Jeff Sessions Becomes One of Few Presidential Nominees Ever Opposed by Common Cause in 46 Years

Common Cause announced it opposition to the nomination of Sen. Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III (R-AL) to serve as U.S. Attorney General, deeming him unfit to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

Sessions has for decades been an outspoken critic of the Voting Rights Act, one of this country’s most critical pieces of civil and voting rights legislation, which paved the way for an inclusive democracy.

“The Voting Rights Act is on the chopping block with the nomination of Senator Sessions and recent victories in the courts striking down laws designed to suppress minority voting would be threatened under a Sessions-led Justice Department,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. “Common Cause had opposed presidential nominees only a handful of times in our 46-year history, but Senator Sessions is a longtime critic of too many of the laws he would be charged with enforcing as Attorney General.”

Common Cause previously opposed the nominations of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court, John Tower as Secretary of Defense and Ed Meese as U.S. Attorney General. The nominations of Bork and Tower were rejected by the U.S. Senate. Meese was confirmed and served as Attorney General but resigned from office over his role in a defense contracting scandal.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings on the Sessions nomination that will be held on January 10 and 11, more than a week before President-elect Trump is even sworn into office. This is the same committee that has for nearly a year refused to even hold hearings on President Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has no business ramming through the nomination on an expedited schedule before President-elect Trump is even sworn into office,” said Flynn. “The fact that a previous Republican-controlled U.S. Senate rejected Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship because of a series of racially insensitive or racist language should give the Senate pause. It would be irresponsible of the Senate to rush to confirm a suspect nominee simply because he is a fellow member of what has been referred to as ‘the world’s most exclusive club.’ Sessions’ questionable record should be carefully reviewed before the Senate rubber stamps the same man it found unfit to be a federal judge years ago.”

In 1986, Sessions’ nomination to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama was rejected by a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. After listening to extensive testimony about controversial statements made and actions taken by Sessions, the Judiciary Committee could not even muster enough votes to pass the nomination on to the full Senate without recommendation.

For his recent nomination, Sen. Sessions did not even complete his questionnaire. Among other things, the Senator omitted inclusion of dozens of recent interviews, including some given to Breitbart and others as recent as October of 2016 in which he excuses president-elect Trump’s statements condoning sexual assault. Content aside, such omissions amount to a process violation. In 2010, when the Senator himself reviewed submissions from a judicial nominee, he noted that the incomplete response was “potentially disqualifying” and a criminal offense. “Sen. Sessions’ cannot contend for the nation’s chief lawyer without playing by the rules,” President Hobert Flynn noted.

Sen. Sessions additionally tries to create for himself a civil rights record that simply does not exist. As three former DOJ attorneys noted in a recent op-ed, Sen. Sessions completed no substantive work on at least three of the four cases he claimed, in his recent questionnaire, his most significant civil rights cases. Tellingly, Sen. Sessions failed to include these same cases in his questionnaire for his 1986 nomination to a federal judgeship. “It’s clear,” President Hobert Flynn stated, “that the Senator is trying to develop a record that doesn’t exist. He did it when prosecuting three activists for voter fraud despite the dearth of evidence, and he’s doing it now to try to fool his colleagues. America’s elected representatives must call it out for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to gain an unearned office.”

The Consequences of Gutting the Voting Rights Act: An FAQ

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Pennsylvania’s primary election is almost upon us, and the November General Election is just months away – but how easily will folks across the country get access to their right to cast a ballot?

According to a new report in Think Progress, voters in many states will face new voter restrictions when they head to the polls this year, thanks in part to the 2013 “gutting” of the Voting Rights Act.

Here’s how Think Progress explains it:

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act. By overturning Section 5 of the landmark civil right law — a provision that required states with a history of discrimination to get pre-approval of voting changes — the court opened the floodgates for states to pass voter suppression measures.

In the years since that decision, dozens of states have enacted new laws making it harder to vote. The 2016 election is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA.

The story (which we recommend reading in full) also includes a map that explains “what happens to Democracy after you gut the Voting Rights Act.”

How pervasive is the problem? Here’s a statistic to consider from the story: In 2016, 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election.

