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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.

New Voting Rights Pledge Seeks To Push Gerrymandering As An Issue For 2020 Elections

New Voting Rights Pledge Seeks To Push Gerrymandering As An Issue For 2020 Elections

Policy Summary: On June 3, 2019, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) announced a pledge that future political candidates at the federal and local level can commit to upcoming campaigns. The pledge states:

“For too long, partisan gerrymandering has been used as a tool to manipulate electoral districts to benefit political parties instead of voters.

I believe every elected official should be accountable to the people they represent, which means we need to end gerrymandering.

I pledge to support fair redistricting that ends map manipulation and creates truly representative districts.”

The pledge has been sent to current members of the Democratic Party and at last count has been embraced by twenty – six politicians which include a number of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination, a number of party leaders and a handful of congressional and state legislative leaders. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis: The pledge conceived by the NDRC is a direct result of the aggressive gerrymandering tactics undertaken in many states the last decade. Since 2010, legislators in a number of states have redrawn congressional and state legislative lines to draw districts that would ensure that a political party would win that district regardless of the candidate. This attempt to draw districts that would rig the system to ensure an advantage for a preferred political party has led to an inequality in voting results. States that had a majority number of votes cast for one political party overall often ended up winning a minority of seats statewide. This has led to lawsuits in courts where some partisan maps were thrown out and even to some new options adopted by some states like independent redistricting commissions.

While the President of the United States has little power in implementing and enforcing change on the issue of gerrymandering, nearly all of the current Democratic presidential candidates have signed the pledge because of the importance of supporting change on an issue that has run amok for far too long. The message that this pledge sends is that American citizens need to pick their elected representatives instead of having politicians pick who their voters will be. The current system is broken and has been broken for a long time and partisan gerrymandering is one reason that has contributed to the dysfunction and stalemate in American politics today. The pledge allows voters to see which politicians support the pledge and through the NDRC become more informed on how to confront the issue, how to reform the system and eventually implement a durable and fair redistricting process. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

Photo by unsplash-logoElement5 Digital

Amazon.com Prioritizes Corporate Profits Over Civil Liberties In Facial Recognition Fight

Amazon.com Prioritizes Corporate Profits Over Civil Liberties In Facial Recognition Fight

Policy Summary
At Amazon.com’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, two non – binding proposals regarding Amazon.com’s sales of facial recognition software – known as Rekognition – to government entities were placed on the ballot for a shareholder vote. The first proposal asked whether Amazon.com should stop selling the software to government entities until it concludes that the software does not infringe on civil liberties. The second proposal asked whether an independent commission should conduct a civil rights review on the use of the software. Amazon.com announced that the shareholder vote on both proposals did not pass with an overwhelming number of votes against the proposals. Some reports indicated that the vote against the proposals was as high as 98% against although Amazon.com has not released specific numbers yet. Although the shareholder vote was non – binding, the failure of the proposals paves the way for Amazon.com to increase sales of Rekognition to federal, state and local government institutions for use. LEARN MORE

Analysis
Facial recognition software is becoming an increasingly contentious issue in the U.S. The core use of the software – the ability to use public cameras to scan a live crowd of people (at sporting events, concerts or any large public gathering) and instantly connect with public databases (DMV records, police arrest records) to match people’s faces – raises privacy concerns and a lack of oversight of activities of law enforcement departments. Amazon had initially allowed police departments in Oregon and Florida to test the use of their software. Other cities began to express interest and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began a campaign to counter the widespread use of the technology. In May 2019, the City of San Francisco became the first city to ban their police department from using the technology. Soon after cities in Oakland, California and Somerville, Massachusetts considered similar citywide bans while the Legislatures in Washington State and California considered statewide bans of the software. (California’s bill eventually was aimed only at banning the software from police body cameras and was passed by the California Assembly in May 2019). On June 3, 2019 the ACLU sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee requesting a moratorium on federal use of the technology.

