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Social Media Shows Love for Rachel Jeantel

Social Media Shows Love for Rachel Jeantel

Something unexpected happened this week in George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Rachel Jeantel, Martin’s friend who took the witness stand this week, became the center of mockery and criticism about her dark skin, her speech, and her weight. The gist of it is probably summed up best by Lolo Jones’ idiotic and uninformed tweet Thursday night:

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Crunk Feminist Collective paid tribute to Jeantel’s “unbought and unbossed” posture on the stand by compiling a list of encouraging messages from supporters. 

Two Players of Nigerian Descent Drafted in the NBA’s 1st Round

Two Players of Nigerian Descent Drafted in the NBA's 1st Round

There are already several high-profile Nigerian and Nigerian-American athletes in American sports: NBA legend Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, Stanford’s Ogwumike sisters, and NFL pro ball cornerback Nnamdi Asomugh, just to name a few. But at Thursday’s NBA draft, that list just got a little bit longer.

Victor Oladipo was drafted second overall by the Orlando Magic and Giannis Adetokunbo was the 15th pick from the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Oladipo, 21, starred at Indiana while 18-year-old Adetokunbo was selected out of Greece.

3 Reasons You Should Go See ‘An Oversimplification of Her Beauty’

3 Reasons You Should Go See 'An Oversimplification of Her Beauty'

“An Oversimplification of Her Beauty” is perhaps one of the most unconventional love stories you’ll see on screen this year. But, because I know that’s probably not enough of a reason to see it, I made a list:

  1. Check out these executive producers: Wyatt Cenac, Dream Hampton, Jay-Z, and Joy Bryant.
  2. There’s animation!
  3. It’s already gotten rave reviews at some of the industry’s most important film festivals, including Sundance.

The film opens in Washington, DC on Friday, June 28. To check out other local listings, visit the film’s website.

Tips for Being a Better Transgender Ally

Tips for Being a Better Transgender Ally

Today is National Trans Day of Action in New York and there’s lots to celebrate. But first: four simple steps to becoming a better trans ally from Rebecca Kling at Thought Catalogue

Step Zero: Don’t Deny Someone Else’s Reality

The first thing about being a trans ally — something really before the first thing — is to know when to keep your mouth shut.

Step One: Educate Yourself

So, you’ve learned to keep your mouth shut. Awesome! You’ll go far. The next step toward being a strong trans ally (and the first real bit of work) is to transform yourself into an informed trans ally. To do that, you need to educate yourself.

Step Two: Begin To Speak Up

So, you’ve read through some Trans 101 websites. You’ve got a grasp on gender identity, cissexism, why you shouldn’t use words like “tranny” and “shemale.” Now what?

Begin to flex your ally muscles. This can be incredibly simple: Call out the next transphobic joke you see on TV.

Step Three: Go Big or Go Home

Now that you’ve educated yourself and know enough to call out basic transphobia among your friends or peers, it’s time to step up your game. In your own life, this can be things like asking your employer why there isn’t a gender-neutral bathroom at your workplace.

(H/T Gender Justice LA)

SCOTUS Voting Rights Act Decision Might Not Apply to Texas

SCOTUS Voting Rights Act Decision Might Not Apply to Texas

After the U.S. Supreme Court hollowed out the Voting Rights Act, Texas was one of the first out the gate to declare that it would immediately enforce a voter ID law and redistricting plan that were both blocked by the Act last year. Texas couldn’t prove that the voter ID law wouldn’t have racially discriminatory effects, as was required under Section Five, and state lawmakers were found to have discriminatory intentions when they created the redistricting plan. 

Because of those intentions, Texas may find itself subject to preclearance despite the SCOTUS ruling. Reason being is that Section Three of the Act allows jurisdictions to be “bailed in” to Voting Rights Act oversight if a court finds it guilty of racist intentions. Texas, which leads the nation in Voting Rights Act violations despite it being one of the latest states added, probably won’t be happy with this. 

As reported in the Texas Redistricting & Election Law blog:

Could Texas remain subject to preclearance? The answer, which may surprise, is actually, yes.

In Tuesday’s Shelby Co. decision, the Supreme Court effectively ended preclearance - for now - under section Five of the Voting Rights Act by invalidating the formula for determining what states are covered.

