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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The AP reports today that Brian Newby, the Election Assistance Commission executive director who in February singlehandedly helped Kansas, Georgia and Alabama make it harder to vote using federal voter registration forms, was placed in his job in part thanks to the efforts of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of voter suppression measures throughout the country.
In 2011, Kobach helped push through a law in his state requiring people registering to vote to present one of a narrow list of “proof of citizenship” documents, which led tens of thousands of Kansans to have their voter registrations suspended when they tried to sign up to vote in last year’s elections. Kobach was locked in a years-long battled with the EAC over federal voter registration forms, which did not require voters to present the same proof of citizenship, even attempting to create a two-tiered voting system in which people who registered with the federal form were barred from voting in state and local elections. Then, in February, Newby decided that people registering with the federal voter registration form in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama would have to present extra proof of citizenship, handing a major win to Kobach.
So, it is not entirely surprising to learn that it is Kobach who helped Newby to get his job at the EAC:
An email provided to The Associated Press through open records requests offers a glimpse into the mindset of Brian Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who decided — without public comment or approval from bosses — that residents of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia can no longer register to vote using a national form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship.
As a finalist for the job of executive director, Newby said in a June email to his benefactor, Kansas' Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that he was friends with two of the commissioners at the federal agency, and told Kobach: "I think I would enter the job empowered to lead the way I want to."
Documents obtained by AP show Newby's ties to Kobach, the architect of voter ID and other restrictive voter registration laws around the nation that he says are needed to prevent voter fraud. Critics say there is very little voter fraud and Kobach's measures hurt voter registration and deprive eligible voters of the right to vote.
Kobach had appointed Newby to be a county elections commissioner in Kansas, and helped him get the federal job that he took in November.
"I wanted you in the loop, in part because of other issues in the past with the EAC," Newby emailed Kobach. "I also don't want you thinking that you can't count on me in an upcoming period that will tax our resources."
Newby declined to comment for this story about the email, referring questions to a commission spokesman, Bryan Whitener, who declined comment. Newby was hired by the three sitting commissioners.
Kobach said Wednesday that he spoke to one, and possibly two of the Republican commissioners, about Newby prior to his hiring.
"I told that person I thought Newby would be excellent and he was one of Kansas' most talented county election officers and indeed one of the most talented election officers in country," Kobach said.
But documents from open records requests and interviews by AP show that as early as April 2015 and continuing in the months leading to Newby's hiring by the commission, Kobach and his staff met with county officials to discuss concerns about Newby's job performance in Kansas. Those concerns led officials to call for an audit of the Johnson County election office Newby led.
Kobach told AP he never informed the federal commissioners about those problems, and insisted they would not have affected Newby's performance at his federal job.
The audit released earlier this month found Newby intentionally skirted oversight of government credit card expenses, wasted taxpayer funds and improperly claimed mileage and travel expenses while at his former job in Kansas. Newby has called the audit inaccurate and misleading.
One of the conservative establishment’s greatest fears about a Donald Trump presidency has been that he wouldn’t pick movement ideologues to sit on the Supreme Court. Trump attempted to put that concern to rest last week when he announced that he was working with the conservative behemoth the Heritage Foundation to shape a list of 10 possible Supreme Court picks from whom he would choose nominees if he were to become president. (Whether he would actually keep that promise, however, is an open question.)
Meanwhile, Trump’s main GOP presidential rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has promised to make nominating ultra-conservative justices a “priority” of his presidency. He has even made a point of criticizing past Republican presidents for appointing insufficiently conservative jurists.
Trump hasn’t released his list of candidates, but today the Heritage Foundation published a “non-exclusive” list of eight people that it said “illustrates the kind of highly qualified, principled individuals the new president should consider” for the high court — and who, it’s safe to assume, represent the kind of judges the conservative movement would pressure Trump and Cruz to pick for the federal courts.
Two of Heritage’s picks, federal appeals court judges William Pryor and Diane Sykes, have been mentioned repeatedly by Trump on the campaign trail. The name of another, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, has been brought up by Cruz, who even picked up the Utah senator’s endorsement.
In a profile of Sykes last month, ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser wrote:
… Sykes, who currently sits on the Seventh Circuit, backed a voter ID law . She also wrote a decision expanding religious objectors’ ability to limit their employees’ access to birth control coverage that SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Denniston described as “ the broadest ruling so far by a federal appeals court barring enforcement of the birth-control mandate in the new federal health care law.”
