Saturday, August 20, 2016

2016 Lillian Smith Book Award winners announced

ATHENS, Ga -- A look at segregated public libraries in the Jim Crow South and a biography of a civil rights activist turned elected official are the winners of the 2016 Lillian Smith Books Awards.

Cheryl Knott, a professor in the School of Information, University of Arizona, will be recognized for Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow; and Minion KC Morrison, professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Delaware, for Aaron Henry of Mississippi: Inside Agitator.

The award seeks to honor works focused on race, social justice, civil and human rights, issues championed by Smith in her lifetime. The ceremony, part of the Decatur Book Festival, is Sept. 4 at 2:30 p.m. at the Decatur Library.

“Every year we have to make tough choices among the 40-plus excellent entries.  The two winners this year join the lineup of so many distinguished winners that have been our honor to choose over the years,” said Mary Twining Baird, chair of the board of judges.

Knott’s articles have appeared in scholarly journals, including Library Quarterly, Libraries & Culture, and Library Trends, have focused on the history of public libraries and on information access broadly construed. She holds a doctorate in library and information science from the University of Texas at Austin and master’s degrees in history and in library science from the University of Arizona.

Morrison is a professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware, having served as professor and head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Mississippi State University, where he was also senior Associate in African-American Studies. He has been on the faculty of the University of Missouri-Columbia, Syracuse University, Hobart & William Smith Colleges and Tougaloo College, and has been involved variously in political science, freshman studies, Third World Studies and African and Afro-American Studies.

The Southern Regional Council established the Lillian Smith award shortly after Smith's death in 1966. Internationally acclaimed as author of the controversial novel, Strange Fruit (1944), Lillian Smith was the most liberal and outspoken of white, mid-20th century Southern writers on issues of social and racial injustice. Smith’s family donated the collection of her letters and manuscripts to the University of Georgia 's Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library and, in 2004, the UGA Libraries joined the SRC as a partner in administering the awards. The property where she lived and worked in Clayton now serves as an educational center and an artist retreat, the Lillian E. Smith Center of Piedmont College. In 2015, the college joined as a partner in presenting the awards. The Georgia Center for the Book is also an award sponsor, joining in 2007.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

District Court Rejects Wisconsin Voter Suppression Law: One Wisconsin Institute v Thomsen

By Leland Ware 
Louis L. Redding Chair and 
Professor for the Study of 
Law and Public Policy 
University of Delaware

On July 29, 2016, a federal judge ruled that several provisions of Wisconsin’s voting laws are unconstitutional because they discriminate against African Americans. The circumstances that led to the judge’s decision began when Wisconsin Republicans won legislative majorities in 2011. They immediately enacted several measures that made voting more difficult and manipulated state laws to give themselves a partisan political advantage. This was part and parcel of a massive effort by Republican-dominated state legislatures to suppress the participation of African American, Hispanic, and Asian American voters in the electoral process.

Wisconsin’s tactics included implementing one of the harshest voter ID laws in the nation, restricting early voting hours, changing laws regarding absentee ballots and changing regulations in a way that injected partisanship into polling places. Other changes included unprecedented partisan redistricting.
The lawmakers reduced the time during which municipalities could offer in-person absentee voting from 30 days to 12 and eliminated “corroboration” as a means of proving residence. The laws required that any “dorm list” that would be used with college IDs had to include a certification that the students were United States citizens. The residency requirement for voting was increased from 10 to 28 days before an election.

Another measure eliminated straight ticket voting. Legislators also eliminated the State’s Government Accountability Board authority to appoint special registration deputies who could register voters. Another law prohibited municipal clerks from faxing or emailing absentee ballots to absentee voters other than overseas and military voters.

A City of Madison ordinance that required landlords to provide voter registration forms to new tenants was overturned. This was intended to suppress the votes of students who attended the University of Wisconsin and other colleges in Madison. Another law required all voters to provide documentary proof of residence when registering to vote.

A lawsuit was filed that challenged the laws under the First, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The judge ruled that several provisions of Wisconsin’s voting laws are unconstitutional as they were designed to suppress African American voter turnout.

The state was ordered to issue credentials for voting to anyone trying to obtain a free photo ID for voting, but did not possess the underlying documents needed to obtain one. He called the state's current process for getting free IDs "a wretched failure" because it has left a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic citizens unable to obtain IDs.

The judge also struck down restrictions limiting municipalities to one location for in-person absentee voting and limiting in-person early voting to weekdays. The Court found that weekday limitations intentionally discriminated against Democratic-leaning African Americans in Milwaukee. The judge invalidated the increase in residency requirements, the prohibition on using expired student IDs to vote and a prohibition on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email.

The Court recognized that laws were designed achieve a partisan objective, “but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.” This was deliberate, unconstitutional racial discrimination.

The Republican Party has gone to extreme lengths to suppress turnout of traditional Democratic constituencies. Their tactics are a throwback to an earlier and uglier era. Disenfranchisement during Reconstruction was based on laws, new constitutions, and practices that were used to prevent African American from voting.

Those measures were enacted by the former Confederates who gained control of state legislatures after federal troops were withdrawn from the South. Their sordid tactics were used to return political control to White Democrats and to impose a regime of racial segregation and White supremacy. The difference this time involves Republican-dominated legislatures that are engaging in massive voter suppression. A different political party is leading the current effort but the racist objectives are the same.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Appeals Court Rejects North Carolia Voter Suppression Law: North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory

By Leland Ware  
Louis L. Redding Chair and 
Professor for the Study of 
Law and Public Policy 
University of Delaware 

On July 29, 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s blatant efforts to suppress African American votes. The case began in 2013, after the Supreme Court issued the decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which overturned key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. On the day after Shelby was decided, North Carolina’s Republican-dominated the legislature announced an intention to enact “omnibus” election law. Before proceeding, however, the legislature obtained detailed data that examined, by race, a number of voting practices.

