Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: November 2005 Archives

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November 30, 2005

Connecticut: state senate passes campaign finance bill

AP reports: The state Senate on Wednesday approved some of the most sweeping changes in campaign finance laws in the country, including tight restrictions on contributions and a voluntary, publicly funded election system.

The House took up the bill later in the evening. A close vote was expected. ...

The bill allots about $17 million each year in public funds for political campaigns. To reduce the influence of special interests, the bill bans political contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. -- Newsday.com: Conn. Senate Passes Campaign Finance Bill

Specter will question Alito on voting rights

Knight Ridder Newspapers reports: Sen. Arlen Specter, serving notice that he intends to take up contentious issues raised in years-old writings by Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., asked the Supreme Court nominee Wednesday to be prepared to clarify his views on affirmative action and voting rights.

Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent Alito "advance notice" of questioning he could expect at his confirmation hearings, scheduled to begin Jan. 9.

In a 1985 memo Alito wrote while seeking a promotion in the Reagan administration's Justice Department, he said he disagreed with Supreme Court reapportionment decisions in the 1960s that enforced the doctrine of "one person, one vote." ...

The senator advised Alito, now a judge on the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, that he would ask at the hearing whether Alito considered "one person, one vote" a bedrock principle and whether race was ever an acceptable consideration in drawing voting-district lines. -- Alito to face questioning on affirmative action, voting rights

Cert. Petition in Igartua v. United States

Gregorio Igartua de la Rosa, et al, filed a cert petition on 22 November for review of the 1st Circuit's decision.

The version
I have does not Questions Presented or a cover page, so I have reproduced the major argument headings below:

The Federal District Court, and the Appeals Court “en banc” (1st Cir), Erred in Determining that Puerto Rico Cannot Have Electors Without a Constitutional Amendment, Notwithstanding Judicial and Congressional Applicability of Constitutional Provisions to Puerto Rico Without Previous Requirement of Amendment.

The Federal District Court, and the Appeals Court “en banc”, Erred in Determining that Petitioners Request of Their Right to Vote in Presidential Elections Presents a Political Question, or Requires Puerto Rico to Become a State, Disregarding Constitutional Applicability to Puerto Rico Without Political or Statehood Requirement .

The Appeals Court “en banc” Erred in Determining, in Defiance to US Constitution Art. VI, That Treaties to Which the United States is Signatory Are Not Obligatory, But Mere Aspirational Instruments Not Supporting Petitioners’ Claim.

The Court Of Appeals “En Banc” Erred in Denying Petitioners Request For Declaratory Judgment and for Relief, Notwithstanding Domestic Law and Treaty Provisions Providing Judicial Remedies for Petitioners Voting Rights Request

The case is No. 05-650.

Texas: DeLay aide dismissed from Democrats' suit

The Houston Chronicle reports: John Colyandro, who has been sued and indicted over his fundraising in the 2002 elections, has one less legal issue to worry about.

On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed him from a lawsuit filed by two losing candidates alleging that Colyandro and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America violated the Texas Election Code by using corporate funds to influence contests for Texas attorney general and an East Texas legislative race.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said the losing Democrats, Kirk Watson and Mike Head, "failed to allege any facts that Colyandro intentionally or even knowingly violated the applicable sections of the Texas Election Code."

Buck Wood, who represents Watson and Head, had argued that Colyandro, executive director of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee, coordinated with the law enforcement group to use $1.5 million in corporate contributions to run ads favoring Republican candidates. Texas law bans corporate donations to political candidates. -- Judge dismisses Colyandro from ex-candidates' lawsuit

November 29, 2005

New Hampshire offers proposal for new primary calendar for Dems

The Associated Press reports: In response to concerns that the Democratic primary system does not give enough voice to minority voters, New Hampshire Democrats have proposed a plan that would leave Iowa and New Hampshire first in 2008, but would closely follow them with contests in states with more diverse populations.

But some Democrats from other states have said they do not think such a change would be that different from the 2004 primary calendar. In 2004, the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary were followed a week later by voting in six states.

Democrats on a national commission have been meeting all year to consider how the party's primary calendar could be changed to give minorities a greater influence in the early selection of presidential candidates. Iowa and New Hampshire, which wield tremendous influence as the traditional first two states in the process, are predominantly white.

Some on the commission have talked about a proposal that would place two caucuses in states with diverse populations between the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. That would probably include a Southern state with a substantial black population and a Southwestern state with a large Hispanic population. --
Democrats Offer Proposal for Primaries

November 28, 2005

Oregon: initiative for campaign finance report

The Oregonian reports: After a legislative campaign scandal prompted legislators to revise Oregon's campaign finance laws this year, it's likely that voters will consider much bigger changes next year.

Petitioners for a pair of campaign finance initiatives say they have gathered about 106,000 signatures. That's more than half the number needed to place the proposals on next November's ballot, with seven months until the deadline to collect the rest.

The initiatives would dramatically alter the financing of political campaigns in Oregon, one of five states with no limits on campaign contributions. They would ban contributions by corporations and labor unions, and restrict the amounts that individuals could give to campaigns.

Thanks to a recent poll, which found that three of every four voters support limiting campaign contributions, supporters of the initiatives are optimistic that voters will approve the proposals if they appear on the ballot. -- Initiatives would alter campaign finance laws

Florida: Fort Myers decides on redistricting plan

The Fort Myers News-Press reports: Fort Myers City Council will decide today which of two redistricting plans is most likely to pass muster with a federal court judge and civil rights advocates.

The council will review two plans that have been drafted by a redistricting consulting firm. All five council members, along with Mayor Jim Humphrey, suggested that three of six wards have minority majorities — or at least a 53 percent African-American majority.

A sixth ward was created after voters passed a referendum earlier this year to change to a city manager form of government. The mayor becomes the seventh voting member of the council.

If the council approves either redistricting plan — 4A1 or 4B1 — a minority majority will exist in wards 1, 2 and 3.

Still, the final redistricting draft must be approved by U.S. District Judge John Steele. And it is likely to face scrutiny from lawyers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. --
Fort Myers council to choose redistricting plan

Virginia: Republican wins A.G. race by 323 votes; Democrat will demand recount

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports: Republican Robert F. McDonnell won the closest-ever race for Virginia attorney general by 323 votes, but Democrat R. Creigh Deeds tomorrow will demand a court-supervised recount of the election.

The state Board of Elections this afternoon certified the results of the Nov. 8 election, with McDonnell getting 970,886 votes to 970,563 for Deeds. "I have full confidence that I won," McDonnell, a former state delegate from Virginia Beach, said in a telephone interview.

Larry Framme, a leader in Deeds' challenge to the results, said the Bath County Democrat will ask for a recount of the results in a court petition to be filed tomorrow morning. -- TimesDispatch.com | McDonnell win certified; recount likely

California: Duke Cunningham resigns, makes a plea bargain

The Washington Post reports: Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) pleaded guilty today to fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and tax evasion. Shortly after entering his plea, Cunningham announced that he is immediately resigning his seat, though he had already announced that he would not seek reelection next year.

According to The Associated Press, Cunningham admitted "he took $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to conspirators." The defense contracting firm at the center of the scandal is MZM Inc., which is run by Mitchell Wade. -- Rep. Cunningham Enters Guilty Plea, Resigns

The story has links to the charges and the plea agreement as well as the schedule for the special election.

As usual, Josh Marshall is all over the story -- and the story behind the story. Start here and keep reading the later stories.

November 27, 2005

Connecticut: Gov. Rell running without PAC money

AP reports: Bucking the trend of taking easy money from political action committees and lobbyists, Connecticut's Gov. M. Jodi Rell has vowed to raise campaign cash the old fashioned way: asking everyday supporters to write out a check.

"I know I'm way out on a limb, but it's the right thing to do," said Rell, 59, a former state representative and lieutenant governor who ascended to the governor's office last year when her running mate, Gov. John G. Rowland, resigned amid a corruption probe. ...

Rell, who's benefited from 80 percent approval ratings since taking office last year, said she hopes to prove that politicians don't have to be independently wealthy to run a campaign without special interest money. She's promised not to accept contributions from lobbyists or their spouses, PACs or certain employees of companies that work for the state. She's also passing on ad books, in which candidates sell advertising to raise money.

But some experts don't see other politicians following suit, saying that Connecticut is a unique example because of Rowland's guilty plea to a federal corruption charge. -- The Advocate - In wake of scandal, Rell runs without special interest cash

South Dakota: committee proposes spliting house districts

AP reports: A subcommittee of the state Constitutional Revision Commission has decided tentatively that all legislative districts for House members be split in two.

The proposal, which will be reviewed by the full commission when it meets again next spring, would establish two House districts within each state Senate district.

Currently, each of the state's 35 legislative districts elects one senator and two at-large House members, except for a huge district in northwestern South Dakota. District 28 is split into two House districts.

Mary McClure Bibby, a former seven-term Republican legislator and head of the subcommittee studying the legislative boundary-making process, says split House districts would be especially beneficial in sparsely populated areas of the state that now require very large districts. Often candidates from the larger towns in rural districts have the political edge over those from rural areas, she says. -- AP Wire | 11/27/2005 | Split house districts may be proposed

Texas: can a check be used to launder money

The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports: No one disputes that it's been illegal for years to launder money in Texas. But could it be done with a check?

The answer to that question could determine whether former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay faces trial on political-corruption charges or sees the indictments thrown out without spending another day in court.

At issue is a $190,000 check dated Sept. 13, 2002, and sent to an arm of the Republican National Committee in Washington. It was drawn on the account of the political-action committee Texans for a Republican Majority, which DeLay helped found and which is at the center of the conspiracy and money-laundering charges against him.

Prosecutors say the check contained ill-gotten gains -- corporate money banned from direct use in state elections. They say DeLay and two associates schemed to launder the money through the Republican National State Elections Committee, which then sent back washed "hard" money that could legally be spent for Texas candidates for the U.S. House. ...