However, section Five is not the only section of the Voting Rights Act that deals with preclearance. If certain conditions exist, courts also can impose tailor-made preclearance requirements under section Three of the Voting Rights Act - a provision that, unlike section Five, applies nationwide and is not subject to expiration. 

Could Texas remain subject to preclearance? The answer, which may surprise, is actually, yes.

In Tuesday’s Shelby Co. decision, the Supreme Court effectively ended preclearance - for now - under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by invalidating the formula for determining what states are covered.

However, section 5 is not the only section of the Voting Rights Act that deals with preclearance. If certain conditions exist, courts also can impose tailor-made preclearance requirements under section 3 of the Voting Rights Act - a provision that, unlike section 5, applies nationwide and is not subject to expiration.

Up until now, that section hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in Texas because the state was already required to submit all voting changes for preclearance under section 5.

But it very well could come into play in the future, now that section 5 is effectively dead.

So how does section 3 work?

Basically, section 3 comes into play whenever a court in a case under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act finds intentional discrimination that would violate the 14th or 15th amendments to the Constitution.

Once that happens, the court has the discretion under section 3 not only to remedy the intentional discrimination but, if it choses, to retain jurisdiction and impose preclearance requirements - a process known colloquially as ‘bail in.’

As under section 5, preclearance under section 3 would require a jurisdiction to submit election or electoral changes either to the court or to the Justice Department.

Changes would be rejected unless the jurisdiction can show that the change “does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color” or abridge the guarantees afforded language minorities.

Read the rest of the Texas Redistricting blog here.

Senate Passes Historic Immigration Reform Bill

Senate Passes Historic Immigration Reform Bill

The US Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill this afternoon that promises a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, a significant reworking of the legal immigration system and billions of dollars of new investment in enforcement on the border and interior of the US. With 68 Senators voring in support of the bill, the Senate brings the country closer than it’s been in thirty years to a legalization program for undocumented immigrants. 

As the bill passed, chants of “yes we can,” emerged from immigration reform supporters gathered in the gallery.  Senators shook hands on the Senate floor.

But the ultimate fate of immigration reform is in no way certain. The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” passed with the full support of Democrats and the votes of 14 Republicans. The reform debate now moves squarely to the GOP-controlled House. Whether lawmakers in the lower chamber will support a bill that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants remains a glaring and immediate question.

“The finish line is very close to here, down this very long hallway, in the House of Representatives,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today on the floor.

The House begins its immigration reform process with an already conservative Senate bill as a starting place.  The Senate legislation moved significantly to the right earlier this week as the bipartisan Gang of Eight Senators that drafted the legislation agreed to a Republican-proposed investment of billions of dollars in additional border security measures, including doubling the number of guards on the US-Mexico border to 40,000 and building 700 miles of fencing and walls.  The bill would also buy additional drones and other military technology for the region.

“We have practically militarized the border,” Sen. Lindsay Graham, R, S.C., who was among the leading members of the Gang of Eight, told Politico.

Ultimately, Democrats in the Senate willingly agreed to the enforcement provisions in an attempt to garner significant Republican support. And though many immigrant rights advocacy groups and border-region organizations strongly opposed the expanded enforcement, most maintained public support for the overall bill to reach a clear path to legalization. Under the bill, undocumented immigrants who can pay fees and pass background checks will be able to apply for citizenship after a decade in a provisional immigration status and three more years with a green card.

The bill also includes a broad version of the DREAM Act, to provide an expedited path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the country as minors. It includes provisions that would allow deportees with US citizen children, spouses, and parents in the US to apply to return to reunite with their families.  And in addition to creating avenues for legal immigration for those already here, the bill provides millions of new immigrant visas, both through additional work-based immigration programs and a decade-long process of clearing existing family and employment based visa backlogs.  After those backlogs are cleared, the bill implements a news system for legal immigration based on “merit.” Fewer people would be allowed to immigrate on the basis of their family ties to the US.

The House Judiciary committee is currently considering piece-by-piece immigration bills to grow enforcement and broaden employment-based immigration. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee considered two bills, one on agricultural workers and another to make it a federal criminal offense to live without legal authorization in the US.  The latter of the two bills has little chance of gaining Democratic support, but sets a tone for the chamber’s approach to reform that does not bode well for the chances of compromise. Today the committee considered a bill on so-called high-skilled immigration.

