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June 22, 2013

Briefs filed in voting rights suit about Birmingham school board

AL.com reports: State school officials and a group of Birmingham voters argued in separate court papers Friday whether the state should have obtained federal permission under the Voting Rights Act before it took control of Birmingham school finances last year.

The voter group says the majority white state school board grabbed authority away from voters who elected the Birmingham Board of Education, which is majority black. The state board should first get pre-clearance for its 2012 intervention plan under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act before overriding any more decisions by city school board members, the voter group says.

State school board officials say they don't need pre-clearance for what amounts to a "temporary shift" in how a limited number of decisions with "serious financial implications" are made. The voters' Section 5 claim should be dismissed, the state says. ...

In February a group of five voters, including Birmingham Board of Education members Virginia Volker and Emanuel Ford and Alabama Education Association representative Michael Todd, who lives in the city, filed a lawsuit that says the state's intervention in the city school system violated Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. -- Read the whole story --> Birmingham group: state should be ordered to get federal approval to override city school board votes | al.com

Disclosure: I represent the voters in this suit.

April 30, 2013

2012 Evergreen election to be held on June 18

AL.com reports: A federal judge this afternoon postponed a long-delayed municipal election in Evergreen, pushing the voting back to June 18 after conducting a telephone conference with lawyers in a voting-rights lawsuit.

Attorneys for the Conecuh County seat requested the postponement, citing a need for more time by a special master appointed to oversee the balloting. U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade agreed, ordering the June 18 vote, with a runoff on July 30 if needed.

John Tanner, an attorney for three black residents who sued the city over the way it redrew council districts after the 2010 census, said the delay is the result of city officials? failure to include the plaintiffs' representative in discussions with the special master. But he said another postponement probably could not be avoided. ...

The plaintiffs alleged that the city illegally gerrymandered the five districts in order to maintain a white majority on the council despite the fact that Evergreen’s population now is 62 percent black. Granade in March ordered a new political map based largely on the one that the plaintiffs had proposed. It creates three districts with large black majorities. -- Read the whole story --> Judge postpones Evergreen election again; voting with redrawn political map set for June | al.com

October 6, 2012

DOJ preclears Alabama legislative districts

The Tuscaloosa News reports: The U.S. Justice Department on Friday told Attorney General Luther Strange that it has approved the state's new legislative districts.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez told Strange that the Justice Department does not have any objections to the specified district changes.

Perez said, however, that the Justice Department approval does not stop a pending lawsuit from black Democratic lawmakers. They are challenging the redrawn districts, which would take effect for the 2014 election.

That litigation is pending in federal court. -- Read the whole story --> Justice Department OKs district changes | TuscaloosaNews.com

Other stories on the same subject: AP and Birmingham News (al.com)

Disclosure: .I am one of the counsel in the suit by the black elected officials.

August 24, 2012

Seven states support Shelby County's challenge to VRA

The Birmingham News (al.com) reports: Seven states, including Alabama, are backing Shelby County's legal challenge to the heart of the Voting Rights Act, according to written arguments filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shelby County's case alleges that Section 5 threatens state sovereignty by forcing every city and county in covered areas to get permission to move a polling place or redraw district lines, for example. The areas were singled out by Congress 47 years ago because of their record of blatant discrimination against blacks at the ballot box. Such racism is history now, the states argue.

"Section 5 served a noble purpose, and America is a freer and better place for it," states the brief filed by Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. "But Congress's refusal to amend the statute after this court identified its infirmities (in a Texas case) ... means that this court is the last and only branch of the federal government that can defend the state's coequal sovereignty."

Alaska, which has its own lawsuit challenging Section 5's constitutionality, filed a separate brief supporting Shelby County's petition. It says that state's unique geography and small population require nimble election procedures to best accommodate voters. -- Read the whole story --> Seven states backing Shelby County in appeal of voting rights case to the U.S. Supreme Court | al.com

May 19, 2012

Shelby County loses its challenge against Voting Rights Act

The Birmingham News reports: The section of the Voting Rights Act that requires the federal government to scrutinize election procedures in all or part of 16 states, including Alabama, was upheld by a 2-1 decision released today by a federal appeals court in Washington D.C.

Shelby County had challenged Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as an outdated burden on local governments that are no longer a threat to rights of minority voters. But in the 63-page opinion, the two judges of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia said Congress acted properly when it renewed the historic voting rights law in 2006.

"But Congress drew reasonable conclusions from the extensive evidence it gathered and acted pursuant to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which entrust Congress with ensuring that the right to vote--surely among the most important guarantees of political liberty in the Constitution--is not abridged on account of race. In this context, we owe much deference to the considered judgment of the people's elected representatives," according to the opinion. -- Read the whole story --> Shelby County loses appeal; Voting Rights Act is upheld by federal court | al.com

The decision is available at the Lawyers' Committee site.

March 17, 2012

City of Pinson to receive bailout from Section 5

The Birmingham News reports: The city of Pinson is about to become the first in Alabama to be exempt from the section of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain local governments to have their elections overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Pinson and the Justice Department agreed in writing to excuse the small Jefferson County community from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it has no history of discrimination against minority voters. ...

The Justice Department's review of Pinson's application included interviews with minority voters in Pinson, according to the written consent decree. Pinson was formed in 2004 and its population is about 78 percent white, 17 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic. No minority candidate has ever run for elected office in Pinson, according to the agreement, which also calls for a new citizens' advisory group to explore ways to increase opportunities for voter registration, have more diversity among poll workers and increase opportunities generally for political participation in Pinson's elections. -- Read the whole story --> City of Pinson is first in Alabama to win exemption from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act | al.com

March 5, 2012

"Thousands mark anniversary of historic march"

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Thousands of ac­tivists walked across one of America's most famous bridges Sunday, saluting the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act and calling for the rejection of Alabama's tough new immigration law.

The anniversary of the his­toric march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 attracted many organizations, from labor unions to civil rights groups and each seemed to have signs con­demning the legislation.

The Rev. Al Sharpton men­tioned it in the middle of the Ed­mund Pettus Bridge on Sunday afternoon, citing past gains and needs for future demonstrations to right perceived wrongs. -- Read the whole story --> Thousands mark anniversary of historic march | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

February 3, 2012

Shelby County challenge to Section 5 might be closer to Supreme Court

The Birmingham News reports: The chances that Shelby County's challenge to the Voting Rights Act will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court have improved since the Justice Department announced it is rethinking its position in a similar North Carolina case.

In a Jan. 30 letter to a lawyer for Kinston, NC., the assistant attorney general for civil rights said the agency has new information and will reconsider its 2009 objection to the city's switch to nonpartisan elections. Assuming the Justice Department formally withdraws that objection, Kinston's related lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act goes away.

Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California Irvine's School of Law, said in an email that he believes the move would clear a path for the Shelby County, Ala., case to be the one that puts the Section 5 issue before the Supreme Court. Another possible appeal involving the voter identification law in South Carolina is also a contender. -- Read the whole story --> Justice Department move might propel Shelby County, Ala., voting case to U.S. Supreme Court | al.com

January 26, 2012

Etowah County redistricting plan precleared

The Gadsden Times reports: Etowah County officials were notified by the Department of Justice that the redistricting plan submitted by the commission has been precleared.

Commissioners in September approved the resolution to alter the county's district lines and sent the plan to the Department of Justice for approval. -- Read the whole story --> Etowah County redistricting plan precleared by Department of Justice | GadsdenTimes.com

January 17, 2012

Sharpton announces Selma-Montgomery march in support of voting rights

News One reports: This morning at National Action Network?s (NAN) annual King Day Breakfast in Washington, D.C., NAN Founder and President Rev. Al Sharpton made key announcements in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr.

First, Rev. Sharpton announced that during the remembrance of Bloody Sunday beginning March 4th he will lead a 5-day March commemorating the historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March. The march will begin at the Edmund Pettus Bridge ending with a rally at the Alabama State Capitol on Friday, March 9. The March is in support of Voting Rights and to highlight the continuing efforts against Voter Suppression.

This includes the efforts to defeat Voter Identification Laws and reverse anti-Immigration laws in the state of Alabama. Secondly, Rev. Sharpton announced that National Action Network will lead a rally on March 27th in Washington, DC, at the United States Supreme Court as arguments are heard on Obama Care. -- Read the whole story --> Al Sharpton Announces Voting Rights March At King Day Breakfast | News One

January 7, 2012

DOJ preclears Opelika districts

The Opelika Auburn News reports: The United States Department of Justice has approved the redistricting plan for the Opelika City Council, according to a Justice Department official.

The council approved the redistricting of its wards in October 2011. However, as a provision under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department must grant Alabama and its municipalities preclearance before redistricting becomes official.

The Opelika Planning Department was tasked with redrawing the council wards based on 2010 census data to ensure that all wards are roughly equal in population. Because of population changes from 2000 to 2010, certain wards were disproportionately represented after the 2010 census count.

The planning department's ward redistricting brought about two changes to the current districts. -- Read the whole story --> Justice Department OKs Opelika council redistricting | oanow.com

December 31, 2011

DOJ preclears Madison County districts

The Huntsville Times reports: The U.S. Justice Department has pre-cleared the Madison County Commission's redistricting plan.

The commission in September adopted new district lines to make each commission district as equal as possible in population. The changes are required after each U.S. Census.

The county's new district lines will be in effect for the March 13 party primary elections. -- Read the whole story and see the map --> Justice Department approves new Madison County Commission district plan | al.com

December 29, 2011

DOJ seeks more information on Huntsvile redistricting plan

The Huntsville Times reports: The U.S. Justice Department is holding up approval of Huntsville's revised City Council and school board election lines.

T. Christian Herren Jr., chief of the Justice Department's voting section, notified the city on Dec. 19 that his office needs more information to ensure that the proposed redistricting plan does not discriminate against minority voters.

Herren asked City Attorney Peter Joffrion to submit a slew of additional data, including precinct-by-precinct vote totals from every city and county election since 2001 involving an African-American candidate, copies of all correspondence between the mayor and City Council about redistricting, and a detailed explanation of why the city's proposal will not cause a "retrogression" of minority voting strength.

The U.S. Attorney General's office will then have 60 days to review Huntsville's plan.

Some of the older information sought by the Justice Department "does not exist," Joffrion said Tuesday, while other data will have to be retrieved from various state agencies. -- Read the whole story --> Justice Department not ready to sign off on Huntsville redistricting plan | al.com

November 21, 2011

Alabama receives preclearance for congressional and State BOE plans

The Department of Justice today precleared the State of Alabama's Congressional and state school board districts.

Pre Clearance Letter for Congressional and SBOE

September 18, 2011

Alabama's unusual and expensive move for court preclearance of congressional redistricting

The Birmingham News reports: The state of Alabama, which is on record opposing the continued monitoring of its elections by the U.S. Justice Department, bypassed the agency and instead sued in federal court to have its new congressional and school board district lines approved as non-discriminatory.

Alabama's move is unusual because most state and local governments prefer the cheaper option of filing directly with the Justice Department for an administrative review rather than going to court.

The Justice Department reports that more than 99 percent of voting changes are handled by the agency "no doubt because of the relative simplicity of the process, the significant cost savings over litigation, and the presence of specific deadlines governing the Attorney General's issuance of a determination letter." -- Read the whole article (including a quote from Ed Still) -->Alabama bypasses U.S. Justice Department in bid for approval of redistricting lines | al.com

February 20, 2011

Shelby County, Alabama: the supplemental briefing

The Birmingham News reports: A decision on whether key sections of the Voting Rights Act remain constitutional 47 years after it was passed may hinge on whether it was appropriate for Congress not to update which parts of the country still need close federal oversight of their elections.

Although the lawyers finished arguing the case earlier this month, the federal judge asked for more written comments on the specific issue of coverage formula, or the method used in 1965 to determine which states were the worst threats to minority voting rights.

It signals that U.S. District Judge John Bates is focused on Shelby County's contention that the law's 2006 renewal by Congress is invalid because it relied on outdated voting data.

Shelby County sued the U.S. Justice Department, alleging that Congress did not have enough evidence to warrant a 25-year extension of the law that requires all or part of 16 states -- including Alabama -- to ask permission before making any voting-related changes. The Alabama case is widely viewed as a contender to return the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. -- Read the whole story --> Shelby County's lawsuit over the Voting Rights Act could turn on 2006 renewal | al.com

February 3, 2011

Shelby County: VRA challenge argued

The Birmingham News reports: Lawyers for Shelby County asked a federal judge in Washington today to declare two key parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional because Congress relied on old voting statistics when it extended the historic civil rights law for another 25 years.

The case, likely to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court, attracted a big crowd as lawyers debated whether certain parts of the country, including Alabama, would backslide into endangering the rights of minority voters if the Justice Department were no longer looking over their shoulder. All or part of 16 states have been subject to federal oversight since 1965, and the formula for how those states were chosen was based on voter registration and turnout statistics from that time. -- Read the whole story --> Shelby County voting rights case debated in Washington courtroom | al.com

January 31, 2011

Shelby County: VRA challenge argument in DC

The Birmingham News reports: Shelby County will be at the forefront of the national debate over whether minorities, especially in the South, still face discrimination at the ballot box when a judge this week hears the county's arguments that parts of the Voting Rights Act are obsolete.

The politically conservative and mostly white suburban county south of Birmingham is the latest to take a crack at the 46-year-old federal law as an outdated burden that Congress had no business extending for another 25 years.

Others have tried to prove that part of the historic civil rights law is no longer necessary because of advances in race relations, but a definitive answer on its constitutionality has not been forthcoming.

So now it's Shelby County's turn. Financially backed by a nonprofit legal defense fund, the county is asking a federal judge to declare two key sections of the law unconstitutional. If the county's argument is successful, it would strike down the federal government's main tool for policing local and state elections for discrimination, intentional or not.
-- Read the whole story --> Shelby County will be at forefront of challenge to Voting Rights Act | al.com

November 26, 2010

R.I.P. -- Annie Lee Cooper

The Selma Times-Journal reports: Annie Lee Cooper, a civil rights hero, died Wednesday afternoon at Vaughan Regional Medical Center. She was 100 years old.

Cooper became known worldwide in 1965 for a confrontation with Sheriff James G. Clark.

Historian David J. Garrow tells the story in his book, "Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Voting Rights Act of 1965," which was released in the 1970s by Yale University Press.

According to Garrow's documented version, Cooper had stood in line for hours outside the Dallas County Courthouse to register to vote. Clark ordered the 224-pound, 54-year-old African-American woman to go home. Cooper clamed he poked her in the back of the neck with either a billy club or a cattle prod. Cooper turned and delivered a right hook to the sheriff's jaw. He dropped to the ground. -- Read the whole story --> Annie Lee Cooper, civil rights legend, dies | The Selma Times?Journal

Read about Ms. Cooper in Garrow's book, pages 45-47.

November 25, 2010

Shelby County: summary of DOJ and amicus arguments

The Birmingham News reports: The U.S. Justice Department and civil rights advocates representing black voters in Shelby County have asked a federal judge to uphold the historic Voting Rights Act as a fair and still-necessary deterrent to bias at the ballot box.

"Unchecked racial discrimination in voting erodes our Constitution's promise of equality, sharply undermines the integrity of our democratic processes, and imposes significant harms on our citizens and nation," the groups wrote recently in a joint court filing.

Shelby County sued the Justice Department earlier this year, alleging two key sections of the Voting Rights Act are unconstitutional because Congress did not have enough evidence of blatant government discrimination against blacks to warrant the law's extension.

The conservative, strongly Republican county south of Birmingham is taking the stand on its own behalf and the behalf of others in the South who say the law has outlived its usefulness and is burdensome to taxpayers. Read the whole article --> Voting Rights Act still vital, representatives of Shelby County blacks tell judge | al.com

October 29, 2010

DOJ to monitor polls in 18 states

From a Justice Department press release: The Justice Department announced today that its Civil Rights Division plans to deploy more than 400 federal observers and department personnel to 30 jurisdictions in 18 states for the Nov. 2, 2010, general election.

Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, under the federal voting rights laws, the Civil Rights Division is charged with and committed to protecting the rights of all citizens to access the ballot on Election Day. -- Read the whole thing --> Justice Department to Monitor Polls in 18 States on Election Day

DOJ Voting Section advertises for analysts

The Voting Section has today posted ads seeking to fill additional civil rights analyst positions. Click on the links below for the ads; they describe the procedures for applying.

Ad #1 Ad #2 Ad #3 Ad #4

September 11, 2010

Shelby County: VRA challenged argued in DC

The Birmingham News reports: Shelby County is intent on having key sections of the Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional and ending federal oversight of elections across the South, not just in one Alabama county, the county's lawyers said Friday.

In a case that everyone in the Washington, D.C., courtroom seemed to agree was destined for the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Shelby County argued over whether the judge should take into account the Alabama county's voting rights history in deciding whether the 45-year-old law, renewed by Congress four years ago, remains constitutional.

The difference could be significant. Justice Department lawyers said the judge may not have to decide whether the law is constitutional if the government determines that the county qualifies for a bailout so that it can be excused from having to get its election-related changes blessed by Washington. ...

But a lawyer for Shelby County told U.S. District Judge John Bates that the county was not asking for a bailout. William Consovoy, representing Shelby County, argued that the only evidence the judge should consider is the record Congress compiled before deciding to renew the law in 2006. The 21,000 pages includes testimony about jurisdictions that have run afoul of the law in recent years, which Congress relied upon in extending the law for another 25 years. Read the whole story --> Federal judge hears early arguments in Shelby County challenge to Voting Rights Act | al.com

August 5, 2010

Lauderdale County: referendum on separate commission chair and probate judge

The Times Daily reports: Lauderdale County voters will decide in November if they want to separate the commission chairmanship from the probate judge.

Florence attorney Chris Smith, counsel for the Lauderdale County Commission, said he received written approval from the U.S. Justice Department. ...

A bill, allowing the public to vote on the issue, was introduced by state Rep. Mike Curtis, D-Greenhill, during the 2010 legislative session.

County officials said the ballot will prompt voters to decide if they want two people to handle the positions. Read the whole story --> Voters to decide on chair, probate judge separation | TimesDaily.com | The Times Daily | Florence, AL

August 1, 2010

Alabama: black voters file Section 5 case over Gov. Riley cancelling their votes (complaint attached)

The Tuscaloosa News reports: Local politicians in Greene and Macon counties have joined to file a federal lawsuit claiming that Gov. Bob Riley's bingo raids are perpetuating racial injustice by thwarting the intent of black voters.

The suit, filed Thursday, was intended to reopen Greenetrack and avoid a raid at Victory-Land in Macon County. The raid appears imminent after the state Supreme Court on Friday gave the governor's anti-gambling task force a green light.

Voting rights lawyer Ed Still is one of several attorneys who filed the lawsuit over the June raid and confiscation of more than 800 bingo machines from the Greenetrack bingo casino in Greene County.

Still said on Friday that Riley never got clearance from the U.S. Justice Department to take action against Greene and Macon counties, which have local constitutional amendments approved by voters authorizing bingo.

The lawsuit's premise is simple: Riley's actions reversed voter intentions in both counties, effectively canceling their votes. Read the whole story --> Suit claims bingo raids thwart black voters | TuscaloosaNews.com

Johnson v. Riley (Voting Rights Act Complaint)

July 22, 2010

Alabama: suit filed to block enforcement of law on campaign contributions

The Birmingham News reports: A 15-year-old Alabama law that says judges should not hear cases in which one of the parties donated at least $2,000 to their campaigns has never been enforced, locked in a stalemate over whether it first needs to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice for evidence that it would not disenfranchise minorities.

A lawsuit filed this week in Washington by an Anniston City Council member tries to settle the question, but it also raises more questions about how an act of the Alabama Legislature can essentially be ignored for so long.

The 1995 law says that a circuit judge who received at least $2,000 from one of the people involved in the case -- or $4,000 for an appellate judge -- must recuse himself in order to avoid the "appearance of impropriety."

Soon after it was passed, the Alabama attorney general's office submitted the law to the Department of Justice, which normally reviews all changes to Alabama's election laws under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But before the Justice Department could make a decision, the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, withdrew the request for review and notified Washington that the state would enforce the new law and that it didn't need preclearance from the DOJ. -- Read the whole story --> Lawsuit seeks Justice Department review of unenforced 15-year-old state law | al.com

A copy of the complaint is shown below:

Little v. King Complaint

July 3, 2010

Alabama: bingo and voting rights linked

The Tuscaloosa News reports: The chairman of the Alabama Black Legislative Caucus said today he wants to file a federal voting rights complaint over the raid by Gov. Bob Riley's gambling task force at the Greenetrack bingo casino.

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said the raid of Greenetrack and removal of bingo machines unilaterally nullifies the vote of Greene County residents who approved a constitutional amendment authorizing bingo. ...

Rogers noted that the Greene County amendment approved by voters in 2003 contains the term “electronic.” Riley considers electronic bingo machines illegal.

Amendment 743, which was declared ratified in June 2004 defines bingo as: “That specific kind of game commonly known as bingo in which prizes are awarded on the basis of designated numbers or symbols on a card or electronic marking machine conforming to numbers or symbols selected at random.” Read the whole story --> State legislator wants to file voting rights complaint | TuscaloosaNews.com

June 11, 2010

DOJ revising Section 5 guidelines

The Department of Justice has published its proposed revisions to the Section 5 guidelines in today's Federal Register:

http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-13393.htm and http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-13393.pdf.

May 4, 2010

Alabama: Shelby County's complaint against VRA

The complaint in Shelby County,Alabama v. Holder is available here:

Complaint

April 28, 2010

DOJ Voting Section -- new deputy chief position is open

The Voting Section’s deputy chief ad has been reopened to reflect the addition of one more vacancy. The ad describes the new procedures for applying.

The ad states that “This vacancy is a reposting of vacancy announcement 10-ATT-007, Deputy Chief, to fill an additional position. Applicants who applied to the previous vacancy announcement, by the original deadline, do not need to reapply to this announcement to receive consideration for the additional position being filled.”

April 27, 2010

Alabama county to sue DOJ over Section 5 constitutionality

The Shelby County Reporter reports: The Shelby County Commission approved a resolution at its April 26 meeting to allow the county to file a lawsuit against the federal government over part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

County attorney Butch Ellis said Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act forbids cities and towns in nine states, including Alabama, from making changes in voting practices or procedures without approval from the federal government. The lawsuit will challenge the constitutionality of such a requirement.

?It doesn?t matter what you do, if it has anything to do with elections, you have to get clearance from Washington, D.C.,? Ellis said at the meeting.

The lawsuit will be paid for in full by the Project on Fair Representation, a not-for-profit legal defense fund supporting challenges against racial preferences in state and federal courts.

Ellis said the lawsuit would be filed swiftly, although he did not have an exact date for the filing. Read the whole story --> Shelby County Reporter | County to sue federal government over Voting Rights Act

Note: The Project on Fair Representation website claims credit for the NAMUDNO lawsuit and the current City of Irving, TX, suit -- both of which attacked the Voting Rights Act.

April 1, 2010

Mississippi: DOJ objects to law requiring runoffs in some school board elections

The U.S. Attorney General has objected under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to a Mississippi law requiring runoffs in certain municipal school board elections. The letter should be used as a case study in how a State can fail to carry its burden of proof in a Section 5 preclearance request. A copy of the letter is shown below:

2010 03 Objection to Miss Re Sch Bds

March 4, 2010

How the VRA dodged a bullet

Jeffrey Rosen writes in The New Republic about the NAMUDNO case: According to a source who was briefed on the deliberations in the case, Anthony Kennedy was initially ready to join Roberts and the other conservatives in issuing a sweeping 5-4 decision, striking down the Voting Rights Act on constitutional grounds. But the four liberal justices threatened to write a strong dissent that would have accused the majority of misconstruing landmark precedents about congressional power. What happened next is unclear, but the most likely possibilities are either that Kennedy got cold feet or that Roberts backed down. The Voting Rights Act survived, but what looked from the outside like an act of judicial statesmanship by Roberts may have in fact been a strategic retreat. Moreover, rather than following the principled alternative suggested by David Souter at the oral argument--holding that the people who were challenging the Voting Rights Act had no standing to bring the lawsuit--Roberts opted to rewrite the statute in a way that Congress never intended. That way, Roberts was still able to express his constitutional doubts about the law-as well as his doubts about landmark Supreme Court precedents from the civil rights era, which he mischaracterized and seemed ready to overrule.
-- Read the whole article --> Roberts Versus Roberts | The New Republic

February 23, 2010

Voting Section seeks civil rights analysts

The Voting Section has posted ads seeking to fill a total of up to 14 civil rights analyst positions to review voting changes under the preclearance provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

There are four ads - two are open to all citizens and two are “status eligible” ads. Two ads require proficiency in one of several languages, while the other two ads state a preference, but not a requirement, for such language proficiency.

The ads describe the procedures for applying. Ad 1 Ad 2 Ad 3 Ad 4

February 15, 2010

Invitation from the Legal Defense Fund

In commemoration of the 45th Anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" and the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, please join us in Selma on Friday, March 5th for an important discussion about what's at stake in the upcoming 2010 Census and the continuing need for the protections of the Voting Rights Act.

An informational flyer about the panels is attached. The event is free and open to the public.

January 8, 2010

Voting Right Section: Chris Coates leaves

The American Prospect has an article online, The Battle for Voting Rights, that makes me a little uneasy.

I'll wait while you go read it.

I know and have worked with several of the people mentioned in the article. I first met Chris Coates when he was at the ACLU Voting Rights Project. Gilda Daniels worked for me at the Lawyers' Committee. Chris Herren worked for me before he went to law school. I worked with John Tanner for years when he was at the Voting Section and I was in private practice or at the Lawyers' Committee.

I can't pretend to have any inside knowledge of this story. I view it simply as an outsider who is very interested in the work of the Voting Rights Section. I feel I should say something like the neighbors always say when someone is arrested for a crime. "He seemed like a nice man."

But as for the work of the Voting Section, it must get back on track to protecting the voting rights of Americans. I hope and pray that Chris Herren can guide it properly.

December 22, 2009

GAO releases report on DOJ under Bush

The Government Accountability Office has released a 180-page report on the enforcement efforts of the Justice Department during fiscal years 2001-07. The summary on the Voting Section says:

From fiscal years 2001 through 2007, the Voting Section was responsible for enforcing federal statutes that protect the voting rights of racial and language minorities, disabled and illiterate persons, and overseas and military personnel. During the 7-year period, the Section initiated more matters (367 of 442) and cases (39 of 56) under the Voting Rights Act than the other statutes it enforced, and primarily on behalf of language minority groups (246 of 367 matters and 30 of 56 cases). According to aggregate time data for the 7-year period, the Voting Section spent the greatest total percentage of time (52 percent) on administrative reviews of proposed changes in the voting practices and procedures of certain jurisdictions covered under section 5 of the VRA, such as a proposed redistricting plan––which would make changes to the geographic boundaries of voting districts––or the relocation of a polling place, as compared with cases (33 percent) or matters (14 percent).

Read or download the report --> U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Information on Employment Litigation, Housing and Civil Enforcement, Voting, and Special Litigation Sections’ Enforcement Efforts from Fiscal Years 2001 through 2007

December 16, 2009

New Book on the VRA and Language Minorities

James Tucker's new book, The Battle over Bilingual Ballots: Language Minorities and Political Access Under the Voting Rights Act has been published by Ashgate. For information on the book, including a table of contents, preface, and index (you can give it the old Washington-once-over to see if you are listed in the index), go here. There is also a discount link there, as well.
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September 26, 2009

Alabama: Calera will use limited voting; DOJ approves new election date

The Birmingham News reports: Calera officials received permission Friday from the U.S. Department of Justice to proceed with Nov. 10 municipal elections.

The decision came 13 months after city leaders learned that the Justice Department would not accept the voting boundaries used in the 2008 municipal elections last August. Justice Department officials objected to the boundaries, which eliminated the city's sole minority district. As a result, Mayor George Roy and the incumbent city council have remained in office. ...

In July, the City Council passed a temporary voting plan calling for six at-large council seats instead of the current five council members representing five districts. A new plan will be developed based on data from the 2010 Census. ...

"The city's adoption of the at-large, limited voting plan with six council members reflects a good-faith effort to effectively remedy the concerns raised in our objection," the letter from Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general, reads in part. -- Read the whole story at --> Justice Department says OK to Calera election plan - al.com

September 10, 2009

Call for Papers: Voting 45 Years After the Voting Rights Act

The Saint Louis University Public Law Review invites the submission of article abstracts relating to its Spring 2010 symposium theme: Voting 45 Years After the Voting Rights Act.

The symposium, which will be held on Friday, March 26, 2010, will consist of three round-table panel discussions examining the Voting Rights Act, with emphasis on the implementation of the Act and possible future legislation amending the act or creating new legislation.

The Voting Rights Act: Still Relevant Today?
This panel will focus on the implementation of the Voting Rights Act as well as the recent Supreme Court cases regarding the Act.

Voting on the Ground
This panel will consider the challenges facing different groups across the country in registering to vote and accessing polling places on Election Day. It will look at how the Voting Rights Act addresses these issues, the increasing role third parties—such as individual campaigns and groups such as ACORN—play in the voting process, and whether additional government legislation or intervention is needed.

Voting in the Future
This panel will focus on possible amendments or alternatives to the Voting Rights Act and what can be done to increase registration and voter access to polls.

Invitations to present and publish will be made by the Editorial Board following review of the submitted abstracts, which should be limited to 300 words and represent original, unpublished work. Abstracts must be received by October 1, 2009 to be considered, and responses to submissions will be sent on or before November 1, 2009. Drafts of papers selected must be received by February 12, 2010.

Following the March 26, 2010 conference, final drafts of papers to be published must be received by April 15, 2010. The papers will be published in the Fall 2010 edition of the St. Louis University Public Law Review.

Abstracts may be submitted to Jennifer Beasley, jbeasle6 at slu.edu

September 9, 2009

Alabama: Calera thinks it can hold an election

The Birmingham News reports: The Calera City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night calling for a new municipal election on Nov. 10.

The move is contingent on approval from U.S. Justice Department officials, who declared the results of the 2008 municipal election invalid.

The Justice Department did not approve the city's new voting lines used in the 2008 election because Calera's only district made up mainly of minorities was eliminated. ...

City Clerk Connie Payton told council members in a work session prior to the meeting that the city's attorneys advised the council to set the date after talking on the phone with Justice Department officials all day Tuesday. -- Calera City Council calls for a new municipal election - al.com

September 6, 2009

Alabama: book on "Bloody Lowndes"

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Much of what happened during the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march occurred along a 22-mile stretch of U.S. 80 in one of Alabama's most sparsely populated counties.

Historians tend to focus instead on much larger Dallas and Montgomery counties, a source of displeasure for many of the 12,600 residents of Lowndes County, especially those old enough to remember what happened more than four decades ago.

That's about to change with Hasan Jeffries' "Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt."

A research project that lasted a decade for the Brooklyn-born historian, it led him to Alabama dozens of times to interview veterans of the civil rights era. He also spent countless hours sifting through archival documents in what began as a doctoral dissertation and became much more. -- Read the full article --> Author brings Lowndes Co. civil rights history to light | montgomeryadvertiser.com | Montgomery Advertiser

August 26, 2009

RIP: Sen. Edward Kennedy; "the dream lives on"

The New York Times reports: Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a son of one of the most storied families in American politics, a man who knew triumph and tragedy in near-equal measure and who will be remembered as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate, died late Tuesday night. He was 77. ...

In the years after his failed White House bid, Mr. Kennedy also established himself as someone who made “lawmaker” mean more than a word used in headlines to describe any member of Congress. Though his personal life was a mess until his remarriage in the early 1990s, he never failed to show up prepared for a committee hearing or a floor debate.

His most notable focus was civil rights, “still the unfinished business of America,” he often said. In 1982, he led a successful fight to defeat the Reagan administration’s effort to weaken the Voting Rights Act. -- Read the whole, long story --> Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Dies - Obituary (Obit) - NYTimes.com

July 10, 2009

"Future of the Voting Rights Act"

The New American Foundation announces: On June 30th, over 100 people attended "The Future of the Voting Rights Act," a morning conference cosponsored by the New America Foundation and FairVote. The conference featured some of the nation's top voting rights experts, who came together to review the recent Supreme Court decision known as NAMUDNO and its impacts, and to think more expansively about voting rights and representation in the United States. Besides a packed house, as well as an additional 50 people watching via live webcast, a dozen staff and lawyers from the Department of Justice attended, including the head of the Voting section of the Civil Rights division, as well as many other voting rights experts and academics.

Panelists spoke on a wide range of topics, from specific issues related to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to the possibility of a right-to-vote amendment and other reforms like proportional voting which hold potential to give representation to an increasingly diverse nation.

The event video is available for viewing online. Below is a list of the times for the appearance of speakers during the two panels, which can be viewed at the event page: http://www.newamerica.net/events/2009/future_voting_rights_act.

Welcome and Introductory Comments (video)
0:00-8:30 Steven Hill, Director, Political Reform Program, New America Foundation

Panel I
The Supreme Court and Minority Voting Rights: A Discussion of NAMUDNO (video)
8:30-11:38 Rob Richie, Executive director, FairVote
11:55-21:50 Kristen Clarke, Co-Director, Political Participation Group of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
22:40-33:47 Nate Persily, Professor of Law and Political Science, Columbia Law School
33:51-43:35 Lisa Bornstein, Senior Counsel, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
43:49-55:45 Jamin Raskin, State Senator, (Maryland), Director of the Law and Government Program, Washington College of Law
55:52-1:07:13 Edward Hailes, Senior Attorney, The Advancement Project
1:07:13 Questions and Answers

Panel II
After NAMUDNO: Fair Representation in a Changing America (video)
0:00-3:00 Steven Hill, Director, Political Reform Program, New America Foundation
3:00-10:00 Myrna Perez, Brennan Center, Counsel on Democracy
13:58-22:30 Jon Greenbaum, Legal Director, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
23:35-32:10 Michael McDonald, Associate Professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution
32:45-40:40 Amy Ngai, Director, Program for Representative Government, FairVote
41:30-50:18 Steven Mulroy, Associate Professor of Law, University of Memphis School of Law, Shelby County Board of Commissioners
50:50-54:40 Lightning Round, Yes and No style questions for all of the panelists
54:45 Questions and Answers

May 21, 2009

Alabama: Birmingham's election date still undetermined

The Birmingham News reports: Birmingham City Council members and candidates for city elections are incensed that there still is no definite date set for council and school board elections.

The City Council three months ago voted to ask the Department of Justice for permission to move up the election dates to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. However, a request was not sent to Washington until May 7.

City Clerk Paula Smith recently sent a memo to the council listing two election schedules - one if the Justice Department approves the new dates and another if approval is not granted. ...

Some council members said they were misled by Cooper into believing the process was much further along than it actually is. --> Read the rest of the story at Birmingham, Alabama's election day remains undecided - al.com

April 12, 2009

Texas: GOP governors differ on the NAMUDNO case

AP reports: Republican governors offer differing views on major voting rights case at Supreme Court -- Differing views in GOP on voting rights case | TPM News Pages

Note: Because the AP is threatening legal action against those who quote from their stories, I will be mentioning fewer AP stories and will give no more than the headline.

April 1, 2009

"High Court to Weigh Relevance Of Voting Law in Obama Era"

The Washington Post reports: America's next great battle over civil rights could hardly have a less controversial flash point: the benign decision to move the neighborhood polling place from Jack Stueber's garage to the local

elementary school.

But because Stueber's garage is in Texas, and because Texas once systematically discriminated against its black and Latino citizens, and because Congress wants to make sure that it never does again, elections in the handsome neighborhood called Canyon Creek are a federal issue.

The Supreme Court will consider this month whether the neighborhood's tiny utility board should continue to be among the states and local governments that bear the Voting Rights Act's heaviest burden -- pre-clearance by federal authorities for even the smallest changes in election laws and procedures -- and whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 by extending the restrictions for 25 years.

