Acting three days after the nation’s minority voters showed that they have increased and still growing power in U.S. elections, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday to rule on a challenge to Congress’s power to protect those groups’ rights at the polls. The Court said it would hear claims that Congress went beyond its authority when it extended for another twenty-five years the nation’s most important civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and renewed four times since then.
Specially at issue is the constitutionality of the law’s Section 5, the most important provision, under which nine states and parts of seven others with a past history of racial bias in voting must get official clearance in Washington before they may put into effect any change in election laws or procedures, no matter how small. The Court came close to striking down that section three years ago, but instead sent Congress clear signals that it should update the law so that it reflects more recent conditions, especially in the South. Congress did nothing in reaction.
The Court accepted the voting rights case from Shelby County, Ala., and agreed to review three other new cases. It will rule on a Maryland case testing the authority of police to take a DNA sample from an individual arrested for crime, but not yet convicted The other newly granted cases involve definition of a judge’s powers under the federal Sentencing Guidelines, and a new dispute over class arbitration.
In agreeing to rule on the Voting Rights Act, the Court limited its review to a question which it composed itself: ”Whether Congress’ decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.” The Tenth Amendment protects the powers of states by limiting Congress’s powers. Article IV guarantees each state a “republican form of government,” meaning it is protected in its right of self-government. The question specified by the Court differed from that posed by Shelby County’s lawyers only by adding a reference to the Fourteenth Amendment. The case to be decided is Shelby County v. Holder (12-96).
The Court took no action on another Section 5 case, from North Carolina: Nix v. Holder (12-81). That case apparently will be kept on hold pending the decision in the Shelby County case. [continue]
I have never talked to so many people who were so thoroughly convinced that their vote didn’t matter, that it would not be counted, or that it would be stolen, or that their very right to cast it would be so hamstrung with official bother that it would cease to be a right and simply become another inconvenience. They’re angry. They still may try. But if you’re looking for a sub-theme for why things are the way they are in the polls, that’s my stab at it. The country’s dead-level, frustrated and angry, but not necessarily motivated, and a substantial number of people think the whole thing is a waste and an equally substantial number believe that it’s not on the square.
Charles Pierce on John Lewis’s all-important but little covered speech on voting rights (via bostonreview)
Including as many Americans as possible in our electoral process is the spirit of our country. It is why we have expanded rights to women and minorities but never legislated them away, and why we have lowered the voting age but never raised it. Cynical efforts at voter suppression are driven by an un-American desire to exclude as many people and silence as many voices as possible.Charlie Crist (via azspot)
The U.S. Justice Department is suing Florida after the state disregarded the federal government’s request to suspend its voter purge campaign. In a letter to the Florida Secretary of State, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez argues that Florida is violating the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Act. “Please immediately cease this unlawful conduct,” Perez writes. The full text of the letter is available HERE. –Think Progress
Earlier this year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a sweeping bill intended to make it harder to vote in his states’ elections. Kasich’s anti-voter law drastically cuts back on early voting and erects new barriers for absentee and even for election day voters. Today, however, opponents of Kasich’s war on voting will submit over 300,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office — well over the 231,000 signatures necessary to suspend the law until it can be challenged in a referendum in November of 2012. If enough of the signatures are deemed valid, the practical effect of this petition will be that Kasich’s law will not be in effect during the 2012 presidential elections when Republicans hoped the law would weaken President Obama’s efforts to turn out early voters who support his reelection.
A study on voter fraud pushed by Maine Republicans concluded that there is absolutely no evidence of student voter fraud in the state — but the GOP has pledged to crack down on it anyway. Like conservative state legislatures across the country, Maine Republicans have been pushing a Voter ID law, ostensibly to prevent non-existent voter fraud. As ThinkProgress has documented, these laws are a transparent attempt to disenfranchise Democratic voters, especially students, the poor, and minorities.
As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots. “What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century,” says Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.
Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP’s effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.
All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia – cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures – Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic – including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans. read