Update: Court Rulings Impact Voting Rules Across the Country

vote button

Go Vote Button

Yesterday I re-blogged an article on voter suppression by Nel’s New Day and added additional information from the Brennan Center for Justice on both increased access in eleven states as well as more background information on voter suppression across the country.

This afternoon, I received an email from the Brennan Center for Justice. It includes more information on the status of voting laws and decisions made in the last couple of weeks in Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. It includes several references to emergency appeals to the US Supreme Court by either the Brennan Center or by other advocates. Here’s that email…

 Court Rulings Impact Voting Rules Across the Country

A series of court decisions in the past few weeks have changed voting rules in several states. Here is a breakdown of the latest developments.

Texas

Current Status: On October 14, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Texas’s restrictive photo ID requirement, which a federal judge had blocked five days earlier. The Brennan Center is part of the legal team representing plaintiffs in the case, who filed an emergency appeal today to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Background: After a lengthy trial in September, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos ruled last week that the Texas legislature enacted the ID law to purposely discriminate against minority voters. She also found more than 600,000 registered voters lack the kind of ID required by Texas’s law.

Wisconsin

Current Status: On October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin’s photo ID law from going into effect for the November election.

Background: Lawmakers initially passed the ID requirement in 2011, but it was blocked before it could go into effect for a major election. In September, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling allowing the law to be put in place immediately. Advocates filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court, arguing implementing the law so close to an election would “cause chaos at the polls.”

North Carolina

Current Status: On October 8, the Supreme Court allowed restrictions on same-day registration and out-of-precinct balloting to remain in effect for the November election.

Background: In 2013, legislators passed a series of laws cutting back on voting. Earlier this month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked two of those restrictions, but the Supreme Court’s October 8 order reversed that decision.

Ohio

Current Status: On September 29, the Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction delaying early voting in Ohio by one week, a day before it was scheduled to begin.

Background: Ohio reduced early voting this year by eliminating Sunday and weeknight hours and ending “Golden Week,” a six-day period where voters could register and vote on the same day. A district court blocked those cuts in early September, but the Supreme Court’s order means they remain intact for the 2014 election.

What’s Next?

Decisions are still pending in:

  • Arkansas – The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the voter ID law October 2. The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief arguing the requirement violates the state constitution.
  • Arizona/Kansas – The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule soon on new rules requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. The Brennan Center represents the League of Women Voters in a suit challenging the laws.

View all of the Brennan Center’s Election 2014 resources.

________________________________________

Stay connected. Stay informed. Get involved.

And once again remember to get out and vote on November 4!

Civil Rights Denied: PA’s Proposed Constitutional Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Logo of Freedomt to Marry, Inc.

“working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. ” http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/about-us

A couple of days ago I posted a blog about the dueling marriage equality and same-sex marriage ban bills recently introduced into the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  Today I thought I give a more detailed argument as to how discriminatory the same-sex marriage ban is to gays and straights alike.

As previously stated, on May 7, Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-12 Butler County) introduced his legislation (HB 1349) to create a constitutional amendment defining marriage OR its “substantial equivalent” solely as a union between a man and a woman.  That bill would amend Article I of the Pennsylvania state Constitution – the Declaration of Rights section – to take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.  Here’s the constitutional amendment as written in HB 1349:

“Marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Until the spring of 2012, 31 states across the country had created constitutional amendments to outlaw marriage or anything that looks like marriage between same-sex couples. The last successful attempt at this form of discrimination occurred by referendum in North Carolina in the spring of 2012; all other attempts since then to deny marriage equality have failed.

Marriage equality however has had many successes since then. Three states – Delaware, Rhode Island, and Washington – either passed a referendum OR legislation legalizing marriage equality following North Carolina’s referendum. One state – Minnesota—is expected to pass their marriage equality bill today; note, this is only 6 months after the voters in Minnesota by referendum killed their proposed same-sex marriage ban.  And one state – Colorado – passed legislation recognizing civil unions even though they have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Instead of moving forward, right-wing legislators would like to have Pennsylvania join the 31 other states that constitutionally ban-same sex marriages and/or other legal forms of relationships such as domestic partnerships and civil unions.  These Pennsylvanian legislators are making their fourth attack on same-sex couples and on unmarried people – gay or straight.  If HB 1349 passes, Pennsylvania for the first time in its history would enshrine and mandate discrimination into the state Constitution.

