In calling for a rewrite of one of the nation’s most significant civil rights laws , the Supreme Court has demanded that the other two branches of government design a guarantee of racial equality that reflects the realities of the 21st century. But the real question is whether the political system, broken and polarized as it is, still has the capacity to take on such a challenge. The ruling, which said Congress must update the Voting Rights Act of 1965, noted that much has changed for the better since the original formulas were written requiring federal approval of even minor changes in election procedure for some states and jurisdictions. But the court also acknowledged that discrimination still exists and that rectifying it demands vigilance from Washington. Traditionally, voting rights is an area where presidents and lawmakers, mindful of history’s judgment, have proven capable of working together across party lines. The most recent reauthorizations of the Voting Rights Act were signed by Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In 2006, not a single senator voted against the current version, while fewer than three dozen members of the House did.
Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination. After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.
Leaders of progressive groups say they, too, faced long delays in getting the Internal Revenue Service to approve their applications for tax-exempt status but were not subjected to the same level of scrutiny that tea party groups complained about. Several progressive groups said it took more than a year for the IRS to approve their status while others are still waiting as IRS agents press for details about their activities. The delays have made it difficult for the groups to raise money — just as it has for tea party groups that were singled out for extra scrutiny. But even with the delays, leaders of some progressive groups said they didn’t feel like they were being targeted. “This is kind of what you expect. You expect it to take a year or more to get your status because that’s just what the IRS goes through to do it,” said Maryann Martindale, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, a small non-profit that advocates for progressive causes. “So I don’t know that we feel particularly targeted.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is introducing legislation that would block states from rearranging their congressional districts until after a 10-year Census takes place, a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act. “We cannot afford to sit back and watch our country move backwards — as legislators we must act,” Jackson Lee said Wednesday. “[B]ased on the Shelby case and its rationale, it is clear that Voting Rights Act is needed more than ever.” The high court on Tuesday struck down language in the act that establishes the criteria for determining which state and local governments must clear voting rules changes with the federal government, based on their history of having an under-representation of minority voters.
A House Republican who led the last push to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act exhorted lawmakers Wednesday to join him in bringing the law back to life. The day after the Supreme Court quashed the anti-discrimination statute, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) urged lawmakers to cast aside their differences and restore the rejected provisions for the sake of voter protection. “The Voting Rights Act is vital to America’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process,” Sensenbrenner, the second-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday in a statement. “This is going to take time, and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected.” Republican Reps. Steve Chabot (Ohio) and Sean Duffy (Wis.) also expressed support Wednesday for congressional action in response to the high court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court decision Tuesday striking down a key plank of the Voting Rights Act dramatically eases the way for states to push through stricter voting laws — and the flurry of action could reverberate into 2014 and beyond. Some states such as Texas moved within hours of the landmark ruling to implement so-called voter ID laws — requiring voters to show valid identification before they can cast ballots — that had been on hold. Others, such as swing state North Carolina, are expected to pass legislation this year that could complicate Democrats’ chances in 2014 midterm elections. Democrats hope to use the issue to galvanize minority voters by accusing the conservative-leaning Supreme Court and Republican statehouses of turning back the clock on hard-won voting rights. But the effect of the actual statutes, in terms of preventing people from voting who show up to the polls without proper ID, could be “devastating and immediate,” said Penda Hair, co-director of the voting rights group Advancement Project.
A divided Congress has no clear path to heed the call of Chief Justice John Roberts and President Obama to legislate in response to Tuesday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision that invalidated a portion of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Reaction on Capitol Hill largely mirrored the court’s ideological divide: Democrats called for legislation to establish new formulas to determine whether states must get federal permission before instituting changes in voting practices, while Republicans were more reticent on the necessity to pass a new law. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he would convene hearings next month to see what legislative recourse Congress can take. Leahy made clear his displeasure with the Supreme Court’s action to invalidate a law most recently reauthorized in 2006 with broad bipartisan support.