Houston lawyer Dick DeGuerin, heading DeLay's legal team, said records show no money-laundering prosecution involving only checks before the 1993 Money Laundering Act was amended this year.

Before the law was amended, the money at issue had to be cash or its untraceable equivalent, DeGuerin said. -- Star-Telegram | 11/26/2005 | Check ruling holds key to DeLay's fate

Georgia: DOJ's Schlozman says leaked memo was "merely a draft"

Bradley Schlotzman writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Recent reports in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution have confused and misrepresented the decision-making process at the Department of Justice concerning preclearance of Georgia's changes to its voter identification statute.

The leaked internal memorandum that has generated the attention was merely a draft that did not incorporate the analytical work and extensive research conducted by all the attorneys assigned to the matter. Most disturbingly, this paper has neglected to mention that the leaked memorandum did not represent the recommendation of the veteran career chief of the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section, to whom preclearance approval decisions are expressly delegated by federal regulation.

The chief's well-grounded and solidly reasoned recommendation, in which I concurred as the acting assistant attorney general, was that the Georgia statute was clearly not racially retrogressive within the limited scope of the Voting Rights Act.

This matter arose when Georgia recently amended its voter identification statute by changing the number of acceptable documents that individuals must present before voting. Georgia is one of at least 17 states that mandate identification from voters, and there is no evidence that such requirements have had any adverse impact on minority voters.

Georgia's corrected data — which were not incorporated in the leaked memo — indicate that African-American citizens are actually slightly more likely than white citizens to possess one of the necessary forms of identification. -- Voter ID bill not an obstacle for minorities | ajc.com

November 25, 2005

DOJ changing its approach to campaign contributions

The New York Times reports: The American system of underwriting political campaigns is often derided as legalized bribery. Now the Justice Department is contending that it can amount to illegal bribery as well.

In pursuing a case that threatens to envelop Congress in an election-year lobbying scandal, federal prosecutors are arguing that campaign dollars and other perks routinely showered on lawmakers by those with legislative and political interests on Capitol Hill can reach the level of criminal misconduct.

The prosecutors say that among the criminal activities of Michael Scanlon, a former House leadership aide who pleaded guilty on Monday to bribery conspiracy, were efforts to influence a lawmaker identified in court papers only as Representative No. 1 with gifts that included $4,000 to his campaign account and $10,000 to a Republican Party fund on his behalf.

Lawyers and others who follow such issues say the case against Mr. Scanlon amounted to a shift by the Justice Department, which, they say, has generally steered clear of trying to build corruption cases around political donations because the charges can be hard to prove. -- Questions on the Legality of Campaign Fund-Raising - New York Times

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has some observations on this story.

November 24, 2005

Alito: do we know his views on reapportionment?

The Washington Post reports: One of the mysteries still hanging in the confirmation battle over Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. is his view of a landmark case that established the legal principle of one man, one vote. The answer varies depending on when you ask -- not to mention whom you ask.

In 1985, when Alito was applying for a political appointment in the Reagan administration, he wrote that he disagreed with decisions by the Warren Court in the 1960s involving "reapportionment." Those rulings required electoral districts to have equal populations and helped ensure greater representation of urban minorities.

Those 20-year-old words are highly inflammatory to civil rights groups marshaling forces against President Bush's choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But the White House and a key Republican ally this week were spreading the word that Alito has privately assured senators he has no intention of overturning the Warren Court's reapportionment precedents. Democrats, for their part, refuse to say what, if anything, Alito has told them on the subject.

The controversy over Alito's beliefs -- in the past and now -- illuminates one of the strange rituals of the modern confirmation process. Supporters usually say nominees should not comment on their views, except at official public hearings -- and often not even then. When it suits the purposes of one side or the other, however, conversations at the ostensibly private courtesy calls nominees pay on senators often are widely publicized, through authorized leaks or secondhand accounts from aides and political operatives. -- Alito's Stance on One Man, One Vote Is Debated

More convenient ways to read Votelaw

I have added two ways to get information from Votelaw more or less automatically. (Now don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you don't come by the site anymore.)

FeedBlitz enables you to gather blog and RSS content that you want quickly, direct to your in-box. No applications to install, no complex procedures, no annoying ads. Just your content, delivered daily, in an easy to read Email (text or HTML format - your choice). Not only do you a neat email every day, FeedBlitz subscriptions provide a great way to keep your colleagues up to date on industry news, or to get RSS updates delivered to your mobile phone, BlackBerry or PDA. If you don't want your email address shared with the feed publisher, you can always subscribe anonymously and preserve your privacy.

MultiRSS is a free service that allows you to click on the MultiRSS button and then be able to choose the RSS reader that you use from the current list of the 38 most used RSS readers.

I hope you find these convenient.

Georgia: sponsor of voter I.D. act proposes changes

AP reports: The Republican legislator who sponsored Georgia's controversial voter ID bill in the state Senate says he is willing to make changes to the law.

State Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, said Friday that changes could include letting local governments issue photo identification cards that would let people who don't have a driver's license vote.

Another idea, he said, would eliminate a provision under which voters can get a photo ID without paying a fee by signing a pauper's affidavit. "We'll make it free," Staton said.

A federal appeals court has blocked enactment of the law, which requires Georgia residents who do not have a driver's license or another state-issued form of identification to buy a separate card for as much as $35. Critics say that is the equivalent of an illegal poll tax, falling on the underprivileged, who are disproportionately minorities. -- AP Wire | 11/19/2005 | Sen. Staton says voter ID law may be changed

Michigan: former A.G. defends his opinion on voter I.D.

AP reports: Former Attorney General Frank Kelley says he told the Attorney General Opinion Review Board on Wednesday that his 1997 opinion labeling as unconstitutional a state law requiring a picture ID to vote should stand.

The board is considering a July request from state Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, that Republican Attorney General Mike Cox issue a new opinion on the law.

Eight years ago, Kelley - then the Democratic attorney general - wrote that the law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which among other things guarantees U.S. citizens the right to vote.

Ward said the state needs to require a picture ID from voters to prevent election fraud. In making his argument, he cited a Benton Harbor vote-buying scheme, absentee ballot tampering in River Rouge and election fraud in Ecorse. ...

Kelley, now with his own governmental affairs firm in Lansing, said Wednesday after the hearing that he doesn't think voter fraud is a problem in Michigan and that numerous other checks are in place to protect the integrity of the election process. -- Lansing State Journal: Former AG says requiring ID hurts vote rights

November 23, 2005

Alito: "Pride must go before he falls"

Derrick Z. Jackson writes in the Boston Globe: PRIDE MUST go before he falls. This is why Samuel Alito hopped to liberal burrows on Capitol Hill to proclaim the burial of his conservative ideology. ...

On one occasion, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan was ''proud" of his record on civil rights. Reagan himself said in 1985, ''We have a proud record on civil rights." That same year, Alito applied with pride for his promotion. In that application, Alito also claimed membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which called coeducation a ''fad" that ''ruined the mystique and the camaraderies that used to exist." It complained of ''subpar applicants being admitted primarily because they belonged to minority groups" and more students showing ''weak character."

A nominee so willing to prostrate himself to an administration that left virtually nothing to be proud of on civil rights is a solid warning that if Alito gets on the court, he will have no shame exhuming the ideology he claims has been buried. -- The masking of a conservative - The Boston Globe

November 22, 2005

"Voting after Katrina"

From the American Constitution Society blog: ACS is pleased to announce the availability of a transcript from "Voting After Katrina: Ensuring Meaningful Participation," a November 1 panel co-hosted by The Constitution in the 21st Century project's Democracy and Voting Rights issue group and the Center for American Progress. -- ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society

New York: Spitzer calls for nonpartisan districting

The New York Times reports: Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Monday that if elected governor he will end a practice that many say is at the root of Albany's dysfunctional government: the power of state lawmakers to draw legislative districts so that incumbents are perennially re-elected.

Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, called the current system "a classic conflict of interest" and said that as governor he would push for a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines. If the Legislature did not agree to such a change, he pledged that he would veto the next set of district lines established unless the boundaries were "reflective of democracy, not incumbent protection." ...

But districting is one of the most cherished powers in Albany. Currently, the Democratic-led Assembly draws the lines for Assembly districts and the Republican-led Senate draws the lines for Senate districts. Because of what critics call artful cartography, and some unusually shaped districts that critics say are drawn to benefit incumbents, neither house has changed hands in decades. And officials in both parties say districting has been vital to Senate Republicans, who have retained their majority even as Democratic voter registration has become stronger.

Sometimes, critics say, the districts have been drawn to stifle the aspirations of specific candidates. A Democrat who had made an unusually strong run against former State Senator Guy J. Velella, a Republican, found her house excluded from his district when the lines were redrawn in 2002. So did a candidate who had made a strong showing in a Democratic primary against Assemblyman Roger L. Green. (Mr. Velella later resigned after pleading guilty to bribery-related charges; Mr. Green resigned, but was later re-elected, after pleading guilty to billing the state for fake travel expenses.) -- Spitzer Calls for Nonpartisan Districting - New York Times

Virginia: A.G. count tightens

The Lynchburg News & Advance reports: Susan Swecker can’t stop hitting the refresh button on the State Board of Elections Web site to see the latest returns.

The campaign manager for Democrat Creigh Deeds likes what she sees. In the ever-tightening race for attorney general, Deeds has been gaining on Republican Bob McDonnell.

As of Monday, the unofficial count showed only 322 votes separated the two candidates, down from 3,000.

“When things are this tight, anything can happen,” Swecker said.

