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Context of '1896: ’Plessy v. Ferguson’ Case Establishes ‘Separate but Equal’ Doctrine in US Law'

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The US Supreme Court rules in Dred Scott v. Sandford that African-Americans are not citizens regardless of their status as free or slave, and therefore cannot sue for redress in federal courts. The Court also rules that Congress has no power to ban slavery in US territories, and that the rights of slaveowners are protected by the Fifth Amendment because slaves are categorized as property. The origins of the case date to 1833 when Army surgeon Dr. John Emerson purchased Dred Scott, a slave, and moved him to a military base in Wisconsin. Slavery was banned in territories made free by the Missouri Compromise, and Wisconsin was one of these territories. However, Scott did not assert his freedom at that time. Instead, he lived in Wisconsin for four years, sometimes hiring himself out for work. In 1840, Scott moved with his family to Louisiana and then to St. Louis, Missouri, with Emerson. After Emerson died, Scott attempted to buy his family’s freedom from Emerson’s wife Eliza Irene Sanford, but was refused. (Sanford’s name was misspelled ‘Sandford’ in court documents.) Scott then sued Sanford in a state court, arguing that he and his family were free because they lived in a territory where slavery was illegal, and that he was owed back wages. A state court found in Scott’s favor in 1850, but Sanford’s brother John appealed the decision. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the original decision. Scott, alleging physical abuse, then sued John Sanford for damages in a federal court, but a jury disallowed Scott’s right to file a case in federal court. Scott appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. In a majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction to take the case because Scott is not a US citizen. Taney writes that Scott is “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves,” and, therefore, he is not a “member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution.” Taney also dismisses Scott’s assertion that his residence in a free state automatically grants him freedom and status as a US citizen, reasoning that states may choose to recognize the rights of freed slaves as citizens, but the federal government is under no obligation to do so. Lastly, the Court finds that, because slaves are property, Congress’s ban on slavery in the territories violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection of property rights. Justice Benjamin Curtis issues a powerful dissent to the Taney opinion. The Court’s decision will exacerbate tensions between Northern and Southern states, being widely seen as validating the South’s view of national power. It will also embolden pro-slavery Southerners and others to try to extend slavery into other areas of the nation, and will infuriate abolitionists, who will become powerful voices within the newly formed Republican Party. The three “Reconstruction Amendments”—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth (see February 26, 1869)—will render the Scott decision invalid. In modern times, all people born or naturalized in the US will be considered citizens who have the right to bring suit in federal court. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: Republican Party, Benjamin Curtis, Dred Scott, Eliza Irene Sanford, John Emerson, US Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, Missouri Supreme Court, John Sanford

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Fourteenth Amendment, one of the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments,” is ratified. This amendment makes all persons born or naturalized in the US citizens. It also overturns the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which denied African-Americans, slave or free, the right to citizenship (see March 6, 1857). The amendment also places restrictions on state laws: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It grants the US Congress the power to enforce, through legislation, the provisions of the amendment. Beginning in the 1920s, the Supreme Court will begin applying the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce the provisions of the Bill of Rights in states as well as in matters concerning the federal government. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment, giving African-American men, and in theory men of other minorities, the right to vote. The Amendment reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Over a century later, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will write, “In addition to the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, the Fifteenth Amendment is one of the major tools which enabled African-Americans to more fully participate in democracy.” It will be ratified by the states in 1870. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Congress, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court uses the “Slaughterhouse Cases” to narrowly interpret the Fourteenth Amendment (see July 9, 1868). The combined cases have nothing to do with the rights of freed African-Americans, but center on disputes brought to court by white businessmen. The Court rules 5-4 that distinctions exist between federal and state citizenship rights, and that states have no obligation to provide their citizens with the same “privileges and immunities” they enjoy as national citizens. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court strikes down the provision of an 1875 civil rights law that prohibited racial discrimination by owners of hotels, theaters, and other forms of public accommodation. The Court consolidates a number of cases from four states into the “Civil Rights Cases,” and rules that the Fourteenth Amendment (see July 9, 1868) does not give the federal government the power to ban private discrimination. Further, the court rules that the denial of public accommodation does not constitute a “badge of slavery” and is therefore not prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery in the US. [PBS, 12/2006; U.S. Supreme Court, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In Elk v. Wilkins, the US Supreme Court restricts Native American voting rights by denying Native American John Elk the right to vote. According to the Court, Elk cannot vote in his home state of Nebraska because his intention to become a citizen requires approval from the government. Additionally, the Court finds that Elk is not a citizen because he does not “owe allegiance to the United States,” and thusly the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) does not apply to him. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John Elk

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Florida’s legislature passes a number of laws designed to disenfranchise African-American voters. The provisions include a poll tax and an “eight box law,” under which voters are required to place ballots in correct boxes which are then shifted throughout the day. Between 1888 and 1892, voter turnout among African-Americans will drop from 62 percent to 11 percent. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Florida State Legislature

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Henry Brown.Justice Henry Brown. [Source: Wikimedia]The US Supreme Court rules 7-1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that a Louisiana law requiring “equal but separate accomodations for the white and colored races” is constitutional. Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man who sometimes “passed” as white, took part in a plan by a small number of black professionals seeking to have a court overturn the Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890. Plessy boarded a whites-only railroad car and was arrested, as per arrangement, by a private detective. The group intended to use Plessy’s light skin tone to demonstrate how arbitrary and unconstitutional the law was. Plessy’s lawyers argued that Louisiana’s segregation law violated both the Thirteenth Amendment, which bars slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law (see July 9, 1868). Louisiana courts consistently found against Plessy, and the case moved all the way to the Supreme Court. Writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Henry Brown rules that the law does not “discriminate” among legal rights by race, but merely recognizes a “distinction” between races “which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color.” He adds: “Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based on physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the differences of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane.” The ruling establishes the “separate but equal” doctrine that informs many states’ decision to segregate public facilities—schools, railcars, even drinking fountains. Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner and a pro-slavery politician, writes a fiery dissent that refutes Brown’s assertion that the Louisiana law discriminates equally among whites and blacks. Harlan writes, “Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose, not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks, as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons.” He disagrees with the majority opinion’s finding that segregation on railcars does not violate African-Americans’ constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. But Harlan does not advocate social equality among the races. Instead, he argues that legally imposed segregation denies political equality. Harlan writes: “The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage, and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” Harlan’s dissent becomes the underpinning of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision (see May 17, 1954). [PBS, 12/2006; PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: Homer Plessy, Henry Billings Brown, US Supreme Court, Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890, John Marshall Harlan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court upholds a Mississippi law requiring citizens to pass a literacy test before being allowed to vote. The Williams v. Mississippi decision holds that such tests do not violate the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) as long as they are applied equally to all prospective voters. The literacy test stemmed from a state “Constitutional convention” that codified a “compromise” between white slaveowners and those who opposed their iron control of the Mississippi state government. The compromise would declare all illiterate Mississippi citizens as ineligible to vote, but the real purpose of the convention—to disenfranchise blacks—was well known. James Kimble Vardaman, who would later become governor, said of the convention: “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. Mississippi’s constitutional convention was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n_gger from politics; not the ignorant—but the n_gger.” White Republican Marsh Cook challenged the Democrats for a seat to the convention and was murdered in response. The only African-American delegate to the convention, Isaiah Montgomery, was invited because of his willingness to support disenfranchisement. The convention established the literacy test, establishing as a proper test the reading of any selected section of the Mississippi Constitution, or giving a valid explanation of it once it was read to the voter. Registrars would interpret the success or failure of the voters’ attempts to pass the test. Since all Mississippi registrars are white, the likelihood that even a literate African-American would pass the test was slim at best. However, the Court ignores the intent of the law to disenfranchise blacks, writing: “[T]he operation of the constitution and laws is not limited by their language or effects to one race. They reach weak and vicious white men as well as weak and vicious black men, and whatever is sinister in their intention, if anything, can be prevented by both races by the exertion of that duty which voluntarily pays taxes and refrains from crime.” Other states, mainly Southern, will quickly adopt their own version of literacy tests. [PBS, 2002; PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: James Kimble Vardaman, Marsh Cook, US Supreme Court, Isaiah Montgomery

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court overrules Oklahoma’s “grandfather clause” law in the case of Guinn v. United States, finding the law unconstitutional. The Oklahoma law is similar to laws passed in Louisiana and other states (see 1896) in order to ensure that African-Americans cannot legally vote regardless of the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869). Illiterate males can vote only if they can prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Since almost all African-Americans were slaves during that time, it is impossible for almost all African-Americans to prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Illiterate white men, however, can often prove their grandfathers could vote. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Women and men gather to protest for the right of women to vote, 1848.Women and men gather to protest for the right of women to vote, 1848. [Source: Declaration of Sentiments 1848 (.com)]The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress and ratified just over a year later, grants the right of women to vote. Because women now play a fundamental part in elections and campaigns, campaign financing and practices are dramatically expanded and changed. [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27, 2012; Doug Linder, 2012] Women have been organizing for the right to vote at least since the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848. Women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony declared in 1852 that “the right women needed above every other… was the right of suffrage.” Suffragists tried and failed to win the right of “universal suffrage” during the debates on the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments” (see February 26, 1869) that granted the right to vote and other rights to male minority members. An amendment granting the right to vote has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1878. Western states such as Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho were the first to grant women the right to vote; former President Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party was the first to proclaim its support for women’s suffrage in its party planks. Southern states were the primary opponents to the amendment. The Amendment will be ratified by a single vote in the Tennessee state legislature in August 1920 (24-year-old lawmaker Harry Burns will cast the deciding vote, carrying a letter from his mother urging him to “be a good boy” and “vote for suffrage”), and will become law later that month. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Doug Linder, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Bull Moose Party, Harry Burns, Susan B. Anthony

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, ruling in Breedlove v. Settles, finds a poll tax implemented in Georgia law to be constitutional. The Court decision effectively abrogates the right of most African-Americans in Georgia to vote, as most of them cannot pay the poll tax. The Court ruling serves to disenfranchise many African-Americans for decades. Some Southern states will employ poll taxes well into the 1960s. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court stops political parties in Texas from discriminating based on race. In the case of Smith v. Allwright, the Court rules that the Texas Democratic Party may not prohibit African-Americans from membership and from participating in primary elections. The Court bases its ruling on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), and overturns its decision in the 1935 Grovey v. Townsend case. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Texas Democratic Party

