Three Ways The Supreme Court Gutted Voting Rights Today

— By Ian Millhiser on Jun 25, 2013 at 10:19 am

Earlier today, the Supreme Court declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional. Section 4 is the formula which determines which jurisdictions are subject to “preclearance” under the law, meaning that new voting laws in those jurisdictions must be reviewed by the Justice Department or a federal court before they can take effect. Although today’s opinion ostensibly would permit Congress to revive the preclearance regime by enacting a new formula that complies with today’s decision, that would require a functioning Congress — so the likely impact of today’s decision is that many areas that were unable to enact voter suppression laws under the Voting Rights Act will now be able to put those laws into effect.


— by Josh Israel and Aviva Shen on Jun 25, 2013 at 12:00 pm

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling striking down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, for the moment at least, eliminated the requirement that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination pre-clear election and voting law changes to ensure they do not disenfranchise minority voters. While the remaining provisions will still ban outright racial discrimination, those states and localities previously covered will now be able to implement changes first and victims will have to prove discrimination after the fact.

In the past year, the U.S. Department of Justice denied pre-clearance to four laws it deemed discriminatory — and federal courts upheld three of those four determinations.

Several such laws will now undermine the right to vote because the pre-clearance tool has been removed. Among them:

Strict voter ID laws. Earlier this year, Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature enacted strict photo identification requirements for all voters. While a 2012 state law had survived Department of Justice review due to its flexible list of acceptable ID options, the tougher 2013 photo ID-only restrictions will likely have a discriminatory effect and would thus have been unlikely to receive approval. Now, the strict requirements will go into effect and any challenge will require a disenfranchised vote to sue and prove injury. Similar restrictions will also now take effect in other states.

Racially-gerrymandered legislative maps. While the Supreme Court has made it clear in the past that redistricting cannot take into account the race of residents, the initial Texas redistricting plans appeared to do just that. A three-judge panel of federal judges found that the map was an example of racial gerrymandering and blocked it from going into effect. George W. Bush-appointee D.C. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith noted that “substantial surgery” was done to predominantly black districts to cut them off from their representatives’ offices and their strongest fundraising bases, while the districts of white Congress members were either left untouched or were “redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren.” But now these discriminatory maps will govern Texas House, Senate, and Congressional districts until someone can prove injury.

Blocking grassroots get-out-the-votes efforts. In anticipation of this very ruling, Arizona Republicans prepared a proposal to undermine voter turnout efforts common in Latino communities. The bill — which has already cleared the Arizona Senate — would make it a felony for anyone working or volunteering on behalf of a political committee or other organization to deliver mailed ballots to a polling place. Such grassroots campaigns identify voters who received mail in ballots but had not yet returned them, encourage the voter to fill out the ballot, and offer to return it to the polling place in order to make it as easy as possible for the voter to vote. Without the Voting Rights Act pre-clearance process, state laws like this will now go into effect and voters will need to prove racial discrimination to challenge it in court.

The 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed that the right to vote shall not be abridged on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition servitude.” It also expressly granted to Congress the power to “enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Though bipartisan majorities in the Congress and President George W. Bush agreed that this legislation was still needed — and 81 percent of the voter discrimination complaints brought after the laws went into effect were in areas covered by the now eliminated pre-clearance jurisdictions — Justices Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas have seriously defanged that power and opened the door to significantly more voter suppression.


We’ve already seen how the 5 corporatists on the court (Justices Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas) have essentially gutted any and all possibilities for class action suits they possibly could. What’s next? Making each and every voter individually file suit to assure their right to vote? The gutting of Section 4 will make it much more difficult in discrimination-prone states to protect our democracy through enforcement of Section 5. Here’s an article from earlier this year on ThinkProgress detailing 5 reasons why Section 5 is so important.

— by Sandhya Bathija | February 19, 2013

Here are five reasons why Section 5, by protecting the right to vote, actually enhances our democracy and is good for all Americans.

