Voting Rights Act Section 4 Struck Down By Supreme Court

From Huffington Post:


The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, the provision of the landmark civil rights law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.

The 5-4 ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed in 1965.

The court’s opinion said it did not strike down the act of Congress “lightly,” and said it “took care to avoid ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act” in a separate case back in 2009. “Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

The Voting Rights Act has recently been used to block a voter ID law in Texas and delay the implementation of another in South Carolina. Both states are no longer subject to the preclearance requirement because of the court’s ruling on Tuesday.

“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Roberts wrote.

“There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act,” he wrote. “The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.”

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Supreme Court Hammers Voting Rights Act Statement of NOW President Terry O’Neill

NOW Press Release

June 25, 2013

The National Organization for Women is appalled by today’s Supreme Court ruling that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. I have already been asked by grassroots NOW leaders if this decision promotes a political agenda that would revive the racial power relations in existence in the 1940s and 1950s. This question is particularly troubling because the Supreme Court is not supposed to advance or promote any political agenda. With this decision, it is more than appropriate to ask whether, once again (as with Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) the court is further undermining its legitimacy as a neutral arbiter.

Racism and discrimination still exist in this country and in our voting laws — we’ve seen dramatic efforts in many states to limit voting access. Politicians have tried passing restrictive voter ID laws, cutting back early-voting hours, eliminating same-day voter registration, and aggressive purging of voter rolls in recent elections. These laws unquestionably target low-income and minority communities.

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg called preclearance a “particularly effective” aspect of the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, between 1982 and 2006, more than 1,000 discriminatory schemes were blocked by the Department of Justice under Section 5. Without Section 4, the preclearance mandated by Section 5 becomes ineffective. Essentially, without the formula in Section 4 there can be no preclearance.

The survival of the Voting Rights Act — which ensures that jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting laws cannot change their laws without preclearance — is now in the hands of Congress, making it all the more crucial for those who believe in the right of every citizen to vote to demand that Congress take action immediately and to replace, in 2014, those who block action with champions of voting rights. NOW’s activists and allies will continue to fight to protect the voting rights of all citizens.

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Coy Mathis Case: Colorado Civil Rights Division Rules In Favor Of Transgender 6-Year-Old In Bathroom Dispute

From Huffington Post:


DENVER — Colorado officials say a suburban Colorado Springs school district discriminated against a 6-year-old transgender girl by preventing her from using the girls’ bathroom, in what advocates described as the first such ruling in the next frontier in civil rights.

Coy Mathis’s family raised the issue after school officials at Eagleside Elementary in Fountain said the first-grader could use restrooms in either the teachers’ lounge or in the nurse’s office, but not the girls’ bathroom. Coy’s parents feared she would be stigmatized and bullied.

On Monday, the Mathis family and its lawyers celebrated the ruling on the steps of the state capitol. Coy, dressed in a glittering tank top, jeans and pink canvas sneakers, ran around a towering blue spruce tree as her mother spoke to reporters.

“Her future will be better if we get to this place where this is nothing to be ashamed of,” Kathryn Mathis said, noting the family hadn’t sought a civil rights battle but was happy for the Colorado Division of Civil Rights’ ruling.

As the gay rights movement has won mounting legal and electoral victories in recent years, advocates hope the latest decision will lend momentum to the struggles of transgendered people.

“This is by far the high-water mark for cases dealing with the rights of transgendered people to access bathrooms,” said the Mathis family’s attorney, Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. He and other advocates said the case is one of several potentially ground-breaking transgendered civil-rights cases winding their way through the nation’s courts.

The Maine Supreme Court is considering the case of a 15-year-old transgendered girl who was forbidden from using her school’s girls’ bathroom.

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See Also:

Raw Story: Transgender 6-year-old wins right to use girls’ bathroom at Colorado school

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Allyson Robinson’s Statement to OS-SLDN Members, Families and Supporters

From Out Serve:

On 24, Jun 2013

This weekend’s events were most unfortunate and deeply troubling for many of us, but for my part, as from the beginning of my tenure with this organization, I am fully and firmly committed to our LGBT service members, veterans, and their families and to their fight for equality. For that reason, and to honor those who’ve shared those values with me, it is my intent to continue to lead OutServe-SLDN in the near term as we approach an historic moment for our community and our country. After that, at a date to be determined, I have decided of my own accord to step down, and will work with our members to ensure an orderly transition to the next phase of this organization’s life.

