Colorlines

NOW IN RACIAL JUSTICE

Black Louisiana Senator ‘Excited’ That Voting Rights Act Was Gutted

Black Louisiana Senator 'Excited' That Voting Rights Act Was Gutted

State Sen. Elbert Lee Guillory, an African American legislator for Louisiana, was elated yesterday that the Supreme Court neutralized the Section Five provision of the Voting Rights Act. In a message sent last evening from his Facebook account, Sen. Guillory said he was “excited to read about the Supreme Court’s decision today striking down provisions of the Voting Rights Act.”

1015471_578468842185247_625858271_o.jpg

Guillory changed parties from Democratic to Republican in recent months. Now he’s joined a league of a new black conservative world order that includes Herman Cain, E. W. Jackson, and Rev. C. L. Bryant. Among Guillory’s other Tweets yesterday were messages attacking President Barack Obama and calling global warming a “hoax,” despite his own state dealing with some of the worst impacts of climate change of the past decade. 

In the video below, where Guillory explains why he became a Republican, he falsely identifies the party as the one that fought for voting rights for African Americans when it was Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Voting Rights Act bill that began a solid-anti civil rights legacy for Republicans that was cemented just a few years later with Republican’s Southern Strategy. He ends the video by claiming that Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican even though this has been widely disproven

A recent interview Guillory did with Herman Cain, who the Louisiana legislator called his “hero” :

What the DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

What the DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

The Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act decision Wednesday is a major victory for the economic justice of LGBT Americans of color. That’s because LGBT couples of color have higher rates of poverty and are more likely to have children in their household than white LGBT couples. Consequently, LGBT couples need the financial shot in the arm that the legal recognition of marriage can give. Today’s ruling will help to ensure that some of America’s neediest couples receive it.

Marriage—through over 1,000 legal benefits—provides couples recognized by the law key economic benefits. The New York Times calculates that these can total close to $500,000 over the course of a couple’s lifetime. These include more than $200,000 in health benefits and almost $100,000 in social security benefits. LGBT couples need these economic advantages more than almost anyone else.

Why? Well for one, as demographer Gary Gates told the New York Times, “Black and Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children.” But they are dramatically more likely to be doing so in economic hardship. 

According to the last census, “African American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate of any children in any household type.” LGBT Latino households with children are also poorer than LGBT white households. Shockingly, the poorest LBGT households of color are those with children under the age of five.

Therefore, with people of color more likely to identify as gay, be in couples and have children than whites, today’s ruling is a badly needed boost for this group of Americans largely overlooked by the mainstream.

As I have written before, “extreme bigotry has dire economic consequences.” Today’s DOMA decision is an important step towards alleviating those disparities. But it’s probably not enough.

After celebrating this historic legal victory, it might be just as important to tackle the root causes of poverty amongst LGBT people of color—namely job and education discrimination—which makes the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier so important in the first place.

Aaron Hernandez Has His Day in Court, But We’ve Already Ruled Him Guilty

Aaron Hernandez Has His Day in Court, But We've Already Ruled Him Guilty

Embattled pro football player Aaron Hernandez has been charged with murder. The former tight end for the New England Patriots was arrested at his home this morning, shortly before his team announced that it was severing its ties with the star player. for more than a week he’s been implicated in a police investigation into the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. The victim was found dead in an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez’s home on June 17.

No one really knows what happened. But the media’s filled with lots of speculation, most of it centered on reports that Hernandez failed multiple drug tests while playing collegiate football at the University of Florida and that NFL coaches were worried that his hometown friends from Bristol, Conn. were bad influences. Plenty of media reports have surfaced saying, in effect, that we should’ve seen this coming. And some of the worst analysis has said that a troubled, tattooed, Latino athlete represents a departure from the Patriots’ all-American way.

It’s the same sort of reductive analysis that we see time and again when people of color are involved in criminal cases. Instead of letting a case run its course, the media’s first instinct is to try to pathologize the person who’s involved. In a smart piece at Salon.com’s crime blog this week, Justin Peter’s writes about why this sort of reasoning is so problematic:

These stories are Monday morning quarterbacking of the worst sort. Hernandez’s alleged pre-draft character issues have no bearing on this current murder investigation. You can’t legitimately look back at them and say, “Yep, we should have known.” Every single NFL roster is stacked with players who’ve used drugs in the past, or have short tempers or “shadowy friends.” And you know what? Every single neighborhood in America is filled with people with these exact same characteristics. That doesn’t make all of these people murderers-in-waiting.

It is dishonest and irrelevant to claim that these are “ominous” signs. Or, at least, they’re no more ominous than the character flaws exhibited by other Patriots players: like Rob Gronkowski, who appears to really, really, really enjoy drinking to excess; Tom Brady, who started dating Gisele Bundchen while Bridget Moynahan was pregnant with his child; Vince Wilfork, who allegedly received $50,000 in under-the-table benefits from disgraced booster Nevin Shapiro while enrolled at the University of Miami; Mark Harrison, who allegedly trashed a hotel room while attending the NFL Scouting Combine (“The mess included urine and feces left throughout the bathroom, toothpaste on the mirror and garbage left throughout the room”); Brandon Spikes, who attempted to gouge an opponent’s eyes while playing at Florida, and whose brother is serving a life sentence for murder; and Sebastian Vollmer, who is from Germany. The list goes on.

