Unfinished Business

Civil Rights News: SCOTUS Set to Hear Key Voting Rights Case; Obama Immigration Plan Details Circulate; Reforming Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Compiled by Emily Van Dusen, a Spring 2013 intern at The Leadership Conference Education Fund

Supreme Court to Weigh Whether Voting Rights Act Has Run Its Course
Richard Wolf
USA Today

With the Shelby County v. Holder case being argued at the Supreme Court next week, civil rights groups and other interested parties have worked to protect Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as being necessary for our democracy. While Shelby County and other skeptics have claimed that the South has evolved past its discriminatory voting history, USA Today posits that “the question is not whether the South has changed, but how much, and whether it’s enough.” While minority voter participation is up and minority candidates have been elected to various positions, many states and counties covered under Section 5 continue to face objections from the Department of Justice concerning their voting practices. Data about these objections was collected in 2006 when Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act and Section 5, and was also presented to the court in anticipation of the argument.

Obama Plan Envisions 8-Year Wait for Illegal Immigrants
Micheal D. Shear and Julia Preston
The New York Times

A White House draft plan for immigration reform that has circulated around the administration details the White House vision for immigration reform. According to The New York Times:

none of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country would be granted permanent resident status and given a document known as a green card until the earlier of two dates: either eight years after the bill is enacted or 30 days after visas have been given to everyone who applied legally.

The plan also emphasizes the need for stronger border security, but provides a shortened citizenship option for young immigrants who came to the United States as children. Disclosure of the document has heightened political tension surrounding the reform debate, but plans for legislation in the coming months are moving forward.

Unjust Mandatory Minimum Prison Sentences
The New York Times

In the fight for criminal justice reform, mandatory minimum sentences are criticized for their unfair targeting of low level offenders rather than leaders in the drug trade. Federal judges support reform for the mandatory minimums policy, noting that the current laws focus more on the type of drug than the role of the defendant. As The New York Times says in an editorial, “The trouble with mandatory minimum sentences is that it is impossible to make them fair and just in every case. It’s time for the attorney general, Congress and the sentencing commission to reform this scheme.”