All eyes are on Republicans gaining control of the Senate and affirming their commitment to repealing the Affordable Care Act as known as ObamaCare. However, the decision by four Supreme Court justices to hear arguments in King v. Burwell challenging premium subsidies on healthcare exchanges operated by the federal government could deal a blow to the ACA if the Supreme Court rules against the subsidies. The Internal Revenue Service provides subsidies in the form of tax credits to consumers purchasing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act whose incomes are below 400 percent of the poverty threshold. However, opponents of the law say that wording in the ACA stipulates that these subsidies can only be provided to consumers purchasing health insurance on exchanges “established by states” and that they are not available to people purchasing health insurance on federally managed exchanges.
To date, 13 states and the District of Columbia have established their own exchanges. There are an additional 18 states that have established exchanges in some form of partnership with the federal government. The remaining 19 states are those who have refused to participate in the process and have exchanges run exclusively by the federal government. Much is at stake. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) 86 percent of people enrolled through federally operated exchanges rely on the subsidies to reduce their premiums to an affordable level. The Urban Institute estimates 7.3 million people could lose $36.1 billion in subsidies if the Supreme Court strikes them down.
The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case surprised many because traditionally the Court will only take up a case if there is a split on the issue at the Circuit Court level. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the legality of the subsidies for federally managed exchanges in its ruling in King v. Burwell. However, in another challenge, Halbig v. Burwell, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the use of the subsidies. Judge A. Raymond Randolph, appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, and Judge Thomas B. Griffith, appointed by President George W. Bush, voted against the subsidies.
Judge Harry Edwards, appointed by President Jimmy Carter, voted to uphold the subsidies. At the request of the Obama Administration, the full court agreed to revisit the decision. With seven of the 11 authorized judges currently on the court appointed by Presidents Clinton and Obama, it seems likely the full court would support the subsidies effectively eliminating the split. The Supreme Court however decided to revisit King, despite the Obama Administration’s request that it wait for the decision by the full D.C. Circuit Court.
Hardline conservatives saw last week’s evisceration of Democrats during the midterm elections as a fatal blow to Barack Obama’s presidency. They believe he is a lame duck who is weakened both domestically and internationally. They see the Affordable Care Act, which they derisively coined as “Obamacare”, as his only significant legislative accomplishment and it sticks in their collective craw. Although the law remains unpopular with 53 percent of respondents in the Gallup Poll having a negative view of the ACA while 41 percent views the law favorably, it is losing ground as an important concern for the public. According to exit polls most voters in the 2014 midterm election—59 percent—said their vote had nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act compared to 28 percent who cast ballots to express displeasure with the law. During the 2010 midterms 45 percent said they cast their ballots as an expression of their displeasure with the law.
Doomsday forecasts about the Supreme Court’s ruling on subsidies in the Affordable Care Act may very well be overblown. Over at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth—my favorite blog by the way—economist Brad DeLong says even if the Supreme Court rules against federal subsidies, conservatives may not get the results they desire. He believes the 31 states with either state-run exchanges or working in partnership with the federal government will largely be unaffected. He wonders if politicians in the 19 states with exchanges solely operated by the feds will be willing to deny their middle class residents nearly $40 billion in subsidies to purchase health care insurance.
I believe the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. Republicans will waste their time and taxpayers’ money on fruitless attempts to repeal the law knowing full well a law repealing the ACA cannot get past the President’s veto pen and may not get out of the Senate without relying on budget reconciliation as a strategy which is a recipe for disaster. Then imagine what Republicans would do if they could repeal the Affordable Care Act. They have no credible idea about what they would do to replace it.
Last month, the Oglala Sioux Nation filed a voting rights lawsuit with the federal government for failing to put a pre-election satellite voting and registration site on the portion of Pine Ridge Reservation which sits in Jackson County, South Dakota. Despite having money apportioned by the Help America Vote Act to address just this sort of issue, Jackson County has yet to place a satellite office in Wanblee, the largest Indian reservation town in the county. While at the same time, the largely white residential off-reservation county seat of Kadoka, which actually has a smaller population than Wanblee, maintains a satellite voting office. Instead of being able to vote within a reasonable distance of their community, the people of Wanblee have to travel 54 miles round-trip to register and cast their ballots. 54 mile in the cold, inhospitable snow of a South Dakota November on poorly maintained roads that are made of dirt as often as they are asphalt.
