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Appeals court strikes significant blow against Voting Rights Act – as it happened

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Mon 20 Nov 2023 16.03 ESTFirst published on Mon 20 Nov 2023 08.58 EST
Americans vote in Wisconsin, November 8, 2022
Americans vote in Wisconsin, November 8, 2022 Photograph: Jim Vondruska/Getty Images
Americans vote in Wisconsin, November 8, 2022 Photograph: Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

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Appeals court strikes blow against Voting Rights Act

Joanna Walters
Joanna Walters

A federal appeals court has issued a decision striking down a core element of the Voting Rights Act, further undermining protections for voters of color in the US, saying only the federal government – not private citizens or civil rights groups – is allowed to sue under a crucial section of the landmark civil rights law.

The 8th circuit today upheld a lower court’s ruling that says private individuals can’t bring lawsuits under the law, meaning only the federal government can sue under the Voting Rights Act’s section 2 protections for people of color. That also means that civil rights groups wouldn’t be allowed to sue either.

There appears to be a strong prospect that even the right-leaning US supreme court will not uphold this when, as is likely, it is appealed to the highest level. But as currently ruled the decision would be a massive blow to voting rights and racial equality.

The civil rights law was implemented to increase minority representation in US national leadership.

BREAKING: An 8th Circuit panel of federal judges has struck down the main path for enforcing the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2 protections for people of color, upholding a lower court ruling that says private individuals can’t bring lawsuits under the lawhttps://t.co/yUT8xItF1G pic.twitter.com/SfTt7xunRh

— Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) (@hansilowang) November 20, 2023

And:

2. Here's where Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act stands now that an 8th Circuit panel has ruled that private individuals cannot bring lawsuits under the law:https://t.co/5MhEmedjwK

— Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) (@hansilowang) November 20, 2023
Key events

Summary

That’s a wrap for today’s politics live blog.

Here’s what happened today:

  • A federal appeals court has issued a decision striking down a core element of the Voting Rights Act, further undermining protections for voters of color in the US. The court ruled that only the federal government – not private citizens or civil rights groups – is allowed to sue under a crucial section of the landmark civil rights law.

  • Lawyers representing Donald Trump and federal prosecutors clashed on Monday in federal court about the scope of a gag order placed on the former president. A gag order last month prevents him from attacking witnesses, prosecutors, or others associated with the election interference case.

  • Judges at the hearing on Trump’s gag order appeared skeptical about complaints regarding the gag order’s prophylactic nature, but were sympathetic to claims made by Trump’s defense team.

  • At one point during the hearing, a judge raised the hypothetical point that it wouldn’t be fair if Trump “has to speak Miss Manners while everyone else is throwing targets at him”, Forbes reported.

  • Judges on the three-person panel also criticized another hypothetical situation where Trump would not be allowed to call a potential witness a “liar” if they said things that were untrue.

Thank you for reading; stay tuned for the Guardian’s politics live blog tomorrow.

US representative Tony Cárdenas of California will not seek re-election in 2024 after almost three decades of service, the Los Angeles Times first reported.

A staffer confirmed to the Times that Cárdenas would not be running for office, the first time in 28 years that he has not appeared on a ballot, the Hill reported.

“I’m just at the age where I have enough energy and experience to maybe do something [different] and have another chapter of a career where I don’t have to go to Washington DC, 32 weeks out of the year,” Cárdenas told the Times.

Cárdenas has focused much of his political career in the House on lowering drug prices, developing immigration policy, and combatting climate change, his office told the Times.

Cárdenas’ seat will likely remain in the Democrat’s control, but it may be a crowded race.

Here’s more information on the hearing around the scope of Trump’s gag order, from the Guardian’s Hugo Lowell:

On Monday, at the hearing, which lasted more than two hours, the three-judge panel repeatedly suggested they found untenable Trump’s position that there could be no ‘prophylactic’ provision to ensure Trump was restricted from prejudicing the case until after it had already taken place.