With growing opposition, an approach aimed directly at Amazon.com was devised which would have Amazon.com shareholders take a direct role in sending a message to the company on the dangers of this technology. The two proposals could have sent a direct message to CEO Jeff Bezos to be more prudent and to take caution in selling the software to the federal government until a thorough analysis of the software could be undertaken. Sadly, both proposals failed with reports that shareholders overwhelmingly rejected the proposals. Had both proposals passed, Amazon.com could have sent a message that it places a high value on privacy and civil liberties but this vote instead shows that corporate profits are more important to Amazon shareholders. The battle now shifts back to the federal, state and local government levels and their options in trying to limit the spread and potential misuse of this dangerous new technology. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

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-logoChristian Wiediger

Is Discrimination Against the LGBQT Community Real?

Is Discrimination Against the LGBQT Community Real?

Policy Summary
On March 13, 2019 Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the Equality Act bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in various public accommodations and civil activities. Specifically, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity are classified among prohibited categories of discrimination and segregation. On May 17, 2019, the bill was passed in the House of Representatives by a 236 – 173 vote. The bill will now be sent to the U.S. Senate and if it passes there to the White House where it would need to be signed by the President to become law. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis: Human Rights Campaign called the passage of the Equality Act in the House of Representatives a historic achievement due to the fact that it is the first act passed by a house of Congress that is focused predominately on the LBGQT community. However, most Republicans in the House objected to the bill (eight Republicans switched their votes and voted to approve the bill) because of a number of criticisms. Chief among them was their claim that a bill of this nature would infringe on their religious beliefs while other more skeptical claims were put forth – elimination of women’s rights and the claim that Americans are already “tolerant.”

But is discrimination among the LGBQT community so pervasive that legislation is needed? Was Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) correct in stating that Americans are already tolerant of gays and lesbians? According to polls conducted by Human Rights Campaign, nearly two – thirds of LGBQT Americans reported incidents of discrimination. And there are currently thirty states that have no state laws that a LGBQT person could rely on to protect their job, their search for a home or in being denied a service if a business agent or employer made a negative decision because of their sexual identity or intimate personal relationship. This law would fill in the gaps of coverage nationwide and ensure that LGBQT persons would be protected from instances of discrimination that appears to be more prevalent than previously reported. Senator Mike Lee’s claim that Americans are already “tolerant” ignores the fact that LGBQT discrimination still occurs at an alarming rate and his statement even implies that LGBQT persons are not worthy enough to have their claims heard in court. An incident of LGBQT discrimination is not less deserving than any other legal complaint and deserves a chance to be heard in court and remedied in an appropriate manner.

The other criticism of this bill refers to an argument that religious groups have been trying to rely on in a number of recent cases. Religious groups often point to the First Amendment’s Freedom of Religion. They claim that as Christians their religious beliefs do not permit them to accept same – sex marriage and homosexuality and so any bill that legitimizes these issues forces them to betray their religious beliefs. However, their argument shows that these religious groups are simply using religion as a way to deny LGBQT persons the chance to participate in normal society as ordinary and accepted citizens. A LGBQT person could be denied the chance to marry a person of their choice, denied from adopting and raising children of their own and generally denied from living their lives in the manner that they choose. This religious freedom argument was famously debunked by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado when he said that it was one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric when one uses his religion to hurt others. That seems to be the case here with those who object to the Equality Act on religious grounds.

The Equality Act appears to provide more protections for those who want nothing more than to participate in American society without having to suffer because of private life choices they’ve made. For that reason, the bill is a positive enactment and the U.S. Senate and the President should put aside their silly objections and self – serving criticisms and pave the way for the bill to be enacted into law. 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.

Supreme Court Examines “Worst of the Worst” Violators In Partisan Gerrymandering Case

Supreme Court Examines “Worst of the Worst” Violators In Partisan Gerrymandering Case

Policy Summary
In 2010, Republicans in North Carolina won control of the state legislature and proceeded to draw the maps for the North Carolina local districts and congressional districts as required for the national decennial census. The maps were drawn to give an advantage to Republican candidates in the state. In 2016, the maps drawn in 2011 were declared unconstitutional as a racial gerrymander and struck down by the Supreme Court in Cooper v. Harris. The state congressional maps were ordered redrawn but another court challenge was brought, but this time on the grounds of a partisan gerrymander. Partisan gerrymandering is when districts are drawn to give an advantage to members of a political party over another party.

