Monday, November 19, 2018

What Powers Does the Queen of England Actually Have?



I found this fascinating - compare with the presidents powers, both direct and indirect.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

From the Dallas Morning News: Native Texans voted for native Texan Beto O'Rourke, transplants went for Ted Cruz, exit poll shows

- Click here for the article.

<br>(Courtesy of CNN/Courtesy of CNN)



Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Beto O’Rourke fought during the Senate race over who was more Texan. It turns out that native Texan voters think O’Rourke is.

A CNN exit poll showed that O'Rourke beat Cruz among native Texans, 51 percent to 48 percent. In contrast, 57 percent of people who had moved to Texas said they voted for Cruz, compared to 42 percent who voted for O'Rourke.

Cruz prevailed Tuesday night, beating his opponent by just 2.6 percentage points. It's the closest Senate race in Texas since 1978.

This midterm race caught everyone’s attention. O'Rourke, a Democrat and native of El Paso, challenged the Republican incumbent from Houston who was coming off a presidential run. Cruz proudly calls Houston home, even though questions were raised when he ran for president about his family living in Canada for the first five years of his life.

While lawmakers in Texas have talked about the wave of Californians moving to Texas and wanting to turn the state blue, data reported by the Texas Tribune in 2013 suggested these people moving to Texas aligned with conservative values more than liberal values.

- Complete Exit Polls.

Law and Order Voice Intro DUN DUN HD Lyrics

From Lawfare: Foreign Election Interference in the Founding Era

Interesting history.

- Click here for the article.

In the fall of 1794, American delegates signed the Jay Treaty with Great Britain in an attempt to resolve outstanding trade and territorial issues, while keeping the fledgling republic from being drawn into ongoing hostilities between Britain and France. The Directory, the five-member committee governing France at the time, viewed the treaty as an abandonment of prior French-U.S. commitments. In June of 1795, as President George Washington debated moving the treaty to the Senate for approval, the Directory sent a new minister to the United States with specific instructions identifying the Jay Treaty as France’s “foremost grievance” against the country.

French intervention in American politics was not without precedent. As early as the Revolutionary War, French agents had routinely used bribery and other pressures to influence the Continental Congress. One particularly notorious incident occurred in 1793 when war broke out between Britain and France. Without first consulting the president, the French minister to the United States, Edmond-Charles Genet, began commissioning privateers out of Charleston, South Carolina to fight the British. The “Genet Affair” divided Washington’s cabinet, especially between Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson who favored France and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton who favored neutrality. In the end, Washington issued a neutrality policy and his administration demanded Genet’s recall.

In 1795, the minister, Pierre-Auguste Adet, began bribing senators to derail the Jay Treaty, but the French government’s lack of funds hampered these efforts, and the Senate narrowly approved it. Using his diplomatic status to obtain a copy of the Treaty text, Adet had it published. The release provoked a public outcry throughout United States and sharply divided Americans.

A list of people found guilty of treason in the US

We looked this over in 2305 yesterday after wondering if the narrow definition of treason in the Constitution made it difficult to enforce. This is from Wikipedia, so I;m not sure if it is comprehensive, but if it is, then apparently it is difficult.

Philip Vigol and John Mitchell, convicted of treason and sentenced to hanging; pardoned by George Washington; see Whiskey Rebellion.

John Fries, the leader of Fries' Rebellion, convicted of treason in 1800 along with two accomplices, and pardoned that same year by John Adams.

Governor Thomas Dorr 1844, convicted of treason against the state of Rhode Island; see Dorr Rebellion; released in 1845; civil rights restored in 1851; verdict annulled in 1854.

John Brown, convicted of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1859 and executed for attempting to organize armed resistance to slavery.

Aaron Dwight Stevens, took part in John Brown's raid and was executed in 1860 for treason against Virginia.

William Bruce Mumford, convicted of treason and hanged in 1862 for tearing down a United States flag during the American Civil War.

Walter Allen was convicted of treason on September 16, 1922 for taking part in the 1921 Miner's March with the coal companies and the US Army on Blair Mountain, West Virginia. He was sentenced to 10 years and fined. During his appeal to the Supreme Court he disappeared while out on bail. United Mineworkers of America leader William Blizzard was acquitted of the charge of treason by the jury on May 25, 1922.[12]

Martin James Monti, United States Army Air Forces pilot, convicted of treason for defecting to the Waffen SS in 1944. He was paroled in 1960.

Robert Henry Best, convicted of treason on April 16, 1948 and served a life sentence.

Iva Toguri D'Aquino, who is frequently identified by the name "Tokyo Rose", convicted 1949. Subsequently, pardoned by President Gerald Ford.

Mildred Gillars, also known as "Axis Sally", convicted of treason on March 8, 1949; served 12 years of a 10- to 30-year prison sentence.

Tomoya Kawakita, sentenced to death for treason in 1952, but eventually released by President John F. Kennedy to be deported to Japan.

‘Even the Mafia Was More Circumspect’ Glenn Shankle goes from regulator to lobbyist.

A look at the revolving door in Texas.

- Click here for the article.

The revolving door between government and the private sector is a time-worn tradition in Texas. But here’s a case that on its bare facts is particularly egregious.

In January, six months after stepping down as the executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Glenn Shankle signed on as a lobbyist for Waste Control Specialists, the company recently licensed by TCEQ to build a massive radioactive waste dump in West Texas. His lobby contract is worth between $100,000 and $150,000, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.

When Shankle left TCEQ in June 2008, the agency was readying, per Shankle’s orders, two licenses authorizing Waste Control to bury millions of cubic feet of radioactive waste. The four-year license review process had been one of the most time-consuming and contentious in agency history.

Shankle’s own technical staff, geologists and engineers had concluded definitively that the dump could not legally be permitted. An Aug. 14, 2007, memo drafted by two geologists and two engineers bluntly stated that the landfill’s proximity to two aquifers made it “highly likely” that radioactive waste would leak into the groundwater. The site, they wrote, “cannot be improved through special license conditions.” They recommended denying the license. With little explanation, Shankle overruled them. His only sop to the staff were license conditions requiring additional studies before construction.

Amazingly, Shankle said in a brief telephone interview yesterday—one of the few times he has ever spoken to the press—that he had never heard of any of this.

“I was not aware of that,” Shankle said of his own technical staff’s recommendations. If true, that’s stunning. According to the Houston Chronicle:

When WCS President Rodney Baltzer learned of the [August 14] memo, he immediately sought out meetings with the agency’s executive director, Glenn Shankle, who decided in December [2007] to begin drafting the license.

In fact, records from TCEQ, previously discussed in the Observer, show that during the time period after the staff’s recommendation, Shankle was frequently meeting with Waste Control officials, attorneys and lobbyists. Waste Control is owned by Harold Simmons, the Dallas billionaire and major Republican donor who helped bankroll Swift Boat ads attacking John Kerry in 2004 and television ads in 2008 linking Barack Obama to Bill Ayers.

