For Former Felons, Voting Rights Could Be a Click Away Thanks to New Website

From today’s Roll Call:

Millions of new voters could register across the country, starting Tuesday, with the launch of an online tool meant to help former felons restore their right to vote.

The Campaign Legal Center’s website, restoreyourvote.org, attempts to guide users through a sometimes confusing jumble of state laws to determine whether past convictions or unpaid fines would keep them from the ballot box.

It is the latest salvo in a growing movement to politically empower formerly incarcerated people, a group that is disproportionately African-American. It is unclear how much of an effect such efforts will have on elections because they are more likely to infuse urban areas that already lean left with more Democratic voters. But organizers have framed the issue as a question of civil rights.

“There is a lot of misinformation, and the laws can be complicated,” said Blair Bowie, a Campaign Legal Center voting rights fellow. “This certainly is an opportunity for people with convictions to assert their voices in elections.”

Read the complete article here.

Under Trump Regime, Sweeping Shift on #VotingRights Undermines Democracy

From today’s New York Times:

A new voter ID law could shut out many Native Americans from the polls in North Dakota. A strict rule on the collection of absentee ballots in Arizona is being challenged as a form of voter suppression. And officials in Georgia are scrubbing voters from registration rolls if their details do not exactly match other records, a practice that voting rights groups say unfairly targets minority voters.

During the Obama administration, the Justice Department would often go to court to stop states from taking steps like those. But 18 months into President Trump’s term, there are signs of change: The department has launched no new efforts to roll back state restrictions on the ability to vote, and instead often sides with them.

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department has filed legal briefs in support of states that are resisting court orders to rein in voter ID requirements, stop aggressive purges of voter rolls and redraw political boundaries that have unfairly diluted minority voting power — all practices that were opposed under President Obama’s attorneys general.

The Sessions department’s most prominent voting-rights lawsuit so far forced Kentucky state officials last month to step up the culling from registration rolls of voters who have moved.

In the national battle over voting rights, the fighting is done in court, state by state, over rules that can seem arcane but have the potential to sway the outcome of elections. The Justice Department’s recent actions point to a decided shift in policy at the federal level: toward an agenda embraced by conservatives who say they want to prevent voter fraud.

Read the complete article here.

How will federal appeals court rule on Florida felon voting rights case?

From today’s Miami Herald:

Yraida Guanipa, a Miami consultant, stood outside the federal appeals court Wednesday morning in downtown Atlanta dressed in a bright orange scarf draped over a smart dark gray suit.

Guanipa has a master’s degree and is working on a doctorate, achievements she has made since her release from prison in 2006.

Despite her academic successes and the creation of a business devoted to helping other families deal with the stain of incarceration, the shame and pain of the 11 years Guanipa served behind bars for drug-related charges persists.

That’s because she can’t vote.

Under a Florida process scrutinized Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Guanipa is one of hundreds of thousands of felons waiting to have their voting rights restored.

“This is another sentencing that is a timeless sentence,” said Guanipa, who was born in Venezuela. “Every time I talk to somebody about I cannot vote, it feels like I’m still incarcerated. It feels like I’m still doing part of the sentence.”

Guanipa is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the Florida Board of Executive Clemency’s process for restoring the right to vote to felons like her who’ve completed their sentences and paid restitution. Gov. Rick Scott, aided by Attorney General Pam Bondi, initiated the revamped process shortly after taking office in 2011.

Read the complete article here.

Voter purge frenzy after federal protections lifted, new report says

From today’s NBC News:

Nine states with a history of racial discrimination are more aggressively removing registered voters from their rolls than other states, according to a report released Friday.

After reviewing voter purges nationally from 2012 to 2016, the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice found that the mostly Southern jurisdictions that had once been required to get changes to voting policies pre-approved by the Justice Department had higher rates of purging than jurisdictions that were not previously subject to pre-clearance.

key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect minority voters from state disenfranchisement, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, allowing states to begin making changes affecting voting without first getting federal approval.

“Two million fewer voters would have been purged over those four years if jurisdictions previously subject to federal pre-clearance had purged at the same rate” as other jurisdictions, the Brennan Center estimated.

In Georgia, for example, 156 of the state’s 159 counties reported an increase in removal rates after the Voting Rights Act was changed. In 2016, advocates sued Georgia for making voter registration harder.In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union sued a Georgia county and the state Secretary of State for its purge practices, too.

“There’s cause for concern when the purge rate goes up this much at the same time we’re seeing controversial, sometimes illegal voter purge practice, in addition to changes to other voting laws that make it more difficult to participate,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and one of the report’s authors.