Millhiser noted that Sykes also ruled “that anti-gay groups have a constitutional right to continue receiving government subsidies even if they engage in discrimination,” another troubling indication that she could support conservative groups’ attempts to justify discrimination.
Pryor, a former Alabama attorney general, also has a history of right-wing activism. Pryor has called Roe v. Wade the “ worst abomination in the history of constitutional law” and said that it created “ a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.” 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 the federal government “should not be in the business of public education nor the control of street crime .” Like Sykes, Pryor has upheld a voter ID law.
Lee, a Tea Party favorite who has been Cruz’s strongest ally in the Senate, has a legal philosophy that might be even more troubling, dismissing large swaths of the federal government’s work as unconstitutional. As Peter summarized recently:
Here are a few things that Sen. Mike Lee believes are unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:
Peter noted that Lee “dismisses Supreme Court rulings upholding a woman’s right to abortion” and has “called the court’s marriage equality ruling a ‘breathtaking presumption of power.’”
Also on Heritage’s list is Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where he is a colleague of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Kavanaugh, who before his career as a judge worked on the notorious “Starr Report” about President Clinton, is just one example of Bush’s effort to put ideologically motivated conservatives on the federal bench.
Kavanaugh’s rulings on the D.C. Circuit include striking down important EPA air pollution rules in an opinion that one columnist called “60 pages of legal sophistry, procedural hair-splitting and scientific conjecture.” PFAW summarized the issue at hand:
Last summer, two Bush-nominated judges on the D.C. Circuit issued a much-criticized ruling in EME Homer City Generation, striking down important new EPA rules on air pollution that crosses state lines. In 2011, the EPA issued new regulations to limit the levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emitted by coal-fired power plants and crossing state lines. Based on the administrative record and its expertise on environmental health, the agency concluded that the new rules would prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, and 400,000 cases of asthma. As if that weren’t important enough, the rules would also save $280 billion a year in healthcare costs.
In 2011, Kavanaugh dissented from a ruling that found ExxonMobil was not immune from being sued by Indonesians who said they had been “beaten, burned, shocked with cattle prods, kicked, and subjected to other forms of brutality and cruelty" by the company’s security forces. Dissenting from a ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act the same year, Kavanaugh suggested that a president who thinks the ACA is unconstitutional could simply decline to enforce it.
Also on Heritage’s list are Paul Clement, who served as solicitor general in the Bush administration and is just 49 years old, and federal appeals court judges Steven Colloton and Raymond Gruender. Another Heritage suggestion is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who was nominated by then-Gov. Rick Perry after helping Bush run his faith-based initiatives in Texas and in the White House.
Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy, and the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, one of the country’s most vocal advocates for restrictive voting laws, agreed in an interview on Gaffney’s “Secure Freedom Radio” yesterday that the Justice Department under President Obama has been pushing back against voter registration restrictions because the president “wants noncitizens to vote.”
The Obama administration’s Justice Department is siding with voting rights groups that are trying to stop a move by the director of the Election Assistance Commission that would make it harder to register to vote in three states by including those states’ “proof of citizenship” requirements on federal voter registration forms.
Such a step would have a damaging impact on voter registration: MSNBC reports that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who pushed through one of the most restrictive voter registration laws in the country, has provided documentation that just “seven non-citizens registered in the decade before the state’s proof of citizenship law went into effect in 2013,” while “voting rights groups have said over 40,000 registrations have been thrown out or suspended because of the law.”
To Gaffney and von Spakovsky, this is all proof that President Obama wants noncitizens to commit voter fraud.
“Would it be fair to say … that the government, starting with Barack Obama, actually wants noncitizens to vote and is doing its level best to bring more of them here, among other reasons, for that purpose?” Gaffney asked.
“Oh, I think so,” von Spakovsky responded, “because, look, this isn’t the only instance of this. A few years ago when Florida started trying to clear noncitizens off their voter registration rolls, and they found thousands of them, this very same Justice Department under Eric Holder actually went to court to try to stop them from doing that, making the absurd claim that it violated the National Voter Registration Act … So they actually went to court to try to stop them from taking noncitizens off the voter rolls.”
The Florida incident he was referring to was a planned voter roll purge that the Justice Department contended used out-of-date information and gave voters too little time to correct the record if they were incorrectly identified as noncitizens.
