A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
At the recent dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., President Obama said the slain civil rights leader would recognize many challenges our nation faces today, including neighborhoods with underfunded schools and inadequate health care. But since Dr. King’s time, much has changed. Not only African-Americans, but women, Hispanics, and homosexuals have — and still are — waging civil rights campaigns. And while some problems persist, great strides have been made toward equal rights, including passage of the Americans with Disabilites Act and the ability of gays to serve openly in the military. Diane and her guests discuss civil rights in America today.
- Janet Murguia president and CEO, National Council of La Raza
- Michelle Bernard founder, and president, Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy
- Hans Von Spakovsky senior legal fellow, Heritage Foundation and manager of Civil Justice Reform Initiative
- Wade Henderson president and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Forty-six years after its passage, the Voting Rights Act is still in the news. South Carolina plans to sue the Department of Justice over its recent rejection of the state’s voter ID requirement. Diane and guests talked about the legacy of the civil rights movement and the most pressing civil rights issues today in the U.S.
What Does The Civil Rights Movement Look Like Today?
Michelle Bernard points out that Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke often about economic freedom and poverty during the civil rights movement. But Bernard points out that today, we hear very little public discussion about the poor. “From my perspective today, if you look at Dr. King’s message of economic inequality, and you ask yourself what is the most important civil rights issue of today, my personal opinion is that it is education inequality,” she said.
Han Van Spakovsky agrees that education inequality is a serious civil rights issue. Hispanics and African Americans often get poor educational opportunities at the elementary and middle school levels, Spakovsky said. Voucher programs have been tried in several urban areas to try to expand
school choice for poor and minority families, but they are not available everywhere and can generally accomodate only a small number of students.
Voter ID Laws
Another serious civil rights issue today has to do with voting. According to Wade Henderson, at least 14 states have adopted laws making it more difficult for people who would otherwise have been eligible to vote and who have voted in the past to vote again. Some have enacted stricter voter ID laws, some have made it more difficult for those
providing assistance to voters at polling places to do so, and some have challenged third party registrations. Diane asked why it would be difficult for someone to present ID at a polling place, and Henderson said that about 25 percent of the African-American population does not have any photo ID. In some cases, Henderson said, people who had been able to vote for decades were denied the right to vote because they lacked a driver’s license or other photo ID.
Equal Rights for Homosexuals
“Given what we saw in New York last year, we have come far, but we have not come far enough,” Bernard said. “My personal belief is that it’s really none of the state’s business and people should be free to marry,” she said. “You measure these things by a yardstick and if civil and human rights have meaning for anyone, surely they must have meaning for the gay and lesbian community, as well,” Henderson added.
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Forty-six years after its passage, the Voting Rights Act is still in the news. South Carolina plans to sue the Department of Justice over its recent rejection of the state's voter ID requirement. Joining me in the studio to talk about the legacy of the civil rights movement and the most pressing issues of today, Wade Henderson, of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
MS. DIANE REHMJanet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza, and Han Van Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation. Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy joins us from Chicago Public Radio. I hope you'll join us as well. 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to all of you.
MR. HANS VON SPAKOVSKYGood morning, Diane.
MS. MICHELLE BERNARDGood morning.
MS. JANET MURGUIAGood morning.
REHMGoing to start with you, Wade Henderson. You say it's important to recognize how far we've come since the days of Martin Luther King.
MR. WADE HENDERSONI do, Diane. You know, Americans should take real pride in the accomplishments that we have made over the last 150 years in changing America for the better, building an America as good as its ideals. Now while it's not a perfect end to the story, progress is, you know, clearly discernable. I'll give you an example. Americans acknowledge the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which was celebrated, or acknowledged just last year.
MR. WADE HENDERSONAnd yet today we are witnessing, if you will, the second presidential campaign in which the 44th President of the United States, the first African American, faces reelection. What an extraordinary change that is. Just this past summer we acknowledged the dedication of the Martin Luther King memorial, the first memorial on the Mall dedicated to an African American and to someone who was not President of the United States.
