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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)

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Biden Policy Pushes for Electric Cars To Make Up Half of U.S. Auto Sales by 2030

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While the country’s largest automakers have signed onto the plan, experts say the goal will be difficult to achieve.


Biden’s Car Emissions Plan

President Joe Biden unveiled a new multi-pronged policy Thursday aimed at reducing vehicle emissions that has been described as one of his administration’s most significant efforts to combat climate change so far.

The first part of the plan directs relevant agencies to restore and strengthen mileage standards that were implemented by former President Barack Obama but rolled back under former President Donald Trump. 

The Trump administration estimated that its own standard would lead cars produced during the term of the rule to emit nearly a billion more tons of carbon dioxide and consume around 80 billion more gallons of gas over their lifetime. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the U.S., composing around 29% of the country’s total emissions.

As a result, the second part of Biden’s new plan aims to address a more long-term goal through an executive order that sets a new target to make electric cars half of all new vehicles sold by 2030.

A White House factsheet published Thursday morning outlined a series of proposals for the president to achieve his goal, which included:

  • Installing a national network of electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Implementing consumer incentives to encourage manufacturing and union jobs.
  • Funding changes and expansions to domestic manufacturing supply chains.
  • Developing new clean technologies.

Potential Difficulties 

The 2030 target is voluntary, but America’s “Big Three” automakers — Ford, GM, and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) — issued a joint statement announcing “their shared aspiration to achieve sales of 40-50% of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles by 2030.” 

The United Auto Workers union has also backed the plan, though it said it was more focused on ensuring its members maintained jobs than it was on setting specific goals and deadlines.

While the plan has the backing of major auto industry players, there are still many hurdles. Experts say it is impossible for electric vehicles to become half of all cars without making electric charging stations as common as gas stations.

But the bipartisan infrastructure plan that Congress and Biden have painstakingly negotiated for months only includes $7.5 billion for vehicle chargers — just half the price tag the president initially called for to build 500,000 recharging spots.

Given the stalemate in Congress, as well as the significant lobbying power of Big Oil, it is unclear how much can be achieved legislatively.

Even key members of Biden’s own party have expressed hesitancy.

For example, a budget plan recently proposed by Democrats includes provisions that would provide new tax breaks and subsidies for buying electric vehicles. Democratic leaders have said they want to pass the budget through reconciliation, meaning they only need a simple majority and thus will not require any Republican votes.

However, in order to do so, the party needs all 50 senators to agree to the package. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who recently said he has “grave concerns” about Biden’s desired speed to adopt electric vehicles, has already signaled that he will not support increased subsidies for the cars. 

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

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Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium

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The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.


Eviction Freeze Set To Expire

President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.

The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.

While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.

In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress. 

“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said. 

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”

Delays in Relief Distribution 

The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.

Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.

A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires. 

The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape. 

Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.

According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 —  including New York — had not spent any funds at all.

Slim Chances in Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.

However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.

While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.

Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.

“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”

With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.

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

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

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

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