For more:

- Shankle to take director position at TCEQ.- Lawyer for industry played key role establishing Texas environmental laws.

The Week: Sorry, liberals: The Senate 'popular vote' doesn't matter

A nice reminder about the nature of the Senate - as well as the low level of knowledge people have about our constitutional system.

- Click here for the article.

While constitutionally irrelevant, popular votes for the office of the president and for the House make sense conceptually. We look to the popular vote in presidential elections because, in every race from 1892 until 2000, the candidate who won it also went on to take the Electoral College. It seemed like a solid predictor of who would become the next president of the United States.

So why isn't the popular vote worth noting in Senate races? Because it doesn't even measure anything meaningful. Unlike the House, only a third of Senate seats are up in any given cycle. This year, Democrats were defending 26 of those to the Republicans' nine, so it stands to reason they would get a lot of votes. California, the most populous state, will increasingly have Senate elections where no Republicans are even on the ballot.

"While Democrats lost seats on Tuesday night, they actually won most of the races that were held — at least 22 of the 35 seats, and possibly a couple more," The Washington Post's Aaron Blake explains. "That's 63 percent or more of the seats, despite winning just 55 percent of the vote."

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Election commentary from the Texas Tribune

- Are Texas suburbs slipping away from Republicans?

By the end of Election Day, the political maps of the state’s suburban and swing counties had a peculiar blue tint.

The blue washed over the Dallas-Fort Worth area and crept up on suburban counties in North Texas. It spread from Houston — in a county that was once a political battleground — and crested over some of its suburban communities. And it swept through the Interstate 35 corridor from Travis County to its neighbors to the north and south.

Counties that haven’t voted for a Democrat in decades turned out for Beto O’Rourke in his unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and he picked up enough support in ruby red Republican counties to force Cruz into single-digit wins.

It could all be a blip — a year of Democratic enthusiasm spurred by a shiny candidate or vitriol toward President Donald Trump. But with margins narrowing over time in some of the GOP’s longtime strongholds, Tuesday night's results suggest that the Republican firewall in the suburbs could be cracking.


- In Dallas County, Republican gerrymandering backfired in 2018.

The Republican losses in Dallas County are as much a product of the 2018 blue waveas they are of 2011 redistricting, when the GOP was forced to confront a politically inconvenient demographic reality. The 2010 census showed that people of color, who tend to support Democrats, were behind all of Dallas County’s growth in the last decade. Meanwhile, the county’s white population decreased by more than 198,000 people.

On top of that, Dallas’ growth relative to the state as a whole meant that the number of House seats in the county needed to drop from 16 to 14. Mapdrawers knew that those two seats would have to be Republican-held seats because the Dallas County districts represented by Democrats — and mostly made up by Hispanic and black voters — were protected by the Voting Rights Act.

As far as Democrats and redistricting experts are concerned, Republicans could have opted to create a new “opportunity district” for the county’s growing population of color. That would’ve reduced the number of voters of color in Republican districts, giving the GOP more of a cushion through the decade, but it would have also likely added another seat to the Democrats’ column.

- In Texas, the "Rainbow Wave" outpaces the blue one.

Fourteen of the 35 gay, bisexual and transgender candidates who ran for office in Texas during the midterms claimed victory Tuesday night — a 40 percent success rate in deep-red Texas — and national and state activists say they’re confident this election cycle carved a path for a future “rainbow wave” in Texas.

The historic number of Texas candidates who ran for offices from governor down to city council positions joined a record-shattering rank of more than 400 LGBTQ individuals on national midterm ballots this year.|
- Texas House Speaker Joe Straus: Texas and the Republican Party are “moving in opposite directions

Republicans in the Texas House were dealt a big blow Tuesday night, losing 12 seatsto Democrats and two in the Texas Senate.

Joe Straus, the Republican who has presided over the House for nearly a decade, said that's because win-at-all-cost politics may be effective at the state level, but "it creates carnage down-ballot in a changing state where a Republican Party and the state of Texas are moving in opposite directions."

The "small issues" that were popular among Republican primary voters didn't resonate in November, he said.

As Democrats seize U.S. House control, Texas congressional delegation set to lose clout in Washington.

The Texas congressional delegation is poised to lose significant clout on Capitol Hill after the Democrats on Tuesday took control of the U.S. House and Texas voters elected nine new representatives — one-quarter of the state's 36 members.

All told, Texas Republicans will lose seven committee chairmanships. Three of those — Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Mike Conaway of Midland, chairman of the Agriculture Committee; and Kevin Brady of The Woodland, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee — won re-election Tuesday and are likely to become ranking members on those committees.

Lamar Smith of San Antonio and Jeb Hensarling of Dallas announced earlier this year they would not seek re-election, ending their tenures as chairmen of the Science, Space & Technology and Financial Services committees, respectively.They're being replaced by fellow Republicans — Chip Roy in Smith's seat and Lance Gooden in Hensarling's — who both will begin their congressional careers low in the hierarchy of their caucus.

After losing election, Houston juvenile court judge releases defendants en masse.

On Tuesday, Harris County Family Judge Glenn Devlin lost his re-election bid to Democrat Natalia Oakes. On Wednesday, he showed up for work in the 313th District Court and began releasing virtually all of the juvenile defenders who had detention hearings before him, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle reports that Devlin simply asked the defendants whether they planned to kill anyone, then released nearly all of them from detention. Under state law, juveniles who are locked up while their cases are pending are required to have a hearing every 10 business days so a judge can decide whether they should stay in detention. It's not clear how many defendants Devlin released Wednesday, but the Chronicle reports that the judge reset all of their cases for Jan. 4 — the day Oakes takes the gavel in the 313th.

County by county breakdown of the O'Rourke - Cruz vote

Image result for graphic 2018 vote texas o'rourke counties

- Click here for the source.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

From the Constitution Center: THE PRESIDENT'S EXCLUSIVE POWER TO DIRECT MILITARY OPERATIONS

A look at the conflict involving the president's military powers 

- Click here for the article.

If the United States undertakes military operations, either by authorization from Congress or under the President’s independent powers, the Constitution makes the President Commander in Chief of all U.S. military forces, and Congress cannot give command to any other person. But can Congress itself direct how the President exercises that command by requiring or prohibiting certain military actions?

Scholarly opinion is sharply divided on this question. One view, principally associated with Professor John Yoo, holds that attempts by Congress to control the military contrary to the President’s desires infringe the Commander in Chief Clause by in effect depriving the President of the full ability to give commands. An opposing view, developed by Professor Saikrishna Prakash in a series of articles and an important 2015 book on executive power, sees Congress as having complete power over the military through various clauses of Article I, Section 8, with the President’s substantive command authority operating only where Congress has not provided specific direction.