MR. WADE HENDERSONThe truth is, it wasn't just about Dr. King. It was also about a movement. And had there been no NAACP, there would have been no Dr. King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Had there been no Dr. King on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial, there would have been no Barack Obama accepting his party's nomination for President 45 years to the day that Dr. King spoke.
MR. WADE HENDERSONAnd yet, one last point, it would be, I think really premature to view American as a land in which no problems exist. Just before Christmas the Department of Justice settled the largest lending bias case in its history, $335 million against Bank of America because of lending bias and discrimination in its mortgage program. African Americans and Latinos, over a period of five years, were systematically duped and introduced to subprime mortgages when in fact they qualified for in fact better terms. So these are real problems that exist, and there are obviously numerous others that we'll discuss on the show today.
REHMWade Henderson, he's president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Turning to you, Janet Murguia, talking about civil rights and the movement, it looks a lot different today from what it did back in Martin Luther King's day.
MURGUIAThere's no question about that, Diane, and I think a lot of that is attributed to the -- to the demographic shifts and the growth we've seen of populations of color. But of course, the Latino community, the results of the recent census demonstrate that it was Latinos who accounted for nearly half of the growth of the population in the United States. Latinos now represent 50 million of the population in the United States.
MURGUIAOne out of every six Americans is now Hispanic, and one out of every four children under the age of 18 is Latino. When you combine that with the African-American population rate, 37 percent of all of our children are either African-American or Latino. That's a third of the population of the children in this country. So I think you're right. I think the growth of this country, the demographic shift of this country, represents that the civil rights movement has grown. It's always been an inclusive movement, but now different populations are playing different roles. There's no question about that.
REHMJanet Murguia, she's president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. That's the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States. And to you, Hans Van Spakovsky, what do you see as the most pressing civil rights issues today?
SPAKOVSKYWell, first let me say that I certainly agree with Wade and Janet. I mean, we've come a long way. We've gone from, you know, systematic widespread discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s, and it being accepted, to today, the vast majority of Americans agree that it is, you know, morally wrong and today we do still have isolated incidents of discrimination. I actually think one of the biggest problems we have is kind of the divergence that unfortunately has occurred in the civil rights community.
SPAKOVSKYThe original goals were very noble goals. It was to eliminate discrimination. And yet today we have an acceptance of certain kinds of discrimination. You know, there's a case pending before the Supreme Court called Fisher v. University of Texas Austin. The court is deciding whether or not to take cert of the case, and this is a case about racial preferences at the University of Texas, and I think that it is just wrong for us to accept that institutions government should treat Americans differently for better or for worse, depending on their race, and which box they check on an application, and that we should go back to the original goals, which is to make sure that no one is discriminated against or for because of their color.
REHMSo help me to understand what you're saying, go back to what?
SPAKOVSKYGo back to the original goals of the civil rights movement which were to eliminate discrimination in the United States, to make it unlawful, and to make American accept socially and culturally discrimination as wrong. I think a lot of that has been achieved, but we've been sidetracked by allowing certain kinds of discrimination like in college admissions that I think is just morally indefensible.
REHMAll right. And let's move on now to Michelle Bernard. She is the founder of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy. Before he died, Michelle, Martin Luther King had just begun to talk about the economic hardship that was facing parts of our population. What is that like today in terms of what we see within the civil rights movement?
BERNARDWell, you know, Diane, if you -- thanks for having me on the show, by the way. I'm glad to join everyone...
REHMDelighted to have you.
BERNARD...today. If you look at what Dr. King was talking about in terms of poverty and economic freedom, and you look at what we see in the United States today, things have gotten better, but they are also, you know, there's a lot left to be desired. We're in the middle of a presidential campaign now, and you will see for example, that most of the candidates who are running for president on the Republican ticket right now do a lot of talking about high income earners.
BERNARDWe see a lot of discussions about the middle class and the importance of picking up and solidifying the middle class. Very little discussion about the poorest of the poor, about the least amongst us, and those are the people I believe Dr. King was speaking about when he talked about economic inequality. And from my perspective today, if you look at Dr. King's message of economic inequality, and you ask yourself what is the most important civil rights issue of today, my personal opinion is that it is education inequality.
