Obama and Holder to Expand Clemency for Unfair Prison Sentences

Obama and Holder to Expand Clemency for Unfair Prison Sentences

Twenty years ago, Nas took a walk down “Memory Lane” with grief about “judges hangin’ niggas [with] uncorrect bails for direct sales.” It was an observation that young African-Americans were getting handed punishments too extreme for the petty drug crimes for which they were arrested. Since taking the White House, President Obama has been taking measures to correct that. First, he signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law in 2010 to reduce racial sentencing disparities for crack-cocaine offenders; and then, he released eight men and women from prison last December who were jailed far too long compared to the crimes they were convicted for. Attorney General Eric Holder has been doing his own cleanup job in the meantime by reforming sentencing guidelines, tweaking racial profiling policies, and pushing for restoration of voting rights for those with past felony convictions.

Today, Obama and Holder are looking for ways to bring even more justice to those unfairly punished. They are seeking ways to expand Obama’s clemency powers so that the president can release more people from prison who are victims of what Holder calls the “old regime” of “tough on crime” criminal justice policies. Holder announced today that he has created new clemency criteria that will allow the Justice Department and Obama to consider and grant get-out-of-jail free cards to a larger field of eligible prisoners. 

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” said Attorney General Holder in this video message posted today. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Holder said he expects thousands of new applications for clemency to be submitted after this new criteria takes hold. To meet the demand, the Justice Department is bringing in extra lawyers to help review the applications. 

“As a society, we pay much too high a price whenever our system fails to deliver the just outcomes necessary to deter and punish crime, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens,” said Holder. “Our expanded clemency application process will aid in this effort. And it will advance the aims of our innovative new Smart on Crime initiative—to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law.”

More Voting Rights Restoration Coming for Virginia

More Voting Rights Restoration Coming for Virginia

Virginians with felony convictions on their criminal records will have an easier path to having their voting rights restored thanks to reforms called for this morning by Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Under McAuliffe’s new rules, the time that people convicted of “violent” felonies must wait to apply for rights restoration will shrink from five years to three years. The list of crimes that constitute “violent felonies” in Virginia has historically included drug charges. That will change with these new reforms. All drug distribution and manufacturing crimes will be recategorized as “nonviolent” felonies, which means Virginians with these drug convictions will have no waiting period for applying for restoration. All “nonviolent” felony convictions already qualify Virginians for automatic rights restoration when they appeal directly to the governor, a policy instituted by former governor Bob McDonnell. 

Finally, in case there’s still any confusion around what crimes are considered “violent” or “nonviolent” felonies, the McAuliffe administration plans to post a list on its website for clarification. 

“Virginians who have made a mistake and paid their debt to society should have their voting rights restored through a process that is as transparent and responsive as possible,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

Virginia once had some of the strictest terms for restoring voting rights in the nation. A coalition of grassroots organizations led by the Virginia NAACP state conference, Advancement Project, Virginia New Majority, Virginia Organizing, Holla Back and Restore, S.O.B.E.R. House, and Bridging the Gap in Virginia have worked to make the new reforms possible. 

But there is still much further to go. The civil rights organizations are pushing for automatic voting rights restoration for all people who have paid their debts to society immediately after serving their time in prison. 

“While we are glad the Governor has responded to community concerns, we remain concerned about Virginia’s continued distinction between violent and non-violent offenses in the voting rights restoration process,” said Advancement Project Managing Director and General Counsel, Edward A. Hailes. “There are numerous benefits to restoring voting rights for people who have completed their sentences, including the fostering of full community integration and the fulfillment of our core democratic principles. Those benefits apply for everyone, regardless of the basis for their conviction. We encourage Virginia to join the majority of states, which do not make distinctions between different types of offenses, by passing a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights for all.”

Midterm Test: Who’s Courting the Youth?

Midterm Test: Who's Courting the Youth?

Since 2004, the League of Young Voters Education Fund has been teaching young people of color about political issues and helping increase their participation in elections. Its executive director, Rob “Biko” Baker, wrote about political issues for magazines such as the The Source long before that. I caught up with Baker a couple of weeks ago to discuss to discuss the critical takeaways from the presidential election of 2012 and the importance of this year’s midterm elections. Our interview below, edited for clarity and length, shows how both the Democratic and Republican parties have been failing young voters and how the political game has been rigged against people of color. Also, you’ll want to know why we should pay close attention to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. 

In 2010, just before the last midterm elections, you assembled a bunch of bloggers, journalists and writers to discuss the stakes of those races. What did you learn from that?

I realized how much more the blogosphere was in tune with the with the civic engagement space. I didn’t think at first that people understood the details and difference between [for example] what the Supreme Court was doing and what legislative and executive branches did. But if you look at what Bossip, Vibe, were doing, they were all keeping track of what was going on. 

After the gathering, voter turnout was pretty low and the Democratic Party got wallopped, losing their majority in the House and watching the rise of the Tea Party. How did you feel about that? 

While you said the Democratic Party got walloped if you look at counties where there are young and black people, the trend of our increased vote share continues to rise. So in many counties across the country you saw increases between 2006 and 2010 in our vote share, but we’re reaching a plateau where it seems they’re trying to get water out of a rock. [Meaning] the Democratic Party hasn’t embraced youth culture and youth leadership. They are doing the same thing that they been doing. I think where the Democratic Party and progressive left make investments in youth of color leadership there will be increased turnout, but I also think that some of the progressive left has given up on fighting because of redistricting. 

Explain how redistricting has complicated the elections game. 

Because of the [Republican Party’s] 2010 wins and because they were able to control redistricting process in many states, communities have been gerrymandered. So black voters can only vote for black officials and those officials hold little power outside of a few key [congressional] districts throughout the United States. And the subtext of this is that in many places, some of that gerrymandering was illegal. In many states there wasn’t a transparent redistricting process. 

Do you think young voters get how important redistricting is to voting rights, the way they see fighting voter ID laws, for example?

Yes, there are a few us who get the Census and understand its connections to redistricting. I just don’t think people understand how deeply entwined this is to political power and maintaining it. [Is it important] to the average kid I would meet while canvassing at a party? Hell no. But I’d say maybe 20 percent get it and are more active about addressing it today than when I was growing up. 

So as we approach midterm elections this year, what’s your call to action to young voters this time around?

It’s the same message that it’s been: If voting rights weren’t important, would they be trying to steal them from you? Would they be trying to make it harder for you to vote and passing weirder laws to control election administration? It’s the same story. You have our group or population that have been voting at high levels since 2004, but things have gotten harder for them materially lately. So hopefully this year we’ll get some wins for [young people]. 

