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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

House Votes To Censure Rep. Gosar, Remove Him From Committees Over AOC Video

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Gosar remained defiant in remarks delivered on the floor where he defended the video and refused to apologize.


Republicans Stay Defiant Amid Censure Debate

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Az.) and remove him from his committees after he tweeted an anime video last week that showed him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

The video, which has since been removed by Gosar, was a parody of the popular anime show “Attack on Titan.”

At one point in the clip, Gosar, along with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), are seen battling and then killing a titan version of Ocasio-Cortez.

That post garnered widespread backlash, but Gosar continued to defend it and refused to apologize.

During the heated debate leading up to Wednesday’s vote, the lawmaker again expressed no regret and remained defiant.

“I rise today to address and reject the mischaracterization and accusations from many in this body that the cartoon from my office is dangerous or threatening. It was not,” he said. “I reject the false narrative categorically.”

“I do not espouse violence toward anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset,” he continued. He then went on to insist the video was just a rebuke of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy and compared himself to Alexander Hamilton.

Many Republican leaders — who have largely refused to condemn the video — also defended Gosar and dismissed the post as a joke.

While some said they do not condone violence, few members of the party criticized the lawmaker. Rather, most focused their attacks on Democrats, arguing that they were abusing their power and silencing conservatives.

Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez Condemn Incitement of Violence

Democrats slammed Republicans’ continued refusal to reprimand Gosar. They said there must be consequences and that they were forced to act because his party would not.

Many also argued that they must speak out against actions that could incite the kind of violence that unfolded during the Jan. 6 insurrection. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), for instance, described the situation as “an emergency” that amounted to “violence against women” and “workplace harassment.”

“When a member uses his or her national platform to encourage violence, tragically, people listen,” she said, adding that “depictions of violence can foment actual violence, as witnessed by this chamber on Jan. 6, 2021.”

The Speaker additionally noted that there are legal implications for Gosar’s video because it amounted to a threat against a member of Congress, which is a criminal offense.

Ocasio-Cortez echoed the sentiments expressed by Pelosi during her speech on the floor.

“What I believe is unprecedented is for a member of House leadership of either party to be unable to condemn incitement of violence against a member of this body,” she said. “It is sad. It is a sad day in which a member who leads a political party in the United States of America cannot bring themselves to say that issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong.” 

“What is so hard about saying this is wrong?” she continued. “It’s pretty cut and dry. Does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable?” 

“Our work here matters. Our example matters. There is meaning in our service. And as leaders in this country, when we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down into violence in this country.” 

Ultimately, the vast majority of House Republicans voted against the resolution to censure Gosar. Only Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.) supported the measure, which passed 223 to 207.

While removing Gosar from his committees effectively takes away a major platform for him to effect legislation, the censure is basically just a public condemnation. Still, the move is significant because it represents the first time in more than a decade that a member of the House has been censured and only the 24th instance in American history.

Gosar, for his part, appeared to be unmoved by the decision. Just an hour after the vote, the lawmaker retweeted a post praising him that also included the same video of him killing Ocasio-Cortez.

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

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Former Trump Aide Steve Bannon Surrenders to FBI After Contempt of Congress Charges

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The charges stem from Bannon’s failure to comply with a subpoena from the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Bannon Faces Contempt Charges

Former White House advisor Steve Bannon surrendered to the FBI Monday morning on two contempt of Congress charges.

Bannon, who previously served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday after he defied a subpoena to testify and provide documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“I don’t want anybody to take their eye off the ball…We’re taking down the Biden regime every day,” he said when briefly addressing the media as he turned himself in to the FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office.

Bannon made his first court appearance Monday afternoon, though he did not make a plea and was released from custody. His arraignment is set for Thursday morning.

If convicted, each count of contempt carries a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Contempt of Congress charges are incredibly rare. According to The Washington Post, only three such charges have been brought in the last three decades.

Ongoing Legal Battle

While the proceedings against Bannon will likely be quick, they are only one part of what is shaping up to be a lengthy battle over executive privilege.

Trump has repeatedly attempted to block the Jan. 6 committee from obtaining requested documents, testimonies, and other materials under the argument that they are protected by executive privilege — which he asserts still applies to him and his former aides.

In addition to provoking a fraught legal back-and-forth over key records, the former president’s efforts have additionally prompted multiple previous top officials to refuse to comply with subpoenas.

Some top Democrats have said that Bannon’s indictment will encourage other witnesses to cooperate, but at the same time, it has reinvigorated Trump’s allies in Congress.

While some have threatened payback if Republicans take the House in 2022, others have also weaponized support of Bannon as the latest show of loyalty for Trump, effectively centering the matter as a key issue for the midterm elections.

On Saturday, Trump himself released a statement condemning all Republicans who either voted for the infrastructure bill or the contempt charges against Bannon, listing each by name and promising to back anyone who primaried them in the upcoming elections.

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

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Judge Blocks Trump’s Effort To Keep Records From Jan. 6 Committee

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The former president’s lawyers quickly appealed the decision, and experts have said the legal battle over the records could extend into next year.


Trump’s Attempt To Withhold Documents Rejected

A federal judge issued a ruling Tuesday rejecting former President Donald Trump’s effort to block records from being handed over to the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Trump has launched numerous attempts to prevent the committee from obtaining key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers have requested, claiming the materials are protected by executive privilege.

Last month, he went as far as to file a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing those documents.

In his suit, Trump claimed that executive privilege still applied to him even though he is no longer president, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden also declined to exercise executive privilege over the records.

The former president argued that the requested information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”

In her Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan broadly rejected those arguments, writing that “the public interest lies in permitting […] the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again.”

Chutkan additionally argued that Congress’ ability to obtain information as part of its constitutional oversight authority outweighs Trump’s remaining secrecy powers, especially because Biden agreed that investigators should see the records.

“[Trump] does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent president’s judgment. His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,'” she added. “But presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president.”

Ongoing Legal Battle

Immediately after the ruling, Trump’s lawyers appealed and moved to block the release of the records until their appeal can be heard.

According to various reports, the appeals court set an initial written briefing deadline for Dec. 27. Legal experts, however, believe the battle will likely continue into next year and will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court. 

A drawn-out legal process will only continue to benefit Trump, whose strategy of stonewalling and stalling the investigation has so far proven effective at hindering lawmakers.

Additional delays would further aid the former president if litigation continues past the 2022 midterm elections when Republicans hope to retake the House. 

In a statement on Twitter, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich indicated that the legal fight is just now starting.

“The battle to defend Executive Privilege for Presidents past, present & future—from its outset—was destined to be decided by the Appellate Courts,” he wrote. “Pres. Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution & the Office of the Presidency, & will be seeing this process through.”

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

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