Very few people ever get the opportunity in this life to hear from those whose lives they’ve touched just how much they are loved and respected. I have no words to express my gratitude for the hundreds who have reached out to me privately or stood up for me publicly over these last 24 hours to show their support: from the military community, the LGBT community, and most especially, most dear to me, the troops of OutServe-SLDN and their families. For that, I am blessed beyond measure.

In light of the momentous events the coming days hold for us all, I intend to put this matter behind us and look forward to shifting the focus back to where it belongs: our LGBT service members, veterans, and families, who sacrifice so much every day, and their ongoing fight for full equality.

— Allyson Robinson, Executive Director, OutServe-SLDN

From Out Serve:

On 24, Jun 2013

Washington, DC – The OS-SLDN Board and staff are in the process of transforming the organization from primarily a legal services organization into a membership services and advocacy organization. This not only includes revising our business model to operate effectively under new political and financial realities, but is also part of a larger effort to increase the role of the organization’s 6,500 members in the leadership and direction of the organization.

This past Saturday an email containing the contents of confidential internal discussions of the OS-SLDN Board of Directors was erroneously distributed to an email list containing recipients outside of the Board of Directors. The board would like to clarify that the drafted item was only part of a series of discussions aimed at transitioning the organization in what has been a rapidly changing financial and political landscape facing the LGBT movement, which will soon include a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. As is the case with many of our partners at this critical time, OS-SLDN is facing real and significant financial obstacles, forcing the Board to look critically at all aspects of its operations and to consider difficult decisions, including cutting costs and staffing reductions.

Board Co-Chair, Josh Seefried, stated, “There is no excuse for the series of events that transpired this past weekend. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I sincerely apologize for this as well as the impact it’s had on our staff’s and members’ trust and confidence in the organization. Allyson Robinson has led OutServe-SLDN as one of the most transformational leaders of this movement, and there is not a member serving on this board who does not respect and admire her work for this organization and the LGBT movement.”

“Allyson has continually put our LGBT service members, veterans, and their families first in the changes the organization has faced since the repeal of DADT,” stated co-chair April Heinze. “As many in our community know, the LGBT movement is evolving quickly, and so will its institutions. Many people thought that after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ all the military LGBT organizations would or should disappear. As Allyson Robinson and her staff have so powerfully and effectively reminded the nation, the mission for full equality in our Armed Forces is incomplete.”

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See Also:

Bilerico: Robinson to Resign: Is OutServe-SLDN Future in Jeopardy?

Advocate: Allyson Robinson to Continue as OutServe-SLDN Director for ‘Near Term’

Buzz Feed: LGBT Military Group Held Emergency Board Meeting To Discuss Leader’s Ouster

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Transgender People Need Safe Restrooms

From The Huffington Post:


Transgender people go to work, drive our kids to school, go to the movies, and go out to dinner, and yes, like everyone else, we even go to the restroom. Most folks don’t think twice about using the restroom, but for transgender people, accessing the restroom that matches our gender identity too often results in ridicule or violence. Those of us who don’t fit narrow gender stereotypes — including transgender people transitioning from one gender to another — are most likely to be targeted.

At Transgender Law Center, we’ve been explaining this harsh reality to policy makers for years. In fact, our 2005 publication Peeing in Peace is still wildly popular and has inspired the creation of a new mobile app to help trans folks find safe places to use the restroom. Our helpline receives more than 2,500 requests each year. Some of those callers include employees of major corporations who are not allowed to use the appropriate restroom at work, students who aren’t allowed to use the appropriate restroom at school, and people who have been attacked in restrooms at malls and grocery stores.

Jody L. Herman, Williams Institute Manager of Transgender Research, recently released “Gendered Restrooms and Minority Stress: The Public Regulation of Gender and Its Impact on Transgender People’s Lives.” This scientific study found that 70 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents experienced problems in gender-specific restrooms in Washington, D.C., with people of color and people who have not medically transitioned often faring worse than others.

The data in “Gendered Restrooms and Minority Stress” demonstrate the severity and urgency of this issue. Among the transgender people who responded to Herman’s study about restroom access, 54 percent reported adverse health effects from trying to avoid using public restrooms, such as dehydration, kidney infections, and urinary tract infections; 10 percent of respondents who attended school in D.C. reported a negative impact on their education, including having excessive absences and dropping out of school due to issues related to restroom access; and 58 percent reported that they have avoided going out in public due to a lack of safe public restroom facilities.

