- Created on 17 June 2013
On Monday, the NAACP released the following statement in response to the Supreme Court ruling that Arizona's proof of citizenship requirement is preempted by the federal law requiring states use the federal voter registration form:
"State government should encourage voting, not discourage it," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "The Supreme Court made the right decision to strike down Arizona's proof-of-citizenship law. We need to find innovative ways to make voting easier and more accessible for Americans, rather than coming up with new ways to suppress it."
"Any victory for the National Voting Rights Act is a victory for our voters," said Jotaka Eaddy, Senior Director, Voting Rights. "Today's decision reaffirms the importance of the National Voting Rights Act. It is a victory for voters and our Democracy."
Read the opinion of the case here:
- Created on 17 June 2013
(CNN) -- The Supreme Court on Monday tossed out a provision in Arizona's voter registration law that required proof of citizenship.
The 7-2 majority said the state's voter-approved Proposition 200 interfered with federal law designed to make voter registration easier.
The state called the provision a "sensible precaution" to prevent voter fraud. Civil rights group countered that it added an unconstitutional and burdensome layer of paperwork for tens of thousands of citizens.
Justice Antonin Scalia said the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 "forbids states to demand an applicant submit additional information beyond that required by the federal form."
But in a nod to state authority, he said the federal law "does not prevent states from denying registration based on any information in their possession establishing the applicant's eligibility."
The appeal was a classic federalism dispute, on the often delicate line between conflict and cooperation between state and federal governments over enforcing voting procedures. During last year's election, there were numerous court challenges to state voter identification laws at the polls. The current fight has produced a range of states, lawmakers and advocacy groups on both sides on the gateway issue of registration. The Obama Justice Department opposed the Arizona law, which went beyond what other states have done to ensure integrity in the registration system.
Retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor, an Arizona native, was among those who attended the spirited April oral arguments.
National Voter Registration Act
Justice Anthony Kennedy a year ago blocked the Arizona law from being enforced, while the high court decided internally whether to accept pending appeals for review. The ballot measure was passed in 2004 and has been lingering in the federal courts ever since.
The Constitution's Article I says "the times, places, and manners of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature." But Congress is also given the power "to make or alter such regulations."
Federal lawmakers did just that, passing the National Voter Registration Act two decades ago, which has since been called the Motor Voter Law, designed to streamline election participation.
It requires states to have any application for a driver's license treated also as a voter registration -- the "motor voter." And it requires states to "accept and use" mail-in and in-person applications. A federal Election Assistance Commission was created to produce a nationally uniform voter application form, which states must use. Any extra state instructions, or "add-ons," must be approved by the commission.
The question was whether certain extra instructions are permitted, and just how the federal from must be respected in the first place.
The majority said the mail-in postcard was presumptive evidence of registration and of qualification. Would-be voters would check off a box attesting they are a U.S. citizen, then sign the form under penalty of perjury.
The state said they had prosecuted cases of noncitizens registering to vote.
In a dissent, Justice Samuel Alito said the majority produced "truly strange results."
"What is a state to do if it has reason to doubt an applicant's eligibility but cannot be sure that the applicant is ineligible? Must the state either grant or deny registration without communicating with the applicant? Or does the court believe that a state may ask for additional information in individual cases but may not impose a categorical requirement for all applicants? If that is the Court's position, on which provision of the NVRA does it rely? The Court's reading of [federal law] is atextual and makes little sense."
Justice Clarence Thomas produced a separate dissent.
But Scalia and his six colleagues said that if the state were allowed to impose the additional requirements, "the federal form ceases to perform any meaningful function, and would feeble means of increasing the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for federal office."
Among those bringing suit was Jesus Gonzalez, a public school employee in Yuma, Arizona, who tried to register to vote the day he became a citizen. His application was twice rejected when his separate naturalization and driver's license numbers were improperly "red-flagged" by state databases that initially indicated he was a noncitizen.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which helped bring the original lawsuit against the state regulations, said 31,000 potential voters had their applications rejected in the two years after the Arizona law took effect. MALDEF said 90% of those were born in the U.S.
The group's Nina Perales said voter registration drives at county fairs, church services and similar venues have dropped, since many potential voters don't bring the necessary citizenship documents -- like a birth certificate -- to these community events. One estimate found a 45% reduction in Maricopa County, the state's largest county and the seat of Phoenix, the capital.
The ACLU said about 13 million people nationwide lack documents proving their citizenship, and it praised Monday's ruling.