These are the sorts of bigotry, harassment and human rights violations faced on a regular basis by American Indians seeking equal access to the ballot box. The discrimination that they endure is remarkably similar to that of African-Americans and Latinos, but odds are that you hadn’t been thinking about the voting rights of American Indians. In fact, outside of the #ChangeTheName controversy surrounding Washington DC’s professional football team, I doubt that American Indians have crossed many of your minds recently. This may be in part because there are only 1.9 million American Indians in this country and you don’t have much direct interaction with them, but I think it is also because the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the fifties and sixties was almost exclusively an African-American movement.
What happens to an injustice unheard? On their own, many people—along with the local and state governments who represent them—will plug up their ears with cotton balls and blot out the sounds of injustice and oppression that surround them, while others still will hear the wails of injustice and track them down like bloodhounds so they can shove their hands over the mouths of the moaning. That’s why sometimes it becomes necessary for the Federal government to remove the cotton from the callous, cauliflowered ears of the oppressive and the bigoted and demand that they listen.
More so than any other civil right in America’s history, suffrage has required Federal intervention in order to be preserved and it is not a coincidence that the right to vote under the equal protection of the law is the focus of no less than four Constitutional amendments. The first two—the 14th and the 15th amendment—were forged in the fires of The Civil War and established during Reconstruction, a 12 year period where more than 2,000 African-American men held public office in the South. Of course, these political gains were only made possible by the physical presence of former Union soldiers in formerly Confederate towns and as soon as the Republican Party made their deal with the devil in 1877 and agreed to remove those troops in exchange for a Rutherford B. Hayes White House it was all over.
Almost overnight all trace of the black politician was swept away by poll taxes, literacy tests, Jim Crow laws and lynch mobs and black suffrage was suppressed for more than 75 years until the sacrifices of the Civil Rights Movement birthed the Voting Rights Act in an attempt to provide all Americans with equal voting rights and representation in government. Yet, even today, in what a startling number of young Americans consider a “post-racial” society, the percentage of African-American representation in Congress from southern states (11.25%)(1) is still considerably less than it was in 1870 (15%). And all of this was before the Supreme Court disassembled the Voting Rights Act and gave states that were once beholden to the federal government for preclearance of all voting laws free rein to disenfranchise people of color, the elderly and the poor.
There are many aspects of race-based voter discrimination that Chief Justice John Roberts and the other 4 men who voted to neuter the Voting Rights Act (VRA) last year wholly fail to comprehend or care about, but there are none more important than the fact that racism and oppression do not live in a vacuum and that past progress does not prevent against future regression. In his majority opinion for Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts reiterated time and time again the fact that, “things have changed dramatically” in the 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was created and consequently uses those changes as the principle reason why section 4 of the VRA should be struck down(2), as if the law’s efficacy was somehow grounds for rendering it toothless.
In his opinion, Roberts writes that, “the [15th] Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future,” failing to comprehend that this “punishment” is constantly being reinvoked by states and counties who continue to brazenly discriminate against their minority citizens. All a given state or county has to do is follow the VRA’s instructions and not get caught trying to engage in voter discrimination for 10 years in a row and they’re “bailed out” of Section 5. In effect, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is the equivalent of probation and parole for state and local governments who have committed the crime of denying people of the right to free and equitable elections. If you get released from prison on 2 years parole for selling narcotics and your P.O. Catches you slinging dope, you’re going to be headed back to prison. It’s the same principle with discriminatory states under the VRA.
Of course, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with even a tenuous grasp on reality that the states who were saddled with preclearance requirements under Section 5—and quite a few that weren’t—have wasted no time in enacting as many restrictive and discriminatory voting laws as possible since the Shelby County v Holder ruling. During the first year post-preclearance, 7 of the 9 states that were singled out under Section 5 of the VRA pushed through laws that restricted voting rights. States are enacting unnecessary and prohibitive voter ID laws, eliminating same-day registrations, purging qualified citizens from voter rolls and, as was recently the case in my home state of Ohio, cutting back early voting days for no just reason whatsoever.
