Since I last wrote about the Voting Rights Amendment Act on this blog, the crucial bill has continued to make progress in Congress, as cosponsors of both parties continue to sign on in support of the bill. Advocates are hopeful that the bill’s provisions can be implemented before the midterm Congressional election in November of this year, a decisive deadline.
Attorney General Eric Holder has made an effort in recent months to elevate key civil rights issues, especially those issues affecting our nation’s broken criminal justice system. One unexpected issue the Attorney General has chosen to highlight is the crucial problem of felon disenfranchisement. Amidst a backdrop of increasing bipartisan support for sentencing reform on Capitol Hill, increased knowledge about the racial disparities of mandatory minimum sentences, new questions about capital punishment and other significant developments in the areas of criminal justice and civil rights, the issue of felon disenfranchisement is another moral challenge of our time—and one gaining bipartisan momentum.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration released its final report in late January. President Obama established the Commission by Executive Order on March 28, 2013, after the 2012 elections were plagued by serious voting problems around the country. Co-chaired by the chief lawyers for the 2012 Obama and Romney campaigns, the mission of the Commission was to “identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience.”
Each year, many Reform Movement congregations observe Martin Luther King Day by participating in Shabbat Tzedek: Celebrate Civil Rights and Social Justice. This year, Martin Luther King Day falls on January 20, and Shabbat Tzedek falls on January 17 and 18. Shabbat Tzedek honors the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—and more broadly, honors the civil rights movement.
Residents of Washington, D.C. fulfill all of the responsibilities of citizenship but have long been denied many of the rights that come with it. But as the calendar turned to 2014, D.C. took a small but potentially important step in rectifying the issue, as the District’s Budget Autonomy Referendum went into effect.
Last April, D.C. residents—83% of them—overwhelmingly approved a budget referendum that would separate out the District’s local budget from the Congressional appropriations process. By amending the District’s Home Rule Charter, the D.C. government no longer needs to wait for a Congressional appropriations bill to spend local tax dollars; instead, budget bills passed by the D.C. Council will be subject to a 30-day Congressional review, like other Council-passed bills, a process unique to D.C. Still, as of two days ago, Congressional gridlock can no longer prevent the D.C. government from providing local services, sparing the local government from federal shutdowns and other lapses in funding.
On November 11, 1620, 41 men aboard the Mayflower signed their names to the Mayflower Compact, setting the stage for modern democracy in the United States. As the Pilgrims prepared to settle at Plymouth, these signers of the Compact pledged to “combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”
The language is long-winded but the concepts are incredibly important. This idea of a “body politic” coming together in order to pass laws for the good of all is heavily echoed in the Preamble of the Constitution, written a century and a half later. The United States is founded on this understanding that in coming together and passing laws for the good of all, we “form a more perfect union.” Read more…
The right to vote is fundamental to our constitutional democracy. While the right to vote was initially restricted to white, property-owning males, the hard work of brave civil rights activists has allowed this inalienable right to extend to (almost) all Americans. These rights have been achieved, in part, through legislative means, particularly through the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which has been renewed four times (most recently in 2006).
On June 25, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby v. Holder to invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act. Parts of the Act were drafted in our conference room here at the RAC, and we strongly opposed the Court’s decision in Shelby. The Court struck down Section 4(b), which contained a “formula” requiring certain jurisdictions with a history of disenfranchisement problems to seek approval, or “preclearance,” from the Department of Justice when making any changes to election procedures. Read more…