Nel's New Day

October 18, 2014

Supreme Court Decision on Texas Voting Rewards GOP Candidates

About 600,000 Texans won’t be voting in Texas on November 4, thanks to today’s Supreme Court ruling. At least five nine justices voted to permit the voter photo ID law to be in effect on that day. A federal judge had struck down the law last week, but the 5th Circuit Court put the lower ruling on hold, leaving the law in effect. After an appeal, the highest court ruled, without comment and indication of how justices voted, to agree with the circuit court. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, saying they would have left the district court decision in place allowing people to vote.

Ginsburg wrote:

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

In her 143-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos called the law an “unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.” She found the law a deliberate discrimination against the state’s minority voters and described the requirement an equivalent to a poll tax. Ginsburg said that a full trial in district court found that the law was “enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would yield a prohibited discriminatory result.”

Ramos also wrote:

“Based on the testimony and numerous statistical analyses provided at trial, this Court finds that approximately 608,470 registered voters in Texas, representing approximately 4.5% of all registered voters, lack qualified SB 14 ID and of these, 534,512 voters do not qualify for a disability exemption.”

The rationale from the majority of the Supreme Court for leaving the law is that it would inconvenience those running the election because it is so close to Election Day. According to the current majority of the Supreme Court, it’s better to stop a minor inconvenience than allow over one-half million people to vote.

Regarding the majority opinion, Ginsburg wrote:

“There is little risk that the District Court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral process. Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years [from 2003 to 2013] and in five federal general elections.”

Ginsburg echoed Ramos’ findings:

“The potential magnitude of racially discriminatory voter disenfranchisement counseled hesitation before disturbing the District Court’s findings and final judgment. Bill 14 may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification. A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic.”

She added that “racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”

Texas officials tried to justify their actions by claiming that all eligible voters are able to get a photo ID. Ginsburg, however, pointed out that any cost of getting the mandated ID, even $2, is an unconstitutional barrier to voting. She wrote in her dissent:

“For some voters, the imposition is not small. A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other States may be required to pay substantially more than that.”

Over two-thirds of eligible voters may have to travel three hours or more round-trip to the nearest government office where they can get photo IDs and need a certified birth certificate costing $22, according to Ginsburg. Although the state offers one for $2 or $3 that is used only for election purposes, it has not publicized this option on election or birth certificate websites.

Ginsburg pointedly added:

“Racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”

Attorney General for Texas, Greg Abbott, has vigorously fought for the photo ID law that keeps minorities, largely assumed to be Democrats from voting in this year’s election. Abbott is also the GOP candidate for governor.

This was the first time in over 30 years that the Court has allowed enforcement of a law restricting voters’ rights after a federal court ruled it to be unconstitutional because it intentionally discriminated against minorities.

A new study by two University of Delaware professors and a Pennsylvania high school student found that white people are more likely to support photo IDs laws after being shown a picture of a black voter than when they see a picture of a white voter. Black and Hispanic respondents were about equal in their support or opposition to a photo ID law no matter what person was in the picture. This research matches studies showing that whites are more likely to support harsh criminal justice policies if they see pictures of or hear statistics about black prisoners. In 2012, the Brennan Center for Justice found that blacks and Hispanics are less likely to have photo IDs than a cross-section of people in the United States.

None of the courts ruling on photo ID this month has addressed the issue on a constitutional basis. That will happen after this year’s federal election. The question is whether courts will permit the laws if there is no basis for them. With cases of voter fraud being one in every 14.6 million people in the U.S., there is no reason for such draconian laws. The question is whether legislatures can pass laws to cover problems that don’t exist. If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?” asked Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the dissent in the 5-5 decision for the 7th Circuit Court. After a three-judge panel held that the Wisconsin photo IDs for voting could go into effect, Posner asked for the entire court to hear the case. The court ruled 5-5, meaning that the panel’s decision, which the Supreme Court later overturned, stayed in effect.