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal court rules in King v. Chapman that whites-only primary elections in Georgia are unconstitutional. The court rules, “The exclusions of voters made by the party by the primary rules become exclusions enforced by the state and when these exclusions are prohibited by the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) based on race or color, the persons making them effective violate under color of state law a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States within the meaning of the statute.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom.One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom. [Source: Library of Congress]The landmark US Supreme Court case Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, rules that racial segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The unanimous decision overturns the doctrine of “separate but equal” education codified in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling (see 1896). The case was argued by the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The organizations filed the suit as a challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine, and combined five separate cases under the one Brown v. Board of Education rubric. The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case three different times in three years. In a unanimous decision, the Court finds that the “separate but equal” doctrine violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and orders desegregation “with all deliberate speed.” Chief Justice Earl Warren wants to send a powerful signal to the nation in the ruling, and works to craft a unanimous decision with no dissents or even concurrences. He writes the Court’s opinion himself, but seeks the input of the other justices in two draft opinions that he tailors into his final opinion. One of the compromises he is forced to make is to put off the question of actually implementing desegregation until a later time, inadvertently allowing many states to keep segregationist practices in place for decades. Warren says the opinion should be “short, readable by the lay public, non-rhetorical, unemotional, and, above all, non-accusatory.” Justice William O. Douglas is delighted by Warren’s opinion, and in a note to Warren, writes: “I do not think I would change a single word in the memoranda you gave me this morning. The two draft opinions meet my idea exactly. You have done a beautiful job.” Justice Harold H. Burton writes a memo to Warren reading in part: “Today I believe has been a great day for America and the Court.… I cherish the privilege of sharing in this.… To you goes the credit for the character of the opinions which produced the all important unanimity. Congratulations.” In an internal memo, Justice Felix Frankfurter writes of the practice of segregation: “That it is such has been candidly acknowledged by numerous accounts & adjudications in those states where segregation is enforced. Only self conscious superiority or inability to slip into the other fellow’s skin can fail to appreciate that.” Frankfurter says the ruling makes for “a day of glory.” Some right-wing and segregationist organizations condemn the ruling; Warren is forwarded a letter from an official of the Sons of the American Revolution claiming the ruling is attributable to “the worldwide Communist conspiracy” and that the NAACP is financed by “a Communist front.” President Eisenhower will take strong action to reduce segregation in America, but refuses to endorse the Court’s ruling. In 1967, one of the NAACP’s lead attorneys in the case, Thurgood Marshall, will go on to serve on the Supreme Court. [Library of Congress, 1994; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Earl Warren, Dwight Eisenhower, Felix Frankfurter, Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thurgood Marshall, Harold H. Burton, William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court, Sons of the American Revolution

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

August 29, 1957: Congress Passes Civil Rights Act

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1957, the first such law to pass Congress since the federal civil rights laws of 1875. The law allows the US attorney general to bring suits to address discrimination and voter intimidation against African-Americans and other minorities. The CRA is the jumping-off point of successive legislative attempts to grant equal rights and protections for minority citizens. President Eisenhower was never a vocal supporter of civil rights, believing that such changes had to come from within the “heart” and not be imposed by legislation from Washington. However, he does support the CRA, and helped push it through Congress against entrenched resistance, largely but not entirely from Southern Democrats determined to protect segregationist practices even after the landmark Brown v. Board decision (see May 17, 1954). The CRA originally created a new division within the Justice Department to monitor civil rights abuses, but Senate Democrats, led by Lyndon Johnson (D-TX), worked to water down the bill in order to keep Southern Democrats and more liberal Democrats from the west and northeast from tearing the party apart along ideological lines. Johnson, along with Senator James O. Eastland (D-MS), rewrote the CRA to take much of its power away. The final version does grant new protections for African-American voters, pleasing the liberals of the Democratic Party, but contains almost no enforcement procedures for those found obstructing African-Americans’ attempts to vote, thus mollifying the conservative wing of the party. Eisenhower himself admitted that he did not understand parts of the bill. African-American leader Ralph Bunche, a prominent US diplomat, calls the act a sham and says he would rather have no bill than the CRA. But Bayard Rustin, a leader of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), says the bill has symbolic value as the first piece of civil rights legislation passed in 82 years. [History Learning Site, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Dwight Eisenhower, Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights Act of 1957, James O. Eastland, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ralph Bunche, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court rules in Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections that literacy tests for voting in North Carolina are constitutional. The case was brought by an African-American voter who argued that his right to vote was being unconstitutionally constrained. The Court rules that because the literacy test applies to all voters, it is legal (see April 25, 1898). The American Civil Liberties Union will call the ruling “a major setback to voting rights.” [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1960. This legislation goes somewhat farther than its 1957 predecessor (see August 29, 1957). It requires election officials to have all records relating to voter registration and permits the Department of Justice to inspect them, making it more difficult for white interests to oppress African-American voters. Additionally, the law allows African-Americans barred from voting to apply to a federal court or voting arbitrator to gain those rights. Like its predecessor, it was ushered through by President Eisenhower, who pushed for the bill after an outbreak of violence against African-American churches and schools throughout the South in late 1958. And as with the first bill, Southern legislators line up in opposition to it, calling it an unacceptable interference in states’ affairs by the federal government. The second Civil Rights Act is not a major enhancement for voting-rights protections, and many critics call it little more than a sop to engage African-American voters in the 1960 elections. The new bill does provide for the creation of a Civil Rights Commission in the Justice Department, a provision that was eliminated from the 1957 bill. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Dwight Eisenhower, Civil Rights Act of 1960, US Department of Justice, US Commission on Civil Rights, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The adoption of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment prohibits Congress and the 50 states from imposing poll taxes or other types of taxes on voters participating in federal elections. Before World War II, an African-American citizen told a reporter, “Do you know I’ve never voted in my life, never been able to exercise my right as a citizen because of the poll tax?” During the ceremony formalizing the adoption of the amendment, President Lyndon Johnson says, “There can be no one too poor to vote.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27, 2012; America's Library, 2012] Among other laws it overturns, the amendment invalidates the 1937 Supreme Court ruling that found poll taxes legal (see December 6, 1937).

Entity Tags: Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The transformative Civil Rights Act of 1964 passes Congress. The law makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, religion, or gender in voting, public places, the workplace, and schools. Former President John F. Kennedy had argued for new civil rights legislation, saying that previous legislative efforts (see August 29, 1957 and May 6, 1960) did not go far enough. Kennedy waited until 1963 to send his legislation to Congress, and was assassinated before the bill was passed. On June 11, 1963, Kennedy told the public, “The negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day; one-third as much chance of completing college; one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man; twice as much chance of becoming unemployed; about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year; a life expectancy which is seven years shorter; and the prospects of earning only half as much.” His successor, Lyndon Johnson, a conservative Southern Democrat, surprised many by pushing the bill instead of falling in line with conservative Southern Democrats who opposed it. Johnson and Senate leaders successfully fought back a filibuster by Senator Richard Russell (D-GA) and 17 other segregationist Democratic senators who tried to derail the bill; it passed the Senate on a 73-24 vote. Some believe that the passage of the bill is one of the major legislative acts that drives many Southern Democrats to leave the party for the increasingly conservative venue of the Republican Party. The word “sex,” to prohibit gender-based discrimination, was added to the legislation at the last minute by Representative Howard W. Smith (D-VA), and some accused Smith of inserting the provision as a means to kill the entire bill. Smith argued that he was supportive of efforts by women’s rights organizations, and inserted the language in a sincere effort to curb discrimination against women. Smith is joined by Representative Martha W. Griffiths (D-MI) in keeping the provision in the bill. Perhaps the most significant provision of the bill is the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), charged with implementing the law. The EEOC will use the practice of “affirmative action” to curb discrimination, including mandating hiring of minorities and women to alleviate many employers’ practice of hiring white males almost exclusively, especially for more senior positions. President Johnson will extend his support to “affirmative action,” and is perhaps the first public figure to use the phrase in addressing the public. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 2008; National Archives, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Lyndon B. Johnson, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, John F. Kennedy, Martha W. Griffiths, Richard Russell, Jr, Howard W. Smith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Alabama police attack civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside of Selma, Alabama.Alabama police attack civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside of Selma, Alabama. [Source: Library of Congress]Over 500 non-violent civil rights marchers are attacked by law enforcement officers during a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The attack takes place while the marchers are crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside of Selma. The march is to protest the disenfranchisement of African-American voters, and to protest the fatal police shooting of civil rights activist Jimmy Lee Jackson. The marchers are badly beaten by police officers and white residents wielding billy clubs and tear gas, and driven back into Selma. The marchers heed the non-violent teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, and refuse to counterattack. The attack, later termed “Bloody Sunday,” is shown on national television, sparking a national outcry. Two days later, King will lead a symbolic march to the bridge, and he and other civil rights leaders will secure court protection for a third, large-scale march from Selma to Montgomery. A week later, President Lyndon Johnson will denounce the attack as “deadly wrong.” On March 21, King will lead some 3,200 marchers from Selma to Montgomery, reaching the capitol on March 25. By the time they reach Montgomery, the number of marchers will have grown to around 25,000. The attack helps spur the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965). [National Park Service, 2001; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Jimmy Lee Jackson, Edmund Pettus Bridge, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Based on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), the VRA is a potent set of statutes that permanently bars direct barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities. It bans any election practice that denies the right to vote due to race, and requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval of changes in their election laws before they can take effect. The VRA forbids literacy tests (see 1896, April 25, 1898, and June 8, 1959) and other barriers to registration that have worked to stop minority voters from exercising their rights (see 1888, June 21, 1915, and February 4, 1964). Sections 2 and 5 of the VRA work together to prohibit states from establishing voting qualifications or standards that interfere with a citizen’s right to vote on a racial basis. Section 5 requires states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department before altering any laws pertaining to voting—this includes changing electoral districts, voter qualification rules, and even changes in government structure such as making a formerly elective office appointive. If the changes can be seen as possibly “diluting” minority voting strength, they can be disallowed. States wishing to challenge the VRA restrictions have the opportunity to have their cases heard in federal court. Section 2 has similar, if less restrictive, provisions that apply nationally. Section 10 of the VRA takes direct aim at the Breedlove ruling from the Supreme Court (see December 6, 1937), which had legitimized poll taxes used to disenfranchise minority voters. That portion of the VRA finds that poll taxes “impose… unreasonable financial hardship” and “precludes persons of limited means from voting.” The VRA also forbids the use of literacy tests, good character tests, and other such tests used in the past to suppress minority voting. The law urges the attorney general to urge the Court to overrule Breedlove; minutes after Johnson signs the bill into law, he directs the attorney general “to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax.” The Court will find poll taxes unconstitutional in its Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections ruling (see March 24, 1966). The US Department of Justice and the federal courts now have the power to monitor problem jurisdictions and assist private citizens in seeking redress through the courts if their voting rights are infringed. Months later, the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the VRA. [eNotes, 2004; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Yale Law School, 2/8/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, in the case of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, finds Virginia’s law upholding “poll taxes” to be unconstitutional. The 7-2 decision finds that poll taxes—fees demanded of voters, which have been used for over a century to disenfranchise minority voters (see February 4, 1964 and December 6, 1937)—violate the Constitution by imposing discriminatory restrictions on voting. Justice William O. Douglas writes the majority opinion, with Justice Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II dissenting. Douglas cites the landmark Brown v. Board decision (see May 17, 1954) and the recently passed Voting Rights Act (see August 6, 1965) in his ruling. [Legal Information Institute, 2011]

Entity Tags: Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court, John Marshall Harlan II

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

1970: Congress Renews Voting Rights Act

Congress renews the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA—see August 6, 1965) for five more years. Unfortunately, the law’s provisions are temporary. Congress also finds that many states are purposefully ignoring some provisions of the law. In the hearings about the law’s extension, Congress heard about the many ways voting electorates were manipulated through gerrymandering, annexations, at-large elections (see April 22, 1980), and other methods to disenfranchise minority voters. [African American Voices in Congress, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