This amendment would take rights away from unmarried couples in Pennsylvania, whether they are same-sex or heterosexual couples.  The way this amendment is written would affect all unmarried couples, victims of domestic violence if they are not married to their abuser, and could threaten Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination laws

Effect on All Unmarried Couples – Gay or Straight

Currently, Pennsylvania statute recognizes only marriages between one man and one woman.

Pennsylvania does not recognize either (1) same-sex marriages or (2) civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other coupled-household status—whether entered into by same-sex or opposite-sex couples.  Those affected by this amendment would therefore, for example, include senior citizens who live together but are not married because of economic considerations, couples who believe they have a “common law marriage” (which is no longer recognized in Pennsylvania), and gay or straight couples who have any type of intimate relationship.

It could also threaten the lives of unmarried domestic violence victims and allow unmarried individuals to be discriminated against in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Effect on Domestic Violence Victims

In 2004, Ohio passed their discriminatory anti-marriage constitutional amendment, which was quickly and unexpectedly used to deny protections to unmarried victims of domestic violence.  Here’s what happened.  Almost immediately, unmarried batterers argued that since they were not married, Ohio could not enforce their domestic violence law because that was treating their relationship with their partner as “equivalent to marriage.” The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Ohio agreed and ruled that the Ohio domestic violence law runs afoul of the “Defense of Marriage” amendment, passed by voters in 2004, and does not apply to “a person living as a spouse.”  As a result, unmarried defendants, who could have faced felony domestic violence charges, only faced misdemeanor assault charges.    It took several years for the Ohio Supreme Court to reverse this ruling.  In the interim, unmarried women were at the mercy of their batterers in several counties in Ohio.

The Ohio amendment is very similar to that of the one proposed for Pennsylvania.   In Ohio, by providing protection to persons living as spouses,” the domestic violence statutes created a legal status for cohabiting relationships that is “equivalent to a marriage,” according to the appeals court. The appeals court decision in Ohio then denied protection from abuse to unmarried individuals – gay or straight – because the domestic violence law gave legal standing to an unconstitutional relationship – that of an unmarried couple. The courts argument overturning these domestic violence protections utilized similar language found in Pennsylvania’s HB 1439, which states that no other legal union… or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

We have no way of knowing how the courts would rule on a similar argument should this amendment pass and become part of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.  Who knows if Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court would protect the victim or allow batterers to circumvent Pennsylvania’s Protection From Abuse (PFA) law?  We need to protect all people from domestic violence and sexual assault.  Passage of this amendment could deny the protection offered by Pennsylvania’s domestic violence and protection from abuse laws; it could even risk the very lives of unmarried people–gay or straight–because this constitutional amendment denies the rights, privileges, and protections of law to people who are not legally married or who have a relationship that is “functionally equivalent” to traditional marriage.

Effects on Employment, Education, Housing, and Public Accommodations

It also looks like current and proposed employment, education, housing, and public accommodations anti-discrimination laws at both the state and local levels might be jeopardized for unmarried individuals.  Discrimination based on marital status and family responsibilities is unlawful under a variety of existing laws. With a few exceptions, under current state and federal law, people who experience this form of discrimination must fit their claims into an appropriate legal theory—as discrimination based on gender, a violation of family and medical leave laws, or another legal theory.  In addition, many municipalities throughout Pennsylvania have passed or are considering ordinances that would make it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, and in some cases, public accommodations specifically based on sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.   Will the state courts, the PA Human Relations Commission, or local Human Relations Commissions be able to enforce these laws if Pennsylvania’s constitution has been amended to require unmarried couples to be treated differently from married couples?  We do not know.  Passage of HB 1439 as a constitutional amendment could put all of these protections at risk since any person, company, or school could argue that their business is mandated to deny employment, hiring, and benefits to any person who is not married.