(H/T Deadspin)

TAGS:

The Sights and Sounds of Love: Celebrating Gay Marriage

The Sights and Sounds of Love: Celebrating Gay Marriage

The Defense of Marriage Act is done. The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday to overturn the federal ban on same sex marriage and effectively clear the way for gay marriage in California, marking an important milestone in the fight for marriage equality. We’ve spent lots of time looking at the intersection of racial justice and marriage equality, and while the fight for LGBT equity is far from over (cue Imara Jones’s great piece on the need for job safety), today’s ruling is cause for celebration.

After the jump, check out the scenes in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

Among the legal barriers that today’s dramatic Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage sends tumbling down is the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage-based immigration benefits. As Congress debates immigration reform, the rights of LGBT immigrants and their U.S. citizen partners have been a central sticking point, with Republicans threatening to kill the immigration bill if Democrats insist on legislating LGBT rights. Today’s historic decision, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, largely puts that debate to rest, by allowing gay and lesbian U.S. citizens to apply for legal residency for their partners. 

“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision. “The federal statute is invalid.”

Immigration through marriage has long been a core component of U.S. citizenship policy. Under existing law, U.S. citizens in opposite-sex marriages can sponsor their immigrant husband or wife to come to the U.S. or remain here with legal authorization. But same-sex couples have been excluded and countless partnerships have been thrown into limbo. 

Twelve states currently have laws that permit same-sex marriage. This limits the reach of the court’s decision, because the remaining 38 states retain heterosexist marriage laws. The decision does not create a constitutional right to marriage and thus does not immediately impact laws in those states. But the decision is likely to have a ripple effect, as states may now move to pass marriage equality laws. And the court’s DOMA decision means that marriages performed in one of the 12 states that recognize same-sex unions will be considered valid for federal benefits, even if couples reside in another state. 

The rights of gay and lesbian couples to sponsor non-citizen partners for immigration visas became a central area of debate in the ongoing immigration reform deliberations. For several years, Democrats in Congress have introduced stand-alone legislation that would allow U.S. citizens to petition for a green card for their same-sex partners, married or not. That legislation, which gained small Republican support, never made it far, but many hoped that immigration reform would include LGBT rights provisions.

Earlier this year, President Obama urged Congress to include same-sex couples in immigration reform legislation. And the White House’s own outline on immigration reform recommends “[treating] same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

But when the bi-partisan group of eight senators introduced their immigration reform bill into the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, it included no such measure. And despite broad stated support from Democrats to amend the bill to include LGBT provisions, Democrats agreed to scrap those commitments when key Republicans said they’d bail on the bill if the committee included equality proposals. “You will threaten the entire product,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said at the time.

After making the decision to table his same-sex couple amendment, Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, proposed the same-sex marriage amendment last week on the Senate floor. Few observers think that provision has a chance of passage in the current effort to garner Republican support for the bill. Instead, advocates of equal rights for all couples took to watching the court for a remedy. The Supreme Court decision today changes the calculus for Democrats like Leahy, basically making the decision for lawmakers. Whether conservative elected officials like it or not, married same-sex couples will have the same rights as opposite-sex couples to sponsor non-citizen husbands and wives for green cards.

 

State Attorney Generals Vow Immediate Voter ID Implementation

State Attorney Generals Vow Immediate Voter ID Implementation

This morning we provided a short list of states that had pending laws that could burden voters’ access to the ballot — laws that might immediately go into effect if the Supreme Court struck Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. Looking at the reaction quotes from the attorney generals in some of those states, it looks like they’ve wasted no time in moving forward with photo voter ID laws, laws that cut early voting, and other restrictive measures. Here are some of those quotes:

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, whose photo voter ID law was modified last year after a Section Five review and ensuing court trial found lawmakers who wanted to intentionally discriminate against black voters:

“For nearly 50 years, Sections 4 and 5 have imposed an extraordinary intrusion into state sovereignty in certain states, including South Carolina. Over time, great strides have been made and Sections 4 and 5 have become obsolete. Today’s decision means the voting rights of all citizens will continue to be protected under the Voting Rights Act without requiring a different formula for states wishing to implement reasonable election reforms, such as voter ID laws similar to South Carolina’s. This is a victory for all voters as all states can now act equally without some having to ask for permission or being required to jump through the extraordinary hoops demanded by federal bureaucracy.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose state passed a voter ID law that could have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Latino-Americans had not Section Five court reviews blocked it:

“The U.S. Constitution establishes one United States — not a divided nation with different laws applying to different states. Laws that apply unequally to just some states have no place in our nation. Today’s ruling ensures that Texas is no longer one of just a few states that must seek approval from the federal government before its election laws can take effect. With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, whose photo voter ID law is more likely to disenfranchise black voters than white voters :

“The United States Supreme Court placed Mississippi on equal footing with every other State. The Court’s decision removes requirements for Mississippi to travel through the expensive and time consuming Federal application process for any change to state, county, or municipal voting law. Mississippi citizens have earned the right to determine our voting processes. Our relationships and trust in each other have matured. This chapter is closed.”

