Tag Archives: Florida

It Isn’t Just The Crackpot Caucus…

In one of those daily multiple fundraising emails that fill our inboxes, Adam Schiff coined a perfect phrase. Referring to the numerous GOP nominees who are proponents of the “Big Lie” and various other conspiracy theories, he warned that many of them are poised to join “performance artists” like Marjorie Taylor Greene in the “Crackpot Caucus.”

Schiff’s point was that the growing presence of crackpots in Congress has diminished the ability of the federal legislature to do the necessary–albeit less entertaining– work of governance.

He’s right–but our current problems go far beyond the crackpots. People like Greene are embarrassments, but by and large, they are too incompetent–and too busy mugging for the cameras–to devise or pass legislation. They can and do “gum up the works,” but  getting bills passed is evidently beyond them.

America’s most serious problem right now resides in other branches of government: in courts packed with partisan Trumpian know-nothings, and state administrations headed by dangerous and ambitious governors. One of the most dangerous of those governors is  Trump wanna-be Ron DeSantis of Florida.

I generally try not to label unpleasant and unprincipled people “evil,” but that word does come to mind when thinking about DeSantis. His assaults on LGBTQ citizens and public school teachers,  and his persistent efforts to suppress the votes of those likely to vote Democrat are egregious–and unsettlingly effective.

DeSantis most recent attack on voting rights really does merit the “evil” label.

As the Brennan Center explains:

In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis bragged that Florida’s elections were the “gold standard.” That was an exaggeration, but he was right in one sense: the elections there, as in the rest of the country, were secure and not marred by fraud.

That left DeSantis with a dilemma in his shadow race against Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination. How to prove that he, too, could recklessly undermine democracy? His answer was an election crimes police squad, announced last year to great fanfare.Did it discover Italian spy satellites switching votes? Dominion machines using ballots made in China? Bushels of ballots?

No — it discovered voters caught in the act of voting.

Rather than identifying some shadowy network of deep state operatives, state election police have found a tiny handful of people, many of whom were themselves victims of government incompetence.

Here’s the story:

As many of you probably read at the time,  in 2018, by a very substantial margin, Florida voters amended the state’s Constitution. They ended a  felony disenfranchisement system that had been characterized as a notorious remnant of Jim Crow. That system  barred people who had a felony conviction from voting for the rest of  their lives. The system had kept 1.7 million otherwise eligible people from voting.

Then the Florida Legislature stepped in. It undermined the law, requiring citizens who had just had their rights restored to pay off fines and fees before voting.

The Brennan Center sued, warning that the new requirement would lead to chaos, because the state provided no way for people to check to see if they had unpaid fees and so were eligible to vote.

The experience of Kelvin Bolton illustrates the consequences.

In 2018, after Floridians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to most people with past convictions, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections sent officials to county jail to help inmates register for the next election. Kelvin Bolton proudly signed up along with other people in exactly the same situation. According to Bolton, the officials failed to tell him about the requirement that he pay outstanding fines and fees.

Even if Bolton had known, there was very little he could have done. There is no centralized database you can use, no number you can call, to find out whether there are outstanding fees. Here’s an indication of how maddening the process is: When the Brennan Center was developing a resource for people attempting to restore their voting rights, we quickly determined that it had to be aimed at lawyers. No layperson could reliably navigate this Kafkaesque labyrinth. And yet, DeSantis and his election police apparently take the position that formerly incarcerated Floridians vote at their own risk.

Under DeSantis,  Florida adamantly refuses to help these ex-offenders. The state  allows people with felony convictions to register, then prosecutes them if it finds outstanding court debts.

Worse, Florida once again imprisons people –at considerable taxpayer expense– who were only attempting to cast a vote, a practice  that intimidates and deters eligible voters who fear that the election police will come for them, too.

“All in the name of proving that there is in fact fraud happening, to give credibility to those who have staked their political careers on its existence.”

Florida under DeSantis: Even worse than the crackpot caucus.

 

Whose Religious Liberty?

Well, finally! A lawsuit just filed in Florida raises an important and far too frequently ignored aspect of the First Amendment’s religion clauses. What happens when “religious liberty” becomes a code word meaning “Liberty for my particular religion’s doctrine, but not for yours?”

The Supreme Court majority that (according to the leaked draft opinion) will overturn Roe v. Wade within the next few weeks is composed of Catholics who have been very vocal about the importance of protecting religious liberty–as they evidently define it. The problem is, their definition of liberty differs from that held by a very large number of Americans who believe that all citizens are free to follow the doctrines of their particular religions. When applied to the issue of abortion, for example, people whose beliefs prohibit it are protected from measures requiring it, and people whose beliefs allow (or even, in some situations, require) it can follow their beliefs.