1. Section 5 blocks discriminatory voting practices

Section 5 has blocked discriminatory state laws that would have disenfranchised or diluted the minority vote. Without Section 5:

  • Texas would have passed the strictest voter ID law in the nation in 2011, placing unforgiving burdens on minority voters. The law would have allowed concealed handgun licenses to serve as a form of valid identification to vote, but would have rejected the use of a college ID or a state employee ID. Luckily, Section 5 blocked the law and saved African American and Latino voters from being disenfranchised in the 2012 election.
  • Mississippi would have required people to register to vote twice: once for federal elections and once for state and local elections. Knowing that it is more difficult for minorities to overcome administrative barriers, this tactic would have resulted in diluting the minority vote in state and local elections. The Department of Justice, using Section 5, blocked the law in 1997.
  • Georgia would have continued to use a voter verification program to check the citizenship status of every person seeking to register to vote. Because Georgia failed to receive Section 5 preclearance before implementing the law, evidence was obtained that made it clear that minority voters were being flagged at higher rates, requiring time-consuming additional steps to be taken to prove their citizenship. The Department of Justice denied preclearance for this law in 2009.
  • Arizona would have implemented a redistricting plan that would have divided certain election districts so Latinos would no longer be the majority in those districts and would no longer be able to elect candidates of their choice to represent them. The Department of Justice denied preclearance for this law in 2002.

2. Section 5 safeguards local elections

The elimination of Section 5 may have the most devastating consequences in small cities and communities where individuals are less likely to litigate discriminatory changes. Section 5 requires covered jurisdictions to submit requests for even minor changes at the local level and protects against discriminatory practices that would otherwise go unnoticed.

  • In 2011 the Pitt County School District in North Carolina decided to reduce the number of school board members from 12 to 7 and shorten their terms in office. Section 5 blocked the change from going into effect after the Department of Justice determined that such a change would decrease representation of minority-preferred candidates on the school board.
  • In Clinton, Mississippi, where 34 percent of the population is African American, the city proposed to its six-member council a redistricting plan that did not include a single ward where African American voters had the power to elect candidates of their choice. Racially polarized voting is still a problem in Mississippi, and the redistricting plan ensured there was no longer a majority African American ward. The Department of Justice found reliable evidence that the city had acted with a racially discriminatory purpose and blocked the change from going into effect in 2011.

3. Section 5 prevents discrimination where race is still a barrier

Under the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions that must seek preclearance have a history of racial discrimination in voting practices, and there is still evidence that racial discrimination is prevalent in Section 5-covered jurisdictions. Most of the states fully covered under Section 5 have the highest African American populations in the country, which should mean that African Americans are strongly represented in the government. But that is unfortunately not the case.

African Americans are still significantly underrepresented in state legislatures, in Congress, and in statewide offices such as governor and U.S. Senate positions. Where African Americans do serve in public office, they are elected in districts that are majority minority voters. Racially polarized voting such as this indicates that race is still a factor in how people vote. (see Figure 2 on following page)

  • Mississippi, which is nearly 40 percent African American—the highest population of African Americans in any state in the country—has never elected an African American governor. There is one African American currently in Congress who represents Jackson, Mississippi, which is more than 60 percent African American.
  • Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina lead the country in being the most underrepresented when it comes to African Americans in the state legislature.

In addition, federal observers are frequently sent to Section 5-covered states on Election Day. The U.S. attorney general is permitted to send federal observers to certain Section 5-covered jurisdictions if there is reason to believe that voting rights will not be protected. Between 1966 and 2004, the attorney general sent a total of 1,142 federal observers to different states to monitor voting practices during elections. Most of these observers are sent into counties that are more than 40 percent nonwhite. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina accounted for 66 percent of all federal observer coverages between 1982 and 2004. When federal observers are sent to a jurisdiction, it is referred to as an “observer coverage.” (see Figure 3) In the 2012 presidential election, the Department of Justice sent observers into counties in all of the fully covered Section 5 states except Virginia.

