Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.
Voting Bill Set for Floor
Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.
The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.
While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.
The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.
However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.
Pathway for Filibuster Reform
Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed.
That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.
It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.
As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).
This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.
Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)
Federal Court Throws Out Alabama Congressional Map, Citing Racial Gerrymandering
The judges ruled that the Republican-held legislature gerrymandered the map so the state only had one Black-majority district despite Black residents composing 27% of the state’s population.
Alabama Ordered to Redraw Map
A panel of federal judges tossed Alabama’s new congressional map on Monday, ruling that the current version significantly weakens the voting power of Black residents.
In their decision, the three judges noted that while about 27% of Alabamians are Black, the map drawn by the Republican-led legislature after the 2020 census was gerrymandered to leave just one of the state’s seven districts with a Black majority.
“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the judges wrote. “We find that the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law.”
As a result, the panel also ordered state lawmakers to redraw their map so that it includes “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
The legislature was given 14 days to redo their map before they appoint a special master to do so.
Ongoing Legal Battles
Shortly after the ruling, a spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement that his office “strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will be appealing in the coming days.”
According to reports, the matter could ultimately go to the Supreme Court, which would decide whether lawmakers can draw maps that are gerrymandered along racial lines.
The high court ruled in 2019 that federal courts do not have the power to block congressional maps that are gerrymandered to skew districts in a partisan manner unless a state’s constitution explicitly prohibits such gerrymandering. The justices did keep parts of the Voting Rights Act that ban racial or ethnic gerrymandering, which the federal panel claimed was the case in Alabama.
Alabama’s congressional map is not the only one drawn by Republicans that has been thrown out in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Ohio’s Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to redraw a map that would have given Republicans 12 congressional seats and Democrats just three despite the fact that recently the GOP has only won about 55% of the popular vote statewide.
The state’s high court ruled that the map clearly violated a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (AL.com)
Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Affirmative Action Cases at Harvard and UNC
The decision to take up the two cases marks the first time affirmative action will go before the high court’s latest conservative-majority bloc.
SCOTUS Takes on Race-Conscious Admissions, Again
The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will again consider whether race-conscious admissions programs at universities are legal in two cases that could have serious implications for affirmative action.
The two lawsuits center around admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), both of which were brought by the conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions.
The Harvard case started in 2014 with a lawsuit that claimed the school discriminated against Asian American students by effectively creating a quota for their admission. It also alleged the school a subjective standard to measure personality traits like likability, courage, and kindness.
The Ivy League school denied the allegations, claiming the challengers used incorrect statistical analysis and broadly arguing that race-conscious policies are legal.
In the case against UNC, the group alleged that the school discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic, and Native American students.
The university, for its part, argued that its policies create more diversity among its student body, also echoing Harvard’s argument that such rules are legal under decades of Supreme Court precedents.
Past Precedent Up in the Air
Lower courts ruled in favor of both schools, finding they did indeed comply with Supreme Court decisions.
But in taking up these two cases, the high court’s conservative majority will now examine whether race-conscious admissions are legal at all. The move could decide the future of affirmative action and undermine more than four decades of precedent on the use of race in college admissions.
The last two times the high court took up cases regarding affirmative action, the justices upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious programs by slim majorities. Now, those majorities have been replaced by a conservative bloc that includes three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump.
According to reports, the justices will likely hear the cases in October.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress
The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.
Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.
“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”
“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.
The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban.
“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”
While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.
But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.
The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic.
The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges.
Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban
In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.
Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.
According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.
In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.
“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”
Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.
The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.