In 2010 in Maryland, the state legislature drew a state congressional map that resulted in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District essentially being drawn in a way that would favor Democratic candidates over Republican candidates for the foreseeable future. A legal challenge was brought and in 2018 a three judge federal court panel ruled Maryland’s state congressional map as drawn was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case as well as the case from North Carolina. Oral arguments for both cases were heard in March 2019 before the high court. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis
The big issue to be resolved before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether problems of partisan gerrymandering should be heard by the Supreme Court (and courts, in general) at all, and if so, if there is a workable legal standard that can be used to review partisan gerrymandering claims. The oral arguments on the two cases before the justices are instructive in this matter because it revealed how the justices might rule. While no one doubts that drawing state and congressional districts is problematic because of the potential for abuse and manipulation by the political party in power, there appears to be no clear consensus on how to fix the problem. The two most recent appointments to the Supreme Court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both pointed out that there are other options to pursue other than through the courts – state independent redistricting commissions, state Supreme Courts and state legislatures. This would seem to indicate that the conservative voting bloc on the court might instead prefer to leave the problem of gerrymandering to the political process to solve. This approach would probably leave voters with very limited options to solve the problems through the court system.

However, Alison Riggs of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina made an impassioned plea for judicial relief at oral argument when she said, ” We’re looking for situations where the parties are being treated differently and there’s a severe and long-lasting discriminatory effect on a disfavored party.” Justice Elena Kagan also pointed out that the focus should be on the “worst of the worst” violators who are manipulating the way maps are drawn. These two statements illustrates from a more liberal view that while not every unfavorable map should be deemed an unconstitutional gerrymander that there should at least be a limiting test that reins in the most egregious violators of gerrymandering as seen in the North Carolina and Maryland cases before the court now. Ms. Riggs even suggested a vote dilution test that could be used in the most extreme cases and one which would be used in the future.

There is no way to predict with precision how the court will rule in these cases but it appears the lines have been drawn. The conservative bloc on the court seems to prefer that voters address the issues directly with representatives in their individual states and to leave it as a political issue where courts will not get involved. On the other side are those who simply want to put a stop to the most extreme situations of gerrymandering that results in “long – lasting discriminatory effects on a disfavored party.” An answer will not come until sometime this summer but it does speak to the urgent nature of this issue that prominent Republican and Democratic politicians came together to urge the court to find a way to limit the abuses of partisan gerrymandering. It is now up to the Court to see if they can fashion a solution to a centuries long uniquely American problem. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Update: On April 24, 2019 a federal court presided by a three judge panel in Michigan issued a ruling that said that the state’s Republican controlled legislature unfairly drew some of the state’s legislative and congressional representative maps. The court held that 27 of the 34 challenged state districts diluted people’s votes and that all of the challenged districts were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. On May 3, 2019, a federal court in Ohio threw out Ohio’s own congressional map on the same grounds stating that Republican lawmakers in the state drew the map to give themselves an illegal partisan advantage as well as ensuring that elections in the district would be pre – determined in Republican candidates favor.

