Stacey Abrams’s Fight for a Fair Vote

From today’s New Yorker Magazine:

mong the many issues currently polarizing American politics—abortion, climate change, health care, immigration, gun control—one of the most consequential tends to be one of the least discussed. The American electorate, across the country, is diversifying ethnically and racially at a rapid rate. Progressives, interpreting the shift to mean that, following traditional paths, the new voters will lean Democratic, see a political landscape that is turning blue. Conservatives apparently see the same thing, because in recent years many of them have supported policies, such as voter-I.D. laws and voter-roll purges, that have disproportionately affected people of color.

The issue has become more pressing with the approach of the 2020 Presidential election. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that federal judges do not have the power to address partisan gerrymandering, even when it creates results that “reasonably seem unjust.” Last month, President Donald Trump was finally forced to abandon his effort to add, in defiance of another Court ruling, a citizenship question to the census—an idea that Thomas B. Hofeller, the late Republican strategist who promoted it, believed would aid the G.O.P. in further redistricting. But, days later, the President was telling four American women of color, all elected members of the House of Representatives, to “go back” to where they came from.

The nation got a preview of the battle for the future of electoral politics last year, in Georgia’s gubernatorial race. The Republican candidate was declared the winner by a margin of less than two percentage points: fifty-five thousand votes out of nearly four million cast—a record-breaking total for a midterm election in the state. Many Georgians, though, still use the terms “won” and “lost” advisedly, not only because the Democrat never technically conceded but also because of the highly irregular nature of the contest. The Republican, Brian Kemp, was Georgia’s secretary of state, and in that role he presided over an election marred by charges of voter suppression; the Democrat, Stacey Abrams, has become the nation’s most prominent critic of that practice.

Although she has only recently come to wide attention, Abrams, a forty-five-year-old tax attorney, romance novelist, and former state representative, has been working on electoral reform—particularly on voter registration—in Georgia for some fifteen years. In that regard, some Georgians view her campaign as a success; she won more votes than any Democrat has ever won for statewide office. Georgia is representative of the nation’s demographic changes. The population is 10.5 million, and, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it was 57.5 per cent white in 2008, fell to 54.2 per cent white in 2018, and will be 53.6 per cent white next year. It will be majority-minority by 2033. Democratic leaders from red states in the South and beyond with shifting populations—they include the Presidential candidates Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, and former Representative Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso, Texas, as well as the former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who is considering a second run for the U.S. Senate, in Mississippi—have examined Abrams’s campaign to see how they might adopt its strategies. Espy described his discussion with her as “a graduate course in politics.”

Read the complete article here.

Trump won key union workers in 2016. Will Scalia as labor secretary change that for 2020?

From PBS Newshour Online:

To critics, the nomination of a labor secretary who built his career fighting unions underscores a President Donald Trump’s attacks against organized labor.

But for Trump, it seems appointing Eugene Scalia is a way to continue taking on unions through deregulation and business-centric policies without alienating rank and file union members in key states he’ll need to win reelection in 2020.

The president’s pick, which he announced on Twitter but has not officially submitted to the Senate, also shows Trump’s willingness to push the boundaries on who makes a suitable labor nominee, compared to past Republican administrations.

In the past, “Republicans tended to choose businessmen” to lead the Department of Labor, said Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University. “Often they were businessmen who had dealings with unions. But [they] were not anti-union.”

Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, appears to be a departure from that norm.

Scalia is a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Gibson Dunn, where he focuses on labor and employment issues. As an attorney, he has worked on behalf of Walmart, Ford, UPS and a host of other companies in lawsuits fighting against workers’ rights claims. He also served a brief stint as the Labor Department’s solicitor in 2002.

Some union leaders argued Scalia is also more extreme than Trump’s past appointments for the cabinet position. Scalia is Trump’s third pick for labor secretary. Businessman Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration after it was reported that he had hired an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper. Former prosecutor Alex Acosta served as labor secretary for two years before resigning earlier this month after coming under scrutiny for his role in a 2008 plea deal for financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is facing charges of sex trafficking.