Both views seem to overstate. Contrary to the first view, the Constitution expressly gives Congress significant power over the military. Most notably, Congress has power to “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.” Nothing in the Constitution requires these “Rules” to be consistent with the President’s desires (although of course the President can resist them using the veto power). Further, Congress has a long history of regulating the military, including the articles of war (precursor of the modern Uniform Code of Military Justice) enacted in the immediate post-ratification period. Thus, for example, rules regarding how prisoners are to be treated, whether civilians may be targeted and how intelligence may be gathered by the military seem fully within Congress’s enumerated power. If the President’s Commander in Chief power overrode these rules, the Government-and-Regulation Clause would seem almost meaningless. In addition, Congress’s power to declare war likely includes power to set wartime goals and to limit a war’s scope. Prior to the Constitution, other nations routinely issued goal-setting declarations and fought limited wars. And Congress’s power to define the scope of a war seems confirmed by Congress’s statutory limits on the 1798 Quasi-War with France and by the Supreme Court’s approval of those limits in Bas v. Tingy (1800) and Little v. Barreme (1804).

However, contrary to the second view, the Constitution’s enumeration of Congress’s specific military powers indicates that Congress does not have plenary authority over military operations. In particular, although Congress can make general rules regarding military conduct and can define wartime objectives, it lacks enumerated power to direct battlefield operations—a point demonstrated by examining Congress’s powers under the Articles of Confederation.

In contrast to the Constitution, the Articles gave Congress the powers of “making rules for the government and regulation of the said land and naval forces, and of directing their operations” (emphasis added). The former power is carried over directly into the Constitution’s list of congressional powers, but the latter is not. This strongly suggests that Congress’s Government-and-Regulation power does not include power to “direct [military] operations.”

From Bruce Bartlett: How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics

A good walk through changes in the media over the past few decades.

How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics.

The creation of Fox News in 1996 was an event of deep, yet unappreciated, political and historical importance. For the first time, there was a news source available virtually everywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a conservative tilt. Finally, conservatives did not have to seek out bits of news favorable to their point of view in liberal publications or in small magazines and newsletters. Like someone dying of thirst in the desert, conservatives drank heavily from the Fox waters. Soon, it became the dominant – and in many cases, virtually the only – major news source for millions of Americans. This has had profound political implications that are only starting to be appreciated. Indeed, it can almost be called self-brainwashing – many conservatives now refuse to even listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox, and to believe whatever appears on it as the gospel truth.


When Fox News went on the air in 1996, it advertised itself as “fair and balanced,” which implied that its competitors were neither. At the time, there was unquestionably a liberal bias in the major media; not a huge one, but it was pretty consistent across the three major networks, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and the rest of the elite media. As Dartmouth communications professor Jim Kuypers put it in a 2002 study, “There is a demonstrable liberal bias to the mainstream press in America.”[1]

Surveys regularly showed that very few reporters were Republicans; the bulk said they were independents, with a large percentage belonging to the Democratic Party.[2] Journalists argued that their professionalism kept bias out of their reporting and that, insofar as there was apparent bias, it was due to the nature of the news itself and the discipline of fact-based reportage. But even if the reporting itself was free of bias, there is no question that the issues that most interested reporters tended to be ones more likely to be liberal in nature than conservative. As the late journalist Michael Kelly once explained, “What journalists choose and how journalists frame inescapably arises out of what journalists believe. And, as a group, journalists believe in liberalism and in electing Democrats.”[3] In any event, the view that the media was generally liberal was widespread among the public.[4]

For more:

How Information Became Ideological.
The rise of American authoritarianism.
“They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing” Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party.

A Brief History of the Development of the Seed Industry – The Shift from Public to Private Seed Systems

A great look at the development of an executive agency along with the clientele it serves.

- Click here for the article.

One hundred fifty years ago the United States did not have a commercial seed industry; today we have the world’s largest. Some view this as real progress, a form of genetic Manifest Destiny. A nation once a ‘debtor’ in plant genetics now supplies the world. In 1854, seeds were sourced in the U.S. by way of a small number of horticultural seed catalogs, farmer (or gardener) exchange, on-farm seed saving, and through the beneficence of the United States government. Specifically, beginning in the 1850s, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (PTO) and congressional representatives saw to the collection, propagation and distribution of varieties to their constituents throughout the states and territories. The program grew quickly so that, by 1861, the PTO had annual distribution of more than 2.4 million packages of seed (containing five packets of different varieties). The flow of seed reached its highest volume in 1897 (under USDA management) – with more than 1.1 billion packets of seed distributed.

The government’s objectives in funding such a massive movement of seed stemmed from the recognition that feeding an expanding continent would require a diversification of foods. To the early colonies, the introduction of wheat, rye, oats, peas, cabbage and many other vegetable crops was as critical to food security as was the adoption of the corn, beans and squash. Immigrants were encourage to bring seed from the old country, founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson engaged in seed-exchange societies, and by 1819 the U.S. Treasury Department issued a directive to its overseas consultants and Navy officers to systematically collect plant materials.

The first commercial seed crop was not produced until 1866—cabbage seed produced on Long Island for the U.S. wholesale market. The industry flourished to some degree, but early seed trade professionals felt their growth was stymied by the U.S. government programs as well as the self-replicating nature of their product (that is, the factory contained within that product). In 1883, the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) formed and immediately lobbied for the cessation of the government programs. The organization developed powerful allies, such as Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture, J. Sterling Morton, who wrote that the government giveaway was “antagonistic to seed as a commodity-form and in direct competition with the private seed trade.” But the program was very popular with constituents, and the USDA’s seed budget was kept intact – at one point counting for a full 10 percent of the agency’s overall annual expenditures.

In the early part of the 20th century, the first wave of hybrids began to provide seed companies with a potential increase in product profitability (as farmers would now need to return to the seed distributor for materials each year). However, most of the hybrid development was occurring at Land Grant Universities, and these universities refused to give the companies exclusive rights to the seed. Once again, the industry felt its growth hindered by federal programs and complained of unfair trade practices. Mounting data also indicated a slowing in yield increases from seed developed in government programs. The industry used this last point to strengthen its argument for the privatization of seed development in order to foster greater food security.

In 1924, after more than 40 years of lobbying, ASTA succeeded in convincing Congress to cut the USDA seed distribution programs. The USDA still supported breeding at the state agricultural schools, and for a time these programs continued to compete with seed companies by developing ‘finished’ commercial varieties.

For more:

- Wikipedia: Origins of the Department of Agriculture.
- Wikipedia: Diamond v. Chakrabarty.

How the Post Office Made America

Thursday, November 1, 2018

From Vox: Why Trump can raise steel tariffs without Congress

- Click here for the article.

Why the president can impose tariffs without Congress’s approval

The Constitution is pretty clear: It’s in Congress’s power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States,” and regulate trade between the US and other countries.

But over the past century, Congress has shifted many of the powers to raise and lower tariffs to the executive branch (a concentration of power that conservatives now decry).