In other words, if your beliefs prohibit abortion, you don’t have to have one. If they don’t, you can.

That definition of religious liberty is at the heart of the lawsuit filed in Florida. According to the Religion News Service, 

A new Florida law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks with some exceptions violates religious freedom rights of Jews in addition to the state constitution’s privacy protections, a synagogue claims in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed by the Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor of Boynton Beach contends the law that takes effect July 1 violates Jewish teachings, which state abortion “is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman” and for other reasons.

“As such, the act prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and this violates their privacy rights and religious freedom,” says the lawsuit, filed last week in Leon County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit adds that people who “do not share the religious views reflected in the act will suffer” and that it “threatens the Jewish people by imposing the laws of other religions upon Jews.”

The new Florida law has exceptions only for terminations necessary to save the life of the mother or prevent serious injury, or for a fetus with a fatal abnormality. It does not contain exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest or human trafficking.

The Rabbi of the synagogue that filed the lawsuit was quoted as saying that when separation of religion and government crumbles, religious minorities often suffer. And he noted that DeSantis had signed the law at an evangelical Christian church.

This lawsuit is yet another illustration of an element of the expected decision that has received far too little attention: it goes to the very heart of current constitutional jurisprudence, which is concerned with drawing a line between those matters that government can properly regulate and those that are to be left to the individual. Reversal of Roe attacks the conceptual underpinning of a doctrine known as “substantive due process,” which is focused on where that line must be drawn, and the very simple–and very profound–question: who decides?

In a free country–a country that takes liberty seriously–who gets to decide what prayer you say, what book you read, who you marry, whether and when you procreate?

For the past fifty years, with some hiccups, American law has answered that question by respecting the rights of individuals and religious communities to determine those and similarly personal issues–issues that the Court has dubbed “intimate”–for themselves. I would argue that the right to make our own personal, medical, political and religious decisions in the exercise of our individual consciences is the proper definition of liberty.

(Decisions to forego mask wearing and other decisions that endanger others, not so much.)

America is currently going through a wrenching transition. Religious and racial groups that were once so dominant that minority communities and their beliefs were (at best) marginalized and ignored are losing their cultural dominance, and many members of those groups are hysterical about it. Others are simply clueless–so insulated within traditional ways of understanding the society they inhabit that they are unable to understand the claims of those who differ–as Jewish law differs from much of Christianity on the issue of abortion.

“Freedom for me, but not for thee” isn’t freedom at all. It’s privilege, and privileges can be withdrawn. What’s that observation we civil libertarians love to quote? “Poison gas is a great weapon until the wind shifts.”

Either religious liberty is liberty for adherents of all religions, or it isn’t liberty at all. This lawsuit illustrates the danger of letting government make decisions that favor the doctrines of some religions to the detriment of others.

 

Is Florida the Fourth Reich?

A couple of weekends ago,  Nazis demonstrated in Orlando. According to media reports, they screamed antisemitic slogans and threats against Blacks and Hispanics, waved swastikas, and assaulted a couple of people who stopped to argue with them.

According to Newsweek, Twitter users posted videos of the neo-Nazi rally and reported the slurs.

And a Florida resident posted to Daily Kos, 

In addition, the Nazis protested at several overpasses on I-4 toward Disney, with Nazi flags and a large “Let’s Go Brandon” sign with swastikas. Another one said, “Vax the Jews.” This protest followed another one in Mount Dora earlier. The fact is that antisemitic incidents in Florida rose by 40% since 2020. The undeniable rise of antisemitic demonstrations in Florida even got Sen. Rick Scott’s attention, and he condemned them in a tweet. Democrats, including the candidates for governor and senator, strongly condemned the Nazis. However, the two incumbents they are running against, Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio, have remained silent. 

It’s bad enough that DeSantis refused to condemn the demonstrations; his spokesperson was worse. She tweeted “How do we even know they’re Nazis?” and suggested they might  have been Democrats “pretending.”

If this were a one-off, DeSantis’ silence could be attributed to oversight, overwork…something. But no one who has followed DeSantis and his enablers in the Florida Legislature is likely to give him the benefit of the doubt. (There’s a reason The New Republic made him their “Scoundrel of the Year.”)

A Miami newspaper recounted “Eight Times DeSantis ‘Accidentally’ Did Racist Stuff.”That article was written during DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign, and started as follows:

After enough racism scandals involving a particular political candidate, you’d think everyone might just admit that person is simply racist. Yet a whole lot of people — from bad-faith conservative pundits to easily fooled reporters — continue offering excuses for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ infamous statement on Fox News that Andrew Gillum would “monkey… up” Florida.

