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CIVIL RIGHTS POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Civil Rights Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with voter rights, police brutality, free speech, the right to privacy, and other human rights enshrined in our constitution. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and state legislatures. Our Principal Analyst is Rod Maggay who can be reached at rod@usresistnews.org.

Latest Civil Rights Posts

 

Trump Administration Threatens US-Russian Nuclear Treaty

Brief #74—Civil Rights Police Summary On December 4th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced to a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels that Russia was in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and had 60 days to come into...

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Democrats Introduce Massive Election Reform Bill Aimed At Countering GOP Voter Suppression Tactics

Democrats Introduce Massive Election Reform Bill Aimed At Countering GOP Voter Suppression Tactics

Brief #76—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
On January 3, 2019, Representative John P. Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced in the House of Representatives bill H.R.1 known as the For The People Act of 2019. It was the first bill introduced by the new Democratic controlled House chamber and it signaled many of the issues that would be prioritized by the Democratic Party. The massive 571 page bill contained a long list of new bills that covered numerous topics – voting rights, campaign finance, election security, super – PAC’s (Political Action Committees) as well as a code of ethics for the Supreme Court and a bill requiring future presidential candidates to release 10 years of tax returns among many other topics.

Specifically to voting rights, the proposals are numerous. The bill proposes requiring online voter registration, automatic voter registration, requiring same – day voter registration for federal elections, mandatory independent voting commissions to draw congressional districts, limitations on voter purges, a paper trail on voting systems to permit audits and even a ban on a state’s chief election officer from campaign activities if connected to a federal office. LEARN MORE

Analysis: The For The People Act of 2019’s voting reform proposals are some of the most significant voting reforms put forth in a long time. The reason why these proposals are now front and center is because they are a reaction to voter suppression efforts that have been underway for much of the last decade with many of the obstacles enacted by the GOP leadership in a number of states.

The proposal to require automatic registration is unique because it automatically registers a voter once they turn 18. If the voter does not want to be registered to vote than he or she must take action to opt out. This directly counters GOP efforts to bar voters based on “erroneous” registrations or to keep people out if the state uses an “exact match” voting registration system. The mandatory online voter registration also counters these kinds of GOP voter suppression efforts because registering online will be able to catch mistakes immediately and notify the voter right away. In some states, if there was a mistake on a paper registration,  the state had no duty to contact the voter and could simply bar the voter from registering. The proposal to limit voter purges closely tracks this line of thinking because it is a proposal that gives the voter more control over their right to vote instead of having the state have final control over the voting rolls so much so that fraudulent and politically motivated decisions are being used by the state to decide who remains an eligible voter.

The proposal requiring same – day voter registration is also aimed at eliminating one of the tactics that the GOP have embraced to bar voters but also sends a message that voters should not and will not be turned away. Same – day voter registration has often been criticized because states claim they do not have enough time to validate a voter’s registration but this excuse rings hollow because a state can invalidate a ballot after the election if fraud is later detected. They would still be able to do this even if a voter who registered on the same day cast a ballot so there should be no problem in permitting the voter to register and vote on the same day.

Finally, the two proposals pushing for independent voting commissions to draw congressional districts and banning a state’s chief election officer from campaign activities speaks to trying to eliminate as much as possible the ugly partisanship that has become much more common in American politics today. The independent voting commissions are groups tasked with drawing congressional districts instead of having state politicians do it themselves. Politicians at times draw the districts with the goal of keeping a specific political party in power with the result that elections are not truly representative of what the voting constituency wants. The independent voting commissions would keep political partisan considerations out of the business of drawing electoral districts. And the last proposal is a common sense proposal and also a nod to the questionable election of Brian Kemp as Governor of Georgia in 2018. Mr. Kemp was at the time a candidate for Governor and also the chief election officer for the State of Georgia, creating a conflict of interest where his interpretation of rules could have swayed the election in his favor.

There are other voting proposals in H.R. 1 – making Election Day a federal holiday to give voters more time to vote, permitting colleges and universities as places to register to vote – but the proposals discussed are the most prominent. The bill has now been referred to the House Committee on House Administration which has jurisdiction over federal elections where hearings have been scheduled but have not begun yet. These are important proposals that are a good counter to the obstructionist tactics to bar voters that the GOP have employed in recent years and should be given strong consideration in order to strengthen the American political process. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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Federal District Court Issues Ruling Prohibiting Citizenship Status Question on 2020 National Census Questionnaire

Federal District Court Issues Ruling Prohibiting Citizenship Status Question on 2020 National Census Questionnaire

Brief #75—Civil Rights


Policy Summary

Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states “Representatives…shall be apportioned among the several States…according to their respective numbers. The actual Enumeration shall be made…within every subsequent term of ten years.” This constitutional command is the basis for the United States to hold a census to determine the population of all persons residing within the borders of the United States. The last decennial census was held in 2010 and the next one is scheduled for 2020.

