Newswire: Civil Rights groups sue Georgia over new sweeping voter suppression law 

ATLANTA — Civil rights groups have filed a new federal lawsuit against Georgia’s sweeping law that makes it much harder for all Georgians to vote, particularly voters of color, new citizens, and religious communities. The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Georgia, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and law firms WilmerHale and Davis Wright Tremaine brought the case on behalf of the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, Latino Community Fund Georgia, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.  The law being challenged is S.B. 202, which was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in under seven hours last Thursday. These elected officials’ actions follow the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 runoff elections for two seats to the U.S. Senate that saw record turnout of voters, particularly Black voters, in Georgia. The elections were celebrated not just for their turnout, but also for their integrity, with Georgia officials praising them as safe and secure. But rather than act to expand participation in the political process, Georgia leaders responded by doing what they have done many times in the state’s history: they placed burdensome, unjustified, and unnecessary restrictions on voters, particularly voters of color and other historically disenfranchised communities. The lawsuit challenges multiple provisions in S.B. 202, including the: • ban on mobile voting

• new narrow identification requirements for requesting and casting an absentee ballot • delayed and compressed time period for requesting absentee ballots

• restrictions on secure drop boxes

• out-of-precinct provisional ballot disqualification

• drastic reduction in early voting in runoff elections

• perhaps most cruelly, ban on “line warming,” where volunteers provide water and snacks to Georgians, disproportionately those of color, who wait in needlessly long lines to cast their vote These provisions, the lawsuit charges, violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and infringe on Georgians’ rights under the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. “This law is driven by blatant racism, represents politics at its very worst, and is clearly illegal,” said Sophia Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “We urge the court to act swiftly to strike it down.” “Legislators and Governor Kemp ignored the very obvious lessons from the election in 2020 and runoffs in 2021: expand safe and secure access to the ballot, codify innovations to voting, and provide additional resources to cash-strapped counties,” said Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Instead, to appease conspiracy theorists and amplify deadly lies about past elections, Georgia’s leaders have chosen to pass into law S.B. 202, which makes it more difficult for every Georgian — but particularly Georgians who are members of historically disenfranchised communities — to vote in a safe, secure, and convenient manner and have that vote counted. In so doing, the defendants have violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and we turn to the federal courts and U.S. Congress to address the incredible harm S.B. 202 will have on our clients.”  “S.B. 202 is perhaps the most bold and shameful voter suppression legislation enacted in the modern era. Its purpose and target are clear: to create barriers to voting for Black voters who turned out in record numbers for the November 2020 presidential election and the January 2021 special election. The provisions of the new law and the manner in which it was enacted reflect a thorough disregard for the sanctity of protecting the right to vote and a headlong and determined zeal to diminish Black political power in Georgia,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s president and director-counsel. “This is a powerful moment for democracy in this country. S.B. 202’s attempt to disenfranchise Black voters in Georgia harkens back to the most shameful days of voter suppression in the decades before the civil rights movement. That this law was passed in Georgia, less than a year after the death of one of the state’s greatest heroes, Representative John Lewis, is shameful. In his name, we will fight to strike down this illegal attempt to undo his legacy. Anything less represents a grave threat to the future of our democracy and inherently undermines the notion of equality for all.”  “Democracy depends upon people expressing their voices freely through their votes,” said WilmerHale partner Debo P. Adegbile. “The Georgia omnibus voting obstruction law is a prime example of modern voter suppression and erodes democracy. A great deal has changed in Georgia but the commitment to brazenly disenfranchise voters clearly has not.” “S.B. 202 attacks the most sacred foundations of our democracy. But in this country, the law secures every American citizen the equal right to make their voice heard at the ballot box, no matter who they are. And we intend to vindicate that right in court,” said Adam Sieff, attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine. The lawsuit, Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church v. Kemp, was filed late last night in federal court in Atlanta. Complaint: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/sixth-district-african-methodist-episcopal-church-v-kemp

Newswire: House passes sweeping police reform named after ‘George Floyd’, but will it pass the Senate? 