At best, that gaffe implies DeSantis, who is a seasoned lawyer with degrees from Harvard and Yale, is so ignorant he doesn’t know it’s a really bad idea to use the word “monkey” when talking about a black person.

But claiming his use of the word was a simple accident is also hard to believe because DeSantis has a clear, repeated pattern of making offensive and/or outright racist statements, hanging out with racists, and defending other people who are also racists. It’s past time that DeSantis — long considered the most right-wing Florida congressman who is running on a platform of fealty to Donald Trump and pure anti-immigrant bile — lost the benefit of the doubt.

The article enumerated the reasons DeSantis isn’t entitled to the benefit of the doubt: among other things, he spoke at a Muslim-bashing event alongside Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon, defended a supporter who advocated”bringing back the hanging tree,” leveled a slur at AOC’s ethnicity, and was moderator of a Facebook group that was a haven for racist memes.

Since he’s been governor, of course, he has worked hard to out-Trump Trump. His anti-vaccination, anti-mask, anti-mandate efforts have received wide publicity, but those efforts are arguably not targeted at minorities–they’re unforgivably dangerous to the health of all Florida citizens (especially the elderly, and Florida has more than its share of elderly folks.)

Other measures are more clearly bigoted.

 DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature have joined the campaign  against what DeSantis calls”woke” schools. As this Washington Post article describes it:

As part of the “stop-woke” agenda of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Florida lawmakers are now considering bills that would allow almost anyone to object to any instruction in public school classrooms. DeSantis wants to give people the right to sue schools and teachers over what they teach based on student “discomfort.” The proposed legislation is far-reaching and could affect even corporate human resources diversity training.

While the legislation mirrors national efforts to ban critical race theory in schools, the debate in Florida has turned especially raw and emotional, a testament to how central multiculturalism is to the state’s identity. Many parents and teachers — who note that critical race theory is not taught in Florida’s public schools and is already banned under state law — fear the legislation would force teachers to whitewash history, literature and religion courses.

 In Florida, more than 1 in 5 residents are foreign-born and nearly half the population is Latino, Black or Asian American. That might explain DeSantis’ multiple new voting restrictions.

DeSantis and GOP lawmakers have also advanced a bill opponents are calling “don’t say gay.” It would effectively forbid classroom discussions of sexual orientation.

 One proponent of the “anti-woke” bills gives the racist game away: “To say there were slaves is one thing, but to talk in detail about how slaves were treated, and with photos, is another.” 

It is indeed.

Speaking Of Florida…

Speaking of Florida…

Ron DeSantis–the delusional and dangerous governor of Florida–is evidently doubling down on his insistence that government has no business protecting the public health via vaccine mandates.

According to The Week,

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday stepped up his fight against the White House over COVID-19 restrictions, calling for a special legislative session so the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature can block President Biden’s vaccine mandates. “We have an opportunity here to take additional action, and I think we have to do it,” said DeSantis, who also has vowed to challenge Biden’s mandates in court. “I think we have got to stand up for people’s jobs and their livelihoods.” Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said his office had not received details on the plan for a special session. Biden in September said his administration would impose vaccine mandates on federal workers and businesses with more than 100 employees, prompting criticism from Republicans who said getting vaccinated should be a personal choice.

I don’t have any special insight into whether DeSantis is really as stupid as he sounds, or whether he has decided that his political future rests with the delusional Trumpian base of the GOP, but this latest bit of theater is driving rational observers over the edge.

The hypocrisy is bad enough. This sudden libertarianism is jarring, coming as it does from Republicans who have waged culture war on behalf of government’s right to dictate everything from citizens’ right to smoke weed to who they can marry and and how they must reproduce.

What is especially infuriating, however, is the insistence that protecting others from serious illness and possible death should be a matter of “personal choice.”

As most readers of this blog are aware, I spent six years as the Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU. I came to that position as a libertarian Republican (a category that no longer exists in the GOP, despite these sudden dishonest exhortations about “personal choice.”) I was–and am–a believer in what is called the libertarian premise, the  Enlightenment construct that says citizens are entitled to pursue their own telos, their own life goals–in today’s jargon, entitled to “do their own thing” and make their own “personal choices”–so long as they do not thereby harm the person or property of a non-consenting other, and so long as they are willing to accord an equal liberty to others.

The legitimacy of government action rests on those caveats.

