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Op-Ed

Proof that the Supreme Court Got it Wrong in Shelby

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George-E.-Curry
By George E. Curry
NNPA Columnist

 

When the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act nearly two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, many of us suspected that Chief Justice John Roberts in particular was distorting the severity of voting violations in jurisdictions covered by the act. As a popular GEICO commercial says, now we know.

We now know because of extensive research conducted by William R. Kenan, Jr., a professor at the California Institute of Technology, titled, “Do the Facts of Voting Rights Support Chief Justice Roberts’ Opinion in Shelby County?”

By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 4 of the law that requires certain jurisdictions with a proven history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any changes in their elections – such as redistricting, annexations and switching to at-large elections – with either the Justice Department or the federal District Court in Washington, D.C.

Despite renewals of the Voting Rights Act by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and a 25-year extension in 2006, Roberts contended that the preclearance provision was no longer needed.

Writing for the majority, Roberts said, “…. But history did not end in 1965. By the time the Act was reauthorized in 2006, there had been 40 more years of it. In assessing the ‘current need’ for a preclearance system that treats States differently from one another today, that history cannot be ignored. During that time, largely because of the Voting Rights Act, voting tests were abolished, disparities in voter registration and turnout due to race were erased, and African-Americans attained political office in record numbers. And yet the coverage formula that Congress reauthorized in 2006 ignores these developments, keeping the focus on decades-old data relevant to decades-old problems, rather than current data reflecting current needs.”

However, as Kenan points out in his research, “Neither the Chief Justice nor any scholars or civil rights proponents or opponents have systematically examined the evidence on the entire pattern of proven voting rights violations over time and space.”

Kenan examined the issue by compiling what he called the largest such database in existence, including numerous maps to make his point.

“Congress in 2006 was not presented with maps or other documents that laid out the pattern of proven voting rights infractions so starkly, but it received plentiful evidence in the form of lists and discussions of cases that showed that the problems were still overwhelmingly concentrated in the South and that discrimination continued to be widespread,” he wrote.

“And the map would have shown that the number of voting rights infractions had increased, not decreased, compared to the earlier period.”

Kenan explained, “An objective observer in 2006 comparing the number and location of all successful voting rights events in the period since the last renewal in 1982 with the events of the years from 1957 to 1981 would conclude that Section 5 needed to be renewed, and that the coverage scheme still fit the problem remarkably well, hitting the target about 94% of the time. Even among Section 2 cases, which could be filed anywhere in the country, 83.2% of the successful cases from 1982 through 2005 originated in covered jurisdictions.”

Roberts was joined by the court’s conservative majority, including Clarence Thomas. As usual, Thomas asked no questions during the proceedings. In his concurring opinion, he stated, “I join the Court’s opinion in full but write separately to explain that I would find Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional as well.”

That comes as no surprise. But what did come as a surprise, as I have written here, was that the National Black Chamber of Commerce (not to be confused with the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.), established by Harry C. Alford and his wife, Kay, filed a brief in support of Shelby County mirroring the objections raised by John Roberts.

In its shameful friend-of-the court brief, it claimed, “Section 5 is no longer necessary to combat widespread and persistent discrimination in voting and now, perversely serves as an impediment to racial neutrality in voting and to the empowerment of state and local officials who represent minority constituencies.”

The research undercuts the premise advanced by John Roberts and Harry Alford’s group and notes the role courts play in undermining access to the ballot box.

Professsor Kenan wrote, “…by rendering decisions that make it easier or harder to bring and win voting rights cases or make objections, the Supreme Court can, in effect, manipulate the evidence of discrimination, which it can then use, in a second stage, to justify a decision to further weaken or strengthen the tools. It can create the reality that it subsequently reacts to. The Rehnquist and Roberts Courts have done exactly that.”

 

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.

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Commentary

A Politician’s Shameless Bigotry

Witness North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. He abuses his position of authority to insult and demean people. But when he gets criticized for making harmful comments, he whines that he’s the real victim. 