In 2017, Wilbur Ross was confirmed as the Secretary of Commerce. The Secretary oversees the Department of Commerce which includes the United States Census Bureau, the agency that oversees every decennial census. In March 2018, Secretary Ross issued a memorandum instructing the Census Bureau to reintroduce a question about United States citizenship status on the 2020 questionnaire. The citizenship question had not appeared on the questionnaire since 1950. In the days after Secretary Ross’s memorandum, multiple lawsuits were filed to challenge the placement of the citizenship status question on the upcoming questionnaire of the 2020 census as well as other procedural issues related to a possible trial on the issue. In the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, multiple cases against the Department of Commerce were consolidated and the case went before Judge Jesse Furman. In a ruling handed down on January 15, 2019, Judge Furman prohibited Secretary Ross’s order to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. LEARN MORE

Analysis
Judge Furman’s lengthy 277 page ruling explaining his decision to prohibit the citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census questionnaire is not just a rebuke to the Trump Administration’s anti – immigrant rhetoric but to the methods of Secretary Ross and the general chaotic nature of the Trump Administration. Judge Furman thoroughly criticizes Secretary Ross’s methods in trying to push through the addition of the citizenship question. Judge Furman writes that the Secretary “failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices.” What the judge was pointing out was that Secretary Ross had no respect for the laws, rules and procedures already in place and seemed intent instead on pushing through an outcome that he had already predetermined himself – that a question inquiring into a person’s citizenship should be added to the 2020 census questionnaire. Taken in the context of President Trump’s anti – immigrant rhetoric and the Administration’s tendency to blame immigrants for being habitual lawbreakers when they enter the United States, the ruling from Judge Furman highlighted the uncomfortable fact that lawbreakers are not just immigrants but can easily be found in members of President Trump’s own administration.

The ruling does not explicitly rule that the citizenship inquiry on the questionnaire is unconstitutional but it has helped to encourage more debate on whether the United States should ask such a sensitive question especially in light of a President who is currently trying to take a hard – line on immigration issues. The question is seen as a way to suppress new immigrants from participating in the democratic process because immigrants have reason to fear government agents asking too many questions about their legal status. Some persons may simply choose not to fill out any question on the questionnaire at all and might simply just ignore it. This can have a negative effect on the communities where a person lives because an inaccurate count of people living in certain areas can lead to a misallocation of federal funds and resources (safety and health) and lead to errors when drawing state and federal congressional districts. Having the citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire will instead likely deter some people from filling out the form out of fear. A better approach would be to leave the citizenship question off the questionnaire, as this had been the norm in the U.S. since 1950, the last time the citizenship question was even on the national census. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – blog post commenting on court ruling prohibiting census citizenship question.

National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund – non – profit group website monitoring census issues as they affect Latino communities.

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) – minority non – profit group’s statement on court ruling prohibiting census citizenship question.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org

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Andres Urena

Court of Appeals Issues Ruling Prohibiting Elected Officials From Banning Online Critics on Social Media Platforms

Court of Appeals Issues Ruling Prohibiting Elected Officials From Banning Online Critics on Social Media Platforms

Brief #74—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
Phyllis Randall is an elected official and holds the position of Chair for Loudon County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors. In this role, Ms. Randall opened a Facebook page titled “Chair Phyllis J. Randall’s” Facebook page which contained content that related to her official duties as Chair for the Board of Supervisors. (Ms. Randall also has a separate personal Facebook page for personal and private use). Ms. Randall classified her “Chair Facebook” page as a “government official” page.

On February 3, 2016, Brian Davison, a private citizen, attended a Loudon town hall meeting that also included Ms. Randall and the Loudon County School Board. Later on that evening, Ms. Randall posted information from the meeting which Mr. Davison then responded to with comments he posted on Ms. Randall’s “Chair Facebook” page. Ms. Randall saw that the comments were about accusations of conflict of interests by members of the board. Ms. Randall decided to delete her Facebook meeting post and Mr. Davison’s comments on her post. She then decided to ban Mr. Davison from the “Chair Facebook” page.