1975: Voting Rights Act Extended

President Gerald Ford reauthorizes the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and 1970). The reauthorization contains new provisions to permanently bar literacy tests nationwide and provide language assistance for minority voters. The law also extends the “preclearance” provisions that require courts to monitor states with a history of discrimination. During hearings about the bill, Congress heard testimony about voting discrimination being carried out against Hispanic, Asian, and Native American citizens. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; African American Voices in Congress, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court alters voting rights in the case of Beer v. United States. The Court rules that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) allows for “preclearance” of election changes that are unfair to minorities as long as the changes are not “retrogressive,” or make conditions worse than they already are. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; BEER v. UNITED STATES, 425 U.S. 130 (1976), 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court guts a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) by ruling that voters must prove racially discriminatory intent in order to prevail in litigation under the VRA. In the case of City of Mobile v. Bolden, the Court rules 6-3 that the previous standard of proving discriminatory results is no longer adequate. Disenfranchised voters must now prove intent, a far higher standard, before receiving redress. The case originates in Mobile, Alabama’s practice of electing city commissioners under an at-large voting scheme. No African-American had ever been elected to the commission, and a number of Mobile citizens challenged the constitutionality of the at-large scheme. The Court found that at-large schemes such as that employed by the city of Mobile only violate the Constitution if they deliberately serve to minimize or cancel out the voting potential of minorities. Justice Potter Stewart, writing for the plurality, finds that the right to equal participation in the electoral process is aimed not for the protection of any political group. Moreover, he writes that the evidence fails to show that Mobile operates a voting system with the intent to discriminate. The conservative justices largely side with Stewart. The liberals are split. Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens concur with Stewart’s ruling for different reasons than those expressed by Stewart. Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Byron White dissent, with Brennan and White arguing that the burden of proof had been met, and Marshall arguing that the burden of proof should be on Mobile to show that it refused to modify its voting scheme despite the evidence of discrimination. [MOBILE v. BOLDEN, 446 US 55 (1980), 4/22/1980 pdf file; Casebriefs, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: John Paul Stevens, Byron White, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress reauthorizes the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) for 25 years, until 2014. It also overturns via legislation the Supreme Court’s decision to force voters to prove discriminatory intent before receiving redress (see April 22, 1980). President Reagan signs the bill into law. The reauthorization also adds protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters. Reagan calls the right to vote a “crown jewel” of American liberties. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress, Ronald Reagan, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Florida, already using controversial and error-ridden “purge lists” to remove tens of thousands of minority voters from the voting rolls (see 1998 and After), uses voting machines and voting procedures to disenfranchise eligible voters. The Florida elections system is grossly underfunded, resulting in the use of obsolete and error-prone machines (disproportionately used in counties with large minority populations), and elections officials lacking fundamental training and even information about their jobs. During most of 2000, county supervisors warn Tallahassee that Florida could expect an unprecedented number of voters on November 7, especially among the black voting community. But Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) and Division of Elections chief Clay Roberts, by their own subsequent testimony, fail to address the problem. Roberts tells Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, “It’s not that bad.” Thusly on November 7, 2000, many polling places experience massive difficulties. An investigation by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) turns up thousands of voters who are turned away for a number of reasons, including but not limited to being on the purge lists. Some voters who registered are not listed on the voting rolls—many of whom were registered through NAACP efforts to register voters via the “motor voter” procedures (see May 20, 1993). County supervisors calling Tallahassee with questions and problems routinely find themselves unable to get through. Many precincts lack access to central voter rolls to verify questionable registrations. Some voters who are in line to vote at the 7:00 p.m. closing time are told to leave, even though the law mandates that any voter standing in line to vote can vote even if closing time occurs. Florida law also allows voters whose status is questionable to complete affidavit votes that will be counted later after their eligibility is confirmed, but many election workers know nothing of these procedures, and thusly many voters who are eligible to vote via affidavit are not given that opportunity. Many disabled voters find no procedures in place to allow them access to voting machines. Many precincts lack procedures to assist Spanish-speaking voters, including failing to provide bilingual ballots or bilingual poll workers. (The Voting Rights Act of 1965—see August 6, 1965—mandates that such provisions be made at every polling place without exception.) The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund later concludes that several thousand Hispanic voters are disenfranchised because of these failures. Black voters in Leon County complain that the Florida Highway Patrol set up a roadblock that denied them access to their polling place (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000); Highway Patrol authorities later admit the existence of the roadblock, but say that it was a routine vehicle inspection checkpoint.
Punch Card Voting - Florida generally uses two voting systems—the more sophisticated computer “optiscan” system, which features ballots where choices are made by “bubbling in” an oval with a pencil and then feeding into a scanner, and the obsolete “punch card” system, which uses “punch cards” where choices are made by a voter “punching” a hole in a card with a stylus and then feeding the card into a scanner. Counties with large African-American populations are disproportionate in having to use the obsolete punch card machines. In four of these counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Duval—over 100,000 votes are discarded due to problems with punching the holes correctly (see November 9, 2000). This total is more than half the discards in the entire state. Of the 19 precincts in the state with the highest rate of discard, 18 are majority-black. Seventy percent of black Floridian voters are forced to use the punch card machines, a percentage far higher than that of other ethnic groups. The NAACP later sues to force Florida to discard punch card machines entirely. The Florida government’s response to the punch-card disenfranchisement can perhaps be best summed up by a statement made by Republican House Speaker Tom Feeney, who responds to a question about the infamous “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County (see November 9, 2000) by saying: “Voter confusion is not a reason for whining or crying or having a revote. It may be a reason to require literacy tests.” Literacy tests, a legacy of the Jim Crow era of massive voter discrimination, are unconstitutional (see 1896 and June 8, 1959). [Tapper, 3/2001; Nation, 4/24/2001]
Subsequent Investigation - A later investigation by the progressive news magazine The Nation will document widespread voter disenfranchisement efforts in Florida (see April 24, 2001).

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), County of Madison (Florida), County of Leon (Florida), County of Duval (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Clay Roberts, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Florida Highway Patrol, Ion Sancho, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Tom Feeney, Linda Howell, Katherine Harris, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

For 13 years, Texas Republicans have complained that Texas Democrats have “gerrymandered” the state’s electoral district to give Democrats an undue representation in the state’s US House delegation (see 1990 - 1991 and 2000-2002). Now, with Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislature, they decide to redistrict the state to favor Republican representation in Congress. In 2002, Democrats hold a 17-15 edge in US Representatives. The decision is unusual inasmuch as states usually only redraw their district boundaries once a decade, in concurrence with the federal census. Democrats wage a bitter battle against the Republican redistricting efforts, even fleeing the state for a time to prevent the legislature from reaching a quorum (see May 12-15, 2003), but Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), eventually win out, and the Texas legislature enacts a new redistricting plan, Plan 1347C, that concentrates large numbers of Democrats, including minority voters, in a relatively small number of districts and gives Republicans a majority of prospective voters in a much larger number of more sparsely populated districts. In the November 2004 elections, the plan works as envisioned: Republicans have a 21-11 majority in the US Congressional delegation, and obtain a 58 percent to 41 percent edge in statewide voting results. Even before the elections, a number of organizations and individuals file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the redistricting map under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989), charging that the plan unlawfully dilutes racial minority voting strength and is designed to maximize partisan advantage at the voting booths, in essence gerrymandering the state’s electoral districts. A district court finds the redistricting plan is essentially legal, but the Supreme Court vacates that decision and remands the case for reconsideration; the court again finds in favor of the plaintiffs, affirming the map as lawful. [Austin American-Statesman, 5/14/2003; Washington Post, 12/2/2005; FindLaw, 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org), 2012] That decision will be substantially affirmed by the Supreme Court (see June 28, 2006). DeLay says that President Bush, the former governor of Texas, is squarely behind the redistricting efforts. After a Congressional leadership breakfast in May 2003, DeLay says he spoke briefly with Bush: “As I was walking out, I said, you know, that redistricting is ongoing. And he said, ‘Well, good, I’d like to see that happen.’” [Dallas Morning News, 5/14/2003] During the battle over the redistricting, Texas Democrats insist that the new districts will not only illegally protect Republican majorities, but will dilute the impact of votes from outside cities and suburban areas. US Representative Max Sandlin (D-TX) tells a reporter: “This plan doesn’t just destroy Democratic representation… it destroys rural representation. East Texas has had tremendous battles with Dallas over water rights. It is absolutely ridiculous to have a Dallas Congress member represent East Texans concerning water rights. And you can go issue by issue.” Republicans from rural districts say they have no such worries. [Austin American-Statesman, 5/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Tom DeLay, Texas Republican Party, George W. Bush, Max Sandlin, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas Democratic Party

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Senate refuses to pass an amendment to the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) that would restore voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences throughout the nation. The amendment was strongly opposed by senators from former Confederate states, who voted 18-4 against the measure, and the amendment fails on a floor vote, 63-31. [US Senate, 2/14/2002 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: US Senate

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Six lawyers and two analysts at the US Department of Justice (DOJ) conclude, in a classified memo, that the controversial Texas Congressional redistricting plan headed by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004) is illegal. The memo states that the plan violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) by illegally diluting African-American and Hispanic voting power in two Congressional districts. The plan also eliminated several other districts that contained substantial minority voting blocs. Texas Republicans knew the plan would likely be found to be discriminatory, the lawyers write in the memo. The memo says that the Texas legislature went ahead with the plan anyway because it would maximize the number of Republicans the state would send to Congress. The memo concludes, “The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed Congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect.” A concurring opinion written by one of the DOJ lawyers finds: “This result quite plainly indicates a reduction in minority voting strength. The state’s argument that it has increased minority voting strength… simply does not stand up under careful analysis.”
DeLay, Aide Ignored Concerns about Voting Rights Discrimination - One of the senior aides to DeLay, James W. Ellis, is cited in the memo as pushing for the plan despite fears that the DOJ would reject it. According to the memo, Ellis and other DeLay aides forced the adoption of the plan over two other versions adopted by the Texas Legislature that would not have raised as many concerns about voting rights discrimination. The memo quotes Ellis in an October 2003 memo writing: “We need our map, which has been researched and vetted for months. The pre-clearance and political risks are the delegation’s and we are willing to assume those risks, but only with our map.” Later testimony will show that DeLay and Ellis forced last-minute changes in the map; DeLay attended many of the meetings that produced the map, and Ellis worked through the state’s lieutenant governor and a state senator to shepherd the changes that he and DeLay desired. The final changes were not necessary, the memo finds, except to advance partisan political goals.
Findings Overruled - Regardless of the findings, the lawyers and analysts’ judgment is overruled by senior officials at the DOJ, all appointed by the Bush administration. The DOJ’s civil rights division will affirm the plan as legal and valid. The memo is kept secret for almost two years, and the lawyers and analysts involved in the case, including the authors of the memo, are bound to silence under an unusual gag rule. The DOJ is under no legal burden to accept the findings of the memo, but historically, such findings are given great weight in DOJ rulings. Former Justice Department lawyer Mark Posner later says that it is “highly unusual” for the DOJ to overrule a unanimous finding such as this one: “In this kind of situation, where everybody agrees at least on the staff level… that is a very, very strong case. The fact that everybody agreed that there were reductions in minority voting strength, and that they were significant, raises a lot of questions as to why it was” approved. [US Department of Justice, 12/12/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 12/2/2005] In December 2005, the Washington Post will reveal the existence of the memo (see December 2, 2005). Days after the Post article, Posner will write an article for the prestigious legal Web site FindLaw that will opine that the DOJ memo was ignored for partisan political reasons, and not because of honest differences of opinion between legal experts (see December 5, 2005).