The House and Senate now leave for the Fourth of July recess.  Immigration reform deliberations will begin again when they return.

Zimmerman Case Update: Rachel Jeantel is Not on Trial

Zimmerman Case Update: Rachel Jeantel is Not on Trial

19-year-old Rachel Jeantel is in day two of testimony in the George Zimmerman trial. While Zimmerman is the one who is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Jeantel has been the target of hateful comments—by both traditional and social media.

Jeantel’s testimony has been fraught with visibly difficult moments, including an explanation about the deep guilt that she’s felt since coming to terms with the fact that she was the last person to speak with Trayvon by phone before George Zimmerman killed him. In the courtroom, prosecution and defense attorneys, as well as the judge presiding over the case, have made multiple statements that they don’t understand her when she speaks.

To be clear, Jeantel simply speaks like someone with a southern drawl—but the courtroom’s white administrators keep making references to her black vernacular as she tries to explain one of the most tragic experiences in her life: the loss of Trayvon Martin, whom she first met while in second grade. Zimmerman defense attorney Don West has been especially, and perhaps unethically, harsh on Jeantel—repeatedly leaving the podium, approaching Jeantel, and berating her with scheduling and procedural questions that are legally outside of his purview. He’s been reprimanded on several occasions by the judge, often for incessantly asking the same question over and over again, despite Jeantel already providing a clear answer, and also for speaking over her. 

Pundits are having a field day remarking on Jeantel’s “unpolished” testimony. And again, for clarity, Jeantel is a witness only because she was the last person to speak with Trayvon by phone; her testimony describes the way Trayvon was stalked by Zimmerman, and ultimately taken down to the “wet grass.” She is not a legal expert, and at 19, she is barely an adult. Social media, meanwhile, has exploded with racist and sexist reactions—especially on Facebook and Twitter. Jeantel’s size has also become a point of controversy.

We trust that our readers are savvy enough to find those xenophobic posts if they haven’t already been exposed to them. For now, we’re keeping our page hate-link-free. In response to these hateful posts, social media users have started a #LoveForRachel hashtag, expressing their support.

Here’s What You Won’t See About Domestic Workers on ‘Devious Maids’

Here's What You Won't See About Domestic Workers on 'Devious Maids'

Lifetime’s new show about Latina domestic workers finally made its debut, and it’s not doing so well. “Devious Maids” drew in two million viewers on Sunday, which is considerably less than other Lifetime dramas like “Army Wives” and “The Client List”, shows that each had around 2.8 million inaugural viewers.

But ratings are only half the story. “Devious Maids” is packed with celebrities but has little punch. Its creator is Mark Cherry, the guy who brought us ABC’s long running drama “Desperate Housewives”, which made Eva Longoria a household name. Longoria is executive producer of the new show, and its cast includes Ana Ortiz, formerly of ABC’s “Ugly Betty”, and Judy Reyes, who’s most known for her role as a nurse on NBC’s “Scrubs.”

While “Devious Maids” was originally in development with ABC, the network ultimately passed on it. Critics have panned the show for its reductive portrayal of Latinas. Author Alisa Valdez, who’s worked on developing pilots at the network, wrote a scathing, must-read op-ed at NBC Latino on why the problem of misrepresentation is much bigger than, but certainly not helped by, this one show. 

“It is not wrong to be a maid, or even a Latina maid,” Valdez wrote. “But there is something very wrong with an American entertainment industry that continually tells Latinas that this is all they are or can ever be.”

But since the show has brought the issue of domestic work to the forefront of our cultural conversation, we may as well take note of the not-so-sexy parts of the job. From the National Domestic Workers Alliance:

  • 70 percent of domestic workers are paid less than $13 an hour.
  • Less than two percent receive retirement of pension benefits from their primary employer.
  • 25 percent of live-in workers had responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep at night during the week prior to being interviewed.

Southern LGBT Activists’ Call: Marry the Movement

Southern LGBT Activists' Call: Marry the Movement

The day after the Supreme Court cleared the way for marriage equality, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an Atlanta-based LGBTQ organization, made this love letter to members of their community and allies. 

