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September 11, 2015 1

Marching for Fairness – the NAACP Journey for Justice

After par­tic­i­pat­ing in the his­toric vot­ing rights march from Selma to Mont­gomery on March 21, 1965, Rabbi Abram­son Joshua Hes­chel famously said:

“For many of us the march from Selma to Mont­gomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walk­ing is not kneel­ing. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even with­out words, our march was wor­ship. I felt my legs were praying.”


ADL Direc­tor of Inter­faith Affairs Rabbi David Sand­mel and NAACP Pres­i­dent and CEO Cor­nell Brooks on the road to Wash­ing­ton DC as part of the Jour­ney for Justice.


That march played a sig­nif­i­cant role in prompt­ing Con­gress to enact the land­mark Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) – per­haps the most impor­tant and effec­tive civil rights leg­is­la­tion ever passed.   In the half cen­tury since then, the VRA has secured and safe­guarded the right to vote for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. Its suc­cess in elim­i­nat­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory bar­ri­ers to full civic par­tic­i­pa­tion and in advanc­ing equal polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment is undeniable.

Some­times legs pray.

And some­times legs carry you to Wash­ing­ton DC to demand progress toward jus­tice and fair treat­ment for all.

Today, fifty years after the pas­sage of the VRA, and two years after a deeply trou­bling Supreme Court deci­sion that essen­tially gut­ted the heart of the leg­is­la­tion — marchers are on their way to Wash­ing­ton to demand vot­ing rights pro­tec­tions again.  The NAACP has orga­nized America’s Jour­ney for Jus­tice, which started in Selma on August 1.  The Anti-Defamation League is one of the sup­port­ing orga­ni­za­tions for the 1000-mile march, as we had sup­ported the orig­i­nal Selma to Mont­gomery march.  Then-ADL National Direc­tor Ben Epstein wrote,

“We walked together—more than 3,000 Amer­i­cans: Negroes and whites, min­is­ters, rab­bis, Catholic nuns, stu­dents, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of orga­ni­za­tions, those who belonged to no group other than the human race—all in peace­ful demon­stra­tion against blind vio­lence, in ‘gigan­tic wit­ness’ to the con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed right of all cit­i­zens to reg­is­ter and vote.”

Jour­ney to Jus­tice cul­mi­nates in an Advo­cacy Day on the Cap­i­tal Hill on Sep­tem­ber 16.  Marchers and their sup­port­ers will have dozens of meet­ings with Mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Sen­ate.  The prin­ci­pal focal point for the lob­by­ing will be the need to address the dev­as­tat­ing impact of Shelby County v. Holder, a 2013 Supreme Court deci­sion which gut­ted a key pro­vi­sion of the VRA, dra­mat­i­cally lim­it­ing its effec­tive­ness and reach.

Last Novem­ber – the first major elec­tion since Shelby County – there were new restric­tions on vot­ing in 15 states, endan­ger­ing vot­ing rights for hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans. From voter ID laws that threaten to dis­en­fran­chise African Amer­i­cans, Lati­nos, stu­dents and elderly vot­ers, to cuts to early vot­ing and oner­ous require­ments for voter reg­is­tra­tion, the right to vote is in peril.

The proper response to the Shelby County deci­sion is the bipar­ti­san Vot­ing Rights Advance­ment Act of 2015 (S. 1659/H.R. 2867).  The VRAA reasserts appro­pri­ate fed­eral over­sight over efforts to change state and local vot­ing laws and pro­vides addi­tional safe­guards for voting.

Since, 1965 reaf­firm­ing the nation’s com­mit­ment to full vot­ing rights for all has never been con­tro­ver­sial.  Each time the VRA came up for reau­tho­riza­tion it has received over­whelm­ing, bipar­ti­san Con­gres­sional sup­port.  The last time Con­gress extended the VRA, in 2006, it did so after an exhaus­tive hear­ings on vot­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and the impact of the VRA – result­ing in thou­sands of pages of doc­u­men­ta­tion.  The leg­is­la­tion passed over­whelm­ingly: 390 to 33 in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and 98–0 in the Senate.