Trump’s lawyer John Sauer argued that prosecutors had not met their evidentiary obligations – that Trump’s statements directly led to threats to witnesses, for instance – to get a gag order. The legal standard, Sauer said, should be proof of an ‘imminent threat’.

But the panel interjected that there was a clear pattern with Trump stretching back to the post-2020 election period that when he named and assailed individuals, they invariably received death threats or other harassment from his supporters.

The pattern has included the trial judge Chutkan, who received a death threat the very next day after Trump’s indictment when he posted ‘If you go after me, I’m coming after you’ on his Truth Social platform, even if Trump had not directly directed his ire at her.

‘Why does the district court have to wait and see, and wait for the threats to come, rather than taking reasonable action in advance?’ the circuit judge Brad Garcia pressed Sauer.

The Trump lawyer responded that posts from three years ago did not meet the standard required for a gag order, as he argued the supreme court has held that a ‘heckler’s veto’ – gagging a defendant merely because of fears about how a third party might act – was not permissible rationale.

Read more here:

Here’s more info on polling that shows a majority of Democrats believe Israel’s actions are “too much”:

According to polling from Reuters/Ispos, the majority of Americans believe that Israel should call a ceasefire. About 68% of respondents said they agreed that ‘Israel should call a ceasefire and try to negotiate’.

A majority of Democratic voters also believe that Israel’s overwhelming response to the 7 October Hamas attack, in which the Islamist extremists killed more than 1,200 people in southern Israel and took hostages back to Gaza, is ‘too much’, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

And 56% of Democrats have said that Israel’s military operations in Gaza have been too much, which is 21 points higher than a similar survey last month.

People of color in the US as well as those under the age of 45 also believe that Israel’s response has been disproportionate, pointing to generational and racial splits around support for Israel.

Meanwhile, 52% of Republicans viewed Israel’s response as ‘about right’, an increase from last month’s poll when more Republicans then viewed Israel’s reaction as ‘too little’.

Overall, the majority of respondents say they are more sympathetic to Israelis than Palestinians.

Read more information here and about US demonstrations in support of Palestine, from the Guardian.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed a question about poll numbers showing that a growing number of American people don’t support Joe Biden’s handling of the conflict in Gaza.

“We’re not gonna govern by poll numbers. We’re gonna focus on delivering for the American people … on what the American people expect him to do,” Jean-Pierre said, emphasizing Biden’s gains for the economy.

Jean-Pierre added that she would not be going “point by point” on each poll.

The White House briefing is happening now, with spokesperson John Kirby discussing the situation in Gaza with reporters.

Kirby has said that he does not have an update regarding a potential deal to get hostages from Hamas.

Kirby did not elaborate if the potential deal would focus on women and children, but added, “we’re closer now than we’ve been before” when it comes to a deal to guarantee the hostages’ safety.

"We're still working on this hour by hour. I do not have an update for you," John Kirby says of the deal to get hostages to safety in Gaza.

— Stephen Michael (@stephenreports) November 20, 2023

More quotes are coming out of this morning’s hearing on the scope of Donald Trump’s gag order, demonstrating that the judges were not entirely unsympathetic to the arguments of the former president’s defense team.

At one point, a judge raised the hypothetical point that it wouldn’t be fair if Trump “has to speak Miss Manners while everyone else is throwing targets at him”, Forbes reported.

Judges also criticized another hypothetical situation where Trump would not be allowed to call a potential witness a “liar” if they said things that were untrue.

Joanna Walters
Joanna Walters

When the supreme court gutted the requirement for states with a history of racial bias to pre-clear changes to their voting laws with the federal government – in its 2013 landmark ruling in Shelby county v Holder that drastically weakened the Voting Rights Act – it expected that the capacity for individuals to sue was the safety net needed.

That’s one element drawing expert ire today. Here’s Steve Vladeck:

#SCOTUS in Shelby County: We don’t need preclearance to enforce the Voting Rights Act because private suits remain available to challenge specific violations of the Act directly under section 2.