These two cases are similar to the Maryland and North Carolina cases that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for back in March. It also signals that partisan gerrymandering cases have become a hot button issue around the country as other states have also grappled with the problem – Pennsylvania along with the four other states mentioned. The Michigan case is noteworthy because of what the judges – both Republican and Democratic appointees – said in the ruling. In a rare departure, the three judges in the case sent a pointed message aimed at the Supreme Court and the current gerrymandering cases pending before the High Court. In a lengthy opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay he said, “Federal courts must not abdicate their responsibility to protect American voters from this unconstitutional and pernicious practice that undermines our democracy.” This statement was a clear signal to the Supreme Court and Justice Neil Gorsuch that simply leaving the process of drawing state district maps to the political process was not enough. Furthermore, Judge Clay went on to say ““Federal courts’ failure to protect marginalized voters’ constitutional rights will only increase the citizenry’s growing disenchantment with, and disillusionment in, our democracy, further weaken our democratic institutions, and threaten the credibility of the judicial branch.” By mentioning these harms and the long – lasting consequences that would likely happen if the Supreme Court chooses to do nothing with the Maryland and North Carolina cases, Judge Clay squarely put the ball in the Supreme Court’s hands. It was a clear message to the court to not look away simply because of right leaning political viewpoints. And in the Ohio case, the judges took the time to emphasize that their ruling was based on a three – pronged test which had also been used in the lower court rulings from the North Carolina and Maryland cases. The test asked whether the drafters of the maps intended to hobble their opponents, whether they succeeded and if there was another reason why the maps could have been drawn then the way they eventually were drawn. The judges concluded that the Republican drawn state maps failed all prongs of the test. What this means in the long term is that it undercuts Justice Gorsuch’s argument that this is a political problem that should be solved at the state legislature level. If four cases from four different states can utilize a judicial test to declare maps unconstitutional, then there can be a role for the judiciary to police this problem and determine the constitutional limits of partisan gerrymandering.

On May 2, 2019, Republican legislators in the Michigan State Legislature appealed the trial court ruling to the Supreme Court. The case will likely be consolidated with Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Banisek (the North Carolina and Maryland partisan gerrymandering cases now pending before the Supreme Court) with a decision issued sometime this summer. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • Common Cause – non – profit group’s webpage on gerrymandering and work on Rucho v. Common Cause Supreme Court gerrymandering case.
  • Brennan Center for Justice – non – profit group’s webpage on redistricting and gerrymandering issues.

 

New Hampshire Law Placing Restrictions On College Students Right To Vote Poised To Become A National Issue For 2020 Election; U.S. Petition

New Hampshire Law Placing Restrictions On College Students Right To Vote Poised To Become A National Issue For 2020 Election; U.S. Petition

Policy Summary
On April 22, 2019, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent out a message encouraging all Presidential candidates for the 2020 election to stand in unison against a recent New Hampshire voting law.

In 2018, New Hampshire passed HB 1264. That bill changed the meaning of who in New Hampshire is eligible to vote. With the new law, a person living in New Hampshire can vote in the state as long as they become “permanent residents.” If a person living in New Hampshire was not a permanent resident when they cast a ballot in the state, the person would then have sixty days to become a permanent resident. A person can fulfill this requirement by obtaining a New Hampshire driver’s license or paying to register their cars within the sixty – day window. The law does not explicitly address what would happen if a person does not fulfill the requirement of becoming a permanent resident after casting his or her ballot. However, absent the act of voting, residents of New Hampshire who do not pay their fees to register their cars can face a misdemeanor charge that is punishable by up to one year in jail. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis
This bill in New Hampshire is highly controversial because it is targeted at young college students and is designed to deter them from voting in New Hampshire. The text of the law seems to only address the definitions of domicile and residents for legal purposes but an in – depth analysis of the law revealed that the law as applied would bar a majority of college students in the state from voting. What the law does is that it shrinks the number of people who can vote in the state by lumping non – resident college students in New Hampshire into a category that makes them ineligible to vote unless they decide to become “permanent residents” of the state. The previous framework of the law classified New Hampshire non – resident college students as “domiciles” in the state. That meant that they had a physical presence in the state (to attend college) and were allowed to vote without having to declare that they were permanent residents of New Hampshire. HB 1264 now bars “domiciles” of New Hampshire from voting in the state.

New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu signed HB 1264 last year but the law has remained under constant criticism. The bill is clearly seen as an attempt to target younger voters, who tend to lean Democratic, and bar them from voting on liberal causes in the state. One telling sign was that the bill was examined by both Election Committees in both houses of New Hamsphire’s legislature and not even mentioned by the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles. The bill is nothing more than a blatant attempt to prevent more liberal and younger Democratic voters from coming to the polls. But there is no conceivable purpose in barring students from voting. The college kids who come to New Hampshire and live there for nearly nine months of the year bring millions of dollars to the state in terms of tuition and living expenses so why not let them have a say in how their town and district is being run? Why not give them a say on important local issues that clearly affect them instead of silencing their voices? This was clearly a partisan attempt to give Republicans an advantage in a state by suppressing the votes of those who clearly could make a difference in a local or statewide election.

