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October 2, 2014

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letter to the editor:

Justices turned away from history

Regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act:

I am ashamed of my country. I am ashamed that four white men and — hold your breath — one black man undid one of the greatest acts of Congress in our history: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These five men fail to understand history and the blood of those who died for justice and fairness in a society that even today is increasingly deaf to the voices of the poor, the unemployed and the disenfranchised.

Perhaps these five men and those who support their actions never heard of Emmett Till or Medgar Evers. Perhaps they did not see the long lines of black men and women waiting to vote last November as restrictive laws made voting harder for those with the least power. Or could it be that declaring victory over the past is a way to erase history and blind oneself from the truth?

In a society less upwardly mobile than in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act became law, it is shocking that Supreme Court justices like Antonin Scalia, John Roberts and Samuel Alito continue their assault on the open society necessary for democracy. It will take a new civil rights movement to fashion fairness and access and undo the damage these men have brought us.

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  1. Why should the SCOTUS concern itself with an endless review of cases which are no longer relevant to national needs? Let them instead review such matters as the intimidation by the Black Panthers interfering with voter access to the polls during an election.
    The Obama administration's(DOJ's) refusal to investigate this case is another instance of the administration's racial bias in favor of blacks over non blacks. Another scandalous act by this administration.

  2. The U.S. has an African-American president and Attorney General. The times have changed. It's called progress. Just as the Supreme Court ruled when it struck down the archaic law. The law was never meant to be a permanent fixture of the American voters' rights system. It was meant to address a targeted group of states which restricted and oppressed minority voters. The law worked and produced the desired results. Now, it's time to move on and get back to normal.

    Carmine D

  3. Some may argue that the Voting Rights Act has done its job and special supervision of certain states is no longer needed. Maybe. But we need to be vigilant for any sign of reversal of the progress that has been made and take action if that occurs.

  4. This debate shows, whatever its fault, we live in a great country. One in which we feel so free to express our diverse and sometimes contentious opinions that we openly sign our names to them without fear of jack-booted thugs coming to our door and arresting us. Black, white, yellow, red or polka dotted; we all have freedoms many others would die for. Please be grateful for that everyday.

  5. I don't understand the distress that this SCOTUS decision has caused Progressives.

    The Voting Rights Act is still intact. All that was done was to remove nine states from the requirement that changes in voting laws in those states had to be reviewed by the Justice Department. That requirement was based on 50 year old data. If these states enact laws that violate the right to fair access to vote, don't Progressives believe the Justice Department, the ACLU and others would fight any state that tried to do that?

    Do Progressives believe that 50 year old data should be used to hold these states under the thumb of the Justice Department? Has nothing changed in these states in 50 years?

    Michael

  6. I don't understand why conservatives are ignoring the hundreds of jurisdictions who have successfully petitioned to be removed from the VRA requirements. They seem to think that the Justice Department always has the final say, when in reality, jurisdictions which have shown 10 years of clean, fair election laws can and have been removed from preclearance requirements. Just as obviously discriminatory laws can be challenged in court, a jurisdiction's inclusion within VRA requirements can be challenged, and has been challenged successfully, hundreds of times.

    Conservatives want you to think that the Justice Department rules over the VRA with an iron fist. History disproves that silly notion.

    The Voting Rights Act has been neutered. States, such as Texas, can proceed with obvious animus toward minorities, and it takes costly and time-consuming legal battles to ensure voters have access to the polls. Hundreds of thousands of voters can be disenfranchised for years while court battles are waged. Why would any American who values representative democracy think that's acceptable?

    Do conservatives really believe that the criteria used to determine preclearance will be updated with this political climate? Do the conservatives who voted for obstructionists like Sharron Angle really think the Senate will come to any kind of an agreement?

    Here's a hint: Ted Cruz is a Senator.

    Conservatives love to whine that the data is "50 years old." They conveniently omit the fact that the VRA was reauthorized in 2006, and had overwhelming support from both parties... 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House. If the requirements were so onerous, and so out-of-date, why didn't anyone put up a serious challenge 7 years ago?

    North Carolina, ruled in the legislative and executive by republicans, is working on restricting/banning early voting and voting on Sundays.

    Sunday voting is very popular, as many African-American churches hold "Souls to the Polls," where the church takes a caravan of their congregation to vote. The GOP in NC want to prevent this.

