June 27, 2013
LAWT Staff Report
Monday, by a 7-1 vote the Supreme Court decided to send the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions plan back to the lower courts (that had sided with the university) stating that the court had not properly applied the standard of strict scrutiny, the toughest judicial assessment of whether a government’s action is constitutional. Although the court had previously supported race as a consideration in university admissions in an effort to promote diversity, today the court raised the bar stating that schools must prove that there are “no workable race-neutral alternatives” to achieve said diversity.
“The University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal. On this point, the University receives no deference,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote.
“Strict scrutiny must not be strict in theory but feeble in fact.”
The decision is a small victory for Abigail Fisher, a white woman who claimed the University of Texas at Austin discriminated against her after her application was rejected in 2008 under the school’s race-conscious admission program.
“I am grateful to the justices for moving the nation closer to the day when a student’s race isn’t used at all in college admissions,” Fisher said in a statement.
The conservative-leaning decision could encourage more cases against race-conscious admissions elsewhere, but it has not yet ruled out the use of race in admissions decisions all together. Good thing for some, who still do not see the United States as being a post racial society.
“The majority of people under the age of five are now what we call ‘minority,’” wrote an anonymous Huffington Post user after the decision.
“What are the consequences if we don’t educate and train the adults of color amongst us now? They aren’t going away… They are going to be the people who have to care for YOU when you get old and need doctors and roads built. Be careful about the great disdain with which you are treating these young people. You better hope that your intentional under-investment and denigration of this population actually doesn’t come true. Too many whites are acting like petulant children about having to share the benefits of access they themselves take for granted.”
The thread continued with classic arguments for and against the decades old practice.
“Affirmative Action is racism,” declared a user named Steve.
“All collages use racism to select the balance of the students they want to for there school...[sic],” he said, garnering derisive comments about his spelling and his own need to apply to college.
The last time the court ruled on affirmative action in college admissions was in 2003, when the court ruled in Gutter v. Bollinger that a limited use of race by the University of Michigan Law School was acceptable in order to achieve diversity that benefits all students.
Meanwhile, some of the country’s elected officials have also weighed in on the debate.
“It’s shocking to think that we are still having to fight these same old fights to make sure that people of color and the disadvantaged are able to maintain a seat at the table and compete on equal footing like everyone else,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass.
Just like the ruling regarding the Voting Rights Act, we are seeing a disturbing trend from the high court where they are either ducking the opportunity to stand on the side of justice or punting the tough decisions for others to decide whether it be Congress or a lower court. The high court should be a place where the best ideals of our nation are reaffirmed but it’s becoming increasingly clear that today’s Supreme Court is more interested in pursuing or protecting a conservative right wing agenda working to undermine the rights and equal access for people of color in a broad range of areas. As this case moves back to the lower courts, it is critical that we keep working to make sure that young people of all backgrounds, races and ethnicities receive a fair shot at getting a good education. Affirmative action helps to ensure that this is the case and we must remain vigilant in working against any actions that might undermine the progress that has been made.”
Congresswoman Janice Hahn agrees.
“We must recommit to fostering equal opportunity for all young Americans trying to achieve academic excellence regardless of race or ethnic background.”
“Affirmative action always has to exist as long as a black child is not given the same opportunity as a rich child in Malibu,” said Los Angeles NAACP President Leon Jenkins.
“If you look at it, a lot of us come from the worst schools, in many cases with some of the worst teachers and the most poorly funded districts. It’s not fair for them to ask us to do what they would not consider doing, that is to give us the worst of everything and then ask us to compete with the best of everything.”
June 27, 2013
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- South Africa's president visited a gravely ill Nelson Mandela in the hospital on Wednesday night, and canceled a visit planned for the next day to Mozambique, an indication of heightened concern over the deteriorating health of the man widely considered the father of the country.
President Jacob Zuma found 94-year-old Mandela to still be in critical condition during the 10 p.m. visit and was briefed by doctors "who are still doing everything they can to ensure his well-being," Zuma's office said in a statement.
It said the president decided to cancel a visit to Maputo, the Mozambican capital, on Thursday, where he was to attend a meeting on regional investment.
As worries over Mandela mounted, Mac Maharaj, the presidential spokesman, declined to comment on media reports that the former president and anti-apartheid leader was on life support systems in the Pretoria hospital where he was taken June 8 to be treated for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.
