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Archive for February, 2013

Violence Against Women Act is Finally Reauthorized

Thursday, February 28th, 2013
Members of the MD Women's State Caucus

Members of the MD Women’s State Caucus

Justice delayed is not always justice denied.  The Violence Against  Women Act (“VAWA”) was finally reauthorized  on February 28 after a long delay.   Important sections were added to protect Native Americans and human trafficking victims.   Rep. Karen Bass (D. CA) spoke out on the passing of the VAWA.

“After an unnecessary delay of more than 500 days, the House today finally did the right thing and passed commonsense legislation protecting battered women from their abusers.  Protections were extended to those most in need of a helping hand, including battered women who are Native American, immigrants and LGBT.  Because of VAWA, tribes have the authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit domestic violence against their Indian spouses or dating partners and that is a tremendous step forward in protecting Native American women from these senseless acts of violence.”

“Reauthorizing VAWA says once and for all that violence against women is wrong and should not be tolerated in our society, regardless of immigration status, residence, or sexual orientation.   Under VAWA, states will be given more funding to vigorously prosecute sexual and domestic violence offenders and can also qualify for money to provide key services to victims.  The bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, providing critical support for trafficking victims and helping to ensure traffickers are brought to justice.”

The VAWA passed the House 286-138.  Of course, all 138 votes were cast by Republicans.  27 House Republicans voted against both the Senate bill and the watered down House version which failed. Every woman Senator regardless of party voted in favor of the bill.  And the House passed the version submitted by the Senate which added stronger protections for Native American women, undocumented women and LGBT victims.

The main hold up this time in reauthorizing the VAWA was adding stronger protections for Native American women, LGBT and undocumented women.    Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, herself a rape victim, paraphrased the question of rights activist Sojourner Truth, a 19th century escaped slave and civil rights advocate who said, “Ain’t they women?” Moore stated her  reference to the inclusion of Native American, undocumented immigrant and LGBT women.

 

The VAWA Act has helped to save the lives of women with stronger protections against domestic violence.  And with each reauthorization, it gets stronger—despite opposition to the contrary.  The bill is now finally headed to President Obama’s desk for signing. And he’s been waiting a long time to sign it.  It is fitting that the VAW bill was signed on the anniversary of  100 years of the march for women’s suffrage which is Sunday,  March 3.  And the fight for greater protections and freedoms for women continues.

 

The Aftermath of the Voting Rights Argument

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
Photo Courtesy of Color Lines

Photo Courtesy of Color Lines
Early Voters in Miami

Now that the arguments before the Supreme Court have been held and the rally outside the court has ended, there’s not much left to do except wait for a decision on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its survival of section 5.  The chant heard outside the Supreme Court for those rallying in support was “Keep 5 Alive.”  There were no people rallying against  the Voting Rights Act.

As usual, it appears the justices are split with the 4 justices, particularly the 3 women Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan in support of keeping section 5. While it appears that the conservative justices seem ready to gut it.  Particularly, Justice Scalia who seems to think that section 5 somehow means a “racial entitlement.”   Voting rights are a democratic constitutional right.  It is what democracy is based on. Even a few states that are under the provisions of the pre-clearance of section 5 support continuing it, including the southern states of North Carolina and Mississippi.  In the final analysis, the heart and soul of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is hanging on by a fine thread.

It was painfully ironic that on the same day and almost at the same time that the Supreme Court was hearing argument on the Voting Rights Act, President Obama was giving a speech in honor of a statue of Rosa Parks  being placed at the Capitol.   His speech was being made directly across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court at the Capitol. It was Rosa Park’s efforts that helped to ignite the civil rights movement from which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted.   It is also ironic that the more conservative justices believe like Rosa Parks, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is and should be past history.  Yet, one would have to be blind, deaf and dumb to believe that there is no longer racial discrimination in voting rights committed by states covered under Section 5.   Just looking at attempted changes to laws in Texas, South Carolina and Florida in 2012 shows the further need for the pre-clearance section.  They attempted to make changes that would have disenfranchised minorities.  In the case of Texas and South Carolina, the U.S. District Court sided with the Department of Justice’s conclusion that the proposed laws disenfranchised minorities.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is divided among the liberals and conservatives.  There are 4 liberal justices appointed by Democratic presidents with the other 5 appointed by Republican presidents.  Justice Clarence Thomas prior to hearing any argument has indicated a bent towards ending the pre-clearance section.  Chief Justice Roberts is no lover of section 5 either.  And so, in the final analysis, we don’t know how the Court will decide.  One thing is clear—in order for the Voting Rights Act, section 5 to survive, it will need life support from Justice Kennedy who has been known to be a swing vote on occasions. Whether Justice Kennedy will swing with the four liberal leaning justices remains to be seen.  And even Justice Kennedy stated at the hearing, “times change”—not a good sign for keeping section 5 alive.