    Yes, minority turnout has improved. The VRA has blocked hundreds of discriminatory and unfair changes to voting laws in just the last few decades. I'm flabbergasted that the argument against the VRA, or even preclearance, is that the law is working as intended.

    Now that the VRA has been neutered, we're seeing states such as Texas and North Carolina ram through laws obviously targeted at creating hurdles and thus increasing voter suppression. ID laws, reducing early voting... both will detrimentally affect minority turnout significantly. That, in turn, helps the GOP, who have retrenched themselves into a strategy based on limiting turnout, rather than appealing to policy preferences.

    I don't understand how conservatives can dismiss this real threat to our representative democracy without thinking it through. Maybe that's something they should do.

  7. "So which is to[sic] hard or to[sic] easy[sic]"

    Future2012, err... whoops... just "Future," do I really need to detail the way the tea party caucus has driven the GOP to cling to the far-right rail since 2009? When Mike Enzi gets a primary challenge from a carpetbagger from the right, you know the GOP purge has reached critical mass. The GOP of 2013 may look like the GOP of 2006, but the ideology is radically different.

    Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee would almost certainly become significant roadblocks to the Senate taking up new VRA revisions. And if you believe Ted Cruz will allow any VRA provision to impact Texas negatively, then I have beachfront property in Pahrump to sell you.

  8. I have no doubt that some members of the Republican party do want to limit minority turnout and that is despicable. But would you expect that not to happen when some members of the Democrat party want to get as many minorities to the polls as possible and could not care less about their identification or eligibility to vote.

    Let's be completely honest here. The party that wins control of our government gains and controls huge power and wealth. Many in each party are willing to do nearly anything to win. If we are so concerned about voter suppression, why don't we just pass a law that says that no state can pass any changes to voter related laws without approval of the US Justice Department?

    I believe, but I may be wrong that SCOTUS was ruling that under equal protection, it is unfair to put some states under scrutiny and control that other states don't suffer, especially when the original infraction that caused the scrutiny and control happened over 50 years ago.

    To me, this is all part of the same thing. Many of those that disagree with Republicans/Conservatives don't really care what is and isn't done, as long as it advantages their side and disadvantages Republicans/Conservatives. Reverse that to Democrats/Progressives and it is the same.

    As one example, many Republican would not favor making voting easier for minorities for obvious reasons. Many Democrats don't really have any interest in securing our borders, again for obvious reasons. I dislike both parties and this is why. It's all about the power and the wealth. If we'd all realize that, we'd all be better off.

    Michael

  9. Lastthrows,

    Some of us actually favor background checks for gun buyers at gun shows and an ID requirement for voting. Are you one of us?

    Michael

  10. While not in any way saying that the two cases you present are actually representative of anyone's position LastThroes, let's so the mental exercise and look at them as if they were:

    1. No ID required to buy a gun
    2. ID required to vote

    Now let's look at the laws surrounding these. Voting is a right ONLY allowed to US Citizens. No similar restriction exists for private commerce. So logic would dictate that voting would be the one that needs ID checked, because only a subset of the people living here are allowed to participate.

    Now for all of those screaming that some people aren't allowed to purchase guns (like convicted felons) and that we need ID and background checks to prevent them from buying guns....you should keep in mind that that same group (convicted felons) aren't allowed to vote either. So wouldn't that make it just as critical that their ID be checked for voting?

    And yes, I am aware that convicted felons can petition to get their voting rights restored....but since they can also petition for their right to own a gun to be restored as well, it makes the issue just as relevant.

    The end result here agrees with what Michael just posted. If there should be a requirement for ID checks to purchase a firearm, there should be the same ID requirement to vote. But fundamental, the need for ID to vote is even greater than the need for ID to buy a gun, because the legal restrictions on who can vote are greater than the restrictions on who can buy a gun.

  11. ksand99 says "I don't understand why conservatives are ignoring the hundreds of jurisdictions who have successfully petitioned to be removed from the VRA requirements."

    Care to provide the list (or a link to one) of the "hundreds of jurisdictions"?

    I only ask because according to the Department of Justice (which does maintain a list) there have been 90 total, the earliest on Jan 23, 1967 and the most recent on May 29, 2013.

  12. Charles,

    I would hope to see a response from Lastthrows as well as an answer to the question I asked, but I won't hold my breath. You seem to be someone who can and does use reason and logic.