Senator Shaheen’s petition is also an attempt to bring light to the tactics of voter suppression that have become a technique employed by the Republican Party around the country, not just in New Hampshire. Her petition comes at the right time and is focused on the right people in order to shed light on an ongoing issue that Republicans should be ashamed they have adopted. Every one who is eligible to vote should have every opportunity to cast his or her ballot instead of seeing petty and technical obstacles thrown up in their way. By crafting her petition and sending it to the current presidential candidates of 2020, Senator Shaheen has helped make the issue of voter suppression one for the national stage for 2020 and not an issue that is isolated to just New Hampshire. 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.

Pjoto by Emre Gencer

Supreme Court Examines “Worst of the Worst” Violators In Partisan Gerrymandering Case

Supreme Court Examines “Worst of the Worst” Violators In Partisan Gerrymandering Case

Policy Summary
In 2010, Republicans in North Carolina won control of the state legislature and proceeded to draw the maps for the North Carolina local districts and congressional districts as required for the national decennial census. The maps were drawn to give an advantage to Republican candidates in the state. In 2016, the maps drawn in 2011 were declared unconstitutional as a racial gerrymander and struck down by the Supreme Court in Cooper v. Harris. The state congressional maps were ordered redrawn but another court challenge was brought, but this time on the grounds of a partisan gerrymander. Partisan gerrymandering is when districts are drawn to give an advantage to members of a political party over another party.

In 2010 in Maryland, the state legislature drew a state congressional map that resulted in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District essentially being drawn in a way that would favor Democratic candidates over Republican candidates for the foreseeable future. A legal challenge was brought and in 2018 a three judge federal court panel ruled Maryland’s state congressional map as drawn was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case as well as the case from North Carolina. Oral arguments for both cases were heard in March 2019 before the high court. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis
The big issue to be resolved before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether problems of partisan gerrymandering should be heard by the Supreme Court (and courts, in general) at all, and if so, if there is a workable legal standard that can be used to review partisan gerrymandering claims. The oral arguments on the two cases before the justices are instructive in this matter because they reveal how the justices might rule. While no one doubts that drawing state and congressional districts is problematic because of the potential for abuse and manipulation by the political party in power, there appears to be no clear consensus on how to fix the problem. The two most recent appointments to the Supreme Court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both pointed out that there are other options to pursue other than through the courts – state independent redistricting commissions, state Supreme Courts and state legislatures. This would seem to indicate that the conservative voting bloc on the court might instead prefer to leave the problem of gerrymandering to the political process to solve. This approach would probably leave voters with very limited options to solve the problems through the court system.

However, Alison Riggs of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina made an impassioned plea for judicial relief at oral argument when she said, ” We’re looking for situations where the parties are being treated differently and there’s a severe and long-lasting discriminatory effect on a disfavored party.” Justice Elena Kagan also pointed out that the focus should be on the “worst of the worst” violators who are manipulating the way maps are drawn. These two statements illustrate from a more liberal view that while not every unfavorable map should be deemed an unconstitutional gerrymander that there should at least be a limiting test that reins in the most egregious violators of gerrymandering as seen in the North Carolina and Maryland cases before the court now. Ms. Riggs even suggested a vote dilution test that could be used in the most extreme cases and one which would be used in the future.

There is no way to predict with precision how the court will rule in these cases but it appears the lines have been drawn. The conservative bloc on the court seems to prefer that voters address the issues directly with representatives in their individual states and to leave it as a political issue where courts will not get involved. On the other side are those who simply want to put a stop to the most extreme situations of gerrymandering that results in “long – lasting discriminatory effects on a disfavored party.” An answer will not come until sometime this summer but it does speak to the urgent nature of this issue that prominent Republican and Democratic politicians came together to urge the court to find a way to limit the abuses of partisan gerrymandering. It is now up to the Court to see if they can fashion a solution to a centuries long uniquely American problem. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • Common Cause – non – profit group’s webpage on gerrymandering and work on Rucho v. Common Cause Supreme Court gerrymandering case.
  • Brennan Center for Justice – non – profit group’s webpage on redistricting and gerrymandering issues.

