Law

Did Hubris Kill Texas's Photo ID Law?

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, a panel of three federal judges knocked down the Texas voter-ID law, which would have required voters to show a form of government-issued photo identification. The state will undoubtedly appeal the decision, but the news is yet another blow to the law, which the Justice Department already determined would disproportionately affect nonwhite voters. The Department of Justice estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 registered voters would be affected. Those with Hispanic surnames were far more likely than whites to not have the requisite identification. While it's yet another rebuke to strict voter-ID laws, the court's decision also illustrates just how much the specifics of this law, and its particularly scary effects, were brought on by the arrogance of state lawmakers and (Republican) officials. Like right-wing Republicans in the many states that went whole-hog GOP in 2009 and 2010—Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Alabama, Virginia, and Louisiana...

Foreclosure Free-For-All

The CFPB is getting resistance from its allies on proposed mortgage policies. 

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
It's almost four years since the economy cratered, yet 11 million homes—accounting for 23 percent of all outstanding mortgages— remain underwater. The Obama administration's efforts to shore up the housing market by offering incentives for refinancing, rather than the government directly purchasing loans, has been an utter failure ; countless homeowners have been left desperately negotiating with their lenders to modify the terms of their loan and more often than not, being tossed onto the street by mortgage servicers. Servicers are the companies that process mortgage payments; they're also the point of contact should something go amiss, resolving a defaulted mortgage by either restructuring the loan or beginning foreclosure proceedings. During normal times, servicers could better handle the requests of an occasional delinquent borrower. When the avalanche fell in 2009 and a massive pool of customers could no longer make the monthly payments, the incentives shifted, often pushing...

Ann Romney's Fail

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Early in their careers, almost all journalists hear the same piece of advice: Show, don’t tell. Give an anecdote, provide some detail, offer something that demonstrates the point you’re trying to make. It would have been good advice for Ann Romney. It's not that her convention speech was poorly delivered. The would-be first lady has a Junior League likability—she's sweet and charming, if a bit removed from the average life of most Americans. The random cry of “I love women” was at least overt and obvious in its effort to close the gender gap the GOP currently faces. Even her nervousness had its appeal Tuesday night—she delivered her speech a little too fast, proving once again that she’s human. But Ann Romney had one job to do: Give us some reason—any reason—to believe her husband isn’t some cold-hearted automaton. On that count,...

Seriously, There's Good News For Ohio Voters

(AP Photo/ Dayton Daily News, Bill Reinke)
For voting rights activists, the news coming out of Ohio hasn't been promising—the secretary of state has limited early voting hours and a state law stopped all voting the three days before Election Day. Both decisions have a disproportionate impact on poor and nonwhite voters, who vote in particularly heavy numbers during the early period. But Monday brought some good news for vote defenders in the Buckeye State. In 2008, around 14,000 voters had their ballots thrown out because they cast provisional ballots in the wrong precinct. Often, it was a poll worker who had made the error, but it was the voter who was punished. But thanks to an injunction granted by a U.S. district judge Monday, that measure will not be in effect in the 2012 elections. The Service Employees International Union brought the suit, represented by lawyers from the Advancement Project, a voting rights group that’s been involved in several of the voter ID challenges around the country. The plaintiffs argued the...

Voter-ID Fight Gets Down to the Wire in Wisconsin

(Flickr/Bethany Weeks)
We may be months away from Election Day, but in states fighting legal battles over newly minted voter-ID laws, time is short. These laws, which require residents to show government-issued identification to vote, have been shown to disenfranchise poor and minority voters in the first place. But as I've written before, the timeframe for implementing them poses another major problem; just look at Pennsylvania, where volunteers and activists are rushing to inform residents about a voter-ID law passed in March. The fact is, comprehensive voter-education efforts can hardly be conducted in two months. It is this basic issue—whether there is enough time to properly implement voter-ID laws before November 6—that has kept voter-ID from going into effect in many states. But in Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is hoping there's still time for one last full-court press to rescue the state's strict voter-ID law. State courts in two different cases—one brought by the League of Women...

What Is Marriage For?