As we have com­mem­o­rated the 50th anniver­sary of the Vot­ing Rights Act (VRA) this sum­mer, we have been reminded just how far we have come – how impact­ful the VRA has been in ensur­ing the rights of all Amer­i­cans to have their say in our democ­racy.   Jour­ney for Jus­tice marchers and their sup­port­ers are demon­strat­ing that Con­gress must do more than merely com­mem­o­rate anniver­saries of his­toric civil rights vic­to­ries.  They must act.  Now is the time for Con­gress to act to restore the pro­tec­tions of the VRA and secure the right to vote for all Americans.


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March 11, 2014 2

President’s Civil Rights Nominee Rejected For Defending Civil Rights

Last week, on March 5, a major­ity of Sen­a­tors voted to block the nom­i­na­tion of Debo Adeg­bile, Pres­i­dent Obama’s choice to be the next Assis­tant Attor­ney Gen­eral for Civil Rights – replac­ing Tom Perez, now Sec­re­tary of Labor. The vote to refuse to con­firm Adeg­bile was 47–52 (with Major­ity Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) cast­ing a “no” vote in order to pre­serve the pos­si­bil­ity of bring­ing the nom­i­na­tion to the floor again).debo-adegbile

Adegbile’s nom­i­na­tion had attracted con­sid­er­able sup­port – includ­ing the Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion and a num­ber of lead­ing con­ser­v­a­tive advo­cates who had been on the other side of legal argu­ments with Adeg­bile in the past. The Anti-Defamation League was among 86 national civil rights, reli­gious, and law enforce­ment orga­ni­za­tions that had endorsed his nom­i­na­tion in a let­ter to Sen­a­tors

Adeg­bile was not defeated because he was unqual­i­fied for the post. To the con­trary, Adeg­bile, a vot­ing rights expert who had argued two cases before the United States Supreme Court, is one of the pre-eminent civil rights lit­i­ga­tors of his gen­er­a­tion. He had served as Direc­tor of Lit­i­ga­tion and, later, as Act­ing Pres­i­dent and Director-Counsel of the sto­ried civil rights orga­ni­za­tion, the NAACP Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund (LDF). 

Instead, oppo­si­tion to Adeg­bile was focused, almost exclu­sively, on the fact that the LDF became coun­sel for Mumia Abu-Jamal dur­ing his tenure. Abu-Jamal was con­victed of killing Philadel­phia police offi­cer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Far from “seek­ing to glo­rify an unre­pen­tant cop-killer,” as Sen­ate Minor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell wrongly asserted, LDF lawyers had not argued that Abu-Jamal was inno­cent or wrongly con­victed. They argued, in post-conviction appeal pro­ceed­ings, that his death sen­tence had been tainted by jury instruc­tions that were flawed and improper – an argu­ment that pre­vailed in the courts.  Adeg­bile was involved in the case tan­gen­tially, in a super­vi­sory capacity.

As the con­tro­versy over Adegbile’s LDF involve­ment in the Abu-Jamal appeal grew, the Pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion felt it nec­es­sary to write to Sen­a­tors to remind them how the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in Amer­ica is sup­posed to work: 

I was alarmed to learn that there is some oppo­si­tion to Mr. Adegbile’s nom­i­na­tion based solely on his efforts to pro­tect the fun­da­men­tal rights of an unpop­u­lar client while work­ing at the Legal Defense Fund. His work, like the work of ABA mem­bers who pro­vide thou­sands of hours of pro bono legal ser­vices every year, is con­sis­tent with the finest tra­di­tion of this country’s legal pro­fes­sion and should be com­mended, not condemned.

Fol­low­ing his defeat, many com­men­ta­tors have rightly labeled the Senate’s treat­ment of Adeg­bile unfair, con­trast­ing his involve­ment in rep­re­sent­ing a highly unpop­u­lar defen­dant with sim­i­lar legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion by for­mer Pres­i­dent John Adams and Chief Jus­tice John Roberts – who both, famously, rep­re­sented indi­vid­u­als charged with mur­der.  In 1770, John Adams rep­re­sented British sol­diers indicted for mur­der­ing five peo­ple in what would later be called the “Boston Mas­sacre” dur­ing British occu­pa­tion of the colonies. Six of the sol­diers on trial, includ­ing their com­mand­ing offi­cer, were acquit­ted of the charges, and two oth­ers were con­victed on manslaugh­ter.   And when he was in pri­vate prac­tice, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice John Roberts rep­re­sented a Florida death-row inmate who, with two co-defendants, had been con­victed of killing eight peo­ple in 1978. 

