Iron-fisted enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act transformed American politics, especially in the South, by making sure minorities had a clear path to the ballot box and an equal shot at public service.
Forty-eight years later, after the re-election of an African-American president, the heart of that law is on trial.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Feb. 27 in a case that is sure to ignite a national debate over how far the country has progressed on racial issues and whether minority voters still need extra protection.
Shelby County, Ala., opposed by the Justice Department and civil rights groups, wants two key sections of the Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional.
Council members in an Alabama city voted Tuesday to stop a group’s work on a new monument honoring a Confederate general who was an early leader in the Ku Klux Klan.
The Selma City Council voted 4-0 with two members abstaining to stop all work on the monument to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest until the courts decide whether the city or a Confederate heritage group owns the cemetery property where the monument would be rebuilt.
The vote came after a group of protesters marched to City Hall.
Demonstrations by civil rights groups about 10 years ago led to the relocation of a Forrest monument from outside a city building near downtown to a section of a city cemetery honoring Confederate war dead. But Forrest’s bust was removed and apparently stolen from atop a 7-foot granite memorial earlier this year, and efforts to rebuild it have drawn protests and calls by civil rights activists not to replace it.
Detractors say Forrest traded black people like cattle, massacred black Union soldiers and joined the early Ku Klux Klan. His defenders dispute much of that and counter with stories that depict him as a protector of slave families and defender of the weak who resigned from the KKK.
A member of the group Friends of Forrest, Pat Godwin, said she feels the protests have been an effort to obscure the police investigation of the disappearance of the bust.
“It’s all smoke and mirrors to divert attention from the issue of the theft of the bust,” Godwin said.
The council had earlier indicated it would allow people to speak on the issue at the Tuesday work session, but would not vote on the racially sensitive issue. Council members changed their mind after activist Rose Toure, a leader of the protests, and other speakers urged the council to vote. Council member Bennie Ruth Crenshaw moved that the council order all work on the monument stopped after city attorney Jimmy Nunn said he had not been able to locate a deed to the Confederate section of the cemetery.
A judge in the election battleground state of Pennsylvania on Wednesday rejected an effort to block the state’s voter identification law, which civil rights groups argued discriminates against minority voters.
Pennsylvania, a major electoral prize in the November 6 presidential election between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, is one of 11 states to pass laws since 2010 requiring voters to show some form of legal identification. The laws have become a contentious issue ahead of the November 6 elections.
Both parties see turnout as key in battleground states like Pennsylvania, and Democrats fear voter ID laws disproportionately curtail balloting by lower-income and minority voters, who typically favor their party.
Civil and voting rights groups, including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, had sought a preliminary injunction to block the law, arguing it erects unfair hurdles for many legitimate Pennsylvania voters who lack an acceptable form of identification.
The Advancement Project, one of the groups behind the suit, said it would appeal Simpson’s decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The decision forces people to suffer the harm of not being able to vote in the election and then sue afterward, said the Advancement Project’s co-director Penda Hair.
“I just can’t believe it,” Viviette Applewhite, the 93-year-old lead plaintiff, said in a statement. “Too many people have fought for the right to vote to have it taken away like this,” said Applewhite, an African American who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s…
The U.S. Justice Department is continuing to review whether the Pennsylvania voter ID law complies with federal voting rights laws, a department official said on Wednesday. The department said in July that it would analyze Pennsylvania data to determine if voters who lack proper ID under the new law are disproportionately black or Hispanic.
Russia’s parliament on Wednesday passed a law tightening controls on civil rights groups funded from abroad, a measure that foes of President Vladimir Putin say is part of a Kremlin campaign to stifle political opposition.
Ignoring criticism of the bill by the United States, the Kremlin-controlled upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, sped the bill through with just one vote against and one abstention in its last session before a summer break.
The rushed adoption signals the importance Putin attaches to the law, which will force non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaging in “political activity” to register with the Justice Ministry as “foreign agents” and to file a report to officials every quarter.
The term “foreign agents”, which NGOs will be forced to print on all their publications, carries the same associations of Cold War espionage and treachery that it does in the West.
The penalties for failing to comply with the law include six months’ suspension without a court order and, for individuals, up to three years in jail.
Those who risk being stigmatised include the human rights group Amnesty International, the corruption watchdog Transparency International and the election monitoring group Golos (Voice), which was instrumental in compiling and publicising allegations of fraud in December’s parliamentary election.
Opposition groups say Putin is trying to silence groups whose criticism of his human rights record has undercut his credibility and helped to fuel seven months of protests against his rule, the biggest since he came to power in 2000.
Opponents of Arizona’s hardline immigration enforcement law contend that emails sent, received and forwarded by a former legislator who championed the law support allegations it was racially motivated.
Dozens of emails are cited in a new legal effort by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups to block police from enforcing the Arizona law’s so-called “show me your papers” provision recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The groups said the emails and other material reveal that ex-Sen. Russell Pearce and other supporters of the law known as SB1070 embraced discriminatory views and bent the truth about immigration-related matters, setting the stage for enactment of a law that the groups contend will lead to racial profiling if enforced.
Russell is the architect of Arizona’s immigration law.
