The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about why legislative districts in Arizona have unequal population — and whether that matters legally. Republican interests as well as two state GOP officials want the justices to conclude that the Independent Redistricting Commission acted illegally when it drew the lines in 2011 for all of the elections for this decade. They point out that some of the 30 districts have more residents than others. That point is not in dispute. Even the commission’s attorneys concede that there is an 8.8 percent difference in population between the largest and smallest. What the high court will consider is the question of whether the move was justified.Full Article: High court set to hear Ariz. redistricting case - Yuma Sun: News.
Maryland: Redistricting reform commission reaches consensus on new independent process | Maryland Reporter
The Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission met Tuesday to craft recommendations for ways to fix gerrymandering in Maryland, focusing on establishing an independent group to redistrict both congressional and legislative districts. The commission hashed out intricate rules to limit partisan influence and ensure the independence of the new panel. The commission will recommend that any new independent commission apply current state standards for legislative districts to congressional redistricting. When drawing congressional boundaries in the current system, Maryland’s governor leads the process, which follows a more general federal standard.Full Article: Redistricting reform commission reaches consensus on new independent process | MarylandReporter.com.
Barely one year after Alabama’s voter-ID law went into effect, officials are planning to close 31 driver’s license offices across the state, including those in every county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters. It’s ostensibly a cost-cutting effort, but coupled with the voter-ID law, these closings will make it even more difficult for many of the state’s most vulnerable voters to get one of the most common forms of identification now required to cast a vote. Like voter-ID laws elsewhere, Alabama’s version requires voters to bring a government-issued photo ID to the polls. The rationale is that these laws are necessary to stop voter fraud. The problem is that in-person fraud — the only kind that voter-ID laws could conceivably prevent — almost never happens. Still, these laws have proliferated around the country, nearly always enacted by Republican-controlled legislatures at the expense of minorities, the poor and other groups who tend to vote Democratic.Full Article: Alabama Puts Up More Hurdles for Voters - The New York Times.
Alabama: Congressional Black Caucus Blasts State’s DMV Office Closures As Discriminatory Toward Minority Voters | International Business Times
A group of African-American lawmakers on Friday blasted a decision by Alabama officials to shutter dozens of driver’s license offices, a move that disproportionately affects government ID services in black Democratic areas of the state. Given the state’s 2011 law that requires voters to show government-issued IDs before casting election ballots, closing the offices potentially disenfranchises thousands of black and minority voters, the Congressional Black Caucus said. “Alabama’s decision to close ID offices reminds us that 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the fight for equal access to the polls still continues today,” the caucus said in a statement released Friday. “Having a say in our country’s Democratic process still does not exist for all.” Since a 2013 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required federal approval of voting law changes in states with a history of racial discrimination, members of Congress and voting rights activists have pushed for restoration of the law. They did so as some Republican-led states passed laws requiring government-issued IDs and other forms of identification at polling places.Full Article: Alabama Voting Rights: Congressional Black Caucus Blasts State's DMV Office Closures As Discriminatory Toward Minority Voters.
In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in U.S. history. It contained key protections for minority voters, especially blacks, who had been effectively disenfranchised in the South. The act was a remarkable success, increasing minority voter registration and turnout rates within a few years. In 1982, an important amendment made it much easier for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. Then, following the contested 2000 elections, states started passing new voting rules along partisan lines. As part of these voting wars, conservative states began passing laws making it harder to register and vote, restrictions that seemed to fall most on poor and minority voters. In the midst of all of this, the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act. It had required states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get permission from the federal government before making a voting change by proving that the proposed change would not make it harder for minority voters to vote and to elect their preferred candidates. Don’t worry, Chief Justice John Roberts assured the American public in that 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder. Although states with a history of racial discrimination would no longer be subject to federal “preclearance” of voting changes because preclearance offends the “equal sovereignty” of states such as Texas, there’s always Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision, Roberts explained, is available “in appropriate cases to block voting laws from going into effect. … Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.”Full Article: Voting Rights Act Sections 2 and 5: Texas defends voter ID laws..
Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish has never elected a black judge, even though one in five parish residents is African-American. In fact, it re-elected a white parish judge who had been suspended for wearing black-face as part of a racist parody Halloween costume. Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund say the problem is the discriminatory voting system the parish uses, and last year they sued Gov. Bobby Jindal under the Voting Rights Act to force a change. On Friday, they filed papers asking a federal judge for a summary judgment in their favor. The lawsuit demonstrates how the Voting Rights Act, which was badly weakened by the Supreme Court in 2013, remains a key tool for stopping not only high-profile statewide laws like voter ID, but also a range of local election rules that often fly under the radar.Full Article: In Louisiana parish, a fight for black voting rights | MSNBC.
