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Georgia Lawsuit Claims Discrimination Against Puerto Ricans

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  • A lawsuit filed Tuesday claims that the Georgia Department of Driver Services discriminates against people born in Puerto Rico who apply for drivers licenses.
  • The lawsuit claims that, among other things, Puerto-Ricans are forced to take a quiz and answer questions about the island, that requires them to answer questions like “[what is] the name of the frog [that is] native only to PR.”
  • An attorney who works for one of the human rights organizations that filed the suit said the quiz “bears a strikingly disturbing resemblance to the tests applied by segregationists to block voter registration of people of color.”

Lawsuit

Human rights groups filed a lawsuit in Georgia Tuesday, claiming that the state’s Department of Driver Services (DDS) is discriminating against people born in Puerto Rico who apply for drivers licenses

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but the lawsuit says the DDS holds people born in Puerto Rico to much stricter requirements than people from other states or Washington, D.C.

The suit claims that DDS requires applicants born in Puerto Rico to take extra driver exams that are not required of other people with out-of-state licenses, and that it will not accept birth certificates issued in Puerto Rico before 2010.

“DDS also requires that accepted birth certificates and other original identity documents submitted by Puerto Rico-born driver’s license applicants be retained and flagged for fraud review,” the lawsuit continued.

The plaintiffs also accuse the department of forcing Puerto Rico-born applicants to “answer questions about the island that are not required of United States mainland-born applicants, including identifying ‘what a meat filled with plantain fritter’ is called; where a specific beach is located; and ‘the name of the frog [that is] native only to PR.’”

The lawsuit states that because of those requirements, the DDS is violating the Civil Rights Act by engaging in “race-based stereotyping and implicit bias against Puerto Ricans.”

Kenneth Caban Gonzalez

The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the advocacy group  LatinoJustice on behalf of a Puerto Rico-born man named Kenneth Caban Gonzalez.

However, it also claims that there are most likely more than 40 people from Puerto Rico who have similar claims. Which, if true, would meet the 40-plaintiff minimum required for a class-action lawsuit.

The defendants are listed as the DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore and a specific DDS employee named James Woo.

According to the lawsuit, Caban Gonzalez applied for a driver’s license in October of 2017, after meeting the state’s 30-day residency requirement.

When he went in to get his license, DDS officials took “his driver’s license, his original birth certificate, and his social security card,” and informed him “that he would be notified when to pick up his original identity documents.”

About a month later, Caban Gonzalez received a text from the defendant James Woo, telling him to go to DDS office for an interview.

When he arrived, he was arrested on one count of first-degree forgery and another count relating to making false statements. The criminal charges are still pending, the lawsuit says.

DDS never gave any of Caban Gonzalez any of identification back, forcing him to get a new birth certificate and social security card.

It has now been 600 days since he applied for the license, the lawsuit states, and the department still has not given him a license or told him why they believe his identity documents were false.

DDS also has not given Caban Gonzalez a hearing on the matter, which he is supposed to be allowed under the law. To make matters more complicated, DDS has not outright denied him a license, which means he cannot appeal the decision.

Caban Gonzalez was eventually given a state ID, but the department did not explain why they considered his identification documents sufficient to issue him a state identification card, but not a driver’s license, despite the fact both have the same documentation requirements.

Even though he has some form of state identification, not having a drivers license has made it hard for him to get a job, take his newborn daughter to the doctor, or make other trips, according to the lawsuit.

Response

After the news of the lawsuit broke, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló responded in a statement calling the allegations “absurd.”

“Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and cannot be treated unequally in any U.S. jurisdiction,” Rosselló said.

“If true, I ask Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to address the disturbing irregularities immediately. The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico cannot be subject to illogical and illegal requirements when procuring government services.” 

A spokesperson for Kemp told Fox News that the Governor had asked DDS to conduct an investigation.

“Our team has spoken with DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore and asked him to conduct a full investigation into these claims,” the spokesperson said. “Given that this matter involves pending litigation, we will decline to further discuss any specifics involving this case.”

A DDS spokesperson told CNN that the department has not formally received the lawsuit yet, and cannot comment on it. However, the spokesperson did say that “the department processes all driver’s license applications in accordance with state and federal law.”

However, the spokesperson did say that “the department processes all driver’s license applications in accordance with state and federal law.”

Additionally, another DDS spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the so-called “quiz” questions come from a document DDS released to comply with an open records request, but add that the quiz “is not an authorized DDS document.” 

CNN also reported that a note on the guide for the quiz stated: “While this guide can in no way positively determine if a person was born in or lived in Puerto Rico, it will help determine if the individual has a normal base of knowledge of their claimed birthplace.”

However, Gerry Weber, a senior attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, compared the quiz to a Jim-Crow era law. 

“The so-called quiz, applied to Puerto Rican drivers, bears a strikingly disturbing resemblance to the tests applied by segregationists to block voter registration of people of color,” he said.

Weber’s argument references the fact that DDS’ actions and policies affect more than the ability to drive. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, around 700,000 new voters registered through DDS in 2017 and 2018 alone.

Weber argues that if the department is discriminating against Puerto Ricans, they could be preventing them from voting.

Georgia has recently been accused of suppressing the votes of people of color in the last election. An active lawsuit filed in the state is trying to overhaul the state’s entire election system, arguing that it violates the constitutional rights of people of color.

In March, the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the allegations of voter suppression in the state.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox News) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Politics

Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States

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Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.


May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio

The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.

Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)

The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation. 

The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.

According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.

Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.

However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.

Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.” 

Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.

The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.

The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.

Other Major Races This Month

There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.

In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats. 

The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)

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New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map

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The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.


Appeals Court Ruling

The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.

In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”

The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.

But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.

In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.” 

While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.

Broader Trends

The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.

In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.

Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call

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The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members actions.


Leaked Audio

Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.

The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.

They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public. 

One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.

In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.

“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.” 

Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.

Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.” 

“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”

Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.

“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”

McCarthy in Hot Water

The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.

McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.

McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump. 

Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party. 

Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.

Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”

Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”

Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”

It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.

After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.

“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Axios) (The Washington Post)

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