Entity Tags: Texas State Legislature, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Mark Posner, Voting Rights Act of 1965, James W. Ellis, US Department of Justice, Washington Post, Tom DeLay

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Tanner, the head of the civil rights division’s Voting Rights Section (VRS) in the Justice Department, writes a four-page letter to Nick A. Soulas, a civil prosecutor in Franklin County, Ohio. The letter is a notification that Tanner is ordering the closure of a VRS investigation into the unbalanced distribution of voting machines in Franklin County, which contains the large urban area of Columbus. Complaints had been filed alleging that districts with a predominance of white voters received a disparately larger number of voting machines than districts with a predominance of African-American voters. Although that disparity has been proven, Tanner writes that the disparity does not violate the Voting Rights Act (see August 6, 1965). The letter essentially defends the disparity, arguing that the use of such disparate numbers of machines is acceptable. It also praises the Franklin County Board of Elections for buying approximately 2,100 new voting machines. Sources, including a VRS staffer who left the section in late 2004, will later tell the citizen journalism project ePluribus Media (ePM) that many inside and outside the VRS found the letter “repugnant.” Moreover, they will tell the ePM researchers that the DOJ almost never writes such a letter: when it finishes an investigation it deems unworthy of pursuing, it merely sends a letter informing the involved parties that it is closing the investigation. For Tanner to write and send such a letter is highly unusual. And, Tanner’s is the only signature on the letter. No staff attorneys sign off on the letter. Sources will tell ePM that the lone signature apparently indicates that Tanner was the only person working the investigation. Section chiefs such as Tanner almost never handle investigations. ePM will say that the letter presents what it calls “convoluted excuses for why black voters didn’t have enough machines and white voters did.” [US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, 6/29/2005 pdf file; ePluribus Media, 5/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Nick A. Soulas, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), County of Franklin (Ohio), Franklin County Board of Elections (Ohio), John Tanner, Voting Rights Section (DOJ), ePluribus Media, Voting Rights Act of 1965

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congressional Republicans jump-start the process to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) in what media and political observers believe is an effort to outflank Democrats, who are traditionally the most staunch supporters of the bill. Key portions of the bill are set to expire in 2007, including Section 5, which requires that states, districts, and other locales with a history of racial discrimination in their electoral processes get Justice Department approval before making any changes to voting procedures. Section 5 is intended to ensure that minorities are not disenfranchised due to their race. Observers believe Republicans want to avoid a showdown over the bill in light of the upcoming midterm elections in 2006. In 1982, the Reagan administration fought Congressional Democrats over an expansion of the law, and Republicans want to make sure that scenario does not play itself out again as the midterm elections approach. Republicans also want to reach out to African-American voters, traditionally a strong Democratic voting bloc. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a veteran of the civil rights struggle, says, “I’m not surprised at all” that Republicans want to renew the VRA and reach out to black voters. “The Republicans are reaching out to the African-American voters.… They want to make a dent with the black electorate, take some of those voters away from the Democratic side.” Lewis intends to insert language into the renewal bill that would invalidate a recent Georgia law requiring photo identification for prospective voters, a requirement he and many others say would discriminate against the poor and the elderly. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) broke with recent Republican tradition by calling on Congress to renew Section 5 and other portions of the VRA at the NAACP’s annual convention in July. “I am here to tell you publicly what I have told others privately, including the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt,” Sensenbrenner told the assemblage. “During this Congress we are going to extend the Voting Rights Act. We cannot let discriminatory practices of the past resurface to threaten future gains. The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist—and exist in its current form.” Sensenbrenner said at the convention that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) considers renewal of the VRA “high on his list of issues the House will address this Congress.” A representative for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says Frist is “fired up” over renewal of Section 5. Only a few months ago, Bush appeals court nominee William Pryor, a Republican from Alabama, called Section 5 “an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness,” a controversial characterization that Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and other Republicans defended. In May, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested that the Bush administration is not fully behind reauthorization of Section 5. Political observers say that Democrats intend to use any further Republican opposition to the VRA to claim that Republicans are insensitive to black voters, even as senior Republican strategists like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman say they want the party to appeal to that demographic. Mehlman told the NAACP convention in July that Republican leaders had tried over the past 40 years “to benefit politically from racial polarization.” He then said, “We were wrong” to do so. [MSNBC, 10/4/2005]

Entity Tags: James Sensenbrenner, William Pryor, Bill Frist, Alberto R. Gonzales, Dennis Hastert, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Saxby Chambliss, John Lewis, Ken Mehlman, US Congress, Mel Watt, Bush administration (43), Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Washington Post reports that the controversial Texas congressional redistricting plan headed by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004) was found to be illegal by Justice Department lawyers, but their judgment was overruled by senior political appointees at the Department of Justice (DOJ) who approved the plan. The information comes from a previously undisclosed memo written in December 2003 (see December 12, 2003) and provided to the Post by, the Post writes, “a person connected to the case who is critical of the adopted redistricting map.” Six lawyers and two analysts at the DOJ found that the DeLay plan violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) by illegally diluting African-American and Hispanic voting power in two Congressional districts. Texas Republicans knew the plan would likely be found to be discriminatory, the lawyers wrote in the memo, but went ahead with the plan anyway because it would maximize the number of Republicans the state would send to Congress. In the 2004 federal elections, Texas sent five additional Republicans to the US House, helping to solidify GOP control of that body. A lawyer for the Texas Democrats and minority groups who are challenging the redistricting in court, J. Gerald Hebert, says of the DOJ memo: “We always felt that the process… wouldn’t be corrupt, but it was.… The staff didn’t see this as a close call or a mixed bag or anything like that. This should have been a very clear-cut case.” DOJ spokesman Eric W. Holland, defending the decision by senior DOJ officials to approve the plan, points to a lower-court decision in the case that affirmed the plan’s legality. “The court ruled that, in fact, the new congressional plan created a sufficient number of safe minority districts given the demographics of the state and the requirements of the law,” he says, and notes that Texas now has three African-Americans in Congress whereas in the years before redistricting, it had only two. Hebert says the DOJ’s approval of the redistricting plan was a critical factor in the court’s decision to affirm the plan. DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden accuses Hebert of engaging in what he calls “nonsensical political babble,” and says the DOJ is correct to have found that the plan has no discriminatory effects. Under both the older plan (see 2000-2002) and the DeLay plan, minority-led districts number 11, but under the DeLay plan, Texas gained two more Congressional districts, both represented by Republicans. Recently, a similar case was reported in which DOJ lawyers found a Georgia redistricting plan to be illegal, but senior political appointees overruled the legal judgment and approved the plan. A court later found the plan to be illegal. [Washington Post, 12/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Kevin Madden, Eric W. Holland, J. Gerald Hebert, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Washington Post, Tom DeLay

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mark Posner, a law professor at American University who served in the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for 23 years and supervised the DOJ’s “Section 5” reviews under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) for 10 years, writes an article for the prestigious legal information Web site FindLaw that says the DOJ found the controversial Texas redistricting plan (see 2002-2004) legal for purely partisan political reasons. Posner’s article is spurred by the recent revelation of a 2003 DOJ memo (see December 12, 2003 and December 2, 2005) that found the redistricting plan to be illegal, and the Washington Post’s finding that the memo was rejected by political appointees at the DOJ, who saw to it that the plan was approved by the civil rights division. Posner is more specific than the Post article, writing: “A Republican appointee overrode the staff recommendation and granted approval, allowing the plan to go into effect for the 2004 Congressional elections. In so doing, the official sided with his political party and with one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington.” Posner notes that the Bush administration has defended the decision, claiming that it was merely the result of what he calls “an honest disagreement between the career and political staff about how to apply the law to a complex set of facts.” In spite of the defense, including a statement by the attorney general, Posner writes that “this is not a case of an honest disagreement between lawyers. Rather, there is strong objective evidence that politics prevailed over the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.” The civil rights division of the DOJ is required under the VRA to “pre-clear,” or approve, any redistricting plan that might result in the unwarranted dilution of minority voting strength in particular districts. Texas, as a state with a history of discriminating against its minority citizens, is one of a number of states required to obtain DOJ approval for new redistricting plans. The DOJ has examined some 435,000 election changes since 1965, Posner writes, and thusly must “follow procedures which… ensure that preclearance decisions are based on the law and the facts, and not on extraneous factors. Among other things, these procedures must guard against the temptation that some political appointees can have to decide matters based on what would benefit their political party.” The DOJ career staff play a key role in such procedures, though the assistant attorney general (AAG) for civil rights makes the final decision. Until the Texas redistricting plan, Posner writes, AAGs have generally relied on the opinions and findings of their staff to help them craft a final decision. “When the career staff unanimously recommends that preclearance be denied, the AAG almost never overrides that recommendation and approves the change. On the flip side, the staff’s unanimous preclearance recommendation always results in the change being approved.” But the Texas redistricting approval upended the usual procedure. Despite the unanimous recommendation from the staff that the DOJ block Texas from implementing the plan due to its discriminatory effect, the AAG granted approval to the plan. “The influence of politics is evident,” Posner concludes. The DOJ “significantly and substantially deviated from the decisional practice which, for nearly four decades, has served the department well in enforcing Section 5 in a fair and nonpartisan manner.… [T]he evidence points to a single conclusion: the Justice Department did not serve the interests of minority citizens in this case, but, instead, served the political interests of the Republican Party.” [FindLaw, 12/6/2005]