Alabama attorney General Luther Strange, who pulled its voter ID law from federal Section Five review just a month ago:

“My office will continue to review the opinion and its implications. At this time, our initial conclusion is that Alabama is no longer subject to the preclearance requirements under Section 5. We expect significant savings for Alabama taxpayers because neither the State nor local governments will have to expend time, money and effort on submitting routine changes to voting laws to Washington, D.C., for approval. Alabama will only be subject to the preclearance process if Congress adopts a new coverage formula that includes Alabama. But let me be clear, I do not believe Alabama should be included under any new coverage formula that Congress might adopt. As the Court rightly points out, minority participation in voting is in fact higher in Alabama and many other covered jurisdictions than it is in many non-covered jurisdictions. “

Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg couldn’t disagree more about Alabama. As she noted in her dissent today:

“The Court does not contest that Alabama’s history of racial discrim­ination provides a sufficient basis for Congress to require Alabama and its political subdivisions to preclear electoral changes. Nevertheless, the Court asserts that Shelby County may prevail on its facial chal­lenge to [Section Four’s] coverage formula because it is subject to [Section Five’s] preclearance requirement by virtue of that formula. …This misses the reality that Congress decided to subject Alabama to preclearance based on evidence of continuing constitutional violations in that State.”

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who filed an amicus brief in support of upholding Voting Rights Act’s Section Five:

“Section 4 establishes the criteria to determine whether a state or part of a state must seek review of any changes to its election laws by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a process known as preclearance. Until Congress sets new criteria, no state or part of a state will be subject to preclearance under Section 5. The North Carolina General Assembly is now considering legislation that among other changes would limit early voting and require voter I.D.

 

Justice Ginsburg Quotes King and Shakespeare in Shelby Dissent

Justice Ginsburg Quotes King and Shakespeare in Shelby Dissent

Justice Ruth Ginsburg reached far beyond traditional legal arguments in her dissent to her Supreme Court peers’ ruling gutting the Voting Rights Act — a rhetorical style at which Justice Samuel Alito reportedly rolled his eyes. Ginsburg’s rebuttal is a comprehensive and categorical takedown of Chief Justice John Roberts opinion, which was joined by Justices Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy and Alito. In summary, it says that the majority’s opinion, which declared the Section Four coverage formula unconstitutional, completely dodged the actual question before the Court, which was whether Congress had the power to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006, and if Congress acted “rationally” when doing so. Ginsburg argued that Congress most certainly did on both questions, and that more importantly, VRA has worked where it’s supposed to work.

“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness,” wrote Ginsburg. “The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story. One would expect more from an opinion striking at the heart of the Nation’s signal piece of civil-rights legislation.”

Driving her point further, Ginsburg wrote, “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA” and “throwing out preclearance [the Section Four formula] when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Usually SCOTUS opinions draw heavily from past court decisions, and Ginsburg’s is no exception. But she also reminded the court of the “Bloody Sunday” campaign for voting rights in Selma, Ala., and quoted Martin Luther King’s hopeful determination when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Ginsburg also quoted Shakespeare, telling the Court that “what’s past is prologue,” and the Spanish-American poet and philosopher George Santayana who said ”[t]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  

Finally, Ginsburg recognized that today’s ruling seems to negate a ruling the Supreme Court made just a week ago, in the Arizona v. Inter  Tribal Council of Arizona case, where they struck Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law as unconstitutional. As we explored in Colorlines last week (“Does the SCOTUS Arizona Ruling Impact the Voting Rights Act Case?”) Ginsburg stated that Congress has broad powers to address voting rights issues and said, “When confronting the most constitutionally invid­ious form of discrimination, and the most fundamental right in our democratic system, Congress’ power to act is at its height.”

In her footnotes, Ginsburg cited the Arizona case and said at least five constitutional amendments “are in line with the special role assigned to Congress in protecting the integrity of the democratic process in federal elections.”

For more on today’s ruling read: ”Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act” and “OK, Congress, Time to Get Your (Voting Rights) Act Together

Watch Teach for America’s New DREAM Act Video

Watch Teach for America's New DREAM Act Video

Education and immigration reform united. I guess?

Oprah Really, Really Loves Her Some Tyler Perry

Oprah Really, Really Loves Her Some Tyler Perry

Because her OWN network just doubled its episode order for Perry’s “The Haves and the Have Nots.” Details at Shadow and Act

OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network announced today via press release that it has ordered an additional 16 episodes of the its freshman drama series from Tyler Perry, The Haves and the Have Nots, bringing the total season order to 32 episodes.

Sorry guys. It looks like the show’s a hit!

The show’s current cycle will air through September 3, with the new episodes premiering in early 2014.

Its May 28 premiere was the highest rated series premiere in OWN history (then again, OWN is still very young, and hasn’t exactly had many original series of its own to compare this one to). 

Since its launch, the series has averaged over 1.5 million total viewers. 

They’re taking over. Seriously.