"I cannot comment on the clinical details of these reports because that would breach the confidentiality of the doctor/patient relationship," Maharaj said in an interview with South Africa's Radio 702.
South Africans were torn on Wednesday between the desire not to lose Mandela, who defined the aspirations of so many of his compatriots, and resignation that the beloved former prisoner and president is approaching the end of his life.
The sense of anticipation and foreboding about Mandela's fate has grown since late Sunday, when the South African government declared that the condition of the statesman had deteriorated.
A tide of emotional tributes has built on social media and in hand-written messages and flowers laid outside the hospital and Mandela's home. On Wednesday, about 20 children from a day care center posted a hand-made card outside the hospital and recited a poem.
"Hold on, old man," was one of the lines in the Zulu poem, according to the South African Press Association.
In recent days, international leaders, celebrities, athletes and others have praised Mandela, not just as the man who steered South Africa through its tense transition from white racist rule to democracy two decades ago, but as a universal symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation.
In South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where Mandela grew up, a traditional leader said the time was near for Mandela, who is also known by his clan name, Madiba.
"I am of the view that if Madiba is no longer enjoying life, and is on life support systems, and is not appreciating what is happening around him, I think the good Lord should take the decision to put him out of his suffering," said the tribal chief, Phathekile Holomisa.
"I did speak to two of his family members, and of course, they are in a lot of pain, and wish that a miracle might happen, that he recovers again, and he becomes his old self again," he said. "But at the same time they are aware there is a limit what miracles you can have."
For many South Africans, Mandela's decline is a far more personal matter, echoing the protracted and emotionally draining process of losing one of their own elderly relatives.
One nugget of wisdom about the arc of life and death came from Matthew Rusznyah, a 9-year-old boy who stopped outside Mandela's home in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton to show his appreciation.
"We came because we care about Mandela being sick, and we wish we could put a stop to it, like snap our fingers," he said. "But we can't. It's how life works."
His mother, Lee Rusznyah, said Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison under apartheid before becoming South Africa's first black president in all-race elections in 1994, had made the world a better place.
"All of us will end," Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. "We just want him to be peacefully released, whatever he's feeling at this moment, and to be reunited with his Maker at the perfect time, when God so wills."
The archbishop said: "Ultimately, we are all mortal. At some stage or another, we all have to die, and we have to move on, we have to be recalled by our Maker and Redeemer. We have to create that space for Madiba, to come to terms within himself, with that journey."
On Tuesday, Makgoba visited Mandela and offered a prayer in which he wished for a "peaceful, perfect, end" for the anti-apartheid leader, who was taken to the Pretoria hospital to be treated for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.
In the prayer, he asked for courage to be granted to Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and others who love him "at this hard time of watching and waiting," and he appealed for divine help for the medical team treating Mandela.
Visitors to the hospital on Wednesday included Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The couple divorced in 1996.
Mandela, whose 95th birthday is on July 18, served a single five-year term as president and afterward focused on charitable causes, but he withdrew from public life years ago and became increasingly frail in recent years. He last made a public appearance in 2010 at the World Cup soccer tournament, which was hosted by South Africa. At that time, he did not speak to the crowd and was bundled against the cold in a stadium full of fans.
On April 29, state television broadcast footage of a visit by Zuma and other leaders of the ruling party, the African National Congress, to Mandela's home. Zuma said at the time that Mandela was in good shape, but the footage - the first public images of Mandela in nearly a year - showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.
"Let's accept instead of crying," said Lucas Aedwaba, a security officer in Pretoria who described Mandela as a hero. "Let's celebrate that the old man lived and left his legacy."
June 27, 2013
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A friend who was on the phone with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin moments before he was fatally shot by George Zimmerman testified that she heard the Miami teen shout, “Get off! Get off!” before his telephone went dead.
Rachel Jeantel, 19, recounted to jurors in Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial how Martin told her he was being followed by a man as he walked through the Retreat at Twin Lakes townhome complex on his way back from a convenience store to the home of his father's fiancee.
Jeantel is considered one of the prosecution's most important witnesses because she was the last person to talk to Martin before his encounter with Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012.
She testified that Martin described the man following him as “a creepy-ass cracker” and he thought he had evaded him. But she said a short time later Martin let out a profanity.
Martin said Zimmerman was behind him and she heard Martin ask: “What are you following me for?”
She then heard what sounded like Martin’s phone earpiece drop into the grass and she heard him say, “Get off! Get off!” The phone then went dead, she said.