A decision is not expected until late June.  And no one knows which way the court will rule.  If the Supreme Court should strike down the pre-clearance section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, it will give the southern states involved carte blanche to go “buck wild” on disenfranchising minority voters.  And in the end process, democracy will be compromised.  The Shelby County v. Holder decision is one of the most important decisions of our democracy.

Supreme Court to Decide Minorities’ Voting Rights

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

supcourt_buildingOn Wednesday, Feb 27, the mother lode of all GOP legal voting schemes will be heard before the Supreme Court in the case of Shelby County v. Holder. This case challenges the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Simply put, section 5 states that due to past discriminatory voting rights issues to disenfranchise blacks, all or parts of 16 states must have any voting laws pre-approved by the Justice Department before implementing them.  It applies to nine states mostly in the south and parts of 7 other states. This provision known as “pre-clearance” is the heart of the Voting Rights Act as it corrects a problem before it occurs.  It applies to when states covered under Section 5 either redraw district lines, modify registration procedures or change any other practice that might disadvantage minority voters.

Shelby County, Alabama argues that  section 5  is no longer needed and unconstitutional.  In a recent decision, at least one justice, Clarence Thomas has said that the provision is flat out unconstitutional.  So we know which way he will vote.  And Chief Justice Roberts said several years ago that  “things have changed in the South,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote. “Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity.

First the Supreme Court gave us Citizens United giving corporations unlimited spending to candidates saying corporations are people too.  Then states enacted voter ID laws to prevent bogus voter fraud and give Mitt Romney the win.  After that didn’t work, Republicans are considering changing the way states allocate votes to the electoral college—so that a loser Republican could receive votes to win the state.  And now, we have the Supreme Court deciding if minorities’ voting rights will be protected.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted due to systemic discrimination preventing blacks from voting with numerous schemes and laws, such as poll tax, literacy tests and intimidation. While the exact tactics have changed, the game is still being played from shortening early voting days, voter ID laws, photo ID laws, True the Vote intimidation and a myriad of other ways.

By way of background, in 2006 Congress heard testimony on whether to re-authorize the act for another 25 years.  After hearing days of testimony and 22 hearings, Congress almost voted unanimously to re-approve the Act for another 25 years.  The vote was 393 – 25 in the House and unanimous with 98-0 in the Senate.   Those members of Congress and the Senate who heard testimony and voted to extend  section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are the same ones whose states are affected by it.  Despite recent Congressional approval, Shelby County Alabama says it has been too long and poses hardships.

 

The Supreme Court will hear arguments at 10:00 A.M for an hour with each side allocated  ½  hour unless the Justices determine to provide more time.  Rallies are expected outside the court before, during and after the arguments.  Make no mistake, this case is one of the most important civil rights cases before the Supreme Court in a long time.  Its outcome could very well determine if we go back to the days of 50 years ago when voting in the south for blacks was a blocked  obstacle course, worse than a maze to figure out.

Although Shelby County argues that with an African American president, there is not much need for the section anymore, the tactics of the GOP during the 2012 election shows why we must have Section 5 still in place.  Prior to the election, Texas attempted to change its voting laws.  The Justice Department did not pre-clear them  due to a discriminatory effect on Hispanics. A U.S. District court upheld the decision.

 

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) who knows first- hand the challenges of the south in regards to voting, recently spoke out on why it is important to uphold it.  Without the section preventing a return to the old days, there will be a repeat pattern.  The GOP tactics of the 2012 election were just a snap shot of what will happen if the Court does not uphold Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  And without section 5, there is no real redress after the election has occurred.  That’s the importance of pre-clearance.

There is also a bail out provision where states or those portions can show they have complied with the Act may request to be exempted.  Shelby County never asked for a bail out.  Instead, they want the entire section 5 of the voting Rights Act of 1965 to be held unconstitutional.

Last year the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.  Let’s hope they don’t give us health care and take away voting rights this year.  Rallies will take place outside the Supreme Court during the arguments.  A decision is not likely for months.

 

Why Every Black Man in America is Trayvon Martin

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

trayvon_martin_zimmermanEvery parent’s worst nightmare is the death of a child by senseless violent gun crime.  And so on  February 26, 2013, the 1st anniversary of the death and killing of Trayvon Martin, my heart goes out to Sybrina Fulton and  Tracey Martin, parents of Trayvon and to all the other parents who have lost their children to violent and senseless gun violence.  Yet, the death of Trayvon Martin and the way it occurred could happen to any black male in America due to racial profiling.