If there is a silver lining to the fallout of the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s that it has lit a fire underneath many communities in America and it has directed the attention of the media and activists in ways that could result in enhanced voter turnout, higher political awareness andpossibly the passage of new legislation that makes the Voting Rights Act even more effective than it was before. However, the media coverage of the VRA and the efforts of the vast majority of voting rights litigators and scholars have focused almost exclusively on how the changes effect African-American and Latino voters.
This is certainly understandable considering the fact that they are the 2 largest racial minorities in America and that voter discrimination in both the past and present has impacted them in a greater and more visible way than any other section of American society, but it largely ignores the struggles of other minority groups who will suffer just as much from the Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act.
250 years ago, before the prolonged presence of American settlers, the Great Sioux Nation—known to its members as the “Oceti Ŝakowiŋ” or Seven Council Fires—held dominion over most of the Northern Plains.To the east, in what is now modern-day Minnesota, northern Iowa and the easternmost edge of the Dakotas, lived the Santee or Eastern Dakota. Next to them, in the eastern half of the Dakotas were the Yankton or Yanktonai, which are sometimes confusingly referred to as the Western Dakota. And then, beside them, in western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska lived the Teton or Lakota people.
Within a hundred years time, the Great Sioux Nation had been effectively driven apart by white settlements and white soldiers. To make a long and bloody story short, the second half of the 19th Century was little more than an unbroken string of violated treaties wherein the United States took Sioux land that wasn’t theirs in exchange for the false promise of peace and security on the Sioux land that they planned to take in the future. In the span of roughly 100 years, the Great Sioux Nation had gone from a powerful group of allied tribes that could lay claim to much of the Great Plains to a collection of splintered and suppressed peoples who had been relegated to life on reservations on the parcels of their land that whites could find little use for.
Along with their land, the Sioux—and all of the tribes around them that were not wiped from the face of this earth by the inexorable hand of Manifest Destiny—lost their sovereignty and self-determination. In the days of the Seven Council Fires, the Sioux would hold intertribal councils during the summer months, with a spokesperson from each of the 7 tribes coming together to govern intertribal affairs. Each tribe was made up of several bands and the intertribal spokespeople were usually the chief of the most power band in their respective tribe. Once the reservation system had been imposed on them, the Sioux and all other American Indians(3) and (eventually) Alaskan Natives effectively became wards of the state and were treated as second class citizens in the eyes of the law.
Sioux reservation land from 1851 to today
Even after the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 made all American Indians US citizens and gave them the right to vote under the 14th and 15th amendments, most were still prohibited from voting. Many western states like Montana dealt with the threat of Indian suffrage by adding amendments to their state constitutions and forbidding American Indians on reservations from voting on the grounds that they were not considered taxpaying citizens.
Other states, like Wyoming and Arizona took pages out of the deep south’s playbook and instituted literacy tests as a means of halting American Indian suffrage. South Dakota didn’t even bother with masking it’s blatant bigotry and flouting of the Constitution by keeping a law on the books that prohibited all American Indians from voting until the 1940s, while the Utah Supreme Court ruled in 1956 that Indians could be barred from voting because they were, “neither acquainted with the processes of government, nor conversant with activities of the outside world generally.” And, even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many American Indians faced open discrimination from state and local governments until an extension of the VRA was passed a decade later specifying coverage for “language minorities” like American Indians.
In 1975, two South Dakota counties—Shannon County and Todd County—were made subject to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Both counties had a long history of voting discrimination and institutionalized racism and both were the homes of Indian reservations, with Shannon County containing the Pine Ridge Reservation and Todd County holding the Rosebud Reservation. If you’ve heard of either Pine Ridge or Rosebud before, it probably wasn’t for the best of reasons. Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations are living breathing testaments to the horrors of colonialism and the perpetual poverty that is guaranteed to communities with little-to-no socioeconomic resources. On the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations at least 80 percent of the population is unemployed, as many as 4 out of every 5 adults suffer from alcoholism and/or addiction, infant mortality is 3 times the national rate, suicide rates for youth are 10 times the national average and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge is lower than every other part of the Western Hemisphere besides Haiti.