Eighth Circuit: About those private suits… https://t.co/if8tw3ZZki

— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) November 20, 2023

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center is clearly furious at the appeals court’s ruling today:

This radical 8th Circuit decision would essentially gut the remaining nationwide protections of the #VotingRightsAct by preventing anyone other than DOJ from enforcing them. This is deeply wrong, and it goes against decades of precedent and practice. https://t.co/1TawhIIVIr

— Wendy Weiser (@WendyRWeiser) November 20, 2023

Some background from the Guardian:

Joanna Walters
Joanna Walters

The decision from the 8th circuit court of appeal, which is based in St Louis, Missouri, and was ruling on a lower court redistricting case out of Arkansas, is drawing furious reaction from defenders of a fundamental element of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is chiefly designed to prohibit voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of a person’s race and is one of the law’s last remaining powerful provision after years of attacks from the right.

(The US supreme court, in a 5-4 opinion authored by chief justice John Roberts in 2013, gutted a key provision of the law that required states with a history of voting discrimination to get voting changes pre-cleared by the federal government before they went into effect.)

Most challenges under section 2 are brought by private individuals or civil rights or voting rights advocacy and campaign groups, not the US government.

Jesus Christ. This is THE WAY the Voting Rights Act works. It’s THE WAY we enforce the 15th freaking amendment.

I think Roberts and Barrett will join the liberals to reverse this when it gets to SCOTUS, but my God, letting Trump judges on the federal bench was a terrible plan. https://t.co/aClrF9TSmR

— Elie Mystal (@ElieNYC) November 20, 2023

Appeals court strikes blow against Voting Rights Act

Joanna Walters
Joanna Walters

A federal appeals court has issued a decision striking down a core element of the Voting Rights Act, further undermining protections for voters of color in the US, saying only the federal government – not private citizens or civil rights groups – is allowed to sue under a crucial section of the landmark civil rights law.

The 8th circuit today upheld a lower court’s ruling that says private individuals can’t bring lawsuits under the law, meaning only the federal government can sue under the Voting Rights Act’s section 2 protections for people of color. That also means that civil rights groups wouldn’t be allowed to sue either.

There appears to be a strong prospect that even the right-leaning US supreme court will not uphold this when, as is likely, it is appealed to the highest level. But as currently ruled the decision would be a massive blow to voting rights and racial equality.

The civil rights law was implemented to increase minority representation in US national leadership.

BREAKING: An 8th Circuit panel of federal judges has struck down the main path for enforcing the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2 protections for people of color, upholding a lower court ruling that says private individuals can’t bring lawsuits under the lawhttps://t.co/yUT8xItF1G pic.twitter.com/SfTt7xunRh

— Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) (@hansilowang) November 20, 2023

And:

2. Here's where Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act stands now that an 8th Circuit panel has ruled that private individuals cannot bring lawsuits under the law:https://t.co/5MhEmedjwK

— Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) (@hansilowang) November 20, 2023

Joe Biden joked about his birthday and age while conducting the annual pardon of Thanksgiving turkeys.

Biden, who turned 81 today, joked that he was only turning 60 while pardoning the poultry, the Hill reported.

“I just want you to know it’s difficult turning 60, difficult,” Biden said.

Biden also added that it was the 76th anniversary of the pardoning tradition in the White House, joking that he was “too young” to make the tradition up.

Judges appear skeptical of Trump team complaints against gag order in election case

Judges at the hearing on Donald Trump’s gag order appeared skeptical about complaints regarding the gag order’s prophylactic nature, the Guardian’s Hugo Lowell reports.

The hearing on the scope of the former president’s gag order in the election interference case is now over.

After over two hours of arguments, judges are not expected to make a decision on the order today.

The three-judge panel seemed unconvinced about legal complaints coming from Trump’s defense team, but also believed that the original gag order was “insufficiently narrow”.

NEW: DC Circuit judges appeared skeptical of Trump legal complaints against prophylactic nature of gag order in federal Jan. 6 case — but also expressed concern that Judge Chutkan’s order was insufficiently narrow

— Hugo Lowell (@hugolowell) November 20, 2023

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