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-logoWesley Tingey

Is The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) On The Verge Of Being Ratified and Added To The U.S. Constitution?

Is The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) On The Verge Of Being Ratified and Added To The U.S. Constitution?

Policy Summary
In 1923 Alice Paul, a member of the National Women’s Party, drafted and submitted to the U.S. Congress the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The intent was to guarantee in the Constitution equal rights for women alongside men but the amendment was not approved at that time. In 1943, Ms. Paul redrafted the text of the amendment. In October 1971, the constitutional amendment with the 1943 text was introduced in the House of Representatives where it passed by a vote of 354 – 24. The amendment was then introduced in the Senate and passed by a vote of 84 – 7. After passage by both houses of Congress, the Constitution required that the amendment be ratified by three – fourths of the state legislatures in order to be added to the Constitution. This meant that thirty – eight (38) states would need to vote for the amendment. The amendment was sent to the states in 1972 but with a seven – year deadline for ratification. Between 1972 and the 1979 deadline thirty – five state legislatures voted to ratify the amendment. The deadline was later extended by Congress to 1982 but by that time the final tally of states ratifying the amendment remained at thirty – five, three short for the amendment to be enacted.

In March 2019, the North Dakota Legislature introduced a resolution that sought to rescind their state’s approval of the amendment in 1975. The resolution was approved in the North Dakota House by a vote of 67 – 21 but was defeated in the North Dakota Senate by a 24 – 23 vote. The vote in North Dakota comes on the heels of two additional states voting to approve the ERA recently – the Nevada Legislature voted to approve the amendment in March 2017 and Illinois in May 2018. The addition of Nevada and Illinois brings the total of number of states approving to thirty – seven, one shy of the thirty – eight required. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis
The ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment raises a number of interesting legal and procedural issues that still need to be sorted out. The U.S. Constitution in Article Five has laid out the appropriate procedures to introduce, consider and ratify amendments to the constitution, which were properly followed by the Equal Rights Amendment. However, this amendment has run into two issues – whether a deadline and subsequent extension for ratification is within Congress’ power and whether states have the power to rescind a prior ratification of the amendment.

As to the issue of a limited time period and subsequent extension of that time period, there is no question that there was an initial seven year deadline for the states to ratify. But when it appeared that not enough states would ratify before the expiration of the seven – year deadline, Congress went ahead and granted an additional three – year extension. What Congress can do to overcome this roadblock is to simply vote to remove the deadline for ratification. And this is exactly what Congress has taken steps to do as both the House and Senate have introduced resolutions in 2019 to remove the ratification deadline from the ERA ratification process. There clearly is support in Congress to have additional states debate and vote on the amendment.

The final issue of whether a state can rescind a prior ratification of the amendment also raises a novel question of law. While the Constitution is silent on this point, making it ripe for litigation, Linda Coberly of the ERA Coalition Legal Task Force points to historical and legal precedent that recissions of prior ratifications have not been counted as was the case in a prior nineteenth century amendment ratification battle. It also brings up a contradiction that was illustrated in the recent attempts in North Dakota to rescind their ratification. If opponents of the ERA point to the deadline issue as making it impossible to have a future state ratify the ERA now, then why did North Dakota go to the trouble to vote to rescind their ratification from 1975? The actions in North Dakota seems to have implicitly acknowledged that the Equal Rights Amendment is on the verge of being ratified and politicians in North Dakota wanted to get ahead of the issue while they believed they had a chance to do something.