Entity Tags: Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Texas State Legislature, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mark Posner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Washington Post learns that the Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965) cases, a drastic change from the earlier policy, which was designed to insulate such decision from political considerations. The decision comes amid what the Post calls “growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas (see December 12, 2003, December 2, 2005, and December 5, 2005) and Georgia (see 2005, November 25, 2005, and September 19, 2006) that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.” In the Georgia redistricting case, a staff memo advised rejecting the Georgia plan because it required voters to show photo ID at the polls, a policy that the memo said would disenfranchise some African-American voters. Under the new policy, that recommendation was removed from the memo and was not forwarded to higher officials in the civil rights division (CRD). The DOJ has claimed the August 25 memo was “an early draft,” even though the DOJ gave “preclearance” for the Georgia plan to be adopted on August 26. A federal judge blocked the law’s implementation, calling it a return to Jim Crow-era policies. The policy was adopted by John Tanner, the head of the CRD’s voting rights section (VRS). DOJ spokesperson Eric Holland says, “The opinions and expertise of the career lawyers are valued and respected and continue to be an integral part of the internal deliberation process upon which the department heavily relies when making litigation decisions.” Tanner has recently lambasted the quality of work by the VRS staff, some of whom have been in the section for decades. Some of the staff members boycotted the staff Christmas party because they were too angry to attend, sources within the section say. Experts like Jon Greenbaum, a VRS veteran who now directs the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says that stopping staff members from making such recommendations is a significant departure and runs the risk of making the process appear more political. “It’s an attempt by the political hierarchy to insulate themselves from any accountability by essentially leaving it up to a chief, who’s there at their whim,” he says. “To me, it shows a fear of dealing with the legal issues in these cases.” Congressional Democrats are critical of the new policy and are joined by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “America deserves better than a civil rights division that puts the political agenda of those in power over the interests of the people its serves.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other DOJ officials have disagreed with the criticism, and asserted that politics play no role in civil rights decisions. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella has recently written to Specter, criticizing the Post’s coverage and claiming that the department is aggressively enforcing a range of civil rights laws. “From fair housing opportunities, equal access to the ballot box, and criminal civil rights prosecutions to desegregation in America’s schools and protection of the rights of the disabled, the division continues its noble mission with vigor,” he wrote. [Washington Post, 12/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Washington Post, William E. Moschella, Jon Greenbaum, Eric W. Holland, US Department of Justice, Arlen Specter, John Tanner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA).Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). [Source: That's My Congress (.com)]The House Republican leadership cancels a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) after a number of House Republicans declare their opposition to renewing key portions of the legislation concerning the requirement of bilingual ballots and continued federal oversight of voting practices in some Southern states. Eight months ago, Congressional Republicans announced they intended to take the lead in renewing the VRA (see October 4, 2005). The press reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken off-guard by the vehemence of the opposition within his party; he and other senior House Republicans believed that renewal of the VRA was on track. President Bush has said he supports renewing the VRA. In early May, House Republicans and Democrats joined on the steps of the Capitol to announce bipartisan support for the renewal of the law. However, some Southern Republicans argue that the law has served its purpose and is no longer necessary. They are now joined by Republicans from other states who resist providing ballots in languages other than English. Hastert says the Republican leadership “is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible,” while some House Republicans say it is unclear whether the issue will be resolved before the Independence Day recess. Hastert and other House Republican leaders apparently did not anticipate the surge of anti-immigrant sentiment among their colleagues, which fuels the opposition to bilingual ballots. A previous attempt by Senate Republicans to include a provision in the VRA proclaiming English the “national language” failed. Seventy-nine House Republicans, led by Steve King (R-IA), an outspoken opponent of immigration, signed a letter written by King objecting to the VRA’s provision for bilingual ballots in precincts with large Hispanic and Asian populations. The requirement is costly and unnecessary, King wrote, adding, “The multilingual ballot mandate encourages the linguistic division of our nation and contradicts the ‘Melting Pot’ ideal that has made us the most successful multi-ethnic nation on earth.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) says: “A lot of it looks as if these are some old boys from the South who are trying to do away with it. But these old boys are trying to make it constitutional enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.” King said in committee, “There is no need to print ballots in any language other than English.” When King’s provision to end multilingual requirements was removed in committee, King and his fellow anti-immigration Republicans publicly withdrew their support for the VRA. Charles Whitlow Norwood (R-GA) says flatly: “What people are really upset about is bilingual ballots. The American people want this to be an English-speaking nation.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says: “Clearly, there are some on the Republican side who object to this legislation, and they forced the leadership’s hand today. House Democrats stand in virtual unanimous support for this important bill.” Mel Watt (D-NC), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says, “We fear that pulling the bill could send the wrong message about whether the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and that delaying consideration until after the July 4 recess could give those with partisan intentions space and time to politicize the issue.” Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights says in a statement, “We are extremely disappointed that the House did not vote today to renew and restore the Voting Rights Act because a small band of miscreants, at the last moment, hijacked this bipartisan, bicameral bill.” Henderson’s colleague Nancy Zirkin agrees, saying: “The fact of the matter is that you have a small group of members who have hijacked this bill, and many of these individuals represent states that have been in violation for a long time. We believe these individuals do not want the Voting Rights Act reauthorized.” [King, 1/28/2006; New York Times, 6/22/2006; Washington Post, 6/22/2006]
Opposition Letter Written by Far-Right Anti-Immigration Advocate? - Citizen investigators later demonstrate that many portions of the King letter may not have been written by King or his staffers, but by a representative of two far-right anti-immigration groups, NumbersUSA and ProEnglish. Both organizations belong to a network of groups operated by anti-immigration leader John Tanton (see February 2009). The provisions in the King letter were apparently written by K.C. McAlpin, a member of NumbersUSA and the executive director of ProEnglish. The latter group proclaims itself “the nation’s leading advocate of official English,” working “through the courts and in the court of public opinion to defend English’s historic role as the common, unifying language of the United States of America, and to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government.” The investigators will be unable to prove McAlpin’s authorship beyond dispute, but through comparison of the King letter with McAlpin’s written testimony to Congress in November 2005, they find significant conceptual and linguistic similarities. The investigators will posit: “Given that the King letter posted at [the US House Web site, before being removed] was authored by McAlpin on software registered to NumbersUSA, coupled with its striking similarities to McAlpin’s testimony, only one of two possible causes seem plausible. Either King copied his letter from ProEnglish literature almost word for word, and then asked McAlpin, or someone using his computer, to type up a copy to post at the House of Representatives Web site, or McAlpin authored the letter himself. Either way, the letter that 79 Representatives signed to force the cancellation of the renewal of the VRA came from ProEnglish.” [King, 1/28/2006; Duke Falconer, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Nancy Zirkin, John Tanton, George W. Bush, Dennis Hastert, Charles Whitlow Norwood, K.C. McAlpin, Mel Watt, US Supreme Court, Lynn Westmoreland, Wade Henderson, Steny Hoyer, US House of Representatives, ProEnglish (.com), Voting Rights Act of 1965, NumbersUSA, Steve King

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court upholds most of Texas’s far-reaching redistricting plan as engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004). The case is League of United Latin American Citizens et al v. Perry et al. The Court rejects one element of the plan, saying that some of the new boundaries fail to protect minority voting rights. Some district boundaries will need to be redrawn, particularly one “oddly shaped” district, District 23, in the Associated Press’s description, that saw the shift of 100,000 Hispanics out of a district represented by a Republican incumbent and into the unusually crafted district. Critics called District 23 the result of illegal gerrymandering, and said it violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, says that under the plan, Hispanics have no chance to elect a candidate of their choosing. Democrats and minority groups have accused Republicans of unconstitutionally redrawing Texas’s electoral districts to ensure that the state’s legislature is controlled by Republicans. In the 2004 elections, the first with the new districts, Republicans took control of Texas’s legislature and four Democratic incumbents lost their seats. The Court upholds the contention that states can redraw district maps when they choose, not just once a decade as claimed by Texas Democrats. In essence, this means that any time a political party takes power in a state legislature, it can redraw maps to suit its purposes. The Constitution mandates the redrawing of state congressional district boundaries once a decade to account for population shifts; the Court says such redrawings can be more frequent if desired. The 2003-2004 redrawing of the Texas district map cost DeLay his position; he has resigned from Congress in the face of money laundering charges in relation to his fundraising activities for legislative candidates. While two other states, Colorado and Georgia, have undertaken similar redistricting efforts, law professor Richard Hasen says he does not believe many more states will move in the same direction. “Some people are predicting a rash of mid-decade redistricting. I am skeptical,” he says. “It would be seen as a power grab in a lot of places.” The 5-4 Court majority is not along ideological lines. While Kennedy, who usually joins the other conservatives, writes the majority opinion, the four liberals of the Court—Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter—write their own concurrences in conjunction with his opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts dissents, and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas join his dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia writes his own dissent. [Associated Press, 6/28/2006; FindLaw, 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org), 2012]

Entity Tags: John G. Roberts, Jr, Associated Press, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Samuel Alito, Tom DeLay, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Richard L. Hasen, John Paul Stevens, US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A Washington State district court dismisses the case of Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a 2003 lawsuit which contended that Washington’s felon disenfranchisement laws and restoration policies were discriminatory against racial minorities and thusly violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). The court writes that it is “compelled to find that there is discrimination in Washington’s criminal justice system on account of race,” and that such discrimination “clearly hinders the ability of racial minorities to participate effectively in the political process.” Even in the face of its own finding, the court dismisses the case, citing a “remarkable absence of any history of official discrimination” in the state’s electoral procedures and felon disenfranchisement policies. “Washington’s history, or lack thereof, of racial bias in its electoral process and in its decision to enact the felon disenfranchisement provisions, counterbalance the contemporary discriminatory effects that result from the day-to-day functioning of Washington’s criminal justice system,” the court finds. The case will continue in the court system, and the district court’s findings will ultimately be upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will cite the state’s lack of “intentional discrimination” (see October 7, 2010). [Brennan Center for Justice, 1/5/2010; Equal Justice Society, 10/14/2010; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US House of Representatives overcomes challenges by conservative Republicans and votes overwhelmingly in favor of renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Congressional Republicans originally voiced strong support for renewing the landmark voting rights legislation (see October 4, 2005) but some 80 House Republicans have worked for weeks to block renewal of the bill over objections to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). The renewal bill, officially entitled the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act” after a number of prominent civil rights figures, passes the House on a 390-33 vote. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an African-American veteran who was beaten by white police officers during the civil rights struggle, gives an impassioned speech on the House floor before the vote is cast. Lewis reminds the House that “I gave blood” to ensure that blacks and other minorities had the right to vote without discrimination. “Some of my colleagues gave their very lives. Yes, we’ve made some progress; we have come a distance. The sad truth is, discrimination still exists. That’s why we still need the Voting Rights Act, and we must not go back to the dark past.” Lewis and other supporters took part in over a dozen House hearings where, according to Lewis, proof of voter discrimination was highlighted. Some conservative lawmakers have argued that such discrimination is a thing of the past, and therefore the VRA is obsolete and need not be renewed. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is one of those making that argument, telling the House: “A lot has changed in 40-plus years. We should have a law that fits the world in 2006.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) agrees: “Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven. That Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents.… We have repented and we have reformed.” Westmoreland says many people are “prejudiced” against Southern states. David Scott (D-GA) accuses House Republicans such as Gingrey and Westmoreland of working “to kill the Voting Rights Act” both through opposition and through the attempted addition of a number of unpalatable amendments that would strongly water down the law, such as an amendment by Steve King (R-IA) that would have removed the provision for bilingual ballots and forced naturalized citizens to prove their fluency in English before being allowed to vote. The bill moves to the Senate, where Democrats are urging quick passage and accusing House Republicans of unjustly delaying the bill’s passage. “For two months, we have wasted precious time as the Republican leadership played to its conservative base,” says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “There are only 21 legislative days left in this Congress, and the time to act is now.” [New York Times, 7/13/2006; Associated Press, 7/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Steve King, David Scott, Harry Reid, John Lewis, Lynn Westmoreland, Phil Gingrey, US House of Representatives, Voting Rights Act of 1965

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Senate votes 98-0 to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Many Republicans in the House have attempted to thwart the law’s renewal, citing their opposition to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). However, that opposition was overcome by a bipartisan effort when the House voted to reauthorize the law (see July 13, 2006). Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge that racial discrimination and efforts to disenfranchise minority voters still exist: “Despite the progress [some] states have made in upholding the right to vote, it is clear the problems still exist,” says Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). On the same day that the Senate votes to approve the bill, President Bush, on a visit to the annual NAACP convention, promises to sign the bill into law. One senator voicing his objection to the bill is Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who says: “Other states with much less impressive minority progress and less impressive minority participation are not covered, while Georgia still is. This seems both unfair as well as unwise.” Chambliss is not joined in his opposition by fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), whose home state of South Carolina is, like Georgia, subject to Justice Department oversight for any changes to its voting procedures. “South Carolinians, you have come a long way,” he says. But we, just like every other part of this country, still have a long way to go.” [New York Times, 7/21/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Senate, Saxby Chambliss, Lindsey Graham

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) reauthorization into law. The extension, called the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act,” makes the VRA the law until 2031. It also overturns the decision rendered in Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board (see May 12, 1997) by outlawing electoral redistricting for discriminatory purposes, and invalidates the decision rendered in Georgia v. Ashcroft by declaring that Section 5 protects the ability of minorities “to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” [MSNBC, 10/4/2005; White House, 6/27/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012] In October 2005, Congressional Republicans declared that they intended to lead the way towards renewing the VRA, particularly Section 5 (see October 4, 2005). But in June 2006, House Republicans balked at renewing Section 5 and another provision mandating bilingual ballots in many areas (see June 22, 2006). The bill survived a number of attempts to derail or weaken it by those House Republicans (see July 13, 2006), and was upheld 98-0 in the Senate (see July 20, 2006).

