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Voter IDAttorneys in the voting rights cases will be back in federal court in Winston-Salem tomorrow morning, asking U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder to order that state lawmakers must release e-mail and other communications related to the passage of North Carolina’s sweeping voter suppression law. Lawmakers have so far refused to do so, citing “legislative immunity.”

“What exactly are they hiding?” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “North Carolinians have a right to know the thinking and motivation behind lawmakers’ decision to make it harder for them to vote. Instead, legislators are concealing their intentions and cloaking their process in secrecy. The people deserve better.”

The state NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Justice Department filed separate lawsuits in federal court in Greensboro shortly after Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 589, contending that the new law’s voter ID and other provisions violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The court has since consolidated those actions and set them for trial in summer 2015, but the judge has indicated that he will consider suspending the voting changes for the November 2014 elections.

The parties are now knee-deep in the discovery process, and in December plaintiffs subpoenaed several GOP lawmakers, asking them to produce documents they received or sent relating to the voting changes ultimately passed by the General Assembly.

Among the documents sought are communications with constituents, state agencies, lobbyists and political organizations regarding the reasons for voting law changes; studies and reports on voter fraud, race and ethnicity of voters; and analyses of costs associated with administering the new provisions.

State lawmakers’ files may be one of the few sources of proof for plaintiffs hoping to prove that those legislators had a discriminatory purpose in enacting House Bill 589 – a critical element in proving plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and in obtaining future preclearance relief under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

Emails disclosed in the 2011 Texas redistricting battle, for example, revealed that lawmakers there contemplated drawing voting lines in a way that might diminish the Hispanic vote.

But legislators here have asked the court to quash the subpoenas, claiming that they are completely protected from suit by virtue of the doctrine of “legislative immunity,” which, they say, “encompasses all aspects of the legislative process and forbids plaintiffs from seeking any production at all from the legislative movants.”

Read more about the cases, and the dispute before the court tomorrow here.

 

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In an editorial last week, the Wall Street Journal went after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for suing North Carolina over voting law changes enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly in June, calling his efforts to bail the state back into federal supervision under the still-viable Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act a backdoor tactic with little chance of success.

Putting aside the fact that the Attorney General challenges several of the changes — shortening of the early voting period, for example, or the elimination of provisional ballots for those who vote in the wrong precinct — the Journal argues that Holder is out of luck because courts elsewhere have approved voter ID laws.

Courts have already reviewed similar laws in other states and found them legal. In 2008, in a 6-3 decision written by liberal former Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter ID law. In 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the Peach State’s voter ID law was constitutional, calling its photo ID requirements a “minimal, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory restriction.” Thirty-four states now require voters to show some form of photo ID. Read More

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If you’re looking for a quick read capturing the lay-of-the-land of the state’s new voting law changes, see this morning’s Atlantic Wire:

. . . No state’s action has been more dramatic than North Carolina’s, whose legislature last week passed what election-law experts have characterized as the most draconian and restrictive registration and voting law in the country.

“It’s just an audacious attempt on the part of Republicans to suppress the vote, it’s just about as blatant as you can imagine,” says Rep. David Price, a Democrat who represents the state’s Research Triangle area, which includes Duke and the University of North Carolina. “You do wonder how they felt they could get away with it.”

The North Carolina law is a grab bag of bad ideas. It not only institutes a government-issued photo-ID requirement for voting, similar to the Texas law, but also eliminates same-day voter registration and requires voters to register or update their address at least 25 days ahead of the election; reduces the early voting period by a week; abolishes a program to register high-school students in advance of their 18th birthdays; empowers partisan poll watchers with greater authority to challenge voters; and eliminates out-of-precinct voting. The law also weakens candidate disclosure and fundraising rules, thereby allowing unlimited corporate donations and abolishing the requirement that candidates endorse their own television ads.

“I’ve never seen a bill like North Carolina that makes it harder to register and vote – it’s very brazen,” says Richard Hasen, an election-law specialist and professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine. Hasen believes the law is so bad there will be a judicial and public backlash to overturn it and possibly the GOP legislature which passed it. “This will be seen as an overreach .… It’s going to be challenged and some of its provisions will be struck down,” he predicted.

Even the state’s Libertarian Party is outraged, aptly summing up what’s been done in this statement:

“Republicans claim to be the party of limited government. Now we see what that term really means: when Republicans say limited government, they apparently mean government limited to them and their supporters.”

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will announce today that the Justice Department is renewing enforcement of the Voting Rights Act in an effort to blunt the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Washington Post is reporting.  That includes a possible DOJ lawsuit against North Carolina over the voting law changes pending in the General Assembly.

The decision to challenge state officials marks an aggressive effort to continue policing voting rights issues and follows a ruling by the court last month that invalidated a critical part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Justices threw out Section 5 of the landmark act, which protects minority voters by requiring certain states with a history of discrimination to be granted Justice Department or court approval before making voting law changes.

The DOJ attack will include efforts to “bail-in” jurisdictions having discriminatory voting laws, subjecting them to preclearance — as permitted under Section 3 of the Act.  The first test of that tactic will come in a pending Texas redistricting case — discussed in our story yesterday — where challengers have asked the court to consider their bail-in claim. The department will support that request and will likewise ask the judge there to require Texas to submit all voting law changes to the Justice Department for approval for a ten-year period because of its history of discrimination.

“It’s a pretty clear sign that a lawsuit against the Texas voter-ID law is also on the way,” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, said in the Post. Miller said Justice may also sue North Carolina if that state passes a new voter ID law.

 

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gov jan brewerRepublican Governor Jan Brewer is expanding Medicaid in Arizona under Obamacare for some very practical reasons (excerpt below from the Yuma Sun):

“In the end, Brewer felt she could not turn away nearly $8 [b]illion in federal assistance over the next four years, creating and saving thousands of jobs and protecting rural and “safety-net” hospitals, she said.

“Our hospital presidents and CEOs understand the growing cost they face in providing care for the uninsured. These costs are real and they are not just absorbed to the hospital’s bottom line. No, ultimately they are passed down to Arizona families” through premium increases, Brewer said.

“With my plan, we can not only begin to get a handle on these costs, we can throw a lifeline and a safety net to rural hospitals like Yuma Regional Medical Center,” she said.

In addition, Brewer said, the federal funds are needed for the state to remain competitive on national and global basis.  “I’ve never been a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. I’m uneasy with the federal government playing such a role in private individuals’ health-care decisions,” she noted.

But the decision was not about whether or not the law should exist. “It’s the law of the land. Our decision is about whether we will take the action that most benefits Arizona families and businesses,” she said.”