Each time the court has reviewed the law since it was first passed 44 years ago, it has agreed with Congress that the restrictions are warranted. But this time around, a question hangs over the case that is not found in law books:

Is a law conceived in the time of Jim Crow still relevant in the age of Barack Obama? -- Supreme Court to Weigh Relevance of Voting Rights Act in Obama Era - washingtonpost.com

March 25, 2009

Texas: veteran VRA lawyers file amicus brief in NAMUDNO

A group of veteran voting-rights attorneys lead by Julius Chambers, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in Northwest Austin Municipal Unitily District v. Holder. The attorneys argue:

In comparison to Appellant’s limited familiarity with elections, attorney amici collectively have more than 200 years of experience litigating voting rights cases in covered and non-covered jurisdictions throughout the country. This experience has led amici to recognize the persistent need for timely enforcement capable of deterring illegal voting schemes before they are implemented—a task for which caseby- case litigation under Section 2 is ill-suited, but for which Section 5 was designed.

Were Section 5 unavailable, there would be a significant increase in the number of discriminatory voting changes that voters and jurisdictions would be forced to address through litigation. But Section 2 cannot substitute for the prophylactic function of Section 5. In practice, amici have seen Section 2 and Section 5 operate in the complementary fashion that Congress intended. Where minority voters in covered jurisdictions cannot find a lawyer or afford to pay one, Section 5 provides the means to redress new violations of their rights. And where minority voters are able to get their day in court, Section 5 provides the assurance that their hard-won and expensive battles will not have been fought in vain if a jurisdiction repeats similar violations.

Too many discriminatory voting changes would remain unchallenged if Section 5 were invalidated. For individual minority voters, the cost and effort required to pursue Section 2 cases are great barriers to private enforcement, a problem made more acute by the small number of practitioners in covered jurisdictions who are willing and able to take such cases. This creates a perverse incentive—all too often realized—for officials to continue suspect practices because they know most voters cannot challenge them. In contrast, Section 5 serves as a deterrent to such practices.

Amici’s lengthy experience in the voting rights arena shows the importance of Congress’s considered decision to reauthorize Section 5. Without it, minority voters will fail to realize the full promise of the Voting Rights Act.

The amici include the following lawyers:James U. Blacksher, Armand Derfner, Anita Earls, Robert McDuff, Edward Still, and Ellis Turnage. The lawyers are represented by William D. Kissinger, Sujal J. Shah, Erin Shannon-Conroy, Perry M. Grossman, and Sarah L. Bishop of Bibgham McCutchen LLP.

Alabama: DOJ objects again to Calera redistricting

The Birmingham News reports: U.S. Department of Justice officials said Tuesday that they will not accept Calera's 2008 redistricting plan, which means the municipal elections were no good. ...

"Having reviewed these materials, I remain unable to conclude that the city of Calera has carried its burden of showing that the submitted changes have neither a discriminatory purpose nor a discriminatory effect," Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general, said in a letter Tuesday to the city's attorney, Frank "Butch" Ellis.

City leaders learned the day before the Aug. 26 election that the Justice Department would not approve the new districts, which city officials said were created to correct population imbalances stemming from the fast growth the city has experienced in recent years. Ellis said city officials did not have the authority to call off that election or the Oct. 7 runoffs.

During the August election, Ernest Montgomery, the black incumbent from District 2, lost his bid for re-election by two votes to Eric Snyder, who is white.

Although city leaders have said that African-Americans have become a smaller percentage of the city's population over the years, voter registration and school data show otherwise, according to the letter sent Tuesday. -- U.S. Justice Department voids Calera, Alabama's redistricting plan, which throws out 2008 city elections - al.com

March 12, 2009

Pres. Obama supports continued Sec. 5 coverage

The Birmingham News reports: The part of the 44-year-old Voting Rights Act that requires states such as Alabama to get federal permission before making election-related changes is still a necessary protection for minority voters, President Barack Obama said Wednesday.

Obama, rebutting a sentiment in some Southern states that they no longer need Justice Department supervision, said the scrutiny remains important in places where blacks and whites and Hispanics are especially polarized in their voting patterns. The threat to minorities may no longer be as overtly discriminatory as refusing to register blacks to vote, he said, but may be that they won't have a real chance to elect their candidate of choice.

"There are probably some parts of the South that ... if you looked at the data, are no longer that polarized. There are other parts that are probably still very polarized," Obama said in an interview with 15 reporters from around the country, including The Birmingham News. ...

"Keep in mind that preclearance is just that: It requires before you make a change to go before the D.C. Circuit (Court) or the federal courts and show these changes aren't a problem. That's not such a huge hurdle to jump through," Obama said. "So I think it's legitimate to err on the side of caution before you started eliminating that requirement." -- Minority vote protections still needed in South, Obama tells regional reporters - al.com

March 9, 2009

North Carolina: Scotus decides Bartlett v. Strickland

The Supreme Court has decided Bartlett v. Strickland, No. 07-689. The Justices divided 3-2-4.

The Three (Kennedy, C.J. Roberts, and Alito) "concluded that §2 does not require state officials to draw election-district lines to allow a racial minority that would make up less than 50 percent of the voting-age population in the redrawn district to join with crossover voters to elect the minority’s candidate of choice. ... This holding does not consider the permissibility of crossover districts as a matter of legislative choice or discretion. Section 2 allows States to choose their own method of complying with the Voting Rights Act, which may include drawing crossover districts. See Georgia v. Ashcroft, 539 U. S. 461, 480–482. Moreover, the holding shouldnot be interpreted to entrench majority-minority districts by statutory command, for that, too, could pose constitutional concerns. See, e.g., Miller v. Johnson, 515 U. S. 900. Such districts are only re-quired if all three Gingles factors are met and if §2 applies based onthe totality of the circumstances."

The Two (Thomas and Scalia) said "the text of §2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does notauthorize any vote dilution claim, regardless of the size of the minor-ity population in a given district."

The Four (Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer) filed one dissent in which all joined and Justices Ginsburg and Breyer filed additional dissents. Justice Souter's opinion stated, "I would hold that ... a district may be a minority-opportunity district so long as a cohesive minority population is large enough to elect its chosen candidate when combined with a reliable number of crossover voters from an otherwise polarized majority."

Justice Ginsburg said, "Today’s decision returns the ball to Congress’ court. The Legislature has just cause to clarify beyond debate the appropriate reading of §2." [Can the introduction of a Voting Rights Act of 2009 be far?]

Justice Breyer's opinion asks, "Why not use a numerical gateway rule that looks more directly at the relevant question: Is the minority bloc large enough, is it cohesive enough, is the necessary majority crossover vote small enough, so that the minority (tending to vote cohesively) can likely vote its preferred candidate (rather than a consensus candidate) into office?" and proposes a a new test: "Suppose we pick a numeri-cal ratio that requires the minority voting age population to be twice as large as the percentage of majority crossovervotes needed to elect the minority’s preferred candidate.We would calculate the latter (the percentage of majoritycrossover votes the minority voters need) to take accountof both the percentage of minority voting age population in the district and the cohesiveness with which they vote."

March 4, 2009

Alabama: Riley sez we don't need VRA Sec. 5

The Birmingham News reports: The section of the Voting Rights Act that requires Alabama to get federal approval for election-related changes is an unnecessary burden on a state that no longer needs supervision from Washington to ensure fair voting, Gov. Bob Riley contends in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

By keeping Alabama on the Justice Department's watch list for discrimination against minority voters, "Congress wrongly equated Alabama's modern government, and its people, with their Jim Crow ancestors," lawyers for the governor wrote.

Congress in 2006 renewed the landmark voting rights law and the section that requires nine states, plus local jurisdictions in several other states, to prove that changes to election procedures, such as moving a polling place, do not disenfranchise black voters.

Alabama rightfully deserved its place on the list in 1965, but no longer, Riley argues in the brief, filed last week. Of the 3,279 times Alabama has asked for Justice Department "pre-clearance" for changes between 1996 and 2005, it received two rejections, the brief states. ...

Birmingham lawyer Ed Still, an advocate of the Voting Rights Act, said Riley's submission to the justices doesn't address whether the extension of the law is constitutional.

"This is just part of a campaign that Riley has had for a while now - he and his attorneys general, trying to cripple the Voting Rights Act any way they could. This is a whine," Still said Tuesday. "I suspect this is the governor's way of providing some war stories to the conservative justices who want to strike down Section 5." -- Alabama no longer needs voting rights supervision, Gov. Bob Riley says - al.com

February 19, 2009

Texas: 5th Circuit revives suit against Texas Democrats under Sec. 5

The Fifth Circuit has partially reversed the dismissal of a Section 5 case about the allocation of delegates to the Texas Democratic Party convention. The opinion begins:

Plaintiffs-Appellants LULAC of Texas, the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, Texas, and several individuals who reside in various Texas senatorial districts appeal from the dismissal by a single-judge district court of their claims under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act against Defendants-Appellees the State of Texas and the Texas Democratic Party (the “Party”), contending that the judge should have referred their claims to a threejudge court. Plaintiffs’ suit challenges the Party’s method of allocating delegates to its nominating conventions based on raw voter turnout, a procedure that was not precleared by the United States Attorney General or the District Court for the District of Columbia. Reviewing the dismissal de novo, ... we AFFIRM the dismissal for the State, REVERSE the dismissal for the Party, and REMAND ....

January 10, 2009

Texas: Supreme Court agrees to hear challenge to Section 5 of VRA

The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would decide whether Congress overstepped its constitutional authority in 2006 by extending a central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The plaintiff in the case, a Texas municipal utility district, has argued that Congress did not take sufficient account of more than four decades of progress toward racial equality that culminated in the recent election of the nation’s first black president.

The court’s decision, expected by June, will help define the Roberts court. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. opposed efforts to expand the voting rights law in 1982 as a young lawyer in the Reagan administration and has expressed skepticism on the court about racial classifications made by the government. The decision will also have significant practical consequences for elections in 16 states. ...

The case concerns the requirement in Section 5 of the law that certain state and local governments, mostly in the South, must obtain permission, or “preclearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes that affect voting. -- Supreme Court Takes Voting Rights Case - NYTimes.com

November 1, 2008

Election-day observers from DOJ

The Washington Post's Trail blog reports: The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice will send 800 federal observers and justice department staff to 59 jurisdictions in 23 states on Election Day to monitor polling places and elections.

Jurisdictions will include Chesterfield County, Va., which had ballot shortages and delays during the presidential primary that received nationwide attention during Congressional hearings earlier this fall, when voters said the problems cost them a chance to cast ballots.

In 2004, 1,090 observers traveled to 25 states for Election Day. During the deadlocked 2000 election, there were 317 observers watching for problems.

The department is required to monitor polling places covered by the Voting Rights Act or related court orders. In addition, its Civil Rights Section will send watchers to counties in several battleground states.

In September, in response to concerns about voter intimidation raised by numerous civil rights and voting rights groups, the department agreed not to use criminal prosecutors as elections observers, as had been done in the past with observers from U.S. Attorneys' offices. -- Justice Dept. Will Send 800 Monitors to Polls | The Trail | washingtonpost.com

Note: the story has a list of counties with federal monitors.

October 28, 2008

Alabama: DOJ sues (and settles with) City of Calera for violation of VRA (court docs attached)

The Birmingham News reports: The federal government filed a lawsuit against the city of Calera in U.S. District Court, alleging the city's new voting boundaries violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. ...

The lawsuit says Calera's new voting districts, which eliminated the city's sole mostly minority district, were not approved before the municipal elections. The Justice Department has said the new boundaries may be unfair to minorities.

The lawsuit confirms that the newly elected officials in Calera will not be able to take office on Monday, unless the districts are approved before then. The sitting mayor and council will remain in office until the lawsuit is resolved. ...

During a recent meeting, Ellis told city officials the Justice Department does not trust the population and race data submitted by Calera. The Justice Department has asked the city for more specific information. -- U.S. government sues Calera over voting districts - al.com

The article does not explain that the City has entered into a consent decree. Both the complaint and the consent decree are attached.

October 15, 2008

North Carolina: SCOTUS hears arguments in Bartlett v. Strickland

The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court returned Tuesday to the question of how to take account of race in drawing election districts, hearing arguments in a case that is likely to resolve a question the court has left open five times: Must a minority group constitute a majority in a given district before an important protection of the federal Voting Rights Act kicks in?

Christopher G. Browning Jr., North Carolina’s solicitor general, defended the decision of officials there to violate a state law in order to create a district that included about 39 percent of the black voting-age population, saying the Voting Rights Act required the creation of the district to prevent the dilution of the minority group’s ability to elect a representative of its choice.

The fact that the district did not include a majority of black voters was a virtue, Mr. Browning said. True, he said, minority voters would be able to elect a representative of their choice only with the aid of voters from other groups. “Coalition districts help us in reaching the point where race will no longer matter,” Mr. Browning said. -- Justices Weigh Race in North Carolina Case - NYTimes.com

The Washington Post also reports on the case: The court's decision will affect the redrawing of political lines after the 2010 census and is of particular concern to civil rights leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus. Nearly half of the caucus's members were elected from coalition districts, and some worry that redistricting could threaten them or future black candidates if states do not fear lawsuits over reapportionment decisions.

If yesterday's oral argument is any indication, the court may be moving in a different direction. Several conservative justices indicated support for maintaining the "50 percent rule" supported by most lower courts -- that vote-dilution lawsuits can be filed only when minorities can show that they would constitute more than half the population if the district in question were redrawn again.

Justice Antonin Scalia said North Carolina's position would lead to more litigation and "inject" the courts "into this very political game much more frequently than we now are."

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the success of coalition districts in electing black candidates "would be evidence that the Voting Rights Act has succeeded, rather than evidence that you need to apply it more broadly."

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, often the deciding vote when the court splits along ideological lines, sarcastically referred to coalition districts as a "brave new world" where "race is the key factor" in drawing political lines. -- Justices Hear Voting Rights Case

October 8, 2008

Alabama: Supreme Court dismiss Riley's appeal

The Birmingham News reports: The picture of who will represent District 1 on the Jefferson County Commission became crystal clear for the first time in a year following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week in the last lawsuit over the issue.

George Bowman will remain in office until after the Nov. 4 election results are certified, lawyers in the case said Tuesday. Then William Bell will take over.

Bell, a Birmingham city councilman, is the sole candidate for the commission seat on the Nov. 4 ballot. Bell's term will end in 2010, when all five commission seats go before voters.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal filed by Gov. Bob Riley in a lawsuit challenging his right to appoint Bowman to the commission. -- William Bell to take office after Nov. 4 - al.com

September 8, 2008

Texas: the NAMUDNO challenge to the Voting Rights Act docketed in Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog reports: Urging the Supreme Court to curb Congress’ powers to enforce the voting rights declared by the Constitution’s Fifteenth Amendment, a public utility district in Texas on Monday filed a sweeping challenge to the constitutionality of the extension of the federal Voting Rights Act’s long-controversial Section 5. In an appeal that will require five Justices to resolve, the district filed in Northwest Austin Municipal District Number One v. Mukasey. ...

“The Court should find,” the appeal argued, “that the 2006 enactment of Section 5, which consigns broad swaths of the Nation to apparently perpetual federal receivership based on 40-year-old evidence, fails” the Court’s strict test for judging congressional authority to implement the Reconstruction-era Amendments. That test is whether a federal law to enforce one of those Amendments is “congruent” with and “proportional” to the problem Congress addressed — a test that the Court adopted for reviewing laws passed under the Fourteenth Amendment. -- Court asked to strike down vote law

The post has links to the JS and the decision below.

September 2, 2008

House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Voting Sction next week

The Legislative Calendar of the House Judiciary Committee lists a hearing on "Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice Preparation for the 2008 Election." It is set for 9:30, Tuesday, 9 September.

You may be yawning now, but note that the subcommittee includes Rep. Artur Davis, one of the best cross-examiners I have seen in Congress.

Hat-tip to Gerry Hebert for the information.


August 28, 2008

Alabama: an example of holding an election without preclearance

A Birmingham News report begins: Winners in Tuesday's municipal election in Calera may not be able to take office if the U.S. Justice Department doesn't approve a 2008 redistricting plan before November.

In addition, runoffs between mayoral candidates Bobby Joe Phillips and Jon Graham and District 4 council candidates David Bradshaw and Brad Frasure may not take place in October, city attorney Frank "Butch" Ellis said Wednesday.

The problem stems from a redistricting plan the city submitted to the Justice Department early this year, Ellis said. There was no single district that had a majority of black voters in that plan, he said. "That's the basis of (the Justice Department's) refusal to approve. They think we should have done more to ensure continued black representation," he said. -- Calera's municipal election winners may not be able to take office - al.com

August 7, 2008

Alabama: 3-judge panel requested in Section 5 suit

The Birmingham News reports: A panel of three federal judges will decide a lawsuit to block the election to fill the District 1 Jefferson County Commission seat.

In a hearing Wednesday at the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse, Judge L. Scott Coogler said a panel will be chosen quickly.

The suit, filed on behalf of Birmingham resident Doris Powell, calls the election improper without clearance from the U.S. Justice Department. The suit seeks to block the election unless federal approval comes by Sept. 14, the deadline for county election officials to send ballots to the printer. -- Federal panel to hear latest District 1 lawsuit that seeks to block election for Jefferson County commission seat- al.com

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent the plaintiff in this case.

August 6, 2008

Grand jury subpoenas Schlozman and von Spakovsky

Huffington Post reports: A federal grand jury has subpoenaed several former senior Justice Department attorneys for an investigation into the politicization of the Department's own Civil Rights Division, according to sources close to the investigation.

The extraordinary step by the Justice Department of subpoenaing attorneys once from within its own ranks was taken because several of them refused to voluntarily give interviews to the Department Inspector General, which has been conducting its own probe of the politicization of the Civil Rights Division, the same sources said.

The grand jury has been investigating allegations that a former senior Bush administration appointee in the Civil Rights Division, Bradley Schlozman, gave false or misleading testimony on a variety of topics to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sources close to the investigation say that the grand jury is also more broadly examining whether Schlozman and other Department officials violated civil service laws by screening Civil Rights attorneys for political affiliation while hiring them. -- Justice Department Subpoenas Its Former Lawyers In Civil Rights Probe

August 1, 2008

Alabama: judge asked to expedite new Jefferson County suit (court doc attached)

The Birmingham News reports: A lawyer asked a federal judge on Thursday to fast track a lawsuit contending the Nov. 4 election for a Jefferson County Commission seat is illegal without prior federal approval.

U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler was assigned to the case Thursday, minutes after another judge withdrew.

The suit was filed Tuesday by voting-rights lawyer Ed Still on behalf of a District 1 voter. It seeks to block the court-ordered vote for the county commission's District 1 seat unless the U.S. Justice Department clears the election by mid-September.

The state Attorney General's Office filed the clearance request with the Justice Department on Monday. But Still does not expect a decision before Sept. 15, the deadline for ballots to go to the printer for the Nov. 4 general election. -- Judge asked to fast track suit contending Nov. 4 election for Jeffco Commission seat is illegal without federal approval- al.com

The motion is attached.

July 31, 2008

Alaska: federal court orders state to provide ballots in Yup'ik (with court doc)

The federal court in Alaska has entered an order requiring the State of Alaska to --

1. Provide mandatory poll worker training.
2. Hire a language assistance coordinator fluent in Yup’ik.
3. Recruit bilingual poll workers or translators.
4. Provide sample ballots in written Yup’ik.
5. Provide pre-election publicity in Yup’ik.
6. Ensure the accuracy of translations.
7. Provide a Yup’ik glossary of election terms.
8. Submit pre-election and post-election progress reports.

The order is attached. Thanks to Neil Bradley for sending this to me.

July 30, 2008

Alabama: new suit over Jefferson County commission vacancy (court doc attached)

The Birmingham News reports: A voter in Jefferson County Commission District 1 filed a federal suit Tuesday asking judges to block the court-ordered Nov. 4 vote for the commission seat unless the election is cleared by the U.S. Justice Department.

The suit, filed on behalf of Doris Powell, said the planned election is improper without clearance by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act because it represents a change in county voting law.

The suit asks for a three-judge panel to block the election unless Justice Department approval comes in by Sept. 14, the deadline for county elections officials to send the ballot to the printer.

"We want an election to be held that is valid under federal law," said Powell's lawyer, Ed Still. "If they can get preclearance in time to print the ballot, that will be fine. But we don't think that's going to happen." -- Judges are asked to block Nov. 4 election unless cleared by the U.S. Justice Department- al.com

Note: James Blacksher is my co-counsel. The complaint is attached.

July 29, 2008

"Emergency Voting Changes"

John Tanner (of the Justice Department) has an article in the latest Alabama Lawyer on Emergency Voting Changes. By the way, the picture at the bottom of page 295 is not John Tanner.

July 23, 2008

Alabama: Section 5 case, motion to dismiss or affirm filed in US Supreme Court

This morning, my co-counsel and I filed the Motion to Dismiss or Affirm the appeal of Gov. Riley in Riley v. Plump, No. 07-1460, U.S. Supreme Court. The questions presented are:

1. Whether this Court lacks jurisdiction over the present appeal because appellant’s notice of appeal was untimely filed.

2. Whether section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c, requires preclearance when a covered jurisdiction enacts a statute repealing its preexisting law mandating special elections to fill vacancies on a county governing body and replaces it with a provision providing for temporary gubernatorial appointment.

In this case, Gov. Riley argues that this case is covered by the Court's recent decision in Riley v. Kennedy, but our brief shows this case falls squarely within the “routine consequence of § 5” that a state must “administer a law it has repealed,” unless and until it receives preclearance of the new law. Riley v. Kennedy, 128 S. Ct. at 1986.

We also submitted this letter to the Clerk to inform him of additional developments in the case.

July 17, 2008

Alabama: Foley will not allow annexed residents to vote in city council election

The Mobile Press-Register reports: This south Baldwin city will advance to the Aug. 26 municipal election using districts drawn in 2004, according to a vote by elected leaders this week.

That means more than 1,000 residents who live within 74 areas that have been annexed into Foley since 2004 won't be able to vote in City Council races as the five council districts' borders were established before the properties were part of the city.

Residents in those areas will, however, be able to vote in the mayoral race between incumbent John Konair and challenger James Wood.

The City Council voted unanimously to move forward with that plan after Koniar told officials at a special 5:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting that as of that afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice hadn't approved the proposed 2008 map. That left city leaders no choice but to use the already approved 2004 map, Konair said. -- Districts from 2004 to be used for voting- al.com

June 30, 2008

Alabama: "History is a gift from man who lived it"

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: It isn't often that young people have an opportunity to learn history from someone who actually lived it.

That's what Montgomery youngsters got Friday afternoon at the Lowndes County Interpretive Center where civil rights lessons are learned every day.

Joseph Glover kept boys and girls from the Houston Hill Summer Camp spellbound, telling them what it was like to live in a tent for 21/2 years.

He and sharecropper relatives were forced off land they had tilled for years after owners of the property punished them for taking part in efforts to register to vote. -- montgomeryadvertiser.com | Montgomery Advertiser

June 21, 2008

Alabama: DOJ asks for more information on redistricting, city ponders how to hold elections without preclearance

Baldwin County Now.com reports: A letter from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division concerning Foley’s recently submitted redistricting plan has raised questions for now about the upcoming municipal election slated for Aug. 26.

Indeed, who would run the city should a mayor and council be prevented by the Justice Department from taking office is one of the points now being researched, according to City Administrator Perry Wilbourne.

Wilbourne, in comments made Thursday, said the city received a four-page, 11-point letter from the Justice Department on Monday afternoon, June 16, a letter he saw for the first time on Tuesday.

“Each will require a response from us,” said Wilbourne of the 11 points.

“This is where they’re questioning the (redistricting) plan, they’re then asking us to explain more of the methodolgies.” -- Municipal election up in air over redistricting - Baldwin County NOW - A Gulf Coast Information Source for South Alabama

June 20, 2008

Alaska: native groups sue for Yup'ik-language voting materials

Indian Country Today reports: Plenty of attention has been paid to the importance of the Native vote this election season, but less scrutiny has focused on whether American Indians - especially those who are largely proficient in their tribal languages over English - have been given sufficient resources to understand ballots and other election materials.

The issue is reaching a boiling point for members of four tribal communities in Alaska, who are currently arguing in federal court that state and local election officials haven t provided them with effective oral language assistance and voting materials in their traditional Yup ik language. Yup ik is the primary form of communication for Natives in the Bethel, Alaska, region.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Native American Rights Fund, both of which are representing the Native plaintiffs in the case, say that with the exception of two poorly translated radio ads in 2006, no other election information has been provided to date in the Yup ik language. ...

The Alaska Natives filed a motion in Alaska U.S. District Court in May, arguing that election officials have violated provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In mid-June, the court scheduled a hearing before a three-member judge panel in July to determine the validity of the plaintiffs claims. -- Not speaking our language : ICT 2008/06/20

June 2, 2008

Texas: suit filed against at-large voting in Irving school district

The Dallas Morning News reports: An unsuccessful school board candidate filed a federal lawsuit today alleging that the Irving school district’s system of at-large elections for trustees violates the law by denying representation to the school district’s Hispanic citizens.

Manuel Benavidez, who twice ran unsuccessfully for a place on the Irving school board, is the named plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed by attorneys for the Dallas firm Bickel & Brewer. The named defendants are Irving ISD and its seven elected trustees. -- Voting lawsuit filed today against Irving school district | Denton Record-Chronicle | News for Denton County, Texas | Latest News

Note: the case is not on Pacer yet. If anyone has the complaint, please email it to me for posting.

Civil Rights Commission to review DOJ plans for 2008 presidential election

From a press release of the Commission: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will be holding a briefing to review Department of Justice plans to monitor voting rights enforcement for the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Among the topics expected to be addressed are voting registration issues, the best ways to address claims of voter fraud and voter intimidation, and the overall proper role of the Department of Justice in election matters.

The panelists include: Christopher Coates, Chief of the Voting Rights section of the Department s Civil Rights Division; William Welch, Chief of the Public Integrity Section of the Department s Criminal Division; Daniel P. Tokaji, Associate Professor of Law at the Ohio State University s Moritz College of Law, and the Associate Director of Election Law @ Moritz; Hans von Spakovsky, former FEC Commissioner and Former Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights; and Paul F. Hancock, a partner with the law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, LLP and former high-ranking career attorney with the Civil Rights Division. -- Civil Rights Commission to Examine U.S. Department of Justice Plans to Monitor Voting Rights Enforcement for the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

Alabama: DOJ observers in Perry County for primary

AP reports: The Justice Department is sending federal observers to Perry County in west Alabama to monitor the primary election Tuesday.

The Justice Department announced Monday that its observers will ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other federal voting rights laws. -- Justice Department monitoring primary Tuesday in Perry County in west Alabama | TimesDaily.com | Times Daily | Florence, AL

May 31, 2008

Alabama: roundup of blog commentary on Riley v. Kennedy

Janai Nelson, "Chipping Away at the VRA One Court Decision at a Time," Talking Justice

Anita S. Krishnakumar, "The 'Mischief Rule' Rule and the VRA in Riley v. Kennedy," Concurring Opinions

Lee P, " U.S. Supreme Court vindicates Riley, King," A Bama Blog

Will Bardwell, " Not-So-Educated-After-All Thoughts On Riley v. Kennedy," WillBardwell.com

Rick Hills, "Civil Rights Lawyers' Ignorance of Local Government Law," Prawfsblawg plus comments by Sam Heldman

Texas: NAMUDNO loses on challenge to Sec. 5 of Voting Rights Act

The New York Times reports: A special three-judge court ruled Friday that Congress acted constitutionally when it extended the law requiring sections of the country with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval for any changes in voting procedures.

The unanimous decision upheld a central provision of the Voting Rights Act, which Congress initially passed in 1965 and has extended several times since, most recently for 25 years in 2006. Section 5 of the law prohibits several states, mostly in the South, and some local government agencies from changing their election practices without permission from the Justice Department or the courts.

Each renewal of the law has been followed by a legal challenge from some state or local agency to this “preclearance” requirement. The latest challenge was undertaken by the board of a public utility near Austin, Tex., which said the requirement conferred a “badge of shame” over “conditions that existed 30 or more years ago but have long since been remedied.”

The Northwest Austin Utility District argued that Congress lacked sufficient evidence of racial discrimination to justify the intrusion on state sovereignty. -- Court Upholds Key Provision of the Voting Rights Act

The opinion is available here.

May 30, 2008

Alabama: summary of Riley v. Kennedy opinion

Thomas Haymore writes on SCOTUSblog: With a “preclearance” mechanism requiring Justice Department approval before a state may “enact or seek to administer” any changes in “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting,” Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has generated its fair share of public debate and legal challenge. In a carefully worded and consciously narrow opinion, the Court this week in Riley v. Kennedy, by a 7-2 vote, carved out an exemption from § 5 coverage, although the technicalities of the fact-specific ruling limit the reach of the opinion. -- Opinion Recap: Riley v. Kennedy

May 29, 2008

Alabama: Supreme Court reversal may net Chastang back pay

The Mobile Press-Register reports: If Juan Chastang gets his Mobile County Commission seat back, it will almost certainly be a temp job but it also could net him tens of thousands of dollars in back pay, a commission attorney said.

The current District 1 commission term expires in November, and Chastang has already missed the April deadline to run for the seat this fall as a Republican, said Mark Erwin, a commission attorney who is also the head of the local GOP. For Chas tang to get his NAME on the ballot, he would need to fill out paperwork to run as an independent and round up thousands of signatures by 5 p.m. Tuesday. He could also run a write-in campaign.

Even if Chastang only takes office for a few months, though, it could be worthwhile because he might be eligible to receive back pay totaling more than $75,000, Erwin said. -- Chastang could be owed back pay- al.com

May 28, 2008

Alabama: Governor crows over small "victory" in Supreme Court

The Birmingham News reports: The ability of Alabama s governor to fill a vacancy on the Mobile County Commission was strengthened by the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, but the decision will not stop a similar legal battle over a seat on the Jefferson County Commission.

While the two cases are not identical, they both pit Alabama s Republican governor - who wants to be able to appoint commissioners to certain vacancies - against local Democrats - who prefer special elections by the voters. They also highlight the continued, controversial effect of the Voting Rights Act on the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, said Gov. Bob Riley s hand-picking of a new Mobile commissioner did not need to be reviewed by the federal government because it was simply a return to previous law, not a change to election procedures. In the opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court overturned an earlier ruling that Riley s appointment was invalid.

Riley's office called it a "landmark victory" and said they were reviewing how it would play out in Mobile County, where Juan Chastang was appointed by Riley in 2005 but then lost a special election last year. ...

But Democrats were not willing to concede that the Mobile decision would upend Bell's election.

On the contrary, their lead attorney noted Tuesday that Ginsburg herself described the Mobile decision as "narrow," and that the legal history in Jefferson County is different than in Mobile. Birmingham lawyer Edward Still also called Emerson's statement "far-fetched."

"He just won a technical knockout, that's all," Still said. -- Riley wins U.S. Supreme Court decision in Mobile, but Jeffco case continues- al.com

May 23, 2008

Texas: LULAC suit against Texas Democratic Party dismissed (updated with court docs attached)

The Houston Chronicle reports: A federal judge sided with the Texas Democratic Party on Thursday in a lawsuit filed by Latino voter advocates who said the party's method for apportioning presidential delegates is discriminatory.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio ruled that the spirit and intent of the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters, was not violated, as the League of United Latin American Citizens and other plaintiffs alleged.

Biery dismissed the case. He ruled that the Voting Rights Act does not dictate to political parties how to decide on their presidential nominees as long as everyone has the right to participate.

The Latino voter advocates said the complicated Texas delegate system, which included a March 4 primary and caucus and Senate district caucuses March 29, unfairly dilutes Latino votes by allotting fewer presidential delegates to heavily Hispanic areas. -- Judge dismisses Latino suit over Democratic vote | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

The opinion may be downloaded here.

May 21, 2008

Alabama: Governor files Jurisdictional Statement in another Section 5 case

Gov. Riley has filed his Jurisdictional Statement in Riley v. Plump. His questions presented are:

1. Whether the decisions of a covered jurisdiction's highest court concerning the validity of a precleared state law, or, in the alternative, an appointment made by the Governor of the State in compliance with those decisions, requires preclearance pursuant to § 5 [of the Voting Rights Act].

2. Whether § 5 requires preclearance of the implementation of a practice in force and effect on the coverage date of November 1, 1964.

3. Whether the district court erred when it entered judgment after briefing and oral argument on the plaintiffs motion for preliminary injunction, without providing the notice required by Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 65(a)(2).

This case relates to the appointment by the Governor of a commissioner to fill a vacancy on the Jefferson County Commission. It is somewhat similar to the Riley v. Kennedy case, no. 07-77, now awaiting decision.

I have the honor of being one of the lawyers for Mr. Plump in this matter.

May 12, 2008

Texas: LULAC sues Texas Democratic Party over lack of Sec. 5 preclarance for "Texas two-step" (updated with court docs attached)

AP reports: The Texas Democratic Party was sued Friday by Latino advocacy groups that contend the complicated primary and caucus system used in the March 4 presidential primary unfairly diluted Latino votes.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Texas and the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston sued in federal court, arguing the party failed to seek clearance required by the U.S. Justice Department for the so-called Texas Two Step. The groups also argue the system effectively discriminates against Latino voters by giving them fewer delegates.

Texas Democrats distribute the state s 193 delegates using both a primary election and a caucus, but the distribution favors state Senate districts that had high voter turnout in the last presidential and gubernatorial elections.

In the March 4 election, that meant predominantly Hispanic districts, where turnout was low in 2004 and 2006, got fewer delegates than others, particularly urban, predominantly black districts. Latino districts favored Hillary Clinton; black districts favored Barack Obama. -- LULAC sued Texas Democratic Party over primary delegates - El Paso Times

Note: If anyone has a copy of the complaint, email it to me. The complaint may be downloaded here. Thanks to Jose Garza for responding to my request.

April 17, 2008

Alabama: federal court grants 1 more month of a free pass on VRA violation (court docs attached)

The Birmingham News reports:
A panel of three federal judges granted Gov. Bob Riley s request Wednesday to extend George Bowman s tenure as a Jefferson County commissioner, but not for as long as the governor wanted.

Riley now has until May 19 to get clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for his appointment of Bowman to the District 1 vacancy on the County Commission. ...

Last week Riley asked the federal panel to extend its deadline until after the U.S. Supreme Court and Alabama Supreme Court decide separate cases challenging the governor's contention that only he has the authority to fill vacancies when commissioners leave office early.

In Wednesday's order, the judges denied Riley that much time, but said a shorter extension is reasonable. -- George Bowman gets one-month extension as Jefferson County commissioner- al.com

Note and Disclosure: I am one of the attorneys for the plaintiff. The order is
here.

April 10, 2008

Alabama: Governor asks for stay pending appeal in Jefferson County case (court documents attached)

The Birmingham News reports: Gov. Bob Riley asked a panel of federal judges Tuesday to grant Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman more time in office while other courts decide legal disputes over who fills county commission vacancies.

Cases are pending before the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court over whether the new commissioner should be chosen by the governor or elected by voters.

Riley appointed Bowman in November to the District 1 seat on the Jefferson County Commission, after Larry Langford resigned to become Birmingham s mayor. -- Alabama Gov. Bob Riley asks for extension to keep Jefferson County Commission seat filled as courts rule- al.com

Note and disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the plaintiff in this case. Governor Riley's motion is here.

April 7, 2008

Alabama: John Tanner working in Alabama now

AP reports: The former chief of the Justice Department's Voting Rights Section, who stepped aside in December after apologizing for remarks about minority voters, is now working on election-related issues for the Alabama Law Institute.

John Tanner, who is being paid by the Justice Department under a federal program, also will teach at two Alabama law schools.