What’s it going to take for the political parties to take young voters of color seriously?

It’s going to take these older organizations being honest with themselves and them passing over the reins to younger leaders. These older organizations are going to have to because they’re going over a cliff. The progressive left need to be making some significant changes in the leadership of these organizations, or we’ll continue to have the same ol same ol.’ One thing I’ve seen, is young white kids and young people of color working together in ways I’ve never imagined. State and federal level polls show that young white voters and young voters of color can be messaged to in the same way, but older organizations continue to run these shops. They have these silos, and they do all their messaging accordingly. On certain issues there’s some nuance you can pull out for messaging, but every poll I’ve seen shows that young voters have similar values that they vote on across race. The older organizations need to think about that instead of trying to create all of these different silos. 

Just so we’re clear, who are these “older organizations”?

Mainly labor unions, but also some civil rights and your traditional voter engagement groups. And I love being the 35 year-old at these meetings. I was at one of these [voter engagement] meetings recently and a young college grad at the table comes up to me afterward and says, ‘I don’t get this at all.’ [Young people] just don’t connect to the very important information that these older organizations were sharing. 

The Democratic Party has suggested recently that they anticipate the same robust voter turnout this year that they had in 2012. Do you see that?

If any field person told you they were using 2012 as a metric, it better be with a whole bunch of 2010 and 2006 data as an average. If they’re not then they’re not doing good work. I do think there will be some surprises this year. Some youth of color will have huge turnouts in some areas, but the way the game is rigged due to gerrymandering, even if we have great turnout we’re only influencing a congressional district here or there. For governors’ races we’ll be able to make some impact, but the parties are not making the necessary investments in us that they need to, and then the organizations that are doing a bunch of this work on this are cash-strapped—moreso now than almost anytime since [League of Young Voters] have been around. 

Are there any recent examples of progressive candidates who’ve benefitted from young people of color turning up to vote?

I feel there’s been some good stuff at the local level. New York’s new mayor Bill DeBlasio and other examples like Cory Booker. Locally, in Milwaukee’s alderman race, there are a bunch of brothers under 40 running. But if we’re not fighting for voting rights and protecting young voters from voter suppression, and if we’re not fighting for jobs and investments in entrepreneurialism, and not seriously dealing with the criminal justice system, then any party is going to lose young people. You know what scares me, though? A guy like Rand Paul, who is all about state’s rights, but he comes out saying we should end the war on drugs and stop NSA spying — he is connecting with a lot more young people than anyone knows. In some ways this is good because that makes for more competition, but with that appeal on those issues you can see a lot of young black voters going for Rand Paul. 

Do you think Paul is genuine when he advocates for those things, or this is just part of a strategy to attract young voters of color to the Republican Party?

Every politician has ulterior motives. I feel like it’s a strategic play, but it also aligns with their core messaging and ideology. For progressives and millennials, in many ways the War on Drugs and the NSA spying stuff is closer to their hearts, so they align with conservatives on these things. Could you imagine a MIke Huckabee and Rand Paul type mix or Rand Paul and Paul Ryan running in some of these states where you only need a 10,000 to 15,000 voter edge to win. You have some of these young black men who were just cool on Obama and you start to pull some of those guys away, the scenario looks crazy.   

What are some of the more effective strategies for turning out young voters of color that you all have employed?

We have been developing a strong text message list. In some of these communities, we have contact information for thousands of young voters that no one else has. On Election Day, we bought ads on websites that young people of color visit most frequently, like Global Grind, World Star Hip Hop,, giving out voting information. We were sending out information every 30 seconds in urban hubs that no one else touches. We were able to recently recruit a bunch of kids from SXSW, which isn’t about voting at all. Also, League of Young Voters just acquired the Generation Alliance, which is a coalition of a dozen youth organizations that have as part of their mission the goal of engaging people of color around voting. So we’re not only expand our own tools, but also sharing and using tools developed by a dozen other organizations. 

The Republican Party says they have upped their game in terms of outreach to people of color. Can you see the improvements?

It’s interesting because on one side you see that Republicans have hired some smart African-Americans and given them a little bit of freedom with the checkbook for outreach programs. I feel like that’s smart and strategic, but only because the Democratic Party isn’t doing the same thing. In this moment, they are not rewarding youth of color with leadership positions. So they’re losing this opportunity. if there is an Achilles heel for Republicans, it’s race. They say they don’t want to let go of the Latino vote, but they are dragging their feet on immigration reform. They’ll likely get better at it, though. 

Any parting message about prospects for young voters of color as we approach the midterms?

Just that, the rising electorate of voters of color is real, and the data doesn’t lie. We have to look at all these demographics seriously. You have to know where they are and not run away from them. When corporate America wants to attract young people of color they go and get the coolest, hippest rappers, graphic designers and others who we will flock to. You cannot look at any political party or civic engagement group and say they are as competitive as Adidas with this demographic. 

People in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

People in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones

Around this time last year, the Republican Party was finally coming to terms with why they lost the presidential election in 2012. They first claimed voter fraud was the culprit for Mitt Romney’s loss. But after some soul-searching they came to the realization that they were just really bad at connecting with voters of color. The party released an “autopsy report” of what went wrong in 2012 candidate and listed failed “minority outreach” as a primary cause of death. 

This year is supposed to be the time when they show America that they’ve learned from their mistakes. With an important mid-term congressional election season on our hands, 2014 is the year where the Republican Party is expected to show and prove how much they’ve evolved on race. The Democratic Party has already seized upon the one-year anniversary of the Republican autopsy by declaring the Republican rebranding a failure. 

Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida wrote in The Huffington Post that the GOP “is a year older and not a bit wiser.” That might be true, but things aren’t looking so bright for the Democratic Party either, a year-and-change after their big 2012 win. After all, Wasserman wrote this just a couple of weeks after her party experienced a crushing defeat in a congressional special election held in her own Florida backyard.

With that in mind, her op-ed read like a kid making fun of a student who got left back a grade, but only as coverup for the fact that she flunked her first major exam. The real issue Wasserman might want to concern herself with is whether the Democratic Party has evolved at all on its own outreach to people of color.   