BERNARDOur schools are still separate. They are still unequal. The separation is not based on race, it is based on zip code. So to some that is an improvement because we're not looking at people in terms of the color of their skin, but the poorest of the poor do not have the ability to move forward and to achieve the American dream simply because if you live in a low income area, if you live in an underserved community, you cannot obtain the education that prepares you for a 21st century workforce so that you can literally say, I can reach out and see the American dream, and that to me is the most important thing that as a nation we need to be focusing on moving forward.
REHMHans, talk about education inequality. You were saying we have to be careful with college admissions. It seems to me Michelle is talking about not only the college level, but the elementary and secondary level.
SPAKOVSKYOh, I certainly agree. And, you know, one of the problems that various studies have shown with particularly Hispanics and African Americans going to college and going into the hard sciences, is that they are getting very poor quality educations at the elementary and middle school and high school levels, and that -- those fields, they build on one another, you know. You've got to get the basics right.
SPAKOVSKYAnd look, there are various proposals made to improve the education system, particularly in urban areas. I mean, one of them was the scholarship program in Washington D.C. which provided taxpayer money for families to get their students out of some of the worst schools, to get them -- give them choice. The families in that program were overwhelmingly African American, were poor, they loved the program, their kids were going to better schools, and what happened unfortunately, the program, you know, the president came out against the program and they ended. That was an innovation that could have helped those students.
REHMHans Von Spakovsky, he's senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation of the Civil Rights Justice Reform Initiative. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd as we talk about just how far we've come in the civil rights era since the days of Martin Luther King and how far we have yet to go, here in the studio Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Joining us from Chicago Public Radio is Michelle Bernard, founder and president of The Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy.
REHMWe are going to open the phones shortly. First I'd like to ask about this voter identification question, getting lots of publicity these days. There are about a half dozen states, Wade Henderson, that have added laws requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot in the election. What do you make of that?
HENDERSONWell, Diane, I want to answer that. Let me put a pen note on the conversation we just had about quality public education. And let me say I hope we'll get a chance to come back to it. I think the issues that Michelle has raised are critically important and we embrace them. But I also think this issue of whether we have opposed affirmative action programs and higher education or whether we have challenged so called state scholarship programs, are really a false issue. I'd like to come back to that.
HENDERSONBut let me speak now to the question you've raised, which is about voting suppression and the efforts to block some individuals who would otherwise be eligible to vote from casting a ballot. You know, 14 states, Diane, have adopted about 19 new statutes or executive orders over the past year that make it more difficult for individuals who were otherwise eligible and voted in the past to vote again.
HENDERSONWhat we have seen is that some states have enacted voter ID laws. Some states have made it more difficult for those who provide assistance to voters at the polls to continue doing that. Third party registrations like those done by the League of Women Voters in Florida have been challenged, and an assortment of others.
REHMAnd why is providing photo ID, for example, so difficult?
HENDERSONWell, you know, about 25 percent of the African American population does not have photo ID. They're individuals, for example, that were born and never drove, never got driver's licenses and simply don't have the ID to demonstrate that they indeed are registered to vote. I think there was a woman highlighted in Ohio, 73 -- actually 93 years old who had voted over the past 70 years and discovered that she was unable to vote because she didn't have a picture ID.
HENDERSONThe state in some instances has provided assistance in getting those IDs, but in many instances they haven't. And what they have done in conjunction with other changes that have taken place have generally made it more difficult for these individuals to cast ballots. Now the ration now is that there has been a potential voter fraud. And yet there are very few instances where voter fraud has been demonstrated. And yet the application of these laws, as cited by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, is that it's potentially as many as 5 million individuals will not be able to cast votes in this upcoming election.
REHMWhat about that, Hans?
SPAKOVSKYI actually wrote a paper for the Heritage Foundation, which people can read on the website, that took a look at that 5 million-person figure. And that number is completely dubious. And I would point out that all of these claims that are being made started being made about six years ago when Georgia and Indiana passed the first strict photo ID laws. All of them turned out to be untrue as proven in the polling place and in the courtroom.
REHMBut can you explain to me why all of a sudden in the last few years, states like Georgia, Alabama are demanding photo ID when none was required in the past?