The law institute's president, Alabama House Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton, said he personally contacted Tanner when he heard the long-time voting rights specialist wanted some time away from Washington. At the institute, a part of the University of Alabama, Tanner's work includes developing handbooks for public officials on getting Justice Department approval of election-law changes. ...

He will also teach about election law in the fall at Alabama's law school and then in the spring at Samford University's law school, McCurley said.

Tanner said Justice Department policy limits what he can say publicly.

But he is participating in the federal government's program to loan personnel to other government agencies. The Justice Department is paying Tanner's salary and benefits to be in Alabama through next spring. "It's not costing me anything," McCurley said. -- Justice's former voting rights chief now in Alabama

March 25, 2008

Alabama: Supreme Court hears arguments in Riley v. Kennedy

AP reports: Supreme Court justices expressed skepticism Monday about the federal government s authority to block the governor of Alabama s appointment of a fellow Republican to a vacant county commission seat representing a mostly black and heavily Democratic district.

The case is over whether Gov. Bob Riley needed clearance from the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires Alabama and several other states -- most of them in the South -- to get federal approval before changing election procedures that affect minority voters. ...

Local Democrats challenged the appointment, arguing that a special election should have been held as in the past and that Riley's decision amounted to just the kind of voting-rights change that requires Justice Department approval.

Last January, the Justice Department agreed and said Riley's appointment appeared to weaken minority voters. Later, a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in Montgomery ruled that Riley's move was unlawful and vacated the appointment. -- High court questions federal authority over Alabama in governor s pick - Breaking News from The Birmingham News - al.com

Alabama: Supreme Court argument transcript in Riley v. Kennedy

Here is the transcript of Monday's argument in 07-77.pdf , Riley v. Kennedy.


March 22, 2008

Alabama: Gov. Riley appeals Jefferson County case to U.S. Supreme Court

Governor Riley has filed a long-winded notice of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court from the Judgment in Plump v. Riley.

March 20, 2008

Alabama: preview of Riley v. Kennedy argument

Thomas Haymore, one the Stanford Law School students who did such great work on our brief, has written this summary of the case for ScotusWiki.


March 18, 2008

North Carolina: Supreme Court will decide on influence districts

AP reports: The U.S. Supreme Court said yesterday that it will consider whether legislative and congressional districts designed to help minority candidates win office must do so by containing a majority of minority voters.

The case could decide the fate of so-called “influence” districts, drawn in North Carolina and some other states after the 2000 census in areas where minority populations are mostly in the 40- to-50-percent range.

Such districts are preferred by civil-rights leaders, who worry that creating districts with a majority of minority voters forces legislators to pack minority voters into a smaller overall number of districts, reducing their overall voting strength.

A Supreme Court ruling on the legality of “influence” districts is likely to affect how voting boundaries are drawn after the 2010 Census. --
Winston-Salem Journal | U.S. Supreme Court to look at legality of voting districts

March 11, 2008

Alabama: Gov. Riley files reply brief in Riley v. Kennedy

Gov. Riley has filed his reply brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Riley v. Kennedy. This is the Section 5 case that will be argued on 24 March.

Disclosure: I am one of the attorneys for Dr. Kennedy and the other plaintiffs in this action.

February 22, 2008

Alabama: DOJ approves Gadsden school board vote

The Gadsden Times reports: The U.S. Justice Department has approved an election to determine if Gadsden will go to an elected school board or stay with an appointed one.

City Attorney Roger Kirby received the approval today. The Justice Department’s approval was required because of the Voting Rights Act.

The City Council had earlier set April 22 for the referendum on the elected school board and submitted information about the election, including changes in polling places, to the Justice Department. Kirby said people wanting an elected board will vote yes and if they favor an appointed board they will vote no.

If the vote is in favor of an elected board, then the election for board members would be Aug. 26 with runoffs, if necessary, on Oct. 7. -- Justice Department approves Gadsden school board election | GadsdenTimes.com | Gadsden Times | Gadsden, AL

February 20, 2008

Alabama: amicus brief supporting voters in Riley v. Kennedy

Amicus briefs have been filed supporting the Kennedy plaintiffs in Riley v. Kennedy, No. 07-77, in the US Supreme Court:

United States

ACLU

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Note: as additional amici file (Wednesday is the deadline), I will add them to this post.

February 13, 2008

Alabama: appellees' brief filed in Supreme Court in Riley v. Kennedy

The appellees' brief in Riley v. Kennedy has been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. While I am "counsel of record" in this case, a great team of people listed on the cover of the brief plus several students in the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic have contributed to the brief.

For more information on the case, look here.

South Dakota: DOJ objects to Charles Mix county plan

The Rapid City Journal reports: The U.S. Justice Department has blocked Charles Mix County from putting in place a voter-passed redistricting plan that would have increased the commission from three to five members.

A letter from the Justice Department said the blocked plan likely would have allowed Native Americans to elect one commissioner out of five instead of one out of three.

The county failed to show that the redistricting plan, approved by voters in 2006, did not have a discriminatory purpose as defined in the federal Voting Rights Act.

The county has not demonstrated that the change would not have hurt voting rights based on race, according to the letter written by acting assistant attorney general Race Chung Becker. -- Justice Department blocks Charles Mix redistricting plan » RapidCityJournal.com

The ACLU's press release (including a copy of the DOJ objection letter) is here.

February 1, 2008

Alabama: Jefferson County may end up with too many commissioners

The Birmingham News reports: Jefferson County residents in District 1 could have two commissioners claiming a right to represent them after Tuesday's election for the commission seat.

The scenario hinges on several variables, including the outcome of the election and the next chapter in a legal battle over whether the seat should be filled by appointment.

But if two people do claim a right to the post, a judge likely would intervene and dictate a temporary resolution, said John Carroll, dean of Samford University's Cumberland School of Law.

"Somebody would go to state court and ask them to jump in, and the state court would have to do something to resolve that on a temporary basis," he said.

The conflict could arise if retired Army Gen. George Bowman, whom Gov. Bob Riley appointed to the seat, loses the election and claims a right to the post by appointment. But that may depend on Riley's next move in the legal challenge to his appointment. -- Jefferson County's District 1: Two commissioners?- al.com

Scott Stantis, the News' editorial cartoonist, has a cartoon on the situation.

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent Mr, Plump, the plaintiff in the federal suit.

January 29, 2008

Florida: DOJ observers in Broward today

The Miami Herald reports: The Justice Department will be monitoring the presidential primary election in Broward on Tuesday to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

Justice Department personnel will monitor polling place activities in Broward.

Under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, Broward is obligated to provide all election information, ballots and voting assistance information in Spanish as well as in English. -- Federal monitors will watch over polling sites - 01/29/2008 - MiamiHerald.com

January 26, 2008

Alabama: federal court clarifies its order on Riley's appointment of Jefferson County Commissioner [court docs attached]

The Birmingham News reports: Three federal judges who ruled Gov. Bob Riley needed federal approval before naming a Jefferson County Commission replacement issued a clarification Friday outlining how long appointee George Bowman can remain in the position.

The three-judge panel initially issued an opinion and two-page judgment Tuesday. Lawyers in the dispute over Riley's appointment of Bowman then asked for clarification.

In Friday's filing, the judges say if Riley chooses to immediately appeal the ruling and notifies the court by Feb. 5 - the date of Jefferson County's special election - Bowman's appointment will be voided the same day without further order.

If Riley notifies the court by Feb. 5 that he will seek Justice Department approval of his appointing power, Riley would have 90 days, until about April 21, to receive the OK or Bowman would be out. -- Bowman term may end Feb.5- al.com

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent the plaintiff in this case.

The plaintiff's motion to alter the judgment is here. Download the Governor's response here. Download the Court's amended judgment here.

January 24, 2008

Florida: DOJ approves 3 laws tightening voter I.D. requirements

The St. Petersburg Times reports: Six days before Florida's statewide presidential preference primary, the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday approved three recent changes to state election laws and took no action on a fourth because it is the subject of a federal lawsuit.

Despite the federal approval that the state sought, the changes will not be put into effect at the polls because the decision came so close to the Jan. 29 primary.

In a letter to state officials, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division approved legislative changes excluding employer IDs or buyer club IDs as acceptable forms of identification at the polls; reducing from three days to two the period a voter who casts a provisional ballot can provide supporting documentation; and increasing penalties for third-party groups that violate the law in conducting voter registration drives. -- State: Feds approve state election law changes

Alabama: Riley likely to appeal federal court ruling on power to appoint Jefferson County commissioner (court doc attached)

The Birmingham News reports: Gov. Bob Riley on Wednesday said he likely will appeal a ruling by a panel of three federal judges that said Riley needed approval from the U.S. Justice Department to appoint George Bowman to the Jefferson County Commission, approval he didn't seek.

"Right now, I think we'll probably appeal it," Riley said, adding that he likely would decide for sure "within the next few days," after meeting with lawyers.

Also Wednesday, Riley's legal adviser, Ken Wallis, said lawyers in the dispute over Bowman disagree on the meaning of the judges' ruling and what it said about Bowman's right to remain on the commission. ...

Ed Still, an attorney for Plump, filed a motion with the panel Wednesday, saying he believed the opinion and judgment said different things about how long Bowman might remain on the county commission.

"I think it's just an editing error," Still said, adding that he wanted the panel to clear it up. -- Alabama Gov. Bob Riley likely to appeal judicial ruling on Jefferson County Commission appointment- al.com

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent the plaintiff.

You may download the motion here.

January 23, 2008

New York: Port Chester at-large system violates Voting Rights Act [updated: court docs attached]

The Auburn Citizen reports: A suburban village has been violating the Voting Rights Act by using an election system that leaves its rapidly growing Hispanic population without representation, a federal judge said Tuesday.

The decision against Port Chester, on the Connecticut border 25 miles from New York City, is expected to force a revision of the village's at-large election system, in which all voters cast ballots for each of the six trustee positions that run the village government.

The likely alternative is a district system, in which each district would elect one trustee. One district would be drawn around Hispanic neighborhoods to increase the chances that a Hispanic-backed candidate would be elected.

Judge Stephen Robinson, who held a trial last May when the village and the Justice Department could not settle the case, said the at-large system "prevents Hispanic voters from participating equally in the political process in the village."

The government had alleged that the at-large system allowed candidates preferred by whites to win all the trustee elections because whites tended to vote in a bloc. No Hispanic has ever been elected trustee or mayor in Port Chester, although the population is almost half Hispanic. The white population votes in greater numbers. -- AuburnPub.com

You may download the decision and order here.

Thanks to Steve Pershing for noting my faux pas in calling Port Chester "Port Arthur." Maybe it is because there is a Port Arthur in Texas and I was just reading that case recently, or I was thinking of Chester A. Arthur.

Alabama: federal court rules, Governor must seek preclearance in order to appoint a commissioner in Jefferson County (news story)

The Birmingham News reports: A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that Gov. Bob Riley should have obtained federal approval before filling the Jefferson County Commission's District 1 seat, but the judges did not immediately remove his appointee, George Bowman, from office.

Meanwhile, a Jefferson County election official said the Feb. 5 election to fill the seat vacated by Larry Langford, scheduled since October, will proceed.

The three federal judges gave Riley until Feb. 5 - the date of Jefferson County's special election - to file a notice that he intends to appeal their decision or that he intends to seek Justice Department approval of his power to appoint a replacement.

If Riley notifies the court on or before Feb. 5, Riley will be given 90 days to get the Justice Department's approval. If Riley misses that deadline, the judges said, Bowman's appointment will be set aside. -- Judges rule Alabama Governor Bob Riley needed federal OK to appoint Jefferson County commissioner- al.com

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent the plaintiff in this case.

January 22, 2008

Alabama: four amicus briefs filed on Governor's side in Section 5 Supreme Court appeal (court docs attached) [updated]

Two Four amicus briefs have been filed today supporting Gov. Riley's position in Riley v. Kennedy, a Section 5 case. More later.

You can download the briefs here: Thernstrom brief , Project on Fair Representation, Charles Fried brief, and the brief of Florida and several other states.


Disclosure:I am one of the lawyers for Kennedy et al. in this case.

Alabama: fed court rules, Governor must seek preclearance in order to appoint a commissioner in Jefferson County (court docs attached)

The 3-judge district court has ruled for the plaintiff in Plump v. Riley. More on this later.

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent the plaintiff in this case.

The opinion and judgment are attached.

North Carolina: NAACP protests GOP lawsuit to force legislative re-redistricting

The Daily Tar Heel reports: The N.C. NAACP is protesting a lawsuit that seeks to make North Carolina comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, claiming the suit undermines the act's intent.

The lawsuit, filed by a group of N.C. Republicans in November 2007, calls for the state's congressional [sic: legislative] districts to be redrawn before the 2008 elections are held.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People claims that the redistricting would concentrate minority voters into fewer districts, leaving the rest of the state primarily white and Republican.

Al McSurely, chairman for the legal redress committee for the N.C. NAACP, said the plaintiffs want to "black-pack" minority voters into one district, which would give them fewer opportunities to elect representatives. -- NAACP protests redistricting suit - State & National

January 18, 2008

Alabama: RIP Prince Albert Jones Sr.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: Prince Albert Jones Sr. never lived more than five miles from where he was born in the rural Montgomery County community of Mathews.

A farmer by trade, the 91-year-old Jones was among the first black landowners near the town of Pike Road. He is best remembered as a mentor, a good Samaritan to countless generations of neighbors and an early voting rights pioneer.

Jones died Sunday at his country homestead surrounded by family. He was one of 15 siblings and had 15 children. ...

Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Jones was one of rural Montgomery's first registered black voters, when fewer than 1 percent of the county's black residents were registered.

"Mr. Jones was one of the area's most dedicated advocates for equality and used his good reputation with the white farming elite to help black neighbors and church members obtain the right to vote decades before the enactment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act," Dees said. -- montgomeryadvertiser.com :: Jones family celebrates life of a pioneer

January 14, 2008

Alabama: Governor files his opening brief in Section 5 case in Supreme Court

Gov. Bob Riley has filed his opening brief in Riley v. Kennedy, No. 07-7, in the U.S. Supreme Court. You may download the file here.


Michigan: DOJ objects to closure of Secretary of State office in ... BuenaVista Township

The Saginaw News reported on 27 December: Backers of the secretary of state office in Buena Vista Township are declaring a "huge win for the community" after a federal opinion that appears to derail state plans to close the branch.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division has sent a letter to state officials declaring the pending shutdown "legally unenforceable" because of the potential disenfranchisement of minority voters, among other issues. It's the latest development in a six-month battle to keep the office at 4212 Dixie open. ...

The Saginaw Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined the fight to keep the branch open after Land's June 13 announcement. Land said that residents could drive to Saginaw Township's location, 4404 Bay, where she would expand the hours. Opponents decried the inconvenience, especially to those with limited transportation. -- BV secretary of state office won't close - The Saginaw News - MLive.com

January 11, 2008

Changes at DOJ Voting Section

Paul Kiel writes on TPM Muckraker: The changes keep on coming in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Less than a month ago, former voting section chief John "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first" Tanner got canned. And today, his replacement, Christopher Coates, a veteran of the section, demoted Tanner's controversial deputy chiefs, Susana Lorenzo-Giguere and Yvette Rivera. The changes were announced in an email to voting section staff. ...

Rivera has been accused of discriminating against African-American employees. She oversaw the important Section Five unit, which has the responsibility of reviewing election laws in parts of the country with a history of discrimination. Encouragingly, her replacement is Tim Mellett, one of the staff attorneys who in 2003, found that Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act, a finding that was overruled by political appointees. -- TPMmuckraker | Talking Points Memo | Controversial Voting Section Deps Get Demoted

December 14, 2007

John Tanner leaves Voting Section

McClatchy Newspapers report: John Tanner, under fire for allegedly letting politics influence civil rights enforcement at the Justice Department, disclosed Friday that he is being removed from his job as chief of the Voting Rights Section.

Tanner became the latest casualty at the scandal-plagued Justice Department, which has claimed about a dozen top officials including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in recent months.

For months now, Tanner has been enmeshed in congressional investigations into the alleged politicization of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

At the center of those inquiries was his role in approving a controversial, Republican-backed Georgia law requiring every voter in that state to produce a photo identification card.

His ouster, weeks after Michael Mukasey took over as attorney general, drew praise from former voting rights lawyers. -- Justice's voting chief is being removed - 12/14/2007 - MiamiHerald.com

TPM Muckraker has the text of Tanner's notice to his staff.

December 6, 2007

Alabama: Election commission still planning on an election in Jefferson County

Doc's Political Parlor reports: Sid Browning, Supervisor of Elections for Jefferson County, told the Parlor this week that the county is preparing to hold a special election on February 5th though the Governor has already appointed a replacement to fill the vacated County Commission seat. Larry Langford created the vacancy when he left the commission after winning the Birmingham mayor’s race. Governor Bob Riley has already appointed George Bowman to serve in the seat, but his authority to do that is being challenged in court by Fairfield resident Fred Plump.

The Jefferson County Election Commission “would be remiss not to prepare for the election” given the 1977 Act that, in the Commission’s understanding, calls for an election to replace Langford, said Browning. A 2004 law authorizes the governor to fill county commission vacancies by appointment but excludes counties, such as Jefferson, with their own rules for special election. Riley’s administration claims that the 2004 law voids the 1977 law that specifies Jefferson County fills vacancies with elections.

The Riley administration has lost a similar case in Mobile County pending appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Browning told the Parlor that he sees no substantive difference between the Mobile County and Jefferson County cases. -- Two Trains Going Down Two Tracks

December 5, 2007

South Dakota: Charles Mix Co. and Indian plaintiffs settle VRA case

Press release from ACLU: In a historic agreement reached today with the American Civil Liberties Union, a South Dakota county has agreed to federal supervision of its elections through 2024. The settlement resolves a 2005 ACLU lawsuit charging Charles Mix County with discriminating against Native American voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“This is a landmark settlement,” said Bryan Sells, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project and the lead attorney on the case. “It will protect Native American voting rights in Charles Mix County for many years to come."

Under the settlement, approved today by U.S. District Judge Lawrence L. Piersol of Sioux Falls, the county is required to get approval from the federal government before implementing new voting laws in the county through 2024. The settlement also authorizes federal election observers to monitor county elections through 2014 and requires the county to pay $110,000 in attorneys’ fees and expenses.

Today’s agreement stems from a dispute over the districts used in elections for county commissioners. In November 2001, the ACLU wrote to the county on behalf of the Yankton Sioux Tribe complaining that the county’s districts violated the one-person-one-vote principle of the Fourteenth Amendment and diluted Native American voting strength by splitting the Indian community into two districts. Although state law required the county to redraw districts in February 2002, the county commission voted to leave its then-current districts in place.

A copy of the Consent Decree was attached to the press release: Download the file here.

December 1, 2007

Alabama: 3-judge court appointed for Plump v. Riley

The Birmingham News reports: A three-judge panel will preside over the federal lawsuit of a Fairfield man who is challenging Gov. Bob Riley's recent appointment to the Jefferson County Commission.

The federal judges are Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller and W. Harold Albritton III, both on the bench of Montgomery's U.S. District Court, and Rosemary Barkett, a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice now a member of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, court records show. The designation of Albritton and Barkett to serve with Fuller was ordered by J.L. Edmondson, chief judge of the appeals court in Atlanta. -- Panel of judges will hear suit challenging Bob Riley's appointment of Jefferson County commissioner- al.com

Disclosure: Jim Blacksher and I represent the plaintiff in this case.

November 21, 2007

Alabama; Riley follows through and appoints Bowman to Jefferson County Commission

AP reports: Republican Gov. Bob Riley appointed retired Army Gen. George F. Bowman on Wednesday to a vacancy on the Jefferson County Commission — a move similar to a Mobile County appointment that ignited a court fight now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court on Tuesday agreed to review the Mobile County case. A ruling is not expected until next year.

Voting rights attorney Ed Still of Birmingham said a lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court in Montgomery challenging Bowman's appointment on the same grounds as the Mobile County case.

Still said the cases are "almost identical." -- Riley's Jeffco appointment brings voting rights challenge

Update: A longer story is in the Thursday paper. -- Gov. Bob Riley appoints retired general to replace Larry Langford on Jefferson County Commission

Another update:
The Mobile Press-Register includes in its story: Cecil Gardner, the attorney who sued Riley over the Chastang appointment, compared the governor's decision Wednesday in Birmingham with former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore's actions in 2003.

Moore ignored a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state judicial building. He was eventually removed from office.

"Riley is taking the same path that Chief Justice Roy Moore took," Gardner said. "And Riley will find, just like Moore, that he's going to get into deep water because of this."

Jeff Emerson, a spokesman for Riley, called that comparison "totally invalid," saying the Mobile ruling had no bearing on the Jefferson County vacancy. -- Riley appointment faces challenge

Alabama: Supreme Court to hear Mobile County Commission case

The Mobile Press Register reports: The highest court in the land will weigh in on Juan Chastang's appointment to and ouster from the Mobile County Commission.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to review a ruling by federal judges in Montgomery's U.S. District Court that Gov. Bob Riley violated the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act when he appointed Chastang, a black Republican, to represent the majority Democratic, majority-black District 1 on the commission.

The three-judge panel removed Chastang from the seat in May. The county held a special election to fill the post in October, and Democrat Merceria Ludgood handily defeated Chastang.

The Supreme Court will hear the appeal in March, according to a spokeswoman at the Alabama Attorney General's Office. Ludgood's term is set to end in November 2008. -- Chastang case goes to the top- al.com

Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for the plaintiffs in this case.

November 20, 2007

Riley v. Kennedy to be heard by US Supreme Corut

The Supreme Court agreed to hear Governor Riley's appeal today in the case known in the Supreme Court as Riley v. Kennedy, No. 07-77. The order from the Court is here.

The Governor's reply brief was filed a couple of weeks ago. It is here.

The Questions Presented by the Governor are the following:

This Section 5 litigation involves two decisions of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Stokes v. Noonan, 534 So. 2d 237 (Ala. 1988), and Riley v. Kennedy, 928 So. 2d 1013 (Ala. 2005). Those decisions concern the manner of filling vacancies on the Mobile County Commission and are based on valid, race-neutral, generally-applicable principles of law. The three-judge district court held that both decisions required preclearance to be enforceable. The State submitted the decisions for preclearance, and the Attorney General of the United States interposed an objection. The district court then entered a remedy order vacating a gubernatorial appointment that had relied on these State court decisions to fill a vacancy that had arisen. This appeal presents the following questions:

1. Whether the decision of a covered jurisdiction’s highest court that a precleared State law is unconstitutional and, thereby, invalid as a matter of State law is a change that affects voting that must be precleared before it can be enforced.

2. Whether the preclearance of a trial court’s ruling that affects voting while that ruling is on appeal and subject to possible reversal establishes a baseline such that the reversal of that decision is a change that must be precleared before it may be enforced.

Disclosure: I am one of the counsel for Rep. Yvonne Kennedy in the case.

I have uploaded the briefs in the Riley v. Kennedy case on my law firm website:
Complaint, answer, trial briefs,
District court decision,
Denial of preclearance,
Jurisdictional Statement and Motion to Dismiss or Affirm,
Governor's reply brief and SCOTUS order.

October 31, 2007

John Tanner faces the Judiciary Committee

The Washington Post reports: House Democrats sharply criticized the head of the Justice Department's voting section yesterday for making a series of racially charged statements, including his suggestion that black voters are not hurt as much as whites by voter identification laws because "they die first."

In a tense appearance before a House Judiciary subcommittee, John K. Tanner apologized for the "tone" of his comments about elderly voters earlier this month and said they "do not in any way accurately reflect my career of devotion" to upholding federal voting rights laws. ...

But Tanner, a 31-year Justice Department career employee, also stuck by his assertion that demographic differences between racial groups temper the impact on minorities of laws requiring that voters present detailed identification, prompting several Democrats to question his fitness to be a senior official in the department's Civil Rights Division.

"You're saying you're right but your tone was wrong," said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). "I don't know what you're apologizing for."

Toby Moore, a former political geographer in the voting section, told the committee that Tanner regularly engaged in "broad generalizations, deliberate misuse of statistics and casual supposition" in making decisions, including overruling Moore and other career employees in approving a 2005 Georgia voter identification law. -- Justice Dept. Voting Chief Apologizes But Persists - washingtonpost.com

October 29, 2007

Alabama: response filed by plaintiffs in Supreme Court suit re Mobile County Commission election

My co-counsel and I have filed a motion to dismiss or affirm the State of Alabama's appeal in Riley v. Kennedy, No. 07-77 in the U.S. Supreme Court. The State's jurisdictional statement is available here.

The case was brought by my clients under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for an injunction against the Governor's appointment of a replacement county commissioner in Mobile County. Our suit asserted that the Governor had not obtained preclearance of an Alabama Supreme Court decision before enforcing it.

Earlier posts are here, here, here, here, and here.

October 21, 2007

Obama jumps on Tanner

It's officially mainstream now -- in the New York Times: Senator Barack Obama said the leader of the civil rights division of the Justice Department should step down after suggesting that minority voters were not widely disenfranchised by laws requiring photo identification because many members of minorities died before reaching old age.

“This administration has shown very little interest in making sure that all people have equal access to the ballot box,” Mr. Obama said in a telephone interview. “It’s important for all of us to embrace the basic notion that we should try to make voting easier, not harder.”

Mr. Obama, an Illinois Democrat who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination, was responding to a remark made by John Tanner, the chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. In a speech to a Latino group earlier this month in Los Angeles, Mr. Tanner said that a disproportionate share of elderly minority voters did not have identification, but added that it was not a widespread problem because of their life expectancy. ...

On Friday, Mr. Obama sent a letter to the Justice Department, urging acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler to replace Mr. Tanner for making comments that were “patently erroneous, offensive and dangerous.” -- Obama Calls for Ouster of Official After Remark - New York Times

October 5, 2007

Georgia: Tanner defends DOJ's voter I.D. decision

AP reports: The head of the Justice Department's voting rights division told members of the NAACP that when he cleared Georgia's voter ID law he didn't look at whether it violated the Constitution.

"All we can look at is racial discrimination, we can't look at anything else," John Tanner told the annual meeting of Georgia's NAACP.

"You can't look at whether it's a poll tax, you can't look at whether it violates the Equal Protection Clause (of the Constitution)."

Tanner said that Justice Department lawyers are very limited in what they can consider when they "pre-clear" state laws under the Voting Rights Act. The voting chief faced criticism after a memo revealed that he signed off on the Georgia law in 2005 over the objections of four of the five career employees who concluded it ran afoul of the voting rights law.

Tanner said Thursday that Georgia statistics examined by Justice Department lawyers showed that minorities are "slightly more likely" than non-minorities to have a photo ID. -- Voting chief defends approval of Georgia's voter ID law

September 17, 2007

Mississippi: judge appoints Reuben Anderson to run Noxubee primaries

The Commercial-Dispatch reports: Former state Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson has been given “broad authority” to be Noxubee County's superintendent of elections, but he's not publicly discussing how he's going to run Tuesday's Democratic runoffs. ...

Lee last month banned Noxubee County Democratic Chairman Ike Brown from running party primaries and tapped Anderson to ensure whites' voting rights aren't violated.

The judge agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice that Brown and the county Democratic Party he's led since 2000 have committed election fraud and discrimination to keep whites out of county government.

In appointing Anderson, Lee said he's “convinced that to prevent a recurrence of past transgressions by (Democratic Party) Chairman Brown in the conduct of Democratic primary elections, the person appointed by the court must be given broad authority to act in the place and stead of Mr. Brown, rather than simply authority to observe and report.” -- Judge Lee gags Noxubee County voting overseer

September 13, 2007

ACS publishes paper on language provisions of VRA


The ACS blog reports: The American Constitution Society's Constitution in the 21st Century project invites you to read Towards Full Participation: Solutions for Improvements to the Federal Language Assistance Laws, an issue brief by Jocelyn Friedrichs Benson, Assistant Professor of Law at Wayne State University Law School.

Professor Benson examines the federally mandated language accommodations in sections 203 and 4(f)4 of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that these accommodations, while important and beneficial, are incomplete. She highlights deficiencies in existing voting protections for citizens with limited English proficiency levels, demonstrating how the protections fail to respond to the changing needs of an increasingly diverse electorate. Benson then suggests a number of remedies to these existing inadequacies. -- ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society: "Towards Full Participation": An Issue Brief on Voting Rights by Professor Jocelyn Benson

The ACS blog has a link to the paper.

July 6, 2007

Alabama: money appropriated for Selma-Montgomery March center

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: A second museum along the Selma-to-Montgomery Historic Trail received a $1 million boost from Congress on Thursday as Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. pledged his support for a third interpretive center in Alabama's Capital City.

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, drew loud applause when he said the $1 million House appropriation was one of the largest in the nation approved this year by the Department of the Interior. ...

The Montgomery County interpretive center is scheduled to be built on the property of the City of St. Jude, which served as the staging area for the final leg to the Capitol on March 25, 1965. Alabama State University supporters have proposed moving the center from St. Jude on Fairview Avenue to the ASU campus, but that decision likely will be made by the federal government. -- montgomeryadvertiser.com :: Selma gets $1 million for historic trail museum

July 3, 2007

North Carolina: DOJ objects to 6-3 plan in Fayetteville

The Fayetteville Observer reports: The U.S. Department of Justice has rejected Fayetteville voters’ bid to create at-large City Council seats, according to council members.

The department called members of the council Monday afternoon to tell them a council with six single-member districts and three seats elected citywide — the 6-3 structure — was “not precleared.”

The proposed change was adopted in a referendum in February. The vote was split along racial lines, with whites largely favoring the new format and black voters opposed to the change. -- 6-3 proposal denied by Justice Department

The letter is here.

June 30, 2007

Mississippi: Noxubee Co. Dems discriminated against white voters

Bloomberg News reports: The head of a Mississippi Democratic Party organization illegally suppressed white residents' votes, a federal judge ruled Friday in the first case filed by the Justice Department alleging that whites were subjected to voting discrimination based on their race.

U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee ruled that Ike Brown, chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee of Noxubee County, violated the Voting Rights Act by issuing different procedures for collecting and counting absentee ballots from white and black voters. The executive committee, also found liable in the case, is responsible for administering Democratic primaries in the county.

There was "ample direct and circumstantial evidence of an intent to discriminate against white voters which has manifested itself through practices designed to deny and/or dilute the voting rights of white voters in Noxubee County," Lee's ruling said.

Brown, who is black, has been chairman of the committee since 2000. He argued at trial that the government's suit was a perversion of the voting rights law and said it was "preposterous" that the Justice Department would claim that blacks, who faced 135 years of discrimination by whites in the state, are now oppressing whites.

The judge said he will consider a remedy at a later date. -- Whites Faced Election Bias In Mississippi, Judge Rules - washingtonpost.com

The 104-page opinion in U.S. v. Ike Brown et al. is attached here.

June 25, 2007

North Carolina: DOJ will decide today on fate of 6-3 city council plan

A decision on changing the format of the Fayetteville City Council is expected today, city officials say.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been reviewing the city’s request to change the council from nine single-member districts to one with six single-member districts and three members elected citywide. ...

Voters asked for the change in a referendum in February.

Supporters said a 6-3 format would have more council members looking out for the entire city. Opponents say the change would hurt minority representation.

There are four blacks on the current nine-member council.

Under the proposed system, black residents would be in the majority in three districts. -- Justice ruling on 6-3 city council expected

June 22, 2007

"Did We Always Care About Voting Rights?"

Brian K. Landsberg writes on History News Network: Voting rights in the United States continue to attract public debate. Voter fraud investigations, faulty election procedures, the extension of the Voting Rights Act and, of course, the 2000 presidential election have all drawn attention. One common assumption is that the federal government must play a muscular role in addressing voting rights issues. Yet this assumption was strongly disputed fifty years ago, when Congress enacted the first modern civil rights law. What happened to change the earlier consensus that the federal government should play, at most, only a limited role in protecting the right to vote? The story of the eight short years between enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 helps us understand the enormous change in the role of the federal government. It is a story of conflict between local power and federal power, of conflict between white supremacists and black civil rights advocates, and of conflict between the dominant white power structure and individual black citizens who sought to register to vote.

Much has been written about voting rights in America and about the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. However, prior works tend to either treat the history with a broad brush or to focus on the dramatic events that led to the Voting Rights Act. It is time to start examining the period in more detail. Rather than demonize local officials or federal judges, we need to understand what may have led them to act the way they did. Rather than treat the civil rights movement as a collection of super-hero leaders, we need to look as well at the real heroes, the rank and file citizens who insisted on the right to vote.

Finally, in all the ink that has been spilled on this subject, the work of the federal government has been virtually ignored. Yet if one were to ask who were the important players in the march from the pallid 1957 Act -- which only authorized the United States to bring civil suits to remedy racial discrimination in voting -- to the 1965 Act -- which substituted federal officials for local registrars and required federal approval of changes in southern voting laws -- the lawyers of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice would occupy a key position on the list. The progression from weak to tough legislation is based in significant measure on the 70 voting rights suits the Division brought between 1957 and 1965. -- Did We Always Care About Voting Rights?

June 13, 2007

von Spakovsky hearing preview

NPR's Peter Overby reports: President Bush put Hans von Spakovsky on the Federal Election Commission via a recess appointment — no Senate hearings required — in January 2006. Now, von Spakovsky faces a confirmation hearing.

Senators likely will be interested less in his election-law rulings than in his previous job, where he hunted for voter fraud and promoted state voter-ID laws as a political appointee in the Justice Department's civil rights section. -- Voter-Fraud Activist on Election Panel Faces Hearing

May 31, 2007

Minnesota: US attorney may have been targeted because of Indian voting rights

The Los Angeles Times reports: For more than 15 years, clean-cut, square-jawed Tom Heffelfinger was the embodiment of a tough Republican prosecutor. Named U.S. attorney for Minnesota in 1991, he won a series of high-profile white-collar crime and gun and explosives cases. By the time Heffelfinger resigned last year, his office had collected a string of awards and commendations from the Justice Department.

So it came as a surprise — and something of a mystery — when he turned up on a list of U.S. attorneys who had been targeted for firing.

Part of the reason, government documents and other evidence suggest, is that he tried to protect voting rights for Native Americans.

At a time when GOP activists wanted U.S. attorneys to concentrate on pursuing voter fraud cases, Heffelfinger's office was expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots. -- Minnesota case fits pattern in U.S. attorneys flap

DOJ will do internal investigation into biased hiring

The Baltimore Sun reports: Justice Department investigators said yesterday that they are investigating whether the agency's Civil Rights Division engaged in improper hiring and personnel decisions, expanding an investigation that arose from the firing last year of eight U.S. attorneys.

The internal review will also look into hiring for the agency's prestigious honors program for entry-level attorneys and for summer internships, according to a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees from Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, head of the department's Office of Professional Responsibility. ...

The expanded investigation also appears to reflect the concerns of a growing number of career employees at the Justice Department who have suggested that politics has compromised hiring at the department during the Bush administration.

In a letter this spring to the judiciary panels, an anonymous group of Justice Department employees wrote that political appointees were using politics to screen candidates for the honors and internship programs. -- Justice Dept. probe expands

May 21, 2007

Alabama: further developments in what should have been a simple VRA case

After the federal court ordered the Governor to obtain preclearance under the Voting Rights Act before he administers the law requiring appointment of replacement county commissioners, the Justice Department denied preclearance and a request for reconsideration. The Court then granted plaintiffs' motion for relief and denied the State's motion for a stay. The State has now filed a notice of appeal.

However, the Probate Judge has not called the election yet, but has moved to intervene in the federal case and asks the Court to set a schedule for the election that will take longer than the 90 days allowed by the statute. The plaintiffs have just filed a response suggesting a shorter time limit.

Earlier information on the case is here.

Disclosure: Cecil Gardner and Vance McCrary (of the The Gardner Firm in Mobile, AL) and I represented the plaintiffs in that action.