Posner also pointed that the Supreme Court had once ruled in favor of photo ID for voters because they supposedly increased voters’ confidence in elections. Studies, including a Harvard Law Review study, refutes the idea that photo ID laws promote public confidence. It revealed that “perceptions of voter-impersonation fraud are unrelated to the strictness of a state’s voter ID.” When Commonwealth Judge Bernard L. McGinley struck down Pennsylvania’s photo ID law, he determined that “implementation of the voter ID law in a manner that disenfranchises qualified electors will undermine the integrity of elections.” In short, these oppressive laws erode confidence in the voting system.

Voting laws across the nation vary greatly. Ohio’s constitution prohibits “idiots” from voting. Casting your ballot in Alabama can’t take longer than five minutes. Texas will let you vote with a gun license but not a student ID. Some people in Arizona can vote for federal candidates but not state ones if they lack the appropriate ID. Thirty-three states have restrictions on voting with new ones in 22 of these. Almost half the country will have a much harder time in trying to carry out their constitutional right in 17 days than four years ago.

Four years ago, when the Tea Party took over the House, it was seen as a mandate from the people. This year, any conservative votes can be seen as the control of GOP legislators and GOP-leaning judges. And the control of the white people.

September 29, 2014

SCOTUS: Future, Ginsburg Criticisms

Filed under: Elections,Judiciary — trp2011 @ 8:34 PM
Tags: , , ,

On the first day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new session, and the conservative justices are already voiding citizens’ rights, temporarily stopping early voting in Ohio which was scheduled to begin tomorrow. The 5-4  vote to reverse a federal appeals court decision stays in effect until SCOTUS acts on the state officials’ appeal, which has not yet been formally filed. If that is denied, the order lapses. The order could also mean that early voting will not be permitted on most Sundays and after 5: pm, perhaps the only time that low-income people can vote.The ruling may also suppress the vote in Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. (The five conservative justices from left to right: Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy)

supreme court justices What other damage can the conservative Court do in the current session? Ian Millhiser and Nicole Flatow identify major cases and issues for this term:

Pregnancy Discrimination: UPS refused to put Peggy Young on “light duty,” not lifting over 20 pounds, after she got pregnant although the company would have permitted this if she had broken her arm. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals supported UPS, but even pro-life groups object because the decision might cause women to get abortions. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from treating pregnant women differently from other employees who are “similar in their ability, or inability, to work.” Considering the SCOTUS ruling against Lilly Ledbetter’s fair pay lawsuit, pregnancy women are likely to lose.

Racial Gerrymandering: One judge called the method for Alabama’s redrawn legislative districts as “naked ‘racial quotas’” because black voters were packed into a few districts. Considering the Court’s history against voting rights, black voters are likely to lose.

Facebook and the First Amendment: In Elonis v. United States, plaintiff Anthony Elonis threatened to kill his wife on social media: “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die, bitch, so I can bust this nut all over your corpse from atop your shallow grave. I used to be a nice guy but then you became a slut. Guess it’s not your fault you liked your daddy raped you. So hurry up and die, bitch, so I can forgive you.” The wife saw the comments as threatening, but Elonis said he didn’t mean them literally and called it art. A lower court ruled that his words were a “true threat,” but pro-life groups and anti-abortion protesters claim that an objective standard infringes on the First Amendment right to protest.

Religious Liberty in Prison: Abdul Maalik Muhammad is considered a dangerous prisoner. He wants to grow a beard because of his religious beliefs, but Arkansas officials claim that a beard could conceal contraband or weapons.

Israel and Palestine: For almost seven decades, the U.S. has been neutral about Jerusalem as an international city until Congress passed a law in 2002 that passports can list Israel as the birthplace for U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama refused to invoke the law because it interferes with the president’s exclusive authority over American foreign policy.

Cops Apprehending People by Mistake:  North Carolina troopers pulled over Nicholas Heien for having a broken tail light and found cocaine when they searched the car. Because having just one non-working tail light isn’t a state law violation, Heien claimed that the search was invalid because the police had no basis for stopping him. The state Supreme Court upheld the search by 4-3.

