Tag: vanita gupta
Harnessing Women's Power To Preserve And Protect The Rule Of Law

Harnessing Women's Power To Preserve And Protect The Rule Of Law

Excerpted from Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America

The 2020 election story ended with Americans waking up on the morning of January 6, 2021, to the news that Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had won their respective runoff races. But within just a few hours, insurrectionists would be scaling the walls of the US Capitol, attempting to decertify Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. People would die. The seat of government would be trashed. Elected members ran for their lives and hid in their offices. Donald Trump would later fete the insurrectionists as peaceful patriots. In time, they would be hailed as freedom fighters.

Within a few short weeks, states like Georgia and Texas were passing the most draconian voter suppression bills in the country. Other states hastily followed suit. Although the amount of in-person vote fraud was negligible in the 2020 election, as it has been for decades— as even Attorney General Bill Barr acknowledged—under cover of “election protection,” in the first months of 2021, 18 states enacted more than 30 laws restricting access to the ballot. Projections suggest around 36 million people, or about 15 percent of all eligible voters, will be affected. Under false claims of bolstering voter confidence in election integrity, states would try to cancel "souls to the polls" Sunday voting and would impose onerous new ID requirements. Georgia would make it illegal to bring food or water to voters standing in long lines. Partisan poll watchers would be empowered to harass voters.

In the most dangerous move, new powers to set aside election results are being bestowed on state legislatures, with authority removed from nonpartisan election officials. Some states have arrogated new powers over election administration and certification and authorized election “audits” that will be used to discredit the 2022 and 2024 elections. The GOP has purged moderates or those who question the proposition that Trump won in 2020 from party leadership. Republican senators have filibustered national voting rights legislation from even being debated. And a growing spirit of vigilantism has allowed citizens to take law enforcement into their own hands, from Texas’s SB-8 enforcement, to stand your ground laws, to state- sanctioned harassment of school officials.

This is horrible, if largely invisible. In many ways, the rule of law feels more fragile in 2022 than it seemed during the Trump years, but voters, including women, seem to be suffering from what some activists have dubbed the Great Forgetting: an abiding desire to relegate the Trump craziness to the ash heap of history; the blind belief that activism saved the country and will prevail in the future; and the assessment that because “the system held” in 2020, it must be magic. None of that is true. About one-third of all voters (and 78 percent of Republicans) believe the 2020 election was stolen by Joe Biden and that those who stormed the Capitol in January 2021 are heroes. State election officials and politicians are openly campaigning for 2022 and 2024 on The Big Lie.

I am not sure why, in the face of this sort of existential threat to democracy, it feels as if so many of us have fallen asleep. COVID and partisanship have surely exhausted us all. Maybe that’s why these women lawyers seem more essential than ever to my mind. Their voices and pleadings play out on a loop in my ears late at night— demanding basic dignity, family autonomy, bodily integrity, and other values enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment. They hold on to our memories when we all just want to forget and move on.

Robbie Kaplan and Karen Dunn kept the Charlottesville torch march of 2017 alive for four years. Stacey Abrams kept the 2018 governor’s race in Georgia burning for two. I sometimes cling to the fanciful notion that one of the special points of connection between women and the law is that the law’s slow, measured progress allows it to preserve histories that might otherwise be erased. That recasts these Trump resistance attorneys as modern-day Philomelas, weaving the details of long-forgotten crimes into a tapestry so that it may stand as evidence.

Mary Beard opens her book Women and Power: A Manifesto with Penelope from The Odyssey, whose son, Telemachus, scolds her for speaking out in the great hall of her palace. He tells her to “go back up to your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff,” and reminds her that “speech will be the business of men, all men, and me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.” Penelope, too, scoots off to her loom. Perhaps all of this looming of the truth is an ancient female response to being silenced. But it also leads back to what Vanita Gupta and Stacey Abrams keep saying about women and the accumulation of power. Abrams talks compulsively about power. The paperback Abrams published in 2019 is titled Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change, a protracted meditation on power and how to build it and use it: “The questions for those in search of power abound: Who has it? How do we get and wield it? What do we do when we have less than the other guy? What do we do when we lose it?”

Beard writes about why contemporary notions of power still exclude women and why “women are still perceived as belonging out- side power.” She says we still cling to models (thanks, Telemachus) of power as something “elite, coupled to public prestige, to the individual charisma of so-called ‘leadership’” that almost always comes with celebrity. (Thanks, cowboys!) Beard imagines structural changes to how we think about power, “decoupling it from public prestige,” and it seems to me that the law has emerged as a system that does exactly that. Framed in the ways leaders like Gupta, Hill, and Abrams describe, law and power can blossom and grow, far from the klieg lights of reality TV.