    To me, for safety reasons and to assist police in solving crimes, I think a background check to purchase a gun is logical and reasonable. If an easily available and free ID is there for people who wish to vote, I also don't see an problem with asking for ID to vote.

    The problem I have with most letter writers here is that many of them appear to be unable or unwilling to apply logic to help them reach an opinion on any issue. Many don't debate and are not at all open to other views. When frustrated, many resort to name calling personal attacks and gross generalizations.

    I find it very disheartening.

    Michael

  13. Charles, if you read the list from the Department of Justice, you'll see that Merced County, CA alone has 84 elected governmental jurisdictions (as it is home to a large military base) that were bailed out of Section 5 via declaratory judgment just last year.

    "The Justice Department announced that it has reached an agreement with Merced County, Calif., that will allow for the county and some 84 political subdivisions in the county that conduct elections to bail out from their status as "covered jurisdictions" under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and thereby exempt these jurisdictions from the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

    Shenandoah County, VA has 10 jurisdictions. Rockingham County, VA has 9, etc. The DoJ can and does exempt individual jurisdictions within larger, non-exempt jurisdictions such as school boards, county commissions, etc. "After 1982, political subdivisions within a covered state could bail out even if the state as a whole was ineligible."

    Again, many on the right want to paint the VRA as being stuck in the past while reality proves that jurisdictions have been bailing out of preclearance requirements for decades all while those bailout provisions were changing and liberalizing as recently as the Reagan administration.

    Again, if the bailout provisions or the formula is such a problem, why did the VRA renewal get near unanimous support just 7 years ago?

  14. Sorry ksand99 that's not how it works. The bailed-out jurisdiction was Merced County California.

    The fact that Merced County California contains 84 voting districts does not change the fact that Merced County is ONE jurisdiction. You're trying to claim that every election district is a separate jurisdiction, so you want to count every polling station. Kind of absurd.

    Buy hey, lets use your version of math just for fun. By your math that would make 242 jurisdictions that were able to bail out....out of 46,119 jurisdictions (using your definition of jurisdiction) that were covered under section 4(b). So that's just over one half of one percent. So in 46 years one half of one percent of covered election districts have been able to bail out...some of those waging court battles that lasted over 8 years to accomplish it.

    You are the one who says that it's unreasonable to have to go though a "costly and time-consuming legal battle" to challenge election procedure changes....but you seem to think it's fine to force "costly and time-consuming legal battles" on jurisdictions that don't want to be unfairly burdened on the basis of minority voter registration data that was outdated 40 years ago.

    "Again, if the bailout provisions or the formula is such a problem, why did the VRA renewal get near unanimous support just 7 years ago?"

    Ask why lawmakers pass any unconstitutional law. if everything the legislature passed was A-OK, there wouldn't be a need to the constitutionally defined checks and balances of having the judicial branch rule on the constitutionality of laws.

  15. "Sorry ksand99 that's not how it works. The bailed-out jurisdiction was Merced County California."

    That's exactly how it works, Charles, hence the quote from the DoJ.

    Let me post it again:

    "The Justice Department announced that it has reached an agreement with Merced County, Calif., that will allow for the county and some 84 political subdivisions in the county that conduct elections to bail out from their status as "covered jurisdictions" under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and thereby exempt these jurisdictions from the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

    Those "84 political subdivisions" have been bailed out from "THEIR status as 'covered jurisdictions.'" Note that "jurisdictions" is plural and refers to the 84 subdivisions.

    "you seem to think it's fine to force "costly and time-consuming legal battles" on jurisdictions that don't want to be unfairly burdened on the basis of minority voter registration data that was outdated 40 years ago."

    Outdated 40 years ago? Nope:

    "Across all varieties of institutional measures to restrict voting rights, states that are fully covered by Section 5 are more than twice as likely as non-covered states to adopt policies that make voting more difficult for citizens. Fully covered states are more likely to employ a combination of these restrictive measures, which amplifies the disqualification effect on voters."

    So merely living in states covered under the previous formula left voters far more vulnerable to retrogressive attacks on their ability to cast a ballot.

    Yes, jurisdictions which have a history of discriminatory voting laws, and which petition to bail out of Section 5 preclearance, should have to prove 10 years of nondiscrimination. The jurisdictions have a history of discrimination, it is incumbent upon the jurisdiction(s) to prove they have stopped discriminating.

    Given their history of discrimination, the burden is on them to prove they will treat all voters fairly and that their laws comport with the fifteenth and twenty-fourth amendments.

