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June 25, 2014

One Year After Shelby, Voters Are Getting Wet

Today marks the one year anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), essentially gutting the heart of the

Section 5 of the VRA requires federal government approval for any election law changes—issues ranging from polling site locations to redrawing congressional district lines—in jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices. But one year ago, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional the formula used to determine which states and localities would have to submit their voting changes to the federal government, finding its origins in voting statistics and statutes from decades past too attenuated to justify present day federal intervention.

In Shelby, Chief Justice Roberts cited advances in minority voting and registration in the covered jurisdictions, noting that African American turnout surpasses white turnout in some of the previously covered states.

But Justice Ginsburg, in her powerful dissent, analogized striking down key parts of the VRA to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” In essence Justice Ginsburg predicted that, without the protections of the VRA, voter suppression problems would rain down on those formerly covered jurisdictions once more.

Indeed, a new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights suggests that the skies remain ominously overcast. Moments after the Supreme Court announced its decision, Texas implemented voter ID and redistricting laws previously held invalid under Section 5. Alabama and Mississippi similarly moved forward with voter ID laws previously held at bay. Weeks after the decision, North Carolina acted to eliminate same-day voter registration, restrict early voting, and enact one of the toughest voter ID laws in the country.

Virginia further tightened a voter ID law previously approved by the Department of Justice in a more lenient form. Around the country, legislators continue to introduce new bills that threaten to restrict the right to vote.

The impact of these laws on minority voters remains to be seen, and some face legal obstacles before going into effect. Recent federal court decisions in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania invalidating voter ID laws demonstrate that avenues may remain for federal enforcement of voting rights. And efforts are ongoing to revive Section 5 through litigation and through new legislation. But the developments in the one year since Shelby County serve as an important reminder that the right to vote remains tenuous and must be vigilantly protected, particularly without the safeguards of Section 5.

On this one-year anniversary of Shelby, take action and urge Congress to restore Section 5 by passing the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.

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May 14, 2014

From The Archives: ADL’s Involvement In Brown v. Board

Saturday, May 17th marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled racially segregated public schools “inherently unequal” and ordered the desegregation of America’s public schools. ADL-brown-amicus-brief

Acting on its mandate “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination,” in October 1952 ADL’s National Commission resolved to encourage federal and state legislators “to support legislation to insure the greatest possible protection of civil rights and equality of opportunity for all in the fundamental fields of employment, education and housing.”

The next month, ADL filed an amicus brief in Brown, arguing that because African American children were “disadvantaged by the segregated public school system of Topeka” the Court should “disavow the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine as it has been applied to public educational institutions.”

ADL’s brief noted a lower court’s finding that segregation “irreparably damages the child,” and argued that “that which is unequal in fact cannot be equal in law.” The brief’s final argument read:

Legally imposed segregation in our country, in any shape, manner or form, weakens our program to build and strengthen world democracy and combat totalitarianism. In education, at the lower levels, it indelibly fixes anti-social attitudes and behavior patterns by building inter-group antagonisms. It forces a sense of limitation upon the child and destroys incentive. It produces feelings of inferiority and discourages racial self-appreciation.

Today, ADL continues to combat discrimination in schools and advocate for education equity. On its 60th anniversary, we recognize the Brown decision as a monumental leap forward in the ongoing fight for equal education.

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March 25, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Case – It’s Not Okay To Discriminate In The Name of Religion

This week, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two consolidated cases where owners of for-profit, secular corporations challenge the federal Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate as a violation of their religious freedom rights.

The names of the two cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. hobby lobby

The ACA requires covered employers to provide a full range of preventative health care and screening services, including contraceptives and birth control, in their employer-sponsored health care plans. Referring to the contraception coverage as a “mandate” is actually a misnomer because employers have the option of paying a modest tax instead of providing comprehensive health insurance. And that tax is often less expensive than provision of employee health insurance.

However, recognizing religious sensibilities surrounding contraception and abortion, the Obama Administration worked hard to accommodate differing religious views. The so-called ACA contraceptive mandate does not apply to non-profit religious organizations (like a church or synagogue) and religiously-affiliated organizations (like church-affiliated schools) can easily opt out of the requirement by signing and filing a one-page form.

The fervently-religious owners of Hobby Lobby, a large chain of arts and crafts stores that employs over 13,000 people at over 500 locations, brought suit against the mandate because they object to certain forms of contraception. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld their challenge, deciding that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) applies to corporations and that the federal government ACA contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the owners’ religious practice.

The owners of Conestoga Wood, a company that employs hundreds of people that makes cabinets and other woodworking products, similarly object, on religious grounds, to providing contraceptives to their employees. However, in this case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in contrast to the Tenth Circuit, decided that for-profit secular corporations cannot engage in religious speech and are therefore not protected under the RFRA.

RFRA requires the federal government to demonstrate a compelling interest where it “substantially burdens” a person’s religious exercise. ADL strongly supported the enactment of this 1993 statute, which was intended to be a shield against religious discrimination. But in this case, the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are attempting to use RFRA as a sword – giving them license to impose their religious beliefs on others. That undermines the purpose of the statute, and turns religious freedom on its head. There is no doubt that RFRA could not have been enacted into law if it had been anticipated that it would later be used by corporate owners to thwart anti-discrimination laws or the religious freedom of company employees.

ADL joined a coalition brief with a diverse group of more than two dozen faith-based organizations. The brief, prepared by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argues that applying the conception regulations to the corporations does not substantially burden religion. For-profit corporate entities do not practice religion. And because the legally distinct corporations would actually pay for and provide the comprehensive health insurance, any religious burden on their owners is minimal. Not to mention that the owners have the option of their corporations paying a modest tax instead of providing comprehensive insurance.

The brief further asserts that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they establish for profit businesses. But the religious beliefs of these employers should not be imposed on third parties – their employees – and the owners’ rights cannot trump the religious rights of their employees.

It would be hard to overstate the stakes for religious liberty and equality in these two cases. The American workforce is highly diverse. Allowing secular corporate owners to restrict access to affordable contraceptives on the basis of religion discriminates against women and limits their equality and independence. Approval of this action by the Court would also be a grave blow to religious freedom in this country – and open the door to the specter of workplace discrimination and for-profit companies denying coverage for other essential medical services that some owners might deem religiously offensive, such as blood transfusions, psychiatric care, and vaccinations.


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