Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shelby County v. Holder: The US Supreme Court's Ruling on the Voting Rights Act

On Tuesday, June 25 in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Shelby vs. Holder. This case revolved around Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which established the requirement of federal oversight to changes in voting requirements for a number of mostly southern states with a history of racial discrimination. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act identified which states were to need federal preclearance while Section 5 established the need of preclearance and federal oversight to changes in state level voting laws. Without Section 4 in place, Section 5 becomes irrelevant, as there are no states identified as requiring oversight.  Some changes to state voter laws include voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting, and voter redistricting lines, all of which will disproportionately affect African Americans living in urban environments.  Now, changes to voting laws will only be subject to “after-the-fact” litigation.  In other words, these states can now implement changes but they can’t be subject to legal challenges until after election periods.  Hours after this decision was announced, officials in Texas, North Carolina, and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement photo identification laws for voting. Florida will likely set new early voting rules and Georgia will implement new voting districts.

Below I offer some statements on this decision from the court (courtesy of the NYTimes):
“In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.”

She [Ginsberg] said the focus of the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” to “second-generation barriers” like racial gerrymandering and laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizable black minority. She said Section 5 [which becomes irrelevant with the removal of Section 4] had been effective in thwarting such efforts.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

FCC Makes Available Hundreds of Low Power, FM Radio Stations for Community Organizations: Apply Now

As part of the Local Community Radio Acts, Congress recently acted to support a movement that will make thousands of low-power, FM radio stations available for local, community organizations and groups. There is only a short window period to sign up (October 15-29 2013). The FCC encourages you to start your application early (i.e., right now, you don't need to wait until October) so that it is properly prepared come the application review period.  Applications should be submitted electronically to the FCC.  Sign up at Prometheus Radio Project to learn how to start your own station (click here for a pdf version of the application). You can access an application check list here, and click here for a free webinar on how to start a station.

Here, you can read the FCC's Public Notice.

Here's the report from Democracy Now.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Marijuana Arrests in Black and White

The ACLU recently came out with its report on differential usage and arrest rates for marijuana based on race.  The report found that both Blacks and Whites use pot at roughly the same rates, which is similar to other research on drug use.  But, while usage rates are similar, Blacks are three to four times more likely to be arrested for pot than are Whites.  Some of their other key findings include:
  • 52% of all drug arrests in 2010 were for marijuana (mostly small amounts of pot, not drug king pins).
  • Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana.
  • Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than are Whites.
  • The over 8 million pot arrests between 2001 and 2010 equals roughly one arrest every 37 seconds.
  • Enforcing marijuana laws cost about $3.6 billion dollars a year, but has done virtually nothing to stop use, availability or quality.

You can read the entire report here.

Now, if you were to combine this report (as well as the other scholarly research on law enforcement and arrests) with research on the court system (ability to afford bail and quality legal counsel) and sentencing policies (mandatory minimums, school zone drug laws, truth in sentencing laws, get tough policies, etc.) you start to see an entire criminal justice system that discriminates against people of color and the poor; poor Blacks in particular.  And, if you study the history of race and racism in the US, you will come to see present day drug laws and enforcement practices as a contemporary version of a long history of racial control that goes back to European expansionism, where the social categories of race that we continue to use today were first created.