The women lawyers and organizers who sprang up in opposition to Trump and Trumpism seem to be a natural experiment in adopting Beard’s broader prescription for power, which demands “thinking about the power of followers, not just of leaders.” For Beard, that means, above all, “thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession.” The women who used the law to save democracy since 2016 taught us how “to power.” They both modeled and harnessed the “power of followers,” whether it was women protesting the travel ban and family separations or getting out the vote. Women organizing around halting mass shootings, promoting reproductive freedoms, and opposing white supremacy were also lashing the power of groups to the power of law; it was the furthest thing from a president who was announcing whimsical executive orders via Twitter and fomenting violence through mobs.

We are in a truly frightening moment. Election deniers are laying the tracks to set aside the 2024 election and the Supreme Court has, for the first time in history, reversed precedent in order to take away freedom rather than expand it. Justice Samuel Alito produced an opinion in Dobbs in which women were imaginary and fetal personhood was real. He told us to vote if we didn’t like it, even as the court works ever harder to limit voting rights. Gun massacres of school children seem to continue unabated. Yet in 2022, the Supreme Court expanded gun rights substantially. States punish LGBTQ families and ban books in schools. The Supreme Court will hear a case affording state legislatures the right to determine election outcomes; the discredited legal theory deployed to try to set aside the 2020 contest. This will not be reversed in a year or maybe even a decade. But I don’t believe women sleep through revanchist backsliding any easier than they sleep through colic. We hear things, we see things. We are awake.

Just as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg unfailingly name-checked Pauli Murray, Stacey Abrams never fails to mention Helen Butler, Nsé Ufot, Debo- rah Scott, Tamieka Atkins, Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, LaTosha Brown, and the women who work alongside her. After Biden was sworn in, Vanita Gupta was chosen and confirmed (by a single vote) as associate attorney general of the United States, overseeing the Justice Department’s civil rights litigation as well as its antitrust, civil, and environmental divisions. She, too, is scrupulous in highlighting the communities and organizations that do the work in the trenches. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden’s nominee to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, told us she stood on the shoulders of Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman ever seated as a federal judge.

Throughout the Trump years, women who were asking themselves, “What can I do?” learned that whether we notice it or not, the law organizes every part of our lives. Lashing ourselves to legal ideas, movements, and causes gave us power. It organized us. It focused us. It connected us to first principles and lofty ideas. And every step of the way, the wins felt tangible and material and enduring. Women have come so far in a few decades, and the law, even with its flaws and its anachronisms, has been a quiet, persistent source of order and meaning in a world that feels ever more out of our control. It’s been a source of power beyond just rage. We have a long way to go, the road will be bumpy, and the destination still feels less than clear. But women plus law equals magic; we prove that every day. And bearing witness to what it can and will achieve has been the great privilege of my lifetime.

Dahlia Lithwick is the senior legal correspondent at Slate and host of Amicus, Slate’s award-winning biweekly podcast about the law. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and The New Republic. In 2013 she won a National Magazine Award for her columns on the Affordable Care Act.

Excerpted from Lady Justice, copyright 2022 by Dahlia Lithwick, published by Penguin Press, a division of Penguin Random House.

Justice Department Sues Texas Over Racially Biased Gerrymander Scheme

Justice Department Sues Texas Over Racially Biased Gerrymander Scheme

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced today that the Department of Justice is suing the State of Texas for violating the Voting Rights Act.

Garland in a news briefing said Black and Latino voters were gerrymandered out of representation despite their increased numbers in the state.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta accused Texas of redrawing Congressional districts “with discriminatory intent.”

She told reporters the DOJ lawsuit “alleges that the redistricting plans approved by the Texas state legislature and signed into law by the governor will deny Black and Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process and to elect representatives of their choice in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Our complaint also alleges that several of those districts were drawn with discriminatory intent. Texas’s 2021 redistricting plans were enacted through a rushed process with minimal opportunity for public comment without any expert testimony, and with an overall disregard for the massive minority population growth in Texas over the last decade.”

“Texas’s population grew by four million people from 2010 to 2020. And 95 percent of that growth came from minority populations. Despite the significant increase in the number and proportion of eligible Latino and Black voters in Texas, the newly enacted redistricting plans will not allow minority voters an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. Instead, our investigation determined that Texas's redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland

Garland Fulfilling Commitments On Civil Rights, Police Reform

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Department of Justice had the kind of pro-police reform week that doesn't happen every year. In a seven-day period, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants, an overhaul on how to handle law enforcement oversight deals, and a promise to make sure the Justice Department wasn't funding agencies that engage in racial discrimination.

