U.S. Politics

BREAKING: Illinois Governor Vetoes Law That Would Have Registered 2 Million Voters

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). CREDIT: AP Photo/Seth Perlman


Late Friday afternoon, Illinois’ Republican Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have made the state the sixth in the nation to automatically register millions of voters.

Rauner had expressed some support for the policy back in May, telling reporters: “I am a big fan of simplifying the voter registration process and trying to get everyone who should be able to vote, to get them registered and vote.”

By early August, he had a different view. While expressing support for the general idea of automatic voter registration, he wrote in his veto notice on Friday: “The consequences could be injurious to our election system.” Urging the legislature to make reforms to the bill before sending it back to him, he cited the threat of non-citizens registering to vote and casting ballots.

Yet study after study has found such voter fraud to be vanishingly rare, and recent federal court rulings asserted that the threat of illegal voting is not a serious enough justification for laws that make it harder for eligible voters to participate.

Illinois Poised To Automatically Register 2 Million Voters
This week, Illinois took a final step toward becoming the sixth state in the nation to approve a system where residents…thinkprogress.org

The non-partisan watchdog group Common Cause Illinois estimates the policy could help add two million new voters to the states rolls. In a statement Thursday, the group’s lead organizer Trevor Gervais accused the governor of “playing politics with something as important as voting rights.”

“He wants to delay implementation until 2019, after the next gubernatorial election,” Gervais said.

Because the Illinois state legislature passed the measure with anoverwhelming majority in early June, they can now vote to override the veto.

If they do, the state will launch a program in 2018 that automatically registers Illinois residents to vote every time they visit a Department of Motor Vehicles, office of Human Services, office of Healthcare and Family Services, the Secretary of State’s office, or an Employment Security office.

If Rauner had approved the bill, the state would have followed the lead ofOregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut, which have all approved the policy over the past few years. In Oregon, the only state so far where the policy has gone into effect, registration and voter participation have surged. The primary had one of the highest number of voters in Oregon’s history, second only to 2008’s historic election. The turnout rate also bested Kentucky’s, which held its primary that same day.

Illinois residents hope the policy could do the same for their state, which has seen dismally low turnout in recent elections, including the one that put Rauner in office. Advocates for the measure also say it will save the state money and make the voting rolls more accurate.

“When I go to the DMV and I’m asked if I want to register to vote, I currently have to fill out a separate form, by hand,” Christian Diaz with the organization Chicago Votes told ThinkProgress. “I then give it to a state worker who types the information from the paper sheet into the computer system, even though the government has already collected that same information. Human error also presents a huge issue. So this will make it a lot more efficient.”

But Illinois Republicans have complained that the policy makes political participation too easy.

“I think it’s important for the voter to have a little bit of initiative to do what they need to do and not just automatically be signed up,” said Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), adding that he worried if voters effortlessly registered, they wouldn’t do the work of educating themselves about the candidates on the ballot.

Alice Ollstein

U.S. Politics

5 Reasons This May Be The Worst Congress Ever

5 Reasons This May Be The Worst Congress Ever

U.S. House of Representatives at the start of the 114th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg


If you’re ever trying to decide which Congress is the worst in American history, start off with the 112th — in which a House majority was swept into power following a Tea Party “wave” election and promptly decided to hold the global economy captive by threatening to default on our debt if it didn’t get its way.

Unlike the Congress that passed George W. Bush’s tax cuts and authorized an endless War on Terror, at least this sabotage was purposeful.

In 2011, America was still crawling out of the economic mineshaft after a stern shove from Bush’s Great Recession. It was a textbook example — interest rates were low and the private sector was in tatters — of when government should be investing, not cutting.

Luckily, congressional Republicans decided to pull the gun away from their own heads. They still extracted their pound of flesh in cuts to essential programs. But rather than ask the rich to pay a cent more in taxes in exchange for cuts to Medicare and Social Security, they decided to wait for their chance to turn Medicare into a voucher program in order to pay for massive new tax breaks for the rich. This so-called “Path to Prosperity” plan was authored by Paul Ryan, now Speaker of possibly the worst House ever: the 114th.

Norm Ornstein, a non-partisan expert on the inner workings of Congress says it’s “no exaggeration” to call this one the worst ever. And sometimes even that description seems mild. Here’s why.



