Commentary

SCOTUS Delivers a Temporary Victory for Voting Rights

May 15, 2017

This morning brought some good news from the highest court in the land. Here's the headline from The New York Times: Strict North Carolina Voter ID Law Thwarted After Supreme Court Rejects Case.

The law, which was enacted by the state’s Republican-led legislature in 2013, added several restrictive measures that limited early voting, changed identification requirements, and ended same-day voter registration.

But in 2016, federal court in Richmond found struck down many aspects of the law, and ruled it an unconstitutional attempt to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision," and not to prevent voter fraud. Today's SCOTUS announcement leaves that decision in place.

The Washington Post broke down the appeals court decision last July:

In particular, the court found that North Carolina lawmakers requested data on racial differences in voting behaviors in the state. "This data showed that African Americans disproportionately lacked the most common kind of photo ID, those issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)," the judges wrote.

So the legislators made it so that the only acceptable forms of voter identification were the ones disproportionately used by white people. "With race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans," the judges wrote. "The bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess."

The data also showed that black voters were more likely to make use of early voting — particularly the first seven days out of North Carolina's 17-day voting period. So lawmakers eliminated these seven days of voting. "After receipt of this racial data, the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from seventeen to ten days," the court found.

The law may be thwarted for now, but the impulse behind it is not. Explains The Atlantics Vann R. Newkirk:

The next battle may not originate in the state itself. The North Carolina voter-ID law is similar to a Texas law that has also had a long life in courts, and has been found to have discriminatory effect by the Fifth Circuit. The question of the discriminatory intent of the law, although recently confirmed by a district court, is likely to reappear before the Fifth Circuit and then the Supreme Court, and there the Court’s considerations could have wide implications for implementation of voter ID, including North Carolina’s own law.

Part of what voting rights advocates fear is that opponents, failing to find sympathetic jurists, will just get better at hiding the discriminatory intent behind their legal strategy. But here's my thought of the day: It's the shield of moral certainty held by many an average voter - that some people are more deserving to be part of the democratic process than others - will be the hardest to pierce.

Stay tuned.

On Point

How homeownership is driving income inequality

I cut my teeth as a financial journalist, so I’ve long believed that understanding how financial systems work is one of the best ways to explain how inequality thrives. This piece from The New York Times Magazine does all this and more. “Almost a decade removed from the foreclosure crisis that began in 2008, the nation is facing one of the worst affordable-housing shortages in generations.” The profound tax and wealth advantages that homeowners enjoy over renters will widen the inequality divide even further. The talent pipeline leaks because people, typically people of color, can’t afford a home, not just because they can’t code. So, who’s going to address the mortgage interest deduction problem? A must read.

New York Times

A white cop sues for racial taunts after a DNA test revealed he had some African ancestry

After the results of a DNA ancestry test revealed that his genetic makeup may be 18% of African origin, Police Sgt. Cleon Brown of Hastings, Mich. says that his fellow cops began to harass him. According to his lawsuit, even the chief of police joined in, calling him “Kunta” - the primary character from “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” Brown also claims that fellow cops began whispering “Black Lives Matter” to him when he walked by, a tan colored Santa appeared in his holiday stocking with “18%” written on the beard, and that he was asked to resign. But the city says it was Brown who initiated the jokes. “In fact, Sgt. Brown joked about it in racially derogatory ways such as suggesting [that] he now knows why he ‘likes chicken so much,’ ‘the 18% is all in my pants,’ as well as other similarly inappropriate and derogatory comments and stereotypes,” the city said in a statement. I looked up Hastings in the census records our tax dollars pay for. It’s a sweet little town of 7,095 souls, 97% of whom are white. Some 21% of the citizens are living in poverty.

Diversity Inc

Who is radicalizing the white men?

Lincoln Blades, writer and creator of the online magazine ThisIsYourConscience.com, asks a question we should all be raising regularly: Who gets labeled a terrorist? He begins by pointing to the most recent example of race-based terrorism, the April 30th shooting at a San Diego area pool, in which a white man targeted black and Latinx families. Police expressed doubt that race was a factor. “America has been reticent to label white male mass shooters as domestic terrorists,” he says, “and there's a hesitation from politicians, law enforcement agencies, and society as a whole, to investigate what animates the brutal actions of these attackers, who are mostly white and male, and whose actions are often rationalized.” These are not gentle loners. “[T]he number one question that Americans of all backgrounds should be asking is: Who and what is radicalizing white male terrorists?"