Mississippi’s top election official outlined plans on Tuesday to implement the state’s voter ID law, just hours after the Supreme Court struck down a Voting Rights Act provision that might have blocked the law. Until Tuesday’s court ruling, officials in Mississippi and other states with a history of discrimination were required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to get “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any change to their voting procedures. But that ended when the court ruled that Section 4 of the 1965 law, which consisted of the formula used to determine which states and other jurisdictions should be subject to Section 5, is outdated and therefore unconstitutional. The 5-4 decision clears the way for more than a dozen states and jurisdictions to move ahead with tougher voter ID laws and other changes that before Tuesday would have been subject to the pre-clearance requirement.
National: Obama to nominate Democratic, Republican members to Federal Election Commission | The Washington Post
President Barack Obama intends to nominate two lawyers with government experience to become commissioners on the Federal Election Commission, the agency that oversees and enforces campaign finance laws. One of the nominees would fill a Democratic vacancy on the commission and the other would replace the Republican vice chairman, the White House said. Obama’s nominee to replace Republican Donald F. McGahn is Lee Goodman, who served as a top aide to former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia. Obama’s Democratic nominee is Ann Ravel, the chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. She would fill the seat vacated earlier this year by Cynthia Bauerly. If confirmed by the Senate, the FEC would have all of its six commissioners — three Democrats and three Republicans. The even partisan split on the FEC has at times contributed to gridlock on the commission with votes breaking along party lines.
“While any racial discrimination in voting is too much,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told us in Tuesday’s decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, “Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” Well, here’s a current condition: the ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder when Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas announced that his state’s voter-ID law, blocked by a federal court last summer, “will take effect immediately.” The Texas statute has the most stringent requirements of any voter-ID law in the country. The three-judge federal panel, pointing out in a 56-page opinion the several less onerous versions that the Legislature had rejected, found that the state had failed to meet its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to show that the law wouldn’t have the effect of suppressing the minority vote. With his precipitous in-your-face move, the Texas attorney general may be doing us a favor, making clear that the court’s decision has real and immediate consequences. Welcome to the Roberts court’s brave new post-Voting Rights Act world.
A White House commission tasked with making voting improvements after lengthy wait times were reported in the 2012 election is hitting the road. The president’s Commission on Election Administration, which met for the first time on Friday, announced it will hold upcoming hearings in four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio. Co-chair Bob Bauer, President Barack Obama’s former counsel, said they will hold “a public meetings process around the country that enables us to hear from election officials, from experts and from citizens in affected communities about the voting experience and their perspective on the issues they should be covering.” Bauer and co-chair Ben Ginsberg, former counsel for Mitt Romney, invited election experts and members of the public to participate. “Please help us to ferret out the information we need,” Bauer said. Hearing specifics are still slim. Known so far: They are scheduled for June 28 at the University of Miami, Aug. 8 in Denver, Sept. 4 in Philadelphia and Sept. 20 somewhere in Ohio.
Among the many things that can be gleaned from Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision eviscerating the Voting Rights Act is this: we live in an era of American history which is, if not actually post-racial, then officially post-racism. Race may still exist as a social reality—and so may racism—but no amalgamation of facts, studies, or disparities is sufficient to the cause of proving that there exists a system which produces inequality. In short: we have overcome whether the data agrees with us or not. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion:
In 1965, the States could be divided into those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.
Americans tend to imagine that the racial history of their nation is a steady line sloping upward; in truth, it looks more like an EKG. In that context, it’s unsurprising that a decision hobbling the Voting Rights Act could come in such close proximity to the first Presidential election in which the percentage of eligible voters who went to the polls was higher among blacks than among whites. Peaks in racial progress tend to come in concert with valleys of backlash.
In his dissent in the Defense of Marriage Act case today, Justice Scalia wrote: “We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation.” Justice Roberts wrote in his concurrence: “I agree with Justice Scalia that this Court lacks jurisdiction to review the decisions of the courts below… I also agree with Justice Scalia that Congress acted constitutionally in passing the Defense of Marriage Act.” Yet that reasoning didn’t stop Justices Roberts and Scalia from striking down the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act yesterday, a hugely important civil rights law that has been passed by Congress five times with overwhelming bipartisan approval. Why didn’t the court defer to Congress on the VRA, which has a far more robust Congressional history/mandate than DOMA? And how did Roberts and Scalia reach such contradictory conclusions in the different cases?