  1. Zika
    “The good news is that both the House and Senate have finally passed bills that would provide some funding to combat the Zika virus,” former Ebola Czar Ronald Klain wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post. “The bad news is this action comes more than three months after President Obama requested the aid. Moreover, the House bill provides only one-third of the respond needed; pays for this limited, ineffective response by diverting money allocated to fight other infectious diseases; and necessitates a conference committee to resolve differences with the Senate bill, meaning we still don not know when any money will finally get through Congress to fund the response.” We’ve seen this public health care crisis coming all year, but Republicans seem determined to let it get bad enough to use as a political tool, the way they did in 2014 with Ebola before quickly forgetting they ever wanted to shut down thousands of flights to fight the disease.
  2. Paralysis
    Republicans hold both houses of Congress and have the largest House majority since before FDR — yet they are still enthralled to the rightest of the right wing the self-proclaimed “Freedom Caucus,” conservatives from safe districts that are so white they have to wear sunblock in order to watch daytime TV. “Despite Paul Ryan’s many moves to accommodate Freedom Caucus members, bringing them into the leadership fold and consulting with them regularly, they have given him the middle finger on spending bills, holding firm against any change in the sequester numbers,” Ornstein notes. “And that, of course, puts Ryan right where Boehner was for several agonizing years. To get Freedom Caucus members to go along, Ryan will have to make concessions, which will lose other Republicans and allow Democrats to rip the bills apart with their own amendments.”
  3. Voting Rights Act
    When Republicans last had Control of a functional Congress, they did something admirable — renewing the Voting Rights Act with overwhelming majorities in both houses. Meanwhile conservative interests were using extra-legislative maneuvers to get right wing judicial activists to gut a law that protected the right to vote — “the crown jewel of American liberties,” according to Ronald Reagan — to those who’d historically been denied it. In 2013, after a flurry of voting restrictions that hadn’t been seen since before the VRA, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority gutted the crucial pre-clearance aspect of the law. Now we face, as The Nation‘s Ari Berman keeps pointing out, the first presidential election in 50 years without the protections of this law. The 114th Congress joins the 113th in infamy after doing absolutely nothing to restore protections that would have at least delayed suppressive laws like Virginia’s, which could keep Josephine Okiakpe, a 69-year-old African-American woman, from voting.
  4. Abandoning its duty to confirm appointments
    “The gaps on the executive side, which include key ambassadorships in critical countries and important posts in national security and homeland security, among others, are still overshadowed on the judicial side,” reports Ornstein. “There has been a huge spike in ‘judicial emergencies,’ which are formally designated by the courts when unconscionable delays in justice are caused by heavy workloads produced via court vacancies.”
  5. And the biggest dereliction of duty of all — the Supreme Court
    Republicans have rewritten history and precedent to deny President Obama’s centrist Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland even the dignity of consideration. “The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a successor from the time of nomination; on average, a nominee has been confirmed, rejected or withdrawn within 25 days,” The New York Times reports. “When Justice Antonin Scalia died, 342 days remained in President Obama’s term.” In 2011, House Republicans in their own ineptitude missed their chance to get the president to agree on a compromise agreement that would have infuriated his base. In 2016, if there’s any justice, they’ll end up rueing their chance to appoint a nominee Orrin Hatch once praised “as good as Republicans can expect from this administration.”


U.S. Politics

Alabama Is About To Make It Much Harder To Get A Voter ID



With Alabama’s Republican-controlled legislature refusing to consider any tax hikes, the state is preparing to take drastic measures to address its budget crisis — including shutting down all state parks and the vast majority of Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs). The proposal to close dozens of DMVs across the state — starting in rural areas — could hurt voters who need access to those offices in order to get the ID they need to cast a ballot.

Susan Watson, the executive director of the Alabama American Civil Liberties Union, told ThinkProgress this could put up yet another barrier to voting for the state’s lowest-income residents.

“They want to disenfranchise the most people possible,” she said. “It seems like they work hard to try to find ways to make it harder to vote. We have zero days of early voting. You aren’t allowed to vote absentee unless you’re out of the county or working more than 10 hours on Election Day. It’s already hard to get an ID if you are in a rural place and don’t have a DMV close to you. But if they shut these offices down, I’m wondering what people are supposed to do.”

The proposed budget leaves just four DMV offices in the state, in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile and Huntsville, meaning potentially several hours of driving and long lines for the tens of thousands of people who live far from those cities.

“This won’t just hurt voters,” said Watson. “I can see a lot more people getting arrested and fined for not having a current drivers license, since it’ll be harder for them to get one.”