In case we needed any more proof that the “voter integrity” group True the Vote is more interested in stirring up unfounded fears about voter fraud in order to pass restrictive voting laws than in actually ensuring the integrity of elections, Rick Hasen of Election Law Blog spots this fundraising email:
(Image: Election Law Blog)
We previously wrote about True the Vote and its leader Catherine Engelbrecht:
Engelbrecht has worked to drum up support for harsh voting restrictions that disproportionately affect racial minorities by hyping fears of widespread “voter fraud” and recruiting armies of volunteers to root out suspected fraud in their communities. These efforts haven’t exactly uncovered the evidence they’ve been looking for, although they have created hassles for legitimate voters targeted by True the Vote volunteers.
Today the Maryland State Senate overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s 2015 veto of legislation (HB 980/SB 340) restoring voting rights to 40,000 formerly incarcerated persons in the state, allowing them to register to vote after they are released. With the House having voted last month, the new law will finally go into effect on March 10. Newly eligible Marylanders will be able to register to vote in the upcoming primary.
In response, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, issued the following statement:
“This is a victory for one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans: the right to cast a vote that counts. Systematically keeping thousands of people from voting after they leave prison is not only wrong, it diminishes the integrity of a system that is supposed to represent all of us. Our democracy is at its strongest when all voices can be heard.”
“This is a great day for Maryland,” added Rev. Barry Hargrove, a Maryland member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, pastor of Prince of Peace Baptist Church in Baltimore, and president of the Maryland Progressive Baptist Convention. “Today our state moved to restore voting rights to 40,000 of our neighbors who live in, raise families in, and contribute to our communities – and our state will be stronger for it.”
People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.
Just in time for the holidays!
Kentucky’s brand new Tea Party governor just broke a campaign promise and REVERSED a positive move by his Democratic predecessor that had restored voting rights to some 140,000 Kentuckians.
Once again, Kentucky will be one of the very few states where people with felony convictions remain disenfranchised after completing their sentences. As ThinkProgress points out, this means that one in five African Americans in the state will be disenfranchised. Studies show that ex-felon disenfranchisement leads to higher rates of recidivism.
Oh, and Bevin also lowered the minimum wage.
ThinkProgress has more:
In another executive order this week, Bevin reversed former Gov. Beshear’s move to raise the state’s minimum wage for government workers and contractors to $10.10 an hour, bringing it back down to $7.25 an hour. About 800 state workers who have already gotten raises will be able to keep them, but new hires will now have to start at the lower pay rate. In the order, Bevin hinted that he would prefer the state have no minimum wage at all: “Wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government,” he said.
Last week, People For the American Way hosted a telebriefing for members to review the recent attacks on voting rights and illustrate PFAW’s vision for the future of voting rights in America. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated the discussion with PFAW’s Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks, Executive Vice President Marge Baker, and resident Supreme Court and judicial nomination expert Paul Gordon joining the call.
Drew began the call with an introduction to the consequences of the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case, which gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The decision has resulted in many states passing new legislation that results in voter suppression. Diallo explained that 36 states have passed new restrictions on early voting and more strict voter identification laws, which disproportionately affect people of color, low-income citizens, and women. Supposedly, these efforts attempt to prevent voter fraud. However, voter fraud is not documented as a widespread, or even small-scale, problem anywhere in the country. Marge later elaborated that there is evidence that true intention of passing these laws is to suppress the vote; many right-wing organizations have acknowledged that conservative leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.
Many members called in with pertinent questions, including one about how members can be more involved in the fight for voting rights. Diallo described how People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers network has been active on the ground helping folks understand their local laws so that they can obtain the correct identification and register successfully. He also suggested people get involved in local groups that do similar work.
Marge detailed how people can get involved in PFAW’s efforts to fight for fair and just courts, which have an enormous impact on voting rights. The winner of the 2016 election will have the opportunity to nominate as many as four Supreme Court justices, and therefore have influence over critical voting rights cases following Shelby County v. Holder. The Supreme Court is not the only place where the fight is occurring. Marge described court challenges to voter suppression laws in numerous lower federal courts and in state courts, further highlighting the importance of courts in the progress for voting rights.
Diallo ended the call on a positive note, describing recent municipal and state-level expansions to early voting and motor voter laws, which allow citizens to automatically register to vote when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Listen to the full briefing here: