Voting Rights Act

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Editorials: The Voting Rights Act is in tatters. Let’s honor King’s legacy by saving it. | David Gans/The Washington Post

Amid all the paeans to the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that will be published today, it’s vital to note that at this moment perhaps his most important legacy — his struggle to ensure the full realization of voting rights for all Americans — is under greater threat than at any time since his death. King, who would have turned 90 this year, was a tireless advocate for freedom, equality and democracy. He urged the nation to revitalize the amendments added to the Constitution after the Civil War — what he called the “full pledge of freedom” — to ensure equal citizenship for all. Even as a teenager, he spoke eloquently for the “13 million black sons and daughters of our forefathers” who “continue the fight for the translation of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments from writing on the printed page to an actuality.” At the center of King’s campaign for freedom was ending racial discrimination in voting. Over the course of his life, he demanded, time and again, “give us the ballot.” The right to vote was a core fundamental right: “To deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer.”

Full Article: The Voting Rights Act is in tatters. Let’s honor King’s legacy by saving it. - The Washington Post.

Texas: Trump administration opposes a return to federal oversight for Texas redistricting, reversing Obama-era stance | The Texas Tribune

In the latest about-face on voting rights under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice no longer supports efforts to force Texas back under federal oversight of its electoral map drawing.

In legal filings this week, the Justice Department indicated it would side against the voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers who want a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio to require Texas to seek pre-approval of its legislative and congressional maps, given previous maps that the federal judges ruled discriminatory.

“The United States no longer believes that [federal supervision] is warranted in this case,” federal attorneys said in their filing to the court.

It’s the latest twist in the high-stakes legal fight that could return Texas to the days when it couldn’t make changes to its maps without the Justice Department or a federal court first ensuring that state lawmakers weren’t infringing on the political clout of voters of color — a voting rights safeguard that was in place for decades until 2013. And it’s the most recent reversal by the Justice Department in the case.

Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department sided with those challenging the state’s maps as discriminatory. But last year, Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler joined state attorneys in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court that Texas’ current congressional and state House maps, which were adopted in 2013, were legally sound.

In approving the state’s current maps, the high court in June wiped out a ruling by the San Antonio panel that found the maps were tainted with discrimination that was meant to thwart the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. But seemingly left untouched were previous findings of intentional discrimination at the hands of the state lawmakers who first redrew the state’s maps in 2011.

The state’s opponents are now pointing to some of those 2011 violations in asking the San Antonio panel to consider returning Texas to federal guardianship of its maps.

Full Article: Trump admin decides Texas doesn’t need federal oversight for redistricting | The Texas Tribune.

Full Article: Trump admin decides Texas doesn't need federal oversight for redistricting | The Texas Tribune.

National: House Democrats seek voting rights fixes. Senate GOP says it’s already dead | McClatchy

House Democrats are launching an ambitious effort to repair the landmark voting rights law that was fractured by the Supreme Court in 2013, with leaders eying field hearings in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Georgia and other states. They are under tremendous pressure from their supporters to deliver. Though Democrats now will run the House next year, the Republican-controlled Senate is not likely to consider any legislation addressing the Voting Rights Act that gets passed in the House. “States run elections. Let’s keep it that way,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, likely the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that would have jurisdiction over the matter. Fresh off their midterm election victories, however, Democrats want to show results — and fast. They are planning as their agenda-setting legislation for 2019, a bill they’ve branded as “HR 1.”

Full Article: House Democrats under pressure to deliver Voting Rights Act fix | McClatchy Washington Bureau.

Editorials: It’s Time for a New Voting Rights Act | The New Republic

In early 2011, when new census figures showed that Evergreen, Alabama, a small city midway between Montgomery and Mobile, had grown from 53 to 62 percent black over the previous ten years, the white majority on the city council took steps to maintain its political dominance. They redrew precinct lines, pushing almost all the city’s black voters into two city council districts. Then, election administrators used utility information to purge roughly 500 registered black voters from the rolls, all but ensuring that whites would maintain their majority on the council and keep control of Evergreen. That kind of voter suppression is exactly what the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to prevent. For 48 years, its “preclearance” provision barred election officials in states with histories of voter suppression from making changes to election procedures without permission from the federal government. It was far from a perfect system—even with preclearance in place, Evergreen officials were able to purge the rolls—but it did help hundreds of thousands of black Southerners vote. By 1972, black registration rates had reached 50 percent in all but a few Southern states. In 2013, however, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, striking down the provisions of the law that defined which states fell under preclearance.

Full Article: It’s Time for a New Voting Rights Act | The New Republic.

Editorials: Fix Voting Rights Act, end suppression, upgrade equipment before 2020 | Sherrilyn Ifill/USA Today

In many ways, Election Day 2018 was a good one for American democracy. Millions of people turned out to vote. An unprecedented number of women are headed to Congress, including the first Native American women and the first Muslim-American women to serve on Capitol Hill. In Florida, voters restored voting rights to more than a million people who had been disenfranchised for past felony convictions. In Michigan and Maryland, they approved same-day registration. In Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah, they said yes to fair legislative districts. But at the same time, the election provided evidence of what many activists and experts have been saying for years: the machinery of our democracy needs serious maintenance. Together, aging infrastructure and resurgent voter suppression have jeopardized equal voting rights in the United States, turning what should be a source of national pride into cause for alarm.

Full Article: Fix Voting Rights Act, end suppression, upgrade equipment before 2020.

Editorials: A clarion call to restore protections of the Voting Rights Act | Los Angeles Times

Five years after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has confirmed predictions that the ruling would hobble enforcement of that landmark law. In addition to prohibiting racial discrimination in voting nationwide, the Voting Rights Act requires states and localities with a history of discrimination —most of them in the South —to “pre-clear” changes in their election procedures with the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court. In its 2013 decision in Shelby County vs. Holder, however, the court declared unconstitutional the formula Congress had established to determine which states would have to submit to pre-clearance, effectively shutting pre-clearance down.

Full Article: Editorial: A clarion call to restore protections of the Voting Rights Act | Commentary | fltimes.com.

National: Civil Rights Commission Calls for Action on Voting Rights Fix | Roll Call

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights urged Congress on Wednesday to update the landmark law that protects voter rights, finding in a new report that a 2013 Supreme Court decision helped lead to elections with voting measures in place that discriminate against minorities. But opposition from Republican lawmakers has stalled legislation to change the Voting Rights Act of 1965 since the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder that struck down a key enforcement mechanism in the law. Current efforts appear stuck for the same reason.

Full Article: Civil Rights Commission Calls for Action on Voting Rights Fix.

Texas: Supreme Court Upholds Texas Voting Maps That Were Called Discriminatory | The New York Times

The Supreme Court on Monday largely upheld an array of congressional and state legislative districts in Texas, reversing trial court rulings that said the districts violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against voters on the basis of race. The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s more conservative members in the majority. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said the trial court had “committed a fundamental legal error” by requiring state officials to justify their use of voting maps that had been largely drawn by the trial court itself. In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the majority opinion represented a dark day for voting rights. The Constitution and the Voting Rights Act “secure for all voters in our country, regardless of race, the right to equal participation in our political processes,” she wrote. “Those guarantees mean little, however, if courts do not remain vigilant in curbing states’ efforts to undermine the ability of minority voters to meaningfully exercise that right.”

Full Article: Supreme Court Upholds Texas Voting Maps That Were Called Discriminatory - The New York Times.

Editorials: Minority voter suppression is a legitimate threat for midterms | Sarah Okeson/Salon

With crucial midterm elections coming up later this year, Republicans continue to use a landmark Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to clamp down on voting rights and access. John M. Gore, appointed by President Donald Trump as acting head of the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, has a history of defending Republican redistricting plans in Virginia, South Carolina, New York and Florida. One of Gore’s first moves in his new role was to drop part of a lawsuit challenging the Texas voter ID requirements that help keep minorities from voting. Such restrictions have become more common since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. Thirty-four states now have voter ID laws.

Full Article: Minority voter suppression is a legitimate threat for midterms - Salon.com.

National: Virginia, Alabama elections will test gutting of the Voting Rights Act | Business Insider

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill didn’t mince words when addressing opponents of his state’s voter ID law, which requires voters show a government-approved photo ID at the polls. “People are entitled to their own opinions. But they’re not entitled to their own facts,” Merrill told Business Insider. “Everybody in Alabama that wants a voter ID has one.” Voting rights activists, who have long dismissed voter ID laws as discriminatory tactics that disenfranchise minority voters, disagree. They say the time it takes people to travel to the office where they need to pick up their IDs and the added cost for the underlying documents required to get the ID in the first place are just too burdensome for many voters. This will discourage many people from voting, civil rights defenders say, in upcoming elections across the country, including the governor’s race in Virginia on Tuesday and the special election for the US Senate seat in Alabama on December 12. Voting rights activists say the landmark 2013 Shelby v. HolderSupreme Court decision — which struck down parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) and helped pave the way for Virginia’s voter ID law — is perhaps the most blameworthy culprit.

Full Article: Virginia, Alabama elections will test gutting of the Voting Rights Act - Business Insider Deutschland.

Massachusetts: Judge rejects city attempt to dismiss Lowell voting rights suit | Lowell Sun

A federal judge on Tuesday shut down the city’s attempt to dismiss a voting rights lawsuit, which alleges that Lowell’s at-large election system has shut minority candidates out of local offices for decades and continues to do so. But even as U.S. District Court Judge William Young dismissed the city’s arguments that the case did not have enough merits to proceed toward trial, he expressed a concern with the plaintiffs’ case. Lawyers representing the 13 Asian American and Hispanic residents who brought the suit had argued that if some city councilors and School Committee members were elected by district, at least one district would be majority-minority and therefore increase the chances of a minority candidate gaining office.

Full Article: Judge rejects city attempt to dismiss Lowell voting rights suit - Lowell Sun Online.

Massachusetts: Lowell elections bias suit heading to court | Lowell Sun

A federal judge will hear arguments Tuesday on the city’s request that he dismiss a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming that Lowell’s election system discriminates against minorities. The 13 plaintiffs in the case argue that system, whereby all nine city councilors and six School Committee members are elected at-large, ensures that Lowell’s majority-white population can effectively block minority candidates from gaining office. Only four non-white residents have been elected to the City Council, and none have been elected to the School Committee. Virtually all other cities in Massachusetts have switched to some form of district-based representation. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in May. In September, the city moved to have the case dismissed.

Full Article: Lowell elections bias suit heading to court - Lowell Sun Online.

Massachusetts: Minority Residents, Massachusetts City Head to Federal Court | VoA News

In May, 13 Asian and Hispanic residents of Lowell, Massachusetts, filed a voting rights lawsuit against the city government, alleging the at-large electoral system, in which the winner takes all, dilutes the minority vote and discriminates against the candidates from community of color running for office. The plaintiffs asked the federal court to rule that the city’s electoral system “violates Section 2 the Voting Rights Act” and for “the adoption of at least one district-based seat.” Since 1999, only four Asian and Hispanic candidates have been elected to the Lowell City Council, which is currently all white. The first hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Tuesday before the U.S. District Court in Boston. Lowell’s City Council filed a motion to dismiss in its first response to the residents’ lawsuit on Sept. 15.

Full Article: Minority Residents, Massachusetts City Head to Federal Court.

Texas: Pasadena to remain under federal oversight of election laws | The Texas Tribune

In a crucial victory for Hispanic voters in the Houston suburb of Pasadena, the city will remain under federal oversight for any changes to its voting laws until 2023 — the only setup of its kind in Texas. The Pasadena City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved Mayor Jeff Wagner’s proposal to settle a voting rights lawsuit over how it redrew its council districts in 2013, agreeing to pay out about $1 million in legal fees. Approval of that settlement will also dissolve the city’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling that Pasadena ran afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act and intentionally discriminated against Hispanic voters in reconfiguring how council members are elected. The local voting rights squabble had caught the attention of voting rights advocates and legal observers nationwide as some looked to it as a possible test case of whether the Voting Rights Act still serves as a safeguard for voters of color.

Full Article: Pasadena to remain under federal oversight of election laws | The Texas Tribune.

Texas: Pasadena to pay $1 million to settle voting rights lawsuit | Houston Chronicle

Pasadena Mayor Jeff Wagner on Friday asked the City Council to settle a voting rights lawsuit that led to national portrayals of the Houston suburb as an example of efforts to suppress Latino voting rights. The proposed settlement with Latino residents who sued the city in 2014 over a new City Council district system calls for the city to pay $900,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees and $197,341 for court costs. The item will be on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. “While I strongly believe that the city did not violate the Voting Rights Act or adopt a discriminatory election system,” Wagner said in a statement, “I think it’s in the best interest of the city to get this suit behind us.”