Alabama implemented its voter ID law shortly after the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required the state get preapproval from the Justice Department every time it changed its voting laws because of its long history of racially-based and often violent voter suppression. The ACLU and other voting rights groups argue the law disproportionately burdensthe elderly, people of color, students, and the poor — who may have difficulty finding transportation to an office during the narrow hours they are open, and who may lack a birth certificate or other document needed to get the free identification card.

The state itself estimated that 250,000 eligible voters lacked the proper ID, but gave out only about 1,000 as of last April.

In the 2014 midterm elections, hundreds of voters were disenfranchised by the ID requirement, and election turnout was the lowest it has been since the mid-1980s. As an example of the law’s harm, Watson cited the case of Willie Mims, a 93-year-old African American Alabama resident who was turned away from the polls last year because he didn’t have a proper ID. Mims had voted in nearly every election since World War II.

But Ed Packard, Alabama’s Director of Elections, defended the law, telling ThinkProgress that if the DMVs close, voters can still go to their Board of Registrar’s office in their county, or meet up with the mobile unit that travels around the state processing voter IDs. But he also admitted the Registrar offices have no evening or weekend hours, which presents difficulties for those with full-time jobs or multiple jobs. As for the mobile unit, it generally visits just one county per day and is open for just two hours at a time. Though Packard says his office plans to keep running the mobile unit through October, he told ThinkProgress that the future of the service is uncertain because of the current budget crisis.

As it becomes more difficult to get a voter ID, the state may demand more people obtain one. Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill told ThinkProgress earlier this year that he is pushing for the state to require a photo copy of an ID from those who vote absentee — who currently do not have to provide one. He added that Alabama residents should “forgive people” for past racial voter suppression policies and “move on.”

The state legislature will decide whether to go forward with the budget cuts and office closures during a special session in the coming weeks.


U.S. Politics

Obama Calls Republican Laws That Take Away The Right To Vote A Disgrace

Obama right to vote


President Obama took aim at Republican efforts to suppress the vote by calling their laws that make it more difficult to cast a ballot a disgrace.


The President said:

The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights of any democracy. Yet for too long, too many of our fellow citizens were denied that right, simply because of the color of their skin.

Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson signed a law to change that. The Voting Rights Act broke down legal barriers that stood between millions of African Americans and their constitutional right to cast ballot. It was, and still is, one of the greatest victories in our country’s struggle for civil rights.

But it didn’t happen overnight. Countless men and women marched and organized, sat in and stood up, for our most basic rights. For this they were called agitators and un-American, they were jailed and beaten. Some were even killed. But in the end, they reaffirmed the idea at the very heart of America: that people who love this country can change it.

Our country is a better place because of all those heroes did for us. But as one of those heroes, Congressman John Lewis, reminded us in Selma this past March, “There’s still work to be done.” Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, there are still too many barriers to vote, and too many people trying to erect new ones. We’ve seen laws that roll back early voting, force people to jump through hoops to cast a ballot, or lead to legitimate voters being improperly purged from the rolls. Over the years, we have seen provisions specifically designed to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. In a democracy like ours, with a history like ours, that’s a disgrace. 

That’s why, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, I’m calling on Congress to pass new legislation to make sure every American has equal access to the polls. It’s why I support the organizers getting folks registered in their communities. And it’s why, no matter what party you support, my message to every American is simple: get out there and vote – not just every four years, but every chance you get. Because your elected officials will only heed your voice if you make your voice heard.

The promise that all of us are created equal is written into our founding documents – but it’s up to us to make that promise real. Together, let’s do what Americans have always done: let’s keep marching forward, keep perfecting our union, and keep building a better country for our kids.

President Obama hasn’t just talked the talk on voting rights. He’s walked the walk. The Department of Justice has been very aggressive in combating Republican efforts at the state level to suppress the vote.

It was telling that there was a single mention of voting rights during both of the Fox News debates. If you are a person of color, poor, disabled, or live in an urban area, Republicans want to make it more difficult for you to vote. It is also ironic that the a political party which wraps itself in the rhetoric of liberty is so comfortable violating the liberties of others. Democrats aren’t going to allow Republicans to rig elections by making voting difficult for so many Americans.

President Obama has a historic legacy of accomplishment, but one of his efforts that has been least discussed is how he has battled Republicans to protect the right to vote.