Marriage Equality: The question is whether SCOTUS will take a case in which all the federal appeals courts have agreed.

Hobby Lobby Redux: After SCOTUS laid a minefield across the country by ruling that a business can be “religious,” it may feel the need to clarify how far businesses can go to eliminate workers’ ability to obtain birth control coverage—or to commit any other illegal behavior.

Abortion: Several cases on TRAP laws, sham health regulations to restrict access to abortion, are in the federal court system. In its last term SCOTUS agreed to hear a case concerning whether a state may enact a law that restricted access to medication abortion. The Court dismissed the case before reaching the merits. With many new anti-abortion laws at the state level, SCOTUS may tackle the issue.

Affordable Care Act: The federal courts currently have consensus in accepting ACA after the decision of two judges ruling against the health care law were withdrawn because the full appeals court decided to hear the case. Politics, however, may cause the four conservative judges to take on a case in this area.

At least one of those four judges, possibly Chief Justice John Roberts, may realize that taking on cases without federal court dissension opens up the Court to further charges of putting politics before the law and diminish the prestige of the highly unpopular court. In his confirmation he promised promising an age of apolitical comity. “It’s a high priority to keep any kind of partisan divide out of the judiciary as well,” Roberts said.

As Garrett Epps wrote in The Atlantic: 

 “The Supreme Court’s 2013 term began with oral argument in a divisive, highly political case about campaign finance and concluded with two 5-4 decisions of divisive, highly political cases, one about public-employee unions and the other about contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. In all three cases, the result furthered a high-profile objective of the Republican Party. In all three cases, the voting precisely followed the partisan makeup of the Court, with the five Republican appointees voting one way and the four Democratic appointees bitterly dissenting. In all three cases, the chief voted with the hard-right position. By the end of the term, the polarization Roberts had seen in the nation had clearly spread to the Court.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become more and more open in her dissatisfaction of her Court. In an interview with Jeffrey Rosen for The New Republic, she discussed a wide variety of topics:

On differences if Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had stayed on the Court: “She would have been with us in Citizens United, in Shelby County, probably in Hobby Lobby, too…. I think she must be concerned about some of the Court’s rulings, those that veer away from opinions she wrote.”

Regarding former Chief Justice Rehnquist and Roberts: “As to [Roberts’] decisions, there’s not a major shift. I’m hoping that as our current chief gets older, he may end up the way Rehnquist did when he wrote for the Court upholding the Family and Medical Leave Act. That’s a decision you wouldn’t have believed he would ever write when he joined the Court in the early 70s. Chief Justice Rehnquist also decided that, as much as he disliked the Miranda decision, it had become police culture and he wasn’t going to overrule it.”

Regarding the 60 percent of the cases that were unanimous: “That figure is deceptive because of the disagreement among people who joined the ultimate judgment. In some of the leading cases, those disagreements were marked. For example, the recess-appointment case. The Court was unanimous that Obama’s appointments to the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] were invalid, but divided on the first two questions posed in that case: Does the president have the authority to exercise the recess power when Congress takes an intra-session recess or only when the recess occurs between sessions of Congress? The second question was, when must the vacancy occur? Must it occur during the recess? Or can the president fill up vacancies that existed before the recess? Those are questions of major importance and the Court divided sharply on the answers.”

Worst ruling of the current Court: “If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be. So that’s number one on my list. Number two would be the part of the health care decision that concerns the commerce clause. Since 1937, the Court has allowed Congress a very free hand in enacting social and economic legislation. I thought that the attempt of the Court to intrude on Congress’s domain in that area had stopped by the end of the 1930s. Of course health care involves commerce. Perhaps number three would be Shelby County, involving essentially the destruction of the Voting Rights Act. That act had a voluminous legislative history. The bill extending the Voting Rights Act was passed overwhelmingly by both houses, Republicans and Democrats, everyone was on board. The Court’s interference with that decision of the political branches seemed to me out of order. The Court should have respected the legislative judgment. Legislators know much more about elections than the Court does. And the same was true of Citizens United. I think members of the legislature, people who have to run for office, know the connection between money and influence on what laws get passed.”