Both parties are worth sizing up on this matter, but first, let’s see if Democrats had a point in their autopsy of the GOP autopsy. The case, as laid out by Wasserman, isn’t that convincing. Wrote the DNC chair: 

In the past year, we’ve heard Republican leaders and operatives call a female candidate an “empty dress,” talk about women’s “libidos,” and — once again — try to downplay abuse. We’ve heard them use derogatory terms to describe Latino immigrants, use insulting stereotypes for African-Americans and our president, and support outright discrimination against LGBT Americans.

Probably the most blatant and recent example of this was when Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president in 2012, sent a racial dog whistle out about “inner-city” men being too lazy to work. That was pretty bad. Can Obama’s party claim the high ground here, though? MSNBC news show host Melissa Harris-Perry has already called them out this, writing last week in The Nation, “After all, [Ryan’s] comments have been the mainstream view of the Democratic Party for decades.”

It was the Democratic President Bill Clinton, and a whole lot of Dems in Congress, who created the laws that pushed millions of people of color off of welfare rolls in the 1990s — #facts.

Also this:

“{E]specially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? … we don’t need to put those employers in the position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers.” 

That was the Democratic candidate Alex Sink talking about Latinos, not a Republican.

The Democrats are correct about Republicans obstructing legislative progress on immigration reform and raising the middle wage. Republicans also keep shooting themselves through serial votes to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act — enough times that Obamacare could file a restraining order on them at this point. 

But, the Democrats have been holding up progress on a few items themselves. It wasn’t just Republicans that voted to block the much-respected attorney Debo Adegbile for head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Democrats helped make that happen. And while the GOP is definitely responsible for shutting the government down last fall, quite a few Democrats in the House joined that melee. 

One way that Republicans claimed that their minority outreach would be serious was by getting behind more candidates of color. I interviewed a few of those candidates in December. Two of them, Katrina Pierson of Texas and David Williams III of Illinois, were defeated in Republican primaries this month. Another black Republican candidate, Erika Harold, also lost in Illinois. (Williams was been calling me almost every week with stories about how he thought his fellow Republicans were purposely trying to sabotage his campaign.) 

To the Democrats credit, they helped get Cory Booker elected to the Senate last fall. But that will not make us forget that when Senate Republicans proposed legislation to kick people with past felony convictions off of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last summer, Democrats went along with it in the first instance.

All goes to show that instead of dancing on the Republican’s supposed grave, perhaps Democrats might want to make sure they’re not digging themselves a hole in the process. 

FBI Arrests Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon

FBI Arrests Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon

Today, the FBI arrested Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Patrick Cannon, accusing him of taking bribes as an elected official, reports the Charlotte Observer. He’s also been charged with wire fraud and extortion. He had been under investigation since 2010 when the FBI were tipped off that he might soliciting and accepting cash rewards for favors, both as a city councilor and as mayor. 

According to this press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of North Carolina:

The complaint and law enforcement affidavit allege that Cannon accepted the bribes from the undercover FBI agents on five separate occasions. On the last occasion, on February 21, 2014, Cannon allegedly accepted $20,000 in cash in the Mayor’s office. According to the complaint and the affidavit, between January 2013 and February 2014, Cannon allegedly accepted from the undercover agents over $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room, and use of a luxury apartment in exchange for the use of his official position.

Cannon was just elected mayor last November. He succeeded former mayor Anthony Foxx, who Obama tapped to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation last year, and Patsy Kinsey who served out the remainder of Foxx’s term. If convicted, Cannon faces a maximum ten years in prison and $250,000 fine for the bribery charge, 20 years and a $1 million fine for the wire fraud charge and another 20 years and $250,000 fine for the extortion charge. 

Obamacare Deadline Extended for Some

Obamacare Deadline Extended for Some

President Obama is extending the March 31 healthcare insurance enrollment deadline for those who’ve already started signing up via the Affordable Care Act’s market exchange but haven’t completed the process. This means that if you began purchasing a healthcare plan on, or through other offline mechanisms via Navigator groups, but the transaction has not been completed, you will not be penalized. 

As Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services explained it on a press call this afternoon, “Just like on Election Day, if you were in line when the polls closed, you still were able to vote. The same applies here if you were already in line for health insurance when the deadline came.”

Bataille stressed that the deadline technically is still five days from now, but that this extension is owed in part to the malfunctioning website and also the expected surge of people who will begin signing up at the last minute. If you take advantage of the extension, the federal government will take you on your word that you began the transaction, as it does not have an actual verification system for this. 

There is precedent for this. Back in 2006, when President George W. Bush was pushing his new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan, he extended the deadline for signing up for the program for low-income elderly users. 

According to the Washington Post, people who qualify in that “special enrollment” group will have until mid-April to close out on a a plan — just in time to pay taxes. But after that, if you are not an official enrollee and are not insured elsewhere (through your parents if under 26 or employer), you will be assigned a penalty on your taxes and will not have another chance to enroll until 2015, with few exceptions. 

These pie graphs below, released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation, show that roughly six in 10 people are unaware there was a deadline to begin with. 

kaiserobamacare.jpgRead more on what we’ve learned thus far on Obamacare from Kai Wright’s news feature today.  

TAGS: Obamacare

Is It Time To Finally Stick a Fork In the Tea Party?

Is It Time To Finally Stick a Fork In the Tea Party?

Yesterday, the research and policy think-tank Brookings Institution launched “The Primary Project,” an examination of this year’s midterm congressional primaries as a way of gathering insight on the future of the Democratic and Republican parties. Since primaries are considered the “neglected stepchildren of American elections,” as Brookings called it, they are the races that are least likely to garner media coverage or intensive study. 

“Since incumbent members of Congress pay as much - and often more - attention to their primary constituency as they do to the general election, we want to know what shapes the worldviews of Congress,” wrote Elaine Kamarck, founding director of Brookings’ Center for Effective Public Management. 

The biggest question they’ll be looking at: Is the Tea Party dead, yet? Both Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already begun publicly dismissing the Tea Party as nuisances. But they want be able to swat them away so easily. 

This graph below looks at the kinds of primary challengers in Republican races held thus far in Illinois and Texas. Of the challengers, those of the Tea Party brand clearly outweigh all other types. 

teapartyprimarychallengers.jpgThe special election in Florida a couple weeks ago wasn’t a primary. But the Tea Party candidate David Jolly won, and in a district he wasn’t expected to carry, and without the support of the Republican Party. If that doesn’t signal that the party is still alive and tea-baggin’, then I don’t know what is. 

That said, Tea Party candidates failed miserably in both the Illinois and Texas primaries held so far. We’ll be watching the body count closely as well. 

