You need to know this. Our nation's highest court has struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-to-4 ruling delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court ruled that the formula used to decide what states are subject to voting law pre-clearance is unconstitutional. Under the Voting Rights Act, certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting are required to seek and obtain approval from the Department of Justice, or a three judge panel in D.C., before making any changes to their voting laws. In 2006, Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the 1965 Voting Rights Act by huge majorities in the House and the Senate, and President Bush signed the legislation within one week. Despite the fact that Congress had numerous hearings, and compiled thousands of pages of documents while reconsidering the Voting Rights Act, the Court determined that the formula Congress enacted to decide which states would be covered by preclearance was no longer constitutional. The opinion stated that “coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Congress – if it is to divide the States – must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely on the past.” The Court complained that Congress could have acted to update the formula, but did not. Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion that Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagen joined. She quoted Dr. Martin Juther King writing, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. History has proved King right. Although circumstances in Alabama have changed, serious concerns remain.” Because of today's ruling, it will be much more difficult to ensure that those “serious concerns” do not block minority voters from the polls.
In screwed news... On Monday evening, the United States Senate voted to approve the so-called “border surge amendment.” In total, 67 senators agreed to devote over $30 billion dollars to increased border security. The measure calls for doubling the number of border security agents, building over 700 more miles of border fence, and increasing surveillance using drones and thermal imaging cameras. All of those security measures must be in place before any undocumented immigrant can get legal status. Despite these extreme – and expensive – proposals, nearly every Democrat in the Senate supported the amendment to get Republican support. However, in the process of gaining about a dozen GOP votes, Democrats may have lost some support from immigration-reform advocates. A coalition of groups who represent border communities called the proposal “an example of excessive and wasteful government spending,” and “an assault on our system of checks and balances.” EvenKevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, warned, “If the path to citizenship is further weakened, there could come a tipping point where the bill becomes unsupportable.” It is a difficult predicament. Democrats must get Republican votes to enact immigration reform, but if they move too far Right, they may lose the support of the American people in the process.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Yesterday, New Jersey lawmakers adopted a measure to ban sexual orientation conversion therapy. The vote came only a week after the controversial group, Exodus International closed its doors, and apologized for the harm they caused using while trying to change people's sexual orientation. The measure was approved 56 to 14 in the State Assembly, and it is expected to pass in the State Senate later this week. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has previously said he opposed so-called conversion therapy, but his office would not comment on whether or not he would sign the final bill. If the ban is enacted, New Jersey would become the second state in our nation to prohibit licensed therapists from counseling LGBT kids to change their sexual orientation, but it would not effect religious organizations. California is the only state that currently has such a law on the books, and it is currently on hold while a federal appeals court weighs the issue. If New Jersey enacts this conversion-therapy ban, it will likely be challenged in the courts as well.
The Associated Press has obtained a document that further debunks Darrel Issa's IRS conspiracy. Apparently, in addition to “Tea Party” groups being subjected to additional scrutiny, groups with “Israel”, “Progressive”, and “Occupy” in their names were reviewed as well. While the investigation may certainly point to the IRS using inappropriate short cuts to identify political groups, it has also blown apart the myth that only Tea Party groups were being targeted. Acting IRS Commissioner, Danny Werfel, issued an 83-page report on his review of the screening procedures, and said, “There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum.” He told reporters, “We have not found evidence of intentional wrongdoing by anyone in the IRS or involvement in these matters by anyone outside the IRS.” However, not wanting to let go of the scandal, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa said Mr. Werfel's assertion “can only be called premature.” So, despite piles of evidence that the White House was not involved, it appears Darrell Issa will continue the investigation.
And finally... We now know what it takes to get all of Washington working together – a red panda. Yesterday, Rusty the Red Panda escaped from the National Zoo, and the entire District came together to help ensure his safe return. Rusty was spotted in a D.C. Suburb, and zoo employees were able to capture him and send him back to his home enclosure. Even in times of extreme weather, national tragedy, or financial disaster, it's rare to see Washington working together. Considering Rusty was able to unite DC Police, politicians, and the public, some are suggesting that the red panda should run for office. Who knows?? Perhaps he could increase Congress's approval rating...
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