Whatever the legal and procedural issues are at play in the long battle to approve the Equal Rights Amendment it is becoming clear that there is widespread support for the amendment. Nevada and Illinois have recently voted to ratify. And Congress, with their attempts to extend the deadline along with Representative Carolyn Maloney’s (D-NY) symbolic introduction of the amendment in Congress this year, shows that the struggle for gender equality is still ongoing. It is a battle that many people still want to fight for nearly one hundred years after Ms. Alice Paul delivered the Equal Rights Amendment to Congress for the first time. LEARN MORE, 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 Yeo Khee

President Trump Issues Duplicative Executive Order to Cater to Voting Base

President Trump Issues Duplicative Executive Order to Cater to Voting Base

Policy Summary
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” On March 21, 2019 President Donald J. Trump issued Executive Order 13864 titled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.” The stated policy in the order is “to promote free and open debate on college and university campuses.” In order to help implement this stated policy, covered federal agencies shall take appropriate steps to ensure that institutions “foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging and diverse debate” by “compliance with the First Amendment for public institutions and compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech for private institutions.” LEARN MORE

Analysis
Professor Jessica Levinson of Loyola Law School has called President Trump’s executive order duplicative of current law and is nothing more than a symbolic act. Caroline Mala Corbin in an opinion piece in the Washington Post said that the order creates no new protections for campus speech and simply restates a college or universities’ current obligation under federal law. So why did President Trump go to all the trouble to put forth an executive order that he himself called a historic act?

This executive order is an attempt to re-frame the narrative and push the story that there is a crisis on college campuses regarding free speech and to appeal to President Trump’s conservative and religious voter base. Jeffrey Adam Sachs issued a report from the Niskanen Center that studied the claims of a free speech crisis on college campuses and found that the evidence does not support the claim. Instead it found that there was no statistical difference in older and younger generations when it analyzed and examined their support for free speech. What is likely at play here is President Trump trying to incite his conservative and religious fanbase that their ideas are under attack from left – leaning forces in society, most notably institutions of higher learning. However, his use of free speech to court this voter base comes fraught with other complexities as many of the private and Christian education institutions he caters to have been some of the most frequent violators of the Free Speech Clause under the First Amendment. Jerry Falwell, Jr. of Liberty University has had a number of incidents where his actions have raised eyebrows as to whether he truly supports free speech on campus and censorship issues with the student newspaper. Mr. Falwell is a staunch supporter of President Trump and seems to have influenced the President that conservative ideas are being attacked on college campuses. But this is simply not the case as studies have shown. The executive order that the President signed is nothing more than a weak attempt to give religious universities a rallying cry for ideas that may not be in the mainstream of American society. The idea of pushing, promoting and protecting the idea of free speech on college campuses is a noble goal. It would have been better for President Trump to offer real solutions and real change instead of a watered down version that requires colleges and universities to do something that they are already required to do. LEARN MORE, 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 Srikanta H. U

Trump Administration Proposal To Use Social Media To Confirm Disabilities

Trump Administration Proposal To Use Social Media To Confirm Disabilities

Policy Summary
On August 14, 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act which initiated the program in the United States. In 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law amendments to the Social Security Act which added disability insurance benefits to the Social Security program. This week the New York Times and other news outlets have reported that the Trump Administration is outlining a plan to use social media accounts to confirm a person’s disability in order to deny future payment of benefits to the recipient. However,  of March 2019 no plan has been formally introduced or announced. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis
While details of the proposed plan by President Trump are not known at this time it is important to note what exactly is disability insurance under the Social Security program and the available benefits. According to the Social Security website disability insurance pays benefits to persons and members of their family if they are “insured” – meaning a person has worked long enough and paid the Social Security taxes through the years. Other factors that are taken into consideration are a person’s medical history, line of work and other forms of income. The program is designed to give persons who have paid their taxes into the program a safety net of payments for a limited time should the person suffer a physical injury that would prevent them from continuing on in their job and earning income on their own.