SPAKOVSKYWell, actually, the first ID law in Georgia was passed actually by the democratically-controlled legislature in the late 1990s. They -- what the state did six years ago was they went from 17 different kinds of ID down to about five. And the results they said in the polling place is that the turnout of African Americans in Georgia, which is -- there's about a quarter of the state are African American -- has steadily gone up and increased. And in fact in some of the elections that they've held it's increased more there than in other states that don't have photo ID.
SPAKOVSKYAlso the lawsuit that was filed by the NAACP claiming violations of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution was thrown out. And one of the reasons it was thrown out was because the court said that they were unable to provide a single individual who would be unable to vote because of the ID requirement. And that's why those cases lost. That's why the Indiana case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Supreme Court also threw out the lawsuit and said there was no problem with the photo ID requirement.
MURGUIAYeah, I think what we're seeing here is the political undertones by many of these states where we've seen the proliferation of these state laws. It's a fact that the states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide about 171 electoral votes in 2012. You know, that's 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency. And for us, you know, we're seeing this as backdoor ways in which barriers are presented to many communities. It's not just minority communities. There's often older voters and younger voters, disabled voters who are going to be affected by this.
MURGUIAAnd they're doing it not just with the strict voter ID requirements. But also we're seeing new laws that cut early voting periods, disproportionately affecting minority voters, particularly blacks and Hispanics who are much likely to vote during early vote periods. We're seeing the elimination of early voting on Sundays prior to Election Day, which impacts many minority voters. So we're seeing a lot of actions being taken that are really backdoor political, I think, manifestations to block the largest growing segment of voters in many of these states.
REHMSo, Michelle, how do you see it?
BERNARDDiane, I see this really as such a complete travesty. I was actually honored to be at the White House during the Bush Administration when we were celebrating, you know, the Voting Rights Act. And there were a lot of questions at the time surrounded by people asking themselves, well we've come so far as a nation. Do we really still need a Voting Rights Act? And just a few years ago you would've very easily said, no, we don't. And here we are a few years later and we absolutely do need to have a Voting Rights Act. And we need to see it vigorously enforced.
BERNARDWe are seeing, in many -- let me take a step back. There are many people who are looking at the presidential election coming up in November and saying, you know, will this be a question of economics or demographics? If you look at demographics and you look at where people are headed, particularly communities of color, and you add to that women voters and the gender gap that we typically see with women who more or less vote more Democrat than Republican, you have to sit back and ask yourself if the election and other things going forward in the country in terms of redistricting and other things are going to be significantly impacted by the demographics of the nation.
BERNARDIs there a correlation between, for example, the -- between immigration laws that we're seeing passed in Arizona and other states across the country? And is there a connection or a correlation between that question -- the question of demographics and how people will vote and the evolution of these new voter restrictions? Which quite frankly are a travesty because they will have a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color...
BERNARD...and on the poor.
REHMI do -- pardon me -- want to get to the immigration question in just a moment. But, Wade, I gather the department of justice has used a controversial section of the Voting Rights Act to stop South Carolina from putting a voter ID law into effect.
HENDERSONWell, yeah -- no, you're right, Diane. The attorney general invoked Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which covers states that have a history of having discriminated against certain populations to review what the state has done before it's actually implemented. And that was something that, in our view, was long overdue. We were pleased that the attorney general embraced that provision.
HENDERSONGoing back to your original question which was, well, why are these things being done now? The premise behind them is that if you shave between 5 and 10 percent of the progressive vote, the vote involving African Americans, Latinos, Asians, the elderly, the young, progressive households, women, that you can, in fact, shape the outcome of the election in a profound way.
HENDERSONAnd these recommendations were being done over a short period of time. They came largely from a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a rightwing think tank that proposed these changes. They're being adopted now by states with largely Republican state legislatures or governors. The point is that the South Carolina challenge will at least require the department to review what's being done and assess whether its impact will be as negative as we believe it will be. And that's a positive step.
SPAKOVSKYWell, you know, I mean, I almost want to laugh except this is such a serious subject. This constant claim that this is going to depress the vote, particularly of Democrats. Look, we've had six years of elections in Indiana and Georgia. They've had two federal elections. They've had numerous local elections. Look at the turnout in those states. Look at the turnout particularly of Democrats and African-Americans. And all of these myths that it was gonna depress their vote, it did not occur.