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There’s an old saying about bullies: they can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

Witness North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. He abuses his position of authority to insult and demean people. But when he gets criticized for making harmful comments, he whines that he’s the real victim.

People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch recently began reporting on Robinson’s cruel and offensive comments. This summer, Robinson told one audience that Christians must take control of public schools because “there’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be teaching any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth.” In another speech, Robinson mocked transgender people and denounced the transgender rights movements as “demonic” and “full of the spirit of antichrist.”

Fortunately, a lot of people have called Robinson out. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Robinson’s comments “abhorrent.” The White House called them “repugnant and offensive.” Multiple state legislators have called on him to resign.

Robinson should be ashamed of himself. But he’s not. He is puffed up with pride about promoting bigotry. He is promising to “double down.” And that’s dangerous. Robinson’s comments send a message to students and everyone else that trans people are not worthy of being treated with respect or dignity.

Robinson’s comments are part of a long and ugly history of politicians smearing LGBTQ people as threats to children. Those smears promote hatred and violence. Deadly violence against transgender people, especially Black trans women, has been on the rise in recent years.

Robinson’s attacks are also part of a broader right-wing campaign to demonize public schools for teaching about racism and promoting acceptance of LGBTQ students. Robinson says schools are teaching students “how to hate America” and “how to go to Hell.”

He has defended himself by claiming that inappropriate materials are being “forced” on children in classrooms, but his charges don’t hold up to scrutiny. Some of the books that he complains about are reportedly not being taught in classrooms but are available in some high school libraries.

 

More importantly, Robinson claims to oppose “indoctrination” in public schools. But in his remarks to right-wing political activists in September, he said that school shootings would be prevented if public schools taught students, “Jesus Christ is the way and the light, and only through him can you receive salvation.”

In fact, Robinson has a message for the millions of Americans who are not Christians: they don’t belong. At a gathering of religious-right political activists in September, Robinson declared that the United States is and always will be a Christian nation. He added, “If you don’t like it, I’ll buy your plane, train, or automobile ticket right up out of here. You can go to some place that’s not a Christian nation.”

I am a Christian. I revere the role the Black church has played in moving the U.S. toward justice. I am proud to be working side by side with religious leaders who are bringing their moral authority and prophetic voices to the struggle to defend voting rights. I was proud to be arrested alongside these leaders recently as we demonstrated at the White House.

But I don’t want public schools to teach religious doctrine. And I don’t want public officials misusing religion as an excuse for using cruelty to divide us.

Like a lot of politicians, Robinson clearly has a very high opinion of himself. At a political conference in September, he compared himself to Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. He also made it clear that he would like to be North Carolina’s next governor. That’s the last thing the people of North Carolina need.

A politician who uses their office to promote bigotry doesn’t deserve to hold office.

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Op-Ed

Compassion in Oakland on Display in “This Is Life With Lisa Ling” Episode on Vincent Chin

The show focused on the Vincent Chin case, the famous Asian American hate crime that took place in Detroit in 1982.

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photo courtesy of broadway world

African Americans and Asian Americans working together in the past and the present? There were some good examples on last Sunday’s premier episode of CNN’s “This is Life with Lisa Ling.”

The show focused on the Vincent Chin case, the famous Asian American hate crime that took place in Detroit in 1982.

I’ve covered or written about the case most of my journalistic career. This CNN episode is a ‘must see,’ especially for younger people, or people who may still be wondering what the big deal is about Vincent Chin.

I’ve always admired Ling’s work. But what makes the episode stand out is her choice to tell Chin’s story through the life of author Helen Zia.

Helen and I are friends. And I will never forget all the kind words she’s said about me at times in my life when things were on the line. But I didn’t realize she worked in the auto industry before she made her mark as a journalist and author.