The vote count on Election Night is never accurate, she said, in part because humans make mistakes. Most of the time, however, races are not close enough that people notice. -- Attorney general recount certain

Texas: lawyers did their job; judge now confused

The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports: Lawyers for former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay tried to get campaign corruption charges against him tossed out of court Tuesday, but the judge said he would give both sides more time to argue about it.

"I had a pretty good idea 24 hours ago what I thought about this case," said Senior Judge Pat Priest. But after listening to lawyers from both sides at a pre-trial hearing Tuesday, Priest said he would probably take about two weeks to rule on defense motions to throw out the charges.

Prosecutors allege that DeLay and two associates illegally funneled tens of thousands of dollars in banned corporate money into the 2002 elections -- contests that helped DeLay and the Republicans strengthen their hold on the Legislature and, ultimately, the U.S. Congress.

DeLay’s large legal team, led by famed Houston lawyer Dick DeGuerin, said prosecutors bungled their conspiracy and money laundering indictments against the Republican congressman from Sugar Land. And they want Priest to quash the indictments.

Their chief arguments: that conspiracy to commit electoral violations was not a crime at the time DeLay is alleged to have committed it, and it was impossible in 2002 to launder money with a check. A check for $190,000 lies at the heart of the prosecutors’ case. -- Judge will consider tossing DeLay case out

Michigan: Detroit mayoral loser seeks recount

AP reports: Challenger Freman Hendrix on Tuesday announced he will ask for a hand recount of votes from the Detroit mayoral election, which he lost earlier this month to incumbent Kwame Kilpatrick.

"It may be tempting for some to dismiss this as a complaint from a sore loser," Hendrix said at a news conference. "But there has been enough evidence ... to raise legitimate questions about how the election was conducted and how the ballots were counted."

Arthur Blackwell II, the mayor's chief campaign strategist, said that with more than 14,500 votes separating the candidates, a recount likely won't change the outcome.

"This is sour grapes," Blackwell said. "This is not really in the city's best interests.

Hendrix announced his decision the same day the city's Board of Canvassers certified the Nov. 8 vote. Kilpatrick received 123,140 votes, or 53 percent, to 108,600 votes, or 47 percent, for Hendrix. -- Challenger to Seek Detroit Mayor Recount

Missouri: DOJ sues state over voter rolls -- too many people listed

AP reports: he Justice Department on Tuesday sued Missouri for alleged voting law violations, claiming that people who have moved or died may still be eligible to vote due to inaccurate and inflated registration rolls.

The lawsuit contends the state is violating a federal law that requires it to make reasonable efforts to remove ineligible voters. The state has wrongly delegated that duty to 116 local election jurisdictions, which are putting forth a shoddy and inconsistent effort, the lawsuit claims.

Some have left the names of dead people on the voter rolls, the Justice Department said. Others have failed to do meaningful reviews of voters rolls for people who have moved. Still others have taken voters off the rolls prematurely, the lawsuit says. -- Justice Sues Mo. for Alleged Voting Errors

November 21, 2005

Arizona: IRC opposes fast-track appeal

AP reports: The state's redistricting commission is opposing a Democratic group's request that the Arizona Supreme Court conduct an accelerated review of the Democrats' appeal of a lower court's ruling upholding current congressional and legislative district maps.

The Democrats say accelerated review by the Supreme Court still could allow their appeal of the Court of Appeals ruling to be decided in time to allow new legislative districts to be used in the 2006 elections. -- Welcome to the Tucson Citizen

Georgia: a different take on Burmeister

Jay Bookman opines in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: State Rep. Sue Burmeister, an Augusta Republican and author of the state's controversial voter ID law, told investigators for the Justice Department that the law isn't a threat since black voters in her area vote only if they're paid to vote anyway.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's racism, pure and ugly.

I know that sounds harsh — the racism charge gets tossed around a lot these days — but it's hard to describe this any other way.

In fact, this has really made me angry. I'm a white guy, and I've voted lots of times. Now, after all these years of standing in lines and punching ballots, I discover that I've been voting for free while black people have been getting paid to do it?

It's blatant discrimination against white people, that's what it is. If black people get paid to vote, I should be paid to vote. Equal pay for equal say! -- White people! Don't just cast a vote; sell it | ajc.com

November 20, 2005

Nathan Newman on "a political rightwing dinosaur"

Nathan Newman discusses the connection between organized labor and the reapportionment decisions of the 1960's and concludes: In opposing the reapportionment decisions, Sam Alito made it clear that this was not merely an abstract legal position but part of his more general alignment with the rightwing politics of the 1960s, including an allegiance to the National Review , which opposed civil rights and democratic equality in the states with all its intellectual vigor in that period.

So how any Democrat could even consider voting for a political rightwing dinosaur of that era is beyond me. -- Labor Blog

Alito: a filibuster over his reapportionment views?

AP reports: The views that Samuel Alito expressed on reapportionment in a 20-year-old document could jeopardize his Supreme Court nomination and provoke a filibuster, a leading Democratic senator said Sunday. ...

Drawing the most attention from Alito's critics today is his comment on abortion.

"I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government argued that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion," wrote Alito, now a federal appeals court judge.

But Biden, D-Del., said he was most troubled by Alito's comment about reapportionment under the Supreme Court when it was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The Warren Court, as it became known, ended public school segregation and established the election principle of one-man one-vote.

"The part that jeopardizes it (Alito's nomination) more is his quotes in there saying that he had strong disagreement with the Warren Court particularly on reapportionment — one man, one vote," Biden told "Fox News Sunday." -- Biden: Alito's Views May Bring Filibuster - Yahoo! News

Cross-posted on DearSenator.org.

November 19, 2005

Mark Warner has begun web campaign

When you set up a website, you're campaigning. Even if the title of your website is FORWARD TOGETHER - Gov. Mark R. Warner, Honorary Chair. And especially since every speech and public appearance covered is ... Mark Warner's.

I was proud to work for and vote for Mark Warner for Governor. Take a careful and open-minded look at his website. I think you may come away like the person quoted in the blog:

As one staffer from a former `04 campaign remarked to me, "I came in here just looking" and that he was blown away, saying afterward, "he's our guy."

Oh, one more thing I just noticed: Jerome Armstrong, or whoever designed the website, has set up a blog that looks like a seamless part of the website, but it has its own URL. Good touch.


November 18, 2005

Louisiana: "With friends like FEMA, who needs Jim Crow?"

Benjamin Greenberg writes in In These Times: When Hurricane Katrina came ashore in New Orleans, it destroyed half the city’s voting precincts and scattered 300,000 of the city’s residents, most of them black, across the country. With citywide elections still scheduled in February and March for 20 key public offices—including mayor, criminal sheriff, civil sheriff and all city council members—restoring the city’s democratic capability might seem an urgent task to some, but not to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

All evacuees who apply for assistance must tell FEMA who they are, where they lived before they were displaced and where they live now. Since early October, Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater, a Democrat, has been dogging the agency for the names and temporary addresses of evacuees, so he can send them information about how to maintain their right to vote in Louisiana.

Because many evacuees are far from New Orleans and cannot make a special trip home for the elections, their only way to vote will be by absentee ballot. But, citing privacy concerns, FEMA stonewalled Ater for weeks. They finally reached an agreement on November 8, but it is an open question if the compromise will lead to fair elections.

Ater has also requested $750,000 from FEMA for a Nationwide Voter Outreach and Education Campaign. -- Voter Disenfranchisement by Attrition

Georgia: Rep. Burmeister trash-talks black voters

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports: The chief sponsor of Georgia's voter identification law told the Justice Department that if black people in her district "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls," and that if fewer blacks vote as a result of the new law, it is only because it would end such voting fraud.

The newly released Justice Department memo quoting state Rep. Sue Burmeister (R-Augusta) was prepared by department lawyers as the federal government considered whether to approve the new law. It also says that despite Republican assurances the law would not disenfranchise elderly, poor and black voters, Susan Laccetti Meyers, the staff adviser for the Georgia House of Representatives, told the Justice Department "the Legislature did not conduct any statistical analysis of the effect of the photo ID requirement on minority voters."

It cites analyses showing that, in fact, the effects of the law — which will require Georgians seeking to vote to present a driver's license or an identification card for which they must pay — could fall disproportionately on blacks. It concludes that the state had failed to show the law would not weaken minority voting strength, and recommends that the attorney general's office formally object to it. ...

Georgia Democrats reacted angrily to the memo and to reports that the department had approved the voter ID law even though staff attorneys recommended against it. They said the law is the most blatant evidence that Georgia's election laws should remain under federal scrutiny, as required by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, despite attempts by Georgia Republicans to free the state from federal oversight. -- Voter ID memo stirs tension | ajc.com

Georgia: DOJ trash-talks its career attorneys

The Washington Post reports: The Justice Department yesterday played down the importance of a memorandum that concluded that a Georgia voter identification program would hurt black voters, saying the document was a draft that contained old data and faulty analysis.

The memo's conclusions were overruled by senior Justice officials, who announced Aug. 26 that the controversial voter plan could proceed because it was not retrogressive, or harmful to black voters, under the Voting Rights Act. The plan has since been blocked by the federal courts on constitutional grounds.

Justice spokesman Eric Holland said in a statement that the 51-page memo "was an early draft that did not include data and analysis from other voting section career attorneys who recognized the absence of a retrogressive effect." He said the document contained "analytical flaws" and "factual errors."

"The early draft . . . does not represent the quality of factual and legal analysis that the Justice Department expects in a final product," Holland said. -- Justice Plays Down Memo Critical of Ga. Voter ID Plan

Rick Hasen comments on this story: I cannot find Holland's statement on the DOJ website. It is interesting to call an Aug. 25 draft an "early draft" when DOJ announced the decision on August 26. It would also be nice to know more about questions regarding the "quality of factual and legal analysis" in the draft. I have always considered the work of the career attorneys in DOJ's voting rights division to be quite good, and I want to know what is lacking here.