Full Article: Pasadena to pay $1 million to settle voting rights lawsuit - Houston Chronicle.

Alabama: Lawsuit challenging racial makeup of Alabama courts moves forward | AL.com

Despite accounting for more than one-quarter of the state’s population, African-Americans rarely get elected to the state’s highest courts – a situation advocacy groups want to change by ending statewide judicial elections. Their argument got a boost this week after a federal judge rejected motions to dismiss a lawsuit brought last fall by the NAACP of Alabama and The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The organizations filed suit against the state of Alabama and Secretary of State John Merrill. The lawsuit alleges that the practice of holding statewide elections for Alabama’s 19 appellate judges disenfranchises black voters. Instead, civil rights groups propose creating districts for elections, increasing the odds for black candidates in majority-black districts.

Full Article: Lawsuit challenging racial makeup of Alabama courts moves forward | AL.com.

Editorials: The Civil Rights Division has a proud legacy. Eric Dreiband is unfit to lead it | Mary Frances Berry/The Guardian

Over half a century ago, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 in what was a watershed moment for the US. In spite of intense opposition, including Strom Thurmond carrying out the longest spoken filibuster in the history of our country, Congress enacted the first significant African American civil rights measure since the Reconstruction era. The legislation established the US Commission on Civil Rights, on which I was honoured to serve for five presidential administrations, and it created a specific division within the Department of Justice dedicated solely to protecting civil rights. Sixty years later, we are witnessing a painful unravelling of a civil rights legacy that many people devoted their careers to – or even gave their lives for.

Full Article: The Civil Rights Division has a proud legacy. Eric Dreiband is unfit to lead it | Mary Frances Berry | Opinion | The Guardian.

Editorials: The Texas Legislature’s persistent discrimination | Ross Ramsey/The Texas Tribune

If somebody you know got stopped seven or eight times for driving drunk, would you think they had a problem? Texas lawmakers have now been popped by federal judges seven or eight times in recent years for intentionally discriminating against minority voters in with voter ID and redistricting legislation. Think they’ve got a problem? The federal government has a program for repeat offenders like Texas; it’s called “preclearance,” and it forces states with histories of official racial discrimination to get their new election and voting rights laws checked by the feds — either the Justice Department or the courts — before those laws can go into effect.

Full Article: Analysis: The Texas Legislature’s persistent discrimination | The Texas Tribune.

Editorials: It’s Time to Restore and Strengthen the Voting Rights Act by Tamara Power-Drutis | Tamara Power-Drutis/Yes Magazine

If judging only by the 99 new laws proposed in 2017 to restrict registration and voting access, one might assume that voter fraud is a widespread issue. Yet according to a study in May by the Brennan Center for Justice, of the 23.5 million votes cast in the 2016 general election, only an estimated 30 incidents across 42 jurisdictions were referred to by election officials as suspected noncitizen voting. In a one-year period, America has had more proposed laws prohibiting voting than cases of actual voter fraud incidents. So what makes a statistically nonexistent issue warrant the current level of scrutiny or legislative action? If the proposed cures appear worse than the problem they’re designed to solve, that’s because the problem isn’t voter fraud, but the growing number of women, people of color, young, and low-income voters filling out ballots.

Full Article: It’s Time to Restore and Strengthen the Voting Rights Act by Tamara Power-Drutis — YES! Magazine.

Editorials: Will Move to Purge Ohio Voting Rolls Kickstart Congressional Action? | Mary C. Curtis/Roll Call

Fifty-two years ago this week, John Lewis of Georgia was a young activist, not the Democratic congressman he is today. Yet he got a warmer welcome from the then-president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, than from today’s occupant of the White House. On the Twitter feed of the longtime member of the U.S. House of Representatives, you can see a picture celebrating that time a few decades ago, when, with Democratic and Republican support, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and then signed. Lewis was one of those who suffered arrests and shed blood to make it so. You might think that at 77 years of age, he has earned the right to relax just a little. But instead of celebrating progress made, he has to ignore occasional insults from President Donald Trump and some of his congressional colleagues, while refighting a version of that same fight for voting rights.

Full Article: Opinion: Will Move to Purge Ohio Voting Rolls Kickstart Congressional Action?.