April 26, 2007

Cross Brad Schlozman and "you'd pay for it"

Paul Kiel writes on TRMmuckraker: So far, Bradley Schlozman has been a minor character in the U.S. attorneys scandal. He ought to be a major one.

To put the case succinctly: Schlozman was the most aggressively political of the political appointees in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. And the administration installed him as the U.S. attorney in a key swing state in an election year. And to clinch it all, as we'll see in our next post, he delivered. ...

By the time Schlozman arrived in Missouri, he'd already left a strong imprint at the Justice Department. The career attorneys and analysts who worked under him in the Civil Rights Division's voting section describe what can fairly be described as a reign of terror.

Bob Kengle, formerly the deputy chief for the voting section, told me that Schlozman "led by power":

"What he sought to inculcate into people was a fear that if you disagreed, if you asked for reconsideration on something, if you pointed out something that was not correct in a decision that had been made, then you’d pay for it."

Kengle, who joined the division in 1984, said that Schlozman would change performance evaluations for lawyers and analysts who disagreed with him. -- TPMmuckraker April 26, 2007 02:27 PM

April 25, 2007

Florida: Osceola holds special election after lawsuit

The Orlando Sentinel reports: Osceola voters elected the first Hispanic county commissioner in more than a decade Tuesday, choosing former state Rep. John Quinones to represent a new Hispanic-majority district in the first election since a federal judge ordered the end to countywide elections of commissioners.

Quinones, a Republican, and political activist Armando Ramirez, a Democrat, squared off against two non-Hispanic candidates with no party affiliation in District 2 in a special election that was delayed for five months by a voting-rights lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department filed against Osceola County.

Federal attorneys claimed that at-large elections effectively kept Hispanics from winning office in Osceola, where they make up about 38 percent of the county's population.

Quinones cruised to victory in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1. He tallied 56 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Ramirez. Mark Cross received 10 percent and Joe Day 3 percent of the 3,385 votes cast. -- Osceola voters pick Quinones in new district - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News Osceola voters pick Quinones in new district - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News

April 17, 2007

"Inside The Bush DoJ's Purge of The Civil Rights Division"

Paul Kiel reports in a long and detailed article on TPMmuckraker.com: Over the past six years, the Bush administration has aggressively reshaped the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Many career analysts and attorneys have either been transferred or driven out; their replacements are long on conservative credentials and short on civil rights experience.

Here's an inside account of what it's like inside from Toby Moore, a redistricting expert with the division's voting section until the spring of 2006. Like many of his colleagues, he left due to the hostile atmosphere in the section, where he says there was a pattern of selective intimidation towards career staff.

According to Moore, his supervisor and the political appointees in the section consistently criticized his work because it didn't jibe with their pre-drawn conclusions. That was bad enough, he said, but the real trouble came after he and three colleagues recommended opposing a Georgia voter I.D. law pushed by Republicans. After the recommendation, which clashed with the views of Moore's superiors, they reprimanded him for not adequately analyzing the evidence and accused him of mistreating his Republican colleague, with whom he'd had frequent disagreements. But it got worse. Moore said that his Republican superiors even monitored his emails, eventually filing a complaint against him with the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility for allegedly disclosing privileged information in one email (he was cleared of wrongdoing). Fed up, and worried that it was too dangerous to his professional future to remain there, he left. -- TPMmuckraker April 17, 2007 03:41 PM

April 10, 2007

Mississppi: final briefs filed in Noxubee voting rights trial

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports: Attorneys for black leaders in Noxubee County said in court papers filed late Monday that the voting rights of white voters in the majority black county have not been violated.

"And even if disputes about matters subject to election challenge or state criminal law could rise to the level of a Section 2 claim, the evidence here is so insufficient that a claim cannot be made," said attorney Edward Pleasants.

Monday was the deadline for court briefs from black leaders and the U.S. Department of Justice to be filed with U.S. District Judge Tom Lee in the historic lawsuit filed by the Justice Department alleging the majority-black Noxubee County Democratic Party, its chairman Ike Brown and the county Election Commission practiced racial discrimination against white voters and candidates.

Pleasants, one of the attorneys for Democratic Executive Committee and Brown, said the government has failed to prove there exist a procedure or structure that denies equal opportunity to white Noxubee County voters .

The Justice Department has called the situation in Noxubee County "the most extreme case of racial exclusion seen by the (department's) Voting Section in decades." -- Legal debate rages over Noxubee voting rights allegations - The Clarion-Ledger

March 28, 2007

Hebert, Rich, and Bickerstaff to discuss "DOJ politicization"

Press release: Two former Department of Justice officials will join a University of Texas law professor and election law expert to discuss politicization of the United States Department of Justice at an informal press event at the National Press Club on Friday.

The discussion will cover recent episodes of Department of Justice decision-making, including the dismissal of the eight U.S. attorneys, recent voter fraud cases, partisan enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, hiring of attorneys in the Department and approval of the 2003 congressional redistricting in Texas masterminded by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

The panel of three attorneys will discuss DOJ politicization under the present Administration. The panel includes two attorneys formerly with the Department of Justice -- J. Gerald Hebert, now Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center and the lead attorney for the Congressional Democrats in the Texas Congressional redistricting suit, and Joseph Rich, who was Chief of the Division’s Voting Section from 1999 until 2005 and is now Director of the Fair Housing Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Both Hebert and Rich served for decades in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, spanning many Administrations.

University of Texas adjunct law professor and election law expert Steve Bickerstaff, joining Hebert and Rich on the panel, recently authored a book (Lines in the Sand) on the 2003 Congressional redistricting episode in Texas, the politicization of the DOJ and the downfall of Tom DeLay. He also was among the persons who wrote a recommendation letter calling for the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General in 2005, but has recently called for his resignation. Like Hebert and Rich, he has lengthy personal experience with the Department of Justice.

WHEN:

Friday, March 30, 9:30-11 a.m.

WHERE

Zenger Room, National Press Club

529 14th Street N.W., Washington, D.C.

March 23, 2007

New U.S. Attorneys have worked on voting-related cases before appointment

McClatchy Newspapers wire reports: Under President Bush, the Justice Department has backed laws that narrow minority voting rights and pressed U.S. attorneys to investigate voter fraud - policies that critics say have been intended to suppress Democratic votes.

Bush, his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, and other Republican political advisers have highlighted voting rights issues and what Rove has called the "growing problem" of election fraud by Democrats since Bush took power in the tumultuous election of 2000, a race ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since 2005, McClatchy Newspapers has found, Bush has appointed at least three U.S. attorneys who had worked in the Justice Department's civil rights division when it was rolling back longstanding voting-rights policies aimed at protecting predominantly poor, minority voters.

Another newly installed U.S. attorney, Tim Griffin in Little Rock, Ark., was accused of participating in efforts to suppress Democratic votes in Florida during the 2004 presidential election while he was a research director for the Republican National Committee. He's denied any wrongdoing. -- KRT Wire | 03/23/2007 | New U.S. attorneys seem to have partisan records

March 22, 2007

Joe Rich ties in the Gonzales-8 with earlier DOJ treatment of voting rights staff

Joe Rich, the former chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, testified at the House oversight hearings on the Civil Rights Division. His testimony is here.

California: state supreme court upholds state Voting Rights Act

AP reports: A state law allowing voters to challenge at-large elections systems on the basis that they dilute the strength of minority voters will stand, after the California Supreme Court declined to review the case Wednesday.

The high court's refusal to hear the case leaves intact an appeals court ruling that upheld the 2001 California Voting Rights Act.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights sued the city of Modesto in 2004 on behalf of Hispanic voters there, charging that electing city council members to at-large seats instead of from districts diminished the strength of their votes. Though the city is one-quarter Hispanic, just one Hispanic has been elected to Modesto's five-member city council since 1911.

The city argued that the California Voting Rights Act, which the plaintiffs relied on to demand change, was unconstitutional because it benefited certain racial groups. -- Article - News - State Supreme Court upholds California Voting Rights Act

March 6, 2007

California: DOJ to monitor several Southern California city elections

AP reports: The U.S. Justice Department said Monday it planned to monitor municipal elections in four Southern California cities to ensure they comply with federal voting law.

Federal observers on Tuesday will visit polling places in Azusa, Gardena, Paramount and Rosemead.

Last year federal investigators visited polling places in the region and determined that Azusa and Paramount failed to fully translate election materials into Spanish, as they are required to do under the federal Voting Rights Act. Authorities also said Rosemead failed to offer all voting materials in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. -- AP Wire | 03/05/2007 | Feds to monitor Tuesday elections in four SoCal cities

February 21, 2007

Alabama: Sen. Obama to speak at voting rights celebration

The Decatur Daily reports: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will deliver the keynote address next month at the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee that commemorates the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, organizers said Tuesday.

Obama, a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois who is black, is scheduled to speak at a March 4 service at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, the site in Selma where marchers gathered in the historic protest that gave blacks across the South greater access to the ballot.

Several dozen other members of Congress plan to attend, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, said Sam Walker, an event coordinator with the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, which sponsors the commemoration. -- Obama to headline voting rights march commemoration in Selma

January 26, 2007

Mississippi: DOJ calls Brown as a witness

The Commercial Dispatch reports: The U.S. Justice Department finished grilling Noxubee County Democratic Party Chairman Ike Brown on the stand Wednesday as the federal government tries to prove he diluted whites' votes and kept their candidates out of local government.

The first voting-rights trial of its kind resumed today in the second week of witnesses appearing before U.S. District Judge Tom Lee.

Lee is being asked by the Justice Department to impose measures for ensuring Noxubee County's black Democratic Party leaders are fair to white voters and candidates.

Brown was called up Tuesday by the Justice Department to testify as an adverse witness to answer allegations he's politically stifled whites in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The charges include recruiting a black lawyer with a fake Noxubee County residence to try to defeat white County Attorney Ricky Walker, threatening to keep some whites out of Democratic Party meetings and defying a court order to hold a new sheriff's election after black incumbent Albert Walker had defeated the white-favored challenger. -- Commercial Dispatch Online

January 17, 2007

Civil Rights Commissions records coming online

Mary L. Dudziak writes on Legal History Blog: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland announce a joint project to make records of the Civil Rights Commission available on-line. The press release, below, refers to the Civil Rights Act (presumably meaning the Civil Rights Act of 1964), but of more value to researchers will be Commission reports, such as a 1961 report on voting rights, available here. While these documents should be available in libraries that are government document repositories, the website will make them much more accessible to a broader range of researchers. Some briefing papers are included, but the collection principally consists of published reports. Some materials are in Spanish. The Commission was established in 1957. The materials appear to range from the early 1960s to at least 2004. -- Legal History Blog

January 16, 2007

Alabama: Montgomery Mayor proposes King memorial

AP reports: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. rose from being an obscure Baptist preacher to jump start the Civil Rights Movement as he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott more than 50 years ago, but there’s not a monument to King in the town where he rose to national prominence.

Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright says it’s time to change that.

During a celebration of what would have been King’s 78th birthday Monday, Bright said he will help lead an effort to build a monument for King somewhere in Montgomery. He said the memorial might be near the Capitol steps where King spoke at the end of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March and the small frame church across the street where he first preached his message of peace and love in the 1950s. -- Montgomery mayor seeks monument for King Jr.

Mississippi: Ike Brown trial starts today

The Washington Post reports: Over the years, Ike Brown has earned a reputation in rural Noxubee County as a wily political boss, and his election triumphs have time and again aroused suspicions of impropriety. But talk of his tactics never carried much farther than this small community of sawmills and catfish ponds.

Today, though, Brown, who is African American, is scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Jackson, where he will face charges from the Justice Department that he violated the political rights of Noxubee's white minority. It is the first time that the 1965 Voting Rights Act has been used to ensure white rights.

About two-thirds of the 8,700 adults in Noxubee County are black, and Brown, the local Democratic committee chief, has been criticized for urging people to "vote black" while engaging in an array of electoral shenanigans.

At issue is whether Brown, 52, has directed "relentless voting-related racial discrimination" against white voters and white candidates through fraudulent election tactics, as federal lawyers say, or whether he was merely operating aggressive political campaigns in a milieu that has long been split along racial lines. -- Alleged Voting Rights Violation With Twist Goes to Trial - washingtonpost.com

January 11, 2007

Iowa: congressman sues over multi-lingual voter information

AP reports: Iowa Congressman Steve King and hard-line immigration advocates are suing Gov.-elect Chet Culver for allegedly violating the state's official English law by distributing voter information in several languages while serving as secretary of state.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in state District Court, also names incoming Secretary of State Michael Mauro, charging he placed voter information on his official Web site in Spanish, Bosnian, Vietnamese and Laotian. ...

Culver aide Brad Anderson rejected the charges, saying that state election law requires officials to aid potential voters in registering and casting ballots. ...

The issue first surfaced last fall when King wrote a letter to Culver charging that the English-only law requires all government proceedings to be in English. He said Culver was breaking the law by posting voter registration forms in foreign languages on his Web site.

Attorney General Tom Miller -- the state's top law enforcement official -- later issued a statement siding with Culver. He said the secretary of state's actions were legal because the English-only law permits the state to help residents exercise their constitutional right to vote. In addition, bipartisan Voter Registration Commission rules allow materials to be distributed in foreign languages, Miller said. -- Sioux City Journal: King sues Culver over English-only law

Alabama: Jerome Gray retires from ADC

The Birmingham News writes about my friend Jerome Gray's retirement: When they were students at Conecuh County Training School, neither Joe Reed nor Jerome Gray foresaw a future in which they would team up to break barriers to black participation in Alabama politics.

But when they saw a chance for that future, they seized it with a vengeance. The evidence is in the numbers: Alabama has 870 black elected officials at all levels of government, more than in every state except neighboring Mississippi. The numbers of blacks in Alabama's state and local governing bodies generally mirror the percentage of blacks in the state and local populations.

"We have achieved ... parity or equity in virtually every chamber of government," Gray said recently.

A lot of people - lawyers and grass-roots activists among them - had a hand in achieving that result. But two of the primary players were Reed, as chairman of the black Alabama Democratic Conference, and Gray, as ADC field director. Now Gray, at 68, has decided that, after 27 years, his playing days are over. People who worked with him and against him are saying they may not see his like again. -- Voting rights powerhouse Gray lays aside `quiet work'

January 8, 2007

Alabama: DOJ objects to 2 court decisions

The Justice Department today objected (under the Voting Rights Act) to 2 decisions of the Alabama Supreme Court. What follows is probably more than you want to know about the background:

Since 1985, the state law applicable to filling vacancies on the Mobile County Commission has swung between gubernatorial appointment and special election.

In 1985, the Alabama Legislature adopted Act 85-237, a local act providing for the election of county commissioners whenever vacancies occurred on the Mobile County Commission. The Alabama Attorney General submitted Act 85-237 for preclearance on 15 April 1985. The U.S. Attorney General issued a “no objection” letter regarding Act 85-237 on 17 June 1985. At this point, Alabama law authorized a special election, and that was the only way to fill a vacancy consistent with the Voting Rights Act.

In the Spring of 1987, a vacancy occurred in the District 1 Commissioner position on the Mobile County Commission. Act 85-237 required a special election if more than one year remained in the term. Since there was more than one year remaining in the term, the election officials of Mobile County called a special election.

Sam Jones and another candidate qualified for the Democratic nomination, and Jones was nominated by the Democratic Party in a special primary. Jones also won the special general election over opposition.

Shortly after the vacancy occurred, a Mobile County voter filed suit to have Act 85-237 declared unconstitutional. The Circuit Court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the law. On appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, the Court held that the subject matter of Act 85-237 was subsumed by general law (Ala. Code § 11-3-6) and was therefore invalid under Ala. Const. Art. IV § 105. Stokes v. Noonan, 534 So.2d 237 (Ala. 1988).

Under Hathorn v. Lovorn, 457 U.S. 255 (1982), the State of Alabama or Mobile County should have submitted the Stokes v. Noonan decision for preclearance. Until such preclearance was obtained, neither Mobile County nor the State could legally enforce or administer the change made by Stokes v. Noonan. The State has stipulated that no such submission has occurred (prior to this one).

Gov. Guy Hunt gave Sam Jones a commission of appointment after the Stokes decision. Because the State never obtained preclearance for the Stokes decision before Gov. Hunt administered it by appointing Jones, Gov. Hunt’s action was unnecessary and illegal because Jones’s elected term on the Mobile County Commission had not been terminated.

In 2004, the Legislature adopted Act 2004-455 which amended Ala. Code § 11-3-6 to allow local laws providing methods other than gubernatorial appointment for filling vacancies. The Alabama Attorney General submitted Act 2004-455 for preclearance on 9 August 2004. The Attorney General of the U.S. issued a “no objection” letter regarding Act 2004-455 on 28 September 2004.

The submission of Act 2004-455 mentioned Stokes v. Noonan, but did not state explicitly whether the new Act would have any effect on the previously-precleared Act 85-237.

When Mobile County Commissioner Sam Jones was elected Mayor of the City of Mobile and made plans to resign from his position on the Commission, Reps. Kennedy, Buskey, and Clark filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court for relief including a declaration that the vacancy should be filled by special election. The plaintiffs took the position that Act 2004-455 had revived Act 85-237. Eventually, the Alabama Supreme Court decided that Act 2004-455 had a prospective effect only; that is, only local acts passed after the effective date of Act 2004-455 could take advantage of the proviso enacted by that Act.

The benchmark against which to judge the Riley v. Kennedy decision is the situation “in force and effect” immediately before it was decided. Abrams v. Johnson, 521 U.S. 74, 97 (1997); Section 5 Guidelines, 28 C.F.R. § 51.54(b)(1). The benchmark situation was the special-election requirement of Act 85-237 which had been precleared and administered in 1985-87 and reaffirmed by Act 2004-455 (which in turn had been precleared in 2004 and administered in other counties in 2004).

In summary, each time the Legislature has acted to provide for special elections to fill vacancies, the Alabama Attorney General has submitted the act and obtained preclearance. In contrast, the Alabama Attorney General has now belatedly submitted the Alabama Supreme Court decisions for preclearance – only after being ordered to do so by the District Court.

Disclosure: I am one of the attorneys for Reps. Kennedy, Buskey, and Clark.

December 17, 2006

Washington State: study shows at-large election decreases Hispanic electoral success in Sunnyside

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports: A newly released study says the election system in this mostly Hispanic town unfairly keeps Hispanics off the City Council.

And, while Sunnyside's city manager called the research flawed and "bogus," one of the nation's top voting-rights advocates thinks the report is on to something.

The research, part of a Whitman College report titled "The State of the State for Washington Latinos: 2006," concludes that the city's at-large elections violate the federal Voting Rights Act by establishing barriers to political representation of Hispanics.

In other words, the research states that allowing every Sunnyside voter to vote for all seven council seats produces different results than if the city were divided into voting districts. -- Yakima Herald Republic Online - Home Page - Yakima, Washington News, Classifieds, Information, Advertising

Wyoming: DOJ intervenes in suit against Fremont County at-large suit

AP reports: The U.S. Department of Justice is intervening in a federal lawsuit in which five American Indians are challenging Fremont County's system of holding at-large elections.

The department filed notice Thursday that it is intervening in the case for the limited purpose of defending the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Five members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued Fremont County last year. They claim the county's system of holding at-large elections violates Voting Rights Act by impermissibly diluting the American Indian vote.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation, based in Lakewood, Colo., is defending Fremont County. In its answer to the lawsuit filed late last year, the foundation argued that it would be unconstitutional to hold Fremont County to the section of the Voting Rights Act which prohibits practices that dilute minority voting. -- Feds intervene in Indian voting case

December 13, 2006

Texas: Rodriguez beats Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla in runoff

AP reports: Democrat Ciro Rodriguez's victory over seven-term Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla was another blow to Republicans who lost control of Congress five weeks ago. ...

Bonilla blamed the Supreme Court ruling that declared the district's former boundaries unconstitutional and forced a redrawing of the district that added more Hispanic Democratic voters. ...

Bonilla, the only Mexican-American Republican in Congress, nearly avoided the runoff when he came just shy of the 50 percent mark in a Nov. 7 free-for-all special election that included eight candidates. Rodriguez, in second place, advanced to the runoff with Bonilla. ...

The Supreme Court ruled in June that a 2003 reconfiguration of the 23rd District was unconstitutional because it diluted minority votes by splitting Laredo, a city that is almost all Hispanic, into two districts.

A three-judge panel redrew the district in August to restore 100,000 Hispanics to the 23rd District that had been shunted elsewhere. The new district, which stretches from San Antonio south to the Mexican border and almost to El Paso in the west, gave Rodriguez yet another chance at national office and made Bonilla fight a little harder to keep his seat.

The new 23rd district has a voting age population that is 61 percent Hispanic, versus a 51 percent Hispanic voting age population before. -- (5:03 a.m.)" href="http://www.elpasotimes.com/breakingnews/ci_4831001">El Paso Times - Rodriguez wins District 23 runoff (5:03 a.m.)

December 11, 2006

South Dakota: federal court orders city of Martin to draft new plan

The Rapid City Journal reported last Thursday: A federal judge has ordered the city of Martin to redraw the boundaries of its city-council districts because the existing districts violate the voting rights of American Indians.

In a decision issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier of Rapid City said Martin must submit a proposal for redrawing the council-district boundaries by Jan. 5. The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the city on behalf of two Indian voters, will have until Jan. 25 to file its response to the city's plan.

The judge will then make the determination of whether the city's plan is a legally acceptable remedy.

Martin is in Bennett County, which is adjacent to Rosebud Sioux and Pine Ridge Indian reservations in southern South Dakota.

The judge said evidence shows that about 36 percent of the city's voting-age population is Indian, and those Indian voters are spread evenly among the existing three council wards. However, candidates preferred by Indians rarely win city council elections in Martin, Schreier said. -- The Rapid City Journal

December 7, 2006

Texas: DOJ approves runoff date

AP reports: The Department of Justice is allowing Texas to go forward with the Dec. 12 date for a congressional runoff after federal judges ruled early voting could be extended because the election falls on an important religious day for Catholic Hispanics.

The decision to hold the runoff Tuesday has angered some Hispanic groups who have said it is an attempt to suppress the Latino vote to boost election chances for Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla.

Bonilla faces Democrat Ciro Rodriguez, a former congressman, in the runoff because no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 7 election.

Dec. 12 is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the day many Hispanics mark the appearance of the Virgin Mary before Indian peasant Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. Many Hispanics attend Mass, hold processions and gather with family and friends. -- Dallas Cars & Trucks | DallasNews.com | Dallas Morning News | Texas/Southwest

California: appeals court upholds state Voting Rights Act

The Los Angeles Times reports: A California appeals court Wednesday unanimously upheld a state law to make it easier to challenge at-large election systems that have diluted the potential power of minority voters.

Under the 5-year-old California Voting Rights Act, when a group of voters can demonstrate that their area is characterized by "racially polarized" voting patterns, they can demand that a jurisdiction convert from an at-large to a district electoral system.

The decision by a court in Fresno was the first appellate ruling on the 2001 law. It arose out of a case filed in Modesto two years ago. A group of frustrated Latino voters led by Enrique Sanchez attempted to establish that the city's at-large system had adulterated their voting power.

Although Modesto is 25.6% Latino, only one Latino has been elected to the five-member City Council since 1911, the plaintiffs said. -- Court upholds racial challenges to at-large elections - Los Angeles Times

Note: Rick Hasen has a link to the opinion.

Florida: federal judge to decide on Osceola commission plan today

The Orlando Sentinel reports: A 17-month-long battle over how Osceola elects county commissioners could come to a close in federal court today.

The remaining issue before U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell is whether the county's proposal to create a system of at-large and single-member seats by increasing the size of the board to seven commissioners will pass legal muster.

Presnell issued an injunction halting commission elections in June and ruled in October that the "racially polarized" county's at-large voting system penalizes Hispanics in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

On Wednesday, commissioners voted 4-0 to accept a redistricting plan drafted by the U.S. Department of Justice, rather than a plan drawn up by county experts, after Presnell this week rejected a key part of the county's proposal. Commissioner Paul Owen was absent. -- Federal judge will decide merits of Osceola vote plan - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News Federal judge will decide merits of Osceola vote plan - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News

November 30, 2006

Texas: state seeks DOJ preclearance for runoff date

AP reports: Texas is asking the Justice Department to approve Dec. 12 for a congressional runoff election, a date that a Latino group opposes in part because it is an important religious day for many Hispanics.

Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla and former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, are in a runoff for the 23rd Congressional District, which was redrawn after the U.S. Supreme Court found that the old district map discriminated against Latino voters.

Dec. 12 is the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico and Latin America. The League of United Latin American Citizens has said the election should be set for Dec. 19. The group contends that the earlier date discriminates against Hispanics to help Bonilla, whose support among Latinos has been eroding. ...

Texas filed the request Tuesday. The state had said it did not need approval because a court had ordered it to set the runoff for the earliest time possible.

Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said Texas has asked for an expedited decision. He said he did not think his office knew the date was the holy day. He said setting the date a week later would push the election into Hanukkah, which begins at sundown Dec. 15, and Christmas. -- State seeks federal OK for Bonilla-Rodriguez election date

November 3, 2006

Pennsylvania: federal court rejects DOJ motion for federal observers in Philadelphia polling places

AP reports: A federal court refused Friday to appoint observers for Tuesday's election to remedy what the Justice Department called the city's abysmal record of meeting its obligations to Spanish-speaking voters.

The three-judge panel filed a brief order Friday afternoon denying the request and said the reasoning would be explained in a decision later.

The Justice Department contends Philadelphia has failed to provide sufficient election materials in Spanish and has not recruited enough bilingual poll workers. City officials said they have hired more interpreters and argue that bringing in observers could discourage people from voting. -- Judges reject Philly election monitors - Yahoo! News

November 1, 2006

DOJ sending observers to 20 states

CNN reports: The Justice Department plans to dispatch more than 800 federal observers and monitors to 20 states to protect voting rights in potentially troubled polling locations, officials announced Tuesday.

That is a record number of federal officials watching polling stations in an off-year election.

"Yes, the anticipated closeness of races is one factor in our decisions about where we'll be sending people," said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Wan Kim.

Kim said he would not identify until Monday the more than 65 cities and counties to which the observers will be sent. -- Federal observers and monitors heading to polls - CNN.com

October 29, 2006

Pennsylvania: DOJ sues Philadelphia over Spanish-speaking poll workers

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: Two weeks before Election Day, the city is fighting an attempt by the U.S. Justice Department to appoint federal observers for Philadelphia elections beginning Nov. 7 and lasting past next year's presidential race, until the end of 2009.

The effort to appoint the observers stems from a lawsuit filed by the federal government 14 days ago alleging that the city has violated the rights of its Hispanic voters.

Specifically, it charges that the city hasn't adequately recruited and trained bilingual poll workers, failed to provide sufficient election-related materials in Spanish, and prohibited Hispanic voters with limited English from choosing someone to help them inside the voting booth, which law permits. ...

With the election fast approaching, the city has been struggling to implement new federal rules on handicapped access, as well as a new state law requiring dozens of city polling places to be moved (they can no longer be inside bars or elected officials' homes, for instance). -- Philadelphia Inquirer | 10/27/2006 | Phila. opposes U.S. observers at polls

October 19, 2006

NAACP Legal Defense Fund intervenes in MUD suit [updated]

A press release from LDF says: Today [18 October], the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed a motion to intervene on behalf of African-American voters in a lawsuit brought by the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One, a utility district located in Austin, Texas. LDF's motion was brought on behalf of voters who reside in the district and whose voting rights are directly impacted by the lawsuit.

Note: The district court's Pacer system does not have the intervention papers posted yet. As soon as I get a copy of these papers, I will post them.

Update: Here are the intervention papers for Rodney and Nicole Louis.


October 18, 2006

MALDEF moves to intervene in NW Austin MUD's suit against VRA

MALDEF, representing David and Lisa Diaz, has moved to intervene in the suit by Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District regarding the Voting Rights Act. A copy of the motion and memo are here.

Thanks to Nina Perales for sending these to me.

October 17, 2006

Texas: DOJ answers suit seeking to overturn Section 5 of VRA

The Campaign Legal Center has posted the answer of the Justice Department in the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One's suit seeking, among other things, a declaration that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional.

October 15, 2006

Pennsylvania: DOJ sues Philadelphia over treatment of Hispanic voters

AP reports: The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday sued the city of Philadelphia, claiming it violated the rights of Spanish-speaking voters.

The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said the city failed to provide language assistance at the polls to most Spanish-speaking voters in recent elections, the department said.

Federal authorities also said the city prevented Spanish-speaking voters from receiving assistance from people of their choice, even in cases where bilingual assistance was otherwise unavailable. -- Feds sue Philadelphia over voting rights - Yahoo! News

Note: I could not find the complaint on either the DOJ website or the District Court site. If anyone has a link to it, please email it to me.

September 21, 2006

Alabama: federal court orders new election plan be adopted for Chilton County

The federal court in the Middle District of Alabama has ordered Chilton County to develop a new election plan to be used in the 2008 election. The order stems from a suit brought by two white voters to dismantle the cumulative voting plan used in the county since 1988. The CV plan was agreed by the plaintiffs and defendants and put into effect by a consent decree.

The court's opinon and
order may be downloaded here.

Note: James Blacksher and I represent the plaintiffs in this action. We have already appealed the decision setting aside the 1988 injuntion.

September 20, 2006

9th Circuit holds that recall petitions may be English-only

The Los Angeles Times reports: Recall petitions need to be printed only in English, even when some voters are not proficient in the language, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The federal Voting Rights Act requires ballots and other government-produced election material to be published in other languages if more than 5% of the voters speak a different language.

But in a case involving the Santa Ana Unified School District, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the requirement did not apply to recall petitions written and circulated by citizens.

The court reversed a decision last year by a 9th Circuit panel that said petitions to recall Santa Ana school board Trustee Nativo V. Lopez in 2003 should have been printed in Spanish as well as English. Lopez was recalled by a large margin. -- Ruling Against Santa Ana's English-Only Recall Petitions Is Reversed - Los Angeles Times

August 31, 2006

Massachusetts: Springfield settles with DOJ over Hispanic voting assistance

The Springfield Republican reports: Averting a legal showdown between the city and the federal government, Mayor Charles V. Ryan has agreed to speed up voting reforms to help more Spanish-speaking residents register and vote in city elections.

Under an agreement reached yesterday with the U.S. Justice Department, the city will hire 57 bilingual poll workers, appoint an Hispanic voting coordinator, allow federal election monitors and make translators and other services available beginning with the Sept. 19 primary elections.

For the November election, the city must hire 95 bilingual poll workers, compared with 37 that staffed last year's municipal election. Overall, the city employs 384 poll workers on election day, spread out over 64 precincts.

The agreement comes four weeks after the Justice Department filed suit against the city, accusing it of discriminating against Spanish-speaking voters by failing to provide enough assistance at the polls. City officials acknowledged that local efforts fell short of requirements set by the Voting Rights Act, but said there had been considerable progress in recent months. -- Voting rights suit settled

August 29, 2006

Massachusetts: Springfield under deadline to settle with DOJ over aid to Hispanic voters

The Springfield Republican reports: A federal judge has given the city until tomorrow to reach a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department before issuing a temporary restraining order in a voting rights lawsuit.

U.S. Judge Michael A. Ponsor set a deadline of noon tomorrow for both sides to hammer out a deal for removing obstacles for Hispanics to participate in the Sept. 19 election.

To assist Hispanic voters, the federal government is pressuring the city to hire additional bilingual poll workers and to accept federal election monitors during citywide elections. The demands are the centerpiece of a lawsuit filed on Aug. 2, accusing the city of a long-standing violations of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The injunction, requested by federal prosecutors last week, does not directly ask Ponsor to block next month's primary election. But it is unclear if city officials could comply with all its requirements - including hiring 58 more bilingual poll workers - by the Sept. 19 voting date. -- Hispanic voters must be assisted, judge says

Alabama: cumulative voting in Chilton County may end soon, if white group gets it way

AP reports: Chilton County's lone black commissioner, Bobby Agee, figures his tenure on the County Commission is over if the central Alabama county, which is nearly 90 percent white, ends a cumulative voting system that was approved in 1988.

So does an attorney representing black voters in the county, which had an all-white commission prior to the change.

"Because of racially polarized voting, only blacks stand to lose if the voting system is changed," attorney Jim Blacksher said Monday.

U.S District Judge Myron Thompson, who approved the 1988 plan, ruled earlier this month that the cumulative voting for seven county commissioners in Chilton County must end and the county must return to four commission districts elected under one person, one vote. -- Chilton County's lone black commissioner worried about vote order | TimesDaily.com | Times Daily | Florence, AL

Disclosure: James Blacksher and I represent the black plaintiffs in this case.

August 28, 2006

Book review: "There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975"

Glenn C. Altschuler writes in the Baltimore Sun: The civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s confronted embedded beliefs and behavior, and transformed the social, political and legal landscape in the American South. Virtually no one, black or white, remained untouched by it. In There Goes My Everything, Jason Sokol, a doctoral student at the University of California at Berkeley, examines the response of ordinary white Southerners to the "new realities" - in public schools, municipal pools, motels, restaurants and voting booths.

Well-researched and judicious, There Goes My Everything reminds us that before the civil rights movement exposed "old truths" as myths, segregation had "the feel of something natural" and immutable for many whites. Convinced that they understood their blacks, white Southerners interpreted deference as a sign of friendship, silence as satisfaction. By the '50s many of them acknowledged that segregation was a social construction. Nonetheless, Sokol argues, stereotypes of potbellied, tobacco-chewing, Confederate-flag-waving "good old boys" have hidden the wide range of responses to the assault on racism. To be sure, there were dead-enders aplenty, like Lester Maddox, proprietor of Pickrick, a popular fried chicken restaurant, who lambasted "outside agitators," organized Georgians Unwilling to Surrender (GUTS) and brandished an axe handle to keep blacks out of his establishment. But many others waffled, embraced some aspects of the new social order or "walked gingerly across its threshold." -- How Southern whites woke up to the new reality of civil rights - baltimoresun.com

August 22, 2006

Massachusetts: DOJ seeks to stop elections in Springfield

AP reports: The federal government says Springfield is violating the voting rights of Spanish-speaking residents, and is trying to get the city to stop holding any more elections until they abide by the law.

The U-S Department of Justice filed a motion in federal court today asking a judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would stop any more city elections until Springfield complies with the Voting Rights Act. -- Eyewitness News - DOJ files motion to halt election in Springfield

August 19, 2006

Alabama: federal court holds state supreme court decisions on elections must be submitted for preclearance

Update:
The Mobile Press Register reports: A panel of three federal judges ruled Friday that Gov. Bob Riley should have sought federal approval before appointing Juan Chastang to the Mobile County Commission.

The judges ordered Riley to get clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice that the Chastang appointment complied with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The governor has 90 days to ask the Justice Department for its approval.

If the Justice Department finds that the appointment violated voters' rights, Chastang's nomination could be voided, and a special election could be held to fill the seat. -- Judges say Justice must OK Chastang

Original post:
A 3-judge court in the Middle District of Alabama has ruled that the State of Alabama violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by enforcing two state Supreme Court decisions without obtaining preclearance for them.

Disclosure: Cecil Gardner and Vance McCrary (of the Gardner, Middlebrooks, Gibbons & Kittrell firm in Mobile, AL) and I represented the plaintiffs in that action.

August 4, 2006

Massachusetts: Springfield mayor denounces DOJ suit against city

The Springfield Republican reports: Springfield Mayor Charles V. Ryan yesterday denounced as rash a voting rights lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against the city.

The Justice Department announced on Wednesday that it had filed a suit stating that the city violated the Voting Rights Act regarding Spanish-speaking voters.

Ryan said yesterday that neither he nor anyone in City Hall had ever received complaints about voting rights issues. Furthermore, he said, the Justice Department gave officials who had not seen the complaint virtually 48 hours to sign a consent decree in which the city would have been placed under federal oversight or face a lawsuit. ...