Venus X Talks About the NYC Party That’s ‘Black, White, Gay, Straight, Trans, Thoroughly Lawless’

Venus X Talks About the NYC Party That's 'Black, White, Gay, Straight, Trans, Thoroughly Lawless'

Venus X has been one of the most talked about New York City DJ’s since a high-profile Twitter beef with Diplo about the latter’s rumored exploitation of artists of color put her on folks’ radars a couple years ago.  A twenty-something, queer, Dominican DJ from Washington Heights, she’s mostly known for the party she helped start back in 2009 called GHE20G0TH1KIn a recent interview with Sex Magazine, Venus X reminisces about the party’s beginnings, and how it became a melting pot of queer and sexy.

So you were kind of rebelling against hip hop culture?
It didn’t even coincide with what I was learning. I was learning about militancy, gender, feminism. I was learning about all these things that were basically saying hip hop is whack. So I was a little punk girl. I wore Doc Martens and baby doll dresses. I wore a big jean jacket that my grandma had from the ’80s. I wouldn’t have fit in at any hip hop venues.

Who was going to GHE20G0TH1K at the beginning?
It was just a mix of all the people I was hanging out with already:Radical black lesbians from Bed-Stuy who I went to school with; skaters that I knew from being a teenager in Union Square; art students I knew from Cooper Union and from New School; downtown kids from the LES. It was a hodgepodge of people. We invited everybody.

Read the rest over at Sex Magazine. 

A Must-Read Take on What’s Missing From OWN’s ‘Dark Girls’

A Must-Read Take on What's Missing From OWN's 'Dark Girls'

The documentary “Dark Girls” made its debut on Oprah’s OWN Network over the weekend. The film, which explores colorism in the black community, generated lots of discussion, both leading up to and after its debut. Some praised its candid exploration of such a painful topic, while others wished that it had been more nuanced. Here’s a powerful opinion piece from Yaba Blay at Clutch Magazine who argues that what was really missing were the voices of confident, dark-skinned women:

For nearly two hours, I watched dark-skinned women, faces tear-stained and emotions raw, testify about all the many and painful ways that colorism has damaged their beings. Unfortunately what I didn’t see were any of the myriad ways that the conversation could have and should have been nuanced. Yes, I am a dark-skinned woman, who was once a dark-skinned little girl who grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and therefore knows all too well how colorism can break you if you let it. But I didn’t let it. And what Dark Girls was missing was that voice. The voice of the confident, assured, self-affirming, self-loving, “I wish you would tell me I’m not the ish” sister, who although she can relate to the pain refuses to stay stuck in it and has somehow figured out how to find beauty in her reflection. We needed that voice, not to distract from or to negate the experiences of pain, but rather to balance them with the capacity for triumph, if the purpose of the dialogue is in fact our healing. If we truly want to heal, we have to stop talking at each other and start talking with each other. And to do that, we need all voices at the table - dark, light, and every shade in-between - without the “vs.” While not with equal measure, colorism does impact us all. I’m not sure that those of us on the darker-end of the spectrum really need to maintain a monopoly on the pain. I think there’s room for other voices and other experiences. We needed the voice of the light-skinned sister to tell us what it’s like to walk into a room and have women who know nothing about her throw daggers with their eyes, or the light-skinned sister who stays in the sun and has either loc’ed her hair or cut it very close because she’s down for her people and doesn’t want anything about her presence to cause the browner-skinned women she considers her sisters to question their value. We needed that balance, if in fact the purpose of the dialogue is healing.

For more, visit the film’s website.

South Asian Artists Come Together to Support Rana Plaza Victims

BeatsforBangladesh.jpg

It’s been months since a devastating building collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1,100 garment workers and injured more than 2,500 others. In the aftermath of 

the collapse, which is the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern history, there’s been a push to move from the individual devastation to an institutional analysis, namely by holding Western companies (Wal-Mart, Gap, JC Penny’s, among many others) accountable for turning a blind eye to the deficiencies of its Bangladeshi contractors.

In the midst of such discussion, a new U.S.-based fundraising effort has sprung up to help support the victims and their families. Beats for Bangladesh is a benefit album in solidarity with the workers in Rana Plaza. The album brings together South Asian artists from within and beyond the United States’ borders. You can listen to the album’s 26 tracks at Bandcamp. Proceeds from the album go to Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity, which provides on-the-ground support to those impacted by the tragedy.

TAGS: Bangladesh

You Can Have Your Own Community Radio Station — Here’s Where to Start

You Can Have Your Own Community Radio Station -- Here's Where to Start

We talk often about the oversights of corporate-driven media, how it underrepresents communities of color or misrepresents them entirely. But after a long 15-year battle at the Federal Communications Commission, non-profit organizations and community groups may be on the verge of putting a dent in that corporate agenda. 

Two years ago, President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act into law. The legislation effectively opened the airwaves to hundreds of new low power FM radio stations. But in order to be among those hundreds of new radio station hosts, you need a license. Applications can only be submitted October 15-29, but prospective applicants can begin preparing for the process by looking at the website on the FCC’s website, which you can access here.

The possibilities that this new opportunity represents isn’t lost on the activists who helped make it happen. Jeff Rousset, an organizer with Philadelphia-based Prometheus Radio Project, explained the significance on Democracy Now.

“This is a historic opportunity for communities all over the country to have a voice over their airwaves,” Rousset said. “The airwaves are supposed to belong to the public. And now this is a chance for groups to actually own and control their own media outlets all over the country.”

