Attorney General Eric Holder this week called on states to do away with arcane laws that prohibit more than 6 million felons, most of whom are people of color, from voting in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center. "Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives," Holder said in the speech. "They could not vote."
Currently, four states disenfranchise for life those convicted of felonies, and seven states permanently disenfranchise those with at least some kind of criminal convictions. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow those convicted of crimes to vote without restrictions.
Holder characterized these state policies as the remnants of the racist Jim Crow system in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War, in which states enacted laws to control and oppress people of color oand to keep them from voting.
"It is important to remember that these laws disenfranchising people with criminal convictions have some of their roots in some of our country's most shameful past and serve to prevent communities of color from translating their numbers into a free and fair and accurate percentage of the voting population," said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "It is an important recognition of the fact that goals of reintegration are not furthered by having people who cannot participate in our body politic."
According to a 2009 Brennan Center study, the restoration of voting right to felons would not only contribute to a more robust democracy and the advancement of civil rights, but also would aid law enforcement and ensure fair and accurate voter rolls by relieving the administrative problems that accompany disenfranchisement polices.
"The act of voting is pregnant with so many good virtues that it totally stands to reason that people who engage in those good virtues are going to be people who are more successful when they are reintegrated," Pérez said.
But the states don’t have to adhere to Holder’s calls for change because state law sets the rules by which people can vote, which has caused the Obama administration great consternation on other voting rights issues such as voter identification laws, which have been shown to prevent people of color and the poor from going to the polls. Holder, in August 2013, called for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
Since Holder’s Tuesday speech, Republican leaders have indicated they are not willing to budge on their state policies, with Frank Collins, a spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, telling The New York Times that Holder’s speech "has no effect on Florida’s Constitution, which prescribes that individuals who commit felonies forfeit their right to vote."
And the idea that Holder’s speech is simply scratching at the surface of the issue to pay lip service to civil rights and mass incarceration without seriously addressing the problems certainly holds water for some. Bruce A. Dixon, managing editor of theBlack Agenda Report who also serves on the state committee for the Georgia Green Party, said the speech was another indicator of what he called the black political establishment’s complacency with issues of mass incarceration.
"Their concern with the issue is like drive-by deep. If they can get away with making a few pronouncements, and keeping people on the hook so that they’ll line up and vote for the Democrats again in the next year, than that’s all they’ll do," Dixon said. "They don’t really have any skin in the game in any important way . . . they’re not trying to shrink the numbers of people in prison."
Dixon pointed to the track record of political officials, like Holder, who he says have done little to rein in organizations like the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys, which has issued statements defending policies widely held to contribute to the mass incarceration of people of color.
"If Holder and his bosses really meant to do anything about mass incarceration they could make heads roll among these assistant US district attorneys, or they could engage in some public rhetoric against them to set the table for a national discussion of this stuff," Dixon said. "It’s really not just Eric Holder; it’s the entire black political class."
One sure route to enfranchise felons would be to pass the Democracy Restoration Act, cosponsored by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.). The bill would restore the right to vote to American citizens who are released from prison or serving probation sentences, but the bill has languished since it was introduced in 2009.
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is drafting a somewhat similar bill, the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, for restoration of voting rights for those convicted of nonviolent felonies. Rand opposes disenfranchisement law in Kentucky, which is among the states barring voting rights from felons for life.
Dixon argued for an amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee the right to vote to all. "Once you make the right to vote a Constitutional right, then that means no county court and no state government can make up laws that will impede it unless they fit federal guidelines. It also means that there will be uniform standards nationwide for how votes are counted and how elections are run."
Link to original article from Truthout
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission
Let’s say that at the end of the day, liberals face a choice: Which is worse, extended sequestration or a Grand Bargain that cuts Social Security and Medicare in exchange for new revenues, as Obama’s forthcoming budget seems designed to secure?
The massive federal budget cuts that will start Friday as part of the "sequester" will damage our economic recovery and mean fewer services here in Southern Arizona. Strip away the conservative economic theories and party-line rhetoric and that's the reality we're facing.