As is often the case with socioeconomically depressed regions, the Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge and the Sicangu Sioux of Rosebud, have experienced some of the most reprehensible attempts to eliminate or weaken their suffrage in America’s recent history. In 1975, long after the equal voting had become the law of the land and black voter turnout was hovering around 50% in presidential elections, the state of South Dakota was still prohibiting residents of almost exclusively Indian “unorganized counties” like Shannon, Todd and Washabaugh(4) from voting in the elections of the counties to which they were attached andprohibited residents of those counties from holding office until as late as 1980.
Shortly after the Voting Rights Act had been amended to cover American Indians, then South Dakota Attorney General William Janklow wrote a formal opinion to South Dakota’s Secretary of State, in which he referred to the Voting Rights Act as a “facial absurdity” and wrote that, “I cannot in good faith recommend that [the Secretary of State’s] office and the State Board of Elections be unnecessarily subjected to the bureaucratic agony of obtaining immediate preclearance of all voting legislation and regulations.”
In other words, South Dakota’s Attorney General just recommended that the state government ignore the requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and hoped it would be repealed by Congress or declared unconstitutional in the near future. It would seem that South Dakota state officials heard Attorney General Janklow loud and clear as they enacted over 600 laws concerning elections and voting in Shannon and Todd Counties that were covered by Section 5 of the VRA between 1976 and 2002 and sent less than 2 percent of them to Washington for preclearance. In the words of former ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Laughlin McDonald, “Many jurisdictions in the South also failed to comply with Section 5 in the years following their coverage. But in none was the failure as deliberate and prolonged as in South Dakota.”
Over the past 30 years, the strategies of predominantly white governments, counties and municipalities in America for negating the impact of minority voting blocs have shifted from outright voter suppression to a more indirect approach. One of the preferred modes of neutralizing the American Indian vote has been voter dilution, a process by which a state, county or local government redraws their districts so as to concentrate as much of the American Indian population into as few districts as possible to lessen number of elections they can seriously effect. After the 2000 census, the South Dakota legislature put forth a redistricting plan that turned District 27, an overwhelmingly Indian district that contains Pine Ridge Reservation, from one of the most underpopulated districts into one of it’s most overpopulated.
To do this,the legislature made a change in the boundary lines between District 27 and District 26, another mostly Indian district that includes Rosebud Reservation, packing District 27 with American Indians and leaving them without a large enough population in District 26 to ensure that Indian-preferred candidates had a chance at winning.
Another way the existing white power structure in South Dakota is trying to disenfranchise American Indians is through the simple act of making it as difficult and inconvenient for them to vote as possible. This tactic, which manifests itself in other states through the enactment of stringent voter ID laws, reduced early voting days and the repeal of same-day registration, is primarily borne out in South Dakota through the failure to provide American Indians with satellite voting and registration offices, using tribes’s socioeconomic shortcomings against them.
Indian reservations are typically located in remote areas and are often self-contained, so that many of the people living on the reservation rarely, if ever, go outside of its borders. Beyond that, many American Indians don’t have access to a car to reach far off polling places and, even if they did, might find they’re unable to scrounge up the gas money to make the trip.
For those who are skeptical, I urge you to take note of the events from the Civil Rights era that come to mind. When I think on it, the images I see are of sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina and bloody marches in Selma, Alabama; I envision Dr. King speaking of his dreams in front of a packed National Mall and I think about the bodies of 3 civil rights workers being buried on a hot Mississippi night during Freedom Summer. At no point do I think about “No Indians or Dogs Allowed signs” in Wyoming during the 1960s or the Occupation of Wounded Knee, because these things aren’t part of our mainstream narrative of civil rights in America.