Zimmerman, 29, could get life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder for killing Martin. Zimmerman followed him in his truck and called a police dispatch number before he and the teen got into a fight.
Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, saying he opened fire after the teenager jumped him and began slamming his head against the concrete sidewalk. Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic and has denied that his confrontation with the black teenager had anything to do with race, as Martin’s family and its supporters have claimed.
Jeantel’s testimony came after two former neighbors of Zimmerman testified Wednesday about hearing howls and shouts for help in the moments before the shooting.
Jayne Surdyka told the court that immediately before the shooting, she heard an aggressive voice and a softer voice exchanging words for several minutes in an area behind her townhome at the Retreat at Twin Lakes.
“It was someone being very aggressive and angry at someone,” she said.
During the struggle, she said, she saw a person in dark clothes on top of the other person. Martin was wearing a dark sweatshirt and Zimmerman wore red clothing. Surdyka said she saw the person who was on top get off the body after the shot was fired.
Surdyka said she heard cries for help and then multiple gunshots: "pop, pop, pop." Only one shot was fired in the fatal encounter.
"I truly believe the second yell for help was a yelp," said Surdyka, who later dabbed away tears as prosecutors played her 911 call. “It was excruciating. I really felt it was a boy’s voice.”
During cross-examination, defense attorney Don West tried to show there was a lapse in what Surdyka saw. Defense attorneys contend Martin was on top of Zimmerman during the struggle, but after the neighborhood watch volunteer fired a shot, Zimmerman got on top of Martin.
West also challenged Surdyka about her belief that the cry for help was a boy’s voice, saying she was making an assumption.
The other neighbor, Jeannee Manalo, testified that she believed Zimmerman was on top of Martin, saying he was the bigger of the two based on pictures she saw of Martin on television after the fight. Manalo also described hearing howling, but she couldn’t tell who it was coming from, and then a “help sound” a short time later.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked why Manalo had never mentioned her belief that Zimmerman was on top in previous police interviews. He also got her to concede that her perception of Martin’s size was based on five-year-old photos on television that showed a younger and smaller Martin.
Martin’s parents have said they believe the cries for help heard by neighbors came from their son, while Zimmerman’s father believes the cries belong to his son. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys believe they could show whether Zimmerman or Martin was the aggressor in the encounter. Defense attorneys successfully argued against allowing prosecution experts who claimed the cries belonged to Martin.
Jeantel on Wednesday testified that she believed the cries were Martin's because “Trayvon has kind of a baby voice.” The defense attorney challenged that, claiming she was less certain in a previous deposition.
Jeantel, 19, also explained that she had initially lied about her age — she claimed to be 16 — to protect her privacy when she was initially contacted by an attorney for Martin’s family to give a recorded statement over the telephone about what she knew about the few moments before Martin’s encounter with Zimmerman. She was expected to finish her testimony on Thursday.
While being cross-examined, Jeantel had several testy exchange with West, including one moment when she prompted the defense attorney to ask his next question: “You can go. You can go.”
Before the February 2012 shooting, Zimmerman had made about a half dozen calls to a nonemergency police number to report suspicious characters in his neighborhood. Judge Debra Nelson on Wednesday ruled that they could be played for jurors.
Prosecutors had argued that the police dispatch calls were central to their case that Zimmerman committed second-degree murder since they showed his state of mind. He was increasingly frustrated with repeated burglaries and had reached a breaking point the night he shot the unarmed teenager, prosecutors say.
Defense attorneys argued that the calls were irrelevant and that nothing matters but the seven or eight minutes before Zimmerman fired the deadly shot into Martin’s chest.
Seven of the nine jurors and alternates scribbled attentively on their notepads as the calls were played.
June 27, 2013
By JULIE PACE
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — President Barack Obama opened a weeklong trip to Africa on Wednesday, a three-country visit aimed at overcoming disappointment on the continent over the first black U.S. president’s lack of personal engagement during his first term.
However, the highly anticipated trip threatens to be overshadowed by the deteriorating health of beloved former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Air Force One touched down in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on Wednesday evening. The president, who is traveling with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha, is also scheduled to visit South Africa and Tanzania.
The president is expected to be greeted warmly during his trip, despite the underlying sense of disappointment. American flags dotted the roadways as Obama’s motorcade sped through this coastal city, and signs welcoming Obama and bearing his picture hung on homes and businesses.