"This was a big week for civil rights at the DOJ," Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, shared in a thread about the progress on Twitter Thursday. "Proof that elections matter and that having civil rts attys in DOJ leadership matters. Let me walk you through what's happened in just this one week. It's actually astounding."

The first step forward on Ifill's list came in the form of a review of the Department of Justice's use of monitors who oversee implementation of consent decrees. The New York Timesdefined the legal mechanisms as "court-approved deals between the Justice Department and local governmental agencies that create a road map for changes to the way they operate." Garland rescinded Trump-era policy that blocked consent decrees from addressing police misconduct in April. "This has been a concern among community groups in cities where police dept's are covered by consent decrees after DOJ investigations," Ifill tweeted. Garland announced on Monday 19 actions the department will take to address that concern.

"The department has found that – while consent decrees and monitorships are important tools to increase transparency and accountability – the department can and should do more to improve their efficiency and efficacy," Garland said in a news release. "The Associate Attorney General has recommended – and I have accepted – a set of 19 actions that the department will take to address those concerns." Those actions include capping monitoring fees on consent decrees, requiring stakeholder input, imposing specified terms for monitors, and requiring a hearing after five years "so that jurisdictions can demonstrate the progress it has made, and if possible, to move for termination."

"Consent decrees have proven to be vital tools in upholding the rule of law and promoting transformational change in the state and local governmental entities where they are used," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in the news release. "The department must do everything it can to guarantee that they remain so by working to ensure that the monitors who help implement these decrees do so efficiently, consistently and with meaningful input and participation from the communities they serve."

That was only Monday.

Kristen Clarke, who leades the Justice Department's civil rights division, announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department has launched an investigation into allegations of unconstitutional mistreatment of prisoners in Georgia, according to The New York Times. "Under the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution, those who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to serve time in prison must never be subjected to 'cruel and unusual punishments,'" Clarke said in her announcement of the investigation.

At least 26 people died last year by "confirmed or suspected homicide" in Georgia prisons, and 18 homicides have been reported this year in the state. That's not including those who have been left to die in horrible conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Inmates facing that threat rioted at Ware State Prison last August in a viral uprising. Two inmates at the facility had died of COVID-19, and 22 prisoners and 32 staff members had tested positive for the virus during the time of the riot, according to Georgia Department of Corrections recordsobtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"This is huge. The humanitarian crisis in southern prisons is a critically important issue," Ifill tweeted of Clarke's announcement."Then the DOJ announced that it will ban the use of no-knock entries and chokeholds by federal law enforcement officers (except in cases where deadly force is authorized - more to probe abt the exception to be sure) ."

The decision follows the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was sleeping when officers executing a no-knock drug warrant smashed in her door after midnight and shot her at least eight times in her Louisville, Kentucky, home on March 13, 2020. Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020 when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes despite Floyd saying repeatedly that he couldn't breathe. "Building trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public we serve is central to our mission at the Justice Department," Garland said in a news release. "The limitations implemented today on the use of 'chokeholds,' 'carotid restraints' and 'no-knock' warrants, combined with our recent expansion of body-worn cameras to DOJ's federal agents, are among the important steps the department is taking to improve law enforcement safety and accountability."

Also on Ifill's list of Justice Department wins is a review to make sure it isn't awarding grants to law enforcement agencies that engage in racial discrimination. That review could have wide-reaching effects, touching education, health care, transportation, pretty much every facet that receive federal funding, The New York Times reported. "Approximately $4.5 billion in federal funding flows through the department to police departments, courts and correctional facilities, as well as victim services groups, research organizations and nonprofit groups," Times writer Katie Benner wrote. "All of these organizations, not just police departments, could be affected by this review."

Ifill tweeted it's been a long time since she's seen a week like last week, with the Justice Department announcing multiple measures to reform criminal justice "each with the potential to result in fundamental shifts in longstanding discriminatory practices." "I'm remembering AG Garland's confirmation testimony in which he explained that he needed AAG @vanitaguptaCR & Asst AG for Civil Rights @KristenClarkeJD on his team in particular to help him with critical areas of the work with which he does not have experience.

"This week feels like an important return on his commitment to assembling this rich team."

Kristen Clarke, a longtime voting rights advocate, was confirmed on May 25, making her the first woman and the first Black woman to lead the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division since it was created in 1957. When Gupta was confirmed on April 21, she became the first woman of color and the first civil rights lawyer to serve as associate attorney general.