The federal complaint states that poll workers were hostile to Hispanic and Spanish-speaking voters and denied them the right to be assisted by the person of their choice. -- Mayor objects to U.S. lawsuit

The text of the DOJ complaint is available here.

August 3, 2006

Massachusetts: DOJ sues Springfield

AP reports: The City of Springfield violated the voting rights of Spanish-speaking residents by failing to provide the proper assistance at the polls, according to a federal lawsuit filed yesterday by the US Justice Department.

Registered voters with little or no knowledge of English also faced ``hostile treatment" at the polls and in some cases left without casting a ballot because of that treatment and lack of assistance, the department said.

The city failed to allow Spanish-speaking voters to receive assistance at the polls from a friend, a relative, or another person of their own choice, as is required by the law, even when there was no other bilingual assistance available, the Justice Department said. -- US sues Springfield over voting rights - The Boston Globe

July 27, 2006

How big business supported the VRA renewal

Peter Overby reports on NPR: When the Voting Rights Act extension ran into resistance from some southern senators earlier this month, supporters turned to a surprising constituency for support: big business. Officials from big companies like Wal-Mart and Walt Disney lined up in support of the bill. They say it benefits their employees and customers. -- NPR : Voting Rights Bill Finds Friends in Big Business

July 25, 2006

ACS video on civil rights enforcement and paper on ranked-choice voting

An email from the American Constitution Society: Earlier today, ACS distributed two sets of materials of likely interest to your readers and the civil rights community.

First, we posted streaming video of a recent panel discussing recent changes in federal civil rights enforcement at the 2006 ACS National Convention. The issue has been in the news cycle since Charlie Savage’s Justice Department expose in The Boston Globe this Sunday. Panelists included the following:

* Roger Clegg, President and General Counsel, Center for Equal Opportunity

* Stuart Ishimaru, Commissioner, U.S. EEOC

* Brian Landsberg, Pacific McGeorge School of Law

* Bill Lann Lee, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP; former U.S. Assistant Attorney General

* Bill Taylor, Chair, Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights

* Judith A. Winston, Winston, Withers & Associates, LLC

Second, we released an ACS Issue Brief by David Cobb, Patrick Barrett and Caleb Kleppner proposing ranked-choice voting as an alternative to plurality systems. “Preserving and Expanding the Right to Vote: Ranked-choice Voting” suggests that that ranked-choice voting presents a unique opportunity to improve our democratic structure by diminishing negative campaigning, improving voter choice, promoting greater discussion of the issues, eliminating the need for costly runoff elections and, ultimately, increasing the political power of all voters.

July 21, 2006

Senate passes Voting Rights Act without changes

The Washington Post reports: The Senate voted 98 to 0 to renew key provisions of the Voting Rights Act yesterday, permitting the federal government to continue its broad oversight of state voting procedures for the next quarter-century, and allowing Republicans to claim equality with Democrats in protecting minorities' clout at the ballot box.

The act requires several states, mostly in the South, to obtain Justice Department approval before changing precinct boundaries, polling places, legislative districts, ballot formats and other voting procedures. It also requires many jurisdictions throughout the nation to provide bilingual ballots or interpreters for voters whose English is not strong.

Those two provisions caused a mini-revolt among House Republicans last week. GOP leaders had to scramble -- and rely on heavy Democratic support -- to defeat proposed amendments that they said would dilute the bill and prove politically embarrassing.

The law, first passed in 1965, retains near-iconic status in civil rights circles, even though some elected officials say it is no longer needed. GOP leaders were eager to renew it before the November elections. Unlike the House, where some Southern Republicans opposed provisions that focus on their states, the Senate passed the bill unanimously after hours of one-sided debate in which member after member praised leaders of the 1960s desegregation movement. -- Voting Rights Act Extension Passes In Senate, 98 to 0

July 16, 2006

Alabama: state GOP complains about VRA

The Birmingham News reports: Alabama's top Republicans unanimously passed a resolution Saturday urging GOP congressmen to support amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act that would end special restrictions on Southern states and would require some cities to print ballots in multiple languages.

The vote took place at the Wynfrey Hotel during the annual summer meeting of the 350-member Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee. ...

aturday's resolution was passed by a voice vote without debate.

Tim Howe, the state GOP's executive director, said he did not think the resolution ran counter to his party's attempts to court minority voters. The party did not want to neuter the act, he said, but to make sure it was applied across the board. ...

Howe, as well as several members of the executive committee, said they did not care whether the special requirements for Southern states were eliminated or extended to the rest of the country. The South has made great strides in voters rights, they said, and many of the country's worst voting irregularities have recently occurred in the North, they said. -- Voting Rights Act riles Alabama GOP

July 15, 2006

Texas: a rundown on the re-districting proposals

CQ Politics reports: The legal proceedings to amend one of the 32 House districts in Texas, as ordered by the Supreme Court in a June 28 ruling, moved forward on Friday -- the deadline for the parties in the case to submit proposals for revised district maps to a three-judge federal panel in Austin.

The future of the state's 23rd District, represented by seven-term Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla, is the one remaining issue from a long-running legal dispute over an unusual and highly partisan mid-decade redistricting plan implemented by the Republican majority in the Texas legislature prior to the 2004 elections. The map overhaul, spearheaded by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, replaced one more favorable to Democrats that had been invoked by a state court panel prior to the 2002 elections. ...

A redrawing of the 23rd District necessarily requires the reconfiguration of a few other districts. The major map proposals submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas would also make alterations to the 21st District, a Republican-leaning district near Austin and San Antonio that is represented by 10-term Republican Rep. Lamar Smith; the 25th District, a heavily Hispanic and elongated district from Austin to the Mexico border that is represented by six-term Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett; and the 28th District, a south Texas district that is represented by freshman Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.

Friday’s deadline was set under an expedited schedule issued by the federal court June 29, one day after the Supreme Court ruling. The parties now have until July 21 to file comments on the proposed maps, and the court will hear oral arguments in Austin on Aug. 3. -- CQPolitics.com - TX: Remap Plans Vary Widely; New Primaries a Possibility

[The article has details of the various proposals.]

July 13, 2006

House passes VRA renewal without amendments

AP reports: The House voted Thursday to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act, rejecting efforts by Southern conservatives to relax federal oversight of their states in a debate haunted by the ghosts of the civil rights movement.

The 390-33 vote sent to the Senate a bill that represented a Republican appeal to minority voters who doubt the GOP's "big-tent" image. Southern conservatives had complained that the act punishes their states for racist voting histories they say they've overcome. ...

The House overwhelmingly rejected amendments that would have shortened the renewal from 25 years to a decade and would have struck its requirement that ballots in some states be printed in several languages.

Supporters of the law as written called the amendments "poison pills" designed to kill the renewal because if any were adopted by the full House, the underlying renewal might have failed. -- House passes 1965 Voting Rights Act renewal

July 12, 2006

"Revitalizing Democracy" video

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy has posted the video of the “Revitalizing Democracy” panel at its recent National Convention. On June 17, ACS hosted a panel at its 2006 National Convention exploring the sources of the growing sense of disenfranchisement among Americans and avenues for reform that could make our democratic system more responsive to ordinary Americans. Panelists explored issues such as the impact of money in politics and campaign finance reform, the effect of redistricting on political polarization, the merits of the electoral college, how technology will affect political campaigning in the coming years and the implementation of the Help American Vote Act. Panelists also discussed ways that we can encourage a national conversation on these issues and broaden participation in our democracy. Included on the panel were:

  • Ron Klain, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Revolution LLC; former assistant to President Clinton; former Chief of Staff and Counsel to Vice President Gore;
  • Donna Brazile, Brazile and Associates, LLC; former campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore;
  • Representative Artur Davis (D-AL);
  • Heather Gerken, Professor of Law, Yale Law School;
  • Benjamin Ginsberg, Patton Boggs LLP;
  • Robert Lenhard, Vice Chairman, Federal Election Commission; and
  • John Podesta, President and Chief Executive Officer, Center for American Progress; former Chief of Staff to President Clinton.
  • Ohio: DOJ sues Euclid over election system

    AP reports: This Cleveland suburb's mayor bristled Tuesday at a Justice Department lawsuit over the city's election system, calling the attempt to block elections premature and unwarranted.

    The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, alleges that majority whites voting as a bloc in an at-large election setup have made it impossible for a black candidate to get elected. It's the third time the Bush administration has filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of black voters, Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland said.

    "Euclid has been proactive in fostering racial harmony and full participation of all residents through programs sponsored by city government, nonprofit organizations and the many churches and congregations throughout our community," Mayor Bill Cervenik said in a news release Tuesday.

    The Lake Erie city of roughly 53,000 is 30 percent black, but no black person has been elected to a local seat. There have been eight recent black city council candidates, but the council's four wards and four at-large seats dilute black voters' power, the Justice Department lawsuit alleges. -- AP Wire | 07/11/2006 | Mayor rejects claims in Justice Department's voting-rights suit

    June 22, 2006

    Problems in estimating turnout

    If you compare the figures shown in the Census Bureau spreadsheets in the post below and the figures from the Alabama Secretary of State, you will notice that the Census has 9 to 17% more people who say they voted than did vote for president in Alabama. I think it is highly unlikely that many people went to the polls to vote in 2000 and 2004 and found the race for president so uninteresting that they did not bother to vote, but did vote on a constitutional amendment, a county commission, a judge, or a member of the Public Service Commission. Don't you?

    The problem is caused by the methodology of the Census. It asks people if they voted; no double check of actual election results is done. Social scientists know that many people misrepresent whether they voted when asked in surveys. They give the answer expected.

    The effect of the Norwood amendment

    Before the House leadership suddenly stopped the consideration of the Voting Rights Act renewal yesterday, the Rules Committee had adopted a rule allowing only two amendments. The substance of the two amendments can be found here.

    The Norwood amendment contains an "updated formula [which] would be a rolling test based off of the last three presidential elections. Any state would be subject to Section 5 if it currently has a discriminatory test in place or voter turnout of less than 50% in any of the three most recent presidential elections." The text of the amendment makes clear that this is 50% of the citizen voting age population (CVAP).

    Let's check on which states would be covered under that half of the formula. The Census Bureau publishes information after each federal election on the CVAP turnout. The three most recent are 2004, 2000, and 1996. (For the first two, look for Table 4C). This means the States that would be covered would be Georgia (1996) and Hawaii (1996, 2000). If someone can point me to a source of sub-state data, I can see if any subdivisions of states would be covered.

    After a bit more research, I may be able to give you a report on the "discriminatory test" half of the proposed trigger.

    Update: Thanks to Dan Levitas for correcting my misreading of the Georgia data.

    June 21, 2006

    House leadership dragging its feet on VRA renewal

    AP reports: House Republican leaders on Wednesday postponed a vote on renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act after GOP lawmakers complained it unfairly singles out nine Southern states for federal oversight.

    "We have time to address their concerns," Republican leaders said in a joint statement. "Therefore, the House Republican Leadership will offer members the time needed to evaluate the legislation."

    It was unclear whether the legislation would come up this year. The temporary provisions don't expire until 2007, but leaders of both parties had hoped to pass the act and use it to further their prospects in the fall's midterm elections.

    The statement said the GOP leaders are committed to renewing the law "as soon as possible." ...

    "The speaker's had a standing rule that nothing would be voted on unless there's a majority of the majority," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who led the objections. "It was pretty clear at the meeting that the majority of the majority wasn't there." -- Chron.com | House Delays Renewal of Voting Rights Act

    Voting Rights Act to be considered today

    The House will take up the Voting Rights Act renewal today with two amendments detailed in this Rules Committee report.

    June 20, 2006

    "Proactive bailout"?

    Rick Hasen writes on his Election Law blog: I have been advocating a proactive bailout amendment for VRA renewal that I think can increase the chances that a renewed VRA passes constitutional muster without weakening the important protections of section 5. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland will be offering this amendment on proactive bailout today to the House Rules Committee. That committee will determine if the amendment gets offered on the floor of the House during the vote on VRA renewal on Thursday. His office also has issued this explanation of the proposed amendment. -- Election Law: Hasen: Proactive Bailout Amendment to Be Offered in House Rules Committee

    I commented to Rick: The problem with "proactive" bailout provisions such as Westmoreland proposes is the lack of understanding about who has the most opportunity, ability, and incentive to gather evidence proving the matters called for by the bailout provision.

    Take a look at the bailout requirement found in Section 4(a) of the VRA. Four requirements (A-C and E) are matters that can be found in the AG's files. Paragraph D requires the jurisdiction to show that it has not made any change that has not been submitted. How is the AG going to know that unless the Voting Section conducts an audit of every law, every regulation, every administrative bulletin implemented since 1964, 1968, or 1972? Paragraph F requires proof of the jurisdiction's affirmative steps beyond the prohibitions of Section 5 "changes" to have made things better for minorities. Again, how will the DOJ know this without doing a fact-intensive investigation "on the ground"?

    I have been involved with some preclearance requests on behalf of jurisdictions. I know it is tough just trying to get some small places to find all the election procedures they changed so we can tell the DOJ that previous practices have all been precleared.

    Rick responded: I think your argument proves my point. A proactive bailout proposal shifts the incentive to the DOJ (or rather, mandates the DOJ) to work in gathering this information. I want the DOJ to conduct those audits, with the cooperation of the local jurisdiction. If a local jurisdiction does not want to cooperate with a fact intensive investigation that DOJ conducts, then the jurisdiction will remain covered.

    Now perhaps the argument is that DOJ doesn't have the resources to do this. If that's right, then give DOJ more resources in the VRA bill. And if the argument is that it would take longer than a year to go through all the jurisdictions, then the amendment could be reworked to require DOJ to begin with those jurisdictions that appear most likely to be able to bailout, and to complete a review within three years of the Act of all jurisdictions.

    Gerry Hebert (a/k/a Mr. Bailout) commented on the Campaign Legal Center Blog: I doubt seriously that the Attorney General has the staff or resources to undertake the investigations contemplated by Rick’s proposal. Like the proposals to extend Section 5 nationwide, they would tax the DOJ resources beyond the breaking point.

    My final comment (for now): How large a swarm of federal officials will it take to "proactively" demand to see the records of all the myriad of governments we have in the VRA-covered jurisdictions? Of course, they will all be nice and say, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you." Take Alabama for example. It had in 1997 67 county governments, 127 school boards (70+ of which were popularly elected), and 446 municipalities, according to the 1997 Governments Integrated Directory online query system.

    After they get through with that, will they proactively come around and do my taxes for me? Or better yet, for you?

    Florida: Hispanics will drop the dilution against Kissimmee

    The Orlando Sentinel reports: Demographics have nullified the need for a class-action suit over city elections, those behind a federal complaint said Monday.

    The suit alleging Hispanic voting power is diluted was filed in August, but attorneys for the four residents behind it asked a federal judge in Orlando for a voluntary dismissal earlier this month. The judge will rule on the motion at a later date.

    "The lawsuit is unsustainable," said Armando Ramirez, one of the four residents behind the complaint. Because the number of registered Hispanic voters outnumbers white voters by about 900, he said that the suit "doesn't fall within federal guidelines. Instead of waiting for the judge to tell us that, we directed our attorneys to" seek the dismissal.

    The four originally alleged that the "at-large" method of electing city commissioners dilutes the power of the Hispanic vote and violates a section of the Voting Rights Act. They sought to force Kissimmee to elect commissioners by district instead. -- Hispanics ask to drop Kissimmee vote suit - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News Hispanics ask to drop Kissimmee vote suit - Orlando Sentinel : Osceola County News

    June 14, 2006

    Pam Karlan on Congressional power to renew the VRA

    The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) is pleased to distribute an analysis by Pamela S. Karlan examining Congress’s power to extend the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Professor Karlan is the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, Stanford Law School and Co-Director of the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.

    May 30, 2006

    Alabama: federal court dismisses Section 5 action for lack of standing

    On Friday, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama dismissed a challenge to the practice of the Secretary of State of encouraging registrars to bar applicants convicted of any felony from registering. The State Constitution bars only those convicted of felonies involving moral turpitude. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and I had brought suit under Section of the Voting Rights Act to require the Secretary of State to cease this practice until she obtained preclearance for it. You can download the file here.


    Hasen on VRA renewal

    Rick Hasen writes on Findlaw.com: Important provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) expire next year, unless renewed by Congress. The good news is that a vigorous debate is taking place over whether, and how, the relevant VRA provisions should be amended before they are renewed. The bad news is that this debate is taking place among academics, not among Members of Congress.

    Rather than considering changes to the relevant VRA provisions, Congress seems poised to simply renew them in their present form for another 25 years . But that move could embolden the new Roberts Supreme Court to strike the Act down as unconstitutional. Moreover, a simple renewal squanders an opportunity for Congress to take a more serious look at how it can fix its voting laws to better protect minority voting rights in the Twenty-first Century.

    Before it closes the "deal" on VRA renewal, Members of Congress should look more carefully at what can, and should, be done. -- FindLaw's Writ - Hasen: What Congress Should Consider Before Renewing the Voting Rights Act A Chance to Preempt Supreme Court Invalidation, and Better Protect Minority Voting Rights

    May 23, 2006

    California: "Save Loma Linda" asks court to reconsider invalidation of its petitions

    The San Bernadino Sun reports: A conservation group is asking a judge to reverse her earlier decision invalidating an initiative that sought to impose strict limits on hillside and citywide development.

    The attorney representing Save Loma Linda last week filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss her March ruling that the group's initiative petition was invalid because it was not translated into Spanish.

    U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins should reverse her decision because it was based on a ruling in another case that is now being reconsidered by a higher court, said Kathy Glendrange, Save Loma Linda spokeswoman.

    A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that recall petitions in Orange County had to be translated into Spanish as a requirement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. -- San Bernardino County Sun - Group seeks reversal of ruling

    Massachusetts: Springfield unlikely to settle vote dilution suit

    The Springfield Republican reports: City Solicitor Edward M. Pikula said last night that the city has a strong case in a voting rights lawsuit pending in federal court and settling the suit is an unlikely option. ...

    Three organizations and seven minority city residents filed the suit April 5, 2005, in U.S. District Court. They say the at-large system is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1973, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the 15th Amendment.

    Plaintiffs want ward representation added to the City Council and School Committee.

    Otherwise, they say, Hispanic and black voters who don't live in large enough numbers in all areas of the city are unable to elect their preferred candidates. -- Council receives lawsuit update

    May 22, 2006

    The intersection of immigration policy and VRA language provisions

    Deroy Murdock writes at National Review Online: “The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans,” President Bush declared in his Oval Office address on immigration reform. “English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery, from cleaning offices to running offices, from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own.”

    As the son of legal, Costa Rican immigrants whose mother learned English, taught in the Los Angeles city schools, and earned a masters degree from Pepperdine University, I found the president’s words pertinent, touching, and heartwarming.

    How crushing, then, to discover Bush’s remarks at jarring variance with federal policy. Rather than persuade immigrants to speak English and flourish—as my parents did, to their children’s ultimate benefit—the Bush administration actively steers immigrants away from English while actually prosecuting those who expect immigrants to speak America’s (and Earth’s) lingua franca.

    From ballot boxes to hospitals, workplaces, and even the Internet, President Bush’s words and deeds are perpendicular to each other.

    *The Bush administration aggressively promotes multilingual voting. “The Civil Rights Division has made the vigorous enforcement of the [1965] Voting Rights Act’s language-minority requirements one of its primary missions,” explained Rena J. Comisac, principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, to the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee on May 4. “Since 2001, this administration has filed more minority language cases under sections 4 and 203 than in the entire previous 26 years in which these provisions have been applicable,” she bragged. But DOJ will not rest! “And the pace is accelerating,” Comisac continued, “with more cases filed and resolved in 2005 than in any previous year, breaking the previous record set in 2004 . . . The enforcement actions include cases in Florida, California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. Among these cases were the first suits ever filed under section 203 to protect Filipino and Vietnamese voters,” who vote in those tongues. “Our enforcement program shows the continuing need for the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and we support their reauthorization,” Comisac concluded. The Bush Administration thus supports legislation to extend multilingual voting through 2031. -- Deroy Murdock on Immigration on National Review Online

    May 21, 2006

    Mississippi: Southern GOP'ers stalling VRA renewal

    Gannett News Service and Clarion-Ledger report: A group of Southern Republicans, including a Mississippi congressman, have stalled House leadership plans to renew key provisions of the Voting Rights Act before lawmakers recess for the Memorial Day holiday.

    About 20 GOP members led by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia met Thursday to discuss their concerns about certain provisions of the act they say are no longer needed or impose a financial burden on states.

    First District Rep. Roger Wicker said he did not attend the meeting because of scheduling conflicts. Wicker, a Republican from Tupelo, shares some of the concerns with the lawmakers who stalled renewal of the provisions.

    Like those lawmakers, Wicker is troubled by a provision that requires states with a history of discrimination to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before making election changes. Known as pre-clearance, it applies to 16 states, including Mississippi and most other Southern states. -- Voting Rights Act stalled - The Clarion-Ledger

    May 18, 2006

    South Dakota: report details state's voting-rights shortcomings

    The Rapid City Journal reports: American Indians in South Dakota continued to be denied fundamental voting rights, even as the U.S. Congress works to renew right-to-vote guarantees that are more than 40 years old, members of a civil-rights coalition said Wednesday.

    “In the past 40 years, South Dakota has become a battleground for American Indian voting rights,” said Janine Pease, vice president of American Indian Affairs at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont.

    Pease, a member of the Crow Indian Tribe, is the author of “Voting Rights in South Dakota 1982-2006,” a compilation of allegations and examples of discriminatory actions and policies toward American Indians in the state. She spoke to reporters during a teleconference conference call that also included former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights.

    The report by Pease was commissioned by the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights Education Fund. It comes as Congress faces the renewal of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the landmark legislation signed by President Lyndon Johnson to break down barriers to minority voting. -- The Rapid City Journal

    May 16, 2006

    Mississippi: Jackson Co. Dems will use paper ballots

    AP reports: The U.S. Justice Department has given Jackson County Democrats permission to use paper ballots in the June 6 party primary, local party chairman Melton Harris says.

    Harris told county supervisors on Monday that the department also is allowing the county to reduce the number of precincts from about 60 to 21.

    David Blount, spokesman for the Mississippi Secretary of State's office, said Tuesday that new electronic touch-screen voting machines also will be available for use in Jackson County precincts in the primary.

    The reduction in the number of precincts will save the county money on a primary that's expected to have a light voter turnout. The primary is to select a Democrat to oppose longtime Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who is from Jackson County. -- AP Wire | 05/16/2006 | Dems in one coast county get OK for paper ballots in June

    May 10, 2006

    Alabama: Sessions is "proud" of Alabama's accomplishments

    The Birmingham News reports: The Voting Rights Act and its protections for minority voters may no longer be necessary in parts of the South and Alabama, but Congress should consider expanding it to northern cities and states, Sen. Jeff Sessions said Tuesday.

    The civil rights-era law is up for renewal this year, and a group of leading Republicans and Democrats are actively supporting its extension. Sessions is not among them, and instead is advising caution because parts of the law have become burdensome and irrelevant, he said.

    "We don't want a fight over this," Sessions said in an interview after a congressional hearing on the topic. "Alabama is proud of its accomplishments, but we have the right to ask why other areas of the country are not covered by it." ...

    The National Commission on the Voting Rights Act reported recently that the U.S. Department of Justice since 1982 has sent 626 letters objecting to voting changes in those places covered by Section 5. Since 1969, the Justice Department has objected 102 times to changes in Alabama, according to the agency's Web site, with the most recent in 2000 over an Alabaster annexation. -- Sessions advises Voting Act caution

    May 4, 2006

    VRA hearings: testimony today

    Today's hearing in the House Judiciary Committee (Subcommittee on the Constitution) will hear from Roger Clegg, Gerry Hebert, and Debo Adegbile. Click on these links to read their testimony.

    May 3, 2006

    Mississippi: DOJ sues for discrimination against whites

    AP reports: Ike Brown is a legend in Mississippi politics, a fast-talking operative both loved and hated for his ability to turn out black voters and get his candidates into office.

    Now, he's at the heart of a federal lawsuit that's about to turn the 1965 Voting Rights Act on its end.

    For the first time, the U.S. Justice Department is using the law to allege racial discrimination against whites.

    Brown, head of the Democratic Party in Mississippi's rural Noxubee County, is accused of waging a campaign to defeat white voters and candidates with tactics including intimidation and coercion. Also named in the lawsuit is Circuit Clerk Carl Mickens, who has agreed to refrain from rejecting white voters' absentee ballots considered defective while accepting similar ballots from black voters. -- Worldandnation: For first time, 1965 act used to protect white voting rights

    Leaders of both parties introduce bill to reauthorize Voting Rights Act provisions

    AP reports: Bilingual interpreters and foreign language ballots at polling places are becoming an issue in the reauthorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, legislation that has won rare election-year agreement between Republicans and Democrats.

    A group of conservatives say some portions of the act are outdated, including provisions requiring bilingual interpreters and ballots in several languages.

    But in a rare shoulder-to-shoulder show of unity, leaders of both parties pledged to push the renewal past the opposition this year in an effort to safeguard the right to vote.

    There was another reason the bill is headed for passage: Election-year politics. Republicans hope it will inoculate GOP candidates against charges of racism stemming from controversial proposals to overhaul immigration policy. Democrats believe it will energize minorities who are a major component of the party's base. -- AP Wire | 05/02/2006 | Parties unite to renew Voting Rights Act

    May 1, 2006

    Mississippi: federal court hearing vote dilution suit today

    The Clarion-Ledger reports: A three-judge federal panel in Jackson will hear a lawsuit today that says the 2002 state legislative redistricting plan gerrymandered Senate District 45 to remove any chance of a black being elected.

    "This should have never been approved," said Forrest County Supervisor Rod Woullard, the main plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state.

    The federal panel will decide if the changes violate the Voting Rights Act, which was created during the civil rights era to guarantee fair election practices nationwide.

    The suit contends that minority voting strength in the redrawn district is 20.42 percent, compared with 42.96 percent before redistricting. -- Judges to hear redistrict suit - The Clarion-Ledger

    April 22, 2006

    Georgia: DOJ preclears re-redistricting; lawsuit already pending

    The Athens Banner-Herald reports: The U.S. Department of Justice signed off late Thursday on a redistricting plan that would split Clarke County into two Senate districts, setting the stage for a lawsuit challenging the new districts filed earlier Thursday by state Rep. Jane Kidd, D-Athens.

    Federal approval came less than four days before the qualifying period, when candidates officially register to run for office, which begins Monday morning. If the justice department had not approved the maps by then, elections would have been held using the old districts.

    But the maps are not yet final. Attorneys are seeking a hearing on the lawsuit, filed in an Atlanta federal court, early next week, Kidd said Friday. A date has yet to be set, but at that hearing, attorneys will ask to either move back the qualifying period until the lawsuit is settled, or will seek a preliminary ruling to hold the elections using the old maps, she said. ..

    Kidd's lawsuit argues that the redistricting was unconstitutional because it did not occur in a census year, it creates uneven representation by changing the populations of the districts, and it limits the freedom of speech of Democrats who make up the majority in Clarke County by diluting their voting power. -- OnlineAthens.com | News | Feds OK map that splits A-C 04/22/06

    April 10, 2006

    Georgia: More on von Spakovsky

    The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports: A Bush appointee from Georgia who played a role in upholding the state's controversial photo voter ID requirement held an inappropriate — and secretive — bias in favor of the law, a voting rights group fighting the measure contends.

    Further, the group says the U.S. Department of Justice should take steps to make sure the views of Hans von Spakovsky, a former lawyer for the department, do not influence pending consideration of a new voter ID requirement passed by the Georgia Legislature this year.

    According to an April 7 letter sent by the ACLU Voting Rights Project to the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, von Spakovsky wrote an article last spring under the anonymous name "Publius" in the Texas Review of Law & Politics. At the time he allegedly wrote "Securing the Integrity of American Elections: The Need for Change," von Spakovsky was counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights and participated in the review of Georgia's voter ID law.

    The article appeared before the Department of Justice approved House Bill 244, a law passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2005 that requires voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls. The ACLU, League of Women Voters and other groups sued to block the law, arguing it could suppress minority voting participation. A federal judge temporarily halted enforcement in October. -- Voter ID ruling bias charged | ajc.com

    Georgia: ACLU asks for DOJ for relief against "Publius's" participation in preclearance of voter I.D. law

    Rick Hasen recently revealed that FEC Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky was the anonymous "Publius" who wrote Securing the Integrity of American Elections: The Need for Change, 9 Texas Review of Law and Politics 277 (2005). Rick points out that the official bio for von Spakovsky states, "Commissioner Hans A. von Spakovsky was nominated to the Federal Election Commission by President George W. Bush on December 15, 2005 and was appointed on January 4, 2006. Prior to his appointment, Commissioner von Spakovsky served as Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice, where he provided expertise and advice on voting and election issues, including of the Help America Vote Act of 2002."

    One of the issues discussed in the Publius article was the question of the effect of voter I.D. requirements on turnout in, of all places, Georgia. (As my Georgia relatives would have said, "Well, don't that beat all?")

    That means that Spakovsky was "counseling" about election issues at DOJ when it was considering the Georgia voter I.D. law for preclearance. (It was precleared on 26 August 2005.) And, at the same time, he was doing his own research and publishing it under the name "Publius."

    You may remember that the Washington Post reported on that the career staff in the DOJ Voting Section had recommended against preclearance but were overruled by John Tanner, chief of the Voting Section. (Later Bradley Schlotzman, who had been acting assistant attorney general for civil rights when the preclearance occurred, wrote a letter to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, claiming the leaked memo "was merely a draft.")

    The folks at the ACLU Southern Regional Office apparently read the post and have now written this letter to the Justice Department asking that it undertake several actions to undo the damage caused by von Spakovsky's secret bias in favor of the voter I.D. law. My summary would be but a pale shadow of the richly nuanced argument of the ACLU. So, read it yourself.

    March 30, 2006

    Alabama: court hears argument on Mobile special election law

    The Mobile Register reports on my argument yesterday: An attorney representing three south Alabama lawmakers told a panel of three federal judges Wednesday that Gov. Bob Riley broke the law when he named Juan Chastang to the Mobile County Commission last November.

    The legislators sued the governor in a Montgomery federal court, saying Riley failed to follow a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires the U.S. Justice Department to review in advance any changes to Alabama election practices.

    Riley maintains that there was no change, so preclearance was not needed for him to fill the District 1 post, emptied when Sam Jones became Mobile's mayor in October.

    The suit was filed by state Reps. Yvonne Kennedy and James Buskey, both D-Mobile, and Bill Clark, D-Prichard. They asked the court to order a belated Justice Department review. If clearance is not granted, they asked the court to set a special election for the seat and remove Chastang, a Republican, from office. -- Attorneys spar over appointment

    Documents from the case can be downloaded from my office website.

    March 29, 2006

    Georgia: groups ask DOJ to block voter I.D. bill

    AP reports: Civil rights groups have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to block a new Georgia law that requires a photo ID to cast a ballot.

    More than two dozen civil rights, community, religious and citizen advocacy groups sent a letter to the Justice Department Tuesday.

    The law was signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in January but the Justice Department must endorse it before it can be enforced. Even if the Justice Department approves it, a federal judge could stall the law, which Georgia leaders would like to have in place starting with the July 18 primaries. An earlier version of the voter ID law was halted by a federal judge in Rome, Ga., in October.

    It makes Georgia one of only seven states that require a photo ID to cast a ballot. The law requires a voter to present one of five types of government-issued cards. The law eliminates several forms of identification currently accepted at the polls, from Social Security cards and birth certificates to utility bills. -- AP Wire | 03/29/2006 | Civil rights groups urge feds to block voter ID law

    California: Monterey Co. removes Measure from ballot because of lack of Spanish initiative petitions

    The Monterey Herald reports: Monterey County supervisors, despite a barrage of personal barbs, decided Tuesday to remove Measure C, a ballot measure regarding the controversial Rancho San Juan development, from the county's June ballot.

    The 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Dave Potter dissenting, sets up a new round of lawsuits over a blossoming conflict between county land-use policies and compliance with Spanish-language requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act.

    Besides the supervisors' vote to pull the Measure C referendum off the ballot, there were other developments Tuesday on the litigation front:

    • Two county Latinos filed a federal lawsuit challenging Measure C because supporters of the ballot measure didn't circulate referendum petitions in both English and Spanish.

    Their suit mirrors almost exactly a case decided last week by U.S. District Court Judge James Ware, who ruled the controversial General Plan Initiative, which qualified for the ballot after another petition drive, violated minority language requirements of the Voting Rights Act. -- Monterey County Herald | 03/29/2006 | Board braces for Measure C fight

    VRA extension likely to pass

    The New York Times reports: A multiyear campaign by civil rights leaders to reauthorize the act, parts of which expire in August 2007, appears to be on the verge of success.

    Liberal supporters and conservative opponents say they expect it to be reauthorized and, probably, even strengthened in coming weeks, well ahead of the deadline.

    "The Republicans know that if they question the wisdom of reauthorization the Democrats will relentlessly demagogue them on the issue," said Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes reauthorization. "They'll be called racist and accused of wanting to turn back the clock on civil rights. The Republicans would really like to have this off the table."

    The Voting Rights Act, a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was intended to break down barriers that had kept blacks from registering to vote, mostly in the Deep South. It prohibits officials from disenfranchising blacks through gerrymandering or vote rigging. -- Extension of Voting Act Is Likely Despite Criticism - New York Times

    March 26, 2006

    Indians still want the Voting Rights Act's protection

    AP reports: Despite these achievements, tribes point to restrictive voting laws around the country. South Dakota's new voter identification law -- passed after Johnson's election -- requires residents to show photo identification at the polls, a problem for many on the reservations who don't have IDs. The law permits those without identification to sign an affidavit, but opponents argue there is confusion about what is allowed. The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged other voter identification statutes seen as restrictive to Indians in Albuquerque, N.M. and Minnesota.

    "The tribes are still very concerned about the targeted efforts to disenfranchise their vote," says Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. "We are having to change a mind-set that exists."

    Others imply the problems are exaggerated. Chris Nelson, South Dakota's Republican secretary of state, focuses on the positive -- a huge differential in American Indian turnout between 2000 and 2004, after two major Senate races -- and says he has seen little evidence of voter intimidation.

    Nelson says he is even willing to support removing some federal protections on South Dakota's reservations. Shannon and Todd Counties -- historically home to the state's largest population of American Indians -- are included in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, meaning that any major changes in election policy there must be federally approved. -- Sioux City Journal: American Indians still face obstacles in voting

    March 24, 2006

    Ohio: Justice Department to sue Euclid

    NPR's Morning Edition reports: The Justice Department is planning to file a voting rights suit against a city in Ohio. The last time the department brought a lawsuit alleging a pattern of discrimination against black voters was in 2001. -- NPR : Ohio City Investigated for Voting Discrimination

    March 17, 2006

    Conference announcement: "Making Every Vote Count: A Colloquium on Election Reform Legislation"

    On behalf of the Policy Research Institute for the Region at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the Fels Institute for Government at the University of Pennsylvania, we would like to invite you to attend a conference on election reform that we are hosting this spring. The conference, titled "Making Every Vote Count: A Colloquium on Election Reform Legislation" will take place at Princeton on April 6th and 7th, and will bring leading figures in the scholarly, policy, and advocacy communities together to consider the myriad urgent yet delicate questions currently confronting the nation's electoral systems. For attorneys, the conference will also count as CLE credit. There is no charge to attend.