I’ve talked to Helen over the years about Chin, and you can hear our conversation on my 2017 podcast.

https://www.aaldef.org/blog/emil-guillermo-lessons-from-vincent-chin-murder-35-years-ago-podcast-helen-zia/

On last Sunday’s CNN show, I never saw Helen tell the Chin case so clearly and eloquently. Maybe that’s because in most stories about Chin, the devastating impact of Japan on the Detroit auto industry in the late ’70s and early ‘\’80s is usually covered in a paragraph. This Ling episode gives you a sense of that trade war through news clips of the times, and lets you see how easily it could have fueled the animus that erupted in the Chin case.

The violence was irrational as well, since Chin was Chinese, not Japanese. But that didn’t matter to auto worker Ronald Ebens, who murdered Chin.

The episode has Ebens in an old film clip saying he fully expected jail time for beating Chin to death. The fact that he didn’t serve time at all further shows the travesty in the case.

The episode also covers what Zia shared with me in 2017—that the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild originally balked at supporting the efforts of Asian Americans to seek justice at the federal level.

“They said, ‘you know, this has nothing to do with race because Vincent Chin is not Black,’” Zia said in the episode. “So civil rights laws only protect Black people, and we said ‘No, Vincent Chin’s civil rights should be protected as well.’”

It’s an eye-opening realization that in 1982, less than 20 years after the Civil Rights Act, the nation was still in a Black/white paradigm that excluded Asian Americans.

But Zia’s advocacy group, American Citizens for Justice, got support from the Black community, notably the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“We must redefine America,” Jackson said in a video clip. “So, everyone fits in the rainbow somewhere.”

It was the signal for a coalition to make its pitch to the Justice Department to take action in the Chin case.

“Every religion and walk of life came together,” said Zia. “Black, white, Latinx, LGBT, Jewish, Muslim saying ‘we are with you, we stand for you.’”

It’s the spirit of coalition we still need to this day. Sure enough, there’s a segment featuring a group, Compassion in Oakland, that reaches out to help escort Asian seniors in Oakland’s Chinatown.

“I grew up in this area,” says Kenyatta, 22, a volunteer, in the episode. “Seeing all the attacks on the news was breaking my heart.”

It’s a nice cap to the entire episode, which links Chin’s death, to Asian hate, to a community’s response. It shows how good things can happen when BIPOC communities work in the spirit of coalition and cooperation.

We can ease each other’s pain, if we care for one another first.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Black History

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis Pioneered Diversity in Foreign Service

UC Berkeley Grad Continues to Bring International Economic Empowerment for Women

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Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (left) is meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis was recently named as a distinguished alumna by the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She also has been honored by the U.S. State Department when a conference room at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia was named in honor of her service as director of the Institute. She was the first African American to serve in that position.

Davis, a graduate of Spelman College received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1968.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a graduate of the School of Social Welfare, now chairs the House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. She praised Ambassador Davis as “a trailblazing leader and one of the great American diplomats of our time. Over her 40-year career, she had so many ‘firsts’ on her resume: the first Black director of the Foreign Service Institute, the first Black woman Director General of the Foreign Service, and the first Black woman to be named a Career Ambassador, to name just a few.

“She served all over the world, from Kinshasa to Tokyo to Barcelona, where she was consul general, and to Benin, where she served as ambassador,” Lee continued. “ I am so proud of her many accomplishments. She has represented the best of America around the world, and our world is a better place because of her service.”

During Davis’ 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she also served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau, and as distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University. She retired in 2009 as a Career Ambassador, the highest-level rank in Foreign Service.

Since her retirement, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen.

She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Gay Plair Cobb, former Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the Atlanta, and San Francisco offices, was Ambassador Davis’ roommate at UC Berkeley. Cobb said, “Ruth always exhibited outstanding leadership and a determined commitment to fairness, equal opportunity and activism, which we engaged in on a regular basis.”

Davis has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award (including from Gen. Colin Powell); the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges.

A native of Atlanta, Davis was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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