Relying on this data, the General Assembly enacted legislation restricting voting options favored by African Americans. The laws shortened an early voting period by a full week, eliminated same-day registration, prohibited the counting of ballots cast out of precinct, eliminated a preregistration program for 16-and 17-year olds, and implemented a strict photo ID requirement. Many observers called the legislation “the worst voter suppression law in the nation.”

A number of organizations filed suit contending that the legislation was motivated by a discriminatory intent in violation of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. They also contended that the laws had a discriminatory effect in violation of § 2 of the Voting Rights Act and burdened the right to vote in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Despite the mountain of evidence of discrimination that was presented, the trial court rejected the claims finding that the plaintiffs had “failed to show that such disparities will have materially adverse effects on the ability of minority voters to cast a ballot and effectively exercise the electoral franchise.”

The Fourth Circuit reversed. It concluded that the General Assembly enacted the “most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”  The record showed that the laws were not, as the state contended, the product of the back-and-forth of routine partisan struggle. In fact, the General Assembly enacted the changes in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting. The Court stated:

In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its action, the State offered only meager justifications. Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assuredly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.

The Court found that the totality of the circumstances compelled a finding of intentional discrimination. These circumstances included North Carolina’s history of voting discrimination, the dramatic upswing in African American voting, the legislature’s knowledge that African Americans’ voting translated into support for democratic candidates. Additional considerations were the elimination of tools African Americans used to vote and the imposition of new barriers to voting. This evidence showed that the General Assembly used the new voting laws to preserve the Republican majority and did so by targeting black voters.

North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory is a significant win for Civil Rights advocates. It will have an impact on the 2016 presidential election. The radical right wing has developed an array of subtle and overt methods to suppress voter registration and turnout. Voter suppression today is achieved through regulatory, legislative and administrative means, resulting in modern day equivalents to poll taxes and literacy tests that kept Black voters from the ballot box in the Jim Crow era. The laws struck down in North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory are examples of the flagrant institutional racism that continues to haunt us.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Veasey v. Abbott: Federal Appeals Court Rejects Texas Voter ID Law

By Leland Ware 
On July 20, 2016, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit delivered a strong rebuke to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. The court heard the case, en banc, a rarely invoked process in which a full appeals court (as opposed to a panel of three judges) convenes to decide a case. It was a stunning decision by one of the most conservative federal appellate courts in the nation.

In 2011 Texas enacted Senate Bill 14 (“SB 14”), which required individuals to present one of several forms of photo identification to vote. Texas implemented SB 14 by requiring voters to present: (1) a Texas driver’s license or personal identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety (“DPS”); (2) a U.S. military identification card with a photograph; (3) a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo; (4) a U.S. passport: (5) a license to carry a concealed handgun issued by DPS: or (6) an Election Identification Certificate (“EIC”) issued by DPS.

To secure an EIC Texas residents are required to present either: (A) one form of primary ID, (B) two forms of secondary ID, or (C) one form of secondary ID and two pieces of supporting identification. This meant that any application for an EIC required either a Texas driver’s license or personal identification card or one of the following documents, accompanied by two forms of supporting identification: (1) an original or certified copy of a birth certificate from the appropriate state agency; (2) an original or certified copy of a United States Department of State Certification of Birth for a U.S. citizen born abroad; (3) U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers without a photo; or (4) an original or certified copy of a court order containing the person’s name and date of birth and indicating an official change of name and/or gender.

A civil Action was filed challenging the constitutionality of the Texas law. The plaintiffs also alleged that SB 14 violates the Voting Rights Act.  After the conclusion of a trial, the district court held that SB 14 imposed an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, had an discriminatory effect on Hispanics and African Americans under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and was enacted with a discriminatory purpose in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and Section 2. The trial court also held that SB 14 created a poll tax that violated the Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments.

Texas appealed that decision and a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for further findings. Texas responded with a petition to rehear the case en banc. The Court of Appeals granted the request. After the hearing, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision on the discriminatory effect issue as a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. On the discriminatory intent question, the Fifth Circuit found that some of the trial court’s findings were flawed, but it also stated the record contained evidence that could support a finding of discriminatory intent. As a consequence, the Court remanded the discriminatory intent issue to the district court to reconsider its decision.

The plaintiffs also argued that SB 14 unconstitutionally burdened their right to vote in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Fifth Circuit declined to decide this question relying on the principle that courts should not decide a constitutional question if there is some other ground on which to decide of the case.

To avoid any disruption of the upcoming election, the Fifth Circuit directed the district court to fashion interim redress for the discriminatory effect violation in the months leading up to the November 2016 general election.

Veasey v. Abbott is a major victory that gives civil rights advocates a crucial remedy in advance of the 2016 election. The new wave of voter ID laws harken back to the Reconstruction era when African Americans in the South were completely disenfranchised. Six of the 16 states that enacted voter ID laws since 2010 have a documented history of discriminating against minority voters. All but one of those states’ laws were put in place after the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required them to seek approval from the Justice Department for any voting law changes.

All of the recent Voter ID laws were sponsored by Republicans and passed overwhelmingly by Republican dominated legislatures. A conservative U.S. circuit judge, Richard Posner, called the expressed concern about voter fraud “a mere fig leaf” and the laws instead “appear to be aimed at limiting voting by minorities, particularly blacks.” Posner also stated “there is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud…and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.” This is clearly the case with voter ID laws. The Republican lawmakers’ motives are the same as those of the white supremacist legislators during the Reconstruction era--disenfranchising minority voters.