Obama’s father was born in Kenya and several of his relatives still live there. But despite his family ties to the continent, Obama spent just one day in Africa during his first four years in office and has focused instead on strengthening U.S. ties with Asia and Latin America.
“Africans were very excited when President Obama was elected and they expected deeper engagement than in the past, both in regard to policy and also in terms of actual visits to the continent, given the president’s African heritage,” said Mwangi Kimenyi, an Africa analyst at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “Africans have been gradually disappointed, especially when they look at the focus on Africa by previous presidents, in particular President Clinton and President George W. Bush, who did quite a bit there.”
Few major policy announcements are expected during Obama’s trip. Instead, the president will focus on promoting democratic institutions, boosting opportunities for Africa’s vast youth population and promoting the continent as a growing market for U.S. businesses.
The White House defended the purpose of the trip despite its low policy expectations.
“Presidential trips to regions of the world like Africa bring enormous benefits in terms of our relationship with the countries visited and the countries in the region,” spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One. “The trip itself will not be the end point of our engagement, but will enhance it, deepen it and further it.”
The president will make two stops at sights that highlight the continent’s harsh racial history: Senegal’s Goree Island, which was the center of Atlantic slave trade and Robben Island, the apartheid-era prison in South Africa where Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 years in prison.
The White House is closely monitoring Mandela’s health, which has added a degree of uncertainty to Obama’s travel itinerary. The 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader has been hospitalized for about three weeks with a reoccurring lung infection and South African officials have now deemed his condition critical.
Obama advisers have been reluctant to publicly discuss what impact his condition might have on Obama’s trip. There had been no formal plans for the two men to meet, though Obama aides did leave open the possibility of the U.S. president meeting with Mandela’s family.
“Ultimately, we want whatever is in the best interest of his health and the peace of mind of the Mandela family,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
The president had no public events planned Wednesday after his arrival. He was scheduled to spend Thursday meeting with Senagalese President Macky Sall, then meet with civil society leaders at Goree Island.
Top White House economic advisers and U.S. business leaders were traveling with Obama, underscoring the trip’s focus on boosting American economic ties with Africa. Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies last year were in Africa, according to the World Bank.
While the U.S. has been slow to ramp up its trade with Africa, China, along with India, Malaysia and Brazil, have been building robust economic relationships on the continent. Chinese officials say Beijing’s trade with China totaled $200 billion last year. The U.S. Trade Representative said American trade with Africa reached $95 billion in 2011.
June 27, 2013
By Kenneth Miller
Assistant Managing Editor
The landmark legislation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been dealt a severe blow by the nation’s highest court forty-eight years after it was enacted, sparking outrage from the president, Black elected officials on Capitol Hill to Blacks leading the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations.
“I am deeply troubled by the Supreme Court decision striking critical protections within the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck Section 4, a provision which outlines the formula federal officials have used to determine which states must clear new voting laws with the Department of Justice. This decision ignores the persistence of discrimination in voting and weakens a vital tool that has protected the right to vote for all Americans for nearly 50 years,” voiced Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-43).
President Obama, whose historical victory in 2008 was cited in the ruling, was equally disappointed.
“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act - enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress - has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent,” he said in a recently released statement.
“As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while this decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”
Said Congresswoman Karen Bass, one of the president’s most avid supporters throughout his term, “The Supreme Court’s decision is an outrage that will only give legal cover to those who have been vigorously committed to undermining the rights of people of color to vote. It is simply incomprehensible and a slap in the face to people of color to think that the court would open the door to even more discriminatory behavior by gutting a key provision of the Civil Rights Act which has traditionally served as a critical check on these types of antics.
“It’s hard to find the legal rationale for such a decision so we are left to conclude that the court isn’t interested in justice for all Americans and would rather force a conservative ideological agenda at the expense of protecting the voting rights of people of color. Congress must now act and pass legislation to ensure the right to vote is protected for every American and it is up to the people of this country to rise up and make sure that Washington does its job and protects their rights as American citizens...”
“I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling to limit the Voting Rights Act,” said Senator Diane Feinstein.
“The law successfully countered a century of aggressive limitations on minority voting. I believe Congress should move quickly to introduce new legislation to preserver voting rights for all Americans.”