November 17, 2005

Texas: GOP agrees not to spend corporate money for issue advertising

The Houston Chronicle reports:
The Texas Republican Party today agreed to restrictions on spending corporate money in next year's elections in exchange for not being prosecuted for possible election law violations in 2002.

The party said it signed the agreement with Travis County Attorney David Escamilla without admitting guilt to save the party and taxpayers the cost of an expensive trial to defend itself if the party was indicted for its past activities.

But in the agreement, GOP Executive Director Jeff Fisher and General Counsel Frank Bryan Jr. agreed to three instances in which party spending in 2002 was "from an accounting perspective" done with corporate funds, which could be a violation of state law.

Escamilla said the state GOP in exchange for not being prosecuted agreed that it would not use any corporate donations for issue advertising related to any candidate for state or local office or for any get-out-the-vote efforts through March 31, 2007. -- HoustonChronicle.com - State GOP agrees to campaign-finance changes

Georgia: the DOJ side of the story

A friend at the Justice Department reminded me about the letter of October 7, 2005 from William E. Moschella, Assistant Attorney General, to Senator Christopher S. Bond. Read that in conjunction with the Post story just below this one.

Georgia: Voter I.D. law was precleared over DOJ staff objections

The Washington Post reports: A team of Justice Department lawyers and analysts who reviewed a Georgia voter-identification law recommended rejecting it because it was likely to discriminate against black voters, but they were overruled the next day by higher-ranking officials at Justice, according to department documents.

The Justice Department has characterized the "pre-clearance" of the controversial Georgia voter-identification program as a joint decision by career and political appointees in the Civil Rights Division. Republican proponents in Georgia have cited federal approval of the program as evidence that it would not discriminate against African Americans and other minorities.

But an Aug. 25 staff memo obtained by The Washington Post recommended blocking the program because Georgia failed to show that the measure would not dilute the votes of minority residents, as required under the Voting Rights Act.

The memo, endorsed by four of the team's five members, also said the state had provided flawed and incomplete data. The team found significant evidence that the plan would be "retrogressive," meaning that it would reduce blacks' access to the polls.

A day later, on Aug. 26, the chief of the department's voting rights section, John Tanner, told Georgia officials that the program could go forward. "The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes," he said in a letter to them. -- Criticism of Voting Law Was Overruled

The Post has posted the memo in 5 parts: first, second, third, fourth, and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/documents/dojgadocs39_51.pdf.

November 16, 2005

Louisiana: the political and governmental effects of Katrina

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports: New Orleans' losses to Hurricane Katrina are turning out to be St. Tammany Parish and Jefferson Parish's gains, if burgeoning population is considered a plus. On the other hand, the wholesale layoffs at New Orleans City Hall precipitated by the collapse of the tax base are being portrayed in some quarters as an opportunity for long-overdue reform.

Katrina, in other words, did not play fair and square with the New Orleans area. There are winners and losers, though it may be too soon to tell them apart. But all of the most heavily affected areas -- including the devastated downriver parishes, St. Bernard and Plaquemines -- now must grapple with the same question: What's the right size government for a drastically altered political reality?

The answers are not always obvious. -- Katrina to redraw region's political picture

Thanks to Ernie the Attorney for the link.

Texas: DeLay prosecution denies browbeating grand jury, and issues subpoenas to Roy Blunt PAC

AP reports: Prosecutors in Rep. Tom DeLay's conspiracy and money laundering case on Wednesday denied allegations that they coerced a grand jury to indict the former House majority leader.

DeLay's attorneys have asked that charges against the Republican be dropped because Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, "browbeat and coerced" grand jurors into filing criminal charges. ...

Also Wednesday, Earle filed subpoenas for Texas bank records for DeLay's national political committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, or ARMPAC, and records of contributions the committee made to the Missouri Republican Party and the Rely on Your Own Beliefs Fund.

The Rely fund is operated by Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, who took over as majority leader when DeLay was forced to step down in September because of the felony indictments.

An Associated Press report last month, citing campaign documents, said DeLay deliberately raised more money than he needed to throw parties at the 2000 presidential convention, then diverted some of the excess to Blunt through donations that benefited both men's causes.

When the money shifting stopped, the beneficiaries were DeLay's private charity, a consulting firm that employed DeLay's wife and the Missouri campaign of Blunt's son, now the state's governor. A Blunt aide told AP then that some money could have been routed to state candidates. -- AP Wire | 11/16/2005 | DeLay prosecutors deny misconduct charges

Virginia: A.G. race gets tighter

The unofficial results posted on the State Board of Elections website show a 352-vote margin:

R F McDonnell Republican 970,858 49.96%
R C Deeds Democratic 970,506 49.94%
Write Ins 1,799 0.09%
Total: 1,943,163
General Election- November 8, 2005


Louisiana: State Senate nixes relaxation of absentee law for evacuees

The Baton Rouge Advocate reports: The Senate derailed legislation Tuesday aimed at allowing more displaced hurricane evacuees to participate in upcoming elections.

Under the proposal, residents who registered to vote by mail but have not yet voted in person could have cast absentee ballots -- something that opponents said could lead to voter fraud.

Current law requires mail registrants to vote in person the first time so their identity can be verified.

When the vote came, 16 senators voted for the proposal while 20 opposed it, so it did not pass. Another three senators didn't vote.

Similar legislation is pending in the House, where it squeaked out of a committee on a 5-4 vote. -- 2theadvocate.com: News

Michigan: D.A. sure that Feiger tried to blackmail Cox, but won't bring charges

The Detroit Free Press reports: Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said Tuesday he is "100% confident" that Geoffrey Fieger, Michigan's best-known trial lawyer, conspired with an associate to blackmail state Attorney General Mike Cox by threatening to reveal an affair Cox admitted last week.

But Gorcyca said he won't bring charges against Fieger or West Bloomfield attorney Lee O'Brien because he doesn't have the ammunition to make a criminal case stick. ...

Cox said he understood Gorcyca's decision but said Fieger, through O'Brien, tried to get him to drop his investigation into allegations that Fieger illegally funded a campaign to defeat Republican-backed state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman.

Cox said his investigation into Fieger's financing of $450,000 in TV ads without initially revealing he had paid for them continues. "It was his call. He had access to all of the information and all the police reports," Cox said. ...

Gorcyca said he faced two key issues in his decision whether to prosecute Fieger and O'Brien: The threats to blackmail Cox were implied, not explicit; and secretly taped conversations between O'Brien and Stu Sandler, Cox's external affairs director, are not admissible in court. -- Fieger won't be charged in scandal

Complaint filed with FEC against Diddy Combs

AP reports: A conservative organization has filed a complaint against Sean "Diddy" Combs, contending the hip-hop mogul violated election law in his 2004 "Vote or Die" campaign by promoting Democrat John Kerry and opposing President Bush.

The National Legal and Policy Center, which filed the complaint, said Tuesday that the Federal Election Commission informed the group in a letter that it would review the complaint. ...

In its complaint, the National Legal and Policy Center cited "Vote or Die" rallies sponsored by Citizen Change in which actor Leonardo DiCaprio urged the crowd to back Kerry. The conservative group said public record backs its claim that Combs and Citizen Change undertook a campaign to defeat Bush and elect the Democrat. -- newsobserver.com | Entertainment

November 15, 2005

Nathan Newman on why Alito is "Against Democracy"

Nathan Newman says: The release of Alito's 1985 Job Application is causing ripples because of his clear statement that "the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion."

But forget Roe-- that's just confirmation of what everyone suspected, and I continue to believe (along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg) that Roe was not particularly helpful to abortion rights in the long-term.

But what is most striking about Alito's statement is this line:

In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment.

"Reapportionment"?

For the non-lawyers out there, Alito meant he was against the Supreme Court decisions requiring that all state legislative districts be designed to guarantee "one person, one vote", instead of giving some districts with very few voters the same representation as urban districts with far more voters.

While I strongly believe that most judicial activism by the Warren Court was unneeded or even counterproductive for progressive goals since ongoing democratic mobilization was moving civil rights and feminist goals forward, the reapportionment cases-- Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Syms-- dealt with a problem that democratic voting inherently could not correct, namely the lack of real democracy in most state legislatures. -- NathanNewman.org

There's more -- and I left out the links in Nathan's original post.

New Sentencing Project report on felony disfranchisement

The Sentencing Project writes: A new report published by The Sentencing Project finds widespread confusion and errors in the implementation of felony disenfranchisement laws. A 'Crazy-Quilt' of Tiny Pieces: State and Local Administration of American Criminal Disenfranchisement Laws, reports on the findings of a national study of elections officials conducted by Alec Ewald, a political scientist at Union College. Among the report’s key findings are: more than one-third (37%) of local elections officials interviewed misunderstand state eligibility law; in at least five states a misdemeanor conviction also results in the loss of voting rights; disenfranchisement laws result in contradictory policies even within the same state; and, there is significant variation in how states respond to persons with felony convictions from other states. The report concludes that disenfranchisement is a “time consuming, expensive practice” and calls on state policymakers to review voting restrictions, particularly for non-incarcerated people.

Arizona: initiative proposes all-mail balloting

The Arizona Republic reports: A wealthy Bullhead City radio station executive is bankrolling an initiative that could pave the way for Arizonans to vote almost entirely by mail, a change that could transform state political campaigns and elections.

Businessman Rick Murphy said he's pursuing the initiative because he was disturbed by paltry voter turnout when he unsuccessfully ran for Rep. Trent Franks' congressional seat in the 2004 Republican primary.

On Monday, some state political leaders were intrigued by the proposal, which could make the voter identification rules in Proposition 200 moot. The state's top election official said she vehemently opposes the measure. -- All-mail balloting proposed

Thanks to Poltical Wire for the link.