Perhaps most importantly, this opening up of the airwaves provides an opportunity for local grassroots groups to take power of the news that’s heard in their communities. 

Ramón Ramírez, president of Oregon’s largest Latino organization, Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, told Democracy Now that his group started their own station with the help of the Prometheus Radio Project and the results have been a crucial part of their organizing work. 

“We’ve been able to use it as an organizing tool, not only to organize farmworkers—we are the farmworker union of Oregon—but also to provide information and give people that never had a voice,” Ramirez said. “For example, we’re broadcasting in four indigenous languages from Mexico and Central America, and we’re giving those folks a voice in the community that they never had.”

ColorofChange.org has also been waging a campaign to spread the word about Low Power FM radio stations, and you can get some good background by reading up on their efforts.

 If you’d like to start your own station, Prometheus is holding a free online training this week. You can visit their website and register for free.

A Hard Blow to Tribal Sovereignty

A Hard Blow to Tribal Sovereignty

Update: June 25, 2012, 2pm ET

The ruling does not necessarily mean that Baby Veronica will be placed back with the Copabianocos. The case is being bounced back to the lower South Carolina court. If it rules to terminate Dusten Brown’s parental rights, the grandparents and the Cherokee Nation may still have a say in the child’s placement. 

—-

In a 5 to 4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not block termination of a Native father’s parental rights. The court appears to have ruled as if it was deciding the issue based on race—when a better lens to understand the case, called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is through tribal sovereignty.

First, some quick background on the case and on ICWA itself (fuller background here). Christy Maldonado gave birth to a baby in 2009 whose father, Dusten Brown, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Because of self-determination, the Cherokee Nation decides who its citizens are—and because Dusten Brown is Cherokee, his baby, named Veronica, is Cherokee as well. Maldonado and Brown lost touch by the time the baby was born, and Brown was never informed of the baby’s birth. Maldonado decided to put the baby up for adoption, and a white couple named Melanie and Matt Capobianco took Veronica into pre-adoptive care.

Just to be clear, although the case is called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the Copabiancos never adopted Veronica. When Brown was served with Maldonado’s intention to place the baby up for adoption, he immediately fought the decision. A South Carolina court agreed that a non-custodial Native father was, indeed a father for the purpose of the case, under ICWA.

So what does ICWA do? The act was created because of incredibly high rates of white parents adopting Native children; in states like Minnesota, that have large Native populations, non-Natives raised 90 percent of Native babies and children put up for adoption. Those adoptions sever ties to Native tribes and communities, endangering the very existence of these tribes and nations. In short, if enough Native babies are adopted out, there will literally not be enough citizens to compose a nation. ICWA sought to stem that practice by creating a policy that keeps Native adoptees with their extended families, or within their tribes and nations. The policy speaks to the core point of tribal sovereignty: Native tribes and nations use it to determine their future, especially the right to keep their tribes and nations together. 

But leave it to the Supreme Court to miss the point altogether this morning. The prevailing justices failed to honor tribal sovereignty in today’s ruling. In writing for the court’s majority, Justice Samuel Alito opened his delivery on the ruling with these words:

This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.

What Alito (along with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer) is perhaps willfully missing is that the Cherokee Nation does not classify its citizens in that way. Baby Veronica is not a certain percentage Cherokee—she is Cherokee, as determined by her nation. The high court’s first sentence, based in the colonial practice of blood quantum instead of the way that citizenship is determined by the Cherokee Nation, illustrates that the justices made this case about race—in their mind—and not about tribal sovereignty in the law. By this flawed logic, the high court ruled that Baby Veronica is somehow not Native enough to be protected by ICWA.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissenting opinion, and was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan—and, in part, by Justice Scalia. In honoring the spirit in which ICWA was created, Sotomayor wrote:

Unlike the majority, I cannot adopt a reading of ICWA that is contrary to both its text and its stated purpose.

Baby Veronica has been in her father’s care, and will now be ripped apart from her nation in Oklahoma, and taken to South Carolina, where she will be adopted by a white couple—continuing a practice that tears Native tribes and nations apart. And while this is very much a heartbreaking day for Dusten Brown, the Cherokee Nation, and all Native tribes and nations whose right to a future has been put in peril through adoptions, it’s also a sad day for tribal sovereignty, which is clearly under attack in the high court in the land.

OK, Congress, Time to Get Your (Voting Rights) Act Together

OK, Congress, Time to Get Your (Voting Rights) Act Together

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Section Four coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because the logic used the last time it was updated—the early 1970s—doesn’t apply to present-day challenges involving voting discrimination. Section Four creates the critieria for which jurisdictions can be covered by Section Five. 

This is definitely a devastating blow to the Voting Rights Act, but it could have been way worse. The Supreme Court could have ruled that Section Five itself was unconstitutional, but it didn’t do that (though, Justice Clarence Thomas said in his written opinion he wanted Section Five ruled unconstitutional). It only ruled that the coverage formula that makes Section Five possible needs to be re-jiggered by Congress. Had Section Five been ruled unconstitutional, that would mean no state or jurisdiction would ever have to be subjected to federal review of new election laws for possible discrimination. 

Now it’s on to Congress. It is Congress that created the formula for Section Five and only Congress can fix it. In their last re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, they did not make changes to the formula, mainly because their evidence—15,000 pages worth of evidence—illustrated that voting rights problems still occurred in the areas identified in the prevailing coverage formula.