Jason Easley

U.S. Politics

GOP Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of The Voting Rights Act With Coded Call For More Voter Suppression

Alabama state troopers fire tear gas at civil rights marchers seeking the right to vote | AP PHOTO FILE


The Republican National Committee issued a statement on Thursday praising a law that Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have hobbled and that Republican officials have actively sought to undermine through state laws that disenfranchise racial minorities. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s statement on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act even contains a coded call for more laws making it harder to Americans to cast a ballot.

The statement is drafted as if Republicans support the Voting Rights Act — a law they did actually support as recently as 2006, when Congress almost unanimously renewed the law. “We owe a great deal to those who stood up to discrimination, threats of violence and even death to push for the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” Priebus’s statement begins. The very next sentence, however, contains coded language which Republicans frequently use to describe laws that place barriers in the way of Americans seeking to vote: “Every citizen should have the chance to vote in our elections while we also work to ensure the integrity of the voting process by preventing things such as mistakes, fraud and confusion.”

Supporters of laws restricting the franchise frequently cite the need to protect voter “integrity” and prevent “fraud” at the polls in order to justify these laws. The conservative Heritage Foundation, for example, released talking points in 2014 seeking to defend some common proposals that create barriers to the franchise. Their first talking point was “[e]nsuring the security and integrity of the election process is critical to maintaining our democratic republic,” the second one was “Congress and the states should guarantee that every eligible individual can vote and that no person’s vote is negated by fraud.”

Similarly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) defends his state’s voter ID law as “a common sense reform that protects the integrity of our voting process.” Armed law enforcement officers raided a group called Houston Votes, which registered low-income voters, as part of an investigation spearheaded by then-Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott’s (R) office. Though no charges were filed, Abbott’s aides defended the raid as an effort to “preserve the integrity of the ballot box” and to prevent voter fraud. When North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed omnibus legislation compiling multiple different restrictions on voting, the chair of the North Carolina Republican Party praised it as a tool seeking to address “massive potential voter fraud” and “protect the integrity of the ballot box.”

Yet, while Republicans and their allies are quick to warn about voter fraud and threats to voter integrity, reality does not match their rhetoric. Voter ID laws, for example, typically address just one form of voter fraud: voter impersonation at the polls. But such impersonation is only slightly more common than unicorns and dragons. A Wisconsin study of the 2004 election found just seven cases of fraud out of 3 million votes cast — and none of these seven cases involved voter impersonation at the polls. An investigation by former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R) found zero cases of in-person voter fraud over the course of several elections.

Laws such as voter ID, in other words, potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, yet they address a problem that is little more than an illusion.

Because the voter suppression tactics supported by many Republicans often have a disproportionate impact on voters of color, the Voting Rights Act’s protections against racial voter discrimination are serious obstacles to efforts to implement these tactics. Indeed, on Wednesday, a federal appeals court held that Texas’s voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act.

Republicans, meanwhile, have done more to undermine the Voting Rights Act in the last three years then all of the slings and arrows hurled at the law by the Jim Crow South. All five Republicans on the Supreme Court joined a 5-4 decision gutting one of the law’s core provisions in 2013. And, while a bill seeking to restore much of the law received nominal support from Republicans in Congress, Republican leaders did not even schedule a hearing on this bill.

Earlier this year, a group of Democrats introduced a stronger version of the bill. In an interview with The Nation’s Ari Berman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) explained that the previous version was weaker because “[w]e made compromises to get [Republican] support and they didn’t keep their word.” Leahy has not found a single Republican co-sponsor for either version of the bill responding to the Supreme Court’s attack on the Voting Rights Act.

Thursday evening, just hours after the RNC released Priebus’s statement, ten candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will meet on a debate stage. They include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has “worked to restrict where and when state residents can register to vote, vote early, and vote absentee.” They’ll also include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who carried out voter purge shortly before the election and Supreme Court decision that handed the presidency to Bush’s brother. Wisconsin Gov. Walker, of course, signed his state’s voter ID law. On the day that the justices handed down their decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act, Sen. Ted Cruz attacked that act for subjecting “democratically-elected state legislatures to second-guessing by unelected federal bureaucrats.”


Voter Supression

‘Selma Is Now’: John Legend’s Momentous Oscar Speech

Credit: YouTube Screenshot

Think Progress

John Legend and Common won the Academy Award for best original song for “Glory” from the movie Selma, which chronicled Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for the Voting Rights Act.

Legend took the opportunity to remind the audiece that the struggle continues. “We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today,” Legend said. “Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.”