    "Making Every Vote Count," will focus on three particularly important federal laws -- the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold), the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – with a special emphasis on the implications of these acts for practice and policy in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania region. Among the questions we hope to address are:

    • “How has the McCain-Feingold Act both limited and driven policymaking at the state level;”

    • “In what ways does HAVA challenge common definitions of voting equity, and what are the implications of those challenges for the future of policymaking;"

    • "How might the Voting Rights Act best reflect minority voters’ concerns, in the renewal process and beyond;"

    • “What are some important goals in election reform that both HAVA and the VRA fail to address?”

    Several pieces of specially commissioned research will provide the foundation for the event. Authors who will be presenting their work include Ned Foley of Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, Richard Pildes of New York University School of Law, Richard Briffault of Columbia Law School, and Guy Charles of the University of Minnesota Law School. Along with panels based on these papers, there will be roundtable discussions with critical regional election officials, as well as keynote addresses by leading figures in the election reform movement, including former EAC Chair DeForest Soaries.

    For more information, please contact Andy Rachlin at arachlin@princeton.edu or (609)258-9531. To register, please go to http://region.princeton.edu/conference_20.html or contact Georgette Harrison at gharriso@princeton.edu or (609)258-9065. Please register online if at all possible, as it makes it easier for us to provide updates on the conference as the date nears. Note that the conference will begin at 9:15 a.m. each day and continue until mid-afternoon.

    We hope you will be able to join us for what is sure to be a timely and provocative event.

    March 8, 2006

    ACLU pushes for VRA renewal

    AP reports: The Voting Rights Act would be severely weakened if provisions such as federal clearance of some local election changes and protections for voters who do not speak English are not renewed, activists say.

    That's why the American Civil Liberties Union is involved in a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness about the importance of the historic act, passed in 1965, and to encourage Congress to reauthorize expiring sections of the law. The provisions in the law expire in the summer of 2007, but Congress is already starting to consider the reauthorization.

    "If there's not a major push for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, many of the advances we've seen in the past two decades will be severely undermined," LaShawn Warren, legislative council for the ACLU, said Tuesday.

    Some conservative lawmakers have voiced opposition to renewing the clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act.

    That provision requires local officials in nine states to get any changes to voting practices or procedures cleared beforehand by federal officials to ensure that local officials do not try to discriminate against minorities. -- Voting Rights Act Gets ACLU Push to Renew

    March 2, 2006

    Texas: another take on the re-redistricting argument

    The Washinton Post reports: The Supreme Court hosted its own performance of "Beauty and the Beast" this week. On Tuesday, it heard the plea of Anna Nicole Smith, the former stripper and Playboy Playmate seeking a share of her deceased husband's fortune. Yesterday, the justices debated the aesthetics of three congressional districts in Texas.

    "Particularly grotesque shapes," judged Justice John Paul Stevens. "Much less compact" than before.

    Justice Stephen Breyer offered a partially concurring opinion. "A long walking stick is what it looks like . . . It's not a circle . . . It's not absolutely terrible."

    Lawyer Ted Cruz, defending the state of Texas, found the map much more pleasing than the old one, which he said had "fingers" coming out of it. "It's not like they snake around," Cruz argued, rattling off what he called the districts' "perimeter to area score" and using fancy words like "equipopulosity."

    Breyer demanded a more precise description of the shapes. "Either it is reasonably compact or it isn't," he said. -- The Justices Look at Some Shapely . . . Congressional Districts

    Texas: Supreme Court argument on the re-redistricting case

    The New York Times reports: Texas Democrats had their day in the Supreme Court on Wednesday to challenge the unusual middecade redistricting of the state's Congressional delegation that led to the loss of five Democratic seats and helped solidify Republican control of Congress.

    While the Democrats may not come away completely empty-handed, it appeared unlikely by the end of the intense two-hour argument that a majority of the court would overturn the 2003 redistricting plan, or any other plan, for that matter, as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

    The new districts were drawn under a plan that was engineered by Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, then the House majority leader, after Republicans gained control of both houses of the Texas Legislature. And they are not necessarily invulnerable. Several justices, including, most significantly, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who may be in a position to cast the deciding vote, expressed concern with aspects of how particular districts were dismantled and reconfigured.

    As a result, it appeared possible that the court would find a violation of the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution's equal protection guarantee in the way the new lines were drawn in South Texas. The legislators removed 100,000 Mexican-American residents of Laredo from a district in which the Republican incumbent, Representative Henry Bonilla, had become more vulnerable with each passing election, while creating a new Latino-majority district in a narrow strip running 300 miles from Austin to the Mexican border. -- Supreme Court Justices Express Concern Over Aspects of Some Texas Redistricting - New York Times

    February 23, 2006

    Lawyers' Committee Report on VRA Renewal

    The Lawyers’ Committee is pleased to announce the release of the Report of the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act, Protecting Minority Voters: The Voting Rights Act, 1982-2005

    .

    Alabama: how the VRA helped fair elections in Bayou LaBatre

    DeWayne Wickham writes in USA Today: When Asian-American residents of Bayou La Batre, a small Alabama town that was made famous by Forrest Gump, went to the polls in August 2004, they might have had one of the film's most memorable lines on their mind. "Momma always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get, " Gump, the title character in the Oscar-winning movie, said prophetically in the opening scene.

    After being urged by several candidates to vote in the municipal election, many of the Southeast Asian-Americans in the town of about 3,000 had their ballots challenged. Nearly 50 of them were forced to fill out paper ballots and have another registered voter vouch for them.

    Despite these hurdles, Phuong Tan Huynh — the first Asian-American to run for City Council there — defeated Jackie Ladnier in the October runoff, but only after the Justice Department intervened.

    Tuesday, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a non-partisan group, released a 187-page report that argues the need for reauthorizing the sections of the Voting Rights Act that are set to expire next year. One of them empowered the Justice Department to send observers to monitor Bayou La Batre's runoff election.

    Though the law "has accomplished much during its first 40 years, more remains to be done in order to protect the rights of racial and ethnic minorities to fully and equally participate in the electoral process," the report concludes. -- USATODAY.com - Why renew Voting Rights Act? Ala. town provides answer

    February 10, 2006

    Illinois: Chicago Heights ordered to change form of government

    The Chicago Tribune reports: In a case that has gone on for 19 years, a federal judge has ordered Chicago Heights to redraw its voting districts and restructure its government to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    U.S. District Judge David H. Coar's decision means the city will go from having a six-member City Council to a seven-member board of aldermen.

    The decision also weakens the mayoral powers by removing the ability to appoint department heads, make decisions without the council and cast the tie-breaking vote, officials said.

    If Coar's decision is not appealed by the city, it will end litigation that is considered one of the longest-running cases involving violations to the Voting Rights Act, an official from the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project said. -- Chicago Tribune | Chicago Heights overhaul ordered

    February 6, 2006

    Texas: DOJ defends Texas re-redistricting against VRA claims

    The Dallas Morning News reports: The Bush administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to ignore arguments by minority voters in Texas that a contentious redistricting by Republican state legislators in 2003 violated the Voting Rights Act.

    In a 35-page friend-of-the-court brief filed last week, the U.S. Justice Department argued that minority representation was preserved and even enhanced by the Republican reconfiguration and that Hispanics may be over-represented in some parts of the state.

    Democrats and minorities have contested the reconfigured map, thus far unsuccessfully, as an unprecedented power grab by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. They argue that Republicans misused data from the 2000 census to tailor a mid-decade partisan gerrymandering that maximized Republican voter influence at the expense of incumbent Democrats. ...

    In its brief, the Justice Department includes no position on excessive partisanship or various questions about the use of census data. It focuses instead on whether the current Texas districts violate the Voting Rights Act. -- Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Washington

    January 31, 2006

    Politicization of Section 5 Decisionmaking

    The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy announces: The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) is pleased to distribute an analysis by Mark A. Posner, examining recent administration by the Justice Department of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Mr. Posner served as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice from 1980 to 2003, and assisted in supervising the Division’s reviews of Section 5 preclearance submissions from the mid-1980s to 1995. He currently serves as Adjunct Professor of Law at American University’s Washington College of Law and the University of Maryland School of Law.

    Over the next year, Congress is expected to decide whether to renew Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most effective civil rights protections ever enacted. Section 5, which will expire in August 2007 unless renewed, requires particular states and localities to obtain federal approval (“preclearance”) whenever they enact or seek to administer a change in any aspect of their election law or procedure. Recent reports suggest that some significant precelarance decisions have been driven by partisan political interests, rather than good faith application of the law to the facts. In his white paper, "The Politicization of Justice Department Decisionmaking Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act: Is it a Problem and What Should Congress Do?," Mark Posner takes a hard look at the politicization question and ways Congress can address this concern in renewing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acts.

    January 23, 2006

    DOJ Voting Section still in controversy

    The Washington Post reports: The Justice Department's voting section, a small and usually obscure unit that enforces the Voting Rights Act and other federal election laws, has been thrust into the center of a growing debate over recent departures and controversial decisions in the Civil Rights Division as a whole.

    Many current and former lawyers in the section charge that senior officials have exerted undue political influence in many of the sensitive voting-rights cases the unit handles. Most of the department's major voting-related actions over the past five years have been beneficial to the GOP, they say, including two in Georgia, one in Mississippi and a Texas redistricting plan orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) in 2003.

    The section also has lost about a third of its three dozen lawyers over the past nine months. Those who remain have been barred from offering recommendations in major voting-rights cases and have little input in the section's decisions on hiring and policy.

    "If the Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division is viewed as political, there is no doubt that credibility is lost," former voting-section chief Joe Rich said at a recent panel discussion in Washington. He added: "The voting section is always subject to political pressure and tension. But I never thought it would come to this." -- Politics Alleged In Voting Cases

    January 16, 2006

    Remember Martin Luther King

    When I say, "Rev. Martin Luther King's speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington," you probably think of the "I Have a Dream" speech. But in 1957 there was a March on Washington, and King made a speech. In that speech he said,

    So our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote. Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the southern states and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence. Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient misdeeds of blood-thirsty mobs into calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will, and send to the sacred halls of Congressmen who will not sign a Southern Manifesto, because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice. Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will "do justly and love mercy," and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the divine. Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court's decision of May 17, 1954.

    California: VRA-covered counties seek change in VRA

    Scripps Howard News Service reports: Several San Joaquin Valley counties remain ensnared in a voting rights law originally written to stop anti-black discrimination in the Deep South.

    Now, some hope to change that.

    With lobbyists on board, and Congress preparing to rewrite the far-reaching Voting Rights Act, Merced County officials are trying to finally escape the election restrictions that have bound them for three decades.

    If successful, Merced County would no longer need Justice Department approval for the myriad precinct and ballot changes that precede every election. Merced County's campaign, in turn, could shake up things for Kings, Yuba and Monterey counties _ the other three in the state that are likewise closely regulated under the Voting Rights Act. -- Scripps Howard News Service

    Of course, the counties could have spent that lobbying money on cleaning up their act and getting a "bailout" under the present law.

    December 19, 2005

    Florida: Osceola Co. ponders Hispanic district

    The Orlando Sentinel reports: Osceola County officials wonder how they can satisfy the concerns of the U.S. Justice Department about Hispanic voting rights without creating a commission district so oddly shaped that it might invite legal challenges.

    The county has two Hispanic-rich population pockets -- Poinciana on its west side and Buenaventura Lakes, northeast of Kissimmee. These communities are home to 80 percent of the county's 42,000 Hispanic voters.

    But neither area appears to have enough registered voters to form a district by itself, suggesting that a majority Hispanic district might have to connect the two.

    "Poinciana is on one end, and BVL is on the other," Commissioner Ken Shipley said recently. "I'm not sure you could gerrymander a line that could give you a predominantly Hispanic district . . . and do it legally."

    In its July lawsuit against the county, the Justice Department says Osceola could give Hispanics more influence at the polls by switching from countywide elections to a single-member district format, with the districts designed so a Hispanic candidate is likely to be elected. -- Experts: Hispanic district is challenge - OrlandoSentinel.com:

    December 12, 2005

    DOJ to staff attorneys: don't make a recommendation in VRA cases

    The Washington Post reported on Saturday: The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics, congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue said.

    Disclosure of the change comes amid growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas and Georgia that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.

    The policy was implemented in the Georgia case, said a Justice employee who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation. A staff memo urged rejecting the state's plan to require photo identification at the polls because it would harm black voters.

    But under the new policy, the recommendation was stripped out of that document and was not forwarded to higher officials in the Civil Rights Division, several sources familiar with the incident said.

    The policy helps explain why the Justice Department has portrayed an Aug. 25 staff memo obtained by The Washington Post as an "early draft," even though it was dated one day before the department gave "preclearance," or approval, to the Georgia plan. The state's plan has since been halted on constitutional grounds by a federal judge who likened it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax. -- Staff Opinions Banned In Voting Rights Cases

    December 7, 2005

    "Refocusing on Race"

    Grant Hayden has posted on SSRN an article, "Refocusing on Race." Here is the abstract: This paper, prepared for a symposium on voting rights in the George Washington Law Review, is a call to refocus attention on the role of race in politics. In recent years, many voting rights scholars have shifted their attention away from the plight of minority voters. Indeed, the issue of race came up in this symposium only obliquely, if at all, as part of a discussion of other issues. And this is more than a bit unusual, for race has been a driving force in the development of much of the law of democracy over the last several decades.

    Of course, there is more to politics than race. The 2000 presidential election fiasco, coupled with the passage of the Help America Vote Act and predictions (mostly correct, it turns out) of a close presidential election in 2004, made us focus on ballot access and integrity in a way that we haven't since the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Significant new legislation and Supreme Court opinions in the areas of campaign finance and partisan gerrymandering in the last couple of years have made those issues especially relevant. And when it comes to the law of politics, we all recognize the need to strike while the iron is hot - and ballot access, campaign finance, and partisan gerrymandering are certainly the hot issues of the last election.

    But the relative inattention to the role of race in politics may reflect more than the temporary rise of other issues. It may also reflect a broader belief that, when it comes to race, we've done about all we can, especially when it comes to the larger, structural issues. The thinking goes something like this. The problem of minority access to the polls was largely resolved in the 1960s through enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The problem of minority vote dilution has proven more difficult, but the creation of majority-minority (or, more recently, coalition) districts under sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act has effectively remedied that issue. In any case, that remedy appears to have reached its limit, both because there are few places left to draw additional majority-minority districts and because the creation and maintenance of such districts may actually reduce minority influence in political affairs.

    The belief that problems of minority political participation have been solved, or perhaps more accurately, that there is not that much more we can do about them within existing legal structures, comes at a critical time. Several portions of the Voting Rights Act, including section 5, come up for reauthorization in 2007. Allowing section 5 to expire without replacing it with something comparable will eliminate one of the most flexible legal tools for countering the constantly evolving methods of effectively reducing meaningful minority political participation.

    This paper, then, is a plea to refocus attention on the issue of race. Part of this project must involve making sure we continue to set new goals as the old ones are achieved. Another part involves making sure that we recognize that some of the constraints that prevent minority groups from fully realizing their potential in a democratic society are of our own, or the Supreme Court's, making, and that what we have created, we can undo (or at least question). The paper, then, is a call to remain vigilant in policing the many intentional and unintentional ways in which the political rights of racial minorities may be infringed upon. And, more generally, it is an argument to think more broadly about the possibilities that may exist to improve minority participation. -- SSRN-Refocusing on Race by Grant Hayden

    Thanks to Legal Theory for the link.

    December 3, 2005

    Texas: U.S. House Dems want investigation of DOJ decision to preclear re-redistricting

    AP reports: The House Democratic leader wants an independent inquiry into the Justice Department's decision to approve a Texas redistricting plan that staff lawyers concluded diluted minority voting rights.

    Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the decision by senior officials to ignore the staff lawyers' conclusions - contained in a 73-page memo made public Friday - was political. ...

    Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was not in that post when the plan was approved, defended the department's decision. The senior officials who approved it were "confirmed by the Senate to exercise their own independent judgment" and their disagreement with other agency employees doesn't mean the final decision was wrong, he said.

    The decision appears to have been correct, Gonzales said, because a three-judge federal panel upheld the plan and Texas has since elected one additional black congressman. -- AP Wire | 12/03/2005 | Democratic House wants redistricting decision investigated

    December 2, 2005

    Texas: DOJ staff recommended objection to re-redistricting plan, but higher-ups overruled

    The Washington Post reports: Justice Department lawyers concluded that the landmark Texas congressional redistricting plan spearheaded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) violated the Voting Rights Act, according to a previously undisclosed memo obtained by The Washington Post. But senior officials overruled them and approved the plan.

    The memo, unanimously endorsed by six lawyers and two analysts in the department's voting section, said the redistricting plan illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power in two congressional districts. It also said the plan eliminated several other districts in which minorities had a substantial, though not necessarily decisive, influence in elections. ...

    The memo also found that Republican lawmakers and state officials who helped craft the proposal were aware it posed a high risk of being ruled discriminatory compared with other options.

    But the Texas legislature proceeded with the new map anyway because it would maximize the number of Republican federal lawmakers in the state, the memo said. The redistricting was approved in 2003, and Texas Republicans gained five seats in the U.S. House in the 2004 elections, solidifying GOP control of Congress. -- Justice Staff Saw Texas Districting As Illegal

    A sidebar to the story has links to the documents. I will add those later today.

    November 27, 2005

    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 18, 2005

    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

    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 14, 2005

    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

    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 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

    October 25, 2005

    Today's VRA Hearings

    AP reports: A Justice Department official urged Congress Tuesday to renew an essential part of the Voting Rights Act, saying it deterred local election changes that could discriminate against minorities. ...

    But Edward Blum, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the department's own figures prove that the requirement is outdated. He also cited a recent study that shows the turnout rate for black voters exceeds white voters in Georgia and that black candidates have little trouble getting elected there.

    Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., dismissed that argument, saying it was akin to doing away with meat inspectors just because there has been a drop in the number of infected cows. -- AP Wire | 10/25/2005 | DOJ official urges Voting Rights renewal

    October 23, 2005

    Wyoming: Indians sue Fremont County over at-large voting

    AP reports: A federal lawsuit filed Thursday by five American Indians challenging the system of at-large elections in Wyoming's Fremont County is part of a continuing, nationwide effort by Indians to assert their voting rights, attorneys say.

    Five members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes charge that Fremont County's system of at-large elections dilutes the Indian vote. Although nearly 20 percent of Fremont County's 35,800 residents are Indian, none of the five county commissioners is Indian.

    The plaintiffs are represented by local lawyers and Atlanta lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union. -- Arizona Daily Sun-

    October 22, 2005

    Miers' position evolved during the redistricting case in Dallas

    The Dallas Morning News reports: It was the city's most divisive issue of the time.

    Harriet Miers, a newly elected Dallas City Council member considered to be the choice of the business community, was thrust into the city's voting rights battle as a moderate voice who would become a swing vote. ...

    She said she also supported retaining two at-large seats but didn't want to fight the judge's order. Yet she later voted to see whether the alternate plan, approved by voters, would hold up on appeal.

    At the same time, she was one of the first two white council members to favor the court-ordered plan that minorities wanted.

    When Judge Buchmeyer ordered the city to hold council elections under the plan with all single-member districts, Ms. Miers again voted to appeal. As the swing vote on the issue, she said she wanted to see a legal test of the city's plan since voters approved it.

    Continue reading "Miers' position evolved during the redistricting case in Dallas" »

    Legal scholars grade Miers' paper -- and find it wanting

    The St. Petersburg Times reports: The White House has portrayed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers as well-versed in constitutional law, someone who could easily handle the unique legal turf of the nation's highest court.

    But law professors who have reviewed Miers' Senate questionnaire say it shows little work on important constitutional issues. And, perhaps more troublesome for Miers, they say she made a significant error explaining her experience, referring to a 14th Amendment protection that does not exist.

    "She is unquestionably an intelligent person and a competent lawyer," said Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago. "But she's had very little experience in constitutional law." ...

    In her initial 11/2-page response, Miers said she dealt with those issues as White House counsel, as a corporate lawyer and during her two years on the Dallas City Council.

    "For instance," she wrote, "when addressing a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the council had to be sure to comply with the proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause."

    But law professors said the clause, which is part of the 14th Amendment, does not have a "proportional representation requirement."

    "Whatever she is trying to say there, she didn't say it well," said Cheh, adding that the error "is worrisome because it might be a basic misunderstanding about the Voting Rights Act."

    Sunstein, a well-known constitutional scholar, said Miers may have made the mistake because of "a simple brain freeze, the sort that all human beings are subject to. On the other hand, it is at least mildly embarrassing to make a mistake of that magnitude." -- Worldandnation: Miers falls flat with scholars

    Georgia: state appeals order voiding voter i.d. law

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports: State attorneys on Friday asked a federal appeals court to overturn by Halloween a judge's order that puts a new voter ID law on hold — in time for poll workers to organize 350 county and city elections.

    In a flurry of motions and strong language at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, state attorneys accused U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy of wrongly substituting his judgment for that of the state Legislature, and of creating "a constitutional right to vote in person."

    State attorneys, who want the law back in place for the Nov. 8 municipal elections, said voters who didn't have the proper ID to vote in person could easily qualify for absentee ballots.

    Meanwhile, the state Board of Elections devolved into partisan theater over the voter ID suit — yet another sign of how politically charged the issue has been since the legislation was introduced this spring. The board's three controlling Republican members demanded that Democratic Secretary of State Cathy Cox step down from the suit, and one asked for her resignation. -- State appeals ruling that halts voter ID law

    October 18, 2005

    Georgia: federal court enjoins voter i.d. act

    Judge Harold Murphy has enjoined the Georgia law requiring in-person Voters to show photo IDs. Rick Hasen has some details. I will add more when I have a chance to read the opinion.

    The opinion is 123 pages long. It is on Pacer in 4 parts, but I had to divide it up for uploading. Here they are:

    Part 1a

    Part 1b

    Part 2a

    Part 2b

    Part 3a

    Part 3b

    Part 4a

    Part 4b

    October 17, 2005

    Former Sen. Mathias calls from VRA renewal

    The Capital reports: Key provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act must be renewed, said a former Republican senator from Maryland heading a panel created to document the need for the measures.

    Sen. Charles Mathias Jr., the honorary chairman of a nonpartisan commission investigating voting rights abuses nationwide, said Friday the Voting Rights Act in 1965 changed the status of black voters in American society.

    "The Voting Rights Act was really the whole core of the civil rights movement. It made a tremendous improvement," Mr. Mathias said in an interview with Capital News Service. "There was a new recognition of black citizenship."

    The National Commission on the Voting Rights Act, an eight-member panel backed by the nonprofit Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has been gathering testimony on discrimination against minority voters and held its first of 10 hearings in Montgomery, Ala., in March. -- HometownAnnapolis.com, Government - Former Sen. Mathias calls for Voting Rights Act renewal

    Congressional committee starts VRA hearings tomorrow

    AP reports: Supporters of the Voting Rights Act acknowledge they know no member of Congress who wants to scrap it. But with hearings beginning Tuesday, Congress is hardly their biggest concern.

    The House Judiciary Committee this week holds the first two of what could be more than a dozen congressional hearings into extending key provisions of the 1965 law for another 25 years. While congressional approval may seem inevitable, advocates insist exhaustive hearings are necessary to ensure the extension stands up in court.

    "We're trying to build a record," said Laughlin McDonald, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. "We are anticipating a challenge to what Congress might do." ...

    McDonald says he expects to win the political fight in Congress. But if it comes down to a legal fight, all bets are off, which is why the evidence presented at this week's hearings could be critical. -- Congress to Consider Voting Rights Act

    October 16, 2005

    Miers' testimony in the Dallas voting rights case

    AP reports: Miers' comments were a brief moment in lengthy testimony during a lawsuit in federal district court in Dallas. Black leaders challenged the way city council members were elected in Dallas. Miers had been elected to the council in 1989, just as the battle over racially charged redistricting plans was heating up. The lawsuit led to a court-supervised redistricting plan that enlarged the council from 11 to 14 seats.

    Miers testified that the city should keep some at-large seats whose members were elected by voters citywide, not just from small districts. Black leaders opposed at-large districts, viewing them as a tool to limit minority representation.

    Miers said at-large members can consider the entire city's interests while politicians elected from local districts must also consider the interests of their own district.

    Miers said, however, that one drawback of at-large seats was that many successful citywide candidates came from north Dallas, which is predominantly white and more affluent than south Dallas.

    "We needed to encourage additional African-American, Mexican-American representation on the council," Miers said.

    "We needed to encourage additional African-American, Mexican-American representation on the council," Miers said.

    Miers added that she would not have run in 1989 if a viable minority candidate had jumped in the race first.

    "I felt like the time was right that such a candidate could be elected, and I had other things to do," she said.

    Miers testified that voting in Dallas was sometimes along racial lines and "race is an issue" in city politics but that economic differences drove most of the disagreements in the city.

    Ideally, each district should have similar numbers of rich, poor and middle-income residents, she said.

    Miers rejected a plaintiff lawyer's argument that a heavily Hispanic district would necessarily elect Hispanic candidates. She also said she didn't like the concept of creating safe seats for minorities by drawing heavily minority districts. -- AP Wire | 10/14/2005 | Miers testimony in voting rights case xxx

    Remember that Miers ran for (and won) an at-large seat. Thus, she was saying, "I felt like the time was right that such a candidate could be elected [at large]."

    White House to re-focus its efforts for Miers

    Time reports: Get ready for a whole new Harriet. After a disastrous two weeks, White House officials say they hope to relaunch the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court by moving from what they call a "biographical phase" to an "accomplishment phase." In other words, stop debating her religion and personality and start focusing on her resume as a pioneering female lawyer of the Southwest. "We got a little wrapped around the axle," an exhausted White House official said. "As the focus becomes less on who she's not and more on who she is, that's a better place to be."

    So, as the White House counsel begins her formal prep sessions this week for a confirmation hearing that's likely to start in early November, President Bush will hold a photo op with former chief justices of the Texas Supreme Court who will testify to Miers' qualifications and legal mind. The White House's 20-person "confirmation team" will line up news conferences, opinion pieces and letters to the editor by professors and former colleagues who can talk about Miers' experience dealing with such real-world issues as the Voting Rights Act when she was a Dallas city council member and Native American tribal sovereignty when she was chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission. -- TIME.com: Mike Allen: Why They Can't Hit The Right Note -- Oct. 24, 2005 -- Page 1

    October 8, 2005

    More details on Miers and the voting rights suit against Dallas

    The Dallas Observer reports: Mike Daniel is one of a tiny coterie of tough activist lawyers who in the 1970s and '80s pushed through a series of federal anti-segregation, anti-housing discrimination, anti-disenfranchisement lawsuits that changed the city forever. Of that barrage of litigation, the piece that struck the deepest blow was a suit seeking the overthrow of the old city council system.

    Daniel represented plaintiffs Marvin Crenshaw and Roy Williams, who argued that Dallas had used a series of tricky arrangements to prevent black people and Latinos from achieving power on the city council. When their lawsuit was coming to a head in 1991, Harriet Miers was nearing the end of her single two-year term as an at-large city council member.

    Daniel and Roy Williams, his former client, remember Miers as a smart and thoughtful council member who eventually came to support a version of the all single-member district "14-1" council system they were seeking.

    "She's really not an ideologue," Daniel says. "She came over to 14-1 way sooner than the mayor."

    The mayor at the time was Annette Strauss, nominally a Dallas liberal, sister-in-law to Robert ("Mr. Democrat") Strauss, who was a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Both Daniel and Williams remember Miers as far more interested in fair representation issues than Strauss or any of the other big Democrats still in town in those days. -- dallasobserver.com | News & Features | Schutze | Die-In | 2005-10-06

    October 6, 2005

    Miers has real-world experience on redistricting

    Rick Hasen has done some digging on Harriet Miers' experience on the Dallas City Council. Dallas was sued in the late '80s by blacks and Hispanics seeking fairer representation on the Council. Miers had been elected to an at-large seat and most public officials I know elected to an at-large seat believe that at-large seats provide the best representation (after all, the at-large system elected me, didn't it?). But Miers testified in the suit that the then-current plan (8 SMD and 3 at-large) was unfair. She supported the plan with 14 SMD and a mayor over a plan with 10 SMD, 4 larger, overlapping districts, and the mayor.

    Rick has done a good job on his research. I recommend you read the whole thing. Here's his conclusion:

    What to make of all of this? It is not entirely clear. We appear to have someone sensitive to minority voting rights and skeptical of incumbency protection. Miers may not be the next Sandra Day O'Connor, but her vote in upcoming Voting Rights Act and partisan gerrymandering cases may be just as nuanced (and perhaps unpredictable). At least they would be informed by some real-world experience. -- Election Law: Harriet Miers and Election Law: Might She Be a Supporter of the Voting Rights Act and an Opponent of Partisan Gerrymandering?

    You know, maybe a little real-world experience might help the Court -- or, at least, a Justice.


    Career lawyers leaving DOJ Civil Rights Division

    NPR's Morning Edition reports: Tension has been growing between career lawyers and political appointees in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Now the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding confirmation hearings for a new leader of the politically sensitive group.

    Some career professionals who have left the division recently say they left because they were shut out of the decision making process in a way that did not occur under previous administrations. -- NPR : Career Lawyers Leaving Justice Department

    The story also contains a link to two letters of the Voting Section which show the change in the way the Section is explaining its decisions not to go forward with investigations.

    October 4, 2005

    Meirs' term on the Dallas City Council

    Business Week reports: Miers joined the Dallas city council in 1989, at a time when the city's African-American community was pushing for greater representation after decades of segregation and voting-rights violations. Miers was recruited by the Dallas business community to run for the city council as a voice of moderation and conciliation. She attempted to broker a compromise between the defenders of the status quo and the African-American politicians who were demanding all single-member districts to maximize black representation. In the end, despite her efforts, Miers couldn't pull it off and retired from the council after a single term -- with both sides sniping at her. -- The Real Harriet Miers

    September 30, 2005

    Georgia: DOJ preclears congressional plan

    AP reports: The U.S. Justice Department gave Georgia the go-ahead Friday to use a new map drawn by Republicans for congressional elections next year. The map, drawn after Republicans gained control of the Legislature this year, replaces an earlier one crafted by Democrats when they held the power to redistrict.

    The map significantly restructures the state's 13 congressional districts, eliminating oddly shaped districts which Republicans argued were purposefully designed by Democrats to punish Republicans and retard that party's growth. -- AccessNorthGa.com - North Georgia's Newsroom

    September 19, 2005

    Georgia: suit against voter ID requirement

    A consortium of voting rights advocates and private attorneys filed suit today in federal district court in Rome, Georgia, challenging House Bill 244, charging the law violates the state and federal constitutions, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. -- ACLU :: Voting Rights Act :: News (links to the complaint)

    September 16, 2005

    Boston: DOJ settles suit against city

    AP reports: The Justice Department said Thursday it has dropped its voting rights lawsuit against Boston after city officials agreed to provide voting materials in Chinese and Vietnamese, and to allow federal observers to monitor polling places.

    The agreement comes six weeks after the federal government filed a lawsuit — part of what it said is a national initiative — alleging that Boston's election practices discriminate against Hispanic and Asian American voters who do not speak English. ...

    The announcement Thursday said Boston agreed to provide ballots, registration notices and other forms in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. Boston also agreed to provide more training to poll workers regarding the Voting Rights Act.

    Also, Boston agreed to a court order appointing federal observers to monitor polling places through 2008, the announcement said. -- Justice Dept. Settles Voting Rights Suit - Yahoo! News

    September 14, 2005

    Graham and Roberts on the VRA

    Senator Graham had this colloquy with Judge Roberts this afternoon:

    GRAHAM: During your time of working with Ronald Reagan, were you ever asked to take a legal position that you thought was unethical or not solid?

    ROBERTS: No, Senator, I was not.

    GRAHAM: We talked about the Voting Rights Acts. Proportionality test in the Reagan administration's view was changing the Voting Rights Act to create its own harm. Is that correct?

    ROBERTS: The concern that the attorney general had and the president was that changing Section 2 to the so-called effects test would cause courts to adopt a proportionality requirement, that if elected representatives were not elected in proportion to the racial composition in a particular jurisdiction, that there would be a violation shown that would have to be addressed.

    GRAHAM: Do you think it would be fair to try to suggest that because you supported that position but you're somehow racially insensitive?

    ROBERTS: No, Senator. And I would resist the suggestion that I'm racially insensitive. I know why the phrase, "Equal Justice Under Law" is carved in marble above the Supreme Court entrance. It is because of the fundamental commitment of the rule of law to ensure equal justice for all people without regard to their race or ethnic background or gender.

    The courts are a place where people need to be able to go to secure a determination of their rights under the law in a totally unbiased way. That's a commitment all judges make when they take a judicial oath.

    GRAHAM: Knowing this will not this line of inquiry but, at least, trying to put my stamp on what I think we've found from this long discussion, basically, the Supreme Court decided in Section 2 that the intent test was constitutionally sound. Is that correct?

    ROBERTS: That was its determination in Mobile against...

    GRAHAM: And Senator Kennedy disagreed because he wanted a different test. And I respect him. He is one of the great -- first, he's not part of the Reagan revolution. I think we all can agree with that. So I don't expect him to buy into it.

    But I respect him greatly for his passion about his causes. He took it upon himself to try to change a Supreme Court ruling, to go away from the intent test to the effects test, and he was able to reach a political compromise with the administration.

    And I just want that to be part of the record; that to say that Ronald Reagan or Judge Roberts, by embracing a concept approved by the court, equates to that administration or this person being incensed at people of color in this country I think is very unfair and off base.

    You said something yesterday that was very compelling to me. I asked you, could you express or articulate what you thought might be one of the big threats to the rule of law. And I believe you said, Judges overstepping their boundaries, getting into the land of making the law, putting their social stamp on a cause, rather than interpreting the law, because that could over time, in the eyes of the public, undermine the confidence in the court."

    Is that a correct summary?

    ROBERTS: Yes, Senator. -- Transcript: Day Three of the Roberts Confirmation Hearings

    Grassley to Roberts: will you be fair to the VRA?

    Senator Grassley had the following hard-hitting exchange with Judge Roberts:

    GRASSLEY: Thank you.

    Once again, I compliment you on how you've handled yourself at these hearings. You've done very well. It's going to be very hard for people to cast a "no" vote against you.

    Judge Roberts, do you believe that every citizen who meets the qualifications set forth in the Constitution and our laws should have the opportunity to cast a free and unfettered vote?

    And as a follow-up, will you, on the court, fairly apply the Voting Rights Act?

    ROBERTS: I certainly agree that every citizen who meets the qualifications not only has a right to vote but should vote. I think it's a problem that we don't have more people voting. And any issues that come before me under the Voting Rights Act, I will confront those with an open mind and decide them after full and fair consideration of the arguments, in light of the precedents of the court and in light of the recognition of the critical role that the right to vote plays as preservative of all other rights. -- Transcript: Day Three of the Roberts Confirmation Hearings

    Sen. Kennedy and Judge Roberts on the VRA again

    Senator Kennedy questioned Judge Roberts again about the Voting Rights Act. (From Transcript: Day Three of the Roberts Confirmation Hearings)

    Continue reading "Sen. Kennedy and Judge Roberts on the VRA again" »

    Hatch and Roberts on the VRA

    Senator Hatch and Judge Roberts discussed the Voting Rights Act today. (From Transcript: Day Three of the Roberts Confirmation Hearings)

    Continue reading "Hatch and Roberts on the VRA" »

    September 13, 2005

    Sen. Feingold and Judge Roberts discuss the VRA

    Senator Feingold questioned Judge Roberts about the Voting Rights. ( and this are from the AP transcript.)

    Continue reading "Sen. Feingold and Judge Roberts discuss the VRA" »

    Senator Sessions and Judge Roberts on the VRA

    Senator Sessions engaged in a colloquy with Judge Roberts on the Voting Rights Act and Mobile v. Bolden, a case I know something about because I was one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. (This and this are from the AP transcript of the hearing.)