REHMBut help me...
SPAKOVSKYIt did not happen.
REHM...help me to understand why you think it's so important now, after all these years, to have photo ID.
SPAKOVSKYWell, this has been a long term development. Many states have had some kind of ID requirement. A lot of election officials looked at this and said, you need to have a better ID requirement. I mean, the first national ID requirement was put in by congress back in 2002. It was a limited one, but it was under the Help America Vote Act. And, you know, there's enough cases, as the Supreme Court said in the Indiana case, of voter fraud in the United States that could affect a close election. And that's why this is a requirement that states are putting in.
SPAKOVSKYLook, one of the best expressions of why we need this was given by Congressman Arthur Davis, you know, former African American congressman from Alabama. Remember the black congressional caucus. He did an editorial in the Montgomery Advertiser about two months ago in which he basically came out and said, you know, I was wrong about voter ID. It's needed. I saw all kinds of voter fraud at the ballot box and through absentee voting also when I was running for office. And I think it's needed and it's something that will help, in fact, black communities because often that's where voter fraud occurs.
REHMJanet Murguia, what do you (unintelligible) ?
BERNARDDiane, can we add a point?
MURGUIAYeah, I would just say that, you know, we don't agree that voter fraud has been an issue. I mean, I think there's an honest disagreement there. And, in fact, we feel like this has been used more by political motivation to block legitimate voters and citizens who should have the right to vote. If there were fraud, if there were real concerns I think there are other measures that could be taken that wouldn't deprive...
BERNARD...up to 5 million voters. Well, I just think there's more opportunities there to provide vigilance, but I'm not sure that the voter ID restrictions that they're calling for are the best ones, if they're really concerned about that.
REHMI want to go to Michelle Bernard after I remind you you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Go ahead, Michelle.
MURGUIAThanks, Diane. I...
REHMI know you want to weigh in.
BERNARDYeah, I wanted to just weigh in on this. First of all, I think it's important to note that it's just not an argument that this is going to have a negative impact on Democrats or on progressive communities. If you look at a vast majority of the polls that are going around right now, and even over the last two years, you will see that more and more African-Americans, women, people of color, people who are not people of color, virtually most people in the United States today are tired of government. They are tired of the Republican Party. They are tired of the Democratic Party. And we see more and more people self identifying as independents.
BERNARDSo it's not necessarily a suppression of the Democratic vote or the black vote or the Hispanic vote or progressive votes. It will have a negative impact on communities of color and will have a negative impact on the poor regardless of party affiliation I think at least increasingly as we see more and more people say that neither of these parties represent my values or my vision for the future of the country. And they self identify as independents. And I wanted to make that point because I think it's something that is lost in the discussion.
REHMAll right. And to you, Janet Murguia, what about the immigration system itself?
MURGUIAWell, I think the inaction at the federal level to fix our broken immigration system is resulting in dire consequences for the Latino community. Increasingly Latinos are experiencing discrimination and racial profiling as a result of immigration enforcement. And are seeing suspect in their own communities regardless of their immigration status. I think Michelle was right when she said there was a correlation between many of these state laws that have been affecting not only voter restriction rights, but also really targeted at the Latino and immigrant communities.
MURGUIAAnd I know that for us federal inaction has also opened the door to increasingly intrusive and punitive state and local measures like the laws in Arizona and Alabama.
REHMWhich do what?
MURGUIAEssentially the law in Arizona SB1070, a now infamous law that is being reviewed pending before the Supreme Court, essentially empowered local law enforcement officials to not only detain individuals they believe might be suspect of some sort of a violation, but they also now empower them to basically determine whether they believe they are here in this country legally or not, and to ask them about that. And not only that, be able to take them to detention centers if they believe that they are not here legally, without anything else other than their own impression -- their own reasonable view of that individual.
REHMAnd I gather...
MURGUIAIt's a very subjective view and...
REHM...I gather that Alabama's law's even tougher.