Teen Vogue

A driven attorney is making the case for transgender and gay rights

This is a fascinating profile of Chase Strangio, a dedicated attorney with a specialty that’s been keeping him very busy: gay marriage and transgender rights. He’s part of the ACLU team that’s been suing to get the now telegenic Gavin Grimm access to the boy’s bathroom at his rural Virgina high school. He’s also the lead counsel for whistleblower Chelsea Manning. But Strangio is also the much-tattooed son of a Trump-voting Breitbart fan, a new father, and a preternaturally sharp legal mind who, as a transgender man,  is no stranger to identity struggles. There are very few transgender lawyers, say experts. Now that Strangio is so high profile, it makes him both a hero and a target. "Part of me always felt like an outsider and a freak," Strangio says.

Mother Jones

Capitalism is ruining everything. Discuss

Here’s an interesting interview with Paul de Grauwe, an economist at the London School of Economics and author of The Limits of the Markets (Oxford University Press). He says that the long-standing tension between free markets and governments comes to a head for two predictable reasons. One is the environment. “Without government control, the markets will lead to so much destruction of the environment that people will reject it—that’s when the market hits its limit,” he says. The next is inequality. “What do you do with a market system that creates great benefits for many people but also hardship for those in society that lose?” Widespread political instability, then, is a direct result of the limits of markets. So what are the risks and rewards of a market-led v government-led society? A must read. Then, let's talk.

Quartz

The Woke Leader

Podcast: How a criminal defense attorney became a “social justice warrior”

Twitter is bad at some things but terrific at this: Occasionally elevating the voices of otherwise unknown people into insightful commentators. This has been the case for T. Greg Doucette, a criminal defense lawyer who has developed a well-deserved following for his threaded “rants,” folksy but searing accounts of how the criminal justice system really works and why it disproportionately impacts people of color. So when I found that he’d been a guest on Ana Marie Cox’s With Friends Like These podcast, I had to wonder, would his Twitter persona match reality? He talked about the lesser forms of brutality that are destroying the lives of young people of color – those that are brought in on minor or false infractions – and how the system ultimately swallows them up. And he tells the live version of one of his most famous Twitter rants, the one when a nice (black) kid, swerved to avoid hitting a cat and is nearly arrested on false testimony from (white) neighbors and police. He also offered some very smart advice on how data can and should improve the criminal justice system. And it was exactly like talking to a Twitter avatar who had suddenly become a real person.

With Friends Like These Podcast

Friday was the thirty-second anniversary of the day the police bombed a city block into oblivion, and hardly anybody remembers it

Survivors of the event refer to it by the full date: May 13, 1985. It was West Philadelphia, and the bombing was the culmination of a long stand-off between the police and MOVE, a radical group that had turned a row house into an armed compound. Tensions between MOVE and the police had been escalating, but the people truly at risk were the mostly middle-class black homeowners who were about to become unwilling victims of the fight to follow. NPR’s Gene Demby, a Philadelphia native, returned to the neighborhood two years ago to re-tell the story through the eyes of the survivors and to see what has changed. “Today, the narrow block sits eerily quiet; most of the houses that were built to replace the ones destroyed by the fire are now vacant, boarded up and padlocked.”  On the day of the anniversary, he also added much-needed commentary on Twitter. “The police literally bombed a neighborhood to rubble and burned a bunch of children to death. No public/police official was ever punished,” he wrote.

NPR's Code Switch

From the archives: Empathy and leadership, revisited

Re-reading the “Primal Leadership” research from Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee has been a good reminder that leader’s mood and subsequent behaviors drive the mood and behaviors of everyone else. Is your organization characterized by trust and healthy risk-taking or fear and anxiety? The inner life of the boss matters, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. “A cranky and ruthless boss creates a toxic organization filled with negative underachievers who ignore opportunities; an inspirational, inclusive leader spawns acolytes for whom any challenge is surmountable. The final link in the chain is performance: profit or loss.”

HBR

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