The Brennan Center’s analysis found that election officials were purging voter rolls more aggressively nationwide, too, with some using imprecise or possibly illegal methods to do so.

Read the complete article here.

Local News: Why Santa Monica is fighting the California Voting Rights Act

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

By Ted Winterer (Santa Monica Mayor) and Gleam Davis (City Council Rep),

The city of Santa Monica received a letter from a Malibu law firm in late 2015 claiming that its at-large election system — in which all voters choose the whole city council — discriminated against Latino residents. We were both on the City Council at the time and found it surprising, not least because the then-mayor was Mexican American.

Still, the letter threatened a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act if the council did not immediately agree to change to district-based elections. It turns out Santa Monica wasn’t alone. Dozens of cities have received similar demand letters — many from the same lawyer — and many have altered their election systems in response.

Santa Monica, however, has decided to fight this lawsuit. Why? Because making electoral changes based on lawsuits instead of the will of voters diminishes rather than enhances voting rights. Equally important, the facts in Santa Monica and the experience of cities elsewhere show that carving the city into districts will not meaningfully enhance local Latino political representation.

The Pico neighborhood is the focus of the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, but the 13% of Santa Monica voters who are Latino live in every part the city. Under our existing at-large election system, Latino candidates have won seats on all of the city’s governing bodies, including two currently serving on the seven-member City Council. As the Los Angeles Times reported, in this kind of racially integrated landscape, a change to district-based elections is unlikely to increase Latino representation.

GrassrootsLab, a consulting firm that specializes in local government politics, studied the electoral outcomes in 22 cities that switched to district elections because of a California Voting Rights Act legal threat. Only seven of the 22 cities saw any increase in Latino elected officials. Indeed, some people are trying to make the case that district elections create their own set of problems. The former mayor of Poway, for instance, in October filed a federal lawsuitarguing that forcing district elections ultimately violates the constitutional rights of other voters.

Santa Monica voters have twice rejected proposals to move to district-based elections, in 1975 and 2002. A district system may work well in larger cities like Los Angeles, but dividing up our 8.3-square-mile community will pit neighborhood against neighborhood, increasing balkanization and encouraging legislative deal-making to serve the interests of individual districts rather than the city as a whole.

Read the complete article here.

Trump’s SCOTUS nominee favors corporations over working Americans

Today’s Press Release from the AFL-CIO:

Working people expect the Supreme Court to be the most fair and independent branch of government in America, yet recent decisions have protected the privileged and powerful at the expense of working people. Decisions by the Court, often by the narrowest of margins, have a dramatic impact on our lives as we recently saw in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 and reinforce the importance of choosing who sits on the Court.

Share this graphic and reject Judge Brett Kavanaugh because we simply cannot have another Justice on the Court who sides with corporations over America’s working families.

We have thoroughly reviewed the record of Judge Kavanaugh on cases of importance to working families and are compelled to oppose his nomination.

Judge Kavanaugh routinely rules against working families, regularly rejects the right of employees to receive employer-provided health care in the workplace, too often sides with employers in denying employees relief from discrimination in the workplace and promotes overturning well-established U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Any Supreme Court nominee must be fair, independent and committed to protecting the rights, freedoms and legal safeguards that protect every one of us. Judge Kavanaugh does not meet this standard.The next justice confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Court will play a pivotal role in new cases addressing health care, worker safety issues and collective bargaining rights for generations to come.

This current Supreme Court has shown that it will side with greedy corporations over working people whenever given the chance, and this nominee will only skew that further. The Senate should reject this nomination and demand a nominee who will protect the rights of working people and uphold our constitutional values of liberty, equality and justice for all.

Across the country, working people are organizing and taking collective action as we haven’t seen in years and won’t stand for any politician who supports justices who put our rights at risk.

Share this graphic and reject Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Our fight for better wages and benefits and a voice on the job will continue on. The rich and powerful won’t dictate the American story. We will pave our own path, populate the halls of power with allies of working people and secure a brighter economic future.

In Solidarity,

Richard Trumka

——

Richard Trumka

President, AFL-CIO

White House proposes merging Labor and Education into one agency

From today’s Washington Post:

The White House on Thursday will propose merging the Education and Labor departments into one federal agency, the centerpiece of a plan to remake a bureaucracy that President Trump and his supporters consider too big and bloated, according to an administration official familiar with the plan.