MURGUIAThat's right. Not only -- and there were other provisions of these laws that basically -- in Alabama that we saw for the first time when -- probably the most egregious elements of that law is that it empowered school officials and authorities to report on the status of children and their parents in Alabama public schools, and for us to determine whether those individuals were there legally or were citizens or not.
REHMHans, how do you see it?
SPAKOVSKYWell, it's interesting that this claim keeps being made about racial profiling because of the Arizona and Alabama laws. The administration even made that claim. But you can carefully read the lawsuits' complaints filed by the Justice Department against Arizona and Alabama. You'll find absolutely no racial profiling claim in the Arizona lawsuit. Why? Because both of the lawsuits specifically said that race and ethnicity could not be taken into account.
SPAKOVSKYThe key provision, which says that if you are arrested and the police officer has a reasonable suspicion, they can check on your immigration status, that's been upheld -- that particular issue's been upheld by many of the courts.
REHMAll right. Short break, your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones as we talk about civil rights; how far we've come; how long the road ahead is in so many different areas such as education, such as racial discrimination, such as discrimination against gays and voting rights. Let's take a caller here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, David, you're on the air.
DAVIDHi, thank you for having me on. One of the things I'd like to say is that discrimination pays. The American Legislative Exchange Council draft a lot of these laws enabling people to arrest Latinos so that private prisons will -- they'll take them in and then they profit that -- about $100 a day per bed in these private prisons.
REHMDo you agree with that, Wade?
HENDERSONWell, I certainly think that there is a financial incentive on some states adopting these prisons for the reasons the caller stated. Certainly for some detention has proven to be a profitable enterprise and certainly housing the undocumented serves that purpose. But I also think these laws have a decided racial animus and really an animus directed at immigrants in general. I think when you look at the Alabama law, for example, this notion that show me your papers please, as the way it is characterized by some, gives police officers a broad latitude to exercise subjective judgments about who rightly belongs in the country and how they can be questioned.
HENDERSONAnd from our perspective, certainly, the detention issue is there, but I also think that the effort to drive immigrants and the undocumented, in particular, out of some states has had both its purpose, but, has also boomeranged, in some instances. And Alabama is beginning to see that given its effect on the local economy.
REHMMichelle, we haven't talked about equal rights for homosexuals. How far do you believe we've come there?
BERNARDWell, you know, given what we saw happen in New York over the last year, I think we've come far, but we have not come far enough. You know, my personal belief is that it's really none of the state's business and people should be free to marry. But I think that the country is moving forward; probably not nearly as quickly as it needs to be. There are a lot of issues that have to be dealt with, but I think that we've taken -- at least in New York, the country has taken a step in the right direction.
REHMWe've talked about discrimination. What about discrimination in the work place, Hans, against gays?
SPAKOVSKYWell, you know, that's something that the civil rights community needs to deal with. I think it's an issue that people disagree on. I don't think anyone should be discriminated against in their employment situation because of whatever their sexual preferences are, which is a private choice. And, I mean, I don't have a problem with that. I think the issue that I've got is when courts, for example, on the marriage issue want to impose that rather than the legislator deciding and people deciding through their elected representatives whether or not they believe that marriage should be extended in that way and I think that's a way of, frankly, getting around the legislative process.
HENDERSONI'm glad to hear Hans support the effort to protect gays in the workplace. And there is legislation pending known as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and I would hope The Heritage Foundation would join organizations like the Leadership Conference in supporting that bill. I think on the issue of marriage equality, as Michelle has said, more states are really beginning to examine this issue independently of the courts. I think that's the right way to go. New York is really a breakthrough in that regard. Governor Cuomo deserves much credit for having pushed the issue forward.
HENDERSONAnd now Maryland is about to undertake a similar debate and Governor O'Malley has indicated he will introduce legislation to support it. I think that's the way to go and I think many in the civil and human rights community believe that you evaluate these circumstances based on, you know, a same application of the standard. You measure these things by a single yardstick and if civil and human rights have meaning for anyone, surely they must have meaning for the gay and lesbian community, as well.
REHMAll right. To Louisville, Ky., hi there, Sean, you're in the air.
