SCOTUS Minimus? Are all blacks entitled to vote in all states?

Memo to those who tend to minimize Supreme Court nominations: They matter! A number of recent 5-4 decisions… bears this out.

Right now the high court is dealing with a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Those folks who have been warning for the past decade that the act is in jeopardy now see their worst fears possibly borne out.

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At issue is one central provision of the act, the one that says certain states and municipalities must get federal approval prior to changes in voting procedures. This provision, known as Section 5, applies specifically to a number of southern states that in 1965 had a history of disenfranchising black voters. When Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006, they left the criteria for determining states included in Section 5 intact.

It is this hinge on which those who would gut the act now hang their hats. Make no mistake. It’s entirely possible, even likely this will be yet another 5-4 vote, this time in favor of finding Section 5 unconstitutional.

In questioning Wednesday, even those justices who are leaning toward that position are careful not to minimize the overall positive impact of the act. Instead, justices are asking questions about sovereignty. Is the sovereign dignity of Alabama, covered under Section 5 less than that of Ohio, which isn’t?

The Voting Rights Act was one piece of American legislation that moved this country out of the shadow of its racist legacy. It guaranteed a fundamental right of citizenship to those who were denied it simply because of the color of their skin. While it’s true that great strides have been made, there have been naked efforts over the past few years to erode those very same rights.

Voter ID laws, the abrupt closure of polling sites without proper notice to voters and other attempts at backdoor disenfranchisement still exist.

One wonders if the court will consider whether the federal government has ever abused its power under Section 5. Are there concrete examples of the government tyranny in considering states and cities changes to voting laws? (BTW, parts of New York City fall under Section 5). There is also a bailout provision that some counties in Virginia have already used.

So why gut the Voting Rights Act? Why not leave Section 5 intact, with a strong recommendation that Congress review its provisions with an eye toward updating them periodically? Theoretically, that could happen, but right now it doesn’t appear it will.

What do you think. Post a comment here. Should the Supreme Court blow up the 1965 Voting Rights Act?

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Specter Switches from Repub to Democrat – Principle or Self Preservation?

For a lot of Democrats, it doesn’t matter whether Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter became a Democrat for ideological or selfish reasons. Chances are… it was both anyway.

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The long serving Republican maverick has been alienated from his party for quite some time now. The deal breaker was his decision to support President Barack Obama on the stimulus bill. That prompted RNC boss Michael Steele to wonder aloud if such treachery should be followed by a stiff, well funded primary challenge when Specter runs for re-election next year.

No such worries now. Specter has already received assurances from Democratic bigwigs that the party will back him to the hilt next year. President Obama has pledged to campaign for him. And of course, Specter’s switch, the 21st among senators since 1890, now allows him to paint the likely Republican senate nominee, former Rep. Pat Toomey, as too conservative for Pennsylvania voters.

If you do the math, Democrats are now one final court case away from holding a veto proof majority in the Upper House. If, as expected, Al Franken is finally seated as Minnesota’s junior senator, there will be that magic 60 the Obama Administration has doubtless prayed for. There will still be work to be done to get major legislation passed, no doubt. Still, this makes the prospects easier.

It also has daunting implications for the GOP. It removes one of their major talking points, the possibility of using reconciliation to move past possible Republican filibusters. Yet there’s a deeper meaning here. It makes the GOP’s alleged “big tent” look small. It further marginalizes a party that’s already out of power.

There could well be increased calls for Michael Steele’s head, calls that glib, pseudo-hip sound bites won’t quiet. And it all could have been avoided if conservative blowhards in both Congress and the media hadn’t acted as if Specter’s vote on the stimulus bill amounted to some sort of high treason.

So let’s see now. We’re in midweek, and already a powerful Republican senator has jumped ship, and the Senate paid no attention to Sarah Palin fans who vowed to derail Kathleen Sebelius‘ nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary.

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In baseball parlance, that’s oh for two. The GOP echo chamber will doubtless use today’s first 100 days hoopla to pound on Obama and all things Democrat. The real question is, will anyone be paying attention?

Somehow those tea parties seem like a long time ago.

You tell me. Post your comment …here: How important is Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democrats?

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Jet Photo-Op Over NYC- What Were They Thinking?

It  was supposed to be a photo opportunity, a 747, one of two used as Air Force One, flying over the Statue of Liberty. Trouble is, a combination of secrecy and New York City’s collective muscle memory turned it into a public relations disaster. For about a half hour after the workday began Monday, that plane, escorted by an F-16 fighter, flew frighteningly low over the city. For many, it was a nightmarish reminder of 9-11.

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Workers poured out of their office buildings. Some lower Manhattan buildings were completely evacuated. Windows reportedly shook in their frames as the planes passed by. And for what? So someone could take a picture of the 747 flying over the Statue of Liberty? Who in the world gave this exercise the green light?

Worse still, the federal government threw a veil of secrecy around the fly-over. Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg wasn’t told by the one member of his staff that was notified (that hapless employee was reprimanded). The Department of Defense and FAA combined to joined forces to keep New Yorkers in the dark about a giant plane, accompanied by a fighter, flying 1500 feet over their heads. What were they thinking would be a charitable question, and one figures Mayor Bloomberg had a more blunt response once he was informed.

Even President Obama is being described as furious when he found out. No, he wasn’t actually on the plane. Of course, this sort of thing makes it look like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in his administration. Fly-overs for photo-ops might not look like the best use of the government’s time, what with the economy and swine flu and all.  However, we’re still waiting for an explanation as to why all the cloak and dagger, and why anyone thought this made sense.

In the end, two people ended up falling on their swords. The city official who knew and didn’t tell the mayor is one, the other is the director of the White House military office. Louis Caldera apologized for the whole mess, most likely at the behest of someone in the Obama inner circle.

All that is cold comfort for New Yorkers, especially those who remember a cloudless day almost eight years ago when their city was changed forever.

So you tell me. Does any of this make sense?

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