Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled this week that the state of Texas must turn over legislators' emails related to the much-disputed 2011 voter ID law they passed:
According to Texas, 189 state legislators had asserted legislative privilege over the documents to try to prevent this outcome.Plaintiffs in the suit are seeking to learn where there was discriminatory intent on the part of those legislators. Under authority provided by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, federal judges overturned that voter ID law in 2012 because it hurt the poor. But when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Section 4 of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, the earlier ruling became moot and Texas officials implemented the law. The combined lawsuit, however, is being pressed forward under the VRA's Section 2, which the high Court did not gut.
"The motive and intent of the state legislature when it enacted SB 14 is the crux of this Voting Rights Act case," Ramos wrote. "The Court finds that the overall balance of factors weighs in favor of disclosure on a confidential basis."
The order came in a consolidated case, Veasey v. Perry, combining two lawsuits filed last summer by the United States and Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas).
Even if discriminatory intent is found in the emails, Department of Justice attorneys will have argue why they should be admitted into evidence in the case.
• Illinois legislators propose constitutional amendment to block voter suppression: Providing some pushback to the widespread effort to make it hard for certain people to vote, the Illinois House of Representatives voted 109-5 to amend the state constitution to prevent voter suppression "based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, sex, sexual orientation, or income."
The proposed amendment must now pass the state senate.
Although voter suppression isn't a particular problem in Illinois, unlike many other states, House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, told the State Journal-Register: “The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that all citizens have an opportunity to register and vote and to prevent the passage of inappropriate voter-suppression laws and discriminatory voting procedures.”
More on the war on voting can be found below the fold.
• Andrew Young urges Obama to put photos on Social Security Cards: The veteran civil rights leader told President Barack Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter during a three-day "summit" commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act that the national dispute over voter I.D.s could be resolved if the president signed an executive order requiring Social Security cards to include photographs.
"Everybody needs an ID," Young said during a break at a civil rights conference at the Lyndon Johnson presidential library in Austin. [...]Young chairs a non-partisan voting rights group called Why Tuesday? Clinton and Carter seemed amenable to the idea, but the White House offered no response.
Young, a former United Nations ambassador and aide to Martin Luther King Jr., said he's not against photo identification per se, so long "as the cards are free and easily accessible."
While some voting-rights advocates like the idea, at least one Republican hates it. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said in statement:
“This is a really bad idea. The Social Security card is only supposed to be used for Social Security benefits. This idea would make it easy for the federal government to convert the Social Security card into a national identification card.”• Previously covered states moved quickly to restrict voting after Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act decision.
Dana Liebelson at Mother Jones reported that a survey of states the magazine conducted shows that states that were once required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to get pre-clearance from federal authorities for any changes in their voting laws moved swiftly to make changes that no longer must be approved in advance as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of a key provision of the act.
Eight of the 15 previously covered states passed or implemented voting restrictions in the wake of the June 25, 2013, Supreme Court ruling compared to three of 35 states that were not covered under Section 5 of the VRA.
States that were previously covered in some part by Section 5 moved quickly after it was invalidated. Within two hours of the Shelby decision, Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the state's voter identification law—which had previously been blocked by a federal court—would be immediately implemented. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, another Republican, also immediately instated his state's voter ID law. About one month after the Shelby decision, Republicans in North Carolina pushed through a package of extreme voting restrictions, including ending same-day registration, shortening early voting by a week, requiring photo ID, and ending a program that encourages high schoolers to sign up to vote when they turn 18. In October, Virginia purged more than 38,000 names from the voter rolls. Mississippi's Republican secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, told the Associated Press in November that the state was going to start implementing its voter ID law by the June 2014 elections.Other changes, such as Florida's alleged moving a voting center in an African-American neighborhood to one distant from public transportation, have also been implemented since the Court's ruling.
Strict voter identification laws being implemented in some states threaten to reverse the progress made by landmark civil and voting rights legislation passed nearly fifty years ago, former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday.• Arkansas approves rule on absentee ballot identification:
“This is a way of restricting the franchise after 50 years of expanding it,” Clinton said of new voter ID laws that have recently been passed in some states.
Henceforth, absentee voters who do not provide proper I.D. when casting their ballots will have until noon Monday after the election to show authorities that they are who they say they are. The rule overrides an earlier decision by Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying no additional time to show authorities I.D. could be allowed because state law does not provide for it. Absentee voters must also be notified by first class mail that they must submit proper I.D. for their votes to be counted.
• Sen. Cardin introduces bill to restore felons' voting rights: The Maryland senator wants to create a nationwide standard for restoring the rights of felons to vote. Across the nation, states have wildly varying rules regarding this, a few making it next to impossible for such rights to be restored, others make it automatic when a felon completes his or her prison sentence or parole period.
In a press release on Cardin's official website, it is noted that the original co-sponsors of Cardin's proposal, S. 2235, include Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tom Harkin of Iowa. All but the left-independent Sanders are Democrats. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, also a Democrat, introduced comparable legislation in the House. Cardin said:
“When prisoners are released, they are expected to obey the law, get a job, and pay taxes as they seek a fair shot at being rehabilitated and reintegrated into their community. Along with these responsibilities and obligations of citizenship should be the right to vote. The patchwork of state laws leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation in Federal elections based solely on where an individual lives, in addition to the racial disparities inherent in our judicial system. Congress has a responsibility to remedy these problems and enact a nationwide standard for restoration of voting rights.”• Yale Law Professor Heather Gerkin gives some early kudos to the Election Performance Index.