Read the complete article here.

Trump administration gives up fight over citizenship question on the census

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

The Trump administration, abruptly switching course, has decided to give up its fight to add a question about citizenship to next year’s census. Word of the decision to give up the fight came initially in an email from a Justice Department attorney to the lawyers who had challenged the administration in court. The email announced the decision to begin printing census forms without the controversial question.

Administration officials did not dispute the authenticity of the email, but declined additional immediate comment. A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed the decision to print the census forms without the citizenship query.

The Supreme Court last week blocked the administration’s effort to add the question on citizenship to the census, saying Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the Census Bureau, had not provided an honest answer for why he wanted to make the move.

But the 5-4 ruling by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. gave the administration a chance to start over and try to come up with a new rationale for adding the question for the first time in decades.

As recently as Monday, President Trump had repeated his insistence that the census should include a question about citizenship. After the high court’s decision, he had publicly called for delaying the census.

Read the complete article here.

Supreme Court decides federal judges cannot block gerrymandering

From today’s CNBC Online:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that federal courts may not block gerrymandering in a 5-4 decision that fell along partisan lines.

The court also ruled, in a separate high-profile case decided Thursday, that the Trump administration’s reasoning for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census was insufficient, effectively blocking the question for now.

On the final day of decisions before the court’s summer recess, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinions of the court in both cases.

The closely watched case on a charged political matter comes in the midst of the 2020 presidential election. The decision was met with scorn by some Democrats running for president, including former vice president Joe Biden, and a sharp dissent from the liberal justices.

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Roberts wrote in the redistricting case. He said those asking the top court to block gerrymandered districts effectively sought “an unprecedented expansion of judicial power.”

“Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions,” he wrote.

The court’s decision prompted a fierce reply from its liberal wing. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

“Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one,” Kagan wrote. “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”

Read the complete article here.

Trump Is Urged to Fire Kellyanne Conway for Hatch Act Violations

From today’s New York Times:

An independent government agency recommended on Thursday that President Trump fire Kellyanne Conway, his White House counselor, for repeated violations of an ethics law barring partisan politics from the federal workplace.

In a letter accompanying a report to Mr. Trump, the agency called Ms. Conway a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in campaign politics at work, saying that her flagrant defiance of the law justified her dismissal from the White House.

“As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” said the letter to the president, signed by Henry J. Kerner, the head of the agency. “Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”

The agency, called the Office of Special Counsel, enforces the Hatch Act and is not related to Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Despite its official mission, the office has no power to force Ms. Conway’s dismissal, and the White House quickly made clear that Mr. Trump would not follow its suggestion.

Read the complete article here.

FACT CHECK: Foreign Interference And ‘Opposition Research’ Are Not The Same

From today’s NPR News Online:

President Trump has conflated an infamous practice in and among political campaigns — “opposition research” — with foreign election interference like that launched by Russia against the United States in 2016.

Are they the same thing? Is foreign interference just a kind of “oppo research,” as Trump said in an interview with ABC?

The short answer: No. Oppo research is part of politics. But the law prohibits American political campaigns from taking “a contribution or donation of money or any other thing of value” from foreigners. The ban isn’t limited to money, as Justice Department investigators wrote.

The long answer: Trump told ABC News that essentially every political candidate is willing to accept information that could be of use against an opponent.

“You go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it. They always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called ‘oppo research,’ ” he said.

What’s the difference?

Opposition research is what campaigns and political operatives use against each other. If one candidate running for office dug up a story about something embarrassing her opponent had done, the first candidate might bundle it together and see that it found its way into the newspaper.

Active measures

In 2016, however, the Russian government also launched a broad wave of “active measures” from outside the U.S. and used sophisticated tools found only in the arsenal of a major government. Its ultimate goal was to help elect Trump.

Trump’s campaign counted on the boost it got from WikiLeaks in 2016, according to the report by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. Donald Trump Jr. also accepted the offer of a meeting, via intermediaries, to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Read the complete article here.