4. Section 5 is a necessary alternative to costly, time-intensive litigation

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act because case-by-case litigation was not working to protect the right to vote in states where racial and ethnic discrimination mostly occurred. It was slow, difficult, and costly to challenge every type of voter suppression tactic used in counties and states around the country. And even when litigation was successful in stopping the unconstitutional practices, state officials would ignore the court orders or find some new discriminatory scheme to ensure minorities could not exercise their right to vote.

This would not be any different today. Consider the number of states that passed voter suppression laws since 2010 in Section 5-covered jurisdictions. Without Section 5, minority voters would have had to build a case, front the costs, and challenge the following laws:

  • Proof-of-citizenship laws: Alabama, Arizona, and Georgia
  • Voter ID laws: Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas—in fact, because of Section 5, South Carolina watered down its original version of the law before seeking approval from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
  • Limits to early voting: Georgia
  • Instead, Section 5 required the Justice Department or the D.C. Circuit Court to approve the laws before they disenfranchised minority voters.

5. Section 5 has moved our country forward

Thanks to the Voting Rights Act and Section 5, the United States has made immense progress in protecting and expanding the right to vote. In Section 5-covered jurisdictions, change is happening, although slowly, but it may not have happened at all if it were not for the Voting Rights Act and Section 5. The changes we see include:

  • The election of the first African American president
  • A higher percentage of African American elected officials—the number of which has increased from just 300 nationwide in 1964 to more than 9,100 today
  • The highest-ever percentage of African Americans in Mississippi’s state legislature—27 percent—since the first African American to Mississippi’s state legislature was elected in 1967, following the passage of the Voting Rights Act
  • A more diverse electorate

Racial discrimination continues to be a problem in our country, particularly in Section 5-covered states. Section 5 serves as a shield to protect minority voters in jurisdictions where progress has come slowly and continues to be a necessary remedy to disenfranchisement. Without it, minority voters would be in jeopardy—and so too would our democracy.


Sandhya Bathija is a Campaign Manager with Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress. Jacqueline Odum, an intern with Legal Progress, also contributed to this report.

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

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10 Terrible Amendments Offered by Republican Senators

Mar 22, 2013 | By ThinkProgress War Room

The Senate has been debating the Democratic budget for the past few days. One of the quirks of Senate rules means that the amendment process on the budget is completely open, allowing senators to file and request a vote on an unlimited number of amendments. They don’t even have to say what their amendments are in advance, but many still choose to file them in advance. Since the process is so open, a rarity in the gridlocked Senate, senators often use this opportunity to file highly political message amendments. We sifted through the more than 400 amendments filed and found dozens that are terrible, ridiculous, nonsensical, damaging, or just plain crazy. Here’s a look at ten of those proposals.