Overturning Roe v. Wade: “Women who can’t pay are the only women who would be affected…. It will take people who care about poor women… There is no big constituency out there concerned about access restrictions on poor women.”

About her dissents: “Sometimes one must be forceful about saying how wrong the Court’s decision is.”

The full interview is here.

August 3, 2014

Hobby Lobby Won’t Go Away

The memory of most Supreme Court rulings fade fairly fast, but the Hobby Lobby decision is still in the media more than a month after the Supreme Court eroded women’s reproductive rights by declaring that corporations have religious rights. A prediction that the ruling might lead to dire circumstances is beginning to bear fruit:.

The Satanic Temple is seeking religious exemption from laws restricting access to abortions, which violate its members’ religious freedom. The basis for their argument is Alito’s statement that religious beliefs can trump scientific fact. When the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed in the early 1990s, far-right Christians were afraid that women’s rights to plan their families might be considered a matter of religious conscience.” The Supreme Court has thrown the door open for this argument.

People shouldn’t have to pay student loans. Interest in the Bible is usury and considered sinful, and all debts must be forgiven every few years in the “Year of Jubilee,” according to the same source. Christians following the Bible shouldn’t be forced to pay interest or return the money after the few years.

Members of the Alabama Public Service Commission have called on the public to pray to God for protection from the new EPA limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Member-elect Chip Beeker asked, “Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” They might be able to sue for relief under the Hobby Lobby sincerely-held religious belief. Arguments from religious beliefs on the opposite side could be that God wants people to be healthy.

The IRS is required to enforce rules banning pastors from endorsing candidates from the pulpit after the Freedom from Religion Foundation won its lawsuit. Although advocating for candidates in church is against the law, the IRS wasn’t stopping the practice. Unfortunately, the court decision in favor of FFRF won’t go into effect immediately because of a current moratorium on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities. Pastors could avoid the law by claiming that churches are only using their “sincerely-held” religious beliefs to campaign for—or against—candidates.

After President Obama announced that he was requiring federal contractors to end job discrimination against LGBT people, religiously affiliated institutions came out of the woodwork, asking for religious exemptions. President Obama declared no exemptions except for the religious exemptions that George W. Bush had earlier allowed. Bush hadn’t included corporations in his exemptions. Yet the president’s order could be overturned for “religious” for-profit corporations because of Hobby Lobby.

Sara Hellwege is suing the Tampa Family Health Centers (TFHC) for not giving her a job interview after she told them that she would not prescribe any hormonal contraction. She claims that the women’s clinic is discriminating against her on the basis of her religion. Hellwegg is demanding $400,000 in damages, $75,000 in fines, and forfeiture of all federal funding until the company stops discrimination—evidently against people who won’t perform the job’s duties.

A  lawsuit on behalf of two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay claims that a definition of corporations as people with religious rights extends to Gitmo detainees. Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan and Emad Hassan of Yemen were prevented from attending communal Ramadan prayer because they were on a hunger strike. Two earlier D.C. Circuit decisions had ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not “persons” under RFRA protection. If Hobby Lobby can exercise religious beliefs under RFRA, then so can these two men, according to their lawyers.

The U.S. Department of Education has continued to grant exemptions to “Christian” universities, allowing them to discriminate against transgender students. According to Title IX, schools cannot receive federal funds, including public student loans and Pell grants, if they discriminate against transgender and gender-nonconforming students—unless they’re religious like George Fox University, Simpson University, and Spring Arbor University. Simpson, for example, cannot “support or encourage” an individual who lives in “conflict with biblical principles.” Spring Arbor has been given permission to discriminate against unwed mothers and punish students for dating someone of the same gender. For-profit corporations will surely want the same “religious” rights as these universities.