Editorials: Justice Scalia Hates Judicial Review, Except When He Doesn’t | Dashiell Bennett/The Atlantic
Earlier today, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a scathing dissent to the decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, saying “we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation.” So why was it okay to take apart the democratically adopted Voting Rights Act just one day earlier? Scalia’s DOMA dissent was a blistering and angry on most of his fellow justices and their “legalistic argle-bargle.” He even went after Samuel Alito, who voted on his side. The crux of his argument was that the law — which passed in 1996 — was a legitimate act of Congress, and it’s not the job of the Supreme Court to tell everyone what every single law means. That’s a mistake that “spring[s] forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.”
If you’ve read a magazine at any point in the last decade, then you’ve probably heard of the Stanford marshmallow test. A young child is placed at a table with a marshmallow and told that she can eat it now or wait a while and get an even better treat. The experiment is supposed to measure a child’s capacity for delayed gratification. The longer she can wait, the more likely it is she has good impulse control, and that is associated with better life outcomes, as measured by health and educational attainment. In overturning Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act—which sets down a formula for identifying which state and local governments have to preclear changes to voting law with the federal government—the Supreme Court has all but placed a huge marshmallow in front of the Republican Party. But instead of a sugary treat, it’s an opportunity to pursue harsh new restrictions on voting—the kinds of policies that would have been blocked under the Voting Rights Act before the court’s ruling.
A lawsuit challenging Kansas’ law requiring voters to present a picture identification when casting ballots Wednesday was submitted to Shawnee County District Court on behalf of two Osage County men who were blocked last year from having their votes counted. Wichita attorney Jim Lawing filed the case for retirees Arthur Spry and Charles Hamner, both of Overbrook, to contest constitutionality of the voting mandate included in the Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011, which was written by Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The suit names Kobach as the lone defendant. Hamner and Spry, who didn’t have a government-issued identity card with a photograph proving they were Kansans in good standing, voted with provisional ballots in November 2012. Their ballots weren’t counted because neither subsequently provided sufficient proof of their identity.
A Supreme Court ruling Tuesday strips power over voting and election rules from the federal government and returns it to states such as Mississippi with discriminatory pasts. The court, in a 5-4 ruling, effectively eliminated the federal advanced-approval power over voting laws from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Justice Department had used this “preclearance” power to shoot down the literacy tests, poll taxes, gerrymandering and more subtle measures that were used to inhibit minority voting. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the ruling will allow him to “start today” on implementing a state voter ID law that had been awaiting federal approval. He said the new requirements should be in place for the June 2014 primaries.
New Jersey: For Special Election, Some New Jersey Residents Can Vote This Week | Wall Street Journal
The special election for U.S. Senate in New Jersey was called just three weeks ago, but some state residents can already begin voting later this week. County election offices must begin sending out vote-by-mail ballots on Saturday, according to a timetable established by the state Division of Elections for the race to fill the seat held by the late Frank Lautenberg. But several county offices said Tuesday that they weren’t wasting time and will begin sending out the thousands of ballots as early as Wednesday—meaning the sprint of six candidates running in the primary is officially beginning. “We start stuffing and we start mailing right away,” said an election official at the Essex County Clerk’s Office, about the vote by mail ballots. “Once we get them, we rock right away.”
The safety net for reinstating lever voting machines in New York City elections has officially been cut. When the New York State Legislature passed a law allowing lever voting machines this election, opponents had one final avenue to continue their fight. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) required the state to get permission from the Department of Justice for any changes in voting procedure. Advocates have submitted arguments against the use of the antiquated machines, citing many of the same issues submitted to the state, such as limited disability access and small type for foreign languages. That law was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States on Tuesday, leaving the door open for the continued use of lever machines in local elections as long as the state continues to pass legislation allowing the archaic machines.
Oregon: Automatic voter registration bill passes Oregon House largely on partisan vote | OregonLive.com
Over objections from Republican lawmakers, the Oregon House on Tuesday passed a bill aimed at automatically registering hundreds of thousands of additional voters in Oregon. Democrats, saying the legislation is is designed to remove hurdles to voting, pushed through House Bill 3521 on a largely party-line vote of 32-28. The measure is the centerpiece of a drive by Secretary of State Kate Brown to give Oregon one of the most expansive voter rolls in the nation. However, the infighting over the legislation has turned intensely partisan, with all but one Republican – Rep. Bob Jenson of Pendleton – voting against the bill. Three Democrats also voted no.
