Latest News: String of Voting Victories, New Voting Rights Video, and More

October 5, 2012

Welcome to the Brennan Center’s newsletter, a comprehensive digest of the latest news and developments involving the Center’s programmatic work and staff. See all these stories in full on the Brennan Center’s website and stay informed by signing up for other Center updates.

Latest News

String of Voting Law Victories

The Brennan Center and its allies have been part of a major achievement for democracy and voting rights. Just over a year ago we released our study showing that millions of Americans could find it harder to vote this year. Voting Law Changes in 2012 was the first full analysis of the assault on voting rights, and the first to bring national attention to the issue. Since then, there's been a fierce pushback against these laws. "Every voter restriction that has been challenged this year has been either enjoined, blocked or weakened," Lawrence Norden told The New York Times. “It has been an extraordinary string of victories for those opposing these laws.”

Vote to Have Your Say: Register Now

Registration deadlines for the November election are fast approaching. The first ones come this weekend in Alaska, Mississippi, Nevada, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. Next Tuesday, October 9th, is the deadline in key swing states such as Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The Brennan Center released a new voting rights PSA (right) encouraging citizens to understand the voting rules in their state, register on time, and find out where to vote. See our 50-State Student Voting Guide for more. Also read this Huffington Post op-ed.

Debate Analysis: We Can't Cut Our Way to Prosperity

The economic plans that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama articulated in the debate missed the mark, Inimai Chettiar wrote in the Huffington Post. "Both candidates must offer specific plans toward economic prosperity that go beyond taxes and budgets." she said. Chettiar called for reforms to end mass incarceration and increaseinvestments in public education.  Read more analysis from Chettiar in Politico.

Supreme Court Hears Affirmative Action Challenge

Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear argument in one of the most significant cases of the term. The court will once again wade into the thorny issue of race and college admissions. At issue are the practices of the University of Texas at Austin. The school has a two-tiered admissions process. Students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class are admitted automatically. Students who do not meet these qualifications can apply to a supplemental pool. In addition to academic achievement, other factors are considered such as extracurricular activities, work experience and leadership potential. Another factor is race. Abigail Fisher, a white woman from Sugar Land, Tex., applied to the University through the supplemental pool in 2008 and was rejected. She contends that consideration of race violates her rights of equal protection. The Brennan Center has filed an amicus brief supporting the University. Sidney S. Rosdeitcher analyzes the case here. And Inimai Chettiar wrote a piece for an online symposium.

From the Brennan Center Blog

Constitutional Rights Are Not Political Questions – Alicia Bannon

  • Like many states, the Colorado Constitution mandates adequate funding for education. But per pupil spending is $1,800 below the national average and the difference in achievement based on race and income are among the largest in the nation. Several school districts are now suing, alleging that the state has not fulfilled its Constitutional responsibility. The state argued in a recent lawsuit that it is disrespectful for the courts to hear a claim that the state violated its duties under the Colorado Constitution. This, Bannon asserts, is a “dangerous argument that imperils the rights of the politically powerless and strikes at the very integrity of our judicial system.”

A Victory for Democracy in Los Angeles – Sundeep Iyer

  • This month, the Los Angeles City Council approved several important changes to the city's campaign public financing system. For general elections, candidates can receive $4.00 for every $1.00 they raise from qualified donors. For primaries, it is a 2:1 match. Los Angeles’ system is based in part on New York City’s successful small donor matching fund program. The Brennan Center discussed New York City ‘s system with Los Angeles officials in June and is please to see the nation’s second largest city adopt a similar approach.

Another Tortured Memo from Jay Bybee – Rachel Levinson-Waldman

  • Nine years after he left his post as Director of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the George W. Bush administration, Jay Bybee’s legal opinions still have the capacity to surprise. In 2002, Bybee wrote a memo concerning the president’s ability – and all those connected with him – to see usually secret grand jury testimony. Although the PATRIOT Act gave the president the power to review grand jury testimony, the disclosure had to be reported to a judge. But Bybee, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, asserted in his memo that the president did not have to comply with that provision. Disclosure to a judge, Bybee wrote, couid “infringe on the presumptively confidential nature of presidential communications.”

Bail Costly for Taxpayers – Inimai M. Chettiar

  • A study of bail practices in Baltimore found that 61 percent of all accused were never offered the opportunity to post bail. They were jailed straight away. This practice is expensive, Chettiar says. “In addition to considerations of fairness and justice, this is also a rotten deal for taxpayers and government budgets. An incarcerated person is prevented from contributing productively to the economy or society, and the government must pay for their incarceration and day-to-day needs. Such a system has little economic grounding.” 

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Past Events

Alternatives to Big Money Politics

The Brennan Center hosted the second installment of its panel series on the future of public campaign financing. (From left) Columbia Law School Prof. Richard Briffault, Monica Youn, and Harvard Law School Prof. Lawrence Lessig, along with Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer (not pictured) discussed how a system of small donor matching funds can enhance civic participation and democracy. They also discussed how such a system is an effective counterweight to the flood secret special interest money that has infected campaigns in the wake of Citizens United. Click here to see video of the event.

Upcoming Events

Oct .10 – Join the Brennan Center for a screening of Electoral Dysfunction, narrated by CBS “Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca. The documentary takes a penetrating look at the entire system of voting, mixing the serious with the irreverent. “For starters, where is the Electoral College—and does it have a winning football team?” Rocca asks. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that will include Rocca and The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg. For more information on the event, click here.

Oct. 19 – Keesha Gaskins speaks about redistricting and voter ID laws at NYU Law School's Bickel & Brewer Institute for Human Rights


Brennan Center in the News

  • Va. Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) is on pace to restore the right to vote to more people with past criminal convictions than any governor in the state’s history. Myrna Pérez spoke to The Washington Post about the benefits of restoring the right vote.
  • Grassroots efforts have begun in several states to ensure that eligible voters have sufficient documentation in locales with restrictive voter ID laws, McClatchy reports. The article cites Brennan Center data on how many voters these laws could affect. 
  • SCOTUS blog’s roundup of news on Kiobel v. Dutch Petroleum, which will decide whether a corporation can be held liable for human rights abuses abroad, included Faiza Patel and Amos Toh’s preview of the case
  • Lawrence Norden explained to a panel on CNN Starting Point how a recent voter registration controversy in Florida ‘undermines confidence in elections.’
  • Criminal justice reform is a national economic issue, Inimai Chettiar wrote in an op-ed for The Hill.
  • Jonathan Alter’s column for Bloomberg discusses how a small donor matching fund system can increase political participation and combat the influence of monied special interests. Alter cites Empowering Small Donations in Federal Elections, a Brennan report by Adam Skaggs and Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer.
  • Ten Brennan Center staffers are listed in the new 2012 directory of  "Top Wonks." Brennan personnel were listed as experts on a wide range of issues, from voting rights to campaign finance reform to liberty and national security. The “Top Wonks” are: Nicole Austin-Hillery, Keesha Gaskins, John Kowal, Lawrence Norden, Faiza Patel, Myrna Perez, Adam Skaggs, Michael Waldman, Wendy Weiser, and Monica Youn. The tool is used by students, academics, policy makers, media makers, and the experts themselves.

To read more Brennan Center In The News, click here.

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