Latest News From the Brennan Center

March 20, 2012


New Voting Laws Have Significant 2012 Impact

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed a voter ID bill into law Wednesday, and a Virginia voter ID bill awaits the signature of Gov. Robert McDonnell, who has not taken a public position on the legislation. In an editorial, the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted, “What once was said about an album by ‘Spinal Tap’ may be said of the voter-ID measure: It fills a much-needed void.” If McDonnell signs the measure, 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the 2012 presidential election will come from states with new voting laws, according to a new Brennan Center analysis. “This wave of restrictive voting laws is inexcusable, and the numbers clearly show the impact it could have on this year’s elections,” said Democracy Program Director Wendy Weiser. Read our comprehensive study on restrictive voting laws.

To Protect or to Prosecute? National Security Whistleblowers

Join the Brennan Center’s Liza Goitein today, March 20, at 4:30pm, for a Brennan Center panel on the legal and ethical concerns confronting national security whistleblowers. Whistleblowers from the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies – CIA, FBI, NSA, and others – play a critical role in exposing government wrongdoing that might otherwise remain classified. However, a whistleblower’s revelations can leave them vulnerable to criminal prosecution for breaching secrecy laws. On hand will be Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency official who faced 35 years in prison for exposing wasteful and privacy-invading programs. (After intense criticism, the government dropped its case. Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.)  Other panelists include former DOJ official Jesselyn Radack, a whistleblower herself and one of Drake’s lawyers, and Brennan Center Fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winner Barton Gellman. The event is part of the Government Accountability Project’s American Whistleblower Tour. For details on the event, click here.

Justice Department Official Discusses Voting

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez will make a presentation and discuss perhaps the most contentious issue he faces: voting rights. Under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department has unique powers to oversee voting changes throughout the south. One of the panelists at the March 28 forum will be Wendy Weiser, Director of the Brennan Center Democracy Program and co-author of Voting Law Changes in 2012. This event is a rare opportunity to hear from the Justice Department’s highest-ranking official directly responsible for voting rights. To learn about the March 28th event, click here.

Court Must Reject Texas Voter ID Law

The Brennan Center asked a federal district judge for permission to intervene in Texas’ effort for court approval of its new voter photo ID law. The Center objects because the law “could prevent hundreds of thousands eligible voters from casting a ballot, including a disproportionate number of minorities,” said Senior Counsel Myrna Pérez. Meanwhile, the Justice Department objected to the measure because of its discriminatory effect on minority voters. The Center represents the Texas NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives.

Voters: Super PACs Should Be Illegal

A new poll shows nearly 70 percent of registered voters believe super PACs should be illegal, and more than half (52 percent), feel that way strongly. Almost 80 percent of political independents say super PACs should be banned, according to the Washington Post-ABC News survey. It is exceedingly rare to find such overwhelming agreement on any issue. “Big-spending super PACs have taken over our democracy in 2012,” said Brennan Center Counsel Mark Ladov. “This poll clearly shows the American people want it back.” Read about the growing legal backlash against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which fueled the rise of super PACs. Read more about the Center’s work on super PACs here and here.

Protecting Fair Redistricting

The Brennan Center helped block an effort to overturn a provision of New York’s redistricting law. Two years ago the New York state legislature abolished the practice of counting prisoners as district residents. Not only does including prisoners as district residents give greater influence to districts with prisons, it dilutes the votes of those who live in districts without prisons. Several New York State Senators challenged the law, claiming it violated the New York Constitution. But the Brennan Center, as part of a coalition of civil rights organizations, successfully defended the measure in court. A Quinnipiac University poll showed that a majority of New Yorkers of all regions and party affiliations support the law.

Brennan Center Blog

Analyzing Minority Turnout After Voter IDKeesha Gaskins 

  • Turnout among Hispanic voters in Georgia did not increase after a restrictive no-photo, no-vote ID law went into effect, as some have claimed.

Court Rejects Voter Suppression Efforts Nicolas Riley

  • The Third Circuit upheld a consent decree prohibiting the RNC from practices aimed at depressing voter turnout.

‘Misunderestimating’ Campaign Finance Reform – Jonathan Backer 

  • Lobbying reform and campaign finance reform — and public campaign financing in particular — have the ability to change the rules of the game in our democracy.

What We’re Reading

  • See what the Brennan Center’s reading in this daily round-up of quick hits, clips, and opinion pieces touching on key issues of democracy, justice, liberty and national security. Includes stories on Florida’s restrictive voting law, NYPD surveillance, and the ongoing foreclosure crisis.

Read more blog posts here. To have the blog in your RSS feed, click here.


Who Will Watch the Watchman?

Former Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine (right) joined the Brennan Center for a conversation on oversight of domestic counterterrorism efforts. As DOJ’s internal watchdog, Fine uncovered the FBI’s widespread misuse of “national security letters,” a type of subpoena that allows agencies to bypass the courts and demand personal records from outlets such as phone companies.  Scott Horton of Harper’s Magazine moderated the discussion. See video and photos of the event.


  • March 20 – The Brennan Center and the Government Accountability Project present a discussion on national security whistleblowers at NYU School of Law today. Features former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barton Gellman.
  • March 22 – Counsel Roopal Patel is a panelist at a Fordham Law School discussion on career options after law school.
  • March 28 – Brennan Center Democracy Program Director Wendy Weiser participates in an NYU Law panel discussion on voting rights controversies. Other panelists include Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, and NYU Law professors Samuel Issacharoff and Richard Pildes.
  • March 29 – The Brennan Center hosts a discussion on the benefits of public financing in New York State. Panelists include Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute and a professor of political science at SUNY Albany; Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference; and Mike Petro, Vice President of the non-profit, non-partisan, business-led public policy organization, Committee for Economic Development.

The Brennan Center in the News

  • Brennan Center Executive Director Michael Waldman discussed the effects of voter ID laws on MSNBC.
  • Wendy Weiser, head of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, appeared on PBS NewsHour to discuss restrictive voting laws.
  • Democracy Counsel Myrna Pérez spoke about new voting laws and restoring the right to vote with Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC.
  • Democracy Counsel Keesha Gaskins talked about Minnesota’s Voter ID legislation on Minnesota Public Radio.
  • Eliza Newlin Carney at Roll Call wrote about how the Brennan Center and other organizations “have fought back on several fronts” against voting restrictions.
  • “The state's contested voter ID law could provoke widespread complications in the upcoming presidential elections,” Lise Olson wrote in the Houston Chronicle.
  • Pennsylvania’s governor signed a voter ID bill into law last week. Read coverage in the Philadelphia Daily News, Scranton Examiner, and The Morning Call.
  • Justice Counsel and Director of the Brennan Center’s Community-Oriented Defender Network Thomas Giovanni spoke out against California’s “Three-Strikes” law in an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee.
  • RT News interviewed the Center's Lawrence Norden about New York’s voter registration system.
  • In the Huffington Post, NYC Councilman Brad Lander said he planned on asking NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly about department transparency and oversight when Kelly appeared in front of the Council’s Safety Committee.