For many people, talking about restrooms is uncomfortable. Yet we must begin to address this issue head-on if we hope to prevent the health complications, negative experiences in the education system, and stress that many transgender people — especially transgender people of color — experience when attempting to meet a very basic need. I commend the Williams Institute and organizations like the DC Trans Coalition that are advocating for safe and accessible facilities for all.

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Suspect in Custody in D.C. Trans Stabbing

From The Advocate

Police confirmed that they have someone in custody who is suspected of stabbing a transgender woman as many as 40 times in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

BY Sunnivie Brydum
June 24 2013

Police in Washington, D.C. confirmed today that they have in custody someone who is believed to be responsible for stabbing a transgender woman as many as 40 times in the early hours of Friday morning, reports the Washington Blade.

Bree Wallace, a 29-year-old transgender woman, was stabbed repeatedly by an assailant she knew casually around 1 a.m. Friday in southeastern D.C., according to police reports reviewed by The Blade. After running several blocks back to her apartment building, Wallace reportedly collapsed on the street. Neighbors who saw her immediately called 911.

On Monday, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier confirmed to the Blade that the suspect was in police custody after being arrested on charges unrelated to the alleged assault. A police spokesperson told the Blade on Sunday that the assailant assaulted Wallace with the intent to kill, but noted that the attack was neither random nor a hate crime.

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Who Is to Blame for Rape, Hazing, and Bullying? It’s Simple: Rapists and Bullies, Not Victims

From RH Reality Check:

by Amanda Marcotte
June 24, 2013

What will it take to get ordinary, everyday people to accept that sexual assault is a terrible crime? It almost seems asinine to ask that, because most people, if asked, will agree with the contention that rape and other forms of sexual assault are always wrong and never acceptable. Unfortunately, however, those sentiments often don’t translate into real life action. Instead, over and over, we’re seeing that when someone is sexually assaulted—especially a teenager—communities react by supporting the assailants and castigating the victims.

It’s happened again in Colorado, and this time, the victim is a young man. Despite the gender difference, the pattern is the same as it was in Steubenville, Ohio, or Cleveland, Texas, or Elwood, Indiana, or Halifax, Nova Scotia: A young person is violently assaulted, often by multiple people, and afterward is subject to abuse and taunting while their assailants are lauded by community members as nice guys who don’t deserve this.

The Norwood, Colorado, case involves a 13-year-old who was being “hazed,” which is one of those euphemisms that exists to minimize and excuse bullying and even assault. The three assailants cornered the young man in a school bus, duct-taped his mouth and anally raped him with a pencil. (Once again, it’s worth remembering that rape is not the result of overwhelming, out-of-control sexual desire, but in fact is an outgrowth of this kind of bullying and domineering attitude.) Even though the victim’s father was the school principal, it was hard to get any kind of justice for the victim because so many supporters of the assailants had ties to the school board, and the town seems to have largely turned against the victim. The Denver Post reports:

After the principal reported the incident to police, townspeople forced him to resign. Students protested against the victim at school, put “Go to Hell” stickers on his locker and wore T-shirts that supported the perpetrators. The attackers later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, according to the Denver district attorney’s office.

Apparently, there’s been a major uptick in the number of sexual assaults of young men under the guise of “hazing” around the country, which is unsurprising considering that even in its milder forms, the concept of “hazing” is nothing but validating some kids bullying others for no other reason than their lower social status or younger age. Since hazing was already treated with a wink and a nod in these communities, is it really a surprise that people defend it even as it gets uglier, more sexually violent, and more sadistic? The way that we define masculinity in our culture as cruel and domineering makes these sorts of things nearly inevitable:

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The real supreme court stunner: sometimes workplace harassment is OK

From The Guardian UK:

In Vance v Ball State University, the US supreme court has ruled that job harassment only counts if it’s from a ‘supervisor’, Monday 24 June 2013

Every June a few US supreme court cases get a reputation for being blockbusters, and this year has been no different. We’re still awaiting decisions on cases concerning gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act. But the blockbusters can obscure smaller cases with profound effects. On Monday, the court quietly delivered a destructive, toxic decision on workplace harassment that is as significant as anything else this year.