(Video is no longer available:  “This video contains content from AMPAS Oscars, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.“)

Selma depicts events that took place 50 years ago. But in just the last two years there has been a stunning assault on voting rights in the United States:

[T]he very rights championed by King have been eroded since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 which effectively struck down the heart of Johnson’s Voting Rights Act.

The high court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder opened the doors for nine Southern states to change their election laws without federal approval. In the year and a half since the decision, courts have heard a number of cases about the constitutionality of newly passed voter ID legislation and other methods of voter suppression, while voters across the country have faced increased barriers to casting their ballots.

Immediately after the Supreme Court struck down the provisions against restrictive voting legislation by ruling that Section 5 of the VRA no longer blocks discriminatory voting changes, states across the country moved forward with laws that were previously blocked. In the first year after the decision, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia all made previously forbidden changes to their voting laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

More on Selma’s missing epilogue.

Attorney General Eric Holder

This Is What Eric Holder’s Legacy Will Be

The Huffington Post

Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold the top law enforcement position in the United States, announced on Thursday that he plans to step down from his position as soon as a successor can be confirmed. If he remains in office until December, Holder will become the third longest-serving Attorney General in the history of the United States. Here are some key components of his legacy.

He decided not to defend DOMA

The Obama administration initially defended the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages. At first, Holder maintained that while the administration disagreed with the law, it was the Justice Department’sresponsibility to defend the laws that Congress had passed. (Some of the briefs written by Justice Department lawyers arguing that DOMA was constitutional were considered offensive by gay rights organizations.)

But Holder’s analysis changed. He announced in February 2011 that the Justice Department would no longer defend components of the statute because DOMA “contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships — precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution’s) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed, ruling in June 2013 that key portions of DOMA were unconstitutional.

He lost the fight to bring the Sept. 11 trial out of Guantanamo Bay and into New York City

In one of the biggest disappointments of his tenure, Holder ultimately lost the fight to try the key perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks in federal court in New York City. The plan, first announced by Holder in Nov. 2009, faced stiff resistance from many politicians in New York who feared the impact a high-profile trial would have on the city. Others objected because they believed that a military commission was a more appropriate venue for the terrorism trial. Holder ultimately announced he was reversing his decision to try the cases in New York and moved them back to the military commission in Guantanamo.

While the process in Guantanamo has hit numerous roadblocks, Holder’s Justice Department has gathered a string of wins against other terror suspects in federal court. Holder has remarked that the Sept. 11 defendants “would be on death row as we speak” if the case had been allowed to proceed in federal court.

He helped turn around the Civil Rights Division and fought for voting rights

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was heavily politicized during the Bush administration. A 2008 inspector general report found the conservative leadership had hired lawyers with little to no civil rights experience into positions due to their ideological beliefs. The environment caused a massive exodus in the Civil Rights Division: more than 70 percent of its attorneys left between 2003 and 2007. Holder, who has long made civil rights a top priority, was widely credited with overseeing the turnaround of the division.

“I think Eric Holder put the ‘J’ back in DOJ, and in particular he restored the luster of the crown jewel which is the Civil Rights Division, and I had the privilege of having a front-row seat for that,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who headed the Civil Rights Division from 2009 to 2013, told The Huffington Post after Holder’s announcement on Thursday.

Holder oversaw several of the Justice Department’s successful voting rights lawsuits during President Barack Obama’s first term, as well as the agency’s continued efforts after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. DOJ is currently involved in several voting rights cases, including high-profile suits against voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas.

He addressed racism head on.

Shortly after his confirmation in 2009, Holder delivered a speech to Justice Department employees at an event commemorating Black History Month. In his remarks, he called out the U.S. as a “nation of cowards” when it comes to addressing race. He said Americans believe that “certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

Those words echoed throughout Holder’s tenure at the DOJ as he fought back against laws that suppressed voting and defended the Voting Rights Act. He stepped in to request federal oversight of the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-friskpolicy, a program that has overwhelmingly targeted black and Latino individuals. More recently, he ordered a civil rights investigation into the largely white police force in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson.

“Will we yet again turn a blind eye to the hard truths that Ferguson exposed?” Holder asked during a speech this week, echoing his 2009 remarks. “Or will we finally accept this mandate for open and honest dialogue?”