  1. BOSS IN YOUR BEDROOM: Sens. Fischer (R-NE), Cruz (R-TX), Johanns (R-NE), and Enzi (R-WY) introduced an amendment to put your boss in your bedroom by allowing them to deny you birth control coverage based on their beliefs, not yours. This is just one of numerous anti-Obamacare amendments offered by Republicans. Incidentally, the law turns three tomorrow. 42 GOP senators and 2 Democrats voted for this amendment.
  2. NRA-FUELED CONSPIRACY THEORIES: Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) offered an amendment that would prevent the U.S. from signing on to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. The NRA and other right-wing groups falsely claim that this is some backdoor gun grab, which led the Senate to fail to ratify the treaty last year. The NRA is currently making a full court press to kill or at least gut the treaty. Sen. Vitter (R-LA) offered a similar amendment that would prohibit the U.N. from registering or taxing Americans’ guns, something the organization obviously has no plans to do.
  3. HOUSE GOP BUDGET: While Republicans found time to cook up hundreds of other amendments, it seems no Republican senator wanted to vote on the House GOP budget as a substitute for the Senate Democratic plan. When Democrats offered the draconian Ryan plan that ends Medicare and raises taxes on the middle class in order to slash them on the wealthy, a measly 40 GOP senators voted for the plan from their counterparts in the House. Three GOP senators, however, voted against it because it wasn’t extreme enough.
  4. GIVEAWAY TENS OF BILLIONS TO WALL STREET BANKS: In the same so-called “reconciliation” bill that was necessary to finish passing Obamacare was a provision that stopped routing federal student loans through the big banks. Previously, the banks acted as a middleman between the federal government and borrowers, reaping billions in fees each year even though they bore no risk because the government was the one guaranteeing the loans. The banks role was eliminated in 2010 and the money was shifted to Pell grants. Earlier today, Republicans put forward an amendment to repeal all of the Obamacare bill, including the student loan reforms. This would literally take money away from students and hand it over to the Wall Street banks. 45 Republicans backed this proposal, which also was the third time this week that GOP senators forced a vote on repealing Obamacare.
  5. OBAMAPHONE: One of the more racially-charged moments in last year’s presidential campaign came when Republican groups promoted a video of an African-American woman proclaiming her support for Obama because, she said, the government was giving out free cell phones, among other things. The Drudge Report and other right-wing media immediately dubbed this the “Obamaphone” controversy. As it turned out, the FCC’s Lifeline program offering free cell phones to low-income Americans began under President George W. Bush and is based on a Reagan-era program to provide low-income Americans with subsidized telephone service. Sen. Coburn (R-OK) offered an amendment to “reform” or, more likely, eliminate, this otherwise obscure program that is important to low-income Americans.
  6. MITT ROMNEY’S TAX PLAN: The Democratic plan raises close to $1 TRILLION in revenue just by closing loopholes that benefit the wealthy and corporate special interests like Big Oil. Republicans wanted to replace this with revenue-neutral tax reform that used the money to pay for huge new tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations instead of using it to reduce the deficit. This is almost identical to the Romney-Ryan tax plan that raised middle class taxes and which voters soundly rejected last year. All 45 GOP senators voted for this recycled Romney plan, which Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) also included in this year’s House GOP budget.
  7. KILL WIND JOBS, SEND CLEAN ENERGY INDUSTRY TO CHINA: Sen. Alexander (R-TN) wants to repeal the vital tax credits for wind power, just as Mitt Romney proposed last year. This would kill 37,000 jobs more or less immediately and effectively cede the clean energy industry to China and our other foreign competitors.
  8. LEAVE THE UN: Sen. Paul (R-KY) proposed one measure to save a very small amount of money: withdraw from the United Nations.
  9. RACE-BAITING WELFARE LIES: You may remember that Mitt Romney and other Republicans advanced the outright lie that President Obama “removed the work requirement from welfare.” This was categorically untrue, but that didn’t stop Republicans from airing millions of dollars in ads about it. In any case, the GOP campaign of distortion around the amendment has resulted in no states taking advantage of the flexibility requested by some Republican governors that the Obama administration offered to grant. Nevertheless, Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) is still so concerned that he offered an amendment to address the non-existent problem of the work requirement having been removed from welfare. For good measure, he offered a second mean-spirited amendment that mandates drug testing for welfare recipients.
  10. CREATE A PERMANENT IMMIGRANT UNDERCLASS: Sen. Sessions (R-AR), who has faced charges of racial prejudice in the past and was once denied a seat on the federal bench as a result, put forward a proposal to bar even those immigrants who receive legal status from receiving numerous tax breaks directed at the working poor. This would even prevent immigrants from receiving tax breaks that they are claiming on behalf of their American citizen children.

These are just a few of the dozens of terrible proposals put forward today by Republican senators.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

The Critically Important DC Circuit Court

— New Report available from People for the American Way

Despite progressive victories in 2012, the far right’s out-sized influence on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit gives them the power to undermine progressive laws and thwart the agenda that Americans elected President Obama to pursue.

