Had a great dinner with Linda Monk, constitutional scholar and great friend.
Another shooting. It is so crazy. I would say, “Something would happen in this country if there were…” But we’ve seen almost every scenario imaginable. We’ve seen a shooting in the middle of an army base. Fort Hood. We’ve seen a shooting in the middle of a elementary school. Sandy Hook. These horrors simply keep happening. Aaron Alexis, someone with mental illness, opened fire and killed 14. The Washington Post has several great articles. There’s one about the anatomy of the shooting with exactly what happened inside of building 197. Then there’s more and more background on the shooter, Aaron Alexis. As I’ve mentioned before, I think we have to approach this problem from two separate vantage points. First of all, we have to do a better job of taking care of mental illness in this country. Secondly, too many people have too many guns (recent study shows that more guns equals more gun violence). Gun ownership is a privilege. If you had a run-in with the law in Seattle which seems to suggest mental illness, you really shouldn’t have a gun a decade later unless you’ve proven to be mentally stable. I guess the biggest question that remains unanswered is how did this gentleman, Aaron Alexis, pass a background check? How was he allowed on a Navy shipyard?
Oh, by the way, I didn’t talk about the election that was going on in Colorado. Colorado voters who were infuriated over their representatives’ having the audacity to pass a bill that limits gun violence, had a special recall election. Basically, the NRA decided that they did not want two progressive state Senators and signed a petition to have both senators removed. Yes, the actual details are more complex, but that’s basically what happened. There was a special election which included many special caveats, like no absentee ballots, which seem to always benefit the conservative candidates. The bottom line is that two progressive senators are out and 2 NRA stooges are in. DKos has more – 1) Core Democratic groups (Latinos, African Americans, youth voters, single women) have the worst voter performance, and 2) Republicans will do everything they can to prevent our people from voting.
Let’s go to school. I was confused about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Was does it do? Why was it necessary? Why was Section Five so important? Constitutional scholar Linda Monk answers all of these questions and more.
As you listen to this podcast, I would encourage you to check out some references. First, here is the Voting Rights Act. Secondly, Linda mentions a case that I had never heard of – South Carolina verses Katzenbach (more information here). You should also review the 15th amendment, which gives Congress the power to make voting fair across the US. We discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. Finally, we discuss Eric Holder’s bid to try and make sure that elections are fair for everyone.
This is a great interview and conversation. Sit back and enjoy.
Update: Linda Monk clarifies: “FYI, technically the Supreme Court did NOT decide to strike down Section 5 of the VRA; it struck down the threshold definition used in Section 4, which meant that Section 5 did not kick in.” As usual, I was kind of clueless. So, I went back to the Voting Rights Act and looked at Section 4. Of course, Linda is correct. Here’s how ScotusBlog puts it – Today the Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. That portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring all state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures, no matter how small. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required. But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.
Linda Monk is a constitutional scholar and friend. She just posted this powerful piece on HuffPo:
In rallies much like those currently being held in Wisconsin, and across the nation in state capitals this Saturday, workers during America’s first Gilded Age fought back against the forces of corporate greed that ground them to the bone.
In those days, the Supreme Court believed that the First Amendment to the Constitution, which protects freedom of speech, only applied to the federal government, not the states and the local governments. So any governor, or mayor, or town boss was free to put you in jail or kick you out of town for saying something they didn’t like — union organizing usually being at the top of the list. But union supporters didn’t take that lying down — they flooded towns with speakers who violated local laws that limited free speech.
One of those early union leaders in the fight for free speech was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the “Rebel Girl” of martyr Joe Hill’s famous song. Flynn worked for the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World, who organized miners and migrant workers in the western states in the early 1900s. These workers had little political clout because they moved from job to job and weren’t registered to vote. Presaging the civil rights movement, their principal recourse was a mass protest.
Flynn helped lead one of those “free speech fights” in Missoula, Montana, in 1908. Here’s how she described it:
We sent out a call to all ‘footloose rebels to come at once — to defend the Bill of Rights.’ A steady stream of I.W.W. members began to flock in by freight cars… As soon as one speaker was arrested, another took his place. The jail was soon filled.
These mass protests in favor of free speech definitely had an effect. In 1925, the Supreme Court finally ruled that the First Amendment did apply to state and local governments, nationalizing the protection of free speech. Without the concerted action of union supporters, that victory would not have been possible.
Unions have contributed remarkable things to the American way of life: the growth of the middle class; expansion of health care and social security; paid vacations and paid sick leave; a work week that leaves time for families to enjoy each other. None of these things were possible in Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s day. As she said in 1962: “We never heard of vacations, let alone vacations with pay.”
Make no mistake: What is at risk in Wisconsin, and every state in America, is the quality of life that American workers have fought — and died — for during the past century. When plutocrats like the Koch brothers tell the governor of an American state to roll back the clock on public employees, they are seeking to end protections for all workers. The Kochs are part of an ideological movement that hopes to end all legislation controlling wages, hours, and workplace safety — returning America to a “Social Darwinism” that ensures survival of the fittest (read: richest). This is the constitutional theory that prevailed before the New Deal. To these extremists, Ayn Rand is on par with James Madison.
We must never forget that the most important achievement of the union movement was the protection of the right that makes all other rights possible — freedom of speech. The First Amendment comes with a union label.