Is marriage, at its heart, an institution that confines heterosexual sex and ensures that every child is born firmly tied to its biological parents, legally, economically, emotionally, and socially? Or is it an ever-changing institution, constantly battled over, whose rules change dramatically over the centuries? Do same-sex couples belong in the Western vision, because of the revolution in marriage law and philosophy over the past 150 years? Or would adding same-sex couples violate its core purpose? What is the purpose of sex? What's the purpose of civil marriage , as opposed to religious marriage? Maggie Gallagher, of NOM fame (National Organization for Marriage), and I disagree profoundly. We discussed these differences in some detail at bloggingheads. Eyebrows are raised, voices get pointed, but neither of us foam at the mouth, although it gets a little close. Enjoy. Don't miss the point around 41 minutes, where I ask her whether she believes in IVF and donor semen. Answer: no. By...

Fighting Hate with ... Violence?

Yesterday, a gunman entered the Washington, D.C. offices of the Family Research Council , a religious group that advocates far-right positions on social issues, and shot a security guard in the arm. Floyd Lee Corkins II, the shooter, reportedly yelled that it wasn't personal; it was about FRC’s policies. (You can see the shooter in this local news report.) The security guard is now in the hospital, in stable condition—thank God—and the FBI has Corkins. Is this what the state of our public conversation has come to? Unstable people on all sides deciding that someone else’s beliefs must be exterminated, that hateful rhetoric must be answered with execution? Corkins was a volunteer at the D.C. LGBT community center, where the executive director was shocked by what the young man did. Here’s what he said, according to Chris Geidner over at BuzzFeed: The suspect in today's shooting, Floyd Corkins II of Virginia, had been volunteering on some weekends at the front desk of The Center, D.C.'s...

Voting Rights Lose in Pennsylvania

(AP Photo/Marc Levy)
Let's imagine a world in which Pennsylvania's voter-ID law did not disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. The law, which requires voters show government-issued identification in order to vote, has created significant burdens for voters without IDs, a population disproportionately made up of poor people and minorities. In our imaginary world, the state would do a stellar job of educating voters, reaching out to African Americans—who disproportionately lack state IDs—and Spanish-language media. They would send postcards as early as possible to tell every voter in the state about the change. A "card of last resort" would be available to any voter who could not easily access the required documents for a standard ID, which include a birth certificate and a Social Security card. Employees at the state's driver's license centers would be well-versed in the law and give voters advice about what was needed and what they were entitled to receive for free. Election workers would be well...

Too Long, Didn't Read My Rights

A new website helps consumers understand legal agreements

(Flickr/farouq_taj)
I'm not a huge fan of the internet acronym tl;dr. For those who are unaware, it stands for "too long; didn't read." As someone who writes long features for a magazine, I like to think readers will read a longer piece of writing if it is properly engaging. However, there is one form of writing that certainly doesn't meet that standard: terms-of-service agreements. Sure, you'll likely page through the agreements for longer, seemingly weightier agreements like mortgages and credit cards. But what about the daily legal pacts you sign as a matter of course? Want to buy something from the iTunes store? You'll have to wade through over 15,000 words of legalese. Even then, should you want to download an app for your iPhone, you'll need to consent to yet another agreement. Most consumers agree to these without bothering to read the handful of clauses in which they sign away the bulk of their legal rights. Thankfully, a new website is crowdsourcing the task of translating complex lawyer speak...

How to Get Out the Vote in a Voter ID World

(AP Photo/The Kansas City Star, Mike Ransdell)
Voter ID laws create an unnecessary barrier to voting that disproportionately affects poor and nonwhite voters. If you’re going to have them, you should at least tell people that they're going into effect. But given the impetus of these laws—to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters—it's no surprise that few of the states that have passed them have made any effort to educate voters. Since 2010, 12 states have passed laws requiring voters to show government-issued identification in order to vote. One such law is Pennsylvania's, where studies estimate anywhere from 780,000 to 1.2 million could be turned away at the polls on Election Day because of new ID requirements. A state court is expected to rule this week on whether the law can go forward, but in the meantime, many have blasted Pennsylvania's anemic efforts to inform voters. Because the state originally estimated that far fewer voters would be affected, the plan was simply to remind those who turned out for the April primaries...

