of the New Deal.

Pryor has called Roe the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” He has claimed that with the New Deal and other measures, the U.S. has “strayed too far in the expansion of the federal government,” and asserted that it “should not be in the business of public education nor the control of street crime.” As a judge, he has helped uphold a restrictive Georgia voter ID law and joined just one other judge on the 11th Circuit in claiming that “racially disparate effects” should not be enough to prove a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, even though the Supreme Court has ruled precisely the opposite.

Pryor came first on a wish list of Supreme Court picks that the Heritage Foundation published shortly after Trump promised to consult them before naming justices.

Diane Sykes

Trump has also repeatedly named Diane Sykes, a Seventh Circuit federal appeals court judge appointed by President George W. Bush, as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Sykes, who previously served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and a trial court, has also won high praise from the Heritage Foundation and from right-wing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

In a series of dissents, Sykes has argued in favor of big business and against consumers and discrimination victims, including cases where she tried to limit corporate liability for product defects and overturn a $1 million damages award, to protect a corporation from having to defend against an employee’s claim of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to reverse a $3.5 million bad faith judgment in favor of a Lutheran church against its insurance company.

She showed her anti-reproductive-choice views in providing a lenient sentence to two anti-abortion protesters who had to be forcibly removed from blocking the entrance to a Milwaukee abortion clinic and had previously been arrested 100 times for such offenses; Sykes nevertheless praised them for their “fine character” and expressed “respect” for the “ultimate goals” the blockade “sought to achieve.”

She asserted in dissent that a jury verdict against a criminal defendant should have been upheld even though there was extensive evidence that one of the jurors did not understand English (including a statement from the juror himself), which disqualified him from serving on a jury under Wisconsin law; that a prosecutor should be immune from a claim that he fabricated false evidence that wrongly convicted a man for 17 years; and that a conviction under federal law against someone convicted of domestic violence for possessing firearms should be reversed and that the law itself could well be unconstitutional, in disagreement with all 10 other judges on the court of appeals. She voted in favor of a Wisconsin voter ID law and of a claim by a student group that it should receive state funding and recognition despite its violation of a university rule prohibiting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, an issue on which the Supreme Court reached exactly the opposite conclusion several years later.

Steven Colloton

The third name on Heritage’s list of possible Supreme Court nominees is Judge Steven Colloton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, after previous service for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and as a U.S. attorney.

Colloton has been at the forefront of a number of troubling Eighth Circuit rulings, including writing decisions that reversed an $8.1 million award to whistleblowers who helped bring a defective pricing and kickback claim against a large corporation and a nearly $19 million class action judgment against Tyson Foods for violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. He also joined a ruling making the Eighth Circuit the only appellate court in the country that found that the Obama administration’s efforts to accommodate religious universities and other religious nonprofit objectors to the provision of contraceptive coverage under the ACA was insufficient, an issue now being considered by the Supreme Court.

Even more troubling, Colloton has dissented from a number of Eighth Circuit rulings that have upheld the rights of employees, consumers and others against big business and government agencies. He dissented from a decision giving African-American shoppers the opportunity to prove discrimination claims against a large department store, and then saw his view prevail by one vote when the full Eighth Circuit reheard the case. In another case, he dissented from a decision finding that a city had violated the Voting Rights Act by improperly diluting the voting strength of Native Americans.

Colloton dissented from rulings that gave individuals a chance to prove claims of use of excessive force and, in one case, that a city’s policy to use police dogs to bite and hold suspects without any warning was unconstitutional. In three separate cases, he dissented from decisions that employees should at least get the chance to prove in court that their employers retaliated against them for filing sex harassment, age discrimination, or other discrimination claims. In two more decisions, he argued in dissent that public employees should not have the opportunity to prove that they were retaliated against for speaking out in violation of their First Amendment rights. Yet he also claimed in a dissent that the First Amendment rights of a candidate for state supreme court justice were violated by a state judicial code of conduct restricting solicitation and other campaign activity in order to promote judicial impartiality and ethical conduct by judges. Even the conservative Roberts Court that decided the Citizens United case has agreed that these concerns justify solicitation restrictions in state supreme court elections.

Mike Lee

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is Cruz’s closest ally in the Senate and Cruz has said that Lee “would look good” on the Supreme Court. Lee also made the Heritage Foundation’s shortlist of potential Supreme Court justices.

Lee is a fervent “tenther,” someone who believes the 10th Amendment to the Constitution radically restricts the authority of the federal government. As Jeffrey Rosen wrote in the New York Times Magazine in 2010, “Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.” Among the areas that Lee has suggested it is unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

  • Social Security,
  • Medicare and Medicaid,
  • child labor laws,
  • food safety,
  • disaster relief,
  • food stamps,
  • the Violence Against Women Act,
  • and, of course, the Affordable Care Act.

Lee has criticized the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion rights and marriage equality, calling Roe v. Wade an “unconscionable decision” that “defied the spirit and the letter” of the Constitution and responding to Obergefell by introducing a measure that would protect anti-LGBT discrimination.

Ted Cruz

While we don’t expect Cruz to name himself to the Supreme Court, as recently as December Trump was receptive to the idea of extending an olive branch to his main Republican presidential rival in the form of a Supreme Court nomination.

A Justice Cruz would certainly align with Trump’s stated priorities of reversing the Obergefell marriage equality decision and making sure Roe v. Wade is “unpassed.” Cruz, who served as the solicitor general of Texas before his election to the U.S. Senate, has gone so far as to call for the U.S. government to defy Obergefell and to claim that Congress could ban abortion without overturning Roe. Before running for the Senate, Cruz proposed an unconstitutional plan to nullify the Affordable Care Act; last year, he said that a Supreme Court ruling rejecting a clearly meritless challenge to the ACA was the “lawless” work of “rogue justices.” Cruz is known for having politicized the Texas solicitor general’s office, filing dozens of Supreme Court amicus briefs defending conservative positions on hot-button issues such as gun rights and abortion. On the campaign trail, he frequently boasts of his work as an attorney fighting church-state separation.

If Cruz were to become a Supreme Court justice, however, we wonder if he would stick with his idea of subjecting justices to retention elections.

This post has been updated to clarify the circumstances of a case in which Sykes asserted in a dissent that a jury verdict should have been upheld despite evidence that one juror was disqualified from serving.

Supreme Court Rules that Everyone Deserves Representation

Justice Ginsburg writes for a six-justice majority, rejecting an assertion that states must count only eligible voters when drawing legislative districts.
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