Comprehensive immigration reform could go down as one of the most overlooked, overdue priorities Washington has ever let slide.
Washington, D.C. – This morning 107 House Democrats – a majority of the House Democratic Caucus – wrote President Obama urging him to reject any proposals to cut the Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits millions of American families depend upon.
Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today highlighted the introduction by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.) of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, a bill to reinstate the law that protected women from domestic violence until the House Republican majority allowed it to lapse in 2011.
A coalition of more than 200 environmental and progressive groups is urging President Obama to nominate Rep. Raul Grijalva, an outspoken liberal, to be the next Interior Secretary.
Liberal House Democrats on Thursday warned Republicans and President Barack Obama that including a change to how the government calculates cost-of-living adjustments could serve as a poison pill for any fiscal deal.
Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today released the following statement on the potential inclusion of a so-called chained Consumer Price Index feature in the latest floated version of a financial agreement: “Federal law has always prohibited Social Security from contributing to the deficit. Any talk of shrinking the program to ‘save money’ is flawed from the start because Social Security is not part of the national budget...."
Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today released the following statement on the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“When a man kills twenty children and seven others for no reason other than his own demons, the immediate human response is the same anywhere: deep pain, grief, anger and frustration. In the United States, unfortunately, such a tragedy carries an added weight because it is not unique.
Washington, D.C. – A report released this morning by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), originally requested by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), highlights billions of dollars in lost public royalty revenue from oil and gas extraction on federal lands and describes glaring shortfalls in the data publicly available on hardrock mineral extraction on those lands.
Washington, D.C. – Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) today led 39 CPC members in introducing the Deal for All. The Deal for All presents the Caucus’ basic principles for resolving tax and budget issues Congress will need to address after the November election, and will serve as a framework for progressives during the negotiations.
Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act:
Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the seventy-six-member Congressional Progressive Caucus and one of the most powerful liberals in America, is no poster boy for Washington protocol. When he and his wife, Mona, arrived for his swearing-in ceremony in 2003, a man in military uniform met them at the airport and addressed him as “Congressman.” Grijalva, elected to represent Arizona’s Seventh District, promptly got the giggles.
Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva will host a press conference on Tuesday, March 27, to unveil a “friend of the court” brief in the Supreme Court’s Arizona v. United States case, which will decide the constitutionality of Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 law. The amicus curiae brief, co-signed by 67 of Rep. Grijalva’s House colleagues, argues that the law is unconstitutional because, as courts have held consistently, federal immigration law pre-empts any state-level standards.
The 2012 elections are an opportunity to turn things around here in Arizona.
The state's working people are sick and tired of the right-wing extremists who misgovern Arizona. Gov. Jan Brewer and the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature are at war against the people of Arizona.
When the president addresses the economy in the State of the Union, he needs to offer more than optimism, and I think he will. The conservative House majority is going to reject anything he offers sight unseen – that’s no secret – but that’s no reason for the president not to make a strong case to the country that he understands the problem and has a solution mapped out.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) and Democracy for America, a progressive PAC, have endorsed Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) in their 2012 reelection races.
Our guest on Newsmakers was Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He gives the House Progressives’ perspective on what’s next for deficit reduction, federal spending and legislative priorities overall, after the deficit "Super Committee" failed to come to an agreement. The Progressive Caucus said this week it will present its own plan for deficit reduction and jobs.
The Native American community has a long, troubled history with mining interests, and today that history is catching up with us in Arizona. From a new push for uranium mining at the Grand Canyon to the ongoing battle over Resolution Copper, it’s not too much to say my home state tribes are under siege.
Washington, D.C. – Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva and Keith Ellison today released the following statement on President Obama’s job creation and deficit reduction plan:
Listen "Live" Wednesday, 9/17/2014 @ 8pm
Rev. Lennox YearwoodSpecial Guest Bill McKibbenCall In Number 347-202-0385
On Friday, September 12th more than 150 activists will go to DC and Demand that their Senators and Representatives support removing the ratification deadline from the ERA (SJ Res 15 and HJ Res 113)