    Continue reading "Senator Sessions and Judge Roberts on the VRA" »

    Judge Roberts and Sen. Grassley on the VRA

    Senator Grassley discussed the Voting Rights Act with Judge Roberts. This excerpt is from the AP transcript of the hearings.

    Continue reading "Judge Roberts and Sen. Grassley on the VRA" »

    Judge Roberts and Senator Kennedy on the VRA

    Senator Kennedy engaged Judge Roberts on the Voting Rights Act. The text is "below the fold." (From the AP transcript of the hearings.)

    Continue reading "Judge Roberts and Senator Kennedy on the VRA" »

    Roberts dodges VRA questions

    AP reports: Chief Justice-nominee John Roberts repeatedly refused to answer questions about abortion and other contentious issues at his confirmation hearing Tuesday, telling frustrated Democrats he would not discuss matters that could come before the Supreme Court.

    "I think nominees have to draw the line where they are most comfortable," said Roberts, who also sidestepped questions about civil rights, voting rights and the limits of presidential power in a long, occasionally antagonistic day in the witness chair. ...

    He twice rebuffed Democratic attempts to draw him into a discussion of his views on lawsuits under the Voting Rights Act - whether a showing of discrimination should be sufficient to prevail as opposed to a more difficult-to-establish intent to discriminate. -- AP Wire | 09/13/2005 | Roberts rebuffs Democrats' questions

    August 27, 2005

    Georgia: DOJ preclears voter ID law

    AP reports: The U.S. Justice Department on Friday approved a Georgia law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. The measure's opponents immediately vowed to challenge it in federal court.

    The decision, written by John Tanner, chief of the department's voting section, says that while Attorney General Alberto Gonzales doesn't object to the law, approval doesn't preclude lawsuits against it. ...

    Democrats had argued the idea was a political move by the GOP to suppress voting among minorities, the elderly and the poor - all traditional bases for Democrats. Its opponents also included the AARP, League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The measure wipes out several currently accepted forms of voter identification other than photo IDs, including the use of Social Security cards, birth certificates or utility bills at the polls.

    "Requiring valid, photographic identification is a common sense step to ensure voter integrity and sound elections," Gov. Sonny Perdue said Friday in a written statement. -- Macon Telegraph | 08/27/2005 | Justice Department approves Georgia's voter ID law

    August 15, 2005

    Roberts: Rick Hasen predicts Roberts would vote against constitutionality of Section 5

    Rick Hasen writes on his Election Law blog: In my recent L.A. Times oped, I wrote about Judge Roberts' views on the 1982 Voting Rights Act amendments. He strongly opposed efforts to expand the Act to make it easier for members of protected minority groups to prove claims of vote dilution:

    In these documents, Roberts wrote that the new Section 2 would "establish a quota system" and "provide a basis for the most intrusive interference imaginable by federal courts into state and local processes." He added that it "would be difficult to conceive of a more drastic alteration of local government affairs."

    Imposing the new Section 2 nationwide, he concluded, would be "not only constitutionally suspect, but also contrary to the most fundamental [tenets] of the legislative process on which the laws of this country are based."


    I concluded that these views provide a good indication that if Judge Roberts is confirmed to the Supreme Court, he would well cast the deciding vote holding that a reauthorized section 5 goes beyond Congressional power under the Court's recent federalism jurisprudence. -- Election Law: How Would a Justice Roberts Vote on the Constitutionality of a Reauthorized Section 5?

    The whole post is worth reading. Read it and consider what is at stake, or as a brochure I received from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (on a different point) today said, "If you think the struggle is over, think again."

    August 7, 2005

    Alabama: is the VRA still needed in Alabama?

    The Mobile Register reports: "After four decades of tremendous progress, for which we can all be thankful, it is time to recognize that Section 5 (preclearance) has served its purpose and oftentimes unnecessarily restricts the ability of the states to regulate their own elections," Alabama Attorney General Troy King, a Republican, said in a prepared statement last week.

    But Spencer Overton, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said Alabama doesn't measure up so well in ensuring voting rights, at least when compared to other states.

    Citing preliminary data collected for a forthcoming book, Overton said Alabama ranked 11th nationally from 1995 to this year in the number of voting rights violations and third in the number of Justice Department investigations.

    Add in other signs of racially polarized voting, such as the lack of any black officeholders elected statewide, and "there is a strong argument that of all states, perhaps Alabama should be covered" by the Voting Rights Act, Overton said.

    The act does have a "bail-out" provision allowing communities to end federal oversight if they satisfy several yardsticks, such as being in full compliance with pre-clearance requirements for at least a decade. As part of the process of making that case, however, they have to take the potentially costly step of filing a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C.

    While some suggest that Congress should ease bail-out standards, Bullock said he has heard no talk of that happening. No Alabama city or county has sought to bail out, a Justice Department spokesman said via e-mail. -- Voting Rights Act debate still resonates in state

    August 6, 2005

    Voting Rights Act events today

    "All Things Considered" had two stories on the Voting Rights Act today: At a recent forum in Montgomery, Ala., many civil rights activists of the 1960s remembered the events leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including the bloody march on Selma, Ala. -- NPR : Activists Recall Drive for Voting Rights

    More than 10,000 people march through Atlanta, calling on Congress to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As Emily Kopp of Georgia Public Radio notes, portions of the law expire in 2007. -- Atlanta Marchers Want Voting Rights Act Renewed

    And Scott Simon interviewed Andrew Young for Weekend Edition Saturday: Andrew Young helped draft the Voting Rights Act while he was an executive assistant to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He went on to become a member of Congress, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and the mayor of Atlanta.

    Young talks with Scott Simon about the fight to protect the right to vote for minorities and the current state of democracy in America. -- Andrew Young and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

    Ruy Teixeira on the Voting Rights Act

    Ruy Teixeira says: As a matter of simple justice, renewal of these provisions of the Voting Rights Act are needed to insure continued protection of the rights of minority voters. Because people of color tend to vote Democratic, it should be a priority for Dems. -- The Emerging Democratic Majority WebLog - DonkeyRising

    VRA debate starts early

    Ganett News Service reports: Debate over the future of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which changed the political fortunes of minorities, already is in full swing, two years before important elements of the act expire.

    "The Voting Rights Act created an historic rise in Latino and African-American elected officials all around the nation, but it is not enough,'' said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. "It is unfortunate that after 40 years, voter inequities, disparities and obstacles still remain for far too many minority voters."

    The act, which marks it 40th anniversary today, will be the subject of congressional hearings this fall. Lawmakers plan to vote next summer on renewing the measure, which expires in 2007.

    Congressional debate is all but certain on the Supreme Court's interpretation of some of the act's most important provisions in September, when the Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. -- CITIZEN-TIMES.com: New battle begins over Voting Rights Act before it expires

    Atlanta: Voting Rights Act celebrated with a march

    AP reports: Thousands of demonstrators streamed down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive chanting, singing and marching on Saturday in support of extending the 40-year-old Voting Rights Act.

    Organizers hope the "Keep the Vote Alive" march will pressure Congress and President Bush to extend key provisions of the landmark law, which expires in 2007.

    "Forty years later, we're still marching for the right to vote," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who participated in the civil rights struggles that helped secure passage of the law in 1965. "Don't give up, don't give in. Keep the faith, keep your eyes on the prize."

    Activists from across the country joined Lewis, NAACP President Bruce Gordon and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who heads the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, at Saturday's demonstration. -- AP Wire | 08/06/2005 | March honors Voting Rights Act anniversary

    August 4, 2005

    John Roberts on why the VRA should not be amended (1981)

    The New York Times reports: He produced a torrent of memorandums explaining why the Reagan administration was right to oppose new provisions in the Voting Rights Act that had just passed the House with an overwhelming majority.

    He drafted op-ed articles for his boss, Attorney General William French Smith, and he circulated talking points warning that Congress - by trying to make it easier to prove voting rights violations - was on the verge of creating "a quota system for electoral politics." He scribbled angry notes on newspaper articles that showed an official from another department was veering off-message.

    It was 1981 and John G. Roberts Jr. was 26, two years out of Harvard Law School and an eager combatant in the political wars - including the one over the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was up for renewal in Congress. In general, he wrote to one of his mentors after three months on the job: "This is an exciting time to be at the Justice Department. So much that has been taken for granted for so long is being seriously reconsidered." ...

    He argued, according to a January briefing paper to prepare Attorney General Smith for Congressional testimony, that the House bill would essentially "establish a quota system for electoral politics, a notion we believe is fundamentally inconsistent with democratic principles." He added that "at-large systems of elections and multimember districts would be particularly vulnerable to attack, no matter how long such systems have been in effect or the perfectly legitimate reasons for retaining them."

    He drafted an op-ed article for Mr. Smith warning that the bill would "gradually lead to a system of proportional representation based on race or minority language status." And he prepared Mr. Smith for a meeting at the White House with a memorandum that declared: "The president's position is a very positive one and should be put in that light. He is for the Voting Rights Act and wants to see it extended."

    He added, "That is essentially the president's position - if it isn't broken, don't fix it." ...

    Richard L. Hasen, an election law specialist at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, noted that views could change over time, but added that Mr. Roberts in 1981-82 "showed a pretty strong disagreement with the efforts to make it easier to prove vote dilution."

    Mr. Hasen added, "I certainly think that had the Roberts view prevailed, we would have many fewer minority elected representatives in Congress and in state and local government." -- Roberts Helped to Shape 80's Civil Rights Debate - New York Times

    August 1, 2005

    More on Roberts in the Reagan administration

    The Washington Post reports: In the early 1980s, a young intellectual lawyer named John G. Roberts Jr. was part of the vanguard of a conservative political revolution in civil rights, advocating new legal theories and helping enforce the Reagan administration's effort to curtail the use of courts to remedy racial and sexual discrimination.

    Just 26 when he joined the Justice Department as a special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith, Roberts was almost immediately entrusted to counsel senior department officials on such incendiary matters of the day as school desegregation, voting rules and government antidotes to bias in housing and hiring. ...

    Other memos by Roberts similarly argued for reining in the federal government's role in civil rights disputes. They indicate, for example, that he was at the center of articulating and defending the administration's policy that the Voting Rights Act -- a seminal law passed in 1965 and up for renewal in 1982 -- should in the future bar only voting rules that discriminate intentionally, rather than those that were shown to have a discriminatory effect.

    After the House rejected administration concerns and passed a bill embracing the more broad "effects" standard in October 1981 by a vote of 389 to 24, Roberts wrote in a memo to Smith, "my own view is that something must be done to educate the Senators on the seriousness of this problem." He argued in a memo to Starr that the House bill made sense only if "our laws were concerned with achieving equal results rather than equal opportunity."

    The Senate eventually backed the House version after then-Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) added a brief passage stating that the revisions were not intended to mandate "proportional representation" by minorities -- a viewpoint that backers of the House bill had insisted was already clear. It is not apparent from the disclosures so far what position Roberts took on that amendment, which Reagan said he supported after Dole introduced it. -- A Charter Member of Reagan Vanguard

    July 31, 2005

    Boston: DOJ sues city over language provisions of VRA

    The Boston Globe reports: Several Boston politicians sprang to the city's defense yesterday at the news that the US Department of Justice is suing the city for violating the rights of Hispanic and Asian-American voters with limited English skills, while others expressed concern.

    The complaint, filed Friday, alleges that the city failed to translate election announcements, instructions, and other materials into Spanish and failed to provide enough translators for non- English speakers, in violation of the Voting Rights Act despite repeated warnings to do so. The lawsuit also accused the city of ''improperly influencing, coercing, or ignoring the ballot choices of limited English proficient Hispanic and Asian-American voters."

    Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has not commented publicly on the lawsuit, yesterday directed all questions to the city's chief lawyer, Merita Hopkins, who has disputed the Justice Department's allegations. ...

    Hopkins, the city's chief lawyer, yesterday repeated her criticism of the Justice Department lawsuit, which does not point to specific instances where voters' rights were violated.

    ''We have asked them to tell us what the problems are -- if there are any -- and we have not been told," she said. ''This is not the way government should be operating. We should be working with each other. We shouldn't be wasting time and money suing each other." -- Voting Rights Act allegations rebuffed - The Boston Globe - Boston.com - Mass. - News

    Roberts opposed 1982 change to Voting Rights Act

    The Washington Post reports: THE THOUSANDS of pages of just-released government files involving Judge John G. Roberts Jr. offer a tantalizing glimpse of the Supreme Court nominee as a young lawyer. While it's dangerous to make judgments based on a quick and necessarily spotty reading of quarter-century-old documents, the picture that emerges from the first wave of papers, including a huge batch unveiled from Judge Roberts's tenure as an adviser to President Ronald Reagan's attorney general, shows a lawyer fully in tune with the staunchly conservative legal views of the administration he was serving -- and indeed, at times to the right of some of its leading conservative lawyers.

    Those who fear or hope, depending on their political positions, that Judge Roberts might be a stealth nominee in the mold of Justice David H. Souter -- a supposed conservative whose performance on the bench turned out to be far more moderate than predicted -- will find no support for such predictions in the papers that have emerged so far.

    The memos show a younger Mr. Roberts expressing hostility to affirmative action programs and to a broad application of the Voting Rights Act. Congress was rewriting the law, and Mr. Roberts was vocal about making certain that it apply only to practices that were intended to harm minority voters -- not to those that simply had the effect of doing so. He criticized the solicitor general's office for failing to "be sufficiently sensitive" to the administration's civil rights views. In one memorandum, Mr. Roberts recommended against having the Justice Department intervene in a sex discrimination case involving disparities in vocational training programs for male and female prisoners -- even though William Bradford Reynolds, the administration's staunchly conservative civil rights division chief, wanted to participate. One particular area of concern is Mr. Roberts's writings on the ability of state prisoners to have their claims heard in federal court, something that he argued the Constitution does not require. "The current availability of federal habeas corpus, particularly for state prisoners, goes far to making a mockery of the entire criminal justice system," Mr. Roberts wrote in a 1981 memorandum that foreshadowed the high court's subsequent moves to restrict state prisoners' appeals in federal courts. Some tightening was justified, but the high court and Congress have since gone too far in eroding meaningful review. -- Young Lawyer Roberts

    July 30, 2005

    Roberts: Dems ask for documents on a list of cases

    The Village Voice reports: Senators charged with vetting Bush nominee John Roberts for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court finally adjourned their tea party late this afternoon and began the investigation.

    First, the Senate Judiciary Committee set a start date of September 6 for confirmation hearings. Then, the Democratic committee members lobbed their first shot. They wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, demanding an intriguing set of documents from Roberts's days as a powerful lawyer for the Bush Sr. administration.

    The letter reminds Gonzales that similar documents were requested and provided before the confirmation hearings of rejected Reagan nominee Robert Bork. ...

    The Dems provided reporters the following list summarizing the cases on which they want Roberts's past papers. Of course, they are also obligated to satisfy the concerns of their constituents: ...

    Voinovich v. Quilter, 507 U.S. 146 (1993)—A Voting Rights Act case in which the Solicitor General filed a brief opposing claims by minority voters in Ohio. Roberts co-authored the Solicitor General's brief. -- Dems Begin Digging into Bush Court Nominee

    July 28, 2005

    Roberts: a "rather cramped view of the Voting Rights Act"

    AP reports: After days of Democratic deference to John Roberts, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said Thursday that documents made public so far indicate the Supreme Court nominee holds a "rather cramped view of the Voting Rights Act."

    Materials that Roberts drafted while at the Justice Department and White House counsel's office during the Reagan administration "certainly raise some questions in my mind about his commitment" to civil rights, said Kennedy, D-Mass.

    Kennedy's remarks showed a willingness to raise pointed questions when most other Democrats have stuck to pleasantries about Roberts' credentials ahead of his confirmation hearings. ...

    At the time, Congress was considering an extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act against the backdrop of a Supreme Court ruling that held that "proof of intent" was needed to demonstrate someone's rights had been violated.

    House Democrats sought legislation to change so election results would be sufficient.

    In a draft opinion article he sent to a county commissioner in San Antonio, Roberts wrote that the proposal would "not simply extend the existing and effective Voting Rights Act, but would dramatically change it. ... It's not broken so there's no need to fix it."

    In another document, Roberts, then working in the White House, wrote that legislation designed to overturn a different Supreme Court ruling would "radically expand the civil rights laws to areas never before considered covered." He recommended against it.

    In a third, he wrote that the administration could "go slowly on housing legislation" without fearing political damage. -- AP Wire | 07/28/2005 | Kennedy questions Roberts on civil rights

    July 26, 2005

    White House will release some Roberts memos

    The New York Times reports: The Bush administration plans to release documents from Judge John G. Roberts's tenure in the White House counsel's office in the mid-1980's and his earlier job working for the attorney general, but will not make public papers covering the four years he spent as principal deputy solicitor general starting in 1989, two senior administration officials said Monday.

    The decision fulfilled a request for disclosure of the documents made on Monday by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which will hold the confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts, President Bush's choice to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, said the senator's spokesman, Bill Reynolds.

    But it falls short of the disclosure sought by Democrats, who have been demanding access to files from the nominee's work in the solicitor general's office at the Justice Department from 1989 to 1993, under the first President George Bush. Democrats say those files could shed light on the nominee's thinking about issues that could come before the court, and are especially important because Judge Roberts has not produced much of a paper trail when it comes to issues like abortion. Mr. Specter did not seek access to the papers from Judge Roberts's work as deputy solicitor general, Mr. Reynolds said. -- Some Documents of Supreme Court Choice Will Be Released - New York Times

    I will be particularly interested in seeing the memos regarding the 1982 amendment to the Voting Rights Act.

    July 25, 2005

    Civil rights groups concerned over John Roberts

    The Boston Globe reports: Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. has a history of working to roll back government affirmative action and voting rights programs enacted to help minorities overcome the effects of past discrimination, leading some civil rights groups to eye him warily.

    As an aide in the Reagan administration, Roberts helped develop legal arguments to narrow the scope of the Voting Rights Act and curb court-ordered busing for school desegregation purposes. The Bush administration has released only heavily redacted versions of Roberts's memos from this era, and some civil rights groups are calling for the full versions to be made public.

    ''We have concerns about Judge John G. Roberts mainly because we have very little information on his judicial philosophy with respect to the important issues of affirmative action, voting rights, and civil rights," Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said this week. ''Because the next Supreme Court justice will make decisions affecting the lives of all Americans, it is crucial that they have a strong, positive, and demonstrated commitment to civil rights."

    The blacked-out memos show that Roberts drafted op-ed pieces, talking points, and letters to the editor that went out under the name of Attorney General William French Smith to help promote the Reagan administration's efforts to limit the circumstances under which minorities could bring voting-rights claims. -- Civil rights groups cite concerns over Roberts - The Boston Globe - Boston.com - Washington - News

    July 10, 2005

    Sensenbrenner will introduce 25-year extension of VRA

    The House Judiciary Committee announced in a press release: House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.) today is announcing he will introduce legislation to extend the Voting Rights Act for 25 years and is calling for a bipartisan approach to civil rights issues.

    Chairman Sensenbrenner will be addressing these issues during a speech later today in Milwaukee at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) 96th Annual Convention. (Chairman Sensenbrenner also spoke at the organization’s 2001 Annual Convention in New Orleans.)

    Chairman Sensenbrenner's prepared remarks are below. ...

    In 2007, several key protections contained in the Voting Rights Act will expire, including the federal oversight protections provided by Section 5. I am here to tell you publicly what I have told others privately, including the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Mel Watt – during this Congress we are going to extend the Voting Rights Act. I am not alone in the Congress in supporting an extension; indeed, House Speaker Dennis Hastert last week stated that reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act is high on his list of issues the House will address this Congress.

    Soon I will be introducing legislation to extend the Voting Rights Act. Just like its enactment and its 1982 extension, this bipartisan effort will succeed. Ladies and gentlemen, while we have made progress and curtailed injustices thanks to the Voting Rights Act, our work is not yet complete. We cannot let discriminatory practices of the past resurface to threaten future gains. The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist – and exist in its current form. -- Sensenbrenner To Introduce 25-Year Voting Rights Extension Legislation, Calls for Bipartisan Approach to Civil Rights Issues

    July 9, 2005

    Mississippi: judge orders new elections in Granada

    AP reports: A federal judge has ordered the Grenada City Council to hold a new city election that includes residents annexed in 1993.

    If the city fails to do so, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers said he will order a special master to carry out his order.

    Biggers issued the order Tuesday, instructing the city to correct the long-debated issue.

    He gave the city 30 days from the date of his order — July 5 — to draw new ward lines and ordered the city to hold an election within 90 days of devising a new redistricting plan, which includes all citizens within the old corporate limits and the annexed area.

    Grenada officials had sought to void the annexation that brought in several hundred white residents. Chancellor Percy Lynchard refused in 2002 to allow the city to de-annex the area only to get federal approval for new ward lines.

    The Justice Department objected to both the city's 1993 annexation plan and the de-annexation. Federal officials said the then-majority white council in 1993 intended to use annexation to thwart the growth of black voting strength. -- Judge orders new city election

    According to the order, the Justice Department withdrew its objection to the 1993 annexation in 2005.

    July 2, 2005

    Why the replacement for Justice O'Connor is important to voting rights lawyers

    Rick Hasen writes in the New Republic Online: No doubt the coming Senate hearings to confirm Sandra Day O'Connor's successor will focus on hot-button issues like affirmative action and abortion. This is understandable, of course, since O'Connor's replacement with a more conservative justice could mark a change in direction for the Court on these topics--two years ago, for instance, she granted a twenty-five year reprieve to affirmative action programs, and a few years before that she was the decisive vote in striking down state bans on partial birth abortion.

    But while these issues will grab the headlines, O'Connor's departure from the Court could have equally startling consequences in an area of the law that may not even come up during the Senate hearings: election law. It is possible, even likely, that her resignation will lead to both the deregulation of campaign financing and a serious challenge to major parts of the Voting Rights Act. Such changes would, in turn, mean radical shifts in the way elections are conducted in the United States.

    In 2003, O'Connor was the decisive fifth vote in McConnell v. FEC when the Court upheld McCain-Feingold, Congress's first major revamping of federal campaign finance law in a generation. In the case, she voted to bar political parties from collecting large soft-money contributions from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals; she also endorsed limits on so-called issue ads, which corporations and unions had previously used as a backdoor way of participating in campaigns. -- The New Republic Online: Rock the Vote

    Thanks to Rick Hasen who mentioned this piece on his blog this morning.

    June 16, 2005

    Wal-Mart supports VRA re-authorization

    The Hill reports: Continuing its courtship of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Wal-Mart is urging President Bush to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    In recent months, Wal-Mart has moved toward a lasting alliance with the CBC, deepening the ties by stressing its legislative influence as the nation’s largest private employer of African-Americans. Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott’s letter, delivered to the White House on Tuesday, is his first follow-up on a productive winter meeting with the CBC.

    “I hope that you will stand with me, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, other political and civil rights leaders and countless Americans in supporting an extension of the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act,” Scott wrote to Bush, whose reelection campaign received the maximum contribution from Wal-Mart’s political action committee. -- Wal-Mart prods Bush for the CBC

    You may download a copy of the letter here. As you can see, it was emailed to me by Daniel Levitas of the ACLU.


    April 5, 2005

    Save the date: 13 August

    This is the fortieth anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act, the Selma-Montgomery March, and the death of Jonathan Daniels. This year's Pilgrimage and Celebration of Jonathan Daniels and the Martyrs of Alabama will be held in Hayneville, Alabama, on Saturday, 13 August. For more details go to Pilgrimage 4 Peace.

    April 2, 2005

    South Dakota: federal judge rules for City of Martin in voting rights suit

    The Native Times reports: A ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier denied claims by the American Civil Liberties Union that the City of Martin voting districts discriminate against Indian voters. The ruling said that the ACLU failed to present sufficient evidence to support the claims.

    The ACLU is representing Oglala Sioux Tribal members Pearl Cottier and Rebecca Three Stars who live in Martin. The ACLU filed an appeal on the decision later in the week.

    The ACLU contends that the 2002 redistricting plan approved by the city council for Martin fragments the Indian population in a way that reduces the chance the Indian voters electing their preferred candidate. ...

    Schreier wrote in her decision that there was no evidence that the contracting organization that drafted the district plan had focused on the ethnic makeup of voters. Nor were there any statements, minutes or reports indicating that the Martin City Council acted with a “racially discriminatory intent” when it enacted an ordinance that included the new districts. -- Native American Times - America's Largest Independent, Native American News Source

    February 13, 2005

    Alabama: petition asks for Voting Rights Act to be made part of the Constitution

    The Montgomery Advertiser reports: The 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will expire in 2007, but people like Selma's Sam Walker aren't just sitting around and waiting for that day to come.

    Walker and about 125,000 people from across the nation have signed a petition to deliver to Congress on Aug. 6 to request the Voting Rights Act of 1965 become a permanent act through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    Walker, who is a board member of the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, hopes to deliver at least 1 million signatures to Capitol Hill in August.

    But the chances of an amendment to the Constitution being implemented this year may be remote. ...

    Those interested in signing the petition urging a constitutional amendment making the Voting Rights Act of 1965 permanent should contact the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma at (334) 418-0800. -- montgomeryadvertiser.com

    February 10, 2005

    The VRA in 28 Days

    The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is presenting The VRA in 28 Days to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Voting Rights Act. The site is adding a new page every day. So far there are 14.

    February 5, 2005

    What the Prez did not say to the Black Caucus

    Ellen Nagler writes on The Blogging of the President: This morning I got the latest California Democratic Party e-mail newsletter, and one of the featured news stories, from the Chicago Defender, has the headline "Bush tells CBC he's 'unfamiliar' with Voting Rights Act."

    Well, that looked pretty juicy, and I was ready to blog it, but something about it didn't feel right, especially when I couldn't find a second source for the story. So I called Charlie Rangel's office in Washington and spoke to his staffer who has the VRA portfolio. She said she hadn't heard about it but would do some checking.

    Turns out my instinct was right. When I called back she told me that there was some confusion about the "unfamiliar" remark. What she did clarify is that 1) it was made not in the actual meeting but to a knot of people around Bush afterward (Rep. Rangel was not in the knot); and 2) there was uncertainty about whether Bush was referring to the VRA itself or to the provision of the Act that comes up for renewal next year — which provision Bush is quoted as saying he'll look at when it comes across his desk. -- The Blogging of the President: 2004

    Ellen has a good analysis of what's going on and an instinct to check behind a story that liberals ought to love. Take a look at her whole post.

    January 29, 2005

    Arizona: federal court refuses to grant stay of election

    The Arizona Republic reports: A federal judge on Thursday refused to grant a temporary restraining order requested by a Mesa resident intent on stopping the city from preparing for a special election on a controversial retail development.

    But the defeat in U.S. District Court was not as crushing as it seemed. Attorneys for the plaintiff, David Molina, will have at least three more weeks to resubmit a case for the restraining order and will request that a three-judge panel hear the matter. ...

    Last week, Molina accused the city of violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when it set a date for a special election on the Riverview project without first receiving clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Since Arizona is considered a "preclearance" state under federal law, city officials should have first submitted their intention to call a special election and update other information, such as new polling locations, before they set the date for a citywide vote, Molina argued. -- Judge denies order to stop Mesa vote

    January 19, 2005

    Arizona: proposition 200 attacked

    AP reports: Opponents of Arizona's new immigration law -- stymied in their initial court challenges -- are taking aim at the law's election mandates, claiming they'll virtually eliminate voter registration drives and place too many obstacles in front of minority voters.

    A civil rights group and Democratic legislators have separately asked the Justice Department to block the law, which was designed to deny some public benefits to illegal immigrants. Voters approved the measure November 2. ...

    The move comes after the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and other opponents unsuccessfully challenged non-election provisions of the new law.

    The election provisions include requiring a person to produce a copy of a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship when registering to vote or when reregistering in another county. Also, a voter would have to show identification before voting at a polling place. -- CNN.com - Arizona immigration law challenged - Jan 19, 2005

    New York: Westchester County settles with DOJ

    AP reports: Westchester County agreed Wednesday to a long list of election requirements, settling a lawsuit in which the U.S. government alleged that the county did not provide adequate voting information to Spanish-speaking residents.

    The government also claimed that election workers refused to allow some voters to cast provisional ballots in last November's election. -- New York City - State News

    October 28, 2004

    Where the DOJ will on election day

    From a DOJ press release: Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department has regularly sent observers and monitors around the country to protect election-related civil rights. In addition, the Department has routinely deployed its own civil rights personnel to serve as civil rights monitors in jurisdictions not covered by the Voting Rights Act. Today, the Justice Department announced it will again send approximately 840 federal observers and more than 250 Civil Rights Division personnel to 86 jurisdictions in 25 states to monitor the general election on Tuesday, November 2, 2004. This list is not exhaustive, and other jurisdictions may be designated by election day.

    Under the Voting Rights Act, which protects the rights of Americans to participate in the electoral process without discrimination, the Department of Justice is authorized to ask the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to send federal observers to areas that are specially covered in the Act itself or by a federal court order under the Act.

    Federal observers will monitor polling place activities in 27 jurisdictions:

    * Apache, Navajo and Yuma Counties, Arizona;
    * San Benito, San Diego, and Ventura Counties, California;
    * Cook County (Cicero), Illinois;
    * Lake County (East Chicago), Indiana;
    * Wayne County (Hamtramck), Michigan;
    * Jones, Kemper, Leake, Neshoba, Newton, and Winston Counties, Mississippi;
    * Passaic County, New Jersey;
    * Bernalillo, Cibola, Sandoval, and Socorro Counties, New Mexico;
    * Kings County (Brooklyn), New York County (Manhattan), and Suffolk County, New York;
    * Berks County (Reading), Pennsylvania;
    * Buffalo County, South Dakota;
    * Dallas County, Texas; and,
    * Yakima County, Washington.
    The observers will watch and record activities during voting hours at select polling locations in the counties. Civil Rights Division personnel will coordinate the federal activities and maintain contact with local election officials.

    In addition, Justice Department personnel, all of whom are Civil Rights Division attorneys and staff, will monitor the election in an additional 58 jurisdictions:

    * Kodiak Island, Alaska;
    * Pulaski County, Arkansas;
    * Cochise, Gila, Graham, Maricopa, Pima, and Santa Cruz Counties, Arizona;
    * Imperial and Orange Counties, California;
    * Broward, Duval, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, and Palm Beach Counties, Florida;
    * Atkinson, Henry and Long Counties, Georgia;
    * Polk County, Iowa;
    * Jefferson County, Kentucky;
    * Wayne County (Detroit) and Oakland County (Pontiac), Michigan;
    * Hennepin County, Minnesota;
    * City of St. Louis, Missouri;
    * Alamance, Scotland and Wake Counties, North Carolina;
    * Chaves, Rio Arriba and San Juan Counties, New Mexico;
    * Clark and Washoe Counties, Nevada;
    * Nassau, Queens, Richmond, and Westchester Counties, New York;
    * Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton Counties, Ohio;
    * Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania;
    * Bennett, Corson, Dewey, Jackson, Mellette, Shannon, Todd, Tripp and Ziebach Counties, South Dakota;
    * Harris, Hidalgo, Tarrant and Waller Counties, Texas;
    * Chesterfield County, Virginia; and,
    * Franklin County, Washington.
    The OPM observers and Department personnel will monitor whether certain counties and localities are complying with federal voting laws, for example: determining whether any voters are challenged improperly on the basis of their race, color, or membership in a language minority group; complying with the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act; permitting voters who are blind, disabled, or unable to read or write assistance by a person of their choice; and permitting all eligible voters to cast a ballot.

    At all times, complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be called in to the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division at 800-253-3931.

    Voters in the counties in which federal observers serve in Arizona, California, Illinois, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, and Washington may also file complaints about discriminatory voting practices in this election by calling the federal examiner at 866-885-4122. Voters in such counties in Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York may call the federal examiner at 888-496-9455.

    More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice's website site at www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting.

    * * * * *

    REMINDER: In the foregoing, the Justice Department's Criminal Division and 93 United States Attorneys will also be working on November 2 to fulfill their responsibility to enforce federal voter fraud laws. The Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section in Washington will have senior prosecutors available to handle complaints from the public and to provide guidance to 93 United States Attorneys' Offices concerning allegations of election fraud and other election abuses. Each United States Attorney's Office will have a District Election Officer on duty while the polls are open in their State to receive complaints from the public, and to coordinate the handling of these matters with the Public Integrity Section. Public Integrity lawyers will be on duty from the time polls first open on the East Coast until they close on the West Coast. The Public Integrity Section can be reached at (202) 514-1412.

    The FBI will also have Special Agents available at Headquarters in Washington and in each field office and resident agency to receive allegations of election fraud and other election abuses. The FBI can be contacted either through one of its local field officers or through each United States Attorney's Office's District Election Officer.

    October 25, 2004

    South Dakota legislature punts

    AP reports: Not convinced that they made a mistake in the 2001 redistricting plan that kept a large bloc of American Indian voters intact, legislative leaders decided Monday to ask a federal judge for additional guidance.

    The Legislature's Executive Board, which met for about an hour behind closed doors with Attorney General Larry Long and Secretary of State Chris Nelson, emerged to unanimously approve a measure stating that lawmakers do not believe they have authority to change the redistricting plan.

    The state constitution gives the Legislature authority to redraw legislative district boundaries only in those years following the release of new census data, or once a decade, said Sen. Ed Olson, R-Mitchell.

    Legislators do not believe they can redistrict at any time in the interim, he said, citing a previous ruling on that subject by the state Supreme Court. -- Legislators stick to redistricting decision, ask for guidance (AP via aberdeennews.com)

    The late Frank M. Johnson, US district judge and later circuit judge from Alabama, said that Alabama legislators often "punted" their problems into federal court by refusing to come with remedies to obviously unconstitutional or illegal situations.

    Thanks to Jeff Wice for the link.

    October 7, 2004

    Michigan GOP claims Michael Moore bribed college students

    Brendan I. Koerner writes on Slate.com: Michigan Republicans want local prosecutors to throw the book at Michael Moore, after the Fahrenheit 9/11 director doled out ramen and underwear to college students. The gifts were given in exchange for the students' promises to vote -- not necessarily for John Kerry -- in November. Is it illegal to bribe someone to vote, even if the person doing the bribing doesn't tell the bribee which candidate to choose?

    Regardless of the briber's intentions, paying for turnout is illegal in federal elections. As long as there is a federal candidate on the ballot, no one may offer something of value -- whether it's a $100 bill or a package of Top Ramen -- to get someone to the polls. The ban was part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which included a section specifically forbidding anyone from offering or accepting payment "either for registration to vote or for voting." This has been interpreted to cover all bribes geared toward coaxing voters to their respective polling stations. -- Can You Buy Votes With Underwear? - How about ramen noodles and chicken? (Slate.com)

    October 5, 2004

    Bexar water district cancels elections

    The San Antonio Express-News reports: Acting on a federal judge's orders, directors of the Bexar Metropolitan Water District voted Monday to cancel their Nov. 2 election and not redraw boundaries for it.

    The two seats for BexarMet directors in Districts 5 and 6 still will appear on some ballots next month, but the board said any results would be invalid.

    The board is scheduled to meet later this month to set dates for candidate filing and a new election Feb. 5.

    The seven-member board's emergency meeting late Monday came three days after a scolding from U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, who established the utility's single-member voting districts in a 1996 Voting Rights Act lawsuit. ...

    The Voting Rights Division of the Justice Department has to clear any boundary changes before a vote, and last week it sent BexarMet a four-page list of questions and concerns it had about the changes. -- BexarMet election, boundaries canned (MySA.com)

    September 17, 2004

    South Dakota will probably appeal redistricting case

    AP reports: A decision is days away but the state likely will appeal a federal ruling that legislative district boundaries violate the federal Voting Rights Act, according to [South Dakota] Attorney General Larry Long.

    U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier on Wednesday ruled that districts drawn after the 2000 Census illegally diluted the votes of American Indians by putting a supermajority of them into one district that encompasses the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations.