Mr. Davison brought a lawsuit against Ms. Randall in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Virginia which ruled Ms. Randall violated Mr. Davison’s Free Speech rights under the First Amendment. Ms. Randall appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which ended up affirming the trial court’s ruling against Ms. Randall. LEARN MORE

Analysis
This case is the first case decided at the Court of Appeals level that has addressed the issue of how elected officials can treat public criticism of their official duties on social media platforms and the First Amendment concerns connected to that. The case will likely be influential in the coming years because of the number of politicians who use social media to interact with their constituents and conduct government policy, most notably President Donald Trump on his Twitter account. The key takeaway from this opinion is how the court determined that social media platforms as used by elected public officials “bear the hallmarks of a public forum.” Under this category, the government (or an elected official) cannot restrict speech on their official government social media accounts based on their content without a compelling state interest. What Ms. Randall attempted to do in her case was censor speech that could have been of interest to the public because of their embarrassing implications to herself and the rest of the Board. Quite simply, this was viewpoint discrimination and has been prohibited by the First Amendment long before social media platforms were developed. Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute, said it best when she said “Public officials…have no greater license to suppress dissent online than they do offline.” The rules regarding Free Speech and the First Amendment and social media platforms are still being developed but this case sends a strong signal that the First Amendment will likely have a strong role to play in the development of free speech rules on social media in the years and decades to come. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Photo by unsplash-logoROBIN WORRALL

North Carolina Election Highlights Need To Prioritize Election Integrity

North Carolina Election Highlights Need To Prioritize Election Integrity

Brief #48—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
On November 6, 2018, the United States held its biennial federal elections. As dictated by the U.S. Constitution, every seat in the House of Representatives was up for election as well as the required 1/3 of the total Senate seats which meant thirty – three Senate seats were being contested (as well as an additional two seats due a special election being called for a total of thirty – five Senate seats being contested nationwide).

In North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District the election was between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. After the votes were tabulated, Mr. Harris had a 905 vote lead over Mr. McCready with more than 280,000 votes cast in the district.  Mr. McCready conceded the election the next day. However, the state Democratic Party in North Carolina soon after filed numerous affidavits with North Carolina’s Board of Elections alleging wrongdoing with regard to the election in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District and local elections in Bladen County. On November 30, 2018, in a unanimous vote, the Board of Elections announced that they would delay certifying the congressional election and declaring a winner due to “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities.” They also announced that they voted 7 – 2 to hold a public hearing on December 21, 2018 “to assure that the election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result.” LEARN MORE

Analysis
While the issue of voter suppression has focused primarily on the issues of gerrymandering, voter ID requirements and discriminatory tactics, other tactics are just as often used and should not be ignored. The 2018 election from North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District and from nearby Bladen and Robeson Counties helps to illustrate how far some people will go to manipulate an election in order to have an outcome that they desire. The incidents are disturbing and have the potential to cast doubt not just on the integrity of North Carolina elections but on elections nationwide and the concept of democracy in the U.S.

In Bladen and Robeson counties, 3,400 absentee ballots were requested by voters but a high percentage were not completed and not mailed back. An analysis by the News & Observer found that many of the unreturned absentee ballots were from minority voters nearly 3 times more than from white voters who requested absentee ballots. This follows on the heels of Mr. Harris’ win in the primary election held in May where he won an astonishing 96 percent of all absentee ballots cast in Bladen County. Also, Bladen County voter Datesha Montgomery stated in a sworn statement that a woman came to her door and told her that she was collecting absentee ballots. Ms. Montgomery voted for two local candidates and then was told by the woman to sign the envelope and that the woman told her that she would finish the voting on the absentee ballot for Ms. Montgomery. At least five other people have stated in sworn statements that people came to their doors and offered to fill out absentee ballots for them. These incidents occurred in neighborhoods that were primarily African – American. These are certainly troubling incidents and the Board of Elections made the right decision in delaying certification in the congressional race and in further investigating the allegations of irregularities and fraud. It is not about gerrymandering or voter ID but the incidents in North Carolina are still an assault on democratic principles and should be investigated so something like this will be prevented from happening again. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Update: An investigation into irregularities and fraud in the North Carolina Ninth Congressional District continues with typical and unforeseen twists and turns that still leaves the district without an official winner. Democrat Dan McReady, who originally lost the election, has accused Republican Mark Harris of not cooperating with investigators and is poised to fight in order to force a special election, which would essentially be a do – over of the November election. Mark Harris has tried to distance himself from Leslie Dowless, a campaign employee who has been accused of orchestrating the absentee ballot fraud. Mr. Dowless has a history of questionable campaign tactics concerning absentee ballot collection in the district going back to 2016. In the ensuing weeks after the November election, voters in the congressional district have claimed that they turned in their absentee ballots with only one witness signature although the ballots mysteriously ended up with two witness signatures. Another ballot was requested by a person who had been listed as deceased. And, absentee ballots were collected by people who were not “close relatives” which is illegal in North Carolina. As a result of these irregularities, the U.S. Congress has made clear that they would not seat Republican Mark Harris for the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019 until an investigation was completed.