They aren’t part of our narrative, but they should be. Civil rights movements are not mutually exclusive and there is no cause too remote or removed from our personal experience to be fought. Many of us may not live near a reservation or interact with American Indians in our daily lives, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold ourselves as responsible for their voting rights as we do any other race or ethnicity. First and foremost, voter discrimination is not a southern problem; nor is it an African-American problem, a Latino problem or an American Indian problem. It is an American problem and it’s about time we treated it as such.
It is not my intent to diminish the import or significance of the McCutcheon v FEC decision. Obviously, this court composition has shown itself to be happy to adjudicate cases erring on the side of pure Juris prudence even when in opposition to precedence. I have an opinion on that, but my current point is that THAT DISCUSSION about the make-up, activism, and bias of the court is not the story of democracy.
Let’s engage in an exercise where we actually break down the logic in the ways that we are taught as policy analyst rather than resorting to emotional reactions based on a basic mistrust of money. I am in favor of laws requiring full disclosure of donors and sources of sponsorship. Yet, I am not with those who lament that the latest Supreme Court decision on related to campaign finance spells doom to our democracy. My analysis pivots on two questions. First, what is the fundamental activity of our democracy? Second, how do we operationalize that fundamental activity?
These two questions are important because their answers demonstrate the perspective guiding those who answer. I am in favor of a perspective that recognizes how grassroots organizing carries the day beyond political ads and fundraising dinners. The bottom line is that if the candidates I support are upset because they are outmatched by the money, they have lost sight of the equation that 3.2 million dollars from one donor is matched with $1 from 3.2 million individuals. I will wait while you make the larger realization… 3.2 million individuals offer a greater voting block—the core of democracy—when compared to the money of one individual.
What is the fundamental activity of our democracy? It is the right and responsibility of every citizen to vote. Universally across the country, the voting experience is a private, unencumbered activity between an individual citizen and a ballot. In some polling places, the action is still shrouded in a booth with a physical curtain separating the voter from the influences of the world outside.
We must not lose sight of this fundamental activity. As policy analysts, we see content analysis as our opportunity to examine McCutcheon v FEC for its literal content. The decision limits the ability of the government to set limits on the contributions of any one citizen to a political campaign. Any argument based on the content of the decision necessarily sets up agreement or disagreement with governmental powers. We can have that discussion, even that disagreement, but the content of the case must not be a proxy for other discussions. The content of this case was not about corruption–bribery of elected officials. As shown in other criminal cases, most recently the verdict concerning Ray Nagin, the former New Orleans mayor, money accepted by elected officials in order to provide unfair advantage to donors remains illegal.
How do we operationalize that fundamental activity of democracy? We have to activate our abilities as citizens within our sphere of influence. Get involved at whatever level you are comfortable with. Then, challenge yourself to act beyond that level of comfort. Every phone call, every presentation, every door you knock on, every check you write counteracts the money spent. We have to educate ourselves, inform others, mobilize voters, and construct the narrative.
As policy analysts, we see process analysis a our chance to examine what the McCutcheon case will mean in practice. This is where every citizen has real opportunity. One characteristic that separates the wealthy from the middle and poor is their political activity. Wealthy folks, certainly for a number of reasons, are more politically active. Yet, as far back as Howard Dean fundraising and as recently as Obama 2008, we are witness to what well-organized, grassroots campaigns with dedicated volunteers can do.
This case is a good example. Keep in mind, according to the NY Times, 43 percent of the 1% are non-republican. Republican-leaning citizens making more than $500,000 per year are deficit over economy focused, comfortable with more non-government solutions, and active in politics. We cannot allow the faulty logic of money amplifying one opinion over another to mask the reality that we each have a way to provide alternatives to those highly financed voices. We can vote. What’s more, we can support the vote of others. Not just the right, but the actual activity. Realize what the NY Times revealed about those with money. They are politically active, and that activity is not confined only to making contributions. They support others to make contributions, but they also make phone calls, host dinners, message friends, and speak within their venues of influence. Do not fail to realize the reality that those venues have fewer people in attendance than the other 99% of venues.