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, George W. Bush, US House of Representatives, US Senate

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

By a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court narrows the provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and July 27, 2006), ruling in Bartlett v. Strickland that the VRA does not require state governments to draw electoral districts favorable to minority candidates in places where minorities make up less than half the population. The Court rules that race must be considered only in drawing boundaries where a “geographically compact group of minority voters” make up at least 50 percent of a single-member district. Law professor Richard Hasen says that because of the Court’s ruling, 50 percent is now a “magic number.” The decision makes it more difficult for minorities to challenge redistricting efforts that they believe may dilute voting rights after the upcoming 2010 census. Writing for the plurality opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes: “There is an underlying principle of fundamental importance: We must be most cautious before interpreting a statute to require courts to make inquiries based on racial classifications and race-based predictions.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito join with Kennedy’s opinion; Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas file a concurring opinion that claims no minorities should ever be able to go to court with complaints about minority vote dilution. The four moderate/liberal justices on the Court dissent. Hasen says that Kennedy’s opinion makes it likely that he will join the Court’s right wing to further limit the VRA in upcoming cases: Hasen says Kennedy seems open to interpreting the VRA “in ever stingier ways.” However, Kennedy also writes: “Racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions.” The case hinges on a decision by the North Carolina legislature to enhance minority representation by creating a voting district that crosses county lines; the Court strikes down the district and rejects arguments that the district is needed for North Carolina to comply with the VRA. Instead, Kennedy writes, only districts where minorities made up more than 50 percent are protected under the VRA. Justice David Souter, writing the four-justice dissent, says that such “crossover districts” are sometimes needed to fulfill the goals of the VRA, and that the Court’s finding will “force the states to perpetuate racially concentrated districts, the quintessential manifestations of race consciousness in American politics.” It will require states “to pack black voters” into districts in which minorities make up the majority, Souter writes, “contracting the number of districts where racial minorities are having success in transcending racial divisions.” [New York Times, 3/9/2009; Washington Post, 3/10/2009]

Entity Tags: David Souter, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Richard L. Hasen, Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court refuses to rule against one of the main components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Many conservatives had seen the case as an opportunity for the Court conservatives to either drastically narrow or entirely gut the VRA, and were hopeful of that outcome in light of a recent Court decision narrowing the VRA’s effect on districting (see March 9, 2009). Instead, the Court chooses not to rule on the central tenet of the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, which is that the VRA is largely unconstitutional. The case was brought by a Texas utility district that claimed in arguments that the VRA was unconstitutional and unnecessary in a time when the nation has elected a black president. The plaintiff argued that districts and other governmental entities should be allowed to “bail out” from being covered by the VRA. [New York Times, 6/22/2009; New York Times, 6/22/2009] Many observers were concerned that the conservative wing of the Court would use the case to overturn large portions of the VRA, especially in earlier questioning, when Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “Congress has made a finding that the sovereignty of Georgia is less than the sovereign dignity of Ohio. The sovereignty of Alabama is less than the sovereign dignity of Michigan. And the governments in one are to be trusted less than the governments in the other.… No one questions the validity, the urgency, the essentiality of the Voting Rights Act. The question is whether or not it should be continued with this differentiation between the states. And that is for Congress to show.” [New York Times, 4/29/2009] Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion, says that the Court should avoid tackling large constitutional questions when it can. “We are now a very different nation” than the one that first passed the Voting Rights Act, he writes. “Whether conditions continue to justify such legislation is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today.” Roberts’s opinion says that “a broader reading” of the VRA’s bailout provision should be implemented. Moreover, he writes, the federal oversight of states and areas with a history of discrimination may have served its purpose and may need to be phased out, a position supported by the lone dissenter, Justice Clarence Thomas, who writes that the oversight provision of Section 5 of the VRA should be overturned entirely. It is possible that others will take advantage of the Court’s hesitation to file other “opt out” or “bailout” challenges to the VRA. Some legal experts found the basis of the case to be lacking. Ellen Katz, a law professor at the University of Michigan, calls the Court’s ruling “improbable,” and Richard Hasen of Loyola Law School says “virtually no lawyer” sees the Court’s interpretation as reasonable. NAACP lawyer Debo P. Adegbile says that regardless of questions surrounding the Court’s verdict, the ruling is one to celebrate: “This case was brought to tear the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, and today that effort failed.” [New York Times, 6/22/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Richard L. Hasen, Ellen Katz, Debo P. Adegbile, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, John G. Roberts, Jr, Voting Rights Act of 1965

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Liberal MSNBC commentator and talk show host Keith Olbermann devotes one of his “special comments” to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate donations in elections (see January 21, 2010). Olbermann starts by reminding his viewers of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott ruling by the Court that found no African-American could ever be considered a US citizen (see March 6, 1857). Olbermann compares Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the Citizens United decision, unfavorably to the much-maligned chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott ruling; Olbermann says that the Citizens United decision “might actually have more dire implications than” the 1857 finding. Olbermann says: “In short, the First Amendment—free speech for persons—which went into affect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886. In short, there are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections. None. They can spend all the money they want. And if they can spend all the money they want—sooner, rather than later—they will implant the legislators of their choice in every office from president to head of the Visiting Nurse Service. And if senators and congressmen and governors and mayors and councilmen and everyone in between are entirely beholden to the corporations for election and re-election to office, soon they will erase whatever checks there might still exist to just slow down the ability of corporations to decide the laws.” Corporations can, in essence, buy and sell politicians at will, Olbermann says, and those politicians can change laws as their corporate donors dictate. “[A]ny legal defense you can structure now, can be undone by the politicians who will be bought and sold into office this November, or two years from now. And any legal defense which honest politicians can somehow wedge up against them this November, or two years from now, can be undone by the next even larger set of politicians who will be bought and sold into office in 2014, or 2016, or 2018.… Unless this mortal blow is somehow undone, within 10 years every politician in this country will be a prostitute.” Labor unions, Olbermann says, will quickly be “strangled” by corporations “so they pose no further threat to the corporations’ total control of our political system.” Taxes on the wealthy and on corporations will be slashed, and social programs will be eliminated, “because money spent on the poor means less money left for the corporations.” Wars that benefit the military-industrial complex will become the norm. Racial and religious profiling will become commonplace, because the corporations will want to shift blame from their own machinations onto someone else, and people of different religions or ethnicities are easy targets for such blame. The “poor dumb manipulated b_stards” of the “tea parties” will “have a glorious few years as the front men as the corporations that bankroll them slowly unroll their total control of our political system,” until they are “banished, maybe outlawed, when a few of the brighter ones suddenly realize that the corporations have made them the Judas Goats of American freedom.” The Obama administration’s bank reforms will be eliminated by “his successor purchased by the banks.” Corporations will buy and control government entities from federal agencies to town councils. Billionaires will “buy and install their own city governments.” The mainstream media as we know it will disappear, because the corporate-owned government will require media outlets to reassure the populace that “everything’s great” and no one is needed to speak out against the government. The Internet, currently a venue that allows the most disparate of opinions to be voiced and shared, will be corralled and brought to heel. Olbermann concludes by saying: “The right wing won’t even tell their constituents that they are being sold into bondage alongside the rest of us. And why should they? For them, the start of this will be wonderful.” [MSNBC, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John G. Roberts, Jr, Keith Olbermann

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jan Witold Baran.Jan Witold Baran. [Source: Metropolitan Corporate Counsel]Author and law professor Jan Witold Baran cheers the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that allows virtually unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions in political campaigns (see January 21, 2010). Baran, who alerts readers that he filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court in favor of plaintiff Citizens United, characterizes the ruling as allowing “corporations and unions [to] spend money on political advertising that urges the election or defeat of a candidate for public office.” He cites President Obama’s warning that the decision will unleash a “stampede of special-interest money in our politics” (see January 24, 2010), and derides that warning. He reminds readers that the decision retains the ban on direct contributions by corporations and unions, and that corporations and unions may not “spend money in cahoots with political parties,” but must remain “independent” and not coordinate with candidates or their campaigns. He also tells readers that the decision mandates disclosure, saying that the ruling “upheld the laws that require any corporate or union spender to file reports with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours of spending the first dime.” Because of these retentions, Baran writes, there will be no “stampede of special-interest money.” The ruling will put an end to so-called “issue ads,” Baran predicts (see March 27, 1990 and June 25, 2007), the ads that either support or attack an issue and then urge the viewer to contact their congressperson. Because of the new ruling, the ads can now exhort viewers to vote for one candidate or against another because of the issues. Baran goes on to write, “There is also no factual basis to predict that there will be a ‘stampede’ of additional spending.” Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia already have laws permitting some corporate and union spending, he says, and notes: “There have been no stampedes in those states’ elections. Having a constitutional right is not the same as requiring one to exercise it, and there are many reasons businesses and unions may not spend much more on politics than they already do. As such, the effect of Citizens United on the 2010 campaigns is debatable.” He says that the ruling is primarily a blowback against Congress’s meddlesome penchant to restrict “campaign speech.… Congress interpreted its power to regulate campaigns as a license to limit, restrict, burden, and confuse anyone who wished to engage in political campaigns.” Now, he says, the Court has reminded Congress that the First Amendment trumps its ability to regulate (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010). The ruling is “a breath of fresh air” for everyone except Washington lawyers, Baran says, and concludes: “The history of campaign finance reform is the history of incumbent politicians seeking to muzzle speakers, any speakers, particularly those who might publicly criticize them and their legislation. It is a lot easier to legislate against unions, gun owners, ‘fat cat’ bankers, health insurance companies, and any other industry or ‘special interest’ group when they can’t talk back.” [New York Times, 1/25/2010; Wiley Rein LLP, 2012] Many observers besides Obama predict dire consequences as a result of the Court ruling (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, and January 26, 2010). And unfortunately for Baran’s predictions, a March 2010 appeals court verdict (see March 26, 2010) will join with the Citizens United ruling, particularly a loophole in the ruling (see February 27, 2010), to unleash just the kind of corporate spending that Baran says would never happen.