    The alternative is to have these historically discriminatory jurisdictions pass laws which disenfranchise voters for several years. Clearly the individual's suffrage is paramount to a jurisdiction's petition.

    I know that's what you would prefer. You would allow, say, a state like Pennsylvania to pass it's discriminatory voting laws, which are set to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters (primarily poor, minority voters -- imagine that!), then draw out the court battles to suppress voter turnout.

    That's why you favor forcing poor, minority voters to seek redress through the legal system. Again, an individual's vote is more important than the burden on the jurisdiction.

    How hard is it? Hundreds of jurisdictions have kept their nose clean and have been removed from preclearance requirements, as has been substantiated, with your help!

  16. Charles, while we're at it, you should take a look at this great brief from the American Bar Association on how the bail out provisions are "administratively feasible, readily achievable and cost effective."

    http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/a...

  17. One more, just for kicks.

    Here's a press release from the lawyer that represented Merced County in seeking a bail out:

    "On Friday, July 27, 2012, the United States Department of Justice and Merced County, California, filed an agreement in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granting the County a bailout from coverage under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The bailout also exempts the 84 political subdivisions within the County from the Act's special provisions. If granted by the court, it will be the largest number of political jurisdictions to bailout at one time."
    http://voterlaw.com/press07302012.htm

    Sorry. what was that line again?

    "If granted by the court, it will be the largest number of political jurisdictions to bailout at one time."

    The lawyer for Merced County called it "the largest number of political jurisdictions to bailout at one time!"

    "Sorry ksand99 that's not how it works."

    Tell that to Merced County's lawyer. LOL

  18. ksand99 "So merely living in states covered under the previous formula left voters far more vulnerable to retrogressive attacks on their ability to cast a ballot."

    According to who? You seem to have chosen to not cite a source for this spurious claim.

    "Tell that to Merced County's lawyer. LOL"

    He already knows it. Read the filing. He filed on behalf of ONE plaintiff "Merced County"

    http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/mis...

    Some relevant citations with paragraph numbers:
    (1) "This action was initiated...by plaintiff Merced Country..."
    (2) "The Country is covered by the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act..."
    (3) "In this action, the County seeks a declaratory judgement..."

    Seems the lawyer filed and argued on behalf of ONE plaintiff.

    "Outdated 40 years ago? Nope"

    Oh good, so you agree with the Supreme Court then? I'll take this as your full support for replacing "As of November 1, 1972" in the law with "As of November 1, 2012"...which is all the Supreme Court said would be necessary for the entire law to remain in effect.

    They left section 5 pre-clearance in place...they just said that the rule has to be based on something more recent than 1972 voter registration data. But since you insist that voter discrimination still occurs in those jurisdictions, changing the cutoff year from 1972 to 2012 shouldn't hurt anything....right?

  19. ksand99, look again at the document YOU provided a link to:

    http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/a...

    Now look at Appendix A, the list of bailed-out jurisdictions. Notice that they list Merced Country as only one entry. "Jurisdiction" - "Merced County"

    As for the rest of what they are arguing, that the bail-out provision is not onerous or costly I see that they get very vague. Even though it is written by the "Amici Bailed Out Jurisdictions" not a single one of them provides any actual specific numbers regarding what it cost them. The only actual dollar costs they cite are approximations and estimates, mostly form opinion pieces in newspapers.

    Not suspicious at all that not a single one of those "Amici curiae" jurisdictions was willing to provide the actual dollar figure from what the process cost them.

  20. First question, and please be lengthy and specific in your response, Charles:

    If Merced County was a single jurisdiction, why would the lawyer for Merced County write the following:

    "The bailout ALSO exempts the 84 political subdivisions within the County from the Act's special provisions."

    Emphasis added. What, specifically, did the lawyer mean when he stressed it "ALSO" exempted each of the subdivision jurisdictions?

    Second question:

    Could you define the term "political subdivision" and tell me how many subdivisions are in Clark County, NV?

    Third question:

    Now that you understand what a political subdivision is, and how they are defined, why do you think the DoJ counts the "Number of Elected Governmental Units Fully Within Jurisdiction" in Appendix A? Why does that number matter?

    Fourth question:

    If a county is exempted from Section 5, does that automatically mean that every single political subdivision/jurisdiction within that county is bailed out from provisions? Why? Why not?

    Authentically curious of your point of view.