"This decision reaffirms the principle that states may not undermine this critical law's effectiveness by adding burdens not required under federal law," said Laughlin McDonald, of the group's Voting Rights Project. "In doing so, the court has taken a vital step in ensuring the ballot remains free, fair, and accessible for all citizens."
The Obama administration said that if the provision in Arizona's law were allowed to continue, it would create a mishmash of regulations across the county. "Each state could impose all manner of its own supplemental requirements beyond the federal form," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said.
What supporters have to say
But Proposition 200 supporters say the state needs the power to keep illegal immigrants and those ineligible to vote in the U.S. from getting a ballot.
"The integrity of our nation's elections suffered a blow today from the Supreme Court," Tom Fitton, president of the conservative Judicial Watch, said Monday. "This issue takes on increasing urgency with the prospect of 11 million illegal immigrants being given amnesty. It is essential that our elections be secured by ensuring that only citizens register to vote."
Some Arizona activists agreed. "I believe we must go out of our way to protect the integrity of America's elections, to avoid the fraud we see regularly in other nations, and which if not checked will rise up here in the United States," said Russell Pearce, a former state Senate president, who helped spearhead Proposition 200's passage. "It ought to be common sense that proof of citizenship be required for voter registration, especially given the concrete evidence we've seen that illegal aliens are indeed both registered and voting. But common sense and America's judicial system don't always see eye to eye, and this is one area we'll just have to keep working."
O'Connor has a professional stake in the current high court fight. As a retired justice, she can sit on lower appeals court cases, and she was part of a 9-2 majority to rule in 2010 that Arizona's citizenship requirement conflicted with federal law.
The Supreme Court case is Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (12-71).
- Created on 17 June 2013
(CNN) -- Melanie Servetas lived the American dream. She had a six-figure salary as an executive with Wells Fargo, a Jaguar and a three-bedroom house in sunny Southern California. But then, she fell in love.
She met someone from Brazil on an online dating service. They chatted over the Internet and by phone for five months and decided they wanted to be together.
That's where this simple love story gets very complicated.
Servetas' partner is a woman, Claudia Amaral. If she were a man, the two could get married and Servetas could apply for her spouse to be admitted to the United States and eventually gain permanent residency.
But current immigration law does not allow a U.S. citizen in a same-sex relationship to sponsor his or her spouse or partner. There are nearly 30,000 such couples in America who now find themselves in the crosshairs of two critical national debates: the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, and immigration reform.
Even if Servetas were to marry Amaral in the District of Columbia or one of the 12 states that allow gay marriage, that marriage would be invisible as far as immigration law is concerned. Servetas could not sponsor her wife because of DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
So Servetas, 48, gave up her life in the United States and moved to Brazil, where she launched an information technology company. The company is struggling and Servetas misses everything about America. But she cannot imagine a life without Amaral.
"Our life is surrounded by uncertainty. We live in limbo all the time," she said, not knowing if one day her work visa in Brazil might not be extended. She goes to sleep every night worrying that tomorrow, she may be separated from the woman she loves.
The Supreme Court is poised to hand down a decision on DOMA any day. If the justices strike it down, bi-national gay couples will gain the same immigration rights as heterosexual married couples.
At the same time, Patrick Leahy, a Democratic senator from Vermont, has filed an amendment to an immigration reform bill in the Senate that would afford gay couples equality in immigration sponsorship.
Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, an organization that has been working on this issue for two decades, said for the first time, the LGBT community is optimistic that immigration policy will become less discriminatory.
"As of today, we are stuck in a race to see who's going to solve the problem first," Ralls said. "If the Senate bill is about to receive its final vote and either we do not have a court ruling or we have a bad court ruling, then (Leahy's) amendment becomes absolutely critical for binational couples."
The amendment, however, doesn't sit well with conservatives and even with more liberal lawmakers who believe it could potentially derail the entire immigration reform bill. The chances of Leahy's amendment passing, say immigration activists, are slim to none.
In any case, if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, the immigration amendment would be moot.
"I can't sleep thinking about all this," Servetas said from her residence in Rio de Janeiro.
A bill to recognize same-sex partners for immigration purposes was first introduced in Congress in 2000. Since then countless couples have been separated or have had to make the same difficult decision as Servetas and leave home.
In Atlanta, Nepal native Satyam Barakoti, 36, has grown resolute in her efforts to establish a normal life, despite the dark immigration cloud that hangs over her.
She and her partner, Tonja Holder, have been together five years and run a nonprofit consulting agency. They bought a house, and Barakoti is halfway through her first pregnancy. (More than 17,000 children in this country are being raised by binational couples.)
Holder and Barakoti have picked out names: Kabir if it's a boy and Annapurna for a girl.
