Voting Rights: Holder’s Justice Department Steps Up

A new article in The American Prospect hails last week’s rejection of South Carolina’s Voter ID law as a watershed for the Justice Department, with Eric Holder’s reinvigorated Civil Rights Division making clear its priorities.

The new DOJ assessment of South Carolina’s restriction is the clearest indication that the department is handling civil rights disputes more seriously than the Bush administration. When Georgia passed its version of voter ID in 2005, members of DOJ’s career civil service staff examined the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The law requires states with a history of voter discrimination to get federal approval for new voting laws. Bush’s DOJ produced a 70-page report, with three of the four experts arguing that Georgia’s law should be blocked for its excessive impediments for minorities. The day after the report was released, Bush’s political appointees ignored the assessment of the experts and cleared Georgia’s law. “They weren’t really interested in investigating Georgia’s submission,” Toby Moore, one of the lawyers reviewing the case, told TPM in 2007. “They were mainly interested in assembling evidence to support pre-clearance. Any attempt to bring up counter-evidence to suggest a discriminatory impact was ignored or critiqued.”

Even though the rejection of South Carolina’s law represents a welcome new tone from DOJ, there is little the Obama administration can do to overturn the whole slate of new voter-suppression measures. Section 5 only covers nine states and a smattering of counties and townships, allowing states like Wisconsin, Tennessee and Kansas to implement the same kinds of restrictions without federal approval.

God bless the Voting Rights Act.

Of course, Gov. Haley ain’t happy. So in all likelihood, Supreme Court, here we come again. On the taxpayers’ dime, of course.

Drug Testing The Poor: Bad Policy, Even Worse Law

From Time:

Hopefully Gov. Nikki Haley has abandoned her hopes to institute this failed, reactionary policy in S.C., since acknowledging that her whole argument for it was based on a falsehood.

Getty Images

By Adam Cohen

Monday, Aug. 29, 2011

Under a new Florida law, people applying for welfare have to take a drug test at their own expense. If they pass, they are eligible for benefits and the state reimburses them for the test. If they fail, they are denied welfare for a year, until they take another test.

Mandatory drug testing for welfare applicants is becoming a popular idea across the U.S. Many states — including Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Louisiana — are considering adopting laws like Florida’s. At the federal level, Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, has introduced the Drug Free Families Act of 2011, which would require all 50 states to drug-test welfare applicants.

And the focus isn’t even limited to welfare. In July, Indiana adopted drug tests for participants in a state job-training program. An Ohio state senator, Tim Grendell, recently said he plans to introduce a bill to require the unemployed to take a drug test before they receive unemployment benefits.

Drug testing the needy has an undeniable populist appeal. It taps into deeply held beliefs about the deserving and undeserving poor. As Alabama state representative Kerry Rich put it, “I don’t think the taxpayers should have to help fund somebody’s drug habit.”

But as government policy, drug testing is being oversold. These laws do not do what their supporters claim. And more importantly: they are likely to be unconstitutional. (See a TIME feature on your right to privacy.)

Drug testing proponents like to argue that there are large numbers of drug users going on welfare to get money to support their habits. The claim feeds into long-standing stereotypes about the kind of people who go on welfare, but it does not appear to have much basis in fact. Continue reading

How Not To Sell A State That’s Feeling The Pinch

From The Economist:

Hello, sunshine!

Oct 8th 2011 | COLUMBIA | from the print edition

IT’S a great day in South Carolina, and if you don’t believe it, ask Governor Nikki Haley. On September 27th the governor ordered the 16 directors of cabinet agencies under her direct control to change the way their employees answer the telephone. So now when phoning, say, the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services or the Department of Employment and Workforce, callers are supposed to hear this cheery greeting: “It’s a great day in South Carolina. How may I help you?”

Ms Haley says the new greeting will boost the morale of state workers and help her to sell the state. “It’s part of who I am,” she declares. “As hokey as some people may think it is, I’m selling South Carolina as this great, new, positive state that everybody needs to look at.”

The blogosphere has been inundated with people mocking the new salutation and proposing alternative greetings. One suggestion: “It’s still better here than Mississippi. How can I help you?” Another was more explicit: “Thank you for calling South Carolina where unemployment is high, morale is low and political leaders are very busy wasting your resources. How may I direct your call?” Continue reading