Voter Protection in the Upcoming Election

Judge Charleston, Waller County Justice of the Peace, was able to inject a surprising amount of humor and no shortage of passion into the telling of his personal experiences of struggling against appalling practices in Texas designed to keep black students from exercising their right to vote.Judge DeWayne Charleston

Judge Charleston’s speech today, co-sponsored by ACS, Black Law Students Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union centered on students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university in the majority white Waller County, Texas. Judge Charleston personally oversaw the registration of over 1100 black student voters. However, when the judge went to survey the polls on election day, checking to make sure that his constituents and potential voters weren’t having problems, he found that these black student voters whose registration he had personally overseen were being denied their right to vote at the polls. With a little help from unlikely allies Scarface and the crew at Rap-a-lot Records, Judge Charleston was able to convince the crowds of students to stay and vote provisionally, but was nonetheless appalled at the discriminatory practices at the polls.

Published in: on October 1, 2008 at 8:25 pm Comments Off on Voter Protection in the Upcoming Election
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Pastors for Politicians?

The Alliance Defense Fund is calling for Christian pastors to begin endorsing political candidates on September 28, 2008—which has been illegal since 1954. The issue stems from the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause potentially trumping the IRS tax code 26 U.S.C § 501(c)(3), which exempts religious organizations from income tax so long as those organizations do not endorse specific political candidates.

The ADF’s plan is to regain the right of religious organizations to both announce political candidates they support and continue their tax exempt status. The ADF is hoping the IRS will take away the tax-exempt status of those churches participating in the September 28 rally. The churches, and thus the ADF, will then have a cause of action against the IRS. The ADF hopes for a ruling by the courts that declares such tax codes against religious organizations as unconstitutional.

The most notable group against the ADF’s goals is Americans United [for Separation of Church and State]. The AU is in full support of the tax provision, and even has an online “Report a Violation” form to stop “potentially illegal electioneering by religious leaders or groups.”

Although the battle in court has not begun—if it ever will begin—inferences can be made fairly easily from free speech to the Free Exercise Clause, and the IRS tax code to the Establishment Clause as potential strategies by the ADF and AU, respectively.


Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 4:18 pm Comments Off on Pastors for Politicians?

Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons

As the 2008 presidential election rapidly approaches many Americans are focused on deciding which candidate to vote for. The right to vote is one that many of us take for granted, but there are about 5.3 million Americans who are disenfranchised due to felony convictions. There is a high degree of disenfranchisement on the national level, but the disenfranchisement statistics and practices in Virginia are especially disturbing.

Virginia and Kentucky are the only states in which restoration of rights for felons is completely contingent upon the governor’s approval of the felon’s restoration application. Prior to Governor Warner, all felons in Virginia had to wait seven years before applying to have their rights restored. Warner changed the law, creating two separate criteria based on whether the felony conviction was violent or non- violent. Governor Warner restored the rights of 4,000 people while he was in office, in contrast, his successor governor Kaine, according to a lecture by Sandra Brandt, has granted restoration rights to very few people. (more…)

Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 5:19 pm Comments Off on Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons

Justice Scalia on Bush v. Gore

Justice Scalia reacted indignantly when questioned about the Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, suggesting everyone should “get over it” because the legal issue “wasn’t even close.” While I have always thought that outrage, while predictable and in some sense justified, the Court largely handled the legal issues fairly.

The problem with Justice Scalia’s dismissive response is not his justification of the ruling on the merits, the problem comes at the end where he says “what were we supposed to say? ‘It’s not important enough?'” Now I don’t expect CNN to get into fine questions of constitutional law, but Justice Scalia could stand a little humility when answering this question. Should the Court have said “we won’t hear it, the case isn’t important enough,” of course not. Quite the contrary. Look over the following passage from Baker v. Carr, which to the best of my knowledge is still good law on this point, and ask yourself whether it would be so preposterous for the Court to decide it wasn’t their place to make this call:

“Prominent on the surface of any case held to involve a political question is found a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; or the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion; or the impossibility of a court’s undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government; or an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; or the potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.”


Published in: on April 24, 2008 at 10:46 pm Comments Off on Justice Scalia on Bush v. Gore

Iowa 2008

Happy New Year’s to W&M ACS.

We did a great job in 2007, our first full year as a blogging chapter. I’m looking forward to 2008 and I think we’ll provide a lot more insightful progressive commentary in the coming months.

I spent part of the holiday season bundled up in Iowa, reporting on the caucus on behalf of The Huffington Post. If you’re interested, check out my articles on political telemarketing and push polling, as I explore the tension between First Amendment rights to political free speech and the right to privacy in the home.

And, if you’re more interested in music and theater, I wrote a piece about CAUCUS!: THE MUSICAL, and an article about the candidates’ campaign song. Fun times.

Obama Press RowUltimately, my short time in Iowa left me with more questions than answers about the process. The entire Democratic caucus structure in Iowa is thoroughly confusing; much more so than the Republican method which is fairly straight forward. Furthermore, I’m personally not so sure it’s the most progressive way to pick a president.