Alex Sink Fails to Turn Up Voters of Color in Florida … Again

Alex Sink Fails to Turn Up Voters of Color in Florida ... Again

So, what just happened in Florida? The special election for the District 13 House seat in Congress Tuesday was supposed to go to the Democratic candidate Alex Sink, according to political experts, but somehow her Republican opponent Dave Jolly was able to edge her by less than 4,000 votes. Jolly raised just half of the funds Sink was able to net for the race. Over $12 million was collectively spent between the candidates and their political allies, which is an unusually large amount for a special election (this race was to fill the seat vacated when Rep. Bill Young died last fall). A huge chunk of that money — about $3.7 million — came from Democratic PACs, who saw this as a make-or-break election for their party. It was a seat previously held by a Republican, and for a long time, but Obama carried the district in both 2008 and 2012. Sink also won the district when she ran for governor in 2010. She even led Jolly in early voting and absentee ballot returns.

So what happened?

There’s a lot of conjecture floating around about why Sink lost in what was supposed to be a must-win campaign. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spinning it as proof they can compete in a regularly Repubican field. In an email blast from the committee they note that Florida’s 13th District “could not be further from a typical battleground district” because “it’s less diverse than any other comparable district.” To back that up they point out that white voters made up 77 percnt of the national electorate in 2010, but white voters made up 90 percent of Florida’s 13th District electorate in 2012. Yeah, but that didn’t stop Obama from winning there in his re-election campaign. 

I wrote back in January that this race would be a referendum on whether Sink could motivate voters of color to the polls. She failed to do this when she ran for governor in 2010, which she also lost by a slim margin, and this may be why she failed in Tuesday’s race.  

Examining the election returns for yesterday’s race, it appears that she failed again to get black and brown voters out. The two maps below (from the Pinella County Supervisor of Elections website) are Exhibits A and B. In the first map on the left, the red areas are precincts that went to Jolly, and the blue areas for Sink. The second map on the right shows voter turnout. The yellower the area, the higher the turnout — 40 to 60 percent — while the browner areas shows turnout between 20 and 40 percent. The lower turnout areas overlap with the areas that went to Sink, while the high turnout areas mostly went to Jolly. 

Precincts for Jolly and Sink.tifPinellasvoterturnout.tif













Those precincts that went to Jolly running up the left bank of the district are all coastal areas where beaches like Clearwater are. This is where your whiter and wealthier voters are, many of whom live in beachfront properties. Sink’s precincts in that huge blue section in the southeastern region is mostly St. Petersburg, which is the most urban part of the district. Clearwater is 80 percent white compared to St. Pete, which is 68.7 percent white. Black people make up almost a quarter of St. Pete compared to 10 percent for Clearwater.

And while the Latino population is larger in Clearwater, a lot of them are immigrants who arrived there only in recent years, meaning many of them probably can’t vote, or don’t due to language barriers. It’s not out of the range of possibility that the increased voter turnout there is not itself a reaction from white voters to the growing Latino immigrant population. A huge part of Jolly’s campaign platform was for strict immigration policies. 

Then again, Sink may have sunk herself by turning off Latinos who do vote due to her own bigoted remarks about immigrants. During a February debate she said this

“Immigration reform is important in our country. It’s one of the main agenda items of the beaches chamber of commerce, for obvious reasons. Because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? And we don’t need to put those employers in the position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers.”

That couldn’t have helped her.

The Washington Post’s “The Fix” said in January that “If Democrats can’t win here with their dream candidate, they are in for a long 2014.” That’s because this race was supposed to take the political temperature to determine if the Democratic Party would be able to gain more control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterm elections. If this race is any indication, it doesn’t look good for them, which means it will remain tough to get immigration reform through Congress along with any other laws that might help people of color. 

As political expert Larry Sabato said: “The special election result does strengthen our belief, as expressed in this space for months, that Republicans are in position not only to hold the House but to add some seats to their House majority in November. This was one of the GOP’s most vulnerable seats, and they held it.”


Racism’s at Root of Adegbile Denial

Racism's at Root of Adegbile Denial

There are many reasons why the Senate blocked former NAACP LDF attorney Debo Adegbile from becoming head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and none of them have anything to do with his qualifications. The surface reason for why Adegbile garnered not one vote from Senate Republicans, is because they associated him closely with Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther and MOVE activist who was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1982.

The unstated reason for why they blocked Adegbile’s nomination, as I wrote about at Policy Shop, has to do with a conservative agenda that seeks to strip enforcement powers away from our civil rights legal protections. 

Adam Serwer called it a “Republican war on civil rights laws” over at Meanwhile, NAACP LDF president Sherrilyn Ifill said in her op-ed in The Root that the failed nomination of Adegbile was “just another battlefield in the ongoing challenge to the legitimacy of our nation’s civil rights laws.”

At least one Republican, though, Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, believes that he denied Adegbile on the grounds of upholding justice. According to Toomey, what disqualified Adegbile was his supervision of the LDF’s litigation department when it filed legal briefs arguing that the jury in Abu-Jamal’s trial were given improper instructions in the sentencing. In the video below, Sen. Toomey calls the day he voted to obstruct Adegbile’s nomination “a good day for the United States and for anybody who cares about integrity in our criminal justice system.”

You know who else cared enough about the criminal justice system to file a legal brief in support of a man convicted of murder? The attorney John Roberts, who is today the Chief Justice of the United States. Before rising to that post, Roberts devoted hours free of charge to helping defend John Errol Ferguson, a man convicted of killing eight people in one of the most gruesome crimes in Florida’s history. This fact did not obstruct Roberts in his rise to become the senior justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

For Toomey, the problem with Adegbile isn’t just the briefs he helped file on Abu-Jamal’s sentencing. His beef is also with the NAACP LDF. That legal organization was founded by Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and whose professional career was dedicated to fighting racism in American institutions. He founded LDF with the mission to continue that fight. But it’s this fight that has irked not only Toomey, but other Republicans in the Senate.

As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Toomey assembled a file on LDF that included statements and quotes from any staff member who dared to challenge racism in the criminal justice system. One of the people he seized upon was LDF attorney Christina Swams who said at an Abu-Jamal rally: “There is no question in the mind of anyone at the Legal Defense Fund that the justice system has completely and utterly failed Mumia Abu-Jamal and in our view, that has everything to do with race and that is why the Legal Defense Fund is in this case.”

Senate Republicans grilled Adegbile about Swams comments though he was not at the rally when she made them. 