November 14, 2005

Louisiana: elections commissioner recommends delay in New Orleans election

AP reports: A top state official recommended Monday that elections scheduled for February in New Orleans be delayed because of Hurricane Katrina, which displaced thousands of residents and demolished polling places.

Elections Commissioner Angie LaPlace told a legislative committee that she believes the Feb. 4 mayoral primary - which would also include city council races and referendums - should be postponed.

"It would be too problematic. We're not ready," LaPlace said.

LaPlace did not specify how long the primary should be delayed or say how her recommendation might affect the March 4 general election in which Mayor Ray Nagin has indicated he will seek a second term.

She has made the recommendation to Secretary of State Al Ater. If Ater agrees with her, the governor would have to decide whether to delay the election. -- AP Wire | 11/14/2005 | State official says delay New Orleans vote

Why the Supremes dissed Johnson

Steve Vladeck reflects on today's denial of cert in Johnson v. Bush: The denial, the Court's third in the last year on a felon disenfranchisement issue, seems all the more odd given the absence of a dissent... Is it really true that no one on the Court finds felon disenfranchisement, even post-sentence disenfranchisement, worthy of review, if not his or her wrath?

Or, is it perhaps more subtle than that, since several crucial sections of the VRA are up for reauthorization in 2007? [Hat tip to my colleague Lindsay Harrison, for the reauthorization point.] In a climate where Congress is hardly reluctant to overturn Supreme Court statutory interpretation decisions (see, e.g., the Graham Amendment), maybe the Court is reticent to add fodder to the reauthorization fight. Or, perhaps, the Court's waiting for a circuit split (although that would only work, I imagine, if the Ninth Circuit had a chance to weigh in, which for ex-felons, could only arise out of a challenge to Arizona or Nevada law, both of which are fairly narrow in disenfranchising only certain ex-felons, at least according to this chart). Or, maybe the Justices have just decided that election law doesn't put the Court in its best light. -- PrawfsBlawg: Another Week, Another Denial of Cert. in a Voting Rights Case

Virginia: only 446 votes separate candidates for AG

WVEC.com reports: It's the closest race in Virginia political history.

According to the State Board of Elections, 446 votes separate the candidates for attorney general in the nearly two-million votes cast.

According to the unofficial count, Republican Bob McDonnell of Virginia Beach has 970,793 votes; Democrat Creigh Deeds has 970,347.

On his Web site, Deeds says that it's so close that a recount is inevitable and he's appointed a legal team to oversee it. -- WVEC.com | News for Hampton Roads, Virginia | WVEC.com News

Wisconsin: Election Law Review panel proposes changes in state law

AP reports: Felons would have to sign a new document as they're released from prison acknowledging they can't vote and voter registration cards would include a new checkoff for people to swear they aren't criminals under draft reforms a committee approved Monday.

The Legislative Council Special Committee on Election Law Review, made up of state lawmakers, municipal clerks and election law attorneys, passed the reforms on a 10-2 vote. The package now goes to the full Wisconsin Joint Legislative Council. If that body approves them, they'll be introduced into both the state Assembly and Senate simultaneously.

The reforms stem from reports in Milwaukee County that some 4,600 more ballots were cast in the November 2004 election than voters tallied at the polls, that hundreds of votes were cast by felons and that people used fake names and addresses when registering to vote.

The draft would require municipal clerks to keep soldiers' absentee ballots that arrive after the election but are postmarked prior to Election Day so they could be used in a possible recount. -- AP Wire | 11/14/2005 | Committee approves election reforms

"Judge Alito as an Opponent of One Person, One Vote?"

Rick Hasen has this extremely important post: Today the Reagan and Bush (41) libraries released a small set of documents related to Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. What has received the most attention so far is this job application for a senior Justice Department position in the Reagan White House, because of the nominee's statements about abortion. But the application (pdf page 15) also includes the following sentence (thanks to Sam Hirsch for pointing this out to me): "In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment." (emphasis added) ...

But the statement made by Judge Alito against the Warren Court's reapportionment precedents is unqualified, allowing opponents to charge that he would go back to the days of severely malapportioned districts--and all the potential bad consequences for representation that accompany large disparties in voting power. I suspect this issue will be probed at the confirmation hearings, and could prove important. -- Election Law: Judge Alito as an Opponent of One Person, One Vote?

Think of the late Fred Rogers asking, "Can you say 'youthful
indiscretion,' children?"

Florida: US Supreme Court refuses to consider Florida's felon disfranchisement law

The Washington Post reports: The Supreme Court refused Monday to review Florida's lifetime ban on voting rights for convicted felons, a case that would have had national implications for millions of would-be voters.

Justices declined to hear a challenge to Florida's 19th century ban, which applies to inmates and those who have served their time and been released.

Felons are kept from voting in every state but Maine and Vermont, although restrictions vary.

The issue of voter eligibility got renewed attention after the 2000 presidential election, which was decided by fewer than 600 votes in Florida.

The Florida appeal had been closely watched, because lower courts have been fractured in similar voting cases. Minority and voting rights groups urged justices to hear the case. -- High Court Won't Revisit Fla. Felon Voting

Disclosure: I was one of the counsel for the plaintiffs when this case was filed.

Mississippi: DOJ sues over discrimination against white voters

NPR's Morning Edition reports: The 1965 Voting Rights Act is being used to defend white voters for the first time. The Justice Department is pursuing the case in Noxubee County, Mississippi, on behalf of a group of white residents. The suit alleges that black election officials have systematically discriminated against white voters and candidates. -- NPR : White Voters in Mississippi Allege Voting Discrimination

This summary is incorrect. This is not the first use of the Voting Rights Act for the benefit of white voters. Ari Shapiro says in his report that it is the first such suit by the Justice Department.

There have been private suits alleging such discrimination. I represented the City of Birmingham in a suit brought by white voters against its at-large election plan.

November 13, 2005

Ohio: did support for a proposition fall from 61% to 25% in two days?

The Left Coaster asks: Did you vote on a touch-screen system last Tuesday? If so, how confident are you that your vote was registered correctly? Were you surprised at the results?

Well, if you lived in Ohio, you might have been very surprised at the results. After all, if the results are correct, people must have been spoofing the pollsters something awful.

How else to explain the fact that one of the Reform propositions regulating the amount individuals could contribute to a campaign that polls on Sunday before the election showed was supported by 61% of the people and opposed by 25% (14% undecided) failed spectacularly with 67% of the voters opposing it?

Did 67% of the voters really think that individuals should be able to contribute $10,000 to a candidate when only 2 days before the election the polls said that only 25% supported that position? Who knows? The state voted on Diebold voting systems, so there isn't any way to check. -- The Left Coaster: Tuesday's Election in Ohio: The End of Democracy?

Will 2006 be another 1994? Or will the ghost of redistricting past spoil the Dems' celebration?

The New York Times reports: ACROSS the political landscape, there are signs the nation may be headed toward a sweeping anti-incumbent election next year. The Republican Congressional majority is staggering from one setback to another, the voters seem uneasy about problems at home and the war abroad, and President Bush's approval ratings have reached new lows.

Democrats dream of another 1994, with control of the House changing hands, this time to them. All they need, after all, is a net gain of 15 seats, surely an attainable goal in a nation of 435 Congressional districts.

Or is it?

Even the most optimistic Democrat has to wonder, deep down, whether big, 1994-style change is possible in the current House. Redistricting and other incumbent protections have created a Republican fortress in recent years, with so little turnover that even the party's relatively narrow majority is very hard to crack.

In the last three Congressional elections, the incumbent re-election rate has hovered from 96 to 98 percent, among the highest since World War II. In 2004, only seven incumbents were defeated in the general election, four of them Texas Democrats pushed into new districts engineered by Republicans. -- An Opening for Democrats, However Slim - New York Times

DOJ Civil Rights Division -- attorneys leaving, case filings down

The Washington Post reports: The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which has enforced the nation's anti-discrimination laws for nearly half a century, is in the midst of an upheaval that has driven away dozens of veteran lawyers and has damaged morale for many of those who remain, according to former and current career employees.

Nearly 20 percent of the division's lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the administration's conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.

At the same time, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined 40 percent over the past five years, according to department statistics. Dozens of lawyers find themselves handling appeals of deportation orders and other immigration matters instead of civil rights cases.

The division has also come under criticism from the courts and some Democratsfor its decision in August to approve a Georgia program requiring voters to present government-issued identification cards at the polls. The program was halted by an appellate court panel and a district court judge, who likened it to a poll tax from the Jim Crow era. ...

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which includes a number of former Justice lawyers, noted in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the division has filed only a handful of cases in recent years dealing with employment discrimination or discrimination based on the statistical impact on women or minority groups.

The total number of criminal prosecutions is within the range of the Clinton administration, but a growing percentage of those cases involve prosecuting human smugglers, which have become a priority for the division only in recent years. Other types of civil rights prosecutions are down, from 83 in fiscal 2001 to 49 in 2005.

The Bush administration has filed only three lawsuits -- all of them this year -- under the section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits discrimination against minority voters, and none of them involves discrimination against blacks. The initial case was the Justice Department's first reverse-discrimination lawsuit, accusing a majority-black county in Mississippi of discriminating against white voters. -- Civil Rights Focus Shift Roils Staff At Justice

November 11, 2005

"Next Time, Start With the People"

Heather Gerken and Christopher Elmendorf write on Balkinization: Tuesday’s defeat of redistricting ballot initiatives in California and Ohio was a wake-up call for reformers, who are pressing a nationwide campaign to strip politicians of the power to draw electoral districts. California's Proposition 77, which would have vested line-drawing responsibilities in an independent commission composed of three retired judges, was rejected by six out of ten voters. Ohio's Issue 4 similarly lost by a significant margin. Yet polls show that large majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree that it is a bad idea for the legislature and the governor to make decisions about redistricting. What’s going on? ...