Published in: on January 1, 2008 at 11:02 pm Comments Off on Iowa 2008

Shaming Punishments

I am generally opposed to shaming punishments. It’s not that I have any opposition to leveraging community morality to convince someone that responsibility is what we do when no one is looking. Quite the contrary, I wish there were more ways to express condemnation than locking people in a room with other convicts.

No, my objection to shaming punishments is due to the malevolence with which they are administered. Often the deterrence aspect of these punishments seems secondary to something more insidious. It’s hard to pin down. Sometimes it just seems like the majority taking the opportunity to demonize someone, anyone, because without the ‘other’ there is no ‘us.’ Other times it seems like a way for the victims to get their pound of flesh, which might make them feel better, but I always hoped we as a society were better than that.

But there is something else going with these shaming punishments that we should watch out for:

Drunk Driver Billboard


Published in: on December 14, 2007 at 7:10 pm Comments Off on Shaming Punishments

Felony Disenfranchisement

In Florida last week, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) broke from the ranks of many in his party and successfully voted with the Office of Executive Clemency to restore the voting rights of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of ex-felons in the Sunshine State.

Gov. Crist and his cabinet members voted to to overhaul the state’s Jim Crow-era system of forcing most former convicted felons to complete an arduous, sometimes impossible, application process to petition for the restoration of their civil rights. These civil rights include the right to vote, hold elected office, and serve on a jury.

Jail CellAccording to the Orlando Sentinel blog linked to above, under the new process the governor approved, as many as eight in ten felons who have fulfilled their sentences will no longer have to wait interminably for a hearing to have their rights restored. Those who were convicted of very violent crimes still have to wait at least five years to go through the full application process, but the non-violent, less egregious former felons will not.

The whole notion of felony disenfranchisement has always seemed absurd to me. In fact, I find it counterintuitive. Although there are those out there who argue that felons have broken the “social contract” with society in committing their crimes, and thus should not have a voice in the political decision-making process, I have always believed that this view is based on unnecessary retribution and isn’t productive to society.


Published in: on April 10, 2007 at 11:15 pm Comments (3)

The Incestuous Overlap Between Election Law and Political Campaigns

There was a cool post on the Wall Street Journal law blog today detailing the overlap that exists between the field of election law and lawyers advising political campaigns.

One of the primary purposes of a candidate’s retention of an election law expert is because of money, money and more money. As the
new online magazine noted:

A good lawyer can devise an innovative fundraising strategy to raise $7.1 million outside of federal election laws, as Republican Mitt Romney’s did, or win credit for salvaging a beleaguered clean election program, as Democrat Barack Obama’s did. Bad campaign finance advice can earn candidates searing press criticism, costly fines — even jail time.

An interesting twist can occur, however, when within one law firm, different lawyers represent different clients. Such is the case with Washinton’s Perkins Coie. While partner Marc Elias is representing Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), another partner Bob Bauer, whom you might remember from his “new paradigm” campaign finance discussion with William & Mary ACS last fall, is representing Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).


Published in: on March 7, 2007 at 5:28 pm Comments Off on The Incestuous Overlap Between Election Law and Political Campaigns

Bob Bauer at WM 11/20 — Recap

Bob Bauer delivered an hour-long lecture at WM on 11/20, focusing on the progressive agenda and campaign finance reform.  The talk was interesting in that it challenged the conventional progressive conception of money as a corrupting force in the legislative process.  Specifically, Mr. Bauer pointed to three components of the traditional progressive reform outlook that are not necessarily advancing a progressive agenda.

(1) Influence of money — Critiquing the idea that all money corrupts politics, Mr. Bauer demonstrated that the drive to regulate ALL money in politics has hurt promotion of progressive causes on several front, including with 527s and grassroots advocacy organizations.

(2) Ugly Speech — Mr. Bauer specifically critiqued the Dworkin-esque argument that certain aspects of political speech are ugly or undesirable because they unfairly distort the views of the electorate; instead, Bauer expressed worry that the notion that we should shield the voters from ugly speech was both paternalistic and raised free speech concerns.


Published in: on November 26, 2006 at 10:40 am Comments Off on Bob Bauer at WM 11/20 — Recap

Bob Bauer Preview (Pt. 2) — Campaign Finance Reform

So Bob Bauer will surely be speaking in part about the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Bill on Monday and he certainly has some interesting views concerning the state of campaign finance reform. 

In this post, Bauer contends that the entrenched elite have benefited most from McCain-Feingold, while the 527s so demonized in the 2004 elections continue to face an uphill battle in the current electoral environment.  It’s certainly an interesting argument, considering that the conventional wisdom is that McCain-Feingold has been such a success as far as reform efforts go. 

It will be interesting to hear Mr. Bauer’s thoughts on campaign finance on Monday.  Don’t forget to come out, Monday, November 20 @ 1 PM in Room 124.

Published in: on November 17, 2006 at 1:40 am Comments Off on Bob Bauer Preview (Pt. 2) — Campaign Finance Reform