There are many ways the president can impose tariffs without congressional approval. To name a few:

- Through the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917, the president can impose a tariff during a time of war. But the country doesn’t need to be at war with a specific country — just generally somewhere where the tariffs would apply. (This is how Richard Nixonimposed a 10 percent tariff in 1971, citing the Korean War.)

- The Trade Act of 1974 allows the president to implement a 15 percent tariff for 150 days if there is “an adverse impact on national security from imports.” After 150 days, the trade policy would need congressional approval.

- There’s the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, which would allow the president to implement tariffs during a national emergency.

Trump’s White House cited Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, a provision that gives the secretary of commerce the authority to investigate and determine the impacts of any import on the national security of the United States — and the president the power to adjust tariffs accordingly.

In this case, Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, conducted an investigation, which Trump called for last April, into the impacts of steel and aluminum imports. That report was enough legal justification for Trump to bypass both Congress and the independent US International Trade Commission (USITC), which is typically called on to weigh in on proposed tariffs. (When President George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs in 2002 as temporary safeguards, it required USITC oversight.)

From 538: What If Only Men Voted? Only Women? Only Nonwhite Voters?

- Click here for the article.









Tuesday, October 30, 2018

From Vox: A Texas Democrat’s radical experiment in turning out Asian-American voters could become a model for the party Sri Kulkarni’s innovative midterms strategy: campaigning in 16 languages.

- Click here for the article.

When Democrat Sri Kulkarni started campaigning in the deep-red Texas district once represented by Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, consultants told him not to even bother trying to get the district’s Asian-American vote.

“I was told, ‘Don’t chase after Asian voters, they don’t vote,’” Kulkarni said in a recent interview with Vox, adding: “Maybe they don’t vote because we don’t bother.”

Kulkarni, a 40-year-old former foreign service official under the Bush and Obama administrations, is doing the opposite of what the consultants told him. “Why don’t we try reaching out in other languages, not just English?” Kulkarni thought. He’s running a campaign with volunteers speaking to voters in 16 languages — aggressively trying to convince the district’s Asian-American voters to cast their ballots for him.

The district sits in the Houston suburbs, a rapidly diversifying part of Texas. The non-Hispanic white population has fallen to 40 percent, while the Asian community now makes up nearly 20 percent of the district.

It’s a simple premise: greeting a voter in his or her native language builds a relationship with that voter and opens a door to the community. Kulkarni already proved it worked in the primary, emerging on top in a field of five candidates. His campaign’s internal numbers suggested their outreach had dramatically increased Asian-American primary turnout, from 6 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2018.

“This thing that was a waste of time resulted in a 12-fold increase in people coming out in the Asian community,” Kulkarni told Vox.

Winning against Republican Rep. Pete Olson on Election Day will be tough. But Kulkarni and his campaign believe he has a fighting chance, and are buoyed by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently shifting the race to merely “Lean Republican.”

“I’d watch this one,” Cook’s Dave Wasserman tweeted.

Meet the lobbyists of Polan Culley

- Click here for their team of lobbyists.

Here's one:

Kraege Polan has over forty-five years experience in Texas’ legislative and regulatory arenas. He began his career in his early twenties as Administrative Assistant to House Speaker Price Daniel, Jr., where he directed communications and legislation between the 150-member Texas House of Representatives and the Speaker’s office. With a solid background in both politics and legislative procedure, Kraege has built his business and reputation as a skilled legislative advocate.

As a master strategist and an excellent negotiator, Kraege’s efforts have won the solid respect of both Republicans and Democrats as well as plaudits from several legislative publications. The Dallas Morning News, in a survey of Texas Senate and House Committee Chairpersons, named Kraege “one of the ten best lobbyists” in the state. Noted political writer Harvey Kronberg, author of the Quorum Report, called him “first rate… straightforward, low-key and effective.”

In 1992, Kraege founded Polan Culley Inc, originally called Polan Ingram Advocacy Group. The company represents clients ranging from professional business associations to Fortune 100 companies before the legislative and executive branches of Texas government. Kraege’s strong relationships have also garnered projects on the congressional level in Washington. Polan Culley is a charter member of The Advocacy Group, a Washington-based governmental firm, with lobbyists in all fifty states.

In addition to his successful lobby practice, Kraege has utilized his entrepreneurial talent to start several companies. He has served on the boards of banks and publicly traded companies, and founded a non-profit sports foundation.

Kraege is a native Texan and received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He is married with three sons, and shares his love of hunting and fishing with his family.

From Vox: How 2018 voters could change America’s criminal justice system

- Click here for the article.

From ballot initiatives to local elections to the state and federal races, the 2018 midterm elections will give voters an opportunity to define the system charged with arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people in America.

These races usually do not get the attention they deserve, especially state and local elections and particularly races for prosecutors. But they are tremendously important: Despite all the attention that goes to the federal system, the great majority of criminal justice work is done at the local and state level, where America’s police departments operate and most of the people in prison are locked up.

A criminal justice reform movement, galvanized by Black Lives Matter, civil rights issues, and prison spending’s strain on government budgets, has already led to some changes in recent years, from reforming prisons and police to reducing criminal penalties for certain crimes. The 2018 midterms offer an opportunity to continue the momentum behind criminal justice reform.

Here are some of the most pressing criminal justice issues on the ballot this November, covering debates over the war on drugs, mass incarceration, policing, crime victims’ rights, and mo
re.

Friday, October 26, 2018

NIXON THE SECRET STORY



This is an hour and a half long, but it's worth your time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

From the Texas Tribune: Texas values collide in fight over Houston-Dallas high speed rail

- Click here for the article.

Private developer Texas Central Partners LLC plans to build a train that will shuttle people between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes along a 240-mile route roughly parallel to a highway corridor that normally takes four hours to drive. This new link between two of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation — home to roughly half of the state’s 28 million residents — will help create “a super economy” says Holly Reed, Texas Central’s managing director of external affairs.

Texas Central sees the line as a mammoth example of a private entity addressing an infrastructure demand that government agencies are increasingly unable to tackle — and a chance to hook Americans on an alternative to highways that’s long connected major cities in Asia and Europe.

“There’s no doubt once people ride this train, they will want trains like this to go other places,” Reed adds.

The company’s ambitious vision has arrived just as American cities are starting to grasp the detrimental side effects and financial unsustainability of car-centric infrastructure that’s dominated urban planning since the end of World War II.

Texas Central officials say they have raised and spent at least $125 million, of which at least $75 million has come from Texas investors and individuals. In September, the company announced that it secured an additional $300 million in loans from two Japanese entities. But before Texas Central can create an interstate high-speed network in the United States, it’s got to prove high-speed rail is viable in Texas. Even as the company pushes forward with development — and brings on construction and operations partners — it faces daunting hurdles.

The company is embroiled in legal and bureaucratic debates about whether a private company can use eminent domain, a process that allows entities to condemn land it needs for a project and forcibly buy it from owners who aren’t willing to sell.