But come February, Barakoti's temporary work visa, known as an H-1B, will expire, and she could very likely have to leave America. Holder cannot sponsor her for permanent residency or what's more commonly called a green card. Barakoti's child will be born a U.S. citizen, but under current law, children cannot sponsor parents until they are 21.
"We're kind of waiting to see what happens in the Supreme Court. Our options are very murky," Barakoti said.
They could move to Nepal, but it will be difficult there for Holder. She's 47, settled in Atlanta and doesn't speak Nepali. The two have discussed moving elsewhere, maybe to immigration-friendly Canada.
Mercer University law professor Scott Titshaw, who practiced immigration law for 12 years, described "love-exiled" cases as one of the few instances in which he has given this advice: Go north.
"Marriage is just so important to U.S. immigration law," Titshaw said.
Canada is the top destination for same-sex binational couples in the United States because of proximity and its immigration system. Canada uses a point system to determine who will be allowed in to live and work. Applicants are awarded points for proficiency in education, job experience and language skills. If one partner qualifies for immigration status in Canada, he or she can sponsor the other.
Shehan Welihindha, 31, of Sri Lanka and his spouse, Ryan Wilson, 29, live in South Carolina, a state that bans same-sex marriage. They were among the first seven couples to get married in Maryland -- Wilson grew up in Baltimore -- on New Year's Day after that state approved same-sex marriage last fall.
But now, with an expiration date on Welihindha's student visa, they're considering Canada.
Welihindha watched his brother marry an American woman and become a citizen. His younger sister married an American man and within a very short time, she received her green card. But when Welihindha's visa expires, he will either have to find a job with a company that might sponsor him or leave.
"When we think about graduation or starting a family, it takes us back to that root conversation about immigration," said Welihindha from his home in Columbia, South Carolina.
In all, 31 countries recognize same-sex relationships for immigration purposes. Some, like Great Britain, don't have legalized same-sex marriage but still recognize same-sex couples.
That's why Brandon Perlberg, 35, abandoned his law career in New York and moved to London to be with his partner, Benn Storey. Even though the state of New York approved same-sex marriage in 2011, a wedding was not going to help when Storey's temporary work visa ran out.
"You don't get more committed than giving up your country," Perlberg said. "That's the value DOMA was supposed to be protecting. Isn't marriage all about the sanctity of commitment?"
Perlberg is angry -- not at his partner but at his country -- for having to give up everything he cherished and begin again in a foreign land.
Psychology professor Nadine Nakamura is researching people like Perlberg and the emotional toll of having to live in exile for the sake of preserving a relationship.
"The whole situation of not knowing what the future holds and kind of having to wait with bated breath to see what politicians or the Supreme Court decides creates a great deal of anxiety," said Nakamura, who teaches at the University of La Verne in southern California. "A lot of same-sex binational couples have a hard time trying to figure out what their future looks like."
Barakoti said she has lived with that anxiety since she arrived in the United States in 2001, constantly filing paperwork for visa applications including an employer-based green card sponsorship that was rejected. It became so all-consuming that she decided not to fret about it anymore. She and Holder are bracing for a high court decision that will not be in their favor.
"Whatever they throw at us, we'll manage," Holder said.
They know one thing: No matter what, they will find a way to be together. But no one, they said, should have to choose between love and country.
- Created on 17 June 2013
Darious Calhoun, Jr., a 6-year-old boy, was caught in an illegal gun sale shooting Sunday before 8 p.m. near Mongo Circle and Monteel Drive in Atlanta while outside playing.
Witnesses said that when the would-be buyer didn't make a purchase, the shooting began.
"Gun shots, I just saw people running up the street," Anthony Dowdell told CBS Atlanta. "Somebody went up the street and started shooting at the vehicle. During the process the little kid who was riding the bike got shot."
Calhoun, Jr. was shot in the lower back and the bullet exited in the front.
"He was just shocked. He was feeling it. He was holding it and he was bleeding everywhere. He didn't want to say anything at all," Taquavious Dunlap, Calhoun's 14-year-old cousin, told CBS Atlanta.
Calhoun, Jr. is being treated at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and police are still investigating the shooting. So far, no arrest has been made.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Previous versions of this story mistakenly reported that Calhoun was 8 years old.
- Created on 17 June 2013
Former South African president Nelson Mandela is recovering well from a lung infection after spending eight days in a Pretoria hospital, his grandson Mandla Mandela says. Mandla claims the 94 year old “looked good,” after a recent hospital visit.
“Madiba is recovering very well and looks good,” Mandla Mandela said in Qunu, a village in the Eastern C...