The DC Circuit is dominated by right wing ideologues who are deeply hostile to the use of a robust federal government to tackle national problems and make our lives better. Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s efforts to get even one judge onto the DC Circuit during his first term. Too much is at stake for us to allow that to happen again.

The DC Circuit Is Unique. Congress requires the DC Circuit to be the immediate and exclusive court to consider appeals of a breathtaking array of agency regulations and decisions affecting the entire country. Moreover, even when parties appealing agency decisions, congressional statutes, or presidential actions have a choice of venues, they often choose to have their cases heard by the DC Circuit, sometimes due to its expertise in complex administrative matters and sometimes to take advantage of the court’s ideological imbalance.

While the Supreme Court is better known, it only hears a miniscule proportion of appeals that are filed with it. So when the DC Circuit makes a ruling, it is almost guaranteed to be the last word.

Consequences of Far Right Domination of the DC Circuit. Unfortunately, the far right has gotten exactly what they wanted from their successful efforts to stack the DC Circuit with ideologues during the Bush Administration. It can now be counted on to make disastrous rulings, especially ones favoring the powerful and limiting the role government can play to address national problems. A sampling of those decisions:

Workers’ Rights: The DC Circuit in January issued a ruling on recess appointments –Noel Canning v. NLRB – that undermined every action the Board has taken for over a year and threatened to prevent it from functioning at all going forward. The ruling was an unprecedented gift to Senate Republicans, who, if the ruling stands, can now wield the filibuster to keep NLRB vacancies open indefinitely and keep it from functioning at all – or at least until a Republican president is the one making nominations.

Environmental Protection: Last summer, in the much-criticized EME Homer City Generation case, the court struck down important new EPA rules on air pollution that crosses state lines. Based on the administrative record and its expertise on environmental health, the agency had concluded that the rules would prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, and 400,000 cases of asthma. They would also save $280 billion a year in healthcare. But the conservative DC Circuit rejected the conclusions of experienced experts at the EPA and threw the rules out.

Consumer Health and Safety: Last summer, the DC Circuit struck down FDA rules requiring graphic warning images on cigarette packages. In addition to text warnings, cigarette packages would also have pictures depicting the factual, negative health consequences of smoking cigarettes. In other words, consumers would see the results of using this particular product in the manner intended by the manufacturer. In an opinion written by one of George W. Bush’s most notorious nominees, Janice Rogers Brown, the DC Circuit concluded these warnings violate the tobacco companies’ First Amendment rights.

Protecting Main Street From Wall Street Abuse: In 2010, the SEC adopted rules aimed at increasing corporate accountability by requiring companies to include qualifying shareholders’ nominees in the proxy material, not just the slate preferred by management. The SEC, acting with Congressional authority under the Dodd Frank law, based its rules on a voluminous record and an exhaustive cost-benefit analysis. But in 2011, the DC Circuit struck down the SEC’s rule, claiming that the SEC had not engaged in an adequate cost-benefit analysis.

Another gift to financial giants came in the Noel Canning case discussed above, the reasoning of which would also apply to Richard Cordray’s recess appointment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Under the law creating the Bureau, it cannot do many of its most important tasks without a director. So Republicans filibustered Cordray, acknowledging that their objection was not to him but to the strong Board whose creation they had failed to torpedo. The DC Circuit’s ruling lets Senate Republicans use obstruction rather than legislation to gut the work of an important consumer protection agency.

What’s Next? Since Obama became president, two DC Circuit judges have taken senior status, leaving the court with four of its eleven seats vacant. While that leaves the Court with four Republican-appointed active judges compared to three appointed by Democrats, when senior judges (ones with reduced caseloads who continue to participate on three-judge panels) are included, the court’s imbalance grows to 9 Republican-appointed compared to four appointed by Democrats. Filling the court’s four vacancies, which is essential, provides an important opportunity to restore balance to the court.

In 2011, Senate Republicans – determined to keep Obama from restoring the court’s balance – filibustered the indisputably qualified Caitlin Halligan. Her nomination was re-submitted and she has been re-approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will take a concerted effort by fair-minded Americans to overcome the continuing efforts to block this exemplary nominee.

