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July 15, 2016

ADL’s Issues for the Platform Committees

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Over the next two weeks, Republicans and Democrats convene their conventions – the equivalent of the MLB All-Star Game for political junkies. While the conventions are often a spectacle of political theater, this year it feels like the drama that has taken center stage is overshadowing important policy issues.

This hasn’t happened in a vacuum.  For years, America’s political debate has been sliding toward greater polarization and acrimony, leaving little space for the give-and-take that is vital to the public policy conversation and a healthy democratic process. Even where Democrats and Republicans can find common ground, as they do on issues like criminal justice reform, there seems to be little incentive for either party to compromise.

These diversions would be unhelpful in any election year.  But there are serious issues facing Americans today, issues that require serious debate. Americans across the political spectrum are reeling from the shooting death of African-Americans Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the mass murder of police officers in Dallas. And terrorist massacres targeting a gay night club in Orlando and government workers in San Bernardino, CA have brought home the impact of hatred and the threat posed by violent Islamist groups like ISIS. Whatever one’s views about how to address this violence and the range of intertwined issues it raises, Americans deserve a probing and constructive national debate rather than a contest to see who can score the most political points.

In formal submissions to the Platform Committees of both parties, ADL has urged that Republicans and Democrats address a range of important issues in an urgent way. Internationally, the U.S. must continue to play a leadership role in the fight against terrorism; in ensuring that Israel remains strong and secure; in promoting peace and respect for human rights across the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe; and in speaking out against a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism.  Domestically, our submission also addresses a variety of issues, for example asserting the urgent need for progress on voting rights, criminal justice reform, expanded legal protection for the LGBT community, refugee rights, and gun violence prevention.

ADL has had a longstanding practice of submitting its policy agenda to both parties, and has called on campaigns to reject character attacks and the use of bigotry in numerous campaign seasons.  This year, ADL is hosting events at both conventions that focus on finding space for substantive debate and collaboration toward progress in order to get down to the serious business of addressing the nation’s problems.

Politi­cians and can­di­dates will win or lose, come and go—but the fallout will linger unless we can elevate the quality of the debate moving forward.  It is incumbent upon all of us to raise our voices, to reject the use of bigotry or character attacks by any candidate, and to promote a public debate based on facts, evidence and civil discourse.

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June 24, 2016

Three Years After Shelby County, Voters Are Really Getting Soaked

This weekend marks the third anniversary of Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Supreme Court, by a  narrow 5-4 margin, struck down key rain umbrellaprotections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), essentially gutting the heart of the nation’s most important and effective civil rights law.  We were reminded of the dangerous struggles to enact this law when, earlier this week, the Department of Justice closed its investigation into the murders of three civil rights workers (Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney) killed by the Klan as they were working to register voters in Mississippi in June, 1964.

Sec­tion 5 of the VRA requires that, in certain jurisdictions with a history of dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing prac­tices, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must approve any changes in elec­tion laws, such as changes in polling site loca­tions and redraw­ing con­gres­sional dis­trict lines.  The jurisdictions that were required to submit changes were determined by a formula based on a his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tory vot­ing prac­tices. The Court held this formula uncon­sti­tu­tional, saying that the formula was out of date.  In doing so, the Court substituted its views for Congress’s own very extensive hearings and findings conducted in 2006 when Congress almost unanimously voted to reauthorize the VRA for another 25 years. In Shelby County, the Court specifically invited Congress to create a new coverage formula.

Justice Ginsburg’s powerful dissent in the case analo­gized strik­ing down key parts of the VRA to “throw­ing away your umbrella in a rain­storm because you are not get­ting wet.” Unfortunately, Justice Ginsburg’s prediction that, with­out the pro­tec­tions of the VRA, voter sup­pres­sion prob­lems would again rain down on those for­merly cov­ered juris­dic­tions, has proven quite prescient.

In fact, there is growing evidence that the ruling has had a devastating impact on ballot access and voting rights in those previously-covered VRA jurisdictions.  A discriminatory redistricting plan and harsh voter ID law in Texas – which had been part of submitted plans that the Justice Department and federal courts had specifically refused to preclear the previous year – threaten to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible African American and Latino voters. In Alabama, following the enactment of a restrictive voter ID law, DMV offices were closed in counties with some of the highest minority populations, making it much more difficult to obtain IDs necessary to vote.  North Carolina passed one of the harshest, most restrictive voting laws in the country. And in Arizona we saw in the primary election earlier this year that thousands of people could not vote because Maricopa County, the largest county in the state, dropped from more than 400 polling places to just 60. Overall in 2016, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 17 states have new voting restrictions in place.

Now, as voters face the prospect of the first Presidential election in 50 years without the robust protections of the VRA, there are dire discriminatory warning signs – unless Congress acts,

A bipartisan bill pending now before Congress, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, would create a modern formula for preclearance and put in place much-needed voting rights protections. On this third anniver­sary of Shelby County, all Americans should learn about the important legacy of the VRA – and take action to urge Congress to restore the full vitality of the VRA by enacting the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

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September 11, 2015

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.”

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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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