Law

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...

Pro-Life Sentences

(Flickr/ClinicEscort)
Dissenting in Gonzales v. Carhart , the 2007 case that upheld a federal ban on "partial birth" abortion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg charged that the majority "refuses to take [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey ... seriously." This inclination, not surprisingly, has filtered down to the lower federal courts as well. Two recent cases conspicuously refuse to take a woman's reproductive rights seriously, and indeed one judge failed to apply Casey at all. The first recent decision , by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld a South Dakota statute that requires doctors to inform women seeking abortions that obtaining one will lead to an increased risk of depression and suicide. The law, which interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and forces doctors to lend the weight of their authority to assertions not supported by scientific evidence, should be considered an "undue burden" on a woman's right to choose and hence invalid under Casey . As the dissenters point out, "In order to be...

The Deep, Dark Mysteries of Pennsylvania's Voter ID

(Flickr/ Bilal Kamoon)
Sometimes fearing the unknown isn't such a bad idea. Like, for instance, when they're serving "mystery meat" in the cafeteria. Or, on a slightly bigger scale, when your state is considering a new law that could disfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. Pennsylvania legislators had no such healthy sense of fear when it came to passing the nation's most restrictive voter ID law just a little over four months ago—practically yesterday, considering the ramifications of such a huge change to election procedures. But when the bill was being debated, lawmakers and state officials supporting the bill insisted it would be a breeze to ensure that no one was disenfranchised; everybody who wanted to vote would still be able to vote. "This is going to be an additional responsibility," said Daryl Metcalf, the Republican state representative who sponsored the bill, but "one that is not burdensome in any way." Besides, Republican Governor Tom Corbett's office said that only 1 percent of...

James Holmes: There, We Said It

Let's stop playing word games and start talking seriously about how to prevent another massacre like the one in Colorado.

(Rex Features via AP Images)
Heeding the wishes of victims of the Colorado shooting and their families, some members of the media (including the Prospect 's Steve Erickson) have refrained from using alleged shooter James Holmes's name. On Monday, CNN’s Anderson Cooper tweeted: “I have no intention of saying AuroraShooting suspect's name tonight. Don't want to give him more attention than needed.” True to his word, Cooper referred to Holmes as “the suspect” and “the alleged shooter” throughout the broadcast. Fox News went a step further, blacking out Holmes’s name in documents it displayed on the air. Politicians—including President Obama—have also joined the cause. Colorado governor John Hickenlooper has taken to calling him “suspect A.” The idea is not only to deny Holmes the notoriety he presumably seeks, but to focus on the victims. It’s a well-intentioned gesture, perhaps, but it’s futile—and wrong-headed to boot. Making a show of not uttering the words “James Holmes” is just another example of the way that,...

Who's Affected by Pennsylvania's Voter-ID Law?

Viviette Applewhite, one of the ACLU's plaintiffs (ACLU)
As the first big lawsuit against the Pennsylvania's voter-ID law starts its third day at trial, arguments about the legality of the law have focused largely on who's impacted by it. First, the secretary of the commonwealth estimated as many as 758,000 Pennsylvanians lacked the most common form of ID —those issued by the state Department of Transportation. A political scientist's study showed that number to be around a million. Either way, it's a lot of people, and we know a disproportionate number of them are poor, nonwhite, and elderly. Still, those supporting strict voter-ID laws, which require citizens to show government-issued identification before voting, often cast suspicion on anyone without an ID. They argue that you need photo identification for pretty much anything these days, and people without them must be freaks or criminals—people we don't want voting anyway. Republican Texas state Representative Jose Aliseda exemplifies this position; he recently said that anyone...

Will the Supreme Court Strike Down Affirmative Action?

Adam Liptak and Allison Kopicki recently had an interesting analysis of public opinion on the Supreme Court. The public reaction to the health-care ruling, NFIB v. Sebelius, shows that the public is closely divided, with 46 percent supporting the decision. As expected, NFIB has made Democrats like the Court more and Republicans like the Court less. Putting the public reaction to NFIB in context, Liptak and Kopicki compare the public reaction to the case with other high profile cases. The data is somewhat sobering for advocates of civil rights and liberties. Before getting to the bad news, it's worth noting that despite the cottage industry of pundits dedicated to the idea that support for women's reproductive rights is undermining the Democratic Party, Roe v. Wade is an exception to the general rule of liberal civil-liberties decisions being unpopular. Roe was popular the day it was decided and its popularity has, if anything, increased over time . Conversely, Gonzales v. Carhart ,...