Granted, the Citizens United decision allowed for contributions from corporations. Granted, this McCutcheon decision increases limits for individuals. Still, I would like to think that people make their decisions about who to elect based on merits and research rather than political ads and billboards. I am further willing to ensure that reality through informing others. I will reiterate my appeal that we support disclosure so that we know where the money comes from and who all the donors are.
Please do not acquiesce to the position that the people, all of us, are less powerful than the relatively few, extremely wealthy individuals. Once we give in to that view, it ceases to matter what the law is. At that point, we have relinquished our greatest power– to organize ourselves.
The Supreme Court struck a blow to efforts preventing racial discrimination in voting as a result of Shelby v Holder coming before the high court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (the “coverage formula”), which determines which parts of the country are covered by Section 5 of the Act. Section 5 requires those “covered” jurisdictions (the jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination, and which continue to demonstrate discriminatory behavior) to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before making any change in law that would affect voting. The Court said the formula used to decide which parts of the country are “covered” is unconstitutional, so for now there are no covered jurisdictions. The Court has created a result in which Section 5 cannot be applied anywhere.
When the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized in 2006, Congress compiled thousands of pages of evidence that voting discrimination was still happening in the jurisdictions identified in the coverage formula. It was on this strong evidence that Congress decided to continue the application of Section 5 to the jurisdictions identified by Section 4.
Chief Justice Roberts authored the majority opinion which ignored all of the evidence compiled by Congress in its 2006 decision reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. Instead, the Chief Justice wrongly focused on the reasons that justified the coverage formula in 1965—reasons that were not the justifications used in 2006. The majority opinion repeatedly discussed the injury to equal state sovereignty created by having only certain jurisdictions be subject to Section 5. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress did not adequately connect the coverage formula to current political realities. This position makes no sense when viewed with the evidence of recent voting discrimination in covered jurisdictions. The Court also departed from its standard deference to Congress—the elected officials that are best equipped to determine what kinds of voting rights protections are still necessary.
Justice Ginsberg drafted a powerful dissenting opinion, pointing out the flaws in the majority’s reasoning. The dissent also lifted up some of the stories of devastating discrimination in voting, including the significantly higher rate of successful cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in covered jurisdictions. She pointed out the error of halting Section 5 protections because they have been so effective. Indeed, she noted that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Still, hope remains. The majority opinion noted that “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.” Section 5 still stands, but Congress must act quickly to enact a new coverage formula, as the Court suggests. Protecting the right to vote is a bipartisan goal, and voting rights advocates will be pushing Congress to do the right thing—to restore the Voting Rights Act and respect the right of every American to participate in the political process.
Read the Shelby v Holder Supreme Court Case in Full:
Michigan LGBT couples receive more good news. U.S. District Court Judge David S. Lawson, ruled that a law banning school districts and local governments from offering health benefits to domestic partners of public employees was unconstitutional. The law, signed by Governor Snyder in 2011, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
Although the state of Michigan had enacted an amendment in 2004 banning gay marriage, recent developments with the Supreme Court striking down DOMA, coupled with other litigation efforts, and the swaying of public opinion towards supporting marriage equality, may exert the right amount of public pressure to get a measure on the ballot to repeal the 2004 amendment in 2016. The image below, created and circulated by Equality Michigan, illustrates the shifting public opinion of Michigan residents in support of marriage equality. The shifting of the public opinion in Michigan, reflects the national shift of opinion in support of marriage equality.
The striking down of the domestic partner benefits ban is just one example of how the Supreme Court’s decisions last week may affect the litigation efforts of LGBT couples across the country. It will be interesting to see how federal judges continue to rule on cases questioning the constitutionality of gay marriage bans.
According to the Huffington Post:
Devin Schindler, a constitutional law expert at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, said the judge still could make a ruling without a trial, after lawyers further develop the case through depositions, if necessary, in the weeks ahead.
The Michigan attorney general’s office said it was disappointed that Friedman didn’t dismiss the lawsuit but added: “We look forward to aggressively defending Michigan’s constitution.” Read Full Article
Across the nation, supporters of LGBTQ legislation joined Edie Windsor of New York in celebrating the Supreme Court ruling to repeal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) in a 5-4 vote. On November 9th, 2009, Edie Windsor sued the federal government after being taxed $363,000 after the death of her spouse Thea Spyer in 2009.