Deceased G.O.P. Strategist’s Hard Drives Reveal New Details on the Census Citizenship Question

From today’s New York Times:

Thomas B. Hofeller achieved near-mythic status in the Republican Party as the Michelangelo of gerrymandering, the architect of partisan political maps that cemented the party’s dominance across the country.

But after he died last summer, his estranged daughter discovered hard drives in her father’s home that revealed something else: Mr. Hofeller had played a crucial role in the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.

Those documents, cited in a federal court filing Thursday by opponents seeking to block the citizenship question, have emerged only weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the citizenship question. Critics say adding the question would deter many immigrants from being counted and shift political power to Republican areas.

Read the complete article here.

Federal court: Michigan political maps illegally rigged to ‘historical proportions’

From today’s Detroit News:

Michigan must redraw legislative and congressional districts for the 2020 election because current maps drawn by Republicans represent a political gerrymander “of historical proportions,” a three-judge federal panel ruled Thursday.

The blockbuster ruling — which a GOP leader said the party will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court — requires Michigan to conduct special state Senate elections for certain seats next year, cutting in half the four-year terms that current lawmakers are now serving. 

The “predominate purpose” of the redistricting plan approved by the Michigan Legislature in 2011 “was to subordinate the interests of Democratic voters and entrench Republicans in power,” said the unanimous decision written by U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton.

“Therefore, the enacted plan constitutes a durable partisan gerrymander” that violates the First and 14th Amendment rights of plaintiff voters, the court concluded.

The panel is giving the Republican-led House and Senate until Aug. 1 to redraw the maps and get them signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The judges said they want all the parties and processes used in the redistricting process to be made public, including any alternative plans that the Legislature rejects.

If state officials do not finalize new maps by then, the federal court would draw new boundaries itself and could appoint a special master to do so. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Michigan and some aggrieved Democrats. The complaint was eventually narrowed down to target 34 of the state’s 162 congressional and legislative districts that would need to be redrawn, along with any bordering districts they impact. 

Read the complete article here.

Interior nominee David Bernhardt’s ethics problems aren’t going away

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump’s pick to the lead the Interior Department heads for a confirmation vote as early as Thursday, with his career as a lobbyist raising ethical and legal concerns and doubts about his independence from the energy and water industry groups he long represented.

Acting Secretary David Bernhardt spent about eight years as a partner in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, one of the nation’s top-grossing law and lobbying firms, according to public rankings. There he represented energy, mining and Western water interests that deal with the Interior Department, including two California entities, Westlands Water District — the nation’s largest irrigation district — and Cadiz Inc.

Bernhardt’s firm sued the department four times on Westlands’ behalf. He personally argued one appeals case challenging federal endangered species protections for imperiled salmon. He did legal work for Cadiz, which wants to build a water pipeline on a railroad right of way that crosses federal land in the California desert.

When Bernhardt was confirmed as deputy secretary in 2017, he had to sign the administration’s ethics pledge and recuse himself from participating in “particular matters” involving more than two dozen former clients. Some of the recusals were effective for two years, others for one. In the last year, he has helped put policies in place that benefit businesses he once represented as a lobbyist.

Read the complete article here.

Kavanaugh Seems Conflicted About Gerrymandering at SCOTUS Arguments

From today’s NPR News Online:

The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided on the question of whether there’s any limit on what the courts can impose on partisan redistricting, also known as gerrymandering, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the newest member of the court, appearing at least somewhat conflicted.

“I took some of your argument in the briefs and the amicus briefs to be that extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy,” Kavanaugh told the lawyers arguing the case, “and I’m not going to dispute that.”

On Tuesday, the court considered challenges to congressional district maps in North Carolina, drawn by Republicans, and in Maryland, drawn by Democrats.

The question of how political boundaries are drawn has taken on increasing importance for both parties over the past decade.

After the 2010 midterms, Republicans used their control of many state legislatures to draw favorable congressional maps for the GOP. An analysis this month by the Associated Press found that Republicans very likely won about 16 more House seats last fall than they would have been expected to based on their share of the vote owing to those lines. Still, Democrats did win control of the House.

Read the complete article here.