President Obama has also renominated Principal Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan. In both cases, the Senate must be allowed to hold timely confirmation votes on these two nominees.

Even after these two nominees are confirmed, there will still be two vacancies left to fill on the nation’s second most important court. It is important for the president to nominate for these two slots strong nominees, from diverse professional backgrounds, who understand the impact of the law and the Constitution on everyday Americans.

Every facet of our lives is affected by some aspect of federal law: Whether its clean air rules, gun safety, telecom regulations, investor protection rules, securities fraud laws, labor law, banking regulations, food safety requirements, credit card regulations, election law … All these can be appealed to the courts, and that court is often the DC Circuit. So for those seeking to block a progressive federal government agenda, the DC Circuit is an important vehicle.

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Who Appointed Sheriff Kilgore “King” of Humboldt County?

KilgoreHumboldt County Sheriff Ed Kilgore sent a letter, on official letterhead of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, last Friday, to the Vice President of the United States deriding his audacity to propose fire arms regulations following “an emotional tragedy.”  From the tone and tenor of the letter, it appears he believes he’s been elected “President” of Humboldt County … or that he’s the equivalent of “Judge Roy Bean” and that he alone can decide which if any laws of our great nation he may or may not support or enforce.

Kilgore

“You are on notice …???” ” … my constituents and I” ?   Wait just one minute!  Mr. Kilgore needs to understand that he was elected to the office of Sheriff and not “King.”  He may have a personal opinion about any given subject, but that opinon needs to stop at the door of your office and once on the other side of the door, like it or not, YOU swore an oath to enforce the laws of our County, our State AND our Nation.  I am a resident of Humboldt County Nevada and while I may be served the Sheriff’s office, I certainly do NOT agree that YOU are King of Humboldt County nor that YOU have the sole discretion as to which laws he chooses to support or not support, enforce or not enforce.

Oath in State Constitution
Article 15, Miscellaneous Provisions, Section 2.  Oath of office.

Members of the Legislature, and all officers, executive, judicial and ministerial, shall, before they enter upon the duties of their respective offices, take and subscribe to the following oath:

I, ……………., do solemly [solemnly] swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect and defend the constitution and government of the United States, and the constitution and government of the State of Nevada, against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any state notwithstanding, and that I will well and faithfully perform all the duties of the office of ……………., on which I am about to enter; (if an oath) so help me God; (if an affirmation) under the pains and penalties of perjury.  (Nevada Constitutional Debates and Proceedings, pp. 104-107, 609, 610, 662, 744, 809, 847.) [Amended in 1914:   proposed and passed by the 1911 Legislature, agreed to and passed by the 1913 Legislature, and approved and ratified by the people at the 1914 General Election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1911, p. 458; Journal of the Assembly, 26th Session, p. 20 and Journal of the Senate, 26th Session, p. 37.]

I own guns and I’m a veteran.  And despite what you believe Mr. Kilgore, I believe that assault weapons should be banned along with 50- and 100-round clips, that guns should be licensed and that no one should be able to purchase or own a gun without first undergoing a thorough background check. And I’m not alone in that thinking:

  • “I do not believe i the general promiscuous toting of guns.  I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” — NRA President, Karl Frederic, 1934
  • “I do not believe in taking away the right of citizens for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense.  But, I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon, or needed for defense of a home.”  — Ronald Reagan  in a speech at his 78th birthday celebration in Los Angeles on February 6, 1989.
  • “Certain forms of ammunition have no legitimate sporting, recreational, or self-defense use and thus should be prohibited.”  — Ronald Reagan, August 28, 1986 in his signing statement on a bill that banned the production and importation of armor-piercing bullets.
  • “With the right to bear arms comes a great responsibility to use caution and common sense on handgun purchases.” — Ronald Reagan, speech at George Washington University in a on March 29, 1991.
  • “I support background checks at gun shows …. I would sign a bill that mandated trigger locks with the sale of guns …. The federal government ought to be involved is it’s the federal government that issues licenses to gun dealers and therefore has the access to the computer to determine whether or not a citizen is eligible or not eligible to purchase a weapon.”  — George W. Bush in an interview with Jim Lehrer on April 27, 2000