George Floyd

By Jane Kennedy

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Only those with the hardest of hearts will ever forget the dying words of George Floyd, a Black man who gasped, “I can’t breathe!” as a white Minneapolis police officer literally choked him to death. The horrific incident, which was captured in video, set off a season of protests across the United States and the globe and a national reckoning of the racial and criminal injustice that have plagued African Americans for generations. In a late-night session on March 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, largely along party lines and with just one vote by a Republican, Texas Rep. Lance Gooden, who later said in a since-deleted tweet that it was an accident and he had pressed the wrong button. This landmark, wide-ranging police reform legislation has received broad support from a wide variety of civil rights organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the National Urban League, the National Action Network, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and several other civil and human rights groups. “Never again should an unarmed individual be murdered or brutalized by someone who is supposed to serve and protect them,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), who authored the bill, said in a statement. “Never again should the world be subject to witnessing what we saw happen to George Floyd in the streets in Minnesota.” Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis, Minn. officer responsible for Floyd’s death, was fired and will soon be tried on a third-degree murder charge. Jury selection was beginning this week. The bill, which must be signed by President Biden before it becomes law, aims to end racial profiling, change the culture of the nation’s police departments, build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve—and save lives. The bill – if passed by the Senate and signed by the President, would: • Prohibit federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling. • Mandate training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement. • Require law enforcement to collect data on all investigatory activities. • Ban chokeholds and carotid holds at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning chokeholds. • Ban no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning no-knock warrants at the local and state level. • Require that deadly force be used only as a last resort and requires officers to employ de-escalation techniques first. Changes the standard to evaluate whether law enforcement use of force was justified from whether the force was “reasonable” to whether the force was “necessary.” • Limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement. • Require federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras. • Require marked federal police vehicles to have dashboard cameras. • Make it easier to prosecute offending officers by amending the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct. The mens rea requirement in 18 U.S.C. Section 242 will be amended from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard. • Enable individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement. The Justice in Policing Act also establishes public safety innovation grants that community-based organizations can use to create local commissions and task forces to develop equitable public safety approaches, much like former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. In addition, it requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations. “This represents a major step forward to reform the relationship between police officers and communities of color and impose accountability on law enforcement officers whose conscious decisions preserve the life or cause the death of Americans, including so many people of color,” said civil rights attorneys, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, on behalf of the Floyd family in a statement. Civil rights leaders are ecstatic over the bill’s passage but may soon find they will have to temper both their enthusiasm and expectations. The House passed a similar bill last year, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell buried it in what came to be referred to as his “legislative graveyard.” In a CNN interview last week, Bass said that she has been in talks with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC) for several weeks, and current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will likely put some version of the bill on the floor for consideration and a vote. But first, obstacles will have to be overcome. Although Democrats now control the Senate, with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, some Democrats may require some convincing and 10 Republican votes also will be needed for passage. Senate Republicans have claimed that the House bill puts police officers in danger and makes communities less safe. They also object to the provision that eliminates qualified immunity and prosecutorial standards, the major sticking point that they believe would subject law enforcement officers to excessive litigation. But Democrats argue it is needed to hold police accountable for unnecessary use of deadly force. That’s a red line for me, Scott told the Associated Press. “Hopefully we’ll come up with something that actually works.”  

Newswire: Rep. Sewell Calls on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020

Headshot of Congresswoman Terri Sewell

Washington, D.C. – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by unanimous consent House Concurrent Resolution 107 to rename H.R. 4 the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07), who introduced and shepherded H.R. 4 through the House of Representatives last year, praised the decision to rename the legislation for her late colleague, mentor and friend.
“There is no better way to honor Congressman Lewis’ legacy than to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 so that every American – regardless of color – is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box. It is fitting that the House moved today to rename H.R. 4 in John’s name,” Sewell said. “The bill has been languishing in Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s legislative graveyard for 234 days. McConnell has taken to the floor to honor John, but the most significant thing he can do is to bring up the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020 for a vote. Now is the time for action to honor John’s legacy!”
The Supreme Courts’ 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlined the qualifications needed to determine which states are required by the Justice Department to pre-clear elections changes in states with a history of voter discrimination.
Since the Shelby decision, nearly two-dozen states have implemented restrictive voter ID laws and previously-covered states have closed or consolidated polling places, shortened early voting and imposed other measures that restrict voting.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020 seeks to restore the VRA by developing a process to determine which states must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice. It will also require a nationwide, practice-based pre-clearance of known discriminatory practices, including the creation of at-large districts, inadequate multilingual voting materials, cuts to polling places, changes that reduce the days or hours of in person voting on Sundays during the early voting period and changes to the maintenance of voter registration lists that adds a basis or institutes a new process for removal from the lists, where the jurisdiction includes racial or language minority populations above a certain percent threshold.
Under the legislation, there are three ways to become a covered jurisdiction that is required to pre-clear election changes:
States with a history of 15 or more violations at any level in the previous 25 years; or
States with a history of 10 or more violations, if one violation occurs at the state level in the previous 25 years; or
Political subdivisions or localities with 3 or more violations in that subdivision in the previous 25 years.
The bill is supported by more than 60 national organizations, including the NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NALEO Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Native American Rights Fund, League of Women Voters of the United States, AAUW, ACLU, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Communications Workers of America, SEIU, UAW, Democracy 21, Democracy Initiative, End Citizens United Action Fund, Sierra Club, and League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