Finally, the political atmosphere in North Carolina has complicated the issue as to whether the investigation will be completed at all. In October 2018, a state court ruled that North Carolina’s Board of Elections was unconstitutional as structured and ordered dissolved because of changes Republicans made to the board to limit the Democratic governor’s power. However, the board was permitted to remain in place in order to finish the investigation into the Ninth Congressional District race. However, the investigation dragged on and, fed up, the state court issued an order dissolving the Board of Elections on December 28, 2018. As a result, the congressional election between Mr. Harris and Mr. McReady cannot be certified. Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has offered to create an interim board to handle the election investigation but Republicans have refused to cooperate with the interim board. A new Elections Board has been slated to be implemented on January 31, 2019 and Republicans have decided that they would rather deal with a permanent board instead of an interim Elections Board where the Republicans would have a minority of the seats on the five member board. The investigation, and the political wrangling in North Carolina, continues while the 116th Congress moves forward without a representative from North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • The Voter Participation Center – non – profit group dedicated to registering and mobilizing the American electorate.
  • HeadCount – non – profit group’s infopage on states voting information.
  • Vote.org – online guide with up to date information on voting rights.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Photo by Element5 Digital

Another One Bites the Dust: Exit Tear Gas, Enter Migrant Child Death

Another One Bites the Dust: Exit Tear Gas, Enter Migrant Child Death

Brief #75—Civil Rights

Policy
While the American public is still horrified after the migrant tear gas encounter at the San Ysidro border in November, troops are being shifted, more individuals are attempting to seek asylum, and most heartbreaking: a 7 year old died in US custody. In Baja California, there are approximately 7,500 migrants in the state currently waiting to begin seeking asylum and 2,000 of those remain in Mexicali about 90 miles from the border deciding whether to go to Tijuana. The Mexican government opened Unidad Deportiva Benito Juarez, an open-air sports complex less than a mile from the border to house migrants as US immigration officials process around 40 applications a day due to the ‘metering’ system – metering implies there is a cap on how many migrants may enter each day.

Thus, some migrants who are being turned away or forced to wait at designated entry ports are then resorting to illegally crossing the border and turning themselves in. However, the Trump Administration has not felt the need to remove military men and women stationed at the border and 5,600 troops are supporting US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) on the border. At its height (after the San Ysidro border crossing) there were 5,900 active duty personnel at the US Southern Border – costing tax-payers nearly $72 million. Currently about 300 service members along Arizona and Texas have been shifted to California in anticipation of a new wave of migrants from Baja California. Troops are set to stay at the border until January 31, and Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that he would leave some engineers in Texas and Arizona in case the US “ever had to close the ports of entry” as was done in San Ysidro.

On December 6, 163 people were taken into custody by the CBP in the New Mexican desert after crossing the border and approaching agents to seek asylum. Among this group was a 7 year old girl, Jakelin and her father from Guatemala. According to the CBP, Jakelin appeared to have been deprived of food and water for days before arriving at the border, but what is unclear is what measures officials took to reverse that once she was taken into custody. At the border, once her and her father’s screenings were complete, they were loaded onto a bus to travel 94 miles to the next border patrol station. Just 8 hours after Jakelin and her father were taken into custody she began having seizures, vomiting and her fever reached 105.9. She received emergency medical attention upon arrival at the border patrol station and was revived twice before being flown to a hospital in Texas. She died 15 hours later at the Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso on December 8 after suffering cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with brain swelling and liver failure.