When the Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress in 1965, it was intended to outlaw poll taxes, literacy tests and other attempts by state governments to discourage minorities from voting. Over the past five decades, the law has been almost universally praised as an essential tool to not only ensure fair elections, but also to thwart the marginalization of minorities in America. In recent years, however, the law has come under attack as various state legislatures have chipped away at key provisions. “In theory, everybody’s in favor of the right to vote,” President Obama said recently. “But in practice, we have state legislatures that are deliberately trying to make it harder for people to vote.”Full Article: Editorial: Voting rights enforcement still needed in some states.
A federal appeals panel ruled Wednesday that a strict voter identification law in Texas discriminated against blacks and Hispanics and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a decision that election experts called an important step toward defining the reach of the landmark law. The case is one of a few across the country that are being closely watched in legal circles after a 2013 Supreme Court decision that blocked the voting act’s most potent enforcement tool, federal oversight of election laws in numerous states, including Texas, with histories of racial discrimination. While the federal act still bans laws that suppress minority voting, exactly what kinds of measures cross the legal line has been uncertain since that Supreme Court ruling.Full Article: Appellate Panel Says Texas ID Law Violated Voting Rights Act - The New York Times.
Editorials: John Roberts has been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act for decades | Scott LEmieux/The Week
In 2013, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the most crucial enforcement mechanism in the most important civil rights statute since Reconstruction. How did we get here? A major New York Times Magazine story by Jim Rutenberg provides an invaluable history of the long battle conservatives have fought against the law. And it shouldn’t be surprising that one major player in this movement was John Roberts himself. It’s important to emphasize the spectacular shoddiness of Roberts’ opinion in Shelby County. It fails to make an even remotely coherent argument to justify declaring that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act — which used a formula to determine which areas of the country required greater federal oversight of voting practices — is unconstitutional. The text of the Fifteenth Amendment explicitly authorizes Congress to pass legislation to address racial discrimination in voting, and the Voting Rights Act does not violate any specific textual provision.Full Article: John Roberts has been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act for decades.
North Carolina: State attorneys rest their case in federal voting rights trial | Winston-Salem Journal
Attorneys representing North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory rested their case this morning after calling six witnesses in a federal trial over the state’s controversial election law. The last witness for the state was Brian Neesby, business systems analysis for the State Board of Election. Neesby testified about data analysis he conducted, including an analysis that showed higher mail verification failure rates for same-day voter registration than the traditional registration that occurs 25 days before an election. Several groups, including the N.C. NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice, are suing the state and McCrory over House Bill 589, which became law in 2013. House Bill 589 eliminated same-day voter registration, reduced the days of early voting from 17 to 10, got rid of out-of-precinct provisional voting and abolished preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds.Full Article: N.C. attorneys rest their case in federal voting rights trial - Winston-Salem Journal: Elections.
North Carolina: Voting rights trial in North Carolina begins: ‘This is our Selma’ | Los Angeles Times
Lawyers in North Carolina sparred over whether the state illegally weakened minorities’ strength at the polls during what is expected to become a significant test of the voting rights laws. The proceedings, which began in a Winston-Salem federal courtroom Monday, are expected to last several weeks. North Carolina argues that the changes were needed to protect the voting process from fraud. Civil rights activists, with the support of the U.S. Department of Justice, maintain that the law was designed to dilute the power of African Americans and Latinos in the GOP-controlled state. The case is one of several coming after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidated provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act that gave the Department of Justice final say over voting in areas with histories of racial discrimination. The 1965 law was considered a civil rights landmark by helping to ensure minority participation in a political process controlled by the white ruling structure that had evolved from legal segregation in the South.Full Article: Voting rights trial in North Carolina begins: 'This is our Selma' - LA Times.
With the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 approaching later this summer, congressional Democrats filed legislation Wednesday to update and fix the landmark law they believe was gutted by the Supreme Court two years ago. In 2013, the high court’s ruling in Shelby County, Alabama vs Holder outlawed a key part of the law, a requirement that certain states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls “preclear” any changes to voting laws with the federal government before implementing them. Many members of Congress are concerned about rights being curtailed in some states after that ruling through strict voter ID laws and other measures. “It’s important to fix a decision of the United States Supreme Court and make it easier, make it simple, for all of our people to participate in a democratic process,” said Rep. John Lewis, one of the sponsors of the bill. “Open it up and let people come in. We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to do it before the next election. We cannot have the long lines, we cannot have the ID’s, we’ve got to do it.”Full Article: Democrats file bill to update the Voting Rights Act - CNNPolitics.com.