Newswire: Rep. Sewell praises House passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act

Washington, D.C. – On Friday, December 6, 2019 , U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) praised the House passage of H.R. 4, her Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill will restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by outlining a process to determine which states and localities with a recent history of voting rights violations must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice.
“Voting is personal to me, not only because I represent America’s Civil Rights District—but because it was on the streets of my hometown, Selma, Alabama, that foot soldiers shed their blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge so that all Americans—regardless of race—could vote!” Sewell said. “I am so proud that, today, the House took critical steps in addressing the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision and passed H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength.”
The Supreme Courts’ 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlined the qualifications needed to determine which states are required by the Justice Department to pre-clear elections changes in states with a history of voter discrimination.
Since the Shelby decision, nearly two-dozen states have implemented restrictive voter ID laws and previously-covered states have closed or consolidated polling places, shortened early voting and imposed other measures that restrict voting.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) seeks to restore the VRA by developing a process to determine which states must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice. It will also require a nationwide, practice-based pre-clearance of known discriminatory practices, including the creation of at-large districts, inadequate multilingual voting materials, cuts to polling places, changes that reduce the days or hours of in person voting on Sundays during the early voting period and changes to the maintenance of voter registration lists that adds a basis or institutes a new process for removal from the lists, where the jurisdiction includes racial or language minority populations above a certain percent threshold.
Under H.R. 4, there are three ways to become a covered jurisdiction that is required to pre-clear election changes:
States with a history of 15 or more violations at any level in the previous 25 years; or
States with a history of 10 or more violations, if one violation occurs at the state level in the previous 25 years; or
Political subdivisions or localities with 3 or more violations in that subdivision in the previous 25 years.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act now heads to the Senate for consideration, where it was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
Many are now calling on the Senate to take up the measure. Rev. Dr. William Barber, the president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and the architect of the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina, counts among those calling out Senate leaders.
“The U.S. House passed legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act,” Barber stated. “If [GOP Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell refuses to take it up in the Senate, he’s confessing that he believes the GOP can’t win without voter suppression.”
Gerrymandering, unfair voter I.D. laws, and intimidation at the polls are among the tactics being used to prevent voters of color from casting votes, stated Marcela Howell, the founder, and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.
“Passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act by the House is a first step toward restoring our democracy. We applaud the House of Representatives for passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019,” Howell stated.
“The wholesale disenfranchisement of voters threatens our democracy. Conservative lawmakers across the country are pulling out all the stops to prevent people of color – especially Black people – from exercising our right to vote,” she stated.
Howell continued: “We didn’t march and die fighting for our right to vote only to have that right denied us in this new Jim Crow era –fueled by the racist policies of conservative state legislators and the terrible decision in Shelby v. Holder by the Supreme Court that reinforced these oppressive laws.
“We call on Sen. Mitch McConnell to follow the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to stop the assault on voting rights by scheduling a Senate vote on the Voting Rights Advancement Act as soon as possible.
“We encourage voters across the country to unite in resistance by holding their elected representatives accountable and, most of all, by exercising their right to vote in local, state, and federal elections.”
The bill is supported by more than 60 national organizations, including the NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NALEO Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Native American Rights Fund, League of Women Voters of the United States, AAUW, ACLU, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Communications Workers of America, SEIU, UAW, Democracy 21, Democracy Initiative, End Citizens United Action Fund, Sierra Club, and League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.