Analysis
The ACLU blames Jakelin’s death on “inhumane conditions” and a “lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty” which has only created space for exacerbated policies that can lead to death. US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Department of Homeland Security officials and the Trump Administration deny that they are responsible for what happened to Jakelin. Her father said neither he nor his daughter had health issues during their initial screening recorded on a form in English, though a verbal Spanish translation was offered as well. No single party is taking responsibility for the young girl’s death and Jakelin is the second child to die while in US custody (in May a toddler died shortly after being released). Given the way the Trump Administration has strong-armed the US southern border and migrants over the course of this year, it is plausible for Americans to want to challenge the nonchalant, out-of-our-control attitude that surrounds Jakelin’s death. While there were claims about Jakelin being deprived of food and water for days – as one can imagine many of the individuals in the migrant caravan may have also suffered – there were reports way back in January of border patrol agents destroying food and water that humanitarian groups would bring and leave for migrants. So, the question is not did they  offer food and water, but did they make sure a girl as young as 7 was drinking water and eating before putting her on a bus for another lengthy journey.

Additionally, there have been numerous arguments all throughout this year about the ethics behind making migrants sign forms in English that they cannot understand and are signing under duress. In the case of Jakelin and her father, there was a verbal translation available, but there has yet to be an effort to provide written translated forms. The individual that provided the verbal translation could have easily – assuming he/she was an adequate linguist – translated the form tangibly. While this may seem trivial, it arguably reflects and sums up the treatment of migrants at the border thus far: providing minimal assistance to say it was done, but lacking the officiality and formality in practice. In theory, the verbal translation could have had several issues: the translator could have been subpar, maybe it was not a thorough translation, perhaps it was quick with little time for questions, perhaps it was done privately with minimal witnesses (an official, tangible doc would formalize the translation), and perhaps it was even just a rumor.

As for the prominent military presence throughout this year at the southern border, millions of American taxpayer dollars are used to deploy military men and women (and all the expenses that come with that like equipment, transportation, etc) to be used as political pawns to invoke and sustain fears of migrants and appease the xenophobic aspect of Trump’s support base. While it has been discussed that the number of troops is going to dwindle down, there have not been any indicators or firm agreements of how or when this would play out, realistically.

Resistance Resources

  • The ACLU: a non-profit with a longstanding commitment to preserving and protecting the individual rights and liberties the Constitution and US laws guarantee all its citizens. You can also donate monthly to counter Trump’s attacks on people’s rights. Recently, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the separation of families at the border.
  • The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.
  • FWD.us: an organization that aims to promote the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream alive. They specifically and currently focus on immigration reform.

This Brief was authored by Kathryn Baron. For inquiries, suggestions or comments email kathryn@usresistnews.org.

Photo by Roi Dimor

Trump Administration Threatens US-Russian Nuclear Treaty

Trump Administration Threatens US-Russian Nuclear Treaty

Brief #74—Civil Rights

Police Summary
On December 4th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced to a meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels that Russia was in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and had 60 days to come into compliance before the United States ended its own adherence with the deal. The INF Treaty, signed by President Reagan and President Gorbachev in 1987 prohibited the two countries from building ground-launched cruise missiles capable of hitting targets at a distance between 310 and 3,400 miles. The treaty does not concern weapons which can be fired from the air or sea, a sector in which the US maintains a formidable advantage.

The accusation that Russia is not in compliance with the treaty is not new, Obama previously made the same claim in 2014, and Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing in October – only to be talked down by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Trump’s notoriously hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton has been calling for withdrawal for years. Russia has denied violating the treaty, arguing that what the United States cites – their development and testing of a 9M729 missile – does not breach the agreement, as the missile has a gliding warhead and, therefore, is not categorized as a land-based cruise missile because it has a different speed and flight trajectory. Russia has in turn accused the US of violating the treaty, citing US missile defense interceptors in Europe which can be used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Last Friday, Russia submitted a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly calling for the treaty’s preservation and resolution of any persisting issues. The next day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that it had reached out to US Defence Secretary James Mattis in the interest of broaching a dialogue, but had been ignored. On Monday, The Department of Defense announced that they had received a proposal from Russia for a discussion, and would “respond to Russia as appropriate”.