At the state Capitol, the bullet train represents the collision of two things that Republicans — who control Texas government — hold dear: private property rights and an unrestrained free market. And for two legislative sessions in a row, the free market has largely come out on top. The project has emerged relatively unscathed after bills aimed at hamstringing or killing it failed to get much traction.

“Big business is a big deal in the state of Texas,” says Kyle Workman, who heads the grassroots opposition group Texans Against High-Speed Rail, an organization that has galvanized rural Texans to lobby local and state leaders to stop the project. Workman says they’ll keep trying when lawmakers reconvene in January.

The political debate is an outgrowth of a larger question confronting a state where most people now live in urban areas: How much should rural residents have to sacrifice to solve problems born in the cities they intentionally avoided or outright fled?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

From Wonkblog: Low voter turnout is no accident, according to a ranking of the ease of voting in all 50 states

- Click here for thew article.



There are a lot of factors that affect voter turnout in the United States — race, income, education, electoral competitiveness, the list goes on and on.

Many of those factors are outside policymakers' control. But there’s one big realm that they have a lot of influence over: voting access laws, which vary significantly from state to state. Is early voting allowed? How about no-excuse absentee voting? Are there strict voter ID laws, lax ones or none at all? Can convicted felons vote?

These laws generally affect how easy it is to cast a ballot in a given election. In a new report, political scientists at Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University and China’s Wuhan University seek to quantify the net effect of a state’s election laws to determine the “time and effort” it takes to vote there. They call their project the Cost of Voting Index and have published it in the September issue of the Election Law Journal.

To create the index, the researchers collected data on 33 types of election laws that generally fell into seven different categories: voter-registration deadlines, restrictions on registrations and registration drives, preregistration laws that allow people under 18 to register in advance of their first elections, laws governing ease of voting (like early and absentee voting), voter ID requirements and polling hours.

Monday, October 22, 2018

What's going on here?

For this week's GOVT 2305 written assignment.

- Click here for the source (the image will be clearer there).

Fig 1.  Probability density functions of same-party and cross-party pairs over time.

From 2306 today:

- Business groups launch coalition to push for statewide pre-emption of paid sick leave ordinances.

- Federal officials tell Texas to go beyond plan for special education overhaul.

- After historic Texas flooding, officials will likely open more floodgates on Central Texas dam.

For and Against Proposition 2

For this week's written assignment, I'm asking my ACC GOVT students to outline the arguments for and against Proposition 2 - which is on the ballot for residents of Houston. 

- Click here for the ballot language

For: - Vote for Prop. B to give Houston firefighters the same pay as police officers [Opinion].

Against: - Turner: Vote against Prop. B because firefighters deserve a raise the city can afford [Opinion].

For more:
Turner Kicks Off Campaign Against Firefighter Pay Parity Amendment.

Turner's opinion piece mentions a 2004 election putting a cap on revenue collection in Houston. Here's more on that:

- Proposition 1 Charter Amendment.
- Houston voters to decide on Proposition 1.
- City Council trims Houston tax rate to comply with revenue cap.
- What has Houston's revenue cap saved you?

State platforms

- How the Texas Democratic and Republican party platforms compare.

- Texas Republican Platform.

- Texas Democratic Platform.

From the NYT: Senate, for Just the 8th Time, Votes to Oust a Federal Judge

Covered in class this morning. This is the last time a federal official was removed from office.

- Click for the article.

The Senate on Wednesday found Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Federal District Court in Louisiana guilty on four articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench, the first time the Senate has ousted a federal judge in more than two decades.

Judge Porteous, the eighth federal judge to be removed from office in this manner, was impeached by the House in March on four articles stemming from charges that he received cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors and intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation proceedings. The behavior amounted to a “pattern of conduct incompatible with the trust and confidence placed in him,” according to the articles against him.

All 96 senators present voted “guilty” on the first article, which concerned his time as a state court judge and his subsequent failure to recuse himself from matters involving a former law partner, with whom he was accused of trading favors for cash.

Tapping his fingers nervously on the table as he looked at the paper where his lawyer kept track of each vote, Judge Porteous waited in vain for a “not guilty” vote. As the last of the senators stood to formally render a decision, a lawyer for the judge reached over to squeeze his arm in consolation.

- Wikipedia: Thomas Porteous.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Fron the Monkey Cage: In the 2018 midterms, many more people are running — and far more seats are contested — than we’ve seen for a generation.

- Click here for the article.

The 2018 elections differ from previous midterms in so many ways. And one, at least, is a good sign for democracy: Many more people are running for office this time around.

Elections are the linchpin of representative government — but only if there’s actual competition among candidates. This year’s midterms are being more vigorously contested than those in the past, mostly because more Democratic women are running for office, particularly in the South.

. . . Nearly all U.S. House seats have been contested in recent years, so this year’s 4 percent uncontested rate isn’t big news. But some key aspects of these contests are different in 2018. Building on a trend, Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents far more often than Republicans are challenging Democratic incumbents. Among the 435 House seats, Democrats are running in 428 while Republicans are running in only 393. And many more of the nominees are female this time around, mainly as Democrats.

Numbers have jumped more dramatically in state legislative elections. As we have noted elsewhere, state legislative seats are usually far more likely to go uncontested. But 2018 has clearly interrupted that trend.

In states with lower-house elections, only 27 percent of the seats aren’t contested this year. Compare that to the rate in 2014, when 35 percent of state lower-house races were uncontested. Yes, that’s a much higher rate of unchallenged seats than we’ve seen for Congress — but this year’s uncontested rate for state legislatures is the lowest in 46 years.


The 2018 elections differ from previous midterms in so many ways. And one, at least, is a good sign for democracy: Many more people are running for office this time around.
Elections are the linchpin of representative government — but only if there’s actual competition among candidates. This year’s midterms are being more vigorously contested than those in the past, mostly because more Democratic women are running for office, particularly in the South.
More candidates running for state legislature
As Steven Rogers noted early in this year’s primary season, the number of candidates is up, especially in elections for state legislatures. Now that the summer primary season has ended, we can revisit Rogers’s preview of the general election with some firm data.
We calculated the rate at which offices go uncontested, comparing it with previous elections. When only one candidate’s name appears on the ballot, with no one running against him or her, that’s an uncontested seat. (For the few states that use multi-member districts, we consider a race uncontested if the number of candidates is not higher than the number of seats up for grabs.)
Nearly all U.S. House seats have been contested in recent years, so this year’s 4 percent uncontested rate isn’t big news. But some key aspects of these contests are different in 2018. Building on a trend, Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents far more often than Republicans are challenging Democratic incumbents. Among the 435 House seats, Democrats are running in 428 while Republicans are running in only 393. And many more of the nominees are female this time around, mainly as Democrats.
Numbers have jumped more dramatically in state legislative elections. As we have noted elsewhere, state legislative seats are usually far more likely to go uncontested. But 2018 has clearly interrupted that trend.