We’ve all heard the common phrase, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”  Well, they certainly do with the help of a gun.  They don’t just stand there and go “bang!” and watch the other person drop dead.  Well, cars kill people too, and we have to jump through a considerable number of hoops to be able to license and drive a car.  After all, the Second Amendment does speak to “a WELL-REGULATED militia.”

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. — U. S. Constitution, “Amendment II”

So, as part of that “well-regulated,” maybe we should have to jump through at least as many hoops to demonstrate our ability and responsibility to own and operate a gun as we do to be able to own and operate a car.  For example, let’s start with having to undergo universal background check and by having to take a written test on gun safety covering the proper means of carrying, loading and unloading that weapon, how to turn the safety on and off, BEFORE we’re allowed to get a gun owner’s permit. In addition, just like we have to physically “drive” the car before we get our license, potential gun owners should be required to  actually shoot and properly clean it before a licensed evaluator.  Then, after an appropriate waiting period, potential gun owners should take an actual test involving everything from loading and unloading, proper locked storage, even shooting proficiency. Plus, each gun should be registered in each state in which it is to be carried or used. And lastly, each gun owner should submit to an annual inspection for their weapon, and each gun purchase should come with mandatory liability insurance.

You would do well to remember that it’s covered by the 2nd amendment, not the 1st.  Thus, while you might argue that those items I’ve proposed as a means of “well-regulation” infringe upon your right to own and shoot your gun … nevertheless, your second amendment rights should NEVER infringe on anyone’s 1st amendment rights:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Your Social Security is at Stake at the Polls

— by Janice Ayres

I was invited to an AARP meeting recently to give my opinion on 12 proposals on the congressional table for the future of Social Security. There were about a dozen of us in attendance who have been heavily involved in senior issues for many years and thus asked to give our opinions on these proposals.

All 12 issues were important ones. However, I was especially interested in the one about raising the full retirement age. The pro opinion wanted to raise the age significantly because people are living longer, and it costs too much money to pay out at an earlier age. The con opinion said it should not be longer and we should not be penalized by a stealth benefit cut that is unnecessary and unjust.

Other issues were: longevity indexing, recalculate the COLA, increase the payroll tax cap, eliminate the payroll tax cap, reduce benefits for higher earners, benefit improvements, increase the payroll tax rate, tax all salary reduction plans, cover all newly hired state and local government workers, increase number of years used to calculate initial benefits and begin means testing Social Security benefits.

AARP is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to senior issues. I encourage you to go online at earnedasay.org and register your 2 cents’ worth on each of these issues. Remember seniors, this presidential election could be the most important one of your life.

For more than a year, Washington Republicans have been dismantling your Social Security behind closed doors as part of a budget deal with very little discussion about how their changes will affect you and your family. Social Security isn’t a government handout. You’ve worked your whole life and paid into it because of the guarantee it promised; make Washington honor that and stop calling it an entitlement, because it isn’t.

It isn’t the seniors on Social Security causing the deficit problem. Social Security hasn’t added one dime to the deficit. The ones wanting to change Social Security benefits never talk about the two unbudgeted and unplanned wars that began under the Bush administration. They don’t want to talk about all the tax cuts George W. Bush gave the wealthy, when these funds should have been retained for a rainy day.

For the “greatest generation,” there was never the opportunity to put away a nest egg for later years with the Great Depression lasting 15 years, followed by World War II. As a result, many seniors only have $400 or $500 Social Security a month as total income. The new Affordable Health Care Act helps with prescriptions and healthy checkups. Every American needs insurance.

Janice R. Ayres is a senior advocate living in Carson City.