Civil Rights Denied, Reiterated

Last, but not least, exclusion, discrimination and inequality are not the principles this state was founded upon. This discriminatory “Marriage Protection Amendment” denies unmarried heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families the protections and fairness they deserve. Heterosexual married couples and their families are afforded more than 1,000 legal protections and economic benefits provided through state and federal law, benefits and protections that are currently inaccessible to unmarried couples.  Passage of this amendment would therefore subject same-sex couples and their families to exclusion, discrimination and inequality.

The proposed amendment could also take away existing legal protections for committed long-term couples and their children, such as second parent adoptions, cohabitation agreements, co-parenting agreements, wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., regardless of their sexual orientation.

Gay and lesbian Pennsylvanians are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family member.  They pay taxes.  LGBT people should not be bullied.  They deserve the same rights, protections, and responsibilities that all residents desire and have.

Let’s all work to stop this bill now!  So I’m once again recommending that you keep up-to-date on this horrible bill as well as other LGBTQ legislation at  Equality Pennsylvania’s website.

North Carolina: What Have You Been Drinking?

As a long-time activist, I’ve been watching the news around the country on many different issues.  Climate change. Racial equality. Gender equality. Same-sex marriage. Separation of church and state.  States rights.

Yesterday it really hit me.  What kind of Kool-Aid have the legislators and many of the citizens in North Carolina been drinking?  Whatever it is, it appears to have greatly impaired their view of the world and how we all fit (or don’t fit) together.  Here are three actions taken within the state in the last year that stretch credulity and appear to be sending the state back at least two centuries.

First, on May 8, 2012, the citizens of the state once again added discrimination to their constitution when they approved Amendment One. This amendment denies gays and lesbians the right to marry.  Fortunately it was the last state to do this and is now being questioned in the US Supreme Court in two cases – Hollinsgworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor.

This is the second time North Carolina has written discrimination into the state constitution. The last time discrimination reared its ugly head was in 1875 when a miscegenation ban was added to the state constitution that made it a crime for people of color and whites to marry each other.  That anti-miscegenation ban lasted until 1967 when the Supreme Court unanimously overturned all anti-miscegenation laws around the country in a case known as Loving v. Virginia.

Then in June 2012, legislators decided that reality doesn’t need to be acknowledged.  Climate change, in their opinion, doesn’t exist and must be publicly denied or ignored.  In this case, scientists within the state are banned from accurately predicting sea-level rise. Replacement House Bill 819 states that scientists would be required to predict sea level rise by just using a linear model based on trends seen since 1900.  This bill  specifically says in section 2, paragraph e:

 “These rates [in sea level rise] shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly. …”

Let’s bring this down to something concrete. Say it’s been sunny for the last three weeks with one day of rain and very little wind on two of those 21 days. Using a linear, straight-line model, one would predict that it will continue to be sunny and calm into the foreseeable future.  Even if Doppler radar and satellite pictures show a growing storm with 75 mile-per-hour winds headed in the direction of the NC coast.  This is ludicrous.  Where is the reality here? And where is the reality in North Carolina’s ban on accurate sea level rise predictions?

And now this week, two legislators who sponsored and/or voted for both of these thoughtless actions have taken another poisonous sip.  This time Reps. Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and H. Warren (R-Salisbury)—a co-sponsor of the house companion bill to the senate bill that became Amendment One—have introduced another constitutional amendment proposal.  If they get their way, North Carolina will declare that the state is exempt from the US Constitution and all court rulings regarding establishment of a religion.  The text of this amendment reads:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

This proposal goes hand-in-hand with another part of the NC Constitution that says that people who do not believe in God cannot hold public office. And that part of their Constitution is unenforceable because of a 1961 Supreme Court decision in Torcaso v. Watkins that bans such prohibitions.  Why? Because such a ban

“unconstitutionally invades [one’s] freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States.”

So would this newest proposal.

Sounds to me like North Carolina is setting the stage to try once again to secede from the United States of America.

Shades of the 19th Century, the Civil War and Post-Civil War era.  Climate change. Marriage rights. Religious freedom.

North Carolina. Really! What Kool-Aid HAVE you been drinking?!