What's the Deal with the Pennsylvania Voter-ID Law?

"I voted" picture: (Flickr/ Vox Efx) Liberty Bell photograph: (Flickr/dcwriterdawn)
We get it. Real-life court dramas are not as exciting as Judge Judy (and definitely not as exciting as Judge Joe Brown). So we totally don't judge you for not knowing why the hell Pennsylvania's voter-ID law is suddenly in court. Of course, you thought you'd covered your bases when you read our early explanation of voter-ID laws. (If you didn't, well, you only need to be a little embarrassed.) You know there's basically no evidence of in-person voter fraud where one person impersonates another—the only type of fraud voter ID guards against. You know that the big fights were in Texas and South Carolina. So why is everyone so worked up about some court case in Harrisburg? Well let us be quick and leave you plenty of time for Court TV. So a bunch of states have voter-ID laws—what's the big deal about Pennsylvania? Well, not shockingly in a presidential election year, a lot of it boils down to politics. Pennsylvania is a swing state in a close election, so every vote each side can pull...

Eric Holder's New Fight Against Voter ID

(Flickr/Vox Efx)
Yesterday, Eric Holder opened a new front in his fight to preserve voting rights, as the Department of Justice announced that it would launch an investigation into Pennsylvania's voter ID law. The attorney general has been an outspoken critic of the strict new laws that require voters to show government-issued photo identification, calling them the equivalent of a modern-day "poll tax." The DOJ has blocked implementation of voter ID in Texas and South Carolina—states that, because of their histories of voter suppression, are listed in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and therefore must get preclearance from the DOJ before they can change their election laws. (Both states are fighting back in court.) But Pennsylvania, like half the states that have passed strict voter ID laws, does not need to get DOJ permission before it changes its election laws. Instead, the Justice Department has taken an entirely new line of attack. In a letter to Pennsylvania's Secretary of the Commonwealth,...

How the Gun Lobby Encourages People to Amass Arsenals

Flickr/bobasonic
In the last six months I've written a lot about the politics of the gun issue (see here for example), and one of the key data points I keep trying to get people to understand is that gun ownership is actually declining in America and has been for a few decades. Yet there are just as many guns as ever (around 300 million by the best estimates), which means that on average, your typical gun owner now owns more guns than they used to. While no one that I know of has actually figured out the distribution, my guess is that most gun owners still have only one or two guns, while the numbers are being elevated by enthusiasts who think they really haven't guaranteed the safety of their family unless they have enough weaponry to fend off an assault by an entire battalion of the Red Army. And it's important to understand that the gun lobby (by which I mean the National Rifle Association, similar groups, and the gun manufacturers) are doing everything they can to encourage existing gun owners to...

Do We Need a New Voting Rights Act?

(Flickr/Sunset Parkerpix)
On Friday, two counties in Southern states requested that the Supreme Court reconsider a key element of the Voting Rights Act . Both Kinston, North Carolina and Shelby County, Alabama hope the Court will find that Section 5 of the Act—the one that requires states and counties with a history of voter suppression to get permission from the feds before implementing changes to election law—is unconstitutional. The government has previously justified Section 5 under the Fifteenth Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote and prohibits discrimination based on race. The counties—both in states with new voter-ID laws—argue that the provision violates the Tenth Amendment, which gives states the right to regulate elections. Furthermore, they claim it unfairly gives states different levels of sovereignty by treating some differently than others. With voter-ID laws proliferating around the country, the Voting Rights Act has been in the national conversation for months now, and Section 5 has...

A Tragedy Made in the USA

Finding meaning in national tragedy is always difficult, but what do we do when we peer into the abyss and see ourselves?

(Flickr/Alan Cleaver)
This past Friday was one of those strange and sad days in the life of a country when a number of things don’t so much converge as share the commonality of the moment and thereby exist within the shadows of each other. The massacre that greeted the release of the year’s most-awaited movie just a few midnights ago in a tiny Colorado town took place at cross-coordinates social, cultural, and political by virtue of timing and the parameters of the occasion, if nothing else; though the more terrible the toll in such circumstances, the more natural it is to draw conclusions, learn lessons or arrive at resolutions, the only thing straightforward about any of it is the horror. The most immediate responses, having to do with gun laws and the movie itself, were predictable, understandable in varying degrees and not altogether to the point. If those of us who believe in sensible restrictions on the constitutional right to bear arms are being honest, we have to acknowledge that the sort of...

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