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Barack Obama, Jan Witold Baran, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Governor Sarah Palin speaks at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.Former Governor Sarah Palin speaks at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville. [Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer]Tea Party Nation (TPN), one of the national “umbrella” organizations that coordinate and promote local tea party events and groups (see August 24, 2010), holds a two-day Tea Party Convention in Nashvillle, Tennessee. Around 600 people attend, with another 500 or so attending only the speech given by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president in 2008. “America is ready for another revolution,” she tells the crowd. In a statement addressed at President Obama, she says the tea party movement is “about the people, and it’s bigger than any one king or queen of a tea party, and it’s a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter.” A Harvard Crimson report describes TPN as an “eclectic mix of Ron Paul libertarians” and “George W. Bush social conservatives” who are “predominantly white and above age 50” and have a common “dislike of President Obama, the debt, future tax increases, and the bank bailout.” Some critics accuse TPN of profiteering from the convention; tickets cost $549 ($349 to just hear Palin’s speech), and Palin receives a $100,000 speaker’s fee, which she claims “will go right back to the cause.” Some prominent lawmakers, including Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), canceled their planned appearances at the event, saying that their appearance at such an event would conflict with House rules. [National Tea Party Convention, 2/2010; The Week, 2/4/2010; Beth Rowen, 2/9/2010]
Incendiary Rhetoric Opens Event - Speakers include Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan, WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah, and Rick Scarborough, an author who writes of the impending tyranny of “activist” judges. Some of the topics discussed during the convention include: “Correlations between the current Administration and Marxist Dictators of Latin America”; “5 Easy Fixes to the High Cost of Mass Immigration”; “Defeating Liberalism via the Primary Process”; and “Why Christians Must Engage.” The first speaker is former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who insults minority citizens and rails against the Obama administration. Tancredo says “illiterate” minority voters are responsible for putting Obama, “a committed socialist,” into office, and he goes on to say that perhaps literacy tests (see 1896 and June 8, 1959) and poll taxes (see February 4, 1964) should be reintroduced to ensure that candidates such as Obama never be elected again (see August 6, 1965). Tancredo says that the voters who put Obama into the White House “could not even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English.” Tancredo goes on to say: “The president and his left-wing allies in Congress are going to look at every opportunity to destroy the Constitution before we have a chance to save it. So put your running shoes on. Because I’ll tell you, I’ve heard we need a revolution. My friends, we already had it. We lost. I mean, what happened to us in that last election was a revolution.… This is our country. Let’s take it back.” Hilary Shelton of the NAACP later calls Tancredo’s remarks “the politics of denigration.” [National Tea Party Convention, 2/2010; The Week, 2/4/2010; Chattahbox, 2/5/2010]
Rival Tea Parties Boycott Event - A number of rival tea party organizations and leaders asked tea party members to boycott the convention. One of those, organizer Shane Brooks, recently left TPN after deciding that the organization was too cozy with the national Republican Party. In a YouTube video, Brooks asked tea partiers to “boycott the National Tea Party Convention” and said: “[W]e will not allow Tea Party Nation or any group to achieve national leadership of this historic grassroots revolution by the people!… We must not allow the tea parties and other patriotic grassroots movement to be hijacked by the GOP.” Prominent Seattle tea party leader Keli Carender (see February 16-17, 2009) also decided not to attend after being listed as a convention speaker, telling an NPR reporter that she did not want the tea party movement to become too centralized. Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots said that the $549 convention attendance fee was far too high: “Most people in our movement can’t afford anything like that. So it’s really not aimed at the average grassroots person.” TPN founder Judson Phillips told a reporter that the high fees would allow TPN to make a profit and “funnel money back into conservative causes” through a 527 group it plans to set up. TPN leaders refused to discuss Palin’s speaking fee. A local tea party member said skeptically, “The tea party movement is a grass-roots movement; it’s not a business.” Another accused Phillips of being “someone who is trying to make a grab.” Others echo Brooks’s concerns that Phillips and TPN are attempting to “co-opt” the movement and become power brokers within the GOP. The Tea Party Express, an organization run by a small group of well-financed Republican consultants, is part of the convention, dismaying some more independent tea party leaders. One activist wrote in an online comment: “The tea party movement is about to be hijacked. TeaPartyNation.com organizers are hard lined GOP who use the proverbial veil of ‘conservatism’ to attract supporters.” RedState blogger Erick Erickson called the convention “scammy.” [TPM Muckraker, 1/11/2010; TPM Muckraker, 1/18/2010; Publicola, 2/3/2010]

Entity Tags: Rick Scarborough, Michele Bachmann, Shane Brooks, Sarah Palin, Marsha Blackburn, Tea Party Express, Tom Tancredo, Tea Party Nation, Mark Meckler, Republican Party, Judson Phillips, Angela McGlowan, Barack Obama, Keli Carender, Joseph Farah, Hilary Shelton, Erick Erickson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel says a key portion of the Civil Rights Act should be eliminated, because, he says, “[p]rivate businesses ought to get to discriminate.” [Media Matters, 5/20/2010; Media Matters, 9/7/2010] The 1964 Civil Rights Act (see July 2, 1964), signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson, prohibits discrimination in public places, provides for the integration of public schools and other public facilities, and makes employment discrimination illegal. [Media Matters, 9/7/2010; National Archives, 2011] Stossel, a guest on Fox News’s America Live, tells host Megyn Kelly that he agrees with libertarian Rand Paul, a Republican candidate for the US Senate, in recommending that the portion of the Civil Rights Act mandating no discrimination in public places should be repealed. (Both Paul and Stossel argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act should also be repealed—see May 17, 2010 and September 1, 2010). Paul has said: “[Y]ou should let businesses decide for themselves whether they are going to be racist or not racist. Because once the government gets involved, it’s a slippery slope.” When Kelly quotes this comment from Paul, Stossel says he is “in total agreement” with Paul, stating: “[I]f a private business wants to say, ‘We don’t want any blond anchorwomen or mustached guys,’ it ought to be their right. Are we going to say to the black students’ association they have to take white people, or the gay softball association they have to take straight people? We should have freedom of association in America.” (Kelly is a blond anchorwoman, and Stossel wears a mustache.) Kelly says: “When you put it like that it sounds fine, right? So who cares if a blond anchorwoman and mustached anchorman can’t go into the lunchroom. But as you know, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came around because it was needed. Blacks weren’t allowed to sit at the lunch counter with whites. They couldn’t, as they traveled from state to state in this country, they couldn’t go in and use a restroom. They couldn’t get severed meals and so on, and therefore, unfortunately in this country a law was necessary to get them equal rights.” Stossel notes that those “Jim Crow” doctrines “were government rules. Government was saying we have white and black drinking fountains. That’s very different from saying private people can’t discriminate.” Stossel says that business owners should be free to discriminate, and if the “free market” punishes them by costing them customers, then that is a fair way to handle it. Kelly says the time of the Civil Rights Act “was a different time. Racism and discrimination was rampant. I’m not saying it’s been eliminated. But it was rampant. It was before my time, before I was born, but obviously I’ve read history, and I know that there is something wrong when a person of color can’t get from state to state without stopping at a public restroom or a public lunchroom to have a sandwich.” Stossel says: “But the public restroom was run by the government, and maybe at the time that was necessary.… And I would go further than he was willing to go, as he just issued the statement, and say it’s time now to repeal that part of the law.… Because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won’t won’t ever go to a place that’s racist and I will tell everybody else not to and I’ll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist.” [Media Matters, 5/20/2010; Media Matters, 9/7/2010] Stossel’s position provokes considerable criticism, and the civil rights organization Color of Change calls for a boycott of Fox Business until it fires Stossel. The organization writes: “Stossel’s position is an affront to black America and everyone in this country who believes in racial progress. It’s one thing to be a candidate with backwards views [referring to Paul]. It’s another to be employed by a supposed news network and to use that platform to push hateful ideas that our nation repudiated decades ago. It’s time that Fox drop Stossel.” [Salem News, 5/22/2010] US Representative Bob Filner (D-CA), a veteran of civil rights protests, responds: “A ‘private’ business generally operates on a public thoroughfare, is protected by public police and fire departments, is served by public transportation, is staffed by people educated in public schools, is protected against fraud by the public justice system, may serve food or sell products protected by public inspection agencies, etc., etc., etc. Surely the public has a right to insist on non-racist policies! As a Freedom Rider in 1961, I rode on an interstate, publicly franchised Greyhound bus, and, as a member of an integrated group, was denied access to restrooms, lunch counters, and waiting rooms. The Supreme Court rightly ruled this was unconstitutional. Do Rand Paul and John Stossel want to take us back to a racist past from which so many people gave their lives to liberate us?” [Media Matters, 5/21/2010] Andrew Grant-Thomas, deputy director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, says that Stossel has fundamentally misrepresented history, stating, “Market forces hadn’t exactly made anti-black discrimination disappear during the several centuries before the Civil Rights Act.” Even with the progress made since the legislation took effect, Grant-Thomas says, racial discrimination is still a major problem. “If you look at any market for which we’ve done extensive studies, significant discrimination remains,” he says. “It’s clearly better than it was. But there’s still discrimination.” There is a strong market for businesses that “currently, and legally, discriminate on the basis of race, or other grounds, in their membership. That hasn’t caused them to go under. Indeed… in some key arenas, like housing and schools, some people pay more for segregated settings.” He concludes: “The Civil Rights Act wasn’t passed on economic grounds, but on moral and ethical grounds. Suggesting that market logic would have sufficed to weed out discriminators is pretty much besides the point in that respect.” [Media Matters, 5/20/2010] A clearly aggrieved Stossel will respond to the criticism (see July 2, 2010).

Entity Tags: Rand Paul, Megyn Kelly, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Stossel, Robert Earl (“Bob”) Filner, Color Of Change, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Fox Business Channel, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Andrew Grant-Thomas