Is there a way for reformers to play politics as they must, while warding off the accusation of political infection? We would suggest taking a page from the playbook of our neighbors to the North. First in British Columbia and now in Ontario, basic electoral reform problems are being put to citizens’ assemblies, groups consisting of over a hundred randomly selected citizens who hear out competing presentations from experts and the concerns of interest groups and fellow citizens. If the citizens’ assembly reaches agreement on a proposed reform, it is submitted to the electorate for a referendum vote. -- Next Time, Start With the People

New Hampshire: Tobin trial starts Dec. 6

AP reports: A former national Republican Party official will stand trial on charges he conspired to jam Democratic get-out-the-vote phone lines on Election Day 2002, a federal judge said Thursday.

James Tobin of Bangor Maine sought dismissal of conspiracy charges, arguing the government's allegations were insufficient. Judge Steven McAuliffe denied those motions, but said he would consider a motion to dismiss another charge, relating to violating others' right to vote. A trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 6.

Tobin's lawyers argued the allegations against their client may have prevented some from mustering voters, but did not amount to blocking voters from their right to cast a ballot, a distinction McAuliffe agreed to mull over.

Racially motivated beatings, destroying, altering, falsifying and refusing to count ballots had been decreed by other courts as violations of the right to vote, but jamming phone lines to prospective voters has not, lawyer Tobin Romero said Thursday. -- Tobin asks court to dismiss phone jamming charges - Boston.com

Thanks to Josh Marshall for the link.

Tobin's argument reminds me of Woody Guthrie's song:

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered / I’ve seen lots of funny men; / Some will rob you with a six-gun, / And some with a fountain pen.

Alabama: bill would allow military absentee balloting by fax

AP reports: Two state senators have pre-filed a bill that would allow military personnel to apply for absentee ballots and to cast votes in Alabama elections by fax.

Currently military personnel must cast votes and apply for ballots through the mail.

The bill was pre-filed by Sens. Gerald Dial, D-Lineville, and Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery. -- AP Wire | 11/10/2005 | Bill would allow military personnel to cast ballots by fax

November 10, 2005

Virginia: AG race may be recounted; only 947 votes separate the two candidates

The Washington Post reports: In a conference room at the Fairfax County Government Center yesterday, election officials pored over long rolls of computer printouts listing votes from Tuesday's election. They examined paper ballots, too, and recalculated basic math.

Behind them, about a dozen Democratic and Republican loyalists witnessed the progress, paying particular attention to votes recorded for Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), the Democratic candidate for attorney general, and his GOP opponent, Del. Robert F. "Bob" McDonnell (Virginia Beach).

Two days after the election in Virginia, there was still no clear winner in the race to determine who will be the state's top lawyer--a contest that is the closest statewide race in memory -- and both sides are monitoring carefully as local election officials across the state check and double-check the tallies.

Last night, McDonnell was ahead by 947 votes out of more than 1.9 million. -- Still No New Attorney General

Florida: supporters of redistricting initiative defend it in state supreme court

AP reports: A group supporting two state constitutional amendments that would eliminate the Legislature's redistricting power disputed lawmakers' claims that their proposals violate election law.

The Committee for Fair Elections gave the state Supreme Court its written responses Wednesday to arguments that the amendments' cover more than one subject and their titles and summaries are misleading. Opponents say the court should stop the amendments from being placed on next year's ballot.

"The Independent Commission Initiative does not substantially alter or perform the functions of multiple branches of government and does not cause `multiple precipitous' or `cataclysmic' changes in state government,' " the committee argued.

The committee says that the titles and summaries clearly state the chief purposes of the measures "and need not explain every detail, ramification or effect." -- AP Wire | 11/10/2005 | Supporters says redisticting initiatives don't violate state law

California: Dems may push their redistricting plan now

AP reports: Despite voters' rejection of Proposition 77, the Legislature's top leaders are promising to try to get a new plan on the ballot as early as next June that would strip lawmakers of the powerful job of drawing legislative and congressional districts. ...

That measure could be a constitutional amendment by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, that's awaiting a vote next year in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In its current form, it would create a seven-member commission to draw new districts after each census, starting in 2010. The governor, the Legislature's top four leaders, the California Judicial Council and University of California president would each appoint one commission member.

It passed the Senate elections committee in July, but then stalled when Democrats and Schwarzenegger couldn't work out compromises on redistricting and the other ballot measures pushed by the Republican governor.

If approved by lawmakers, it would go on the ballot next June or November.

Any deal on a redistricting measure could include an agreement that would liberalize lawmakers' term limits, which now allow senators to serve no more than 8 years, and Assembly members no more than 6 years. -- AP Wire | 11/09/2005 | Leaders to seek redistricting change despite 77's defeat

Alabama: State supreme court stops special election for Mobile county commissioner

The Mobile Register reports: The Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a special election to fill a vacant Mobile County Commission seat, paving the way for Gov. Bob Riley to appoint the successor to Sam Jones.

The 9-0 ruling, which reverses an earlier decision by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Gene Reese, a Democrat, will allow the Republican governor to fill the District 1 seat left empty when Jones became mayor of Mobile last month.

District 1 is the county's only majority-black commission district and typically elects a Democrat. -- State high court blocks Mobile County election

Florida: felon disfranchisement on SCOTUS conference list today

Legal Times reports: The Supreme Court is about to face its first major voting rights dispute since the arrival of new Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who was criticized for opposing voting rights legislation as an aide in the Reagan Justice Department two dozen years ago.

At issue is a challenge to Florida’s 1968 law that permanently disenfranchises more than 800,000 convicted felons in the state. The case, Johnson v. Bush, will be one of dozens discussed at the Court's private conference Thursday to determine if they should be added to the docket for review.

Lawyers for a class of 613,000 felons who have completed their sentences claim that the Florida law disproportionately affects African-Americans, disenfranchising 10 percent of voting-age blacks in the state compared with 4 percent of the non-African-American population.

That contrast cannot be explained solely by higher arrest rates or higher participation in crimes by blacks, says Catherine Weiss, a lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice who represents the class. Because of "bias in the criminal justice system" at every step, Weiss asserts, more African-Americans than whites are convicted of felonies, sentenced, and denied clemency. -- Supreme Court Asked to Hear Voting Rights Case

Disclosure: I was one of the counsel for the plaintiffs when this case was filed.

November 9, 2005

Josh Marshall on redistricting reform

Josh Marshall writes: For most of the time I've been actively interested in politics I've been at best skeptical about a lot of what you might call good government reformism. Part of that is just temperamental. To the extent there's substance behind it, I've always felt that there's a strain of 'goo-goo' reform which puts procedural cleanliness over substantive good results for ordinary citizens -- effective provision of services, real representation of different interests in society, and so forth.

Hovering behind these ideas is a recognition that there were strong anti-democratic tendencies in the original Progressive movement, though they did not define the entirety of it. And most important, I think if you look back over the history of the US, our most effective reforms have not come in complex regulatory regimes but in systems which effectively balance different powers and interests against each other. And that still makes me less than a total optimist about the potential of effective campaign finance reform.

All that said, though, sometimes the ship of state just gets too overrun with barnacles and the whole thing has to be scraped clean. And we're clearly at one of those points. One needn't indulge utopian fantasies about abolishing government corruption or dealing a death blow to the power of monied interests in politics. All that is necessary is a recognition that reform is a cyclical process needed to keep the government healthy and functioning. And we're overdue for real reform. -- Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall November 9, 2005 01:52 PM

Michigan: AG accuses opponent of blackmail

AP reports: Attorney General Mike Cox on Wednesday tearfully acknowledged having an affair a number of years ago and accused trial lawyer Geoffrey Fieger of threatening to expose the indiscretion.

Fieger, a former Democratic nominee for governor who became famous for representing assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, wants to challenge Cox, a Republican, in the 2006 attorney general election. ...

Cox said he came clean publicly because a Fieger associate threatened to expose the affair if Cox didn't stop investigating Fieger for campaign finance violations. Fieger said the person Cox is accusing is not an associate of his.

"Something sounds absolutely insane about what's going on here," Fieger told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "How could the attorney general have so many skeletons in his closet that he could be blackmailed? Why is he subjecting his wife to this humiliation?"

Fieger said Cox should resign. -- Attorney general acknowledges affair, says Fieger blackmailed him

I had think a moment about the category for this story. I thought about "campaigning." When I read Fieger's response, the word ""chutzpah" came to mind (assuming, of course, that Fieger actually had something to do with the alleged blackmail).

Obama introduces bill to stop deceptive practices in elections

For too long the Republicans have been the ones talking about crime in elections. Of course, they see crime only in the possibility that the "wrong" people will register or will vote. Now Sen. Barack Obama has taken back the high ground for the Democrats by turning the conversation to the prevention of dirty tricks.

A press release from Sen. Barack Obama: U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) Tuesday introduced legislation to protect Americans from using tactics that intimidate voters and prevent them from exercising their rights on Election Day.

Obama’s legislation, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2005, would make it illegal for anyone to knowingly attempt to prevent others from exercising his or her right to vote by providing deceptive information and would require the Attorney General to fully investigate these allegations. The legislation would also require the Attorney General, in conjunction with the Election Assistance Commission, to provide accurate election information when allegations of deceptive practices are confirmed.

“One of our most sacred rights as Americans is the right to make our voice heard at the polls,” said Obama. “But too often, we hear reports of mysterious phone calls and mailers arriving just days before an election that seek to mislead and threaten voters to keep them from the polls. And those who engage in these deceptive and underhanded campaign tactics usually target voters living in minority or low-income neighborhoods. This legislation would ensure that for the first time, these incidents are fully investigated and that those found guilty are punished.”