Vance v Ball State University, which concerned the interpretation of a section of the Civil Rights Act, shouldn’t have even reached America’s highest court – but it did, and the court’s right wing grabbed ahold and used it to further gut workplace protections.

The petitioner was Maetta Vance, the only African-American woman working in the catering department of Ball State University in Indiana. Her supervisor, a white woman, appears to have made her work life a living hell. The supervisor assigned her to perform menial tasks, such as slicing vegetables, even though Vance had worked at the caterer for years and frequently prepared formal dinners for the university. According to Vance, she faced not only frequent racial harassment, including references to the Ku Klux Klan, but sometimes physical threats as well. On one occasion, at least, the supervisor allegedly slapped her.

Vance sued the university for permitting a hostile work environment, but there was a catch: although the harasser controlled Vance’s day-to-day responsibilities at the catering department, she didn’t have the power to demote or fire her.

For Sam Alito, writing for the five members of court’s conservative bloc, that distinction meant that Vance had no case. Ball State can’t be held liable, since the harasser wasn’t really a “supervisor”, only a “coworker”. An employer can only be held responsible for a harasser’s actions, the court ruled, if it has empowered the harasser “to take tangible employment actions against the victim” – such as demotion, a change in benefits, reassignment, or dismissal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for investigating discrimination complaints, had long espoused a more realistic understanding of how workplaces are organized, but Alito had no time anything so “nebulous”.

Until Monday, the court had accepted that someone who directs an employee’s daily activities is a supervisor. No more. Now, according to the court, unless your harassers have the explicit, formal power to hire and fire you, then they don’t count as a supervisor – and therefore you can’t bring a suit against your employer. But as Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained in an understandably exasperated dissent, joined by the other liberal justices, such an extremely narrow definition fails to account for the realities of the workplace:

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Where is Edward Snowden? Glenn Greenwald on Asylum Request, Espionage Charge; More Leaks to Come

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Edward Snowden Says He Sought Booz Allen Hamilton Job To Gather NSA Surveillance Evidence

From Huffington Post:

By Posted: 06/24/2013

Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who leaked information on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, says he sought the job with Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence on the agency’s data collection networks.

In a June 12 interview with the South China Morning Post published Monday, Snowden, who previously worked as a CIA technician, said he took the position with the intention of collecting information on the NSA.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he said. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”

SCMP reports:

Asked if he specifically went to Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence of surveillance, he replied: “Correct on Booz.”His intention was to collect information about the NSA hacking into “the whole world” and “not specifically Hong Kong and China”.

The documents he divulged to the Post were obtained during his tenure at Booz Allen Hamilton in April, he said.

Snowden also told the Chinese newspaper that he intends to leak more documents on the NSA’s programs.

Last week, Reuters reported that Booz Allen Hamilton hired Snowden despite finding possible discrepancies in his resume. The Senate has also launched an investigation into USIS, the government contractor that vetted Snowden in 2011.

“We are limited in what we can say about this investigation because it is an ongoing criminal matter,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said of the investigation. “But it is a reminder that background investigations can have real consequences for our national security.”

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The Pursuit of Edward Snowden: Washington in a Rage, Striving to Run the World

From Common Dreams:

by Norman Solomon

Rarely has any American provoked such fury in Washington’s high places. So far, Edward Snowden has outsmarted the smartest guys in the echo chamber—and he has proceeded with the kind of moral clarity that U.S. officials seem to find unfathomable.

Bipartisan condemnations of Snowden are escalating from Capitol Hill and the Obama administration. More of the NSA’s massive surveillance program is now visible in the light of day—which is exactly what it can’t stand.

The central issue is our dire shortage of democracy. How can we have real consent of the governed when the government is entrenched with extreme secrecy, surveillance and contempt for privacy?

The same government that continues to expand its invasive dragnet of surveillance, all over the United States and the rest of the world, is now asserting its prerogative to drag Snowden back to the USA from anywhere on the planet. It’s not only about punishing him and discouraging other potential whistleblowers. Top U.S. officials are also determined to—quite literally—silence Snowden’s voice, as Bradley Manning’s voice has been nearly silenced behind prison walls.

The sunshine of information, the beacon of principled risk-takers, the illumination of government actions that can’t stand the light of day—these correctives are anathema to U.S. authorities who insist that really informative whistleblowers belong in solitary confinement. A big problem for those authorities is that so many people crave the sunny beacons of illumination.