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel goes on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor to defend his recent call to repeal a key element of the Civil Rights Act (see May 20-22, 2010). [Media Matters, 5/25/2010] The 1964 Civil Rights Act, signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson, prohibits discrimination in public places, provides for the integration of public schools and other public facilities, and makes employment discrimination illegal (see July 2, 1964). [Media Matters, 9/7/2010; National Archives, 2011] Host Bill O’Reilly is less than sympathetic to Stossel’s call for repeal, noting that one function of government is to protect its citizens, and this includes protecting them from discrimination, even at the hands of private businesses, which Stossel says should not be covered under the law. It is up to the government, O’Reilly says, to ensure every citizen’s “quality of life.” Stossel says he is a libertarian, and like most libertarians, he wants government to protect him from those who would physically hurt him, steal from him, and so forth. “But we want government out of our private lives,” he says, and to expect government to step in to “make life fair” is “an awful idea.” O’Reilly counters that the Declaration of Independence guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and discrimination denies targeted minorities that “pursuit of happiness.” Stossel, as he did earlier, insists that private businesses rarely if ever practice discrimination in this day and age, and those that do are quickly punished by “market forces”—customers refusing to patronize those businesses, for example. O’Reilly is adamant, saying, “I feel very strongly, if it’s open to the public, then the public has to be” allowed access. [Media Matters, 5/25/2010]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Civil Rights Act of 1964, John Stossel, Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules 11-0 that Washington State’s felon disenfranchisement law does not violate the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). The case, Farrakhan v. Gregoire, has been in the court system for seven years (see July 7, 2006), and an appeals court panel found by a 2-1 vote that the felon disenfranchisement law did indeed violate the VRA by racially discriminating against voters. The appeals court finds that Washington committed no “intentional disenfranchisement” in its denial of the right to vote to convicted felons, and writes: “Because plaintiffs presented no evidence of intentional discrimination in the operation of Washington’s criminal justice system and argue no other theory under which a section 2 challenge might be sustained, we conclude that they didn’t meet their burden of showing a violation of the VRA. Accordingly, the district court didn’t err when it granted summary judgment against them.” [Brennan Center for Justice, 1/5/2010; Equal Justice Society, 10/14/2010; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) withdraws a request to have the federal government approve two new Florida redistricting amendments. Under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989), the Justice Department (DOJ) must approve any redistricting changes made by Florida to make sure they do not diminish minority voting access. Amendments 5 and 6 were approved by 63 percent of Florida voters in November 2010, the same election that awarded Scott the governorship. The amendments impose new standards for legislators to follow for redistricting in 2012. Then-acting Secretary of State Dawn Roberts submitted the new standards to the DOJ for approval. Scott does not explain his withdrawal, but media reports speculate that he is working with Florida Republicans, who have challenged the new amendments in court. Scott replaced Roberts with former Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the head of Protect Your Vote, an organization which led the opposition to Amendments 5 and 6. Scott only says: “One of the things that we’re looking at is the amendments that were passed, how they’re going to be implemented. We want to make sure that with regard to redistricting, it’s fair, it’s the right way of doing it. So it’s something I’m clearly focused on.” Of Browning, he says, “My agents will do everything we can to make sure it’s fairly done.” The Florida Department of State denies any involvement by Browning in the decision to withdraw the request. Scott’s spokesman Brian Hughes says, “This withdrawal in no way impedes the process of redrawing Florida’s legislative and Congressional districts.” Florida Democrats say Scott is attempting to delay or block implementation of the amendments. Fair Districts Now, the organization that proposed the amendments, issues a statement accusing Scott of trying to subvert the will of the people. It says: “Within its first days in power, the new administration of Governor Rick Scott, through its Department of State, took extraordinary steps to thwart the will of the overwhelming majority of Florida voters who voted for redistricting reform in Florida. On, November 2, 63 percent of Florida voters amended the Florida Constitution to include new non-partisan redistricting standards. When new laws affect voting as these do, the Voting Rights Act requires that the standards be reviewed and ‘pre-cleared’ by the Justice Department (DOJ). It is the duty of the state to request DOJ pre-clearance. Governor Crist ordered that a formal request for pre-clearance be filed. The Florida secretary of state’s office filed that request on December 10, 2010. On January 7, 2011, as one of its first acts, the new administration of Governor Rick Scott, through its Department of State, in an apparent attempt to thwart the will of the voters, wrote to DOJ withdrawing the amendments from review.” Fair Districts Now may sue Florida to have the new standards reviewed by the DOJ. Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich says Scott should follow the “will of the voters,” and adds: “The governor got elected with 48 percent and he calls that a mandate. I think that the amendment passing with 63 percent is definitely a mandate.” NAACP board member Leon Russell, who supports the two amendments, says Scott is abusing his power “to prevent implementation of these needed reforms.” Regardless of what is and is not done, the redistricting plans will have to receive “pre-clearance” under the VRA before being implemented. Scott does not inform the media of his withdrawal, and reporters do not learn of it until almost the end of January. Scott makes the withdrawal three days after being sworn in as governor. [Miami Herald, 1/25/2011; The Ledger, 1/25/2011; Florida Independent, 1/25/2011]

Entity Tags: Leon Russell, Dawn Roberts, Charles Joseph (“Charlie”) Crist, Jr, Brian Hughes, Fair Districts Now, Kurt Browning, Protect Your Vote, Rick Scott, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Nan Rich, Florida Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), joining the race to contend for the Republican presidential nomination, tells an audience at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington that America was a much better place before 1965, when the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) was enacted and the “welfare state” began. “Social conservatives understand that America was a great country because it was founded great,” Santorum says. “Our founders, calling upon in the Declaration of Independence, the supreme judge, calling upon divine providence, said what was at the heart of American exceptionalism.… ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.‘… Ladies and gentlemen, America was a great country before 1965.” Reporter David Love notes that in 1965, institutionalized racism was still the law in many areas of the country. Police brutalized voting rights protesters and civil rights workers were murdered without legal repercussions. The civil rights legislation enacted during this time began the variety of federal “safety net” programs such as food stamps, aid for mothers and their children, disabled citizens, and others, and also began stamping out institutionalized, legal racism. Medicare and Medicaid were enacted under the Social Security Act of 1965. The 1965 Omnibus Housing Act provided funds for building housing for indigent Americans, including many African-Americans. The federal government began funding public schools in 1965. And two years later, the courts used 1965 legislation to overturn laws against miscegenation—interracial marriage. Love concludes: “So the question remains, was America better before 1965? Well, it depends on your point of view. If you are a conservative who views the Great Society legacy as a big government intrusion into the lives of people, then the answer is yes. If you think government has no business protecting civil rights, funding schools and feeding hungry children, increasing economic opportunity, and promoting the arts, your answer will undoubtedly be yes. However, if you are an African-American who enjoys exercising the right to vote, or a senior who doesn’t want anyone touching your Medicare, or someone who believes the federal government has a role to play in fighting poverty, chances are you have a different view of things.” [The Grio, 6/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Rick Santorum, David A. Love, Omnibus Housing Act of 1965, Social Security Act of 1965, Voting Rights Act of 1965

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the second Bush administration, writes that the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the subsequent flood of corporate money into the political campaign continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, and January 10, 2012) are good for American politics. [US News and World Report, 1/13/2012] According to a 2008 press report, Smith co-founded the CCP in 2006 in order to roll back campaign finance regulations, claiming that virtually any regulation is bad for politics. Smith has refused to reveal the financial sponsors that gave him the “seed money” to start the organization. Smith helped win the landmark SpeechNow case (see March 26, 2010) that allowed for the creation of “super PACs,” the organizations that are primarily responsible for flooding the campaign with corporate money. According to law professor Richard Hasen, Smith and the CCP have worked diligently to bring cases like the SpeechNow case to the Supreme Court so that the conservative-dominated Court can “knock them out of the park.” [Politico, 8/12/2008] Smith now writes: “Super PACs are not an evil tolerated under the First Amendment—they are what the First Amendment is all about. A super PAC, after all, is simply a group of citizens pooling resources to speak out about politics.” He claims that super PACs merely “leveled the playing field” after Democrats and Democratic-supporting organizations consistently outfunded Republican campaigns during elections. Super PACs have kept the presidential campaigns of candidates such as Rick Santorum (R-GA—see February 16-17, 2012) and Newt Gingrich (see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) alive. Smith predicts that Democrats will easily outspend Republicans again once the presidential primary campaign concludes (see Around October 27, 2010), November 1, 2010 and May 5, 2011), but says, “Super PACs, however, will help level the field.” Smith claims that super PACs “disclose all of their expenditures and all of their donors,” and claims that any information to the contrary is wrong, as it is “confusing super PACs with traditional nonprofits such as the NAACP or the Sierra Club.” He concludes: “Super PACs are helping to shatter the old, established order, create more competition, and break the hold of special interests lobbyists—big business actually joined the ‘reform’ community in opposing super PACs in court. Are super PACs harming politics? Of course not. How odd that anyone would think that more political speech was bad for democracy.” [US News and World Report, 1/13/2012] The Citizens United decision specifically allows for donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010).

Entity Tags: Rick Santorum, Center for Competitive Politics, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, Newt Gingrich, Richard L. Hasen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the George W. Bush administration, writes a second editorial for US News and World Report defending “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities responsible for infusing millions of dollars into the political campaign system. Smith wrote an editorial in January 2012 defending super PACs, claiming they are the direct outgrowth of First Amendment free-speech rights and are actually good for the campaign system (see January 13, 2012). However, as in his first editorial, Smith makes a number of false claims to bolster his arguments. Such organizations were created in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the following SpeechNow.org decision (see March 26, 2010). He notes, correctly, that until 1974 there were no federal restrictions on super PACs, apparently referring to that year’s amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (see 1974), though he fails to note that such organizations did not exist until after the SpeechNow decision. He claims that “[t]here is no evidence that super PACs have led to a greater percentage of negative ads” than in earlier presidential campaigns, though he cites no evidence to that effect. He also claims, as he did in the first editorial, that it is false to claim super PACs “spend ‘secret’ money. This is just not true. By law, super PACs are required to disclose their donors. There are groups that have never had to disclose their donors, non-profits such as the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and the NRA. If you want more disclosure, super PACs are a step forward.” Unfortunately, the Citizens United decision specifically allows donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). As in the first editorial, Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010). He also claims that super PACs increase competition—“level the playing field,” as he wrote in the first editorial—by allowing Republican candidates to equal the spending of their Democratic opponents. In reality, Republicans have outstripped Democrats in outside, super PAC spending since the Citizens United decision (see Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, and May 5, 2011). Smith bolsters his claim by citing direct campaign spending as offsetting “independent” super PAC spending, such as in the 2010 US House race involving incumbent Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who won re-election even after a $500,000 super PAC-driven effort on behalf of his challenger. DeFazio, Smith claims, “outspent his opponent by a sizable margin and won. Still, for the first time in years he had to campaign hard for his constituents’ support. That’s a good thing.” He cites the presidential campaigns of Republican contenders Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) and Rick Santorum (R-PA—see February 16-17, 2012), which have relied on the contributions of a very few extraordinarily wealthy contributors to keep their candidacies alive against the frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), whose own super PAC funding is extraordinary (see June 23, 2011). And, he writes, super PAC spending “improves voter knowledge of candidates and issues. Indeed, political ads are frequently a better source of information for voters than news coverage.” The most important benefit of the two Court decisions and the subsequent influx of corporate money into the US election continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, and January 23, 2012), he writes, “is that they get government out of the business of regulating political speech. Who would say that you can’t spend your own time and money to state your own political beliefs? Vindicating that fundamental First Amendment right is good for democracy.” [US News and World Report, 2/17/2012]

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, Center for Competitive Politics, Peter DeFazio, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Willard Mitt Romney, Federal Election Commission, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) tells a reporter that the Supreme Court issued its 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) in part because none of its members have ever been elected officials and thusly they have no personal experience with the corruption that comes with unregulated money being allowed into political campaigns. The Court’s majority opinion found that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Whitehouse says in part: “Unfortunately you had the five right-wing judges, none of whom have ever run for any office ever and have zero political experience between the five of them, offering opinions about what money can do in elections.… So clearly the finding of fact in Citizens United that unlimited corporate spending cannot either increase the risk of corruption or increase the appearance to the public that there’s corruption is ludicrous.… The president asked me who I thought, you know, what were the characteristics of somebody that should be appointed to the Court, and I said I think it should be somebody who has some actual political experience out there so that they are not operating in this political arena with absolutely no knowledge. Even if they wanted to come to the result that Citizens United came to, I think those judges would have had a hard time getting there if they’d had actual practical political experience because they would have known what a preposterous finding they were making.” Legal scholar Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes: “The current Supreme Court includes eight former US Court of Appeals judges and one former law school dean. Four of the five current justices responsible for Citizens United served as political appointees in Republican administrations. The justices who decided Brown v. Board of Education (see May 17, 1954), by contrast, included one former governor, three former US senators, and one former state lawmaker.” [Think Progress, 5/23/2012]

Entity Tags: Ian Millhiser, US Supreme Court, Sheldon Whitehouse

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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