 

 

Organizations Seek to End Ohio’s Practice of Removing Infrequent Voters from Registration Rolls

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The nonprofit advocacy agencies Demos and the ACLU of Ohio brought suit on behalf of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

The organizations are demanding that Ohio stop illegally removing voters from its voter registration rolls in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

“In 2015, Ohio conducted a massive purge across the state,” said Andre Washington, the president of the Ohio APRI chapter. “In Cuyahoga County alone, approximately 40,000 individuals were unlawfully purged merely for choosing not to vote, and a disproportionate number came from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.”

According to the lawsuit, Ohio is violating the NVRA by canceling the registrations of voters who do not vote in three successive federal elections or in the intervening local elections, a practice Ohio calls the “supplemental process.”

The organizations allege that these voter purges have resulted in the widespread disenfranchisement of eligible Ohioans.

“We have spoken to purged voters from around the state of Ohio who tried to vote in the November 2015 local election and were turned away,” said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio. “The already widespread disenfranchisement that has resulted from this process is likely to be much worse in a presidential election year.”

The complaint, which comes four months after APRI sent a letter to Secretary Husted, notifying him that the state was violating the NVRA, asserts that Ohio’s policy of purging voters from its rolls for failing to vote disproportionately affects already marginalized voters.

“As we have seen time and time again, homeless voters and other marginalized voters have to fight to make their voices heard in the electoral process,” said Brian Davis, the Executive Director at NEOCH.

APRI and NEOCH are seeking an order from the court immediately halting the use of the Supplemental Process and restoring the unlawfully purged voters to the voter rolls.

“Under the supplemental process, Ohio is removing eligible voters from its rolls for no reason other than their failure to vote,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, which is representing the plaintiffs with the ACLU. “This unlawful practice must stop, and it must stop now. Without immediate court intervention, many Ohio voters will find themselves denied this fundamental right when they go to the polls in November.”

In addition to the supplemental process, Ohio employs a separate roll-maintenance system that uses change-of-address data provided by the U.S. Postal Service to identify and remove voters who have moved.

 

 

New Report Ranks Voter Turnout in All 50 States – PA Ranked 30th

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As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Nonprofit VOTE released its biennial voter turnout report, America Goes to the Polls 2014, based on final data certified by state election offices.
The report ranks voter turnout in all 50 states to look at major factors underlying voter participation in this
historically low-turnout election.
How did Pennsylvania rank? With 36.7 percent of eligible voters turning out to the polls, the Keystone State ranked 30th.
While just 36.6 percent of eligible citizens voted, the lowest in a midterm since World War II, turnout varied widely across states by as much as 30 percentage points. Maine led the nation with 58.5 percent turnout among eligible voters, follow by Wisconsin at 56.8 percent, and Colorado at 54.5 percent.
The states with Election Day Registration had the highest voter participation rates averaging 48 percent, 12 points higher than the turnout in states without it. EDR allows voters to correct a registration problem when they vote. Seven of the top 10 turnout states have EDR.
None of the bottom 10 turnout states have EDR. Four states-Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois and the District of Columbia-used it for the first time in a midterm election bringing the number of EDR states to 13.
As of February 2015, Election Day Registration legislation had been proposed in 14 additional states, including
Alaska, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah
and Vermont.

“While opponents of the legislation have argued that Election Day Registration places undue burdens on state election officials, the technologies we have today make it far easier than in the past,” said George Pillsbury, founder of Nonprofit VOTE.  “The success of EDR states over 40 years shows it works and no voter need be turned away because of a problem with their registration.”

Competition was a major driver bringing voters to the polls. Voter turnout averaged 11 points or 33 percent higher in the 22 states with competitive statewide races for U.S. Senate or Governor compared to states without one. Nine of the top ten turnout states had a competitive statewide contest while 19 of the bottom 20 had none. Meanwhile competition in House races plummeted with only 39 of 435 seats ranked close or a toss-up by the Cook Political Report compared to 100 in 2010 and 57 in 2012.
The report recommends additional policy changes that could improve the registration process and foster greater voter participation. These include pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds, implementing best practices in early voting, allowing ex-offenders to regain their voting rights and using nonpartisan redistricting commissions to oversee decennial redistricting–similar to recommendations made by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The report’s ranking is based on the certified counts of total votes cast as a percentage of their state’s voting eligible population.
Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Texas and Indiana made up the bottom five all with less than 30 percent of their eligible voters participating.
“Clearly there’s much work to do to foster a healthy democracy when well below half the electorate votes in a national election,” states Brian Miller, executive director of Nonprofit VOTE. “The good news is that higher turnout states show us how we can increase voter turnout across the nation.”