These are just a few of the “unintended consequences” that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to in her dissenting opinion. Speaking about the case in an interview with Katie Couric, Ginsburg said that the five men who ruled against women’s rights have a “blind spot” about women’s issues and that they didn’t understand “the ramifications of their decision.” Anyone who considers that these consequences are impossible should consider that people said the same thing about a favorable ruling for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby.

Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling that the Hobby Lobby is a “person” comes from the 1871 Dictionary Act that tried to simplify constitutional language. The statement that such terms as corporations and companies come under the umbrella of “person” was limited by the statement “unless the context indicates otherwise.” Alito’s ruling combined this act with RFRA, but the exemptions in the RFRA are defined as one that “holds itself out as a religious organization.” Hobby Lobby is not a religious organization: it sells crafts.

RFRA was legislated to protect employees, not employers. It was initiated because of an employer’s prejudice against a non-Christian religion. SCOTUS turned the protection on its head, protecting Christian employers against all employees Christian and non-Christian. An actual human person doesn’t have the ability or right to force everyone around him to abide by the restrictions of his religion, even if those people work for him. but it seems that Hobby Lobby does. By allowing closely held corporations to take on a religious identity, Alito has allowed their owners to impose their religions on the people who work for them.

Ginsburg wrote in her Hobby Lobby dissent:

“Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”

The Hobby Lobby decision is more about ensuring that women will maintain a subservient position in U.S. culture as summarized in Erick Erickson’s tweet: “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer subsidized consequence free sex.” The “consequence” of “free sex” for women can be loss of jobs, loss of education, loss of financial security—in short, loss of everything. Even Hobby Lobby fired a pregnant woman. Men, on the other hand, have no consequence from “free sex.”

Although contraception could put women on a more equal footing with men, the Supreme Court forces many women to buy their own contraception. Hobby Lobby objected to only four types of contraception, but the five male justices “protected” corporations from having insurance for all 20 forms of FDA-approved contraception. When men have “free sex” and women have to pay for it, men retain their power over women.

After the Hobby Lobby decision, male conservatives spent a great deal of time salivating about the thought of all those “slutty” women who were restricted in their access of contraception. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) complained about women using birth control to protect themselves from “recreational behavior.”

Not one of these misogynists mentioned protecting women from uterine cancer or ovarian cysts or anemia or endometriosis or other health problems needing hormonal medication.

As Ginsburg stated, Hobby Lobby begins the practice of preferring some religions over others. Now justices will be “evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims” and “approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodations.” The website for The Becket Fund shows a current list of litigants already taking advantage of Hobby Lobby. These cases have a high cost—women paying a minimum of millions for contraception and taxpayers paying billions for court cases.

The only ray of hope is that Justice Alito decided the case on the basis of a Congressional statute. If the ruling had been constitutional, it could be changed only by a constitutional amendment. As it stands, Congress can fix it by defining “person” and “exercise of religion” in RFRA. With our current dysfunctional and religious-conservative Congress, this ray is only a glimmer.

Sens. Patty Murry (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a bill called “Not My Bosses’ Business Act” to prevent for-profit businesses from dropping birth control coverage. Republicans blocked the bill with only GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mark Kirk (IL), and Susan Collins (ME) voting to move the bill forward. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supported the bill to override the Hobby Lobby decision.  A professional physicians’ association with more than 55,000 members, the group represents 90 percent of board-certified U.S. gynecologists. Their statement explained that “a woman’s boss has no role to play in her personal health care decisions.”

Wooing women with obfuscation, the GOP plans to sponsor a bill stating “no employer can block any employee from legal access to her FDA-approved contraceptives.” Birth control is already legal: Hobby Lobby is about the right of for-profit companies to deny contraception through its insurance.  With the federal government not moving ahead on women’s reproductive rights, states may begin initiating nullification laws against the Hobby Lobby decision.

In the future, a more reasonable Congress might decide that women should have equality in the United States. It’s better than waiting for a constitutional amendment like Citizens United demands.

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