At the time, LDF was filing the briefs in question to have Abu-Jamal’s death sentence overturned due to improper jury instructions. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this argument twice, leading ultimately to Abu-Jamal’s removal from death row and given a life sentence. Toomey referred to this successful appeal as a “mockery of our justice system,” in the Inquirer and indicted Adegbile for his participation in it. 

When Toomey shared parts of his anti-Adegbile file with the Inquirer, the newspaper reported that “[n]one of the information they provided cited direct comments or actions by Adegbile.”

But that didn’t stop Toomey from distributing the file, padded with comments about “racism,” from anyone within six degrees of Adegbile, and members of the Judiciary Committee, and also to police unions like the Fraternal Order of Police, before the vote on his nomination. The FOP had already been actively lobbying against Adegbile’s approval, and Toomey makes sure to thank them in the video above.

Again, while Toomey’s campaign was orchestrated around tensions concerning Abu-Jamal, the co-benefit for Republicans of blocking Adegible was that it was another dent registered in the armor of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. A huge blow was delivered to civil rights protections last summer when conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court stripped the Voting Rights Act of one of its key provisions.

Ifill points out that Republicans’ beef with the Civil Rights Division stretches back farther than that. They forced President Clinton to withdraw lauded civil rights professor Lani Guinier from consideration when he nominated her for the role. They applied extra vilification to current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick when Clinton nominated him in the 1990s as well. Ditto for civil rights Bill Lan Lee, who was officially confirmed during a recess appointment when the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to advance him. 

All three were LDF attorneys cut from the civil rights cloth of Thurgood Marshall. But Republicans today appear more dedicated to the fabric that preserves racism’s dye rather than lawyers like Adegbile working to see racism die. 

The Senate’s denial of Adegbile registered negative reactions from a variety of organizations representing multiple strands of civil rights advocacy. Asian Americans Advancing Justice called it a “travesty of justice,” stating “It’s clear that politics were in play when Mr. Adegible’s nomination was blocked simply because he provided an American his constitutional right of having a lawyer… Punishing those who take an oath to uphold the law for granting that representation mocks the very foundation on which this country was built.”

From the National Partnership for Women and Families: “At a time when gender- and race-based wage discrimination persist, when complaints of pregnancy discrimination are on the rise, and when women and men of color too often are denied opportunities to advance their careers, confirming a fair and tireless advocate should have been an easy call and a top priority for every senator.”

Despite Toomey’s declaration, these organizations also care about the integrity of the criminal justice system; they just serve an agenda that seeks to fight discrimination, not preserve it.  



Senate Blocks Obama’s Pick for New Civil Rights Chief

Senate Blocks Obama's Pick for New Civil Rights Chief

[Updated with statement from President Obama at the end of this post]

Today, Senate Republicans and Democrats voted to block President Obama’s pick for Justice Department Civil Rights Division head Debo Adegbile, the former lead attorney on voting rights for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Republicans opposed him mostly because of his involvement as an LDF lawyer in the appeal for the imprisoned human rights activist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Adegbile’s assistance in that case consisted of helping file a brief claiming that the jury in Abu-Jamal’s trial — where he was convicted for killing a police officer — received improper instructions for their deliberations.

The judge in that case did find merit in that brief, but members of the U.S. Senate apparently did not. Many of the Republicans accused Adegbile of helping a “cop killer.” National law enforcement associations encouraged the Senate to block Adegbile for the same reasons. 

On top of that, seven Democrats joined with Republicans to block Adegbile on similar grounds, some of them afraid that a favorable vote would hurt their re-election chances this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, also voted against Adegbile, but only under a technical procedure so that he could bring Adegbile back up for a vote in the future. 

“I believe that Republicans have distorted this good man’s record in an attempt to score political points and block confirmation of a faithful defender of voting rights,” said Reid at the vote hearing today. “Republicans have not given this good man a fair shot at confirmation.”

It was thought that Adegbile would have a smoother transition through the Senate thanks to a rule change sparked by Reid in November that would require only a simple majority vote (51 votes) for nominees to federal agencies, as opposed to the 60 votes that were needed in the past. But today’s obstruction was largely covered in racial animus, according to those present for the vote. 

“Today’s vote demonstrated the worst elements of our political system,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Unhinged rhetoric trumped substance, racialized language triumphed over thoughtful discourse, and our legal and political system will pay the price. It’s hypocritical for Senators to claim to support civil rights enforcement and then turn their backs on our communities by voting against the consideration this nominee on his merits.”

President Obama released this statement on the Senate’s failure to confirm Adegbile:

“The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable. He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked. His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law - including voting rights - could not be more important right now. And Mr. Adegbile’s personal story - rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators - is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules. As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules. And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him. The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice - and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant.”

Obama Favors Expanding Schools and Reducing Prisons in New Budget

Obama Favors Expanding Schools and Reducing Prisons in New Budget

President Obama released his new budget proposal for the coming fiscal year that starts October 1, and it’s a relatively safe package of spending wishes carefully customized to not rock the boat for this year’s mid-term elections. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls it “a solid blueprint that would reduce deficits, alleviate poverty, and boost investment in areas needed for future economic growth, such as infrastructure, education, and research.”

 Some of Obama’s proposals, as listed in a fact sheet sent form the White House to the press:

  • Supports a “Preschool for All” initiative, in partnership with the states, to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds with access to high-quality preschool,
  • Provides 100,000 teachers in 500 districts with access to professional development to help them make effective use of new broadband connectivity, 
  • Raises the minimum wage to $10.10 and indexing it to inflation thereafter, while also raising the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in over 20 years,
  • Expands the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers aged 21 to 24, doubling the maximum credit to $1,000. 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting, meanwhile, that the GOP isn’t feeling Obama’s anti-poverty measures. Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.), the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, said that Obama “wants to take more taxpayer money and throw it at programs that don’t work.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, felt differently, saying in a press statement,“By expanding the earned income tax credit and other middle class tax cuts and providing needed investments in jobs and infrastructure, this budget provides pathways out of poverty for millions of families.”

Obama hopes that this budget, if passed, will drop the deficit by $434 billion come 2024. The fact sheet from the White House states that under Obama the deficit has already been cut in half as a share of the economy, the largest four-year deficit reduction since the demobilization from World War II.