One year ago, George Zimmerman, while on community watch patrol spotted Trayvon and presumably sensed that he was acting suspicious while en route to the home of his father’s fiancé. His suspicious actions was a young black male walking in a gated community wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and a bottle of Ice Tea.  For his actions, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.

Apparently, some of the police on duty on the night of Trayvon Martin’s death may have engaged in the their own racial profiling as they released George Zimmerman based on his version of events.  It was not until the outpouring of support for Trayvon Martin that police arrested and brought George Zimmerman to stand trial. A trial is set for June 10 and barring unforeseen circumstances, Zimmerman will appear before a jury and be judged for his actions.

Trayvon  Martin could be any black male in America today.  Recently, renowned actor Forest Whitaker was stopped by a store clerk and presumed to have stolen something from a store.  He had taken nothing.  But his actions as a black man entering a store and leaving shortly thereafter aroused suspicions on the part of the employee.   If under different circumstances or similar to those of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, Forest Whitaker could have met a George Zimmerman.

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor rebuked a federal prosecutor for his questions during a trial which amounted to the racial profiling of blacks and Hispanics gathered together in a hotel room.  During the trial, the prosecutor asked the defendant and argued to the jury that blacks and Hispanics in a hotel room with money amounted to a drug deal.  Sam Ponder, the assistant U.S. attorney said “common sense” should tell jurors why the men were in the hotel room.  “You’ve got African Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, ‘This is a drug deal?'” the prosecutor said.  Justice Sotomayor stated in a written statement after the court refused to hear the appeal that the prosecutor tried to “substitute racial stereotype for evidence and racial prejudice for reason.”

In the case of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman substituted his own racial prejudice and racial stereotype in reasoning that Trayvon Martin was acting suspiciously which led him to follow and ultimately shoot Martin.  Regardless of whether “Stand your Ground” legally applies as a defense, there would be no trial or killing without the intervening racial profiling.

It does not matter whether you are Trayvon Martin, Forest Whitaker or an unknown, unnamed black man in America, the same fate as that of Trayvon could potentially occur, due to racial profiling.  Targeting African American males for suspicion of crimes by law enforcement and “wanna be” law enforcement officers such as Zimmerman based on the color of their skin exists whether one lives in Los Angeles, New York city, Washington, DC or Stanford, Florida.  And on February 26, 2012, it caused the death of Trayvon Martin.

 

Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks blog who addresses issues on race and gender in law and politics. She also regularly contributes articles to the Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center blog.  She has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,   RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV and XM Sirius radio discussing headline legal news, politics and voting rights.  Her works have also appeared in the Baltimore Sun,  Afro American, Washington Post, and Washington Times. Her written commentary has been featured on CNN and in NPR online.   She is a native of Baltimore, MD residing in Washington, DC.

 

Stuck Between a Boehner Rock and a Sequestration Hard Place

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Speaker BoehnerIf you look up the word “sequestration” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican Congress members smiling and the rest of America crying. Simply put, with the 113th GOP controlled Congress, sequestration means bad things will happen to middle class, people of color, poor people and everyone in between, if they don’t act soon.  Beginning March 1, there will be cuts across the board from the Pentagon to education and Head Start programs, unless action is taken to avoid it.

All cuts are not equal. A cut affecting Donald Trump will not be felt the same as one affecting a McDonald’s minimum wage worker or someone on unemployment.  People who have nothing to lose will be affected the least. And those with the most to lose will be affected the most.  Make no mistake, everyone will be affected. And our country will be at risk in more ways than just economically.

 

It’s as if the Republican Congress delights in the drama, chaos and derailing the American people.  Instead of working on a solution,   House Speaker Boehner gave Congress a week off.  For the average working American,  that’s like an employer rewarding and giving a vacation to employees at the same time that unfinished deadlines will result in the company’s further setbacks and decline.  That  just doesn’t seem to matter to Rep. Boehner.

There are many articles online that succinctly discuss the perils of sequestration—expected to occur on March 1 if nothing is done.    Here are a few examples of how sequestration cuts might affect your family.

According to a Think Progress report, loss of Title I funding may result in loss of:

  • 2700 schools
  • 9880 education staff
  • 70,000 children being taken off the  Head Start program
  • 30,000 teacher jobs
  • 1.2 million students will be affected
According to Adam Peck of Think Progress, all of these above cuts in funds will come from low income communities.