As recently as the 2004 Presidential election there have been reports of tactics aimed at preventing rightful voters from exercising their right to cast a ballot. In Milwaukee some voters received fliers from the non-existent “Milwaukee Black Voters League,” warning that voters risk imprisonment for voting if they were ever found guilty of any offense – even a traffic violation. In one county in Ohio, some voters received false mailings claiming that anyone registered to vote by the Kerry Campaign or the NAACP would be barred from voting. Similar reports were echoed in jurisdictions across the country and underscore the need for concerted action against such tactics. But many of these incidents are never investigated, and the culprit is never discovered.

Obama’s legislation would provide a criminal penalty for deceptive practices, with penalties of up to $100,000 or one year imprisonment, or both. The legislation would also require the Attorney General to work with the Federal Communications Commission and the Election Assistance Commission to determine the feasibility of using the public broadcasting system as a means of providing voters with full and accurate Election Day information.

Obama’s legislation is supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Common Cause, the Arc of the United States, the People for the American Way, the National Disability Rights Network, United Cerebral Palsy and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Update: A copy of the bill is here.

Ohio: redistrcting and election reforms defeated in referendum

AP reports: Voters soundly rejected four issues Tuesday that would have overhauled the way Ohio runs its elections, ending a high-pitched campaign that had hoped to capitalize on a Republican investment scandal and complaints about last year's presidential election.

The issues would have opened absentee balloting to all voters, lowered the cap on individual campaign contributions and put boards, instead of elected officials, in charge of drawing legislative and congressional districts and overseeing the state's elections.

Reform Ohio Now, a coalition of unions and other Democrat-leaning groups, wanted to wrest control of elections from state officeholders, now a virtual Republican monopoly. Republicans resisted, forming an opposition group known as Ohio First. -- cantonrep.com

California: redistricting initiative defeated

AP reports: For the fourth time in 23 years, voters refused Tuesday to strip the Legislature of the powerful job of drawing legislative and congressional districts, handing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a special election defeat on Proposition 77, a key measure in his "year of reform" agenda.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the proposal trailed 59 percent to 41 percent, failing in many conservative inland counties as well as more liberal coastal areas.

The Republican governor campaigned extensively for the ballot measure, which would have amended the state constitution to give redistricting duties to a panel of retired judges and required them to try to draw new lines in time for next year's June primary.

Lawmakers normally redraw districts every 10 years to reflect population changes uncovered by a new national census. The process can determine which party dominates the Legislature and the congressional delegation and determine the fate of individual lawmakers. -- AP Wire | 11/09/2005 | California voters reject governor's redistricting change

November 8, 2005

Rhode Island: Senators consider Alito's record, ponder the unknowns

The Brown Daily Herald reports: Though neither has committed to voting for or against Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito, senators Lincoln Chafee '75, R-R.I., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., have both expressed concerns about his 15-year record as a federal appeals court judge.

"There's no doubt that this is a critical seat - the balance of the court is an issue," Chafee told The Herald, noting that the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor often cast the court's deciding vote, particularly against abortion restrictions.

Chafee said he "certainly" has reservations about Alito on three primary issues - in addition to abortion rights, he is concerned about interpretation of the commerce clause and the separation of church and state. The lattermost of these concerns is "something that Rhode Islanders have a special interest in because of Roger Williams and his staunch belief in (the separation of church and state)," Chafee said. ...

Reed also expressed concern about Alito's dedication to individual rights - specifically, his potentially narrow interpretation of the Voting Rights Act and his "views on a woman's right to choose." -- R.I. senators react to Alito nomination - Metro

Cross-posted on DearSenator.org

California: IRS investigating church over sermon

The Los Angeles Times reports: The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster." -- Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning - Los Angeles Times

November 7, 2005

Virginia: GOP's latest dirty trick

Kos has an MP3 of a call supposedly made by Tim Kaine, Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia: So here's the deal -- the Republicans took statements Kaine has made and spliced them together to put together this out-of-context call. The horrible music in the background is there to mask the splicing.

This call is being played in liberal areas. A different spliced version of the call, talking about how liberal he is on choice and all those other hot-button social issues, is being played in conservative areas.

And it's all being funded by the Republican Governor's Association, as Bob at the Swing State Project has noted. -- Daily Kos: VA-Gov: Dirty tricks, the robo call

The Kaine campaign tells me that they have filed a complaint with the State Election Commission regarding this and earlier dirty tricks by the GOP.

Minnesota: former GOP leader on trial

AP reports: A six-member jury and two alternates were chosen today to hear the case of former state Republican Party chairman Ron Eibensteiner (EHB'-un-STY'-nur), who is charged with breaking campaign finance laws.

Opening statements are expected tomorrow in Rochester.

Eibensteiner is accused of helping a Florida insurance company funnel $15,000 toward Tim Pawlenty's 2002 campaign for governor. -- AP Wire | 11/07/2005 | Former G-O-P chief heads to trial on campaign charges

Michigan: absentee ballot campaign questioned in Detroit

AP reports: Allegations of racism, biased judges and improprieties that include dead people on the voter roll have surfaced in the weeks before Tuesday's hotly contested city election.

On the eve of the vote, the focus was on City Clerk Jackie Currie and her "Project Vote" program, which sends ambassadors to help the elderly and disabled fill out absentee ballots.

Last week, a judge ordered state and Wayne County election officials to oversee absentee voting after ruling that Currie has been breaking state law in how she handles absentee ballots and supervises the ambassadors.

In late October, The Detroit News reported that Currie's handling of absentee ballots was questionable. The newspaper found that people cast ballots even though their addresses were abandoned nursing homes or in one case, a vacant lot. -- mlive.com: NewsFlash - Allegations of election fraud, racism surface in days before Detroit election

Massachusetts: Lawrence must notify voters by tomorrow's elections

AP reports: A federal judge on Monday denied a request by the American Civil Liberties Union to extend or change Election Day voting hours in Lawrence, but said the city must make an effort through local media to notify voters of their rights.

The ACLU had filed a motion to keep polls open for an extra day claiming that thousands of city voters risked being disenfranchised in Tuesday's election because they were placed on inactive voter lists.

But U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said it was too late and it would be too costly to change the election the night before residents are scheduled to go to the polls. He asked lawyers for both parties to agree on a statement the city would pay the town newspaper, three radio stations and the cable station to run explaining in Spanish and English who is eligible to vote.

The brief statement informs voters that even if they are listed as an inactive voter, they are still allowed to vote in Tuesday's election. -- Judge orders Lawrence officials to notify inactive voters they may be eligible - Boston.com

Arkansas: anonymous political blogs

The Plank has a post about the GOP gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson encouraging his supporters to blog. But ...

the new pro-Hutchinson bloggers are entirely anonymous. What's more, they already seem to be doing classic arm's-length dirty work for Hutchinson.

The Plank likes the idea of blogging -- heck, it's a blog --

But anonymously throwing dirt on the Internet doesn't seem all that different from leafleting cars in the dark of night.

California: quick tip sheet on the propositions

If you need a quick review on the California initiatives on the ballot tomorrow, take a look at The Broad View: California Spotlight: November 2005 (1) and California Spotlight: November 2005 (2): Ballot Propositions #73, #78, #79.

Today's milestones

AP reports: Today is Monday, Nov. 7, the 311th day of 2005. There are 54 days left in the year. ...

On this date:

In 1893, the state of Colorado granted its women the right to vote.

In 1916, Republican Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to Congress. -- Today in History - Nov. 7

November 6, 2005

Flash: somebody had something nice to say about lawyers

I watched the second and final part of "Kidnapped" on PBS tonight. If you did, I hope you noticed that Davie Balfour, Alan Breck, and Catriona (of the Glens) are sitting on a rock in the middle of the Highlands, trying to figure out what to so next. They are on the run from the murderous bounty hunters. Catriona's father (James of the Glens) is being held by the English who intend to hang him soon. Alan asks how they can get out of the mess. Davie suggests a lawyer.

So Davie goes into town (after another shootout with the bounty hunters) to talk to Mr. Rankeillor, the lawyer. Mr. Rankeillor saves the day. Well, if you don't count the final shootout with the Redcoats by Catriona.

I don't remember if Stevenson wrote it that way, but it sure did look good tonight.

Arizona: anti-immigrant law keeps Americans from registering

The Los Angeles Times reports: A stringent new voter-identification law being put into effect in Arizona -- designed to keep illegal immigrants from voting -- is also preventing thousands of legitimate voters from casting ballots in Tuesday's election, according to election officials.

Part of Proposition 200, which voters approved last year, the regulations require proving U.S. citizenship to register to vote and showing a photo ID at the polls. The law put this border state at the edge of a nationwide push to tighten screening at the polls: 15 states now require ID at polling places, but no other state requires documentation of citizenship in order to register.

It's a movement that advocates say is long overdue to prevent election fraud, but which critics say will decrease voter turnout and has already disenfranchised thousands of legitimate Arizona voters.

In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, more than 10,000 people trying to register have been rejected for being unable to prove their citizenship. Yvonne Reed, a spokeswoman for the recorder's office, said Friday that most are probably U.S. citizens whose married names differ from the ones on their birth certificates or who have lost documentation. -- Arizona ID rule may deny U.S. citizens right to vote / Law passed to keep illegal immigrants from casting ballots

November 4, 2005

Should Election Day Be A National Holiday?

An email from Brookings Institution Press: A new book proposes making Election Day a national holiday to reverse the low rate of American voter turnout. “Democracy at Risk: How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation and What We Can Do About It” (Brookings Institution Press) by Stephen Macedo and a team of leading political scientists explores why Americans have lost interest in public affairs. One of their solutions: declare Election Day a holiday or move elections to the weekend to increase participation.

According to the authors, citizens are not entirely to blame. The political system itself is responsible for making participation difficult – long presidential primaries, uncompetitive congressional elections, and excessively nasty and ideological partisan politics combine to turn people away. The system itself blocks possibilities for greater involvement, sharpens economic disparities, and discourages attention to campaigns and important political issues.