The use of the emails in the court filing later Tuesday was reported Friday by The Arizona Republic (bit.ly ).
Pearce on Friday denied discriminatory intent in championing the law, telling The Associated Press that the civil rights groups falsely portray him as a racist and that the law includes protections against racial profiling.
“Nobody wants to talk about that,” he said. “I’ve been attacked for years. I don’t expect it to stop.”
The motion cited dozens of emails that were sent, received or forwarded by Pearce. Many of the emails asserted costs and troubles associated with illegal immigration, including crime and increased demand for public services such as education and health care.
Wal-Mart has joined the list of major corporations withdrawing their support from a conservative political group that advocates the “Stand Your Ground” laws that came under intense focus after the Trayvon Martin killing became a national story.
“The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC,” as The Associated Press writes, “is made up of a group of lawmakers and private sector officials and has become a lightning rod for political debate in recent months. Wal-Mart has been a member since 1993.”
Last month, NPR’s Peter Overby reported, “a coalition of liberal and civil rights groups went public with a campaign to undermine” ALEC. In the first week or so of that effort, “seven corporations — Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mars, Kraft Foods, McDonalds, Wendy’s and the software maker Intuit — dropped their memberships in ALEC. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it won’t give ALEC any more grants, though one already under way [would] continue.”
Late Wednesday, the AP reports, Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart’s vice president of public affairs and government relations, sent a letter to ALEC. The giant retailer, she said, is concerned that ALEC has been getting involved in issues that “stray from its core mission ‘to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets.’ “
Mars Inc., the company that makes everything from Skittles to M&M’s to Uncle Ben’s, has joined McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and a half-dozen other companies in quitting the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ALEC, as it’s known, is a corporate-funded non-profit that writes pro-business and often anti-union draft legislation for state lawmakers to introduce in their legislatures. ALEC has come under fire recently from good-government and civil rights groups for pushing voter identification bills that critics say discriminate against blacks and Hispanics. ALEC foes have also blasted the organization for promoting so-called Stand Your Ground laws like the one at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, one of the groups in the anti-ALEC coalition, hailed Mars’ decision. “Its leaders understand that continued support for ALEC’s advocacy of vigilante justice and assaults on voting and employee rights, public schools, and reasonable environmental regulations is neither good business nor good corporate citizenship,” Edgar said in a statement.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and civil rights groups launched a campaign on Wednesday to roll back “stand your ground” laws critics say led to the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
The Second Chance on Shoot First campaign aims to reform or repeal laws on the use of deadly force in 25 states that Bloomberg called “a license to murder.”
The laws “justify civilian gunplay and invite vigilante justice and retribution with disastrous results,” Bloomberg told a news conference.
Others in the “Second Chance” effort include the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Action Network and the online group ColorOfChange.org.
“Stand your ground” laws allow people to use deadly force when they believe they are in danger of getting killed or suffering great bodily harm.
Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on February 26 in Sanford, Florida. Police declined to press charges against him, citing the law.
The police chief who has been bitterly criticized for not arresting a neighborhood watch volunteer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager temporarily stepped down Thursday, saying he had become a distraction to the investigation.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee and his officers decided not to arrest George Zimmerman after he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to death on Feb. 26. Martin was returning from a trip to a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.
‘Stand Your Ground Law’ at center of unarmed Florida teen shooting
Zimmerman claims the shooting was self-defense. He told police 17-year-old Trayvon Martin attacked him after he had given up on chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle.
The shooting ignited racial tensions in this Orlando suburb. Civil rights groups have held rallies in Florida and New York, saying the shooting was unjustified. Late Wednesday, city commissioners in Sanford gave the police chief a “no confidence” vote.
“I must temporarily remove myself from the position as police chief for the city of Sanford. I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks,” Lee said. “It is my hope that the investigation will move forward swiftly and appropriately through the justice system and that a final determination in this case is reached.”
The police chief has said authorities were prohibited from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time of the shooting. He said he continued to stand behind his agency’s investigation.
“As a former homicide investigator, a career law enforcement officer and a father, I am keenly aware of the emotions associated with this tragic death of a child. I’m also aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation,” Lee said.
How long before Pat Buchanan becomes a regular on Fox? For the record Pat I’ve been writing posts about your bigotry for years - I’m not gay, black, nor do I belong to any political groups.
Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan attacked gay rights and civil rights organizations for pressuring MSNBC network president Phil Griffin to fire him after the release of his latest book, Suicide of a Superpower. The work, which has been roundly condemned, includes chapters titled “The End of White America” and “The Death of Christian America.” “Look, for a long period of time the hard left, militant gay rights groups, militant — they call themselves civil rights groups, but I’m not sure they’re concerned about civil rights — people of color, Van Jones, these folks and others have been out to get Pat Buchanan off T.V., deny him speeches, get his column canceled,” Buchanan said during a radio interview with Sean Hannity this afternoon. “This has been done for years and years and years and it’s the usual suspects doing the same thing again. But my view is, you write what you believe to be the truth.” Buchanan said he has not received a “formal notification” of his termination from the network, although executives have hinted that he will not return to the airwaves.