The Department of Justice, which is hoping to bulk up its “Smart on Crime” initiatives to reduce mass incarceration and racial bias in the criminal justice system, would get a nice stack — $173 million targetted toward those efforts: 

  • Requests $15 million for U.S. Attorneys, including prosecution prioritization, prevention and reentry work and promoting alternatives to incarceration such as the establishment of drug courts and veteran courts,
  • Sustains $15 million for the Bureau of Prisons to expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program at the federal level and $14 million provided in the FY 2014 appropriation to assist inmates with reentering society and reducing the population of individuals who return to prison after being released,
  • Requests $115 million for the Second Chance Act Grant program, through state and local assistance programs, to reduce recidivism and help ex-offenders return to productive lives,
  • And $273 million to help meet the nation’s civil rights challenges—including an $8 million program increase.

Hmm, between the call for more resources for schools and teachers, and funds for keeping people out of prison, it looks like a plan to help hammer away at that school-to-prison pipeline in America. 

“The proposed budget released today by the President shows a clear and unequivocal commitment to expanding the middle class and providing educational, economic, and employment opportunities for all Americans,” said Henderson. “If implemented, this budget would change the lives of students and families across this country for the better; we call on Congress to pass it.”

TAGS: budget Obama

EPA Pays Tribute to Rep. John Lewis and Environmental Justice

EPA Pays Tribute to Rep. John Lewis and Environmental Justice

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency hosted a ceremony celebrating the 20th anniversary of Executive Order #12898 on environmental justice in the Rachel Carson Green Room of its D.C, headquarters. The guest of honor there was Congressman John Lewis, the long-time civil rights champion who also was one of the earliest advocates for environmental justice in Congress.

In 1992, Rep. Lewis introduced the Environmental Justice Act, the first piece of legislation dedicated to abolishing racial disparities in how environmental protection was applied. He introduced this law along with his colleague in the upper chamber, Al Gore, then a senator for Tennessee, and who was also one of the earliest champs in the federal government for the cause. Both men helped get the executive order over the finish line two years later under President Bill Clinton, who signed it.

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy presented Rep. Lewis with an award for his work in marrying environmental public policy with civil rights principles, which McCarthy has been pushing as a key element of the agency’s work.

In his keynote before the audience, Lewis recalled growing up in Jim Crow Alabama and asking his family why there was racial discrimination. “They said, ‘That’s just the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble,’” said Lewis, before turning to the many activists and government officials in the room to say, “Thank you for getting in the way. Thank you for getting in trouble — good trouble. For bringing environmental justice to all of the people in our nation. It is the right thing to do. It is the necessary thing to do.”

Lewis then gifted McCarthy with a copy of the graphic novel he stars in called “March,” which illustrates the story of the many civil rights demonstrations he participated in throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Watch this video clip from the ceremony:

John Lewis EPA 20th EJ Anniversary from Be Mock on Vimeo.

Read more about the history of environmental justice over at my blog at

The White Supremacy of ‘House of Cards’

The White Supremacy of 'House of Cards'

The specter of white supremacy looms throughout the new season of the Netflix political fiction “House of Cards.” The show is supposed to serve as a window into how power is gained, stolen and exploited in the highest levels of government. But all you need is to read Politico or ProPublica on any given day to know that, and the reality is much creepier. A deeper view of “House of Cards” reveals how racism has worked and continues to work for the preservation of power in America that people of color can’t seem to penetrate. If you want to know why our real-life African-American POTUS appears too often constrained by forces beyond his control, this show and this season in particular provides glimpses into the mechanics that make those constraints possible.

It also shows the roots of those constraints. About a third into this season, Frank Underwood, the U.S. vice president and the show’s lead character, is “visited” by his ancestor Augustus Elijah Underwood, a Confederate soldier. Frank is at a battleground in Spotsylvania, Va., where a Civil War reenactment is taking place, and where one of the battlefield actors is revealed as the veep’s great-great-great grandfather (get how great he is?) Augustus, who was killed during battle.

At first, Underwood takes a hallowed interest in his ancestor’s character, mostly because he didn’t know that he, himself, is a Son of a Confederate veteran. But he soon discards all interest saying, “I personally take no pride in the Confederacy. Avoid wars you can’t win, and never raise your flag for an asinine cause like slavery.”

Underwood is a South Carolina Democrat so you’d think that he’s taking a noble position on the most ignoble of causes. But that’s not it. It’s just that slavery isn’t worth fighting for — or rather the enslaved African-Americans weren’t worth it.

Episodes later, when controversy engulfs Underwood’s one black friend, Freddy Hayes, threatening to undermine the vice president in the process, Underwood decides Hayes isn’t worth fighting for either, and disposes of him.

The main thing that “House of Cards” wants you to know is that power, for some, must be preserved and expanded at all costs. Power in this tale, in this White House, is white privilege and supremacy. It’s something that cannot be bought, though many characters of color in this political saga try the best they can. This power rests snuggly in the federal executive office, lording over America. The Confederates failed; white supremacy still won.

This is what resonates most deeply during the second season of this Netflix drama based on a British show about corruption in Parliament. The American version is also about corruption, but not neatly as a critique of it. Instead, in the American card house, we find that corruption is an exclusive province in the federal government that no non-white person can access, even with wealth and Cabinet-level security clearances.

Almost every person of color in the show thinks they have some measure of power, until white power wielders — namely Underwood and his nemesis, the Koch Brother-ish Raymond Tusk — show them what power really is. Running down the list (Spoiler alert!):

  • Remy Danton, an African-American lobbyist and political influence dealer who thinks Tusk has his back. Well, he doesn’t.
  • Linda Vasquez, the Latina White House Chief of Staff, who believes she controls the POTUS’s schedule and agenda until Underwood disabuses her of that notion.
  • Freddy Hayes, Underwood’s black friend and BBQ pit owner who is cut loose by the Veep when a media report exposes Hayes’ criminal history.
  • Daniel Lanagin, a Native American casino owner who’s helping Tusk buy political influence in ways that undermine Underwood.
  • Xander Feng, a Chinese billionaire diplomat who Underwood uses to create political turmoil between the United States and China.

All of these characters are chopped down, in one way or another by Underwood or Tusk. In one key scene, Underwood slides away from the aforementioned Civil War reenactment to secretly meet with Feng. He wants Feng to finance a bridge project in Long Island and is seeking a deal over a lawsuit the U.S. has against China about currency manipulation. Underwood demands a lot of the Chinese representative here, but he offers little in return. The insult of this causes Feng to spit on Underwood’s great-to-the-third-power-grandfather’s Civil War grave.

“There is no sacred ground for the conquered,” Feng tells him.

In another scene, Underwood visits the Native American billionaire Lanagin at his home to confront him about his financing of Underwood’s political opponents. When Lanagin tells him to get out his face, Underwood reminds him of the power of the White House. Lanagin responds by reminding Underwood that his executive power means nothing on sovereign tribal grounds, and also that he has enough money to ignore the vice president.