However, the program also  has been susceptible to fraud. According to the Social Security Administration it paid out $3.4 billion in benefits to people who did not deserve it in 2018 alone. The problem has been ongoing for so many years that three new disability investigations units were established in the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration in September 2018. While no one doubts that disability fraud is a major problem with significant financial implications, the potential solution of social media spying to confirm a person’s disability raises more red flags and questions than it purports to solve. Social media posts and pictures are not always accurate indicators of a person’s physical condition. And allowing the government to use social media posts to make their case against a person may not simply be restricted to Social Security disability cases in the future. The door would open  for any government agency to rely on social media posts to take a position against a person in any number of cases. What is needed is a set of safeguards to ensure that the government does not have free reign to sift through whatever they want on a person’s social media account. This could include the use of warrants, policies that limit what the government could look at and even restrictions on the time periods that posts and pictures could be made available to the government – say, if a person applied for disability insurance in 2015 then the government could not look at posts and pictures from prior to 2012. While there are many issues to be sorted out in this potential Trump Administration policy, we must wait to see if a plan is put forth before there can be any discussion of details and possible suggestions for improvement. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

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Photo by ROBIN WORRALL

Movement To Give Presidential Candidates All of a State’s Electoral College Votes Based on Nationwide Popular Vote Gaining Steam

Movement To Give Presidential Candidates All of a State’s Electoral College Votes Based on Nationwide Popular Vote Gaining Steam

Brief #79—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is an affiliation of U.S. states that has put together an agreement that has the potential to enact sweeping changes in future elections of the U.S. President.

The current system in place as put forth by the U.S. Constitution dictates that the President and Vice – President, who run on the same ticket, will be elected if they receive a majority of the votes from the Electoral College. With 538 members in the Electoral College 270 votes is the minimum number needed to win. Members of the Electoral College are selected by the states according to the total number of a state’s congressional delegation (number of senators (2) plus number of representatives). By custom, states have permitted the political party of the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in their state to select the electors for that state. If the Republican nominee for President wins the popular vote in the state, then the Republican list of electors is chosen to vote for the state in the Electoral College. And, if the Democratic nominee for President wins the popular vote in the state, then the Democratic list of electors is instead sent to the Electoral College to cast the state’s votes.

What the NPVIC aims to do is to change the way electors are selected. National Popular Vote bills have been introduced in a number of states and will now commit a state to award its slate of electoral voters to the presidential and vice – presidential ticket who wins the popular vote nationwide regardless of the results in their individual state. As of March 2019, eleven states and the District of Columbia have passed National Popular Vote bills accounting for 172 electoral college votes, 63.7% of the total needed to win the presidency. LEARN MORE

Analysis
The National Popular Vote movement has been around for more than a decade but it has begun to pick up steam recently. The immense unpopularity of President Donald J. Trump and his administration and his stunning elevation to the presidency despite losing the popular vote to opponent Hillary Clinton has called into question the usefulness of the Electoral College and whether citizen votes for President really matter. The sense was that if changes to the Electoral College and the process in electing the president were going to be undertaken it would be an unlikely endeavor given the difficulties in marshaling support for a constitutional amendment.

However, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution specifically states that state legislatures have the power to select the electors for the Electoral College. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have now gone ahead and have passed National Popular Vote legislation that has been signed by each state’s respective governors. Once more states approve legislation and reach the 270 electoral votes threshold, the agreement to award each state’s electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in a presidential election will go into effect. While there has been some pushback, notably from Republicans, it is interesting to note that this movement is gaining wide support. The total number of electoral votes from states that have approved these bills is 172 which is already more than half of what is needed to win the presidency. And, support has come from both small and large states and from across the country. D.C. and Vermont with 3 electoral college votes have signed on. Washington with 12, New Jersey with 14 and Illinois with 20 have also come on board. And two of the largest states in terms of electoral college votes, New York with 29 and California with 55, have signed laws granting their electoral votes to the nationwide popular vote winner.

This week, Colorado’s governor Jared Polis has stated he will sign the bill passed by the Colorado Legislature to join the compact and become the 12th state to award its electoral votes in this manner. This is a significant addition to the compact and will bump up the electoral votes under the compact to 181, only 89 electoral college votes short of 270. Additionally, another 16 states introduced National Popular Vote bills in their legislative houses this year. While there is no guarantee that all those states will pass those bills this year, it does appear that the movement for the election of the U.S. President align with the results of the nationwide popular vote is making significant headway and could become the determining and dominant factor affecting the 2020 and 2024 presidential election. LEARN MORE, 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 Arnaud Jaegers

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