On November 5, a middle-aged woman walked up to her polling place in Rochester, New York. She entered the voting booth, and filled out her ballot indicating her preferred candidate. She dropped her completed ballot into the ballot box and went home. Thirteen days later, on November 18, 1872, she was arrested by a U.S. deputy marshal at her home on Madison Street for having voted despite being a woman. It took almost 50 more years, until 1920, for women to gain this crucial and fundamental right.
Welcome, CSA members!
This weekend the Commission on Social Action, the social justice policy-making body of the Reform Jewish Movement, will join us from across North America in Washington, D.C. for a jam-packed weekend during which we will delve into issues that are core to the mission of the URJ. Members of the Commission will hear from experts on a variety of topics: from voter suppression to the status of Israeli Arabs, from education reform to health care reform, and from gun control to the implications for Israel as a result of the Arab Awakening. We’ll even be spending a full afternoon parsing the nuances of religious liberty.
The RAC staff is looking forward to learning from and with the members of the Commission, and we’ll be sure to check back in with you throughout the next few days to report on what we’ve learned!
As a D.C. resident who lives in the Virginia media market, it seems as though the only ads on TV right now are political – and understandably so. Presidential, Senatorial and Congressional elections (along with local elections and proposed amendments) are among our most obvious and consistent opportunities to make our voices heard.
This election season, the Reform Movement has been vocal on key issues: voter suppression and mobilization. And, after the debates are over and the pundits have had their say, on November 6 millions of American Jews will join their fellow citizens in heading to the polls to vote. We’ve developed our Get Out the Vote 2012 Guide, in order to help congregations understand both the obligation to vote and the potential barriers to the ballot box, which threaten to obstruct the most vulnerable among us.
This past Monday, as Jews around the world gathered together to celebrate sukkot, a different sort of gathering was occurring at 1 First St. NE in Washington D.C. – the Supreme Court began the first day of their new term. Many crucial cases will be decided this year, including some that relate to issues near and dear to the RAC’s heart. Here are some of the big ones that we’ll be following in the coming months:
Affirmative Action: One of the first scheduled cases this term is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. This case reexamines an issue decided in a 2003 case relating to the legality of affirmative action procedures in college admissions processes. In particular, Fisher deals with a university policy in which UT added a “race-conscious” admissions program in addition to the “Ten Percent Plan” it already had in place.
Translation: the admissions committee came up with a plan where it automatically admitted the top 10% of Texas high school students. This ended up diversifying the student body because high schools and school districts are pretty racially segregated, so more minority students were getting in. However, UT realized that this type of diversity wasn’t the full picture, since many classrooms—in particular, smaller classrooms, which more typically are discussion-based — still weren’t racially diverse, so they added a new admissions plan that University of Michigan had been using under Supreme Court approval. Abigail Fisher’s issue is that a race conscious plan isn’t necessary and shouldn’t be allowed if a race neutral plan is already creating diversity. Still confused? Try this. This is a big case that could, depending on the scope of the Justices’ decision, impact how previous affirmative action rulings are understood and implemented. Countdown to oral argument for Fisher v. Texas is only 6 days!
Gay marriage: Although nothing official has been announced yet, it’s likely that the Supreme Court is going to hear a case on gay marriage this upcoming term. It’s mostly probable that this will take the form of a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines “marriage” for the purposes of federal law and regulation in heterosexual terms. Even if DOMA is struck down, states still won’t have to recognize same-sex marriages, but a positive ruling on a DOMA case would still be a step forward for gay rights activists.
If the Court wants to address gay marriage in a more overt way, it could hear the Proposition 8 case, which also has filed a petition for certiorai (cert) . This case would consider the constitutionality of same-sex marriage—specifically, asking the Court to decide whether California is allowed to take away benefits attained through the right to marry. A decision to hear this case would be more surprising, and also more bold, for the Court. It’s still unclear if these cases will be heard this year—they have, in the lists of cases for this term released thus far, been neither accepted nor declined.
Voting rights: A third crucial category of cases making their way up the appeals ladder pertain to the 1965 Voting Rights Act—in particular Section V, which requires certain states and municipalities to get approval from the Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws. Opponents of this provision argue that it is unfair for different states to have different laws, and that the areas of concern from 1965 are not necessarily the same areas that are prone to discrimination today. However, in the D.C. Circuit case on this topic, it was clear that there is an ongoing and current need to keep certain states under watch and to require this preclearance process today.
Stay tuned for updates on these crucial cases, as well as the smattering of other issues that will be decided this upcoming Supreme Court term!
Today, a Pennsylvania judge halted the implementation of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law, allowing voters to cast their ballots without IDs on November 6. Rabbi David Saperstein issued a statement welcoming this decision. He emphasized: “There are few more vital responsibilities than choosing our communal leaders, and no citizen should be denied the right to exercise that responsibility.”
While the Reform Movement welcomes this decision and the preservation of the right of Pennsylvania voters to cast their ballot with or without ID, the law has not been overturned definitively. We look forward to the reconsideration of the law after November and to the opportunity for Pennsylvanians to freely express their voting rights on Election Day.
“Every election is determined by the people who show up.” ― Larry J. Sabato, Pendulum Swing
There was a time in American history where in order to vote you would have to answer this question – “Did your grandfather vote?” – and present proof of your grandfather’s voting eligibility in order to cast a ballot. Since America’s founding, there has been a slow but positive trend in American voting laws. More and more people have been allowed to cast ballots for elected officials; what was once a privileged reserved for wealthy, white, landowning men has become nearly universal. However, there are forces chiseling away at this cornerstone of American democracy.
The Census released its data showing the persistence of poverty in our country last week, and now faith leaders have released exclusive videos from President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney stating their own positions on poverty.