Analysis
While Russia may be in violation of the treaty, it seems that this is only an excuse for the Trump administration’s ultimate goal of leaving the treaty. The 9M729 missile threatens Europe but not the United States, and a weapons expert at the New America Foundation think tank pointed out that we have long since reached the point where Russia could bypass US missile defence systems if it came down to it. In Brussels, Pompeo cited the military threat of China as a weakness of the treaty, as the country has been building a missile stockpile without the restriction of any such treaties. The treaty isn’t the handicap that Pompeo would like to depict. The US has maintained an international network of missile defense systems, and announced plans last February to develop smaller, and thus more usable, nuclear bombs. The arms race that critics warn of in the event of withdrawal from the INF treaty has been in motion for years, but the eradication of a historic demilitarization agreement only serves to push the world closer to nuclear catastrophe. Rather than dismissing diplomacy and running headfirst into a suicidal competition of aggression, the State Department needs to work towards forming a new treaty which encompasses a wider range of participants and weaponry.

Resistance Resources:

  • Beyond the Bomb – An activist group looking to reduce the danger of nuclear war around the world
  • World Beyond War – An organization dedicated to reducing militarization around the world

This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Foreign Policy Analyst Colin Shanley: Contact Colin@usresistnews.org

Photo by Frédéric Paulussen

Wide Bipartisan Support For FIRST STEP Act, A Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Wide Bipartisan Support For FIRST STEP Act, A Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Brief #73—Civil Rights

Policy Summary: On May 7, 2018, Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) introduced the FIRST STEP Act bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. The FIRST STEP Act is a bill that contains numerous reforms to help improve the criminal justice system in the United States. Less than a month later, on May 22, 2018, the House approved the bill by a 360 – 59 vote. The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate for a vote but the bill had stalled through most of 2018. In November 2018, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced a Senate version of the bill, which rapidly picked up support from both sides of the aisle. On December 11, 2018, due to the widespread support from Senators from both parties, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he would schedule a vote on the FIRST STEP Act in the very near future. LEARN MORE

Analysis: The FIRST STEP Act is a unique congressional bill in that it has widespread support from members of both political parties and seems very likely to be passed and signed by the President, which he has indicated he will do. The bill not only has the President’s support but is also supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as well as a number of legal, non – profit, medical and faith based groups.

The bill has gained support because of three main changes it proposes to make. The bill seeks to allow judges discretion in sentencing persons instead of having to impose mandatory minimum sentences for crimes, allows inmates to receive extra credits for good behavior behind bars that can be used for early release petitions and it excludes many of the most violent offenders from benefitting from these new criminal reforms. In allowing judges more discretion to sentence a person, the bill seeks to give judges more of an opportunity to examine each conviction on a case – by – case basis. The harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws were seen as too onerous and simply gave every person convicted of certain crimes 25 or 30 years without a chance to examine mitigating circumstances. Not every crime is the same yet people were being sentenced to long terms in an inhumane and almost robotic manner. This bill seeks to give judges more power to impose more appropriate sentences based on the circumstances of each case.

The extra credits that could be applied by inmates in petitioning for early release and in excluding the most violent criminal offenders were two of the most controversial provisions until additional amendments to the bill helped to allay concerns that some had most of whom were Republicans opposed to the bill at first. The Republican opposition to the bill was because they did not want violent criminals to benefit from the bill and use the bill to secure an early release for themselves. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) then stepped in and offered an amendment to the bill that would exclude violent offenders and keep the bill focused on helping non – violent drug offenders, which helped bring more Republicans on board. Senator Mike Lee of Utah even wrote an article pointing out that the bill contains specific categories of violent crimes that would make an inmate ineligible for early time credits and early release. Once Senator Cruz’s amendment and Senator Lee’s point – by – point rebuttal of concerns and defense of the bill were examined and debated, most Republicans came on board and the bill became more likely to pass. (At last count, the bill has the support of nearly 80 senators).

The FIRST STEP Act does not solve all of the problems in the American criminal justice system but this bill does take some meaningful steps. It gives judges more control over sentencing and does give prisoners (but not those convicted of serious violent crimes) a second chance if they decide while incarcerated to turn their lives around. With its wide bipartisan support, the bill is expected to pass quickly and be signed by President Trump soon thereafter. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • Sentencing Project – non – profit group working for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system.
  • Marshall Project – non – profit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system.
  • Vera Institute of Justice – non – profit group looking to urgently build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety and strengthen communities.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org

Photo by Louis Velazquez

State Voter Suppression Tactics Continue Even After The Elections

State Voter Suppression Tactics Continue Even After The Elections

Brief #72—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
In the aftermath of the 2018 midterm elections which saw the Democratic Party make significant gains with additional seats in the House of Representatives and the number of state governorships, state legislators in four swing states with current Republican majorities have introduced legislation that would impose additional barriers on citizens’ right to vote. And they have also introduced legislation that would curb the powers of the governor and state election boards from making changes to these new laws if implemented.