The long-awaited proposal to reorganize federal agencies would shrink some and augment the missions of others. It is the result of a directive that Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, issued to federal leaders 14 months ago. He urged them to find ways to merge overlapping, duplicative offices and programs and eliminate those the administration views as unnecessary.

The plan also is expected to include major changes to the way the government provides benefits for low-income Americans, an area that conservatives have long targeted as excessive, by consolidating safety-net programs that are administered through multiple agencies.

The reorganization plan also is likely to revamp the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to shrink its role as the department responsible for employee background checks, retirement claims, benefits and federal workforce policy, two sources with knowledge of the proposal said.

The plan to consolidate the Labor and Education departments, which first surfaced in Education Week and was later confirmed by other news outlets, would allow the Trump administration to focus its efforts to train students in vocational skills in one place.

Republicans have long expressed an interest in eliminating the Education Department since it was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have shown similar leanings.

In 1995, the House introduced legislation to merge the agencies to put K-12 schools and job training together, but the measure failed.

The Education Department is the smallest Cabinet agency in number of employees, with just under 4,000, and a $68 billion budget. It oversees federal student loans, distributes K-12 education funding, and enforces federal civil rights laws at public schools and colleges.

The Labor Department, with about 15,000 employees and a $13 billion budget, has a broad portfolio that includes programs to train workers, enforcement of minimum-wage laws, the Bureau of Labor Statistics — which produces economic data — and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Under Republican presidents, the department has tended to have a lower profile than under Democratic administrations.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS defers gerrymandering ruling

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court declined on Monday to address the central questions in two closely watched challenges to partisan gerrymandering, putting off for another time a ruling on the constitutionality of voting districts designed by legislatures to amplify one party’s political power.

In a challenge to a redistricting plan devised by the Republican Legislature in Wisconsin, the court unanimously said that the plaintiffs had not proved that they had suffered the sort of direct injury that would give them standing to sue. The justices sent the case back to a trial court to allow the plaintiffs to try again to prove that their voting power had been directly affected by the way state lawmakers drew voting districts for the State Assembly.

In the second case, the court unanimously ruled against the Republican challengers to a Democratic plan to redraw a Maryland congressional district. In a brief unsigned opinion, the court said the challengers had waited too long to seek an injunction blocking the district, which was drawn in 2011.

Both cases had the potential to deliver a reckoning on a practice that dates to the early days of the Republic and got its name from one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Elbridge Gerry. The court instead kicked the can down the road, leaving the door open to further challenges.

But the decisions were a setback for critics of gerrymandering, who had hoped that the Supreme Court would transform American democracy by subjecting to close judicial scrutiny the way districts have been redrawn to accommodate the preferences of the party in power. When the dust settled Monday, the status quo remained in place.

Read the complete article here.

Supreme Court Sides With Colorado Baker Who Turned Away Gay Couple

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court sided with a Colorado baker on Monday in a closely watched case pitting gay rights against claims of religious freedom.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 7-2 decision, relied on narrow grounds, saying a state commission had violated the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom in ruling against the baker, Jack Phillips, who had refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”

The Supreme Court’s decision, which turned on the commission’s asserted hostility to religion, strongly reaffirmed protections for gay rights and left open the possibility that other cases raising similar issues could be decided differently.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” Justice Kennedy wrote, “all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Elena Kagan and Neil M. Gorsuch joined the majority opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas voted with the majority but would have adopted broader reasons.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

Read the complete article here.

Trump pardons Dinesh D’Souza on felony campaign contribution violation

From today’s CNBC “Politics” site:

Conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza revealed on Friday what he said President Donald Trump told him about why he was getting a pardon.

On Fox News, D’Souza said he didn’t know he was going to get it. “I was just in my office working away. And an operator came on the line and said, ‘Is this Dinesh D’Souza?’ Yes. ‘Hold the line for the president of the United States.’ And there was Trump.”

He said Trump said: “”You’ve been a great voice for freedom. I’ve got to tell you man to man, you’ve been screwed.’ He goes, ‘I’ve been looking at the case. I knew from the beginning that it was fishy.'”

D’Souza, who was convicted in 2014 of making an illegal campaign contribution, said, “[Trump] said upon reviewing it, he felt a great injustice had been done. And using his power, he was going to rectify it, sort of clear the slate. And he said he just wanted me to be out there and be a bigger voice than ever defending the principles that I believe in.”

A day earlier, Trump announced on Twitter his decision to pardon D’Souza, an outspoken critic of Democratic former President Barack Obama. D’Souza was prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, an Obama appointee who was later fired by Trump.

Read the complete article here.