He oversaw a crackdown on leaks and disappointed civil liberties advocates

Under Holder, the Justice Department has aggressively — some would say obsessively — pursued government leakers. Eight have been charged with violating the draconian Espionage Act of 1917, more than under all previous administrations combined. Journalists have also come under the gun: Holder’s DOJ subpoenaed AP reporters’ phone logs in a leak investigation, named a Fox News reporter as an “un-indicted co-conspirator” in another case, and is still trying to force Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about his sources under threat of jail time.

All of that led Risen to call Holder’s boss, Obama, “the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

One of the leakers charged, Edward Snowden, revealed another disappointment for civil liberties advocates: the DOJ’s intimate role in coming up with the legal rationale that underlies the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The FBI’s frayed relationship with Muslim communities, meanwhile, has seen little improvement under Holder. The bureau has continued to use sting operations, which critics say are tantamount to entrapment, to arrest Muslims involved in bogus terror “plots.” And NPR reported on Wednesday that the racial profiling guidelines set to be released soon will still allow the FBI to “map” the demographics of Muslim communities.

Perhaps most worrying for many across the spectrum, it was Holder’s DOJ that came up with the “drone memos” — the legal justification that the Obama administration leaned on to kill al Qaeda propagandist and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen without a trial.

He released the so-called “torture memos,” but didn’t go after their authors — Shadee

Two months after assuming office in 2009, Holder moved to publicly release a series of previously classified “torture memos” from the Bush administration that sanctioned specific acts of torture, including waterboarding, for CIA use against al Qaeda suspects.

“There is no reason we cannot wage an effective fight against those who have sworn to harm us while we respect our most honored constitutional traditions,” Holder said in March 2009 after releasing nine previously classified Justice Department memos.

Despite the release, which faced significant pushback from senior intelligence officials, the attorney general’s office never brought criminal charges against any government officials investigated for their involvements in over 100 cases of severe prisoner abuse.

While crediting Holder in other areas, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero issued a statement on Thursday noting “profound disagreements with the Attorney General on national security issues.”

“During his tenure, DOJ approved the drone killing of an American far away from any battlefield, approved the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any of the Bush administration torturers, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined,” Romero said.

He became the first-ever cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress

In 2012, Holder became the only sitting cabinet member in history to be held in contempt of Congress after the White House claimed executive privilege over documents subpoenaed in relation to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched federal investigation intended to combat gun smuggling. The documents that the Justice Department refused to turn over related not to the actual operation, but rather to how DOJ responded once Congress began investigating the matter.

Holder later dismissed the vote — led by the Republican-controlled House — as political theater, calling it “a crass effort and a grave disservice to the American people.”

The White House also indicated in 2012 that Holder would not face any criminal charges in the matter since the documents being sought were protected by executive privilege.

He took on “draconian” drug sentences and slowly but surely scaled back the war on drugs.

In what Obama described as a “gutsy speech” in front of the American Bar Association in 2013, Holder outlined his plan for “sweeping, systemic changes” to how the Justice Department prosecutes drug-related offenses. While Holder initially faced a lot of internal resistance from career federal prosecutors as he attempted to rein in the so-called war on drugs, he pressed ahead, pushing for changes like allowing low-level and nonviolent drug offenders to avoid “draconian” mandatory minimum sentences and permitting the early release of some elderly defendants.

He continued to push for sentencing reform in March, lending his support to aproposal that would reduce penalties for some drug offenders and help cut prison costs.

“This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable, it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate,” he said.

Holder has also urged first responders to carry the heroin overdose antidote naloxone.

He oversaw a crackdown on marijuana shops, but allowed state legalization to move forward

During the first term of the Obama administration, Holder oversaw an expansive federal crackdown on hundreds of state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries in states like Colorado and California, which was spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Agency and several U.S. attorneys.

But in a historic step, Holder announced in 2013 that DOJ would allow for Colorado and Washington to implement their groundbreaking new laws legalizing and regulating the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana.

While Holder never explicitly came out in favor of legalization or decriminalization, he has been more open to rescheduling marijuana, which is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I substance like heroin. Holder said the Obama administration would be “more than glad” to work with Congress to re-examine how cannabis is scheduled federally. He even said in April that he’s “cautiously optimistic”about how the historic changes in marijuana law were working out in Washington and Colorado.

And now, as he plans to step down from his post, he appears to be more open than ever to the possibility of classifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug. He said in an interview just this week that “we need to ask ourselves, whether or not marijuana is as serious of a drug as heroin” adding that science should be used to make that determination.