In Wisconsin, the state legislature introduced bills that would prevent the incoming Democratic governor from modifying the state voter ID law to permit more people to vote. And they introduced a bill to eliminate an early voting period. In Michigan, Republicans introduced a bill that would overturn Election Day registration. In Ohio, Republicans in the state legislature introduced bills that would add additional requirements to amend the state constitution as well as a requirement that signatures on initiatives and petitions are only valid for 180 days. And in North Carolina, the Republicans in that state legislature are trying to pass a bill that would prohibit the Democratic governor from vetoing a new voter ID law that passed on Election Day. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis: These bills, which came swiftly after Democratic gains on Election Day, clearly show that many Republican politicians are not interested in protecting every eligible voter’s constitutional right to vote. Each proposal has a common theme in that each erects an unnecessary barrier for citizens who want to vote or suggest improvements in providing access to the ballot box.

The proposal in Wisconsin does nothing more but handcuff the new governor from adding additional acceptable forms of ID that people can show when they try to vote. The likely effect is less voters coming to the polls.

The Michigan proposal overturning Election Day registration is in direct contravention of a ballot initiative that was overwhelmingly approved weeks before on Election Day. If voters in Michigan approve of registration of voters on Election Day, why did the state legislature introduce a bill that would overturn that initiative?

Ohio Republicans also tried to defy the will of their voters. A ballot initiative put to the voters approved a constitutional amendment that would make gerrymandering more difficult in Ohio. Yet Republicans in the state legislature responded by changing the rules on constitutional amendments and initiatives – constitutional amendments may now have to meet a higher threshold (60% of voters need to approve now instead of a simple majority) and signatures on initiatives and petitions are only valid for 180 days. This will cause any future initiatives to have a shorter timetable to be approved in Ohio, thus increasing chances of initiatives being defeated before even being placed on ballots for voters to vote on.

And Republicans in North Carolina weren’t to be left out in the rush to try and suppress future voters. Even though federal courts deemed their original voter ID law unconstitutional in 2013, the state put the voter ID law back on the ballot in 2018, which surprisingly got approved by voters. However, North Carolina Republicans are attempting to introduce a bill that would implement the amendment faster than normal so that the Governor cannot veto the amendment. While the result is clearly to suppress voters, the incident in North Carolina is also an issue of the powers of each branch of government and how political parties are manipulating the levers of power to get what they want.

These bills can best be explained with this Twitter post from the MaddowBlog which shows the wide gap in statewide voting and the distribution of state legislative seats. Democrats may have won more than 50% of the popular vote in these states but they are only winning 40% and even less of the total state legislative seats. The bills we have seen seem directed at keeping certain political parties in power at all costs even including ignoring the popular will of the voters. These bills are unnecessary and are blatant power grabs to keep Republican politicians and policies in power despite not even getting a majority of the votes cast statewide. LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • Common Cause – non – profit group focused on ending gerrymandering in the U.S.
  • Fair Vote – non – profit group infopage on redistricting and harms of gerrymandering.
  • Campaign Legal Center – non – profit group fighting to protect and strengthen the U.S. political process.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Photo by Arnaud Jaegers

North Carolina Election Highlights Need To Prioritize Election Integrity; State Elections

North Carolina Election Highlights Need To Prioritize Election Integrity; State Elections

Brief #71—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
On November 6, 2018, the United States held its biennial federal elections. As dictated by the U.S. Constitution, every seat in the House of Representatives was up for election as well as the required 1/3 of the total Senate seats which meant thirty – three Senate seats were being contested (as well as an additional two seats due a special election being called for a total of thirty – five Senate seats being contested nationwide).

In North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District the election was between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. After the votes were tabulated, Mr. Harris had a 905 vote lead over Mr. McCready with more than 280,000 votes cast in the district.  Mr. McCready conceded the election the next day. However, the state Democratic Party in North Carolina soon after filed numerous affidavits with North Carolina’s Board of Elections alleging wrongdoing with regard to the election in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District and local elections in Bladen County. On November 30, 2018, in a unanimous vote, the Board of Elections announced that they would delay certifying the congressional election and declaring a winner due to “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities.” They also announced that they voted 7 – 2 to hold a public hearing on December 21, 2018 “to assure that the election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result.” LEARN MORE

Analysis: While the issue of voter suppression has focused primarily on the issues of gerrymandering, voter ID requirements and discriminatory tactics, other tactics are just as often used and should not be ignored. The 2018 election from North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District and from nearby Bladen and Robeson Counties helps to illustrate how far some people will go to manipulate an election in order to have an outcome that they desire. The incidents are disturbing and have the potential to cast doubt not just on the integrity of North Carolina elections but on elections nationwide and the concept of democracy in the U.S.