Ifill went on to tweet: "For many I know this all may seem slow and clunky - it is after all, the government. I'm gratified to see that they're using the tools they have to undertake measures civil rights groups have been asking for for years. And they're working carefully and smart."

Kristen Clarke, President Biden's choice to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Smearing An Eminently Qualified Black Woman Is Business As Usual

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

She has been endorsed by many law enforcement groups, including the National Association of Police Organizations, yet she was accused of being anti-police. Baseless innuendo thrown her way has been refuted by support from the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, and dozens of other local, state, and national Jewish organizations. She's been tagged as "extreme," which only makes sense if being an advocate for an equitable society qualifies.

The nomination of Kristen Clarke, President Joe Biden's choice to serve as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, barely made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Panelists split 11-11 along party lines, and then on Tuesday, the full Senate voted 50-48 to discharge the nomination from the committee, setting up a final floor vote.

Is anyone surprised at the roadblocks this nomination has faced?

Clarke, a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, is a Black woman and president and executive director (now on leave) of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — and that may be the problem. The fight for "civil rights" for all, or even truthfully teaching about the struggle that made the fight necessary, has become controversial in some quarters, especially the Republican congressional caucuses.

Women of color have had a particularly tough time before the Senate Judiciary Committee with those who won't let the facts get in the way of partisan pushback. Vanita Gupta, despite her experience and endorsements, was attacked at her hearing before her eventual confirmation as associate attorney general. And then it was Clarke's turn.

The Usual Suspects

Some of it was comical, as when Sen. John Cornyn, took Clarke's satirical college writings criticizing the racism of The Bell Curve as literal. Some of it was just bullying, the well-trod territory of Cornyn's Texas partner, Sen. Ted Cruz, who insisted that a Newsweek column, in which Clarke agreed with Biden's call for more police funding, said the opposite.

Usually, presidents get the benefit of the doubt when choosing their teams. President Donald Trump certainly did, despite questionable qualifications for a host of them. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, not only had no education experience, she also barely hid her contempt for the public schools neither she nor any of her children attended. But the majority of Republicans approved of her, and her prioritizing of Christian and charter schools.

Fellow Texan and former governor of the state Rick Perry got Cruz's vote for secretary of energy, the department he forgot he wanted to eliminate during his infamous "oops" moment at a presidential debate in 2011. Perry also admitted he had to play catch-up on what the department actually did.

You can't make this stuff up.

Hypocrisy is not exactly new to Washington. Recently, Republican lawmakers were falling all over themselves to speechify the honoring of law enforcement during National Police Week. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, in a floor speech, recognized officers "willing to risk their own lives to protect others" and warned that "demonization of law enforcement will have lasting consequences, and it will ultimately make all of us less safe." This, as members of his GOP are resisting calls to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and downplaying injuries suffered by officers protecting those lawmakers' hides.

A Familiar Refrain

Most every Black person gets a certain bit of oft-repeated parental advice: "You have to work twice as hard to get half as far." It's resulted in a lot of overworking achievers (too close for comfort right here), and a lot of stuffed résumés. But even if you follow it to the letter, as Clarke did when she earned a scholarship to an elite prep school that took her far from her Brooklyn home and on to positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations, you might get smeared when you dare to be excellent while Black, and use that excellence to make life better for all Americans.

Many Black female leaders, allies and organizations have supported Clarke, who would be the first Black woman to hold the post, and she would certainly be a needed change from the previous administration. Business leaders, perhaps less timid after finding their voice on other issues, have signaled their approval. The Biden Justice Department, under new leadership, has tried to rebuild its mission after the Trump team seemed bound and determined to make a mockery of its name.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who did pass muster this time at his Senate confirmation after then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider his Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama, is settling in with a full agenda. Garland has announced that the DOJ is reinstating consent decrees to reign in rogue police departments and going after white supremacists that Trump's own FBI director deemed the No. 1 domestic terror threat.

It's a big job that the likes of Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, not only ignored but subverted. In Clarke, the department would get a professional who has seen unequal treatment in her work and up close.

As Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and another Black woman who is about the country's unfinished business, told theGrio: "Those who oppose her confirmation are actually opposed to the confirmation of a real civil rights advocate to run the Civil Right Division. They don't really oppose Kristen — they oppose robust civil rights enforcement."

In her own remarks before the Judiciary Committee, Clarke made her mission clear by quoting the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, under whose leadership the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was founded: "'Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.' I've tried to do just that at every step of my career."

If only her opponents could say the same.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.