Also: Read more about how SONG and the Applied Research Center are working in partnership on the Better Together Southern Leadership Cohort.

Rza Talks Wu-Tang Reunion Album and Ol’ Dirty Bastard Hologram

Rza Talks Wu-Tang Reunion Album and Ol' Dirty Bastard Hologram

Watch this wide-ranging interview in which Rza talks about everything from the type of student he was in the classroom to his thoughts on the recent hologram of Ol’ Dirty Bastard that took the stage at Rock the Bells.

(H/T Okayplayer)

TAGS: RZA Wu Tang

Texas Kills Kimberley McCarthy, Its 500th Execution Since ‘82

Texas Kills Kimberley McCarthy, Its 500th Execution Since '82

Texas carried out its 500th execution since capital punishment was re-instated back in 1982. The condemned woman was Kimberly McCarthy, a 52-year old black woman who was the country’s first female inmate to die by lethal injection in nearly three years. McCarthy was sentenced to Texas’ death row after being convicted of the robbery and murder of a college professor in 1997.

Her death marks a grim milestone in a state that kills more people than any other in the country. Texas has carried out more than 40 percent of the roughly 1,300 executions that have taken place in the United States since the Supreme Court re-instated capital punishment in 1976. A 2011 study found that 92 percent of men sentenced to die in Texas were black.

As Texas got ready to kill its 500th person, Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk reflected at the Huffington Post on what it’s like to witness so much state sanctioned death. Graczyk writes that he’s seen roughly one execution each week in Texas since he arrived at the AP in 1984. He goes on to describe in heartbreaking detail the scenes he’s witnessed. Read an excerpt after the jump. Trigger warning: these scenes are graphic.

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Get a Glimpse of Walter Mosley’s Los Angeles

Get a Glimpse of Walter Mosley's Los Angeles

I’m always intrigued by how writers navigate their hometowns — in writing and in real life. Few authors have as visceral a connection with the places that raised them as Walter Mosley, who’s writing almost always centers on South Central Los Angeles.  NPR’s Code Switch recently caught up with Mosley in the lead up to his new book, “Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery.”

“One of the reasons that I left Los Angeles is because I was oppressed by the feeling that how I lived — who I lived with, where — was going to define my entire life,” Mosley says.

[snip]

“My understanding of LA has always been like this: Even if you don’t move out of your house, everybody around you will have moved within three years. And in essence, you have moved, because you’re not in the same neighborhood, because you’re not around the same people.”

 

Paula Deen Hires Real-Life Olivia Pope, but the Supreme Court is the Fixer

Paula Deen Hires Real-Life Olivia Pope, but the Supreme Court is the Fixer

Paula Deen got some help from two unexpected sources this week.

After admitting to using the n-word in a legal deposition for a case in which she’s accused of discriminatory hiring practices, Deen has been at the center of a public firestorm. She was booted from her well known cooking show on the Food Network and lost a host of endorsements from companies that no longer want to be associated with her.

Olivia Pope to the rescue.

Well, actually it’s Judy Smith, the real-life inspiration for Kerry Washington’s character on Shonda Grimes’s hit ABC series “Scandal.” Shadow and Act is reporting that Deen hired Smith & Co. to help clean up her public relations mess. 

While Smith certainly has her work cut out for her, the ultimate fixer this week turned out to be the Supreme Court, which just made it easier to get away with workplace discrimination.

First, it’s important to point out that Deen’s individual bias has dwarfed any real discussion of the institutional racism that’s really at work. Yes, Paula Deen has used the n-word. But what’s arguably more important is the fact that she’s at the center of a lawsuit over workplace discrimination. Even though race and sex are federally protected categories, racial bias at work still happens all too often. There were more than 150 lawsuits filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012, the vast majority of which — 122 — centered on allegations of workplace discrimination based on race. 

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court made it a lot harder to prove that discrimination takes place. In one ruling, the court narrowed the definition of what constitutes a supervisor in racial and sexual harassment cases. And in another, the justices decided to adopt a tougher standard for workers to prove that they had faced retaliation for speaking up about discrimination. In one of her now infamous dissents, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the majority decision is “blind to the realities of the workplace.”

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.”

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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)

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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

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