For those who are not familiar with DOMA , it is a piece of legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 as a way to define and protect the institution of marriage. It was meant to establish a Federal definition of: (1) "marriage" as only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife; and (2) "spouse" as only a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.
Section three of DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages between gay or lesbian couples despite a legal marriage certificate within their state. Meaning these couples could not benefit from federal programs including healthcare and spousal supports, therefore limiting the rights of LGBTQ families.
What does it mean now that DOMA has been repealed?
The federal government now recognizes legal marriages of same sex couples.
Binational couples will now have the ability to sponsor United States residency for their partners.
Military families will now receive military health insurance, relocation assistance, and surviving spousal benefits.
Health insurance and pension protections are now available for deferral employees’ spouses.
Social security benefits will now be accessible for widows/widowers.
Joint income tax filing and exemption from federal state taxes.
Also in California, Proposition 8 has also been ruled unconstitutional. The Proposition 8 decision now eliminates the confusion that plagued same sex couples since being legalized and then banned in 2008.
Chief Justice Roberts writes: “We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.” If you think there is a little disconnect here — the U.S. government didn’t defend DOMA in the Windsor case yet the court ruled in that case — you have a point. But this only serves to reinforce the new ground rules in same-sex marriage: We still don’t know whatstates can and cannot do regarding their own same-sex marriage laws. Read More…
What Does the Future Hold?
Although there is now recognition on the federal level, many states are still struggling with marriage equality. Currently, 13 states now acknowledge same sex marriage, and over 30 states ban it. There is still work to be done.
On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down what some consider to be one of the most important parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4, is the part of the Voting Rights Act that was designed to protect minority and vulnerable voting demographics from being targeted in voter suppression efforts. The formula included in this section subjected many states and jurisdictions, primarily in the south, to federal oversight regarding changes in elections laws, and redistricting maps. The overall reasoning behind the court’s decision to strike down the section can be summed up best by Chief Justice Roberts as quoted in NBC News:
Roberts cited census data showing that black voter turnout now exceeds white turnout in five of the six states originally covered by the law.
“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Read Full Article
The Court’s decision ultimately said congress needs to determine a more updated formula for determining which states would be required to get preclearance as outlined by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. At first glance, the decision doesn’t appears to recognize the progress that has been made in the past 48 years when the bill was first enacted. Why not reevaluate the way preclearance states are determined. However let’s look deeper at the issue.
The republican controlled house and democratic controlled senate cannot seem to find common ground on anything. The house is busy debating unconstitutional regulations on women’s reproductive health and further voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This current climate prevents them from exerting energy on important and pressing issues that polls have shown are in the forefront of the American people’s minds on issues such as comprehensive background checks, Immigration reform, the student debt crisis, and the country’s unsteady economy. Congress could come together now and decide on a new formula to protect some of the most vulnerable individuals in the country from efforts to suppress their votes. However, this option does not seem remotely possible.
Secondly, should congress actively take up the job of developing a new formula for pre-clearance while many states will be free to move forward with legislation changing voting laws that disproportionately affect minority and vulnerable populations without having them checked by the Department of Justice. Research shows that States with pending voter ID legislation would disproportionately affect minority, senior, and student voters. Proposed legislation seeks to shorten early voting, do away with same day registration, and/or other measures that ultimately restrict voting access. Many of the states can now push forward with their conservative cooked up legislation without barriers.
The full implications of the Supreme Court’s decision is difficult to determine, and ultimately Congress does have the ability to develop a new measure to protect these vulnerable populations from discriminatory voting law changes. However, it is highly unlikely. As far as the court’s ruling, Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. supported striking section 4 from the Voting Rights Act, and Justices Ruth Bader, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
Community organizing is even more critical after the United States Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key provision from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 earlier today. Voting rights suffered an unnecessary setback with the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder (June 25, 2013). Section 5 is a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which requires certain jurisdictions, identified in Section 4 of the Act, to get preclearance before implementing any changes affecting voting. In an opinion not consistent with decades of Supreme Court precedent, this Court struck down Section 4 deemed the coverage formula which determined which states and counties had to obtain preclearance before changing its voting laws. Without the coverage formula, states with histories of discriminatory voting practices do not have to consult with the Department of Justice before changing its voting laws. The Court has effectively removed any barriers preventing re-implementation of legislation that prejudices the voting rights of vulnerable populations.