Congressional Democrats are expected to unveil new legislation this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday, that if passed would restore the requirement for federal approval for voting procedure changes in some states, a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court two years ago. The legislation, titled “The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015,” would force any state that has had 15 or more voting rights violations in the last 25 years to be subject to federal preclearance for any change in voting procedure or law. That criterion would initially subject 13 states to preclearance: New York, California, Arkansas, Arizona, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by the Washington Post. Those states would be able to free themselves of the preclearence provision by going 10 consecutive years without a voting rights violation.Full Article: Congressional Democrats to introduce new Voting Rights Act fix
Supporters and opponents of a Texas law requiring specific forms of photo identification for voters faced close questioning in a federal appeals court on Tuesday on whether the law was meant to discriminate against minorities and whether there are ways to remedy it. The US Justice Department and others oppose the law as an unconstitutional burden on minority voters. The state of Texas says the law was aimed at preventing fraud and is appealing a federal district judge’s ruling last October that struck down the law. Judge Catharina Haynes, one of three judges hearing the Texas case at the fifth US circuit court of appeals, suggested in questioning that the matter should perhaps be sent back to the district court for further consideration. She noted that the Texas legislature currently has several bills that that could broaden the number and types of ID voters could use to cast ballots.Full Article: Racial discrimination claims land Texas voter ID law in federal court | US news | The Guardian.
When the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, its main argument was that the law was outdated. Discrimination against minority voters may have been pervasive in the 1960s when the law was passed, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote, but “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.” In this simplistic account, the law was still punishing states and local governments for sins they supposedly stopped committing years ago. The chief justice’s destructive cure for this was to throw out the formula Congress devised in 1965 that required all or parts of 16 states with long histories of overt racial discrimination in voting, most in the South, to get approval from the federal government for any proposed change to their voting laws. This process, known as preclearance, stopped hundreds of discriminatory new laws from taking effect, and deterred lawmakers from introducing countless more. But Chief Justice Roberts, writing for a 5-4 majority, invalidated the formula because “today’s statistics tell an entirely different story.” Well, do they?Full Article: Voting Rights, by the Numbers - NYTimes.com.
If Hillary Clinton is to succeed in her second quest for the presidency, she’ll need to at least come close to matching President Obama’s performance with the groups that made up his most enthusiastic base: minorities and young voters. So over the next year and a half, expect to see Clinton continue to denounce the wave of restrictive voting rules that has often targeted non-whites and students. Already, the former secretary of state—sometimes criticized by progressives as overly cautious—has been relatively outspoken on the subject of voting rights. In a forceful 2013 speech to the American Bar Association (ABA), Clinton slammed the Supreme Court’s Shelby County ruling that year weakening the Voting Rights Act (VRA), called on Congress to fix the landmark law and urged the Obama administration to step up enforcement of voting rights cases.Full Article: Hillary Clinton has been outspoken on voting rights | MSNBC.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said today that Congress should review the entire Voting Rights Act to evaluate how it is working. But he added that he doesn’t know if parts of it need to be strengthened. This comes after the Ohio Republican was criticized by Democrats for demurring last weekend on whether he supports a House bill to deal with a key section of the act that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013. Portman was asked about new legislation, which civil rights leaders say is necessary, while he was in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the civil rights struggle that helped pass the act. His answer upset some liberal groups and Democrats. He said in Selma, “I haven’t looked at it. Is there a Senate version?”Full Article: Rob Portman says Voting Rights Act should get congressional review | cleveland.com.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” marches in Selma, Alabama, a time that fundamentally transformed the fight for civil rights in America. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, hundreds of extraordinary people were brutally attacked by Alabama state troopers as they marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest racial discrimination in voting. The events of “Bloody Sunday,” as it became known, led Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — one of the greatest pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed. But Selma’s promise remains unfulfilled for all Americans. U.S. citizens in Guam and the other territories still can’t vote for president. We have no representative in the Senate. Our representative in the house can’t vote.Full Article: Fulfill: 50 years after Selma, Guam and territories denied voting rights | Pacific Daily News | guampdn.com.
Saying voter discrimination “has not gone away,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called on GOP leaders Tuesday to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Maryland Democrat said the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision eliminating central provisions of the law “clearly undermined the protections of the right to vote in this country” and urged Republicans to replace those provisions this year. “The majority of the court was simply wrong,” Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “Something that had helped solve the problem, and made sure it didn’t reoccur, was jettisoned.” Republican leaders have shown little interest in the issue. And last week, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), head of the House Judiciary Committee, said congressional reforms are unnecessary because “substantial” parts of the VRA remain intact. “To this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary because we believe the Voting Rights Act provided substantial protection in this area,” he said Wednesday during a breakfast in Washington sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.Full Article: Top Dem presses GOP on voting rights | TheHill.
National: Congressional Black Caucus, Democrats rip lack of voting right protections in Republican agenda | The Hill
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is teeing off on Republicans over the absence of voting right protections in the GOP’s new congressional agenda. Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he’s “deeply troubled” by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) recent comments that Republicans have no intention of replacing central provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) shot down by the Supreme Court in 2013. “If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand — one in which they are on the wrong side of,” Butterfield said in a statement. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Goodlatte said congressional action is simply not necessary to improve the VRA because the parts of the law remaining after the Supreme Court ruling are “substantial.”Full Article: CBC, Dems rip lack of voting right protections in Republican agenda | TheHill.