SEANYes, I wanted to talk about a disturbing trend. It affects a lot of areas, but it very much affects employment discrimination and its mandatory arbitration clauses. And, you know, employees usually lose them. In fact, when state regulators stepped in on a couple of arbitration companies -- I can't remember in which field they pulled out because over 90 percent of the cases were found in favor of the companies and most good jobs these days that are nongovernmental require you to sign an arbitration agreement and you give up your constitutional right...
MURGUIAYes, I think, you know, for us, it's important to see protections in the workplace and knowing that more and more of these clauses are coming to bear in many of these employment situations, I think for us it's one of the reasons we support a strong national labor relations board and making sure that we had a president who recently, I know, defied Congress but appointed some individuals there because many of these cases often end up being reviewed by some of these boards, by the EEOC and I think it's just important to have a strong mechanism in which these cases can be reviewed. Many of these things require protections that either have to be pursued through the courts; and a lot of individuals don't have the ability to protect themselves in the courts.
REHMAnd here's an email that takes our discussion even further. It reads, "The guests of the show are focusing on the improvements of civil rights for African Americans, Hispanics and women in America, however, in the last month the U.S. government signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act. The act layered on top of the Patriot Act is a clear attack on civil rights of all Americans regardless of ethnicity or gender. Please discuss universal civil rights being taken away." Hans, do you want to comment?
SPAKOVSKYWell, I'll just say that I don't think that's correct. The Patriot Act was a law that was passed with overwhelming support by both political parties and the requirements in it that apply to national security and the threat posed to us by terrorists fully take into account our laws and have simply put in measures that are needed to protect the country. And I just do not agree that there's some kind of civil rights problem there. And, in fact, the courts have pretty much not agreed with the view that it's some kind of problem either.
BERNARDYou know, I absolutely agree with Hans on this issue. I don't see -- I really don't find fault with the Patriot Act or with this new act given everything that has happened since September 11, you know, many years ago. We are constantly living or trying not to live in a state of fear, but the bottom line is we have to protect the country. We have to protect our citizens and, you know, the devil is in the details in terms of how the U.S. government actually chooses to implement these laws. I think on their face they are constitutional. I think on their face they're absolutely needed. And as long as they are implemented properly I don't see a massive trampling on the civil rights of American citizens.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas, good morning, Susan.
SUSANHi, Diane. I just had three quick points that I wanted to make. One, returning to the discrimination of voter ID and they're saying in some of these states, Mississippi, in which I grew up, for example, that there is no cost for a photo ID, a government issued photo ID, but there is a cost to the birth certificate that often people do not have that you have to provide, the divorce or the marriage certificate, and so there are costs to the system.
SUSANAnd as far as a registrar, which I am and have been for many years in the Texas area, they are telling us that if we -- and this is to be determined for sure. We're still waiting for final instructions. But as a volunteer, if I show someone the line on which they're to sign, if I say be sure that your name agrees with your photo ID on your voter registration application, that we are aiding and we are not supposed to do that. We are determining the outcome of elections. They -- and that churches may not hold drives, for example.
SUSANAnd then the last thing is that if this is not an attempt to discriminate, why are they indeed shortening the early voting period in many states? Why are they saying that fewer people, for example, ex-felons, they're narrowing that. We have one of the lowest voter participations in the free world and why, in fact, are we trying to make it even more narrow?
HENDERSONYour caller is absolutely correct, Diane. And I'm so pleased she called. In her experience as someone who works at the polls really gives a real world context to what we're talking about. First, she's right about the cost issues. They represent a sort of defacto pole tax because you are charging individuals who are already at the lowest end of the economy additional costs that they, in effect, can't bear. Secondly, to block third party entities who normally play important roles at helping to do it is good. So I think she's right. I support her view.
HENDERSONI do want to go back, though, Diane, to the point that was made about the laws in the wake of 9/11. I do believe the caller has touched on something with the National Defense Bill. I think that attention provisions that have been imposed are severe, harsh and in violation of the Bill of Rights. And I do think it's important that we not simply turn over to government the ability to keep us safe. Obviously we all were shaken by 9/11, but I think what's happened in the wake of that, particularly with the Defense Bill, deserves a further review.