In states with lower-house elections, only 27 percent of the seats aren’t contested this year. Compare that to the rate in 2014, when 35 percent of state lower-house races were uncontested. Yes, that’s a much higher rate of unchallenged seats than we’ve seen for Congress — but this year’s uncontested rate for state legislatures is the lowest in 46 years.

From the Texas Trubune: Did you register to vote in Texas before the deadline but can’t confirm it online? Here’s why.

Texas does not make it easy to vote, continued....

- Click here for the article.

The last-minute efforts to register people to vote by the 30-day deadline ahead of each election typically result in what local election officials have previously described as a paper tsunami.

Whether Texans drop their registration cards into a mailbox or sign up through a volunteer voter registrar, thousands of voter registration cards pour into local elections offices where county workers rush to process them in the short window between the registration deadline and the day Texans begin heading to the polls.

Because Texas does not allow for online voter registration, election officials verifying voter registration cards have to manually enter each new voter’s information into their local voter database — a time-consuming process that often leads to backlogs in the weeks before elections.

Election workers are left to decipher people’s handwriting, which can often be illegible, county workers say. And in some cases, prospective voters leave blanks in their applications, forcing officials to mail out individual notices about incomplete registrations so they can be resolved. When an application is complete, counties must then send the voter file to the secretary of state’s office, which then verifies and adds the voter to its statewide database.

For more:

- How a federal lawsuit could open the door to online voter registration in Texas.

From the Money Cage: The Supreme Court hasn’t followed public opinion for 50 years. Why would it start now?

- Click here for the article.

We argue that understanding how public opinion may affect court decisions depends crucially on the Warren Court era (1953-1969). The Warren Court was historically liberal at a time when overall public opinion was also trending liberal. As a result, court decisions and public opinion were pretty strongly correlated during these years.

But if you set aside the Warren Court era, the picture changes. To show this, we drew on a measure of public opinion created by political scientist James Stimson. This measure combines survey questions about a wide range of topics into a single measure of the relative liberalism or conservatism of the American public. Higher values on this measure indicate a relatively more liberal public. Obviously, public opinion is more complex than this single measure, but it nicely captures the overall ideological “mood” of the countr
y.

From CNN: Exclusive club: Harvard, Yale and former clerks dominate Supreme Court

- Click here for the article.

The confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh reinforces the elitism of the nine.

Even before the retirement of Anthony Kennedy this summer, all justices had attended either Harvard or Yale law school. But with the addition of Kavanaugh, the high court passed a new marker of exclusivity: For the first time ever, a majority of the sitting justices once served as Supreme Court law clerks.

This amounts to more than a peculiar fact of biography. It demonstrates how narrow and selective the path to the Supreme Court has become. Most of these justices have emerged from insular, privileged backgrounds in the meritocracy. The two most recent justices, Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, attended the same preparatory school in suburban Washington, and Chief Justice John Roberts himself graduated from a prep boarding school in northern Indiana.

Appointed for life, justices like Kavanaugh, who is only 53, are in a position to shape the nation's law for decades. Among the controversies the justices are likely to resolve in coming years are those testing partisan gerrymanders and voting districts; abortion rights and health care; and the reach of environmental, consumer and other regulatory protections.

But unlike some of the litigants who come before the high court, the majority has simply not faced economic hardship or discrimination in their adult lives.

Sonia Sotomayor, who became the first Latina justice in 2009, gave voice to her distinct experience in a 2014 affirmative action case. She referred in a dissenting opinion to the debilitating effects of discrimination.

"Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: 'I do not belong here,'" Sotomayor wrote.


Also: How John Roberts will manage the Supreme Court's conservative majority

Chief Justice John Roberts on the Supreme Court (C-SPAN)



Commentary: John Roberts touts collegiality, but Supreme Court's record suggests otherwise.

And from ScotusBlog.

Court-watchers continue to consider the effect of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation on future Supreme Court decisions and on the court as an institution. At CNN, Joan Biskupic writes that although “[i]n the wake of the divisive Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday tried to assure the public that the US Supreme Court serves the whole country, not one political party over another, and that it is committed to collegiality,” “America’s highest court is deeply split along ideological and political lines, and Roberts sometimes fosters that divide.” In an episode of New York magazine Daily Intelligencer’s 2038 podcast, Dahlia Lithwick talks about what the court might look like in 20 years. Focusing on the nearer future, Daniel Hemel points out at Take Care that “Roberts Court doctrines regarding the Commerce Clause, compelled speech, commercial speech, RFRA, federalism, and agency deference don’t always tilt toward the right.” At National Review, Conrad Black maintains that “[n]ow that the dust is settling on the Kavanaugh affair, it is well to remember that much of the concern over the stance he may take as a judge could be unjustified,” and that because “[t]hese are life appointments, and judges’ views change once they are installed,” “[t]he calculation of a solid conservative majority is apt to be fragile in fact.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

From Vox: A new study reveals the real reason Obama voters switched to Trump - Hint: It has to do with race.

Race matters.

- Click here for the article.

The study, from three political scientists from around the country, takes a statistical look at a large sample of Obama-Trump switchers. It finds that these voters tended to score highly on measures of racial hostility and xenophobia — and were not especially likely to be suffering economically.

“White voters with racially conservative or anti-immigrant attitudes switched votes to Trump at a higher rate than those with more liberal views on these issues,” the paper’s authors write. “We find little evidence that economic dislocation and marginality were significantly related to vote switching in 2016.”

This new paper fits with a sizeable slate of studies conducted over the past 18 months or so, most of which have come to the same conclusions: There is tremendous evidence that Trump voters were motivated by racial resentment (as well as hostile sexism), and very little evidence that economic stress had anything to do with it.

This isn’t just a matter of historical interest or ideological ax-grinding. Understanding the precise way in which racism affected the 2016 election should shape how we think about the electorate in the run-up to the 2018 midterms. More broadly, it helps us understand the subtleties of America’s primordial divide over race — and why racism will continue to fracture the country politically for the foreseeable future.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Enforcement Act of 1870

An early effort by the national government to enforce the 15th Amendment. It also focused on the Ku Klux Klan

- Click here for the wikipedia entry on it.

The Enforcement Act of 1870 prohibited discrimination by state officials in voter registration on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. It established penalties for interfering with a person's right to vote and gave federal courts the power to enforce the act. The act also authorized the President to employ the use of the army to uphold the act and the use of federal marshals to bring charges against offenders for election fraud, the bribery or intimidation of voters, and conspiracies to prevent citizens from exercising their constitutional rights.

See also: Enforcement Acts.

Immigrant Voting Rights

It was not uncommon aqt one point. Texas allowed it until 1921.

- Click here for SJR 1.

- DEMOCRACY FOR ALL?: THE CASE FOR RESTORING IMMIGRANT VOTING IN THE UNITED STATES.