Red, White and Untrue: Romney's Big Lie about Military Voting

A soldier fills out an absentee ballot in Qatar.(Flickr/expertinfantry)
If Ferris Bueller taught us anything, it was this: If you're going to lie or mislead, do it in a big, over-the-top kind of way. At least it'll be memorable. It's a lesson Mitt Romney's campaign took to heart this past weekend. But instead of stealing a Ferrari or taking over a parade, they opted for something much darker. Halfway through the general-election campaign, attacks from both campaigns have been so relentless as to make each one fade into a low background buzz. Getting something to cut through the noise is hard. So when President Obama's campaign filed a lawsuit to restore the rights to all Ohio citizens to cast early ballots up until the Sunday before Election Day—a right that the Ohio legislature had restricted to active-duty military personnel casting their ballots in person—the Romney side decided to go all in with a charge so outlandish it was bound to capture attention. "President Obama's lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women...

Supreme Court Permits Execution of Man with IQ of 61

WikiMedia Commons
Marvin Wilson was convicted of murder and given a death sentence in 1992. Since the felon was convicted in Texas, this sentence might not be considered unusual in itself. But extenuating circumstances render Wilson's ongoing presence on death row a bit surprising. The Supreme Court ruled in the 2002 case Atkins v. Virginia that executing mentally handicapped persons violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. This case seems to preclude the execution of Williams, who has an IQ measured at 61 and in general clearly has the "subaverage intellectual functioning" and "significant limitations in adaptive skills" that make death sentences unconstitutional under Atkins : Marvin Wilson has the mental development of the average first-grader. He sucked his thumb into adulthood; he cannot use a phone book; and he doesn’t understand what a bank account is. As a child he would sometimes clamp his belt so tightly that he would cut off blood circulation. He couldn’t...

Pennsylvania's Other Voter ID Battle

(Photo of Voting poster from Flickr/kristin_a; Photo of Independence Hall from Flickr/harshlight)
When Pennsylvania Republicans passed the nation's most restrictive voter ID law in March, requiring all voters to show government-issued photo identification, it was less than eight months before the November elections. It was going to be a sprint to train state workers and election workers on the new law, and to inform the public and help those who needed to get new IDs. Fortunately, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, the state's election chief, had assured everyone during the legislative debate that 99 percent of voters already had a valid ID ready to go . For the other 1 percent, the state would make the new voter IDs free , and would advertise the new law widely to make sure everyone who had lost their eligibility would know what to do. After all, proponents argued, the point of a voter ID law wasn't to prevent folks from voting; it was to guard against voter fraud, even if that hadn't yet become a problem in Pennsylvania or elsewhere. Now, three months before Election...

Pennsylvania Voters: Dazed and Confused

(Flickr/richiec)
This is going to sound crazy, but in Philadelphia, plenty of voting-rights activists are hoping plaintiffs lose their case against the state voter-ID law—at the lower court level, that is. Pennsylvania's voter-ID law, one of the most restrictive in the country, requires a government-issued photo ID in order to vote, and would disenfranchise a significant number of voters , particularly those who are poor, elderly, and nonwhite. It's a scary prospect, and the lawsuit brought by several voting-rights groups on behalf of ten plaintiffs seeks to get the law suspended. Closing arguments ended yesterday, and Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson has promised to rule on the measure by August 13. So why would any voting-rights activist hope that Simpson rules in favor of the state? Because if Simpson decides to grant an injunction, it will complicate the message of voting-rights activists who are urging people to get the new ID. Some worry that if the headlines say the lack is struck down,...

The Latest Example of our Broken Patent System

Monsanto
About 15 years ago, the St. Louis-based Monsanto corporation developed "Roundup Ready," genetically modified soybean seeds that are resistant to herbicides also produced by the company. In other words, Monsanto made herbicides to kill weeds, then made soy-bean plants that are resistant to the herbicide. Its competitor, Pioneer Seeds, a Des Moines company owned by DuPont and Company, licensed the Roundup Ready formula but also attempted to create genetically modified seeds that could compete with it. Pioneer developed a seed called "Optimum GAT" that combined the Roundup Ready trait with another trait. Mosanto sued DuPont for violating the licensing agreement and for patent infringement, while DuPont claimed that the patent should be considered unenforceable. On July 1, a jury sided with Monsanto, and although Pioneer said in a statement that it "has never sold a single Optimum GAT seed and has no plans to do so in the future" a jury awarded Monsanto a whopping award of $1 billion...

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