South Carolina and other areas with histories of discriminatory voting practices no longer need federal approval to change their voting laws — at least for now. That oversight ended Tuesday as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, ruling in the case of an Alabama county that sued the U.S. attorney general in 2010, arguing voting laws meant to prevent discrimination are outdated. In its 5-4 decision, the court struck down a formula that determined whether states or other jurisdictions should be required to get federal approval before making changes to their voting laws — based, in part, on their discrimination in the 1960s and ’70s.
Texas: Supreme Court ruling on Voting Rights Act could renew battle over Texas redistricting | Dallas Morning News
The Supreme Court decision striking down elements of the Voting Rights Act could lead to the Legislature implementing a 2011 redistricting plan that was deemed by federal judges to be discriminatory to Texas minority voters. Soon after Tuesday’s decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that the state’s voter identification plan would immediately take effect, requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls. “Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government,” he said. A spokesman for Abbott, a Republican, confirmed he was talking about the 2011 redistricting plan, which is under appeal before the Supreme Court. That plan would give Republicans even more strength in the U.S. House and the Legislature.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell called Tuesday’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 “a potentially monumental decision” with implications for Virginia, and he called on Congress to come up with a new formula to identify which states should now be covered. The commonwealth is one of nine states — mostly in the South with a history of discriminatory voting practices — subject to a key provision of the federal act. Under that section, states must obtain federal approval before changes are made to their voting laws. The court’s decision means Congress must issue new guidelines to decide which jurisdictions need pre-clearance before changing laws, and it’s unclear how the ruling would affect a Virginia measure requiring voters to present photo IDs to cast ballots. The law, which McDonnell signed in March, is scheduled to take effect for the 2014 elections and was subject to pre-clearance before Tuesday’s decision.
The conservative prime minister who dominated post-communist politics in Albania has conceded election defeat, taking personal responsibility for the heavy loss to the rival Socialists after losing the support of fed-up voters. Sali Berisha, who had been seeking a third straight term as prime minister in Sunday’s general election, also announced to party supporters late on Wednesday he would step down as leader of his center-right Democratic Party. The 68-year-old’s party was beaten handily. With nearly all of the votes counted, Socialist Edi Rama was ahead with 53 percent, compared to just 36 percent for the Democrats.
Food colouring, not chemicals, was in the indelible ink used in the general election, the Election Commission (EC) admitted today in the Dewan Rakyat. “No chemical was used in the ink but it was instead replaced with permitted food colouring,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim in his reply to Segambut Member of Parliament Lim Lip Eng. His statement was in stark contrast with the EC’s claim that it used silver nitrate in the ink. He said the absence of the required chemical was the reason the ink was easily washed off. Shahidan also said that the expiry date of the ink was four months from the date it was issued but blamed voters for purposely trying to wash off the ink as the reason why it was not permanent. “How long the ink remains depends on the individual and the efforts put in to wash it off.”
Nigeria: Jega promises improved 2015 elections as senator rules out electronic voting | Premium Times Nigeria
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega, on Tuesday assured that the Commission will improve on its performance in the 2015 general elections. Mr. Jega stated this during the public presentation of INEC Strategic Plan (2012-2016) in Abuja where the Deputy Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Alkali Jajere, ruled out electronic voting in the 2015 polls. Mr. Jega, who was responding to the suggestions made by the leaders of some of the political parties that INEC should sit up in order to ensure smooth and successful polls, come 2015, said the Commission would be transparent and accountable to retain the confidence stakeholders have in it.
Russia suspended an independent election monitoring group for six months on Wednesday, for failing to register as a “foreign agent” under a law that President Vladimir Putin’s critics say is part of a crackdown on dissent. The Moscow-based group, Golos, angered the government by publicizing evidence of fraud in a 2011 parliamentary vote that sparked opposition protests, and at the presidential election that returned Putin to the Kremlin for a third term last year. It is the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to have its operations suspended under the law Putin signed last July as part of a drive to decrease what he has said were efforts by Western countries to meddle in Russian politics. Golos denies it falls under the law, which obliges NGOs that receive any foreign funding and are deemed to be involved in political activity to register as “foreign agents”.