Americans are usually surprised to learn that immigrants enjoyed voting rights for most of our history and throughout the vast majority of the country. In fact, from 1776 to 1926, forty states and federal territories permitted noncitizens to vote in local, state and even federal elections. Noncitizens also held public office, such as alderman, coroner, and school board member. In practice, immigrant voting promoted civic education and citizenship. Immigrants learned civics by practice. Immigrant voting was also an effective method for facilitating the incorporation of immigrants. The notion that noncitizens should have the vote is older, was practiced longer, and is more consistent with democratic ideals than the idea that they should not. Curiously, this 150-year history has been eviscerated from American national memory.

Nor is immigrant voting merely a relic of the distant past. Noncitizens currently vote in local elections in over a half dozen cities and towns in the U.S., most notably in Chicago’s school elections and in all local elections in six towns in Maryland. In addition, campaigns to expand the franchise to noncitizens – primarily in local elections – have been launched in more than a dozen other jurisdictions during the past decade, including in New York, Massachusetts, Washington D.C, California, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and Texas. These campaigns propose to restore voting rights for immigrants in local elections; only a few have contemplated state level elections, and none would grant voting to immigrants in any federal/national election. There are slight variations in which categories of noncitizens can vote. Some cities and towns allow all immigrants to vote, including the undocumented or so-called “illegal” (Chicago and Maryland), while other places grant suffrage only to the documented or “legal” immigrants (Massachusetts). Differences also exist regarding which elections noncitizens can vote in, such as in school board elections, municipal elections, or state races. Although different terms are used to describe immigrant voting, including “noncitizen voting,” “resident voting,” “local citizenship,” and “alien suffrage,” they all mean essentially the same thing: enfranchising or restoring voting rights to those who are excluded from the electorate — immigrants who are not U.S. citizens.

Carrington v. Rash

The US Supreme Court case overturned restrictions in the Texas Constitution from voting in Texas.

- Click here for it.

From the majority decision.

A provision of the Texas Constitution prohibits "[a]ny member of the Armed Forces of the United States" who moves his home to Texas during the course of his military duty from ever voting in any election in that State "so long as he or she is a member of the Armed Forces." 1 [380 U.S. 89, 90] The question presented is whether this provision, as construed by the Supreme Court of Texas in the present case, 2 deprives the petitioner of a right secured by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Texas decided that it does not and refused to issue a writ of mandamus ordering petitioner's local election officials to permit him to vote, two Justices dissenting. 378 S. W. 2d 304. We granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 812 .

The petitioner, a sergeant in the United States Army, entered the service from Alabama in 1946 at the age of 18.[380 U.S. 89, 91] The State concedes that he has been domiciled in Texas since 1962, and that he intends to make his home there permanently. He has purchased a house in El Paso where he lives with his wife and two children. He is also the proprietor of a small business there. The petitioner's post of military duty is not in Texas, but at White Sands, New Mexico. He regularly commutes from his home in El Paso to his Army job at White Sands. He pays property taxes in Texas and has his automobile registered there. But for his uniform, the State concedes that the petitioner would be eligible to vote in El Paso County, Texas.

Texas has unquestioned power to impose reasonable residence restrictions on the availability of the ballot. Pope v. Williams, 193 U.S. 621 . There can be no doubt either of the historic function of the States to establish, on a nondiscriminatory basis, and in accordance with the Constitution, other qualifications for the exercise of the franchise. Indeed, "[t]he States have long been held to have broad powers to determine the conditions under which the right of suffrage may be exercised." Lassiter v. Northampton Election Bd., 360 U.S. 45, 50 . Compare United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299 ; Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651 . "In other words, the privilege to vote in a State is within the jurisdiction of the State itself, to be exercised as the State may direct, and upon such terms as to it may seem proper, provided, of course, no discrimination is made between individuals in violation of the Federal Constitution." Pope v. Williams, supra, at 632.

This Texas constitutional provision, however, is unique. 3 Texas has said that no serviceman may ever [380 U.S. 89, 92] acquire a voting residence in the State so long as he remains in service.

. . . We deal here with matters close to the core of our constitutional system. "The right . . . to choose," United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 314 , that this Court has been so zealous to protect, means, at the least, that States may not casually deprive a class of individuals of the vote because of some remote administrative benefit to the State. Oyama v. California, 332 U.S. 633 . By forbidding a soldier ever to controvert the presumption of nonresidence, the Texas Constitution imposes an invidious discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. "[T]here is no indication in the Constitution that . . . occupation affords a permissible basis for distinguishing between qualified voters within the State." Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 380 .

We recognize that special problems may be involved in determining whether servicemen have actually acquired a new domicile in a State for franchise purposes. We emphasize that Texas is free to take reasonable and adequate steps, as have other States, 6 to see that all applicants for the vote actually fulfill the requirements of bona fide residence. But this constitutional provision goes beyond such rules. "[T]he presumption here created is . . . definitely conclusive - incapable of being overcome by proof of the most positive character." Heiner v. Donnan, 285 U.S. 312, 324 . All servicemen not residents of Texas before induction come within the provision's sweep. Not one of them can ever vote in Texas, no matter how [380 U.S. 89, 97] long Texas may have been his true home. "[T]he uniform of our country . . . [must not] be the badge of disfranchisement for the man or woman who wears it." 7

About the right of military personnel to vote

It hasn't always been

- Washington Post: Should soldiers’ votes get counted? That’s not as easy as you’d think.

For most of U.S. history, military personnel have not been able to vote. State laws and constitutions often specifically restricted military personnel from participating in the franchise. Attitudes about voting soldiers started to change when the Civil War called large numbers of citizens for military service—but action was tempered by partisan politics.

Some states let Civil War soldiers vote, despite fears of fraud

The Civil War was the first time the United States had large numbers of soldiers deployed during a presidential election. Politicians of both parties were convinced that the army would vote for the commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. As a result, most states with Republican governors and legislatures passed laws enabling soldiers to vote, while most states led by Democrats did not. Those voting soldiers probably helped Abraham Lincoln in Maryland and influenced a few local elections in various states.

Here was the problem: Then as now, voting was usually conducted in local precincts. The idea that someone not physically present in their home county could cast a ballot was essentially unheard of. Many believed that absentee ballots invited election fraud.

Also:

- Military Voting and the Law.



Friday, October 12, 2018

From USA Today: Death knell for capital punishment? Washington becomes 20th state to ban executions

I'm asking my HCC 2306 students whether this trend might eventually come to Texas.

- Click here for the article.

On the surface, Thursday’s decision by the state of Washington’s Supreme Court declaring its death penalty unconstitutional might seem to impact only the folks tucked away in the nation's northwestern corner.

After all, as the 20th state to ban or suspend capital punishment, Washington remains in the minority. And the state’s highest court did not rule the death penalty illegal in and of itself, but rather the way it has been carried out, saying it is “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.’’