He reached big settlements on pollution cases

The DOJ reached a record $4 billion settlement with BP in November 2012 over criminal charges stemming from the 2010 oil spill, which dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That included charges related to the deaths of 11 workers on the rig and the “misconduct or neglect of ships’ officers.” The DOJ is still pursuing civil charges related to the spill, but the agency recently scored a big win when a federal judge ruled that BP was grossly negligent in allowing the spill to occur — a ruling that opens the door to up to $18 billion in civil penalties that could be levied against the company.

The DOJ topped its own record fine this year, however, with a $5.15 billion settlementin April 2014 with Anadarko Petroleum over a decades-long legacy of pollution left by one of its subsidiaries.

He failed to hold Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis

Holder’s legacy is likely to be marred by what critics view as DOJ’s lax approach to investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes that sparked, or exacerbated, the 2007-09 financial crisis.

Few Wall Street firms, and even fewer senior financial executives, were officially charged with breaking the law for conduct related to the crisis, despite what experts contend is a wealth of evidence — thanks to civil lawsuits brought by aggrieved investors, prior investigations by state authorities, and probes by Congress and the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission — that at the very least should have prompted the Justice Department to investigate further.

Holder’s approach to crisis-era wrongdoing stands in stark contrast to the playbook followed by federal prosecutors contending with the fallout of the savings-and-loan debacle of the late 1980s and early 90s.

“In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be,” Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan wrote earlier this year in the New York Review of Books.

The lack of public evidence that Holder’s Justice Department thoroughly investigated crisis-era wrongdoing has contributed to the perception — one eagerly promoted by the defense bar — that perhaps few crimes were even committed in the runup to the financial crisis.

“But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud,” Rakoff wrote, “the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.”

Voter Suppression · Voting

Appeals Court Upholds Order Restoring Early Voting In Ohio

Ohio Gov. John Kasich | AP Photo / Tony Dejak

Score one for Democracy…

TPM LiveWire

The law, enacted earlier this year, scaled back early voting in the Buckeye State from 35 days to 28 days and scrapped “Golden Week,” when residents could both register and vote in the same week.

From here the state of Ohio can either seek a full court — en banc — ruling at the 6th Circuit or appeal to the Supreme Court.

“With the press of time, it is not clear that Ohio is going to bother to try to change this for this election,” wrote election law professor Rick Hasen of UC-Irvine. “But if and when this case gets to the Supreme Court, I expect 5 Justices could well adopt a much narrower definition of equal protection and the Voting Rights Act than offered here.”

Armed Militia in the U.S. · Voter Intimidation · Voter Supression

Militia Group Plans To Target African-American Democrats At Polling Places In Wisconsin

African Americans Voting


Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this similar to KKK  tactics of the 50’s?


A militia group in Wisconsin is planning to target African-American Democrats at polling places in order to suppress the vote and keep Republican governor Scott Walker in office.

Here is a Twitter exchange where the group details their plan:


A visit to the group’s Facebook page features makes it clear exactly who they are targeting. All of the pictures on the page feature African-Americans. The group is trying to get African-Americans who may have outstanding warrants arrested in order to keep them from voting. The group wants people to report those they suspect of having warrants out on them to the police on election day, “Do the community a favor and keep an eye out for people wanted on warrants and report them to the police on election day.”

The “poll watchers” also plan on harassing and following people who they suspect of being wanted on warrants to their homes. The plan seems to be to use the police to intimidate African-Americans into not voting in November’s election.

The group admits that they are targeting Democrats. They aren’t exactly subtle in making it clear that they are targeting African-American voters. The scheme is an attempt to intimidate African-American voters while getting around the Voting Rights Act. The point of this campaign isn’t to get felons off the streets. The “poll watchers” are trying to keep African-Americans away from the polls.

The fact that they are targeting a specific group of individuals based on race and perceived political affiliation means that their operation is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. According to the Justice Department, “The administration of elections is chiefly a function of state government. However, federal authorities may become involved where there are possible violations of federal law. In cases where intimidation, coercion, or threats are made or attempts to intimidate, threaten or coerce are made to any person for voting or attempting to vote, the Department of Justice can consider whether there is federal jurisdiction to bring civil claims or criminal charges under federal law. Depending on the nature of the allegations, they may fall into the jurisdiction of different parts of the Department. If you have information about allegations of intimidation, please contact us.”

Wisconsin Republicans are desperate to keep Scott Walker in office, Currently, Gov. Walker is tied with Democrat Mary Burke in the polls. A voter intimidation effort that could prevent African-Americans from voting might be enough to get Walker reelected. The right-wing Wisconsin poll watching group is planning on engaging in illegal activity. The group is just getting started, which is why it is a perfect time to send the message that these tactics will not be tolerated.