But in the end, both Feng and Lanagin are subdued. Despite their wealth and connections, neither has direct influence; both have to purchase it by using another white man  — Raymond Tusk — as their proxy. No other person of color in the political saga even comes close to touching Underwood’s power.

Political and social issues including feminism, rape culture and energy policy are all entertained by Underwood, and his equally cold-blooded wife Claire, but only in their quest to attain more power. They make no serious attempts to resolve any of those problems, instead using them to leverage more political capital. It’s a tangled web indeed, but it’s only a web of intrigue for viewers of color if you care about how white supremacy and privilege is maintained in America. Since we all live mostly as the victims of that maintenance, there is very little illumination here.

The only thing that matters at the end of this season is that the Underwoods have manifested their destiny. The Civil War ghost shows that for some white people, power and privilege is inherited, and those at the top have no interest of letting go of it — definitely not to honor or defend the causes of people of other races and nations.

“Choosing money over power is a mistake that almost everyone makes,” Underwood says in the first season of “House of Cards.” The second season, though, shows that many choose money because they have conceded that they can’t access power that has been passed down by birthright. This is white supremacy’s legacy, and “House of Cards” shows how it manages to live on.


What’s Good—and Bad—About the New Voting Rights Act

What's Good--and Bad--About the New Voting Rights Act

Among the many calls for justice this past weekend at the massive “Moral March” civil rights rally in Raleigh, N.C., was the call for Congress to pass a bipartisan amendment to the currently disabled Voting Rights Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts called for the new amendment when he decided last summer in Shelby v. Holder that the Section 4(b) criteria for determining which areas needed federal approval—or “preclearance”—of their voting changes was obsolete. Much of North Carolina was covered under that criteria before Shelby, but shortly after the Supreme Court gutted Section 4(b), the state passed an appallingly restrictive elections administration bill that likely wouldn’t have passed muster when subjected to VRA approval. 

The original Section 4(b) criteria helped protect voters in most of the southern former Jim Crow states where racial voting discrimination is most embedded. It was also applied to states such as Alaska, where Alaska Natives have been constant targets for disenfranchisement

The new VRA amendment sets a new formula for addressing racial discrimination at the polls, but It’s not clear what places would be covered if passed. The consensus so far is that fewer jurisdictions would qualify under the new formula, likely meaning fewer voters of color protected. 

Here’s an explainer of the proposed voting rights amendment of 2014:

  • First, it sets a new formula that applies preclearance coverage to any state that has committed five voting rights violations in the past 15 years, or any “political subdivision” (like a county or school board district) that’s had three voting violations over the same time period. A subdivision could also come under preclearance if it has exhibited “persistent and extremely low minority voter turnout.” More broadly, it allows additional states and subdivisions to be bailed into preclearance if they’re found to have intentionally discriminated against people of color or if their laws inadvertently resulted in discrimination. Currently, a bail-in can only happen if intentional discrimination is found.
  • Second, it forces states and subdivisions to publicly post any changes made to voting procedures, like cuts to early voting or the relocation of a polling place, that occur within 180 days of a federal election. The information has to be posted in a “reasonably convenient and accessible format” within 48 hours of the change being made. They must also publicly post data on the polling resources of any voting district, including that district’s voting-age population, and the number of registered voters, available voting machines and poll workers. Finally, any changes made through redistricting must be publicized within 10 days of the change.
  • The third part reinforces the attorney general’s power to send federal election observers to places where election discrimination has been reported.
  • The last part allows for preliminary injunctive relief when voting rights violations seem imminent, meaning parties can sue to have a voting change temporarily blocked until a full trial determines its legitimacy.
  • But it ain’t all good. Here are a few problems:

    • First, none of this applies to voter ID laws. The original amendment stopped Texas from implementing such a law that could have potentially disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of people of color in 2012, but the new one will ensure no such justice.
    • Second, for determining which areas would fall under preclearance, voting rights violations are usually limited to final court judgments. So, if a court finds that a state ran afoul of civil rights voting laws, or the attorney general blocks a law for similar violations, neither of those would count as a voting rights infraction if a court later overturned either of those decisions.

    • Third, since only final judgements count, other ways of legally addressing voting discrimination like settlements and consent decrees would not constitute violations. Also temporary court injunctions, like what civil rights advocates won in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin against voter ID laws, would not count. What may result now is a deluge of new voting rights lawsuits pushed and appealed to the max — at taxpayers’ expense — whereas under the original version, many cases were resolved before they even saw court.
    • Finally, some voting rights cases include multiple counts, like what we’re seeing right now in North Carolina, where civil rights groups are suing over roughly five different parts of the law that reek of discrimination. But if a final ruling finds that only three of those parts are illegal, does each one count as a voting rights violation, or just one since they’re all filed under the same case? The new legislation doesn’t spell this out.
    • Despite its imperfections, the Voting Rights Act does serve as a solid foundation that members of Congress can improve upon when it finally makes it to a vote. By the same token, they can water it down even more. Either way, it’s better than the nothing that currently exists in Sections 4(b) and 5 of our hard-won voting rights law. 

      Those sponsoring the bill include Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican from Ohio, who was recently ranked by National Journal as the most conservative member in the House of Representatives. Three other Republicans have signed on as sponsors of the bill as well, all of them from voting rights-plagued states Alabama, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

      “While we have made great strides as a country, we know that discrimination is still a reality in too many places,” says Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The need for an effective, modern day Voting Rights Act that responds to 21st century discrimination across the country is vital to our democracy.”

AG Holder Calls for Restoring Voting Rights to Former Felons

AG Holder Calls for Restoring Voting Rights to Former Felons

***UPDATE: 2/11/14 11:25 a.m. Scroll down for Holder’s full remarks on repealing felony disenfranchisement laws.

During Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech this morning at Georgetown University Law Center he announced that people who can’t vote due to past felony convictions should have their voting rights restored. Said Holder:

“It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision,” Holder was to say in prepared remarks. “These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive. By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”

There are 11 states that bar people with felony convictions from voting upon release from jail, even after they’ve completed probation or parole. Three states — Virginia, Florida and Kentucky — have a permanent felony disenfranchisement ban pending a successful appeal to the governor, but only after a lengthy application process and waiting period. Virginia began relaxing its felony disenfranchisement laws under its former governor Bob McDonnell and is expected to extend even more restoration rights to former felons under current governor Terry McAuliffe. 