Legal scholars, however, see this as the latest step toward the continued abolition of the punishment, its death knell, so to speak, and believe Washington’s move toward commuting death sentences to life in prison will become more the rule than the exception across the United States.

“It is part of a very clear trend over the last 10 years of states abolishing the death penalty, either through their legislature, like in New Jersey, or through their courts, like in Washington, New York and some of the other states,’’ said Ellen Kreitzberg, a Santa Clara University law professor who has written extensively about capital punishment.

Since a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in 1976, executions in the U.S. peaked at 98 in 1999 but have declined at a fairly steady rate since then, to 23 in 2017 and 18 so far this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

- States with and without the death penalty.

From the Atlantic: Of Mice And Men: The Execution of Marvin Wilson

I received a few questions about Wilson's execution from my ACC 2306 classes.

Wilson was "mentally retarded," which shoudl have exempted him from execution following the Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia, but Texas found a loophole in the majority decision.

- Click here for the article.

At 6:26 p.m local time last night, an hour or so after the last appeal was denied, Texas executed a mentally retarded black man named Marvin Wilson, a man who could not handle money or navigate a phone book, a man who sucked his thumb and could not always tell the difference between left and right, a man who, as a child, could not match his socks, tie his shoes or button his clothes, a 54-year-old man with an IQ of 61* which, his attorneys were quick to point out, is "below the first percentile of human intelligence."

. . . One of the members of the Court's majority in Atkins was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She's long gone, replaced by the arch-conservative Samuel Alito. Another in the majority in Atkins was Justice Anthony Kennedy. Three years later, It was Justice Kennedy who authored Roper v. Simmons, a 2005 case which outlawed the execution of juvenile offenders. In the intervening seven years, and even last term, Justice Kennedy has consistently sought to narrow the scope of sentencing. Yet Tuesday he was silent.

Can you explain that? I cannot. How can it be possible that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of a mentally retarded man with a IQ of 59 but not a mentally retarded man with a IQ of 61? Alas, here we must turn to the other part of Atkins, what the execution of Wilson informs us now is the most important part of Atkins, the part that immediately undermined the scope of the remedy granted in the case. After all, in Atkins, didn't Justices Stevens, O'Connor, and Kennedy all sign on to this language?:

To the extent there is serious disagreement about the execution of mentally retarded offenders, it is in determining which offenders are in fact retarded... Not all people who claim to be mentally retarded will be so impaired as to fall within the range of mentally retarded offenders about whom there is a national consensus. As was our approach in Ford v. Wainwright, with regard to insanity, we leave to the State[s] the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce the constitutional restriction upon its execution of sentences.

It was the last sentence which spelled doom last night for Marvin Wilson. Since 2002, those words have allowed states like Texas, and Georgia, to nurture and protect statutes and case law that directly contradict the spirit, if not the letter, of Atkins. For example, Georgia relies upon a statute which makes the mentally retarded inmate prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he warrants protection under Atkins, a burden no jury ever gets to weigh. Instead, prison doctors and state judges, the same folks who steered pre-Atkins law, get to decide when a condemned man has proven enough retardation to be spared.

For more:

- ABA: Executing the Mentally Ill.
- ACS: Executing the Mentally Ill.
- NYT: Does the U.S. Execute People with Mental Illness? It's Complicated.

The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Was it related to voter fraud?

- Click here for the article.

2. Cooping

Others believe that Poe fell victim to a practice known as cooping, a method of voter fraud practiced by gangs in the 19th century where an unsuspecting victim would be kidnapped, disguised and forced to vote for a specific candidate multiple times under multiple disguised identities. Voter fraud was extremely common in Baltimore around the mid 1800s, and the polling site where Walker found the disheveled Poe was a known place that coopers brought their victims. The fact that Poe was found delirious on election day, then, is no coincidence.

Over the years, the cooping theory has come to be one of the more widely accepted explanations for Poe’s strange demeanor before his death. Before Prohibition, voters were given alcohol after voting as a sort of reward; had Poe been forced to vote multiple times in a cooping scheme, that might explain his semi-conscious, ragged state.

Around the late 1870s, Poe’s biographer J.H. Ingram received several letters that blamed Poe’s death on a cooping scheme. A letter from William Hand Browne, a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins, explains that “the general belief here is, that Poe was seized by one of these gangs, (his death happening just at election-time; an election for sheriff took place on Oct. 4th), ‘cooped,’ stupefied with liquor, dragged out and voted, and then turned adrift to die.”

Voter registration on Waller County

From a conversation in one of my GOVT 2306 classes.

- Waller County Elections Office Denies Rejecting Voter Registrations from Prairie View A&M Students.

- Campaign Worker Arrested After IDing His Candidate As Democrat.

Symm v. United States.

From the NCSL: FELON VOTING RIGHTS

More on variances in voter eligibility laws across the states.

- Click here for the article.

Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons

It has been common practice in the United States to make felons ineligible to vote, in some cases permanently. Over the last few decades, the general trend has been toward reinstating the right to vote at some point, although this is a state-by-state policy choice.

This page contains key information about the 2018 state legislative elections and statewide ballot measures.

Currently, state approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary tremendously. NCSL has divided states into four categories, as detailed in Table 1 below.

In all cases, "automatic restoration" does not mean that voter registration is automatic. Typically prison officials automatically inform election officials that an individual's rights have been restored. The person is then responsible for re-registering through normal processes. Some states, California is one example, require that voter registration information be provided to formerly incarcerated people.

In summary:

- In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated.

- In 14 states and the District of Columbia, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release.

- In 21 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation. Voting rights are automatically restored after this time period. Former felons may also have to pay any outstanding fines, fees or restitution before their rights are restored as well.

- In 13 states felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, or face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence (including parole and probation) before voting rights can be restored.

From ScotusBlog: Federal government asks justices to intervene in census dispute

- Click here for the article.

The federal government went to the Supreme Court today, requesting a halt to the depositions of two senior Trump administration officials – Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and John Gore, the acting head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division – in a challenge to Ross’ decision to bring back a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. The depositions are scheduled for early October, with a trial to follow in early November, but the government is asking the justices to put them on hold.

The challenge to the citizenship questions was filed in federal district court in New York by 17 states, along with (among others) the District of Columbia and several major U.S. cities and counties. From 1820 until 1950, the census had generally asked about citizenship, and from 1960 until 2000, the census asked some respondents whether they were U.S. citizens. But Ross announced this year that the 2020 census would ask all respondents about their citizenship; the data, he explained, would help the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce federal voting rights laws.

The challengers contend that asking about citizenship may result in the population count being too low, because undocumented immigrants – fearing repercussions such as deportation – may be reluctant to respond. They have alleged, as U.S. solicitor general Noel Francisco explained in the government’s filing today, that Ross’ “decision was driven by secret motives, including animus against racial minorities,” and the district court ruled that they could depose both Ross and Gore on this question.