What happened this morning is that the Supreme Court positioned itself as the evidence-gathering body to determine the Voting Rights Act’s validity, and substituted its own opinion for that of Congress—even though Congress overwhelmingly re-authorized the Act in 2006; not one vote was placed against it in the Senate.

The Section Four coverage formula that is in dispute judged jurisdictions by their record of discrimination against voters of color and against those who speak English as their second language. It mostly led to coverage of areas in the old Confederate South, including Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and parts of Florida. But it also covered areas in New York, Alaska, New Hampshire and California. Those areas have been required to submit new election law changes to the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court in D.C. for “preclearance”—or, a review to determine if any racial discrimination could result from the change. 

Wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his opinion:

In 1966, the coverage formula was “rational in both practice and theory.” It looked to cause (discriminatory tests) and effect (low voter registration and turnout), and tailored the remedy (preclearance) to those jurisdictions exhibiting both. By 2009, however, the “coverage formula raise[d] serious constitutional questions.’ Coverage today
is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned for over 40 years. And voter registration and turnout numbers in covered States have risen dramatically. In 1965, the States could be divided into those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.

Congress will now have to go back into the act and find a new way to identify areas that deserve federal oversight. This will be a tough sell politically. It’s hard to imagine anything passing through Congress in this day and age. It’s even harder to fathom that a senator or representative from a previously uncovered state would self-indict his or her state—basically, confess that the state has voting problems that the federal government should address—and act on that by creating a law to have itself policed.

Some of the uncovered states that had major voting problems in 2008 and 2012: Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Only five counties in Florida are covered, but there were problems all over the state. What’s needed is a universal right to vote, constitutionally protected, as civil rights advocates have argued. But for that also, Congress will have to get its act together. 

For more explanation on Section 4 and Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, read our comprehensive past coverage:

North Carolina: A Case for the Voting Rights Act’s Modern Relevance” — February 27, 2013

What is Alabama’s Problem With the Voting Rights Act?” — February 26, 2013

Voting Rights Icon Lawrence Guyot’s Death Animates Fight Over Future” — December 6, 2012

Why the Voting Rights Act Likely Won’t Survive Supreme Court Review” — November 14, 2012

Today’s the Voting Rights Act’s Birthday. What’s It to You?” — August 6, 2012; Julianne Hing

Texas vs. Voting Rights Act, 1944 to 2012” [Infographic] — July 12, 2012; Hatty Lee

Texas Wants to Say Adios to the Voting Rights Act’s Authority” — July 10, 2012; Aura Bogado

The Growing Debate Over the Voting Rights Act” — May 24, 2012 

Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act

Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which determines what states and jurisdictions are covered by Section 5, is invalid after less than 50 years of protecting African Americans and people of color. The currently covered areas are places that historically have disenfranchised people of color, or those for whom English is their second language. But Chief Justice John Roberts has ruled that the formula, which was last updated in the late 1960s-early 1970s, must be updated by Congress so that it covers areas that violate voting rights today. Chief Roberts, who’s had a beef with the Voting Rights Act since the early 1980s, wrote in the majority opinion:

“In assessing the ‘current need’ for a preclearance system treating States differently from one another today, history since 1965  cannot be ignored. The Fifteenth Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future. To serve that purpose, Congress—if it is to divide the States—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. … Congress did not use that record to fashion a coverage formula grounded in current conditions. It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”

This is not a total loss for the Voting Rights Act. Section Five can still stand if Congress is able to fix the formula so that it covers areas they consider presently running afoul of voting rights. Meanwhile, here are the currently covered states worth watching now that this ruling affects:

  • North Carolina: Republicans, who control both state legislative chambers and the governor’s office, have proposed and/or passed bills that would require a narrow set of photo identification cards to vote, that would cut early voting, potentially penalize the parents of college students who vote away from their parents home, and would implement probably the strictest felony disenfranchisement law in the nation. None of these are law, but they would have had to pass federal preclearance review under Section 5. Almost 500,000 North Carolinians lack the ID needed to vote under the proposed law, a third of them African Americans. Hundreds of North Carolina citizens have been arrested over the past couple months while protesting these laws. 
  • Virginia: Passed a voter ID bill that survived federal preclearance review last year, but then doubled down and passed an even stricter photo voter ID law this year, which had not yet been submitted for Section 5 review. Now it doesn’t need to. Meanwhile, it’s estimated up to 870,000 Virginians lack the ID needed to vote under the new law, a disproportionate number of whom are African Americans. 
  • Alabama: Passed a photo voter ID law and a proof-of-citizenship voter registration law in 2011 that isn’t scheduled to go into effect until 2014. It had been submitted for Section 5 review, but was withdrawn a month ago. Now it won’t be reviewed for discriminatory effects. 
  • Mississippi: No African American has won a statewide office in this state (nor in any of the states above)[CORRECTION: Virginia elected a black governor in 1986], and a voter ID bill it passed last year may make it harder for black candidates to get elected when those most likely to be disenfranchised by this law are African Americans. 