REHMHans, would you talk about some of these civil rights cases before the Supreme Court now? For example, the Texas redistricting case.
SPAKOVSKYWell, sure. I mean the Texas redistricting case is an interesting case because Texas is caught in this dilemma between the fact that its plan has to get pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and they filed a lawsuit in the Washington courts to do that. But at the same time a series of lawsuits were filed down in Texas under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which is a separate section claiming that not enough Hispanic majority/minority districts were created because, you know, they had, for example, four new congressional seats.
SPAKOVSKYAnd so the dilemma that they've got and what the Supreme Court is now facing is they've got an upcoming election coming up very quickly. Which map do they use? Do they use the map that has not yet been pre-cleared by the Washington court? Do they use interim maps that the judges down in Texas drew up that, basically, ignored what the legislator had done or do they come up with some new set of maps to use for this upcoming election. It's a very complex situation. I'm, quite frankly, not quite sure what the Supreme Court's going to do about it.
MURGUIAWell, I think they need to choose the map that appropriately represents the Latino community growth as a demographic in that state. They're at 40 percent now of the population and there are some lawmakers who, I think, would like to go back to a different time that does not acknowledge the growth of the Latino population and we know that redistricting is about power and money and representation. At the end of the day it is at the heart of how we are represented in funding that goes back to these districts and how we're represented here in Congress. We need to have the map that represents the Latino community's growth and Hispanic community growth in that state in a fair way.
REHMJanet Murguia of La Raza and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about this case of Coleman and the Maryland Court of Appeals, Hans? Do you know of that one? All right, this is a case about Daniel Coleman, an employee of the Maryland Court of Appeals who claims he was fired because of his race and because he requested sick leave. Do we know anything about that?
REHMWade, you do not, all right. Let's move on then. We are -- the one area we haven't touched on, and there are probably many more, is criminal justice reform, Wade.
HENDERSONThanks, Diane, I appreciate it. You know, in 1986 Congress passed the Drug Abuse Act that imposed what appeared to be neutral criteria for prosecuting individuals for drug crimes. The truth is it created a differential standard between crack and powder cocaine. And that differential standard has resulted in a disproportionately large number of African Americans and Latinos being incarcerated because of their use of crack cocaine. Because the drugs are so similar, Congress decided to take a look over the last year and a half at changing the law and did so.
HENDERSONThey passed the Fair Sentencing Act that reduced the disparity from 100:1 down to 18:1 and it's made a huge difference. It affects about 63 percent of those charged with crack offenses. It saves millions of dollars over a five year period to state and federal governments because of the change and it had bipartisan support, which, from our perspective, is absolutely essential in changing the laws affirmative. So it's a good thing.
REHMAll right, Michelle.
BERNARDYou know, I understand the argument that Wade is making and the discussion, but when I hear these discussions about the differential between sentencing guidelines for crack and cocaine, the one thing I feel that is always very important to discuss is that we have to go back and say to ourselves would we even be having this discussion if we told our children and told our communities don't be involved in criminal activity, period, you know. If you can go to your children, if you can go to people in your community and go to your churches and say, basically, don't do the crime if you can't do the time. Then it's not an issue.
BERNARDYou know, you don't want -- I don't want to see people saying, well, I'm going to tell my child if you're going to get involved with drug use, use cocaine rather than crack because then you'll get less jail time. How about don't use drugs period. It's illegal; don't break the law. We are a nation of laws.
REHMAnd, Michelle, I want to give you a last quick word. How are women in the workplace doing?
BERNARDWomen in the workplace are actually doing very well. We still see instances of sex discrimination, but if you look, for example, at graduate schools and colleges women overall are doing very, very well. We're seeing more women graduate with undergraduate degrees, with master's degrees, law degrees than their male counterparts and they are steadily moving up the ladder. And, quite frankly, opening a lot of women owned and operated businesses that hire millions of people across the country.
REHMMichelle Bernard she's founder and president of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. Hans Von Spakovsky of The Heritage Foundation, Janet Murguia, president and CEO of La Raza and Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Thanks so much to all of you.
SPAKOVSKYThanks for having us, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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