According to heads of federal agencies, there are other real consequences:

  • Housing vouchers, shelter programs, and rural rent assistance are also on the chopping block  which may result in 125,000 persons at risk of homelessness.
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also warned about “elimination of rental assistance for more than 10,000 very low income rural residents, generally elderly, disabled, and single female heads of households.
  • HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned in a Feb. 1 letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee: “Sequestration could compromise the health and well-being of more than 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children who potentially would not receive needed mental health services, which could result in increased hospitalizations and homelessness.  “In addition, we expect that 8,900 homeless persons with serious mental illness might not receive the vital outreach, treatment and housing, and supports that they need to help in their recovery process.
  • Social Security checks won’t stop because of sequestration—those payments are exempt from cuts—but Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue wrote on Feb. 7 that administrative cuts could mean the administration is slow to process disability claims and send money.
  • Increased risk of terrorism- The FBI’s ability to catch terrorists and stop plots will be mitigated, according to director Robert Mueller. The cuts include personnel furloughs and stalled investigations.”
  • Cuts to FEMA of over $1 billion would mean less relief for disaster victims,  Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano warned: “The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund would be reduced by over a billion dollars, with an impact on survivors recovering from future severe weather events, and affecting the economic recoveries of local economies in those regions.”
  • Sequestration “could impact the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis wrote, “For the long-term unemployed, more than 3.8 million people receiving Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits will see their benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Affected long-term unemployed individuals would lose an average of more than $400 in benefits.”
  • First Responders lay-offs   will occur as some first responders are funded with federal dollars.
  • The Department of Education would cut $725 Million from its Title I grant program for schools with large shares of low-income and special-needs kids, according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The program serves 23 million low-income and 6.5 special-needs students.
  • Even the FBI will furlough agents, according to Attorney General Eric Holder

 

It seems as if Republicans will stop at everything to prevent our country from moving forward. So they have us between a rock and a hard place—with nowhere to go, unless they move and take action.  President Obama cannot move us forward without some  action from Congress.

 

 

Donald Trump Threatens Lawsuit Over Macy’s Boycott Petition

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

AmericanflagDonald Trump who challenged President Obama to show his birth certificate and his college transcripts is now challenging online organizer Angelo Carusone, who started a petition on SignOn.org,  urging Macy’s to Dump Trump, to cease  and  desist from attempts to  remove the Trump brands  from Macy’s.  By way of background, Mr. Carusone’s  online petition’s background states:

“Macy’s has a special deal with Donald Trump. They invest in developing Trump’s brand and sell his clothing line and fragrance at their locations. To this end, they have had major events at Macy’s Herald Square location and they often feature and promote Trump in advertisements designed to celebrate the magic of Macy’s.”

Petition Statement to Macy’s states:

Donald Trump does not reflect the “magic of Macy’s.” We urge you to sever ties with him. Macy’s says it has a strong obligation to be “socially responsible” and that “actions speak louder than words.” Indeed. It’s time to act.

 

Mr. Carusone’s petition was started before the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in November and has amassed almost 700,000 signatures.  Trump has threatened a $25 million lawsuit if efforts to remove him from Macy’s as a tortious  interference with business.  Click here  to read the letter.

It seems that Donald Trump has forgotten there are still First Amendment rights in this country.  In case he has forgotten, Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, a long-standing advocate for free speech and Carusone’s attorney has reminded Trump’s attorney stating,  “From the boycott of Missouri for blocking the Equal Rights Amendment to refusing to eat at Chick-fil-A for opposing gay rights, the ability to stimulate a mass “vote with your wallet” campaign has been a key weapon for activists that has long been recognized under the First Amendment,” added Levy. “Free speech trumps business expectations; even Donald Trump should know better than to bring the suit that he threatens.”

 

MoveOn.org which allows online users to start petitions on its web site fully supports Carusone and his “Dump Trump” petition.  Stefanie Faucher, a spokesperson for MoveOn.org,  said, “MoveOn.org stands behind Angelo Carusone and the other individuals using SignOn.org to exercise their First Amendment rights. We deplore any and all attempts to bully and intimidate Americans who are simply exercising their constitutional right to freedom of speech and who are courageous enough to speak truth to power.”

There are many online petitions where persons can assert their First Amendment rights.  Even the White House has an online petition tab where among others, petitions to secede from the country have also amassed signatures.

First amendment allows everyone such as Mr. Carusone to express their opinions and seek action. In fact, many such petitions have been very successful in removing TV sponsors from shows like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh for their racist and hate mongering TV style.    And these petitions have been used to state the point that such racist and bullying tactics are not acceptable.  Perhaps, this is what Mr. Trump is worried will happen to him.

While it is unlikely that Mr. Trump will back down off of his efforts to suppress the First Amendment, there will be more to update.  In the interim, interested persons may sign the petition for Macy’s to Dump Trump online by clicking here.