In Bladen and Robeson counties, 3,400 absentee ballots were requested by voters but a high percentage were not completed and not mailed back. An analysis by the News & Observer found that many of the unreturned absentee ballots were from minority voters nearly 3 times more than from white voters who requested absentee ballots. This follows on the heels of Mr. Harris’ win in the primary election held in May where he won an astonishing 96 percent of all absentee ballots cast in Bladen County. Also, Bladen County voter Datesha Montgomery stated in a sworn statement that a woman came to her door and told her that she was collecting absentee ballots. Ms. Montgomery voted for two local elections and then was told by the woman to sign the envelope and that the woman told her that she would finish the voting on the absentee ballot for Ms. Montgomery. At least five other people have stated in sworn statements that people came to their doors and offered to fill out absentee ballots for them. These incidents occurred in neighborhoods that were primarily African – American. These are certainly troubling incidents and the Board of Elections made the right decision in delaying certification in the congressional race and in further investigating the allegations of irregularities and fraud. It is not about gerrymandering or voter ID but the incidents in North Carolina are still an assault on democratic principles and should be investigated so something like this will be prevented from happening again. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • The Voter Participation Center – non – profit group dedicated to registering and mobilizing the American electorate.
  • HeadCount – non – profit group’s infopage on states voting information.
  • Vote.org – online guide with up to date information on voting rights.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org

Photo by Element5 Digital

Federal Oversight of Local Police Stifled by New DOJ Policy; Federal Agency Action

Federal Oversight of Local Police Stifled by New DOJ Policy; Federal Agency Action

Brief #70—Civil Rights

Summary
On November 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the memorandum “Principles and Procedures for Civil Consent Decrees and Settlement Agreements with State and Local Government Entities” to the Department of Justice (DOJ). He issued the memorandum moments before he resigned as Attorney General. Consent decrees are often used by the department in order to force state and local entities to comply with constitutional and federal laws. The decrees are notable for being used mostly to counter police department misconduct and abuse at the state and local level. The memorandum issued by Mr. Sessions contains numerous policy goals but also imposed three requirements for the continued use of consent decrees. The decrees must now [1] be approved by higher level DOJ political appointees rather than the lawyer managing the case, [2] require additional evidence of misconduct beyond claims of unconstitutional behavior and [3] must have a defined expiration date. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis
The memorandum issued by Mr. Sessions moments before he resigned is consistent with his approach towards federal oversight of state and local entities such as local police departments. Mr. Sessions has been a firm believer that state and local institutions should have more autonomy and not be hamstrung by demands and obligations made by a federal bureaucracy thousands of miles away. Mr. Sessions even remarked that the use of consent decrees to manage state and local law enforcement departments infringes on a state’s “sovereignty.” What is also notable is his prodding to have consent decrees include an expiration date which would mean a consent decree could end on a specified date without regard to if improvements are making progress or not.

But Mr. Sessions emphasis on upholding a state’s sovereignty misses the point. In this article examining the use of consent decrees in a number of cities from PoliceOne, a pro – law enforcement website, many of the cities that have entered into consent decrees with DOJ to improve their police departments have reported meaningful progress and improved police community relations. What is happening in cities like Ferguson, Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland and others are improvements that would not have been implemented had the federal government and DOJ not gotten involved. These agreements have helped to put into place trainings into how to properly approach the use of deadly force and how to handle motor vehicle stops in a less confrontational way. These cities have also been some of the first to use dashboard and body cams on officers to try and increase accountability for an officer’s actions. And in this report from the Washington Post, jurisdictions that have entered into consent decrees have seen a decline in civil rights lawsuits filed against local police departments. While not all consent decrees entered into can be viewed as successful, it is clear that having them does provide some benefits to communities and to the police departments themselves. Mr. Sessions own personal ideology and his desire in preserving a state’s “sovereignty” and the ability to make decisions on their own shouldn’t be the rationale to dispose of a tool that has brought improvement to communities that needed it and did not get from appealing only to their individual states. If states working together with the federal government help to bring about change then the use of consent decrees should continue under the new Attorney General. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Photo by unsplash-logoMatt Popovich

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