When he was in his late 20s, John Roberts was a foot soldier in the Reagan administration’s crusade against the Voting Rights Act. Now, as chief justice of the Supreme Court, he will help determine whether a key part of the law survives a constitutional challenge.
Memos that Roberts wrote as a lawyer in President Reagan’s Justice Department during the 1980s show that he was deeply involved in efforts to curtail the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, the hard-won landmark 1965 law that is intended to ensure all Americans can vote. Roberts’ anti-VRA efforts during the 1980s ultimately failed. But on Wednesday, when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, he’ll get another chance to gut the law. Roberts’ history suggests a crucial part of the VRA may not survive the rematch.
At issue in Shelby County is whether a major portion of the Voting Rights Act, called Section 5, is constitutional. Section 5 compels jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, mostly in the South, to ask the Justice Department for permission—preclearance, in legalese—before making any changes to election laws. Shelby County, Alabama, is arguing that Section 5 is an extreme measure that is no longer justified because racism is no longer the problem it once was. If Section 5 is overturned, voting rights groups say, the federal government’s ability to ensure Americans are not denied the right to vote on the basis of race—at a time when race has been used as a proxy for party identification—will be severely weakened.
Shelby County offers Roberts an opportunity to complete a mission he began three decades ago. When the chief justice was a young lawyer, in 1981, Southern legislators hoped an ascendant conservative movement could pressure Reagan into opposing an extension of the VRA. In June of that year, Reagan wrote a letter to Attorney General William French Smith requesting an “assessment” of the law.
Three Russian feminist rockers rejected charges of hooliganism for performing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main cathedral against Vladimir Putin’s return as president as a trial against them opened in earnest on Monday. The charges could carry a punishment of up to seven years in prison.
The three members of the Pussy Riot band - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 - have been in custody for five months since their February stunt. Their prosecution has caused a sharp public divide and drawn protests from rights groups who have declared them prisoners of conscience.
A Chinese official has been sacked and others punished over the case of a woman forced to have a late-term abortion, state-run media report.
An investigation showed that officials “used crude means” to persuade Feng Jianmei to agree to the abortion, Xinhua news agency reports.
Ms Feng’s pregnancy was terminated at seven months because she had violated the one-child policy law.
Photos of her with the foetus caused widespread condemnation online.
China’s one-child family planning policy aims to control the country’s population, which now stands at around 1.3bn. Rights groups say the law has meant women being coerced into abortions, which Beijing denies.
Ms Feng’s case has come to symbolise the extreme measures some officials take in order to meet population targets, reports the BBC’s Martin Patience in Beijing.
Ariane Friedrich, a German Olympic high-jump hopeful, knows how to pull a tough face, a gun and, it seems, a fast one on a fan who sent her an obscene message over Facebook.
Ms. Friedrich, a police officer by training, publicly rejected a sexually explicit overture from a fan on her Facebook wall, in which she named the sender and gave the city where he lives. She also warned that she had filed a complaint with the police.
“There is simply a point where enough is enough,” Ms. Friedrich wrote in German on Saturday in response to the flood of comments her post had generated. “It’s time to act, it’s time to defend myself. And that is what I am doing. Nothing more and nothing less.”
Her stand has set off a stir in a country where the right to privacy is sacrosanct but the laws protecting it were written mostly for another, pre-Internet era. Since Ms. Friedrich made her initial post on April 16, outing her accused offender, new and old media alike have debated the appropriateness — and legality — of her action.
More than 10,000 people have posted comments on her Facebook page, split between those who cheered her decision as bold move against sexual harassment, and those who chastised her for “vigilante justice.” The “likes” on her Facebook page have jumped from 8,000 to 12,000. Newspapers and television have picked up the controversy as well.
Germany has very strict privacy laws that protect an individual’s right to determine whether their name and address can be published. Newspapers, for instance, do not publish the names of offenders, in an effort to prevent them from being marked after their release from prison. Consequently, the idea that a victim can decide to broadcast a name over the Internet is a charged, and uncharted, issue here.
“Something like this is new, we have not had an incident in this form before in Germany,” said Helmut K. Rüster of Weisser Ring, an organization that promotes victims’ rights.
Germany has struggled to reconcile its sensibilities with the speed and breadth of the dissemination of information in the Internet age. In recent years, rights groups in Germany have taken on Google for collecting private information while mapping out cities for its Street View service. They have asked Apple to explain how it collects data for the iPhone, and they have challenged Facebook after it changed its default settings to reveal more of individual users’ personal data.
A military court today acquitted an Egyptian Army doctor accused of performing forced “virginity tests” on at least seven female protesters last year, closing a rare opportunity to hold the military accountable for abuses it has committed over the last year.
Samira Ibrahim, who was arrested when the Army violently dispersed a peaceful protest a year ago, said the military forced seven of the detained women, including her, to undergo an invasive “virginity test” while they were at a military prison. Rights groups say the procedure, which included forced penetration, amounts to sexual assault. Other women present and forced to undergo the procedure verified her account.
The case was heard in a military court, and the judge ruled today that there was insufficient evidence the procedure took place, even though military generals have previously admitted to reporters and rights advocates that it was a standard procedure. The verdict was not surprising to many observers, after a trial in which the military prosecution did little to make the case against the doctor. Yet it comes as a disappointment to many who were pleased by the military’s initial decision to bring the case to trial, and for whom the the “virginity tests” case had become a rallying call for the movement against the military’s abuses.
Egypt’s constitution: How 5 stakeholders would shape the document
“No one violated my honor,” Ms. Ibrahim wrote on Twitter after the verdict. “The one whose honor was violated is Egypt, and I will carry on until I restore her rights.”
Out of multiple cases of abuse, torture, and killing committed by the military in the year since it took power, not a single individual has been held responsible. Only two cases have come to trial: the “virginity tests” case, and one in which three soldiers are accused of voluntary manslaughter for killing protesters in October by running them over with vehicles in front of the state television building, referred to here as Maspero.
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.