Senator Barbara Boxer also weighed in stating, “The Supreme Court’s decision flies in the face of the clear evidence we continue to see of efforts to suppress the vote in minority communities across the country. It is devastating that the Court’s conservative majority would strike down a central provision of the law that has protected the voting rights of all Americans for nearly a half century, and was reauthorized by Congress almost unanimously just seven years ago. I’ll be working with my Senate colleagues to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act to ensure that every American can participate fully in our democracy.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision this morning is deeply disappointing and a devastating blow to the preservation of voter rights and protections,” added Congresswoman Janice Hahn.
“The Voting Rights Act has proven to be critical time and time again in protecting the right to vote, free from discrimination. I wish that the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary, but the fact is, this persistent discrimination is not a thing of the past. We have seen far too many cases, in just the last election, of efforts to block fellow Americans from casting a ballot.”
Speared by defiant conservative and Reagan appointee Associate Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia, the new ruling will free nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.
The court divided along ideological lines, and the two sides drew sharply different lessons from the history of the civil rights movement and the nation’s progress in rooting out racial discrimination in voting. At the core of the disagreement was whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.
Los Angeles NAACP President Leon Jenkins blasted the court.
“Just because the court rules something doesn’t make it right. For the Supreme Court to say that the Act is outdated and unnecessary, it’s just not true. A good example would be... let’s take last year’s election when Barack Obama ran. An African American was poised to win the election for the mayor’s race, I believe it was in Alabama and they cancelled the election,” said Jenkins.
“Let’s take Florida. The only reason they moved Sunday voting is because that’s when black people went to the polls. These are blatant attempts to control the Black vote.”
States that are covered by Section 4 include: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina and Virginia. Certain counties in California, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota are also covered.
The Voting Rights Act was created to protect disenfranchised Blacks, mostly in the South who endured unfair voter tests given to them by the state.
“Look at the redistricting in Texas,” Jenkins continued.
“They got five new seats. Those new seats were a result of the rise in population of Hispanics and African Americans. When they redid those seats, they ended up giving African Americans and Hispanics just two out of five of those seats and they kept the others for themselves (white conservatives). They went through surgical maneuvering in order to put minorities in one or two districts.”
In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was renewed with amendments and after similar concerns arose in 2009, but Congress did nothing.
The Voting Rights Act was instrumental in the federal court blocking voter ID laws in both Texas and South Carolina because of the effect it would have on minority voters. South Carolina’s voter ID laws were later approved after an agreement was made to lessen its effect on minority voters. The court also blocked early-voting laws in Florida that tried to limit early-voting days to almost half as many days. Because of the statistic that African Americans were more likely to vote early than Whites, the limitation was struck down.
According to statistics provided by the NAACP, 362 restrictive bills that were introduced in 2011 and 180 restrictive bills in 2012 would restrict the number of people that were able to vote nationwide. These statistics were important to show the need of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and to paint a picture of how it will be without that formula.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act does still exist, but according to Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority, “In practice, the other section of the law - Section 5 - is dormant.” Chief Justice also wrote that striking down Section 4 “in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.”
Twenty-four year old Sentinel intern Shonassee Shaver remembers that historical election of 2008 and how it impacted her life.
“It was the first time I participated in the voting process, Barack Obama versus John McCain. The lines were long and people where in a frenzy about the opportunity to elect the first Black president,” Shaver said.
“I know now that I participated in history, but my immediate concern is for those who may not have the same opportunity after the Supreme Court ruling.”
“According to a recent Census Bureau report in 2012, African-Americans voted at a higher rate (66.2 percent) than non-Hispanic Whites (64.1 percent) for the first time since the Census Bureau started publishing voting rates by eligible citizenship population in 1996. These gains can be attributed to the many activists and public officials who mobilized their communities to push back against stringent voter suppression laws that were being adopted in Republican-led state legislatures across the country. These policies and measures included voting restrictions effecting college voters, the elderly, and ex-felons,” added Rep. Waters.
Rep. Waters pointed to 2006, “I was proud to join an overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans who recognized that protecting the fundamental right to vote remains an urgent priority. Counting the votes in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, Congress voted by a margin of 488-33 to reauthorize the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that the court struck down. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court decided that its five votes outweighed the voice and the will of the American people.
“This decision requires that Congress act swiftly and with urgency to protect voters and address the persistent threat of voter discrimination. Despite partisan gridlock in Congress, we proved in 2006 that protecting the right to vote is a bipartisan goal. I am committed to working with my colleagues to ensure that the right to vote remains a reality for everyone.”
Nicole Williams contributed to this report.