Other states like Texas and South Carolina, which Section 5 reviews blocked from passing racially discriminatory voting laws, could attempt to reinstate those laws. But as Justin Levitt, an election law professor at Loyola Law School, told Colorlines, it’s not just the states we need to be worried about. 

“One of the most important pieces of Section 5 is that it prevents local efforts to discriminate in the allocation of local political power: districts for city council and county commission and local judicial offices that really affect the responsiveness of representation and justice in local democracies, in all of the kitchen-table issues that affect our lives most tangibly,” said Levitt. “When Texas passes a discriminatory statewide law, there are lots of voices in the fight, but when a tiny municipality in southwest Texas does the same, it gets a lot less attention.”

Civil rights groups that have fought both for the Voting Rights Act to be created, and to defend it in the decades after have expressed disappointment. Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, Natasha Korgaonkar, assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., the entity that argued the case, told Colorlines that they were “optimistic” that Section 5 would be upheld, and if not that Congress would have to “step in.”

Meanwhile, Jotaka Eaddy, senior director of NAACP’s voting rights program told Colorlines that the Court’s decision “will not change our game plan.” Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the civil rights law organization Advancement Project, called the decision “a huge loss” and that “the biggest harm is to the voters.” Her organization’s work would not be deterred though, she said.

“We will have to continue to do what we did in 2012 and bring our own affirmative cases,” said Browne-Dianis. “We really will have to step up our efforts to do more affirmative litigation, which is a problem because the federal government has been an important player in stopping discrimination before it happens,” through the Voting Rights Act.

Advancement Project and the NAACP have been embroiled in the civil rights struggle against North Carolina’s proposed voter suppression laws. Browne-Dianis said that this decision “could hasten the changes that are being proposed in North Carolina to make it harder to vote.”

In Texas, where the state filed its own challenge to Section 5 with the Supreme Court, Christina Sanders, state director of the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund, said, “This [case] shows us that it is important, now more than ever, to educate our neighbors and communities about building local power to ensure that all votes are protected.”

In Florida, where voter waiting lines for African Americans were the longest in the nation, laws that cut early voting were blocked by Section 5 challenges. Election law professor Dan Smith, of University of Florida, said that challenges to discriminatory laws, like the cuts to early voting that disproportionally impacted black voters, would be more difficult without Section 5. 

“We’re only talking about five counties out of 67,” that are covered by Section 5 in Florida. “But when you have [Section Five] as a vehicle you can challenge the entire state law because of the uniform election code. With respect to the voting rights issues in Florida it has been a major piece of legislation that has protected the rights of minorities and I fear for that leverage to be pulled away from voting rights activists.”

Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, and co-author of their recent report “If Section 5 Falls: New Voting Implications,” told Colorlines that they will  be working with a coalition of voters, advocates and members of Congress to come up with new measures “that provide robust and ample protections for voters.”

 

Senate Passes Border Militarization Amendment With Bipartisan Support

Senate Passes Border Militarization Amendment With Bipartisan Support

The Senate agreed last night to amend the immigration reform bill to inject billions of new dollars into militarizing the US-Mexico border. The amendment, considered a compromise to galvanize Republican support to guarantee a supermajority in favor of the larger immigration overhaul, will lead to an expansion of border security beyond what even the most conservative members of Congress had previously demanded. 

All of the 52 Democrats in the Senate were joined by 15 Republicans in voting to close debate on the amendment. The amendment, which was introduced last week by two Republican Senators, will double the number of border patrol to 40,000 from 20,000 in the next decade, purchase new security technology including drones and Blackhawk helicopters. It will also require the Department of Homeland Security to build 700 miles of new walls and fences on the border between the US and Mexico.  It’s all at a cost of $30 billion.

Before its passage, a number of leading immigrant rights groups blasted the amendment as a serious threat to the rights and safety of border communities. 

“Border communities, and the DREAMers and families who live in the Southwest, have already been subjected to criminalization and militarization,” Evelyn Rivera of the group United We Dream said in a statement. “This amendment is based on the false notion that our border is not secure or there hasn’t been adequate enforcement up to this point.”

The agreement was reached last week as the Senate rejected a proposal from Sen. John Cornyn, R, TX., that would have tied the bill’s path to citizenship to the completion of a set of out-of-reach border enforcement goalposts.  The so-called border triggers threatened to leave undocumented immigrants in a permanent legal limbo, Democrats argued. Cornyn’s amendment would have added 5,000 more agents to the border.

Yesterday’s border security amendment, which passed a cloture vote, will grow enforcement on the US-Mexico to levels never before seen. But many Democrats rallied behind the proposal because it does not tie the path to citizenship to a separate congressional approval of the border expansions. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D, N.Y., who helped lead the group of Senators who drafted the reform bill, said on the Senate floor yesterday that the new amendment will “make sure that the triggers could not be used deliberatively, by someone opposed to the path to citizenship, as a way to block it.”

Immigrant rights groups warned that the compromise strategy is risky not only for border communities, but also for the prospects of passing an immigration bill in the House, which is poised to push any immigration legislation aggressively to the right.

“It makes little sense for Democrats to capitulate to irrational Republican demands, particularly at this stage in the legislative process,” Chris Newman of the group National Day Laborers Network said in a statement, “Our focus should be on passing the best possible legislation in the Senate to maximize our ability to beat back the xenophobic and racist views that seem to have held the House of Representatives hostage.”