The defeat of Debo Adegbile’s nom­i­na­tion sends a deeply dis­turb­ing mes­sage to lawyers who might now think twice before affil­i­at­ing with advo­cacy groups or serv­ing jus­tice by rep­re­sent­ing con­tro­ver­sial fig­ures or causes.

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December 6, 2013 28

In First Appearance After Heart Attack, Farrakhan Continues Anti-Semitism

Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan’s first pub­lic appear­ance after suf­fer­ing a heart attack fea­tured a num­ber of anti-Semitic claims about Jew­ish con­trol over the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment, Black orga­ni­za­tions and other sectors.farrakhan-indiana-heart-attack

Dur­ing his Decem­ber 1 speech at the Indi­ana Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Indi­anapo­lis, Far­rakhan revealed he was hos­pi­tal­ized approx­i­mately two months ago due to a heart attack. When Far­rakhan was unable to deliver his 2013 Holy Day of Atone­ment speech in Alabama in Octo­ber, the NOI orig­i­nally said he was hos­pi­tal­ized for “an infection.”

In his speech, Far­rakhan bluntly stated his the­ory about who con­trols the U.S. gov­ern­ment: “…we’re gonna bring you up to speed. The Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment is under con­trol of the Zion­ists.” Far­rakhan went on to claim that the Jew­ish com­mu­nity has power over the NOI and other Black orga­ni­za­tions. “It’s not that I’m against the Jew­ish peo­ple. That’s just false…They have such power and influ­ence that they made most of you believe that I’m against the Jew­ish people.”

He made sim­i­lar claims about the NAACP, stat­ing “You mem­bers of the NAACP, you want to put on a march to Wash­ing­ton but you don’t have no money, so who do you go to? You go to phil­an­thropists, many of them are Jew­ish.” He con­tin­ued, “They tell you who you can have speak­ing. And they told you don’t have Far­rakhan. And you couldn’t say a damn thing because it wasn’t your money it was theirs.”

Far­rakhan also described send­ing a copy of the NOI’s anti-Semitic book, The Secret Rela­tion­ship between Blacks and Jews, which alleges dis­pro­por­tion­ate Jew­ish involve­ment in the slave trade, to the “pres­i­dents of all the major Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions” as well as some Jew­ish pub­lic offi­cials. This is not the first time Far­rakhan has done so. The let­ter stated that the pur­pose of send­ing the book was to appeal to Jews who are “sit­ting on top of the world in power with riches and influ­ence while the masses of my people…are in the worst con­di­tion of any mem­ber of the human fam­ily” to con­vince them to repair the “dam­age that has been done by your ances­tors to mine.”

The crowd applauded as Far­rakhan read the last line of the let­ter which claimed that if the Jews do not “make the wise and best choice,” that God “will bring you and your peo­ple to dis­grace and ruin and destroy your power and influ­ence here in Amer­ica and through­out the world.”

Also in the ser­mon, Far­rakhan com­pared the Jews of today to those of Jesus’ time, claim­ing both had dis­pro­por­tion­ate influ­ence over the gov­ern­ment. “Did you know the Jesus had a real prob­lem with the Jew­ish com­mu­nity? They had power, the rab­bis of that day, over the Roman author­i­ties just as they have power today over our gov­ern­ment,” he alleged.noi-rg-9-11-israel-tweet

Farrakhan’s bla­tantly anti-Semitic pub­lic state­ments are just one part of the NOI’s larger anti-Jewish pro­pa­ganda cam­paign. The NOI Research Group (NOIRG), which cre­ated a web­site in 2012 that pro­motes vir­u­lently anti-Semitic con­spir­acy the­o­ries, tweeted and posted on Face­book a num­ber of times that Israel was behind 9/11, includ­ing most recently (Decem­ber 3) post­ing that “#Israel has an ugly his­tory of deadly false flag oper­a­tions, includ­ing 9/11….”

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