On Sunday night, more than 15,000 Americans took action to send a clear message to the White House. The subject line said “Mr. President, hands off Edward Snowden,” and the email message read: “I urge you in the strongest terms to do nothing to interfere with the travels or political asylum process of Edward Snowden. The U.S. government must not engage in abduction or any other form of foul play against Mr. Snowden.”

As the Obama White House weighs its options, the limits are practical and political. Surveillance and military capacities are inseparable, and they’re certainly huge, but constraints may cause major frustration. Sunday on CNN, anchor Don Lemon cited the fabled Navy Seals and said such commandos ought to be able to capture Snowden, pronto.

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Democratic rights are at stake in fight to defend Edward Snowden

From World Socialist Web Site:

Barry Grey
24 June 2013

There is something profoundly unsettling about seeing a young person fleeing a vindictive government for having exposed a massive political conspiracy against the democratic rights of the American people and the people of the world.

Edward Snowden has been charged with espionage and is being denounced by American politicians and media commentators as a traitor who is spying for the enemy. But to whom is he giving information? To the American people. In the eyes of Snowden’s accusers, the enemy is the American people.

The people have a right to know that every telephone call is recorded, every email is monitored, every Skype conversation is listened into; that every communication, Internet download and credit card purchase is collected and stored in vast National Security Agency (NSA) databases. Those private communications that are not immediately wiretapped or read are collected for future snooping.

The so-called “metadata” of phone and electronic communication records provide the military and intelligence agencies with a wealth of information about every man and woman in the country—who they associate with, what they read, what they purchase, how they spend their time.

Those who dismiss the revelations of vast state spying operations, who say people have nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide, display ignorance and indifference to the question of democratic rights. To them, the Constitution is superfluous.

The endless stream of denunciations of Snowden by politicians and media commentators continues unabated. It is an attempt, first, to disorient public opinion and shift attention from the real issue raised by his exposure of US spying programs, and, second, to make an example of Snowden so as to intimidate others from exposing government crimes.

On the Sunday interview programs, politicians of both parties lined up to denounce Snowden as a criminal and defend the illegal surveillance operations. Speaking on “Face the Nation,” Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared that she had seen “no abuse by these agencies” and accused Snowden of damaging programs “that have worked well and disrupted terrorist plots.”

“I want to see him caught and brought back for trial … the chase is on,” she added, and went on to imply that WikiLeaks should be prosecuted for “aiding and abetting” Snowden.

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Rainwater Harvesting Off Grid

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Billion-Dollar Scam In a Bottle: Why Vitamins Could Be Useless—or Even Shorten Your Lifespan

From Alternet:

The latest advice from the medical community? Don’t take your vitamins.

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
June 24, 2013

If you’re like roughly half of your fellow Americans, you probably popped a multi this morning. As the slightly acrid taste lingered on your tongue, you felt good knowing that something so quick and easy would help safeguard your health.

Multivitamins are the most popular dietary supplement on Earth. But here’s the sobering reality: They may be simply useless—or worse.

For the last several years, a Mount Fuji of evidence has piled up to show that multivitamins don’t do much of anything for the health of the average person. Though less conclusive, a growing body of evidence suggests that they may even shorten your life. Unless you are taking vitamins to address a specific deficiency, malnutrition or illness, gulping down a multivitamin in hopes of preventing disease or cheating the Grim Reaper may be one of the most prevalent medical myths of our time.

Yet Americans aren’t getting the message. In fact, as the economy remains stagnant, we are taking more vitamins than ever in the hopes that we can avoid a costly doctor’s visit. However misguided our thinking, there’s one sure bet on vitamins: With annual sales of more than $20 billion, there are pots of money to be made for an industry that operates in the shadows —money so big that hedge funds are tripping over themselves to get in on the action.

The victim is not just your wallet. It might be your health.

A look at the science

As recently as 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association recommended that “all adults take one multivitamin daily.” Your doctor probably told you to take one, confident that her advice reflected the scientific consensus. Your friends or family members may nudge you to jump on the vitamin train, and share their favorite brands and doses.

But for the last several years, many doctors have begun to reverse their previous recommendations. Two gigantic studies have caused what Prevention magazine called a “sea change” in clinical thinking.

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