Even as the amendment promised a massive expansion of militarized presence at the border, many Republicans in Senate remained committed to opposing reform legislation. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has remained one of the staunchest opponents of the immigration bill, said he would not support the legislation even with the amendment because it conforms to what he called the “legalization first philosophy.” 

The Senate is expected to pass the full reform bill before July 4th. It’s yet to be seen whether House Republicans, who are expected to take up immigration next month, will accept the draconian amendments as sufficient and get behind reform or follow Grassley’s lead in opposing any bill.

Watching Zimmerman’s Trial Might Break Your Heart

Watching Zimmerman's Trial Might Break Your Heart

George Zimmerman is finally having his day in court. We know that the jury includes some interesting, concealed-weapons-permit-having jurors. The stage is now set for heartbreak from the witness stand.

In a case about life and death—and the charge of second-degree murder to be specific—Zimmerman defense attorney Don West started his opening statement with a knock-knock joke that no one seemed to find too amusing.

The courtroom grew somber as the state called its first witness: 15-year-old Chad Joseph. His mother is Brandy Green; her boyfriend is Tracy Martin (Trayvon’s father). Joseph—whose relationship to Trayvon might be described as a stepbrother to Trayvon—testified that he and Trayvon watched television and played video games all day on that fateful February day last year that would end with Trayvon’s death. Joseph explained that he stayed home while Trayvon went to the local store for goodies—adding that he asked Trayvon to get him Skittles.

That was the last time Joseph ever saw Trayvon alive.

Where to Get Your ‘Native Americans Discovered Columbus’ Tee

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 4.04.29 PM.pngNavajo Times reporter Shondiin Silversmith did a great write up on Jared Yazzie and his OxDx t-shirts. Silversmith writes that Yazzie was once an engineering student, but soon turned to graphic design:

He sold his first shirt design to 25 people, whom he calls his “dream team.” The design on his first shirt was of a Navajo child’s head with a distorted dream bubble floating above him and a bandana that says “dreamer.”

“After that I had enough money to come up with my next design,” Yazzie said.

He left UA and moved to Phoenix in 2010 where he continued to design his shirts.

“Everything is either hand-drawn by me or graphically altered by me. I do all the graphics for my stuff,” Yazzie said. Each of his T-shirts is either screen-printed or hand-painted.

Yazzie learned the screen-printing process in his brother’s garage from a friend in 2011. When he first started, his designs would be sent out to screen shops and professionally printed, but does the printing himself today.

Read the rest of the article—and check out Yazzie’s Native Super Woman, Native Americans Discover Columbus, and other shirts at http://oxdx.storenvy.com/

Justice Ginsburg’s Dissent a Roadmap for Defenders of Affirmative Action

Justice Ginsburg's Dissent a Roadmap for Defenders of Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court has left affirmative action alone for now, even as they’ve indicated that race-conscious admissions policies stand on shaky legal ground. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used her dissent to provide an outline for the University of Texas to follow, as it will presumably continue to defend its admissions program when the case returns to the Fifth Circuit. 

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the lower Fifth Circuit Court didn’t properly examine whether the University of Texas’ admissions policies fulfilled a compelling state interest, as they’re required to do by Grutter v. Bollinger, a prior Supreme Court ruling. Ginsburg disagreed.

“In my view, the courts below adhered to this court’s pathmarking decisions and there is no need for a second look,” Ginsburg said today when reading her dissent aloud, the AP reported. The Supreme Court had sufficient information to gauge whether the University of Texas complied with the legal standard set by Grutter, and according to Ginsburg, their program is constitutional.

Still, Ginsburg wrote for just herself, while Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that he’d overturn Grutter altogether. She used her opinion to lay out a framework for the University of Texas to follow, and to push back on the arguments made by the plaintiff, a white Texan named Abigail Fisher who was denied admission to the university.

Eliminating race and using race-blind alternatives could be able to produce a diverse student body to a satisfactory degree, Fisher argued, and so race-conscious admissions ought to be eliminated. Fisher stood in favor of Texas’ Top 10 Percent Plan, which automatically accepts a portion of the top graduates from each Texas public high school, and the separate admissions process Texas uses to round out its incoming class, which takes other factors, of which race is but one, into account. The Top 10 Percent Plan seemingly race-neutral, yet because of enduring residential segregation that determines where students go to school, “race consciousness, not blindness to race, … drives such plans,” Ginsburg wrote.

“[O]nly an ostrich could regard the supposedly neutral alternatives as race unconscious,” Ginsburg wrote. 

Universities and public institutions have no need to hide from the “legacy of ‘centuries of law-sanctioned inequality,’” and that race-consciousness is preferable to some backdoor effort to address inequity by concealing the mention of it. And because, Ginsburg pointed out, the University of Texas “flexibly” considers race as but one of many factors in its admissions process, and puts its admissions program up for regular review to determine whether its consideration of race is still a necessary part of its admissions process, its programs are constitutional. 

There’s still a chance for the Supreme Court to dismantle the deeper underpinnings that are holding affirmative action together when the Court revisits the practice in its next term.

Read the Supreme Court opinions, along with Ginsburg’s dissent, here (PDF).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196