    The Indian population should have been divided between that district and a neighboring district so that members of the state's largest racial minority could have a voice in more legislative races, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in the suit it brought. -- Long says appeal of voting rights ruling is likely (AP via Aberdeen News.com)

    Indians win against South Dakota (updated)

    Corrected Update:Daniel Levitas of the ACLU has provided a copy of the decision and the ACLU's press release.

    I had linked to an older opinion in the case, which caused Rick Pildes to comment that the newspaper had it wrong.

    ====

    AP reports: The South Dakota Legislature unlawfully diluted the voting strength of American Indians when it redrew legislative district boundaries in 2001, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier said Wednesday.

    Ruling on the behalf of four Indian voters in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the judge ordered the state to reconsider Legislative Districts 26 and 27, which include the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations. ...

    Schreier agreed that the redistricting plan violates the federal Voting Rights Act. She said the plan illegally diluted Indians' voting strength by placing a super majority of Indians in District 27 - resulting in denial of equal political opportunities for Indians on the two reservations.

    The federal judge said the Legislature "must afford Indians in both Districts 26 and 27 a realistic and fair opportunity to elect their preferred candidates." -- State loses redistricting lawsuit (AP via AberdeenNews.com)

    I hope someone will send me a copy of the opinion. Hint, hint.

    September 14, 2004

    Whose side is the DOJ on?

    Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker: On October 8, 2002, Attorney General Ashcroft stood before an invited audience in the Great Hall of the Justice Department to outline his vision of voting rights, in words that owed much to the rhetoric used by L.B.J. and Lincoln. "The right of citizens to vote and have their vote count is the cornerstone of our democracy--the necessary precondition of government of the people, by the people, and for the people," Ashcroft told the group, which included several veteran civil-rights lawyers.

    The Attorney General had come forward to launch the Voting Access and Integrity Initiative, whose name refers to the two main traditions in voting-rights law. Voter-access efforts, which have long been associated with Democrats, seek to remove barriers that discourage poor and minority voters; the Voting Rights Act itself is the paradigmatic voter-access policy. The voting-integrity movement, which has traditionally been favored by Republicans, targets fraud in the voting process, from voter registration to voting and ballot counting. Despite the title, Ashcroft's proposal favored the "integrity" side of the ledger, mainly by assigning a federal prosecutor to watch for election crimes in each judicial district. These lawyers, Ashcroft said, would "deter and detect discrimination, prevent electoral corruption, and bring violators to justice." -- POLL POSITION: Is the Justice Department poised to stop voter fraud—or to keep voters from voting? (The New Yorker)

    This excerpt only touches one issue of several covered by the article.

    August 10, 2004

    National Park Service visitor centers along the Selma-Montgomery March route

    The New York Times reports: One of the great peculiarities of the South is the exhaustive celebration of its own defeat. Equestrian statues, battle flags and stolid historical markers commemorate seemingly every shot fired in the Civil War.

    Now, the victories of another war - against white supremacy, Jim Crow and lynchings - are starting to get equal billing.

    A surge of interest in the civil rights movement has dislodged lingering discomfort with the past, bringing new attention to the lunch counters, bus terminals and churches that were the movement's battlegrounds. Suddenly, events both major and minor are being memorialized; the projects under way range from full-blown tourist attractions to an attempt to name a Georgia highway for a black G.I. killed by Klansmen.

    In Greensboro, N.C., the Woolworth where the sit-in movement began will become a museum. In Mississippi, Neshoba County published a civil rights tour guide this summer showing the site where three civil rights workers were killed 40 years ago. In Alabama, the National Park Service will break ground in March on the first of three visitor centers along the route of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. -- Civil Rights Battlegrounds Enter World of Tourism (New York Times)

    July 27, 2004

    Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party honored

    The Dallas Morning News reports: Emma Sanders has been surrounded this week by food, music, flowers and friendly faces - a far different scene from her first Democratic convention in 1964. Back then, she and other black delegates were roughly booted from the festivities.

    "They wanted to hurt us," said Sanders, one of the original members and now a convention delegate. "All we wanted was to be a part of the political system."

    It's been 40 years since the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, led by the irrepressible Fannie Lou Hamer, confronted the all-white party regulars and insisted that they be seated within the Mississippi delegation at the national convention in Atlantic City, N.J.

    The tumultuous standoff was one of the most enduring memories of 1964's Freedom Summer. Democrats today say it resulted in their party - and conventions - being more inclusive and added momentum to the growing demand for equality in civil rights and public life.

    The 19 surviving members of the original Freedom Party, as well as the late Hamer, were honored Tuesday night in festivities featuring poet Maya Angelou. -- KRT Wire | 07/27/2004 | Freedom Party reunites in Boston at convention (Dallas Morning News via The State)

    NPR had a great audio report on the MFDP this morning.

    July 13, 2004

    Small minority group cannot seek Cumulative Voting as remedy

    The Eleventh Circuit: We hold that a protected minority group pursuing a vote dilution claim under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act has no right to relief unless it can demonstrate that, in the absence of the challenged voting structure or practice, its members would have the ability to elect the candidate of its choice. If the group is too small to elect candidates of its choice in the absence of a challenged structure or practice, then it is the size of the minority population that results in the plaintiff’s injury, and not the challenged structure or practice. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to grant additional relief in this case, because it correctly found that no further relief was available. --Dillard v. Baldwin County Commission (13 July 2004)

    The plaintiffs had sought to have the 7-SMD plan converted to a Cumulative Voting plan when the intervenors challenged the SMD plan under the doctrine of Holder v. Hall. Disclosure: I was co-counsel for the plaintiffs when the SMD plan was adopted, but was not involved in the latest round of litigation.

    July 6, 2004

    Granada caught between federal and state law

    AP reports: The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld a chancellor's refusal to allow the city of Grenada to de-annex an area to get federal approval for new ward lines.

    The city wanted to void an annexation approved in 1993 that brought in several hundred white residents.

    Chancellor Percy Lynchard, a DeSoto County judge appointed to oversee the annexation case, ruled the city could not void the annexation. Lynchard also ordered the city to submit information to the U.S. Department of Justice showing the annexation was not along racial lines.

    The Justice Department objected to both the city's 1993 annexation plan and 1999 changes.

    In approving the de-annexation in 2001, Grenada officials claimed removing 1,160 whites and 125 blacks from the city limits would bring racial percentage figures back to the standards suggested by the Justice Department in 2000. -- Mississippi high court upholds block on Grenada's attempt to de-annex area (AP via Picayune Item)

    June 30, 2004

    DOJ and Suffolk County settle bilingual voting case

    The U.S. Justice Department yesterday announced an agreement with Suffolk County, settling allegations that the county had in the past violated the rights of Spanish-speaking voters.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the county agreed to translate voting materials into Spanish, train poll workers to assist Spanish-speaking voters, and investigate and remove poll workers "who have engaged in hostile treatment of Spanish-speaking or Hispanic voters," according to Roslynn Mauskopf, the United States attorney for the Eastern District. ...

    Under the terms of the settlement, voting information must be publicized in English and Spanish, voting materials must be provided in English and Spanish at polling places, and bilingual poll officials must be provided to help voters in proportion to the number of Spanish-surnamed registered voters in each polling place, according to the settlement. -- Suffolk settles voting rights case (Newsday.com)

    June 21, 2004

    Justice Department preclears Richmond "strong mayor" plan

    The Justice Department on Monday approved Richmond's plan for a citywide election of a strong mayor, rejecting claims it would dilute the political might of the city's largely black electorate.

    The ruling clears the way for a Nov. 2 election that would pit the incumbent, Rudolph McCollum, against the nation's first elected black governor, L. Douglas Wilder.

    Wilder, a Democrat, and Republican former U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Bliley last year jointly championed a referendum in which city voters by a 4-1 ratio embraced the new at-large mayor proposal. -- Justice Department OKs Richmond's mayoral election plan (AP via Hampton Roads Daily Press)

    June 9, 2004

    Wilder wants to meet with DOJ over Scott's charges

    Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, seeking to become mayor of Richmond, has asked for a meeting with U.S. Justice Department officials to counter Rep. Robert C. Scott's attempt to derail the city's at-large mayoral election.

    Scott, a Democrat from Newport News, told Justice Department officials June 2 that the plan will dilute black voting strength in Richmond, even though 80 percent of the black majority city approved it in referendum. Scott said the plan was illegal under the Voting Rights Act.

    The Justice Department is reviewing the plan, which also was approved by the Virginia legislature and Gov. Mark R. Warner. -- Wilder seeks meeting with feds on congressman's claim (AP via Hampton Roads Daily Press)

    DOJ objects to Ville Platte redistricting plan

    The Ville Platte [Louisiana] City Council Tuesday received news that the U.S. Justice Department has rejected the city's redistricting plan. The plan, one of seven under consideration, would have kept the current three white and three black districts in the city.

    The letter signed by Assistant U. S. Attorney General Alexander Acosta said the Civil Rights Division was concerned over the city's plan to reduce District F's black population percentage by 17 percent. The letter stated that the "city provided no evidence to rebut the conclusion that the plan was written to retrogress minority voting strength by eliminating the electoral ability of black voters in District F."

    Justice went on and wrote that the city reviewed but did not give any consideration to Plan 4 prepared by the NAACP which would have created an additional black majority city council district.

    The city council's elections were scheduled in the fall of 2002 at the same time as the mayor and police chief but were cancelled due to a problem with the census bureau accurately including newly annexed areas of the city. -- U.S. Justice Dept. rejects Ville Platte redistricting plan (Opelousas Daily World)

    The DOJ objection letter is here.

    June 8, 2004

    Martin, SD, voting rights suit

    A voting rights lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the city of Martin is under way here before U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier.

    ACLU attorney Bryan Sells said Monday that the city of Martin should redraw its three city wards to create one ward that favors American Indian voters.

    "The 2002 redistricting plan in the city of Martin fragments the Indian population in such a way that Native Americans are pretty evenly distributed among the three city council wards. And they're a minority in all three," Sells said. ...

    American Indians constitute 45 percent of the city's population and 38 percent of its voting population, Sells said. -- Judge hearing ACLU suit against city of Martin (AP via Aberdeen News)

    The Madison Daily Leader thinks that the ACLU is promoting racism by this suit:

    The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. All adults are entitled to vote, and no one person's vote is more important than another.

    This type of legal action actually promotes racism. If the ACLU wins the lawsuit, there will then be an "Indian part of town," and political nominations and elections will be unduly influenced by skin color.

    We think the best way to eliminate racism is to stop focusing on race, national heritage or color of skin. We certainly shouldn't establish political boundaries based on those factors.

    June 5, 2004

    Wilder and Scott square off on preclearance of at-large mayor for Richmond

    Former [Virginia] Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who is seeking to become mayor, on Friday assailed a congressman who said Richmond's pending switch to an at-large mayoral election could dilute black voting strength.

    Rep. Robert C. Scott apparently believes the people of Richmond "are obviously too stupid, too dumb or too racist to elect their own mayor," said Wilder, who, like Scott, is a black Democrat. ...

    The mayor is now appointed by city council members, who are elected from wards within the city. The change to at-large elections, coupled with the strengthening of the mayor's executive powers, received 80 percent support in a city vote and was approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Mark R. Warner.

    It is now being reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department, and if it is approved, residents will elect a mayor on the November ballot. -- Wilder assails congressman for criticizing change to Richmond, Va., mayoral elections (AP via Hampton Roads Daily Press)

    June 3, 2004

    Latinos sue Modesto for at-large elections

    Lawyers representing a Latino group said they plan today to file a lawsuit contending Modesto's at-large City Council elections are illegal.

    The lawsuit will claim Modesto violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 by diluting the minority vote and denying Latinos their right to participate in city government.

    The lawsuit, to be filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court, would be the first to test the voting law that took effect Jan. 1, 2003. The outcome is to have statewide ramifications. -- Proposed suit seeks district elections (Modesto Bee)

    Rhode Island legislature approves new Senate districts

    The House on Thursday unanimously approved new lines for 12 Senate districts, reconfigured to settle a lawsuit over minority representation.

    The Senate has already approved the new map. It now awaits Gov. Don Carcieri's signature into law. Carcieri's spokesman, Jeff Neal, said the governor has not yet reviewed the new Senate map. -- House approves new Senate map (AP via projo.com)

    Arizona withdraws Section 5 preclearance request

    The state on Thursday withdrew its application for federal clearance to use new legislative districts, ensuring that districts that closely track those used in 2002 will be used again in this year's election.

    The Independent Redistricting Commission's attorneys withdrew the application before the U.S. Department of Justice immediately after the commission voted 3-2 to order the withdrawal. -- State withdraws redistricting application, map similar to 2002's will be used (AP via Tucson Citizen)

    June 2, 2004

    Is the Arizona voting case resolved for this election at least?

    The Hispanic Democrats likely will not ask the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn a stay issued Friday by the Court of Appeals, said Paul Eckstein, an attorney for the challengers.

    With the June 9 candidate filing deadline fast approaching, the Court of Appeals said it was too late in the election process to switch to different districts or to leave uncertainty about which map would be used. ...

    It could change if the U.S. Department of Justice this week authorizes use of a new map drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission at the order of the trial judge or if the commission decides Thursday to delay withdrawing its application for authorization, but neither is likely, Eckstein added.

    The Redistricting Commission has scheduled a meeting Thursday to review its legal position and to consider withdrawing the application. -- Voting map fight over? (AP and Casa Grande Valley Newspapers)

    May 30, 2004

    Correction to the Arizona redistricting story

    Doug Johnson, one of the expert witnesses for the Arizona Redistricting Commission emailed me, "The AP writer whose article ran in the AZ Republic has a key detail (and thus most of his story) wrong. Rather than the lines used in 2002, the Appeals Court decision removes the stay on the plan adopted by the IRC in August 2002 for use in the 2004 election. These are NOT the lines used in the 2002 election."

    You can't tell the players without a program. In 2001 the IRC adopted a plan to be used in the 2002 election. When the Justice Department denied preclearance, the IRC and the Minority Coaliation agreed on an interim plan to be used in the 2002 elections only. In 2002 the Commission adopted a plan for use in 2004-2010. The Minority Coalition again attacked the plan, and Judge Fields held it unconstitutional. The IRC adopted another plan for use in 2004 but appealed. The DOJ has not yet precleared the newest plan

    So the choice for the Appeals Court was either to use the precleared plan or the unprecleared plan. Easy choice.

    Arizona will elect its next legislators using district lines that a lower court judge found unconstitutional.

    The Arizona Court of Appeals on Friday agreed to stay an order issued in January that forced the Independent Redistricting Commission to recraft the boundaries it had established for this year's elections.

    Judge Donn Kessler, writing for the three-judge panel, said there just isn't any more time to wait to see whether the new lines, crafted under protest by the commission following the trial judge's order, will get the necessary approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Friday's order, unless overturned soon, will affect the makeup of the Legislature for the next two years. That is because the revised maps -- the ones awaiting federal approval -- are considered by some to be more favorable to Democrats than the current ones that the appellate court ordered to be used, the ones that were used in the 2002 election. -- Appeals Court sends Flag back to Rez (Arizona Daily Sun)

    The headline refers to the inclusion of Flagstaff in the same district with the Navajo Reservation.

    May 28, 2004

    Rodriguez v Pataki appealled

    Jeff Wice writes, "Notice of appeal filed with US Supreme Court in NY Senate challenge of Rodriguez v Pataki. USDC SDNY held for state defendants on sec 2, influence districts, 1p1v, and reverse Shaw. Not sure yet what appeal will encompass, but the notice was filed 5/14. I am working with Rodriguez parties."

    May 26, 2004

    Federal suit dismissed on Arizona redistricting

    A federal judge on Wednesday dealt Hispanic Democrats a setback by dismissing their lawsuit seeking to force use of new legislative districts in this year's state elections.

    U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver granted a request by the state Independent Redistricting Commission to dismiss the Arizona Minority Coalition for Fair Redistricting's lawsuit.

    The Democrats had asked the federal court to order use of the new districts even though the districts have not yet received federal voting-rights clearance.

    Silver noted that related proceedings are underway in the state Court of Appeals, where the commission and Secretary of State Jan Brewer are trying to block a judge's order requiring use of the new districts in place of a map he previously overturned as unconstitutional.

    A state Court of Appeals three-judge panel is scheduled to hear the request by the commission and Brewer on Thursday, and Silver said she was ruling Wednesday "to expedite the resolution" of the case. -- Federal judge throws out Arizona Democrats' suit on new legislative maps (AP via kvoa.com)

    May 21, 2004

    Rhode Island case near settlement

    Senate leaders have agreed to redraw district lines to settle a lawsuit that claimed Rhode Island's 2002 legislative redistricting was unfair to black voters, a move prompted in part by the resignations of two state senators earlier this year.

    Today, minority leaders hailed the settlement, which changes the configuration of 12 Senate districts in and around the state's capital city, as a step toward more inclusive government.

    "Our goals have always been to ensure that black voters and Latino voters each have a voice in the state Senate," said Harold Metts, a plaintiff in the case. "The new redistricting plan will help make Rhode Island more democratic."

    The plan still must be approved by the General Assembly and the governor. -- Senate leaders agree to redraw district lines (AP via projo.com)

    May 12, 2004

    Failure to preclear = good news for one candidate

    Henry County [Georgia] Commissioner Gary Freedman can keep his post while running for the chairman's seat, the county elections board ruled Wednesday.

    Hampton resident Sharon Sagon, a vocal critic of Freedman, filed a complaint, citing a 1987 Legislature act aimed at preventing Henry commissioners from simultaneously campaigning for another position. Chairman candidate Jason Harper cited the law when he resigned his county commission seat on April 30, the last day of qualifying.

    "Mr. Freedman should have resigned before he qualified [to run for chairman]," said Sagon's attorney, W. Donald Patten Jr.

    Freedman's attorney, Joe M. Harris, said the 1987 law was never approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which is required under the Voting Rights Act. -- Election board: Freedman can run without resigning (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

    May 5, 2004

    4th Circuit hears challenge to Virginia congressional district

    A lawyer for nine black citizens urged a federal appeals court Tuesday to reinstate a lawsuit claiming the [Virginia] General Assembly's 2001 redistricting plan illegally diluted black voting strength in the 4th Congressional District.

    The plaintiffs claim that the reapportionment illegally "packed" blacks into the black-majority 3rd District while decreasing the adjacent 4th District's black population from 39.4 percent to 33.6 percent.

    J. Gerald Hebert, an attorney for the black citizens, argued that the Republican-led redistricting violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act by hurting the ability to black voters to elect a candidate of their choice in the 4th District.

    "They had a district before where their vote really mattered," he told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "Now it doesn't matter as much."

    Michael Carvin, a lawyer for former state Republican Party chairman Gary Thomson, said blacks would have to form a coalition with whites to elect a candidate even if the black population was boosted back to near 40 percent as the plaintiffs preferred.

    "A political coalition isn't protected under the Voting Rights Act," he said. -- Court hears congressional redistricting challenge (AP via Hampton Roads Daily Press)

    May 1, 2004

    Arizona: which districts will it use?

    [Arizona] Secretary of State Jan Brewer and the Independent Redistricting Commission are going to court to ask that this year's legislative elections be run using the existing boundaries -- boundaries the same court has found illegal.

    Brewer said she fears that there will not be enough time for counties to align the new legislative districts and the voting precincts by the time the new plan gets the required approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. She said that makes having the election under the 2002 lines the most logical conclusion.

    And commission attorney Lisa Hauser, in legal papers filed late Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court, said the state should not be forced to use new districts when the legality of the ruling throwing out the old ones remains on appeal. ...

    Sen. Peter Rios, D-Dudleyville, a member of the coalition that brought successful suit, suggested a political motive for Brewer's decision to go to court.

    "The Republican Party realizes the new district maps make the legislative districts more competitive, thereby enhancing the chances of more Democrats being elected," he said. "If they can save one more term in the Legislature that clearly would be controlled by Republicans, that's clearly what they are shooting for." -- Secretary of state: Use old district boundaries in next election (Arizona Daily Sun)

    April 29, 2004

    4th Circuit afirms decision against Charleston County

    A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that a South Carolina county's at-large method of electing county council members illegally dilutes minority voting strength.

    A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed U.S. District Judge Michael Duffy's ruling that Charleston County's system discriminates against blacks. The court said only a "clearly erroneous" ruling could be overturned.

    "While the district court's finding ... is certainly disputable, it is not clearly mistaken," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.

    The U.S. Justice Department and a group of Charleston County voters challenged the at-large system, in which all county voters choose all nine council members. At the time of the trial, only three blacks were among the 41 council members elected since 1970. The county's population is 31 percent black, according to the 2000 census. -- Court strikes down S.C. county's at-large elections (AP via Charleston State)

    The opinion is here on the 4th Circuit website.

    April 27, 2004

    VRA and ADA interaction

    Jeff Wice asks:

    Has anybody ever come across a case where the Voting Rights Act was used (by a governmental body) as a defense against an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit? Specifically, has the relocation of non-ADA accessible voting places in minority communties to ADA accessible polling places (in adjacent but non-minority) neighborhoods violated the Voting Rights Act? Or has the Voting Rights Act not served as a valid defense? This would not be in a Section 5 jurisdiction.

    If you have ever heard of such a situation or case, please let me know directly at JMWice@aol.com

    April 24, 2004

    South Dakota: 7th day of Indian trial

    When Elsie Meeks was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1998, she said the campaign office got a series of telephone complaints that the party had chosen an American Indian for that position.

    "They would call and say, 'We don't understand why Bernie has her on the ticket when we can't go onto her reservation and vote,'" Meeks testified in a voting rights trial on Thursday. ...

    The judge must decide whether the American Indian population is too high in District 27 or if the state's lawyers are correct when they say that that high of an Indian population is needed to elect state lawmakers who are Indian.

    Lawyers from the South Dakota attorney general's office cite low voter turnout on reservations for state elections and a young population that, in all racial groups, tends to vote in small numbers. ...

    Both the state and the ACLU have expert witnesses who have examined voting patterns on a precinct-by-precinct basis. The experts have reached different conclusions about voting patterns of the two races.

    ACLU lawyers argued in a brief that their expert and the state's expert both found "overwhelming" cohesion among Indian voters. They argued that various forms of statistical analysis of 2002 elections in District 26 found that 86 percent of Indian voters voted the same way.

    The ACLU argued that the state's expert incorrectly considered ballot issue elections in his analysis. Those elections do not have candidates and should not be studied to find voting patterns, the ACLU argued. -- ACLU finishes case in voting rights trial (Rapid City Journal)


    South Dakota: 3rd day of Indian suit

    In the third day of a voting-rights trial on Wednesday, five American Indians told a federal judge that they have experienced racism in South Dakota.

    The testimony is designed to establish a history of racial discrimination as the American Civil Liberties Union seeks a court decision to carve out a new state legislative district favorable to American Indians in the south-central part of the state. ...

    As a grown woman, Black Lance said she still fears leaving the reservation because she believes law enforcement officers will stop her.

    "I'm afraid when I leave the reservation. It seems like we left a safe area and go to an area where it's prejudiced," she said.

    Black Lance said she has been stopped "just about every time I left the reservation."

    The traffic stops ended when she bought a car that did not bear a license plate number from a reservation county, she said. ...

    On cross-examination by state lawyers, the witnesses said they had not had trouble registering to vote or voting. Drapeaux said she is a leader in her community, and a copy of a newspaper advertisement in which the Rural Electric Association recognizes her as such was entered into evidence.

    When asked if she believed white people in Martin accepted her, Drapeaux replied, "I'd say so." -- Witnesses testify on racism at ACLU trial (Rapid City Journal)

    South Dakota: 6th day of Indian suit

    South Dakota's election procedures are fair, open and not a barrier to participation by American Indians, state election officials testified in the sixth day of a voting rights lawsuit.

    Secretary of State Chris Nelson and Bennett County Auditor Susan Williams both testified that their overriding philosophy is that it should be easy for people to vote. ...

    Voter registration in the three American Indian reservation counties at issue in the lawsuit exceeds national and state voter registration averages, Nelson said. But the same isn't true for turnout.

    "They've done a very good job getting registered to vote. But turnout rates fall to the bottom of the list. Going to the polls is another story," Nelson said.

    Nelson said a former state tribal affairs officer told him Indians tend not to vote in state and federal elections because they care more about tribal government and less about state and federal government.

    ACLU lawyers have argued that low Indian turnout can be attributed to a lack of faith in the system that is the result of a history of being unable to overcome the power of a white majority. -- Election officials: Everyone was treated equally (Rapid City Journal)

    April 22, 2004

    Redistricting challenge in St. Landry Parish

    Discussions concerning a pending St. Landry Parish reapportionment trial drew attorneys from Washington, D.C., today to U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon's court in Lafayette.

    "Honestly, what went on there, was a lot of lawyers talking," said Jon Greenbaum, a Voting Rights Project attorney representing the St. Landry Parish chapter of the NAACP. "There was no change in the trial schedule," which sets a January court date for start of trial, he said. ...

    A minority-majority district is one in which the minority population is in the high 50 percent, Greenbaum said. In St. Landry Parish there are three district that meet that number, Districts 2, 3 and 10.

    Objections to the plan included allegations that minority numbers were even further packed into the three existing districts rather than creating a fourth.

    The NAACP is seeking fourth and fifth districts. ...

    "The major difference between the two sides relates to whether or not black voters have an effective opportunity to vote in a candidate of their choice or not.

    "District 1 and 12 will be the focus," [Gerald Hebert, attorney for the St. Landry Parish Council and St. Landry Parish School Board] said. -- Judge meets with lawyers in parish redistricting challenge (Opelousas Daily World)

    Greenbaum is with the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

    April 21, 2004

    Feds may observe East Chicago election

    U.S. Department of Justice inspectors may be at the polls in East Chicago [Indiana] primary.

    The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund has asked the U.S. Justice Department Voting Section to send watchers to the polls in the May 4 primary. Lake County Voter Registration Board Director Sally LaSota told the Lake County Election Board Tuesday that she has been contacted by the Justice Department, who asked about credentials.

    Federal officials in Washington would not comment on the request as of press time. ...

    In his landmark ruling in the Pabey vs. Pastrick election trial, Special Judge Steven King detailed instances of electioneering and fraud that he said appeared to target voters with limited English speaking ability. -- Feds asked to watch E.C. vote (Gary Post-Tribune)


    April 16, 2004

    Federal court approves Massachusetts legislative plan

    A federal appeals court on Friday approved a new redistricting map for Boston districts in the state House of Representatives that minority activists say better reflects the city's changing racial and ethnic mix.

    ''This map is definitely leaps and bounds better than the one that was deemed illegal by the courts. It's a much better map for communities of color,'' said Atiya Dangleben, statewide director for the Massachusetts Voter Education Network.

    The redrawn map of 17 Boston House districts was approved by the same three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that threw out the original redistricting map approved by House lawmakers and used in the 2002 elections. ...

    The map must still be approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney before an April 27 deadline. Romney has already signed a bill giving candidates in any district altered by the new map an extra two weeks to gather signatures. -- Court approves new redistricting plan for Massachusetts House (AP via Boston.com)

    Once again, I must point out to AP that this was a three-judge district court not an appeals court.

    April 13, 2004

    Sioux sue South Dakota over districting plan

    American Indians have been systematically shut out of the democratic process in South Dakota for more than 100 years, an expert witness testified in a trial over the state's legislative districts.

    The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of South Dakota, claiming the newest map of legislative districts disenfranchises Indian voters in the south central part of the state. ...

    The ACLU claims the legislative district encompassing both Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations has packed in a "supermajority" of American Indians and kept them from being a force at the polls in two separate districts. The practice, known as "packing," has been struck down by other courts.

    Lawyers from the state attorney general's office argue that the state's political map does not take away the voting rights of Indians. -- Indian voting rights trial begins (Rapid City Journal)

    April 10, 2004

    9th Circuit affirms Section 2 decision against Montana County

    The Ninth Circuit has decided United States v. Blaine County:

    Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits any voting procedure that results in a denial of the right to vote. 42 U.S.C. § 1973. The United States brought this section 2 action against Blaine County alleging that the County’s at-large voting system for electing members to the County Commission prevents American Indians from participating equally in the County’s political process. The district court determined that section 2 was a constitutional exercise of Congress’s powers under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and that Blaine County’s at-large voting system violated section 2. In this appeal, Blaine County challenges both of those rulings. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

    April 5, 2004

    Boston candidates may get more time to gather signatures

    Candidates caught in Boston's ongoing redistricting case would get an extra two weeks to collect signatures under a bill being pushed by Secretary of State William Galvin.

    The bill would have no effect on the rest of the election schedule. ...

    House leaders were expected to present their latest version of the map to the three-judge appeals court panel on Tuesday, the six week deadline. Briefs from all sides were expected to be filed by the end of the week, followed by a court hearing on April 16, according to a spokesman for House Speaker Thomas Finneran, D-Boston.

    Galvin said he is worried that delays could make it hard for candidates to collect signatures in time to qualify for the ballot. His bill tacks two weeks onto the signature deadline for any district affected by the new map. -- Bill would give candidates in redistricting case extra time (AP via Providence Journal)

    Racially polarized voting in Teaneck, NJ

    [U.S. Justice Department] investigators have spent a year studying whether Teaneck's at-large elections should be replaced with a ward system to ensure that the town's sizable black community has better representation on the Township Council and Board of Education.

    Changing demographics have changed the patterns of discrimination. Recently the department has investigated communities where other minority groups, including Hispanics and Native Americans, were alleged to be disenfranchised.

    In 2000, the department sued the city of Passaic, alleging that Latino voters were denied a fair opportunity to choose their leaders, even though two Latinos were on the council. The suit was dropped after a Latino mayor was elected in 2001.

    But the character of the controversy in Teaneck is more familiar, typical of the black-white cases the Justice Department has conducted throughout the nation for the last 40 years. Among the key questions is whether whites overwhelmingly vote for white candidates and blacks vote mainly for black candidates. In the eyes of the Justice Department, such patterns suggest problems in a political system.

    An independent analysis by The Record showed some level of racially polarized voting in four of five Teaneck elections analyzed. The Record analysis was conducted with the assistance of two voting rights experts. Experts caution that polarized voting is not uncommon. -- Making elections fair to minorities (NorthJersey.com)

    I assisted the writers of this story and am briefly quoted in it.

    April 1, 2004

    "Voting Rights Act still serves purpose"

    When a judge turned back a challenge to Rep. Ed Pastor's congressional district, he cited the Voting Rights Act as the reason he could not permit a redrawing that diluted minority votes.

    When Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission was crafting the state's legislative districts, the Voting Rights Act was clearly a major factor in creating nine majority-minority districts, up from the previous seven.

    The two cases illustrate why it's not too early to think about 2007.

    That's when key provisions of the Voting Rights Act come up for reauthorization. Section 5 of the act requires that areas with histories of racial discrimination clear their redistricting maps with the Justice Department. Other provisions of the act require election material in other languages and enable challenges to at-large elections that often inhibit minorities' ability to elect candidates of their choosing. -- Voting Rights Act still serves purpose by O. Ricardo Pimentel (Arizona Republic)

    March 30, 2004

    Rhode Island redistricting case remanded for more factual development

    The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals today vacated a decision to dismiss a lawsuit that claimed Rhode Island's legislative redistricting process was unfair to black voters.

    The case was sent back to U.S. District Court in Providence, R.I., for further proceedings.

    "The reason for our remand is to allow a fuller development of the evidence, and further legal analysis based on that evidence, before any final determination is made," the appeals court justices wrote. Two of the justices [sic] disagreed with the majority opinion. ...

    The suit claims Rhode Island's plan to redraw state boundaries made it harder for voters in the newly-mapped District 2 to elect a black candidate in South Providence. The Senate map created a district that pitted Rhode Island's first and only black senator, Charles Walton, against Juan Pichardo, who was elected the state's first and only Hispanic senator. -- Appeals court vacates decision to dismiss R.I. redistricting lawsuit (AP via Providence Journal)

    The case is Metts v. Murphy. Thanks to Sam Hirsch, Brenda Wright, and Sunil Kulkarni for sending me the opinion. You can download it here.

    Here is the Lawyers' Committee press release on the decision.

    March 19, 2004

    Massachusetts redistricting plan unveiled, attacked, defended

    Massachusetts House leaders unveiled a new redistricting map Tuesday designed to boost the number of districts in Boston with a majority of black voters.

    The action follows a ruling by a federal appeals court that tossed out an earlier version of the map. The judges said legislative leaders sought to protect incumbent lawmakers at the expense of black voters by ''packing'' blacks into as few districts as possible, weakening their political clout. ...

    The new map is better even than a proposal by the activists, according to Steven Perlmutter, a lawyer for House leaders.

    ''This plan actually provides more majority black districts than the plaintiff's plan,'' said Perlmutter. -- House leaders unveil new redistricting map (Boston Globe, 16 March 2004)

    Plaintiffs in a federal suit that struck down a 2001 legislative redistricting plan yesterday denounced the remedy proposed by legislators, saying the new plan does little to increase the political clout of Boston's growing minority population and continues to protect incumbents at the expense of black and Latino voters.

    "They're twisting this court decision to do this racial gerrymandering and incumbent protection," said George Pillsbury, policy director for Boston VOTE, one of the organizations that brought the suit in 2002. "Bizarrely, it maintains these 12 majority-white districts out of Boston's 17 House seats, and to do that, you really have to twist district lines. . . . Dr. Seuss couldn't have dreamed this one up." ...

    "We had two districts, minority opportunity districts, in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill, which happens to be the place where the majority of Latinos live in Boston in addition to East Boston," [Rep. Elizabeth] Negretti said. "And they completely dilute the opportunity of Latinos gaining political power in those seats by pushing the whole community into one district and whitening the other. They're robbing Peter to pay Paul. It's really audacious of them to do this. They're completely cracking the fastest-growing community in Massachusetts." -- Redistricting fix rebuffed (Boston Globe, 18 March 2004)

    Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran yesterday defended a new redistricting plan for Boston's 17 legislative districts as "a good effort" that "increases in a significant way the number of African-American seats," but minority advocates continued to express their "grave" disappointment with it.

    Finneran, in his first comments since House leaders unveiled their plan Tuesday, said they had been "very specifically responsive" to the recent orders of a three-judge panel in US District Court, which found that the House's 2001 map unlawfully deprived blacks equal voting opportunities in favor of protecting incumbents. -- Finneran defends new redistricting plan (Boston Globe, 19 March 2004)

    March 9, 2004

    Perjury charges for Finneran?

    A government watchdog group called on U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan to launch a probe into whether House Speaker Thomas Finneran perjured himself in his testimony about the House's redistricting plan.

    Common Cause Executive Director Pam Wilmot said she met briefly with Sullivan on Monday.

    ''In this case it appears the speaker was not truthful,'' she said. ''These are substantial allegations.'' ...

    Wilmot pointed to comments Finneran made during his testimony on the redistricting plan last November. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a portion of that map, including Finneran's own district, saying lawmakers packed black voters into as few House districts as possible, diluting their political clout. -- Watchdog group calls for perjury investigation against Finneran (AP)

    ACLU sues South Dakota over redistricting

    The American Civil Liberties Union is suing South Dakota over political redistricting. Plaintiffs say the plan limits Native American representation in state government. Many tribal leaders support the lawsuit, but some fear a victory could create a backlash against their voting rights campaign. Hear Brian Bull of South Dakota Public Radio. --
    Suit Charges S.D. Plan Disenfranchises Indian Voters (NPR)

    March 6, 2004

    Boston redistricting suit will be costly

    Taxpayers will pick up an estimated $3 million in legal fees to draw and defend the state's redistricting plan, including a House map that a panel of federal judges rejected last week as a textbook case of politicians attempting to dilute minority voting strength.

    Nearly $600,000 went to Nixon Peabody, the firm that employs Lawrence