How Can I Help
One of the most important elements of Section 5 is the notification requirements and comment processes the Voting Rights Act established and the centralized flow of information through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Since the implementation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions had to seek input from affected minority voters, and submit information about the proposed change to DOJ. They are no longer required to do so. Now, organizations on the ground will need to develop a procedure for collecting and disseminating this vital information.
Voting rights advocates and communities still have options for challenging discriminatory voting laws, but they’ll have to be more proactive in bringing those challenges. We can no longer rely on the Section 5 process. Grassroots community organizers should begin by identifying voting rights experts and attorneys that have the capacity to help challenge bad voter laws. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is one of those resources in many areas, and we can refer you to resources in geographic areas we don’t have the capacity to help. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is critical: we need community organizations on the ground to track changes and potential changes in voting laws. There are jurisdictions who will try to pass bad changes under the radar. Develop a plan to have your representatives at county commission, school board and city council meetings, so that you can be aware of proposed changes. Develop relationships with county boards of elections so that you will have another avenue for notification of changes to election laws. Identify any changes to voting laws that may have already been enacted, but were not yet implemented because of Section 5. Also, identify when those changes may become effective and establish a reporting system for immediate dissemination.
Working with the voting rights experts and attorneys you’ve identified at either SCSJ and other groups. Develop a mechanism for communicating potential changes in voting laws. Attorneys will need to file lawsuits and seek preliminary injunctions and seek rulings from courts halting the implementation of bad voting laws. But we can’t file those lawsuits unless we know about the changes. Decide on a plan for conveying information about changes in law.
The best way to fight back against changes that will be detrimental to voters of color is to elect officials who will be respectful of voting rights which means voter registration and Get Out The Vote work is even more critical. Let potential voters know their voting rights are at stake. Let’s get them registered and make sure they cast their vote on Election Day!
For Information on North Carolina Voter ID Laws, view below:
After opening arguments at the US Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it appears the landmark civil rights legislation is in trouble. Justice Antonin Scalia called the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement” which drew large criticism from onlookers as well as other Supreme Court Justices. This statement is especially polarizing after Desiline Victor, the 102 year old African-American woman, who was in line for six hours to vote in the presidential election 2012. Many Americans, both white and of color, were outraged at the voter restriction legislation put in place by Republican led legislatures in order to reduce democratic turnout in battleground states. Democratic voters of all ages and color went out in record numbers to vote with a vengeance. President Obama won 11 out of 12 battleground states with the exception of North Carolina which was lost with less than 100,000 votes.
Despite a popular vote win with 2.6 million votes over Mitt Romney, many state legislatures retained Republican control or gained a Republican super-majority which means the House, Senate, and Governor are controlled by the GOP. Did the massive lines single to Republicans that the American people will not stand for voter restrictions laws? No, it only singled to them that their plan is working which may bring them the desired effect in another 10 years which is a gerrymandered federal election. The GOP has utilized think tanks for decades planning not only for the next four to 8 years. They were planning for the next forty years to return this country back to the status quo of whites only making decisions and running all levels of government as well as the private sector.
The civil rights movement occurred because it was a joint effort between whites and people of color, and the GOP did not plan for another mass exodus of White Americans in Election 2012 who have embraced equality and diversity for all in this great country. It’s time for progressives to do more than sign petitions and starting strategically planning for the next couple of decades to restore a balance of power back to our local governments and state legislatures. Will the US Supreme Court seek retribution for the right after upholding the Affordable Health Care Act as constitutional? Stay tuned for the summer block buster for diversity and equality with both DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and Voter’s Rights Act of 1965 before the Supreme Court.