The low voter turnout expected in this off-year election is one of the symptoms of our democratic decline. American voter turnout ranks near the bottom among democratic nations. And we’re less engaged than previous generations. Since the 1970s, participation in political activities such as writing letters to the editor, attending rallies and demonstrations, and volunteering in campaigns has declined more than 50%. Since the 1960s, the nation has also witnessed increasing inequalities among local communities, and a two-thirds decline in civics courses in public schools.

“Democracy at Risk” shows why these trends are occurring and offers suggestions on how to improve the quality, quantity, and distribution of civic engagement. The authors focus on three key areas for reform: the electoral process, including political campaigns and subsequent elections; the American metropolis, as well as demographic changes and evolving development patterns; and the critical role of nonprofit organizations, voluntary associations, and the philanthropy that helps keep them going.

Recommendations include using nonpartisan commissions to establish electoral boundaries; enforcing fair housing laws and revitalizing local politics; more adequately funding national service programs and placing greater emphasis on teaching civics in schools.

For more information on “Democracy at Risk,” go to: http://www.brookings.edu/press/books/democracyatrisk.htm.

November 3, 2005

"The Broad View"

I was looking around The Broad View, a blog run by my friend and former client, Ellen Dana Nagler (she calls herself the "Broad-in-Chief") and followed a couple of links and found this
page. Ellen was nice enough to list Votelaw as an example in her program for the California Central Democratic Committee.

Thanks, Ellen. And the rest of you should head over and read The Broad View.

Texas: fifth judge for DeLay

The Dallas Morning News reports: A retired Democratic judge was selected Thursday to preside over U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's money-laundering trial, but only after a game of musical benches that led all the way to Texas' top jurist and raised questions about how elected judges can preside over politically charged cases.

San Antonio criminal District Judge Pat Priest, who hears cases only by special assignment, will take over the DeLay case at the request of Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. But Jefferson's involvement was questioned, too, based on close political association with people involved in the DeLay case.

When the dust had settled from whirlwind court filings and motions that had little to do with the substance of the charges against the former House majority leader, Priest became the fifth judge to touch the case in two weeks. -- KRT Wire | 11/03/2005 | After numerous changes, retired Democratic judge gets DeLay case

Texas: DeLay co-defendant charges selective prosecution

The Austin American-Statesman reports: Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is using different sets of rules to prosecute different groups on campaign finance charges, a lawyer for one of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's co-defendants argues.

The lawyer for Jim Ellis, a staffer for the Sugar Land Republican and a co-defendant in DeLay's high-profile money laundering case, filed a motion Wednesday complaining that Earle handled a case against the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association very differently from how he conducted his investigation of Texans for a Republican Majority, a DeLay political committee that is at the center of the money laundering indictments against DeLay, Ellis and co-defendant John Colyandro.

Both groups were accused of illegally spending corporate money in connection with a campaign, but Ellis' lawyer J.D. Pauerstein said the comparison ended there.

Last week the contractors association pleaded guilty to collecting money from businesses and then giving $3,000 to two Democratic candidates during the 2002 election. The association agreed to pay a $3,000 fine for each donation. The candidates were not charged in connection with the donations. -- Lawyer for DeLay co-defendant charges selective prosecution

November 2, 2005

House defeats Internet-friendly campaign law

C-NET reports: Democrats on Wednesday managed to defeat a bill aimed at amending U.S. election laws to immunize bloggers from hundreds of pages of federal regulations.

In an acrimonious debate that broke largely along party lines, over three-quarters of congressional Democrats voted to oppose the reform bill, which had enjoyed wide support from online activists and Web commentators worried about having to comply with a tangled skein of rules.

The vote tally in the House of Representatives, 225 to 182, was not enough to send the Online Freedom of Speech Act to the Senate. Under the rules that House leaders adopted to accelerate the process, a two-thirds supermajority was required. ...

Opponents of the reform plan mounted a last-minute effort to derail the bill before the vote on Wednesday evening. Liberal advocacy groups circulated letters warning the measure was too broad and would invite "corrupt" activities online, and the New York Times wrote in an editorial this week that "the Internet would become a free-fire zone without any limits on spending." -- Democrats defeat election-law aid for bloggers | CNET News.com

California: FPPC chair says governor's group must choose between contributions and independent expenditures

AP reports: California's campaign watchdog agency has jumped into a court battle over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's spending in support of Proposition 77, the special election measure that would shift the power to draw legislative and congressional districts.

Liane Randolph, chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, wrote a letter Tuesday to a state appeals court saying Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team committee must designate spending for Proposition 77 as either independent expenditures or campaign contributions.

Opponents of the redistricting measure say that hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent spending by the California Recovery Team for the ballot measure can only be accurately classified as contributions that violate a voter-imposed limit of $3,300. The controversy centers around a committee headed by a Silicon Valley millionaire who also is running for insurance commissioner next year. -- FPPC chair says governor must classify Proposition 77 spending

New Orleans: Secretary of State pushes for changes in elections

AP reports: New Orleans is scrambling to hold credible elections next year though hundreds of thousands of voters have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana's secretary of state said Tuesday. ...

"This is probably the most important election in the history of New Orleans because whoever is the leadership in this election is basically going to be charged with rebuilding that city," Ater said at a forum in Washington sponsored by the Center for American Progress and American Constitution Society. "That is not a small test."

Ater is leading a state push to change some of the election laws before many state residents simply register elsewhere, forfeiting their right to vote in New Orleans even if they plan to eventually return.

For example, he is asking the Legislature to change the state's purge laws, which assume voters have moved elsewhere when they miss an election and a notification card sent to their home is returned as undeliverable. If such cards were sent now, the post office has said almost all registered voters in New Orleans would qualify to be purged, Ater said. -- AP Wire | 11/01/2005 | Post-Katrina elections present problems

Wisconsin: state Assembly adopts constitutional amendment for voter I.D.

The Capital Times reports: Despite pleas from numerous Democrats not to approve a constitutional amendment that they said would be an unconstitutional "poll tax," the state Assembly voted 58 to 36 Tuesday to take the first step toward that amendment.

The approved resolution would require a photo ID for voting or registering to vote at the polls on Election Day. But it also would allow the Legislature, after the amendment becomes part of the state Constitution, to exempt any class of electors from those requirements. The author, Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, said such an exemption might apply to senior citizens in assisted living facilities.

The resolution would need to be approved by the state Senate during the current legislative session, and again in both houses in the next session, before it could be presented to the voters of the state for ratification in 2007. Democrats delayed sending the bill to the Senate, something that likely will happen on Thursday.

Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, has previously vetoed photo ID legislation but plays no role in the constitutional amendment process. -- The Capital Times

NYC: Election monitors training

ACSBlog reports: The Bronx Defenders and Impact will be training nonpartisan election monitors on November 4th, 6th, and 7th at the Bronx Defenders and Columbia Law School.

On Election Day, volunteers will be stationed at polling sites in the Bronx to distribute copies of the Voters' Bill of Rights, make sure that polls open and close on time, prevent voter intimidation, and assist voters in overcoming any obstacles they encounter. All interested volunteers must sign up in advance for a specific training session. Details regarding location and sign-up are available here.

Impact is a nonpartisan national network of law students from more than 150 law schools organized to ensure the integrity of the voting process. Impact is a member of Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition headed by Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and People For the American Way Foundation, including the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. -- ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society

Groups call for substantive and procedural changes in redistrcting

Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Democracy & Citizenship at the Council for Excellence in Government have issued a press release: Broad principles to reform congressional and legislative redistricting were announced today by a range of groups and individuals who are advocating the use of independent commissions to create competitive districts.

The principles were drafted by a group of experts with diverse backgrounds and political affiliations at a redistricting reform conference held last June in Airlie, Virginia. They are part of a report entitled The Shape of Representative Democracy and lay out an integrated approach that addresses both procedures for redistricting and standards for redistricting.

The procedural principles include: assigning the job of redistricting to an independent commission; ensuring transparency and a meaningful opportunity for interested parties and the public to participate effectively; and limiting redistricting to once a decade, following each census.

The recommended substantive standards for redistricting are: adhering to all constitutional and Voting Rights Act requirements; promoting competitiveness and partisan fairness; respecting political subdivisions and communities of interest; and encouraging geographical compactness. -- The Campaign Legal Center: Independent Commissions, Competitive Districts Best Path to Redistricting Reform, Non-Partisan Group Announces

The report is here.

November 1, 2005

DearSenator.org

The Progressive Law Bloggers are pleased to announce their latest creation -- DearSenator.org. We want this to be THE spot for all news and views about the nomination of Judge Sam Alito to a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States. (Other issues will be addressed later.)

We have links to

  • all the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (directly to their contact information),
  • other progressive organizations with information about Judge Alito,
  • the Wikipedia and U of Michigan Collection of Alito documents.
  • I will be cross-posting all my Alito-ania to DearSenator.org, so you should be able to view them either place. Make it a point to drop by DearSenator.org as you navigate the blogosphere.

    Texas: DeLay succeeds in removing judge from his case

    The Dallas Morning News reports: A judge was removed from U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's money laundering trial Tuesday because he contributed to Democratic groups that have targeted the congressman as a political enemy.

    State District Judge Bob Perkins donated $5,275 over the past five years to such groups as Move On.org, the Democratic National Committee and the Texas Democratic Party, which defense lawyers insisted could raise questions about his impartiality on a politically charged case.

    Retired Judge C.W. "Bud" Duncan Jr. ruled on the request from Mr. DeLay's lawyers to remove Judge Perkins after hearing more than four hours of testimony Tuesday. A separate judge will appoint a jurist to preside over the case. ...

    In arguments aired Tuesday, both sides emphasized that Judge Perkins has a strong reputation for fairness. But Mr. DeLay's attorneys said that the political contributions gave "the appearance of impropriety." -- Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Politics: National

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