There can certainly be arguments about what constitutes sufficient harm to justify government rules and regulations. Those arguments have been especially relevant to so-called “victimless crimes.” We distinguish, for example, between the guy who gets drunk in the privacy of his own home and the guy who gets drunk and takes to the road in his car. People who smoke in their own homes and cars are free to do so, but we have regulated smoking in public places ever since medical science discovered that passive smoke  endangers others. We argue whether the gambler who sustains losses poses a threat to others sufficient to legitimize laws against gambling, and whether the driver who doesn’t “buckle up” endangers anyone but himself.

The argument that vaccination is a “personal choice” doesn’t fall into that category.

Previous epidemics have not spawned similar, widespread debates about government’s right–actually, government’s duty–to protect public health. American courts, including the Supreme Court, have upheld both vaccination and quarantine mandates, because they are most definitely not matters of personal choice. A decision to forego vaccination for a non-medical reason is a declaration of disregard for ones fellow-citizens. Period.

If today’s insane Republicans want to risk their own lives in order to make a political statement, I’m fine with that. When they want to risk the lives of other people, not so much.

In Florida, a large percentage of the population is composed of elderly folks who are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, That makes DeSantis’ opposition to vaccination especially heinous. He isn’t protecting “personal choice;” he’s signaling his willingness to add to the 59,000+  deaths the state has already suffered from COVID.

He has made a “personal choice” to elevate politics over morality.He’s despicable.

 

 

 

This S**t’s Getting Real

Okay–as multiple sources have now reported, Donald Trump is refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he should lose.

For months now, Democrats have warned and worried about the prospect of Trump simply  rejecting election results and proclaiming himself the winner– regardless of the vote tally. There have been credible reports of mail slowdowns, enlistment of “volunteers” prepared to intimidate voters at the polls, and similar suppression tactics.

Now, a carefully-researched article from the  Atlantic has raised the stakes.

Barton Gellman writes that the Trump team is creating a plan to “work around” those pesky actual  vote results in battleground states. If Biden wins a Red swing state,  its GOP-run state legislature would announce that the vote was tainted and appoint Republican electors instead of the Democratic electors who won. (They would insist they were protecting the will of the people from those who were trying to rig an election.)

There’s a lot more detail, but such shenanigans would undoubtedly spawn litigation that would end up at the Supreme Court. Which explains the GOP’s frantic effort to confirm a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg right away.

 The New Yorker is one of several outlets reporting on Trump’s admission of that motive:

One thing you cannot accuse Donald Trump of is trying to disguise his nefarious intentions. For months now, legal experts and Democratic campaign officials have warned that he may reject the results of this year’s election and pronounce himself the victor regardless of the vote tally. On Tuesday, Trump virtually confirmed that this is his plan. He also indicated that rushing through the appointment of another conservative to the Supreme Court is a key element of his strategy to stay in the White House.

The only thing that can short-circuit Trump’s subversion of American democracy is an absolutely massive turnout for Democrats on Election Day. That’s why my husband and I will mask up and vote early. That’s also why my youngest son just sent a contribution to “We Got The Vote” This is the organization raising money to pay off the fines of former felons in Florida so that they can vote in this election.

As most of you reading this probably know, in a Florida referendum, voters approved a change of law to allow former felons to vote. Republicans who control the Florida legislature and Florida’s despicable  Governor refused to implement the mandated change, passing a measure that prevents ex-felons from voting until they pay off whatever fines they still owe .(Can we spell “poll tax”?) This is particularly egregious because not only are many ex-offenders unable to raise that money, the State of Florida doesn’t have the institutional capacity to tell them what they owe.

The organization “We Got the Vote” is raising money to pay off fines so ex-felons can vote. (As a nice “reward” for sending them money, they are a tax-exempt nonprofit, so donations are fully tax deductible.unlike political donations.)

Michael Bloomberg’s political operation recently raised more than $16 million from supporters and foundations to pay the court fines and fees for more than 30,000 Black and Latino voters in Florida with felonies, allowing them to vote in the upcoming election–and the Republican AG immediately launched an “investigation,” citing “potential election law violations.”

That donation didn’t constitute a violation of anything other than GOP electoral prospects, but as my son pointed out, that $16 million was only enough to cover some 32,000 voters– out of an estimated 700,000. Since Florida votes are going to be critically important this year–Trump can’t win without Florida–this seems like a good investment for those of us trying to increase turnout.

And turnout is definitely the name of the game this year. COVID or no COVID, Americans need to vote early. In states that count absentee ballots before Election Day–a list of states that doesn’t include Indiana–that means getting those ballots in ASAP. In places like Indiana that don’t start counting mailed-in ballots until Election Day, we need to put on our masks and find an early-voting site.

The only thing that will defeat the intended theft of this election is massive blue turnout.