Holder made these remarks at an event sponsored by The Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Vera Institute of Justice. It’s billed as a bipartisan event to discuss the ongoing criminal justice reforms that have been springing from the Justice Department and how they can go farther. Also present for the forum are Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Other speakers are participating today from the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation. 

Said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: “There is undeniable bipartisan momentum for criminal justice reform that updates inhumane sentencing laws and returns people to society with dignity. America is the world’s greatest democracy, yet felon disenfranchisement laws deny almost six million Americans the right to vote. These laws serve no purpose but to make it harder for returning citizens to reintegrate into their communities — to work, seek an education, and participate in our democracy. Successful reintegration and smarter sentencing are the keys to ensuring that our criminal justice system is more fair, more humane, and more fiscally responsible.”

***Below are Holder’s full remarks at the Georgetown Criminal Justice Forum where the Attorney General calls for felony disenfranchisement laws to be repealed:

“I’ve ordered our law enforcement components to reconsider policies that impose overly burdensome collateral consequences on formerly incarcerated individuals without meaningfully improving public safety. …

“Yet formerly incarcerated people continue to face significant obstacles.  They are frequently deprived of opportunities they need to rebuild their lives. And in far too many places, their rights - including the single most basic right of American citizenship, the right to vote - are either abridged or denied. …

“As the Leadership Conference Education Fund articulated very clearly in your recent report, “there is no rational reason to take away someone’s voting rights for life just because they’ve committed a crime, especially after they’ve completed their sentence and made amends.”  On the contrary: there is evidence to suggest that former prisoners whose voting rights are restored are significantly less likely to return to the criminal justice system.  As your report further notes, a study recently conducted by a parole commission in Florida found that, while the overall three-year recidivism rate stood at roughly 33 percent, the rate among those who were re-enfranchised after they’d served their time was just a third of that. …

“And that’s why I believe that, today - starting here and now - it is time for criminal justice leaders to come together to address this issue. It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision. …

“These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive.  By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.  They undermine the reentry process and defy the principles - of accountability and rehabilitation - that guide our criminal justice policies.  And however well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be - the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated.  At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past - a time of post-Civil War discrimination.  And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear. …

“The history of felony disenfranchisement dates to a time when these policies were employed not to improve public safety, but purely as punitive measures intended to stigmatize, shame, and shut out a person who had been found guilty of a crime. …

“Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans - 5.8 million of our fellow citizens - are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions.  That’s more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states.  And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable.

“Throughout America, 2.2 million black citizens - or nearly one in 13 African-American adults - are banned from voting because of these laws.  In three states - Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia - that ratio climbs to one in five.  …

“Fortunately - despite unfortunate steps backward in a few jurisdictions, and thanks to the leadership of policymakers from both parties and criminal justice professionals like you - in recent years we have begun to see a trend in the right direction.  Since 1997, a total of 23 states - including Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, and Washington State - have enacted meaningful reforms.  In Virginia, just last year, former Governor McDonnell adopted a policy that began to automatically restore the voting rights of former prisoners with non-violent felony convictions….

“I applaud those who have already shown leadership in raising awareness and helping to address this issue.  Later today, this conference will hear from Senator Rand Paul, who has been a leader on this matter. His vocal support for restoring voting rights for former inmates shows that this issue need not break down along partisan lines.

“Eleven states continue to restrict voting rights, to varying degrees, even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole - including the State of Florida, where approximately 10 percent of the entire population is disenfranchised as a result.  In Mississippi, roughly 8 percent of the population cannot vote because of past involvement with the criminal justice system.  In Iowa, action by the governor in 2011 caused the state to move from automatic restoration of rights - following the completion of a criminal sentence - to an arduous process that requires direct intervention by the governor himself in every individual case.  It’s no surprise that, two years after this change - of the 8,000 people who had completed their sentences during that governor’s tenure - voting rights had been restored to fewer than 12. …

“That’s moving backwards - not forward.  It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values.  These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed.”

‘Moral March’ in North Carolina Draws Thousands

'Moral March' in North Carolina Draws Thousands

The tens of thousands of people who descended upon Raleigh, N.C., for the “Moral March” led by civil rights activist Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II surely touched some hearts. The scene of a multi-racial, intergenerational sea of marchers representing every major issue facing Americans from labor to voting rights to immigrant justice invoked memories of the historic civil rights marches of the 1960s 

“We are black, white, Latino, Native American,” said Barber, president of the NC NAACP and convener of HKonJ. “We are Democrat, Republican, independent. We are people of all faiths, and people not of faith, but who believe in a moral universe. We are natives and immigrants, business leaders and workers and unemployed, doctors and the uninsured, gay and straight, students and parents and retirees. We stand here—a quilt of many colors, faiths, and creeds.”

But the march also touched some nerves, particularly those of the more conservative brand who’ve been backing the hard right turn North Carolina took last year when lawmakers rolled back voting rights, cut aid to those of low income and shifted millions of dollars from public schools to private schools. Seeing all of the signs from marchers pushing for marriage equality and reproductive justice, the conservative North Carolina Values Coaltion said in a statement:

“The so-called ‘moral march on Raleigh’ is anything but moral. It is spearheaded by groups that support abortion and homosexual marriage. They are unhappy because the Governor and the General Assembly have enacted policies in line with mainstream North Carolinians that promote and protect marriage between one man and one woman as God created it, ban sex-selective abortion, protect the conscience rights of pro-life health care workers, require abortion facilities to meet basic medical safety standards, and prevent taxpayer-funded abortions.”

Here’s what the Moral Marchers had to say:

Thumbnail image for uterus0214.jpg

Florida State House Candidate Wants Obama Lynched

Florida State House Candidate Wants Obama Lynched

This can’t be life: An African-American candidate for Florida state House of Representatives is on Twitter and Facebook calling for President Barack Obama’s death. Joshua Black, who’s running as a Republican for the 68th legislative district, Tweeted on Martin Luther King Day that Obama should be arrested and then “hang him high.”

Black doubled-down on this statement on his Facebook page, saying that America should “execute” Obama, for drone strikes overseas and the pursuit of people like Edward Snowden who exposed American government secrets. Last I checked, threatening the life of a U.S. President is a felony, and it looks like Black has already had to answer to the Secret Service for his recklessness. In Florida, a felony conviction not only bars you from voting in the state, but also from running for public office. This is one hell of a campaign strategy. 

What’s sadder are the dozens of “Likes,” retweets and people who’ve commented in agreement.