You can contact the Justice Department here, and request that the election be monitored.

The right to vote must be protected, and those who attempt to intimidate voters need to be held accountable.

Texas Politics · Voter Disenfranchisement · Voting Rights Act

Texas Republicans call for repealing the Voting Rights Act

A voter arrives at a polling site, Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in San Antonio.
A voter arrives at a polling site, Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in San Antonio. | Photo by Eric Gay/AP

It seems Texas Republicans are finally being honest about the issue.  Of course this doesn’t make them right in wanting to repeal the Voting Rights Act, it just exposes their inherent bigotry.

Remember, Texas was the last state to find out about the Emancipation Proclamation…two and a half years after it was enacted.


When the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act last year, it allowed Texas to implement what is perhaps the nation’s strictest photo ID law. But according to the state’s Republicans, the federal government still has too much influence on how it runs elections.

The Texas GOP platform, released Thursday, calls for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, the most successful civil-rights law in the nation’s history. It also supports scrapping the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which has helped millions register to vote. And it advocates making voters re-register every four years, among other restrictive policies.

In sum, the party wants to get the federal government out of the business of overseeing state elections—returning voting law to where it was before the civil rights movement.

“We urge that the Voter [sic] Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized,” the platform says.

These aren’t new positions—the platform’s section on voting issues is largely unchanged from 2012. But circumstances have changed. Last year, the Supreme Court badly weakened the VRA by invalidating the provision that required certain states with a history of discrimination, including Texas, to get federal approval before making changes to their voting systems. That allowed Texas to put into effect its strict voter ID law, which had been blocked by a court under the VRA.

The Justice Department is continuing to challenge Texas’s voter ID law under a different provision of the VRA that still exists, and which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

Without the VRA, the only bar on racial discrimination in voting would be the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. These weren’t enough to stop a century of Jim Crow, which used tactics like literacy tests to get around the prohibition on explicitly denying the right to vote on account of race. It was only thanks to the VRA, which took a broader view of what constitutes racial discrimination in voting, that the right to vote for all Americans was meaningfully assured.

Voting rights advocates are currently pushing Congress—with little success—to advance a bill that would strengthen the VRA in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Texas Republicans’ stance is a reminder that many conservatives want to go in the opposite direction.

A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott—who has fought for the ID law in court and who supported the legal effort to weaken the VRA—did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he supports repealing the VRA entirely.

The GOP platform also calls for repeal of the 2002 Help America Vote Act—which has made it easier for millions of Americans to cast a ballot—calling the law “unconstitutional.” And it explicitly says states have the right to disenfranchise ex-felons.

Below is the full voting section of the platform, which appears not to have been updated since 2012:

Voter Registration- We support restoring integrity to the voter registration rolls and reducing voter fraud. We support repeal of all motor voter laws; re-registering voters every four years; requiring photo ID of all registrants; proof of residency and citizenship, along with voter registration application; retention of the 30-day registration deadline; and requiring that a list of certified deaths be provided to the Secretary of State in order that the names of deceased voters be removed from the list of registered voters.

Selection of Primary Candidates- The SREC should study the Utah model for selecting primary

Electoral College- We strongly support the Electoral College.

Voting Rights- We support equal suffrage for all United States citizens of voting age who are not felons. We oppose any identification of citizens by race, origin, or creed and oppose use of any such identification for purposes of creating voting districts.

Voter Rights Act- We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized.

Felon Voting- We affirm the constitutional authority of state legislatures to regulate voting, including disenfranchisement of convicted felons.

Protecting Active Military Personnel’s Right to Vote- We urge the Texas Secretary of State and the United States Attorney General to ensure that voting rights of our armed forces will neither be denied nor obstructed, and all valid absentee votes shall be counted.

Fair Election Procedures- We support modifications and strengthening of election laws to ensure ballot integrity and fair elections. We strongly urge the Texas Attorney General to litigate the previously passed Voter ID legislation. We support increased scrutiny and security in balloting by mail, prohibition of internet voting and any electronic voting lacking a verifiable paper trail, prohibition of mobile voting, prosecution for election fraud with jail sentences, repeal of the unconstitutional “Help America Vote Act”, and assurance that each polling place has a distinctly marked, and if possible, separate location for Republican and Democrat primary voting.