To put it mildly, the redistricting process in Texas is never smooth. But this time around it seems exceptionally bumpy. In particular Texas has four new Congressional districts, and how those districts are drawn could determine whether the GOP keeps control of the House after the 2012 election. Important stuff.
One reason that things are different this time around is that this is the first time since 1960 – before the enactment of the Voting Right Act – that there’s been a Democrat in the White House and therefore a Democratic Justice Department. Which means that for the first time, in a long time, Republicans have to deal with an unfriendly, (to their partisan interests), Justice Department. If they assumed that their current plans would be treated like those in years before, that was a miscalculation. And likely a reason for the exceptional bumpy-ness.
But redistricting is the height of politics. This is about power, partisanship, and survival. Why would a sitting President just sit by and let the opposition party get away with a redistricting plan that looks to have serious legal issues, and puts his party at a disadvantage? And conversely, why wouldn’t the other party try and enact a redistricting plan that is most beneficial to their side? Both sides have much at stake and what’s going on now is how our current system works.
The extremely condensed version of what’s happened is that the Congressional, state Senate and House plans passed by the legislature have not held-up under legal scrutiny. This caused a Federal Court in San Antonio to draw interim maps for each, which the State of Texas challenged, and is now before the US Supreme Court, (Oral argument scheduled for January 9th). There is also going to be a trial, starting January 17th, on whether or not these plans pass preclearance, (Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act), Preclearance: How Texas compares with other states. And because of the way this process has played-out, Texas currently has no legal Congressional, state Senate or House districts.
All of this has caused the 2012 primary in Texas to be moved from March to April, and has reset the entire election year calendar. (There will be one more candidate filing period, starting in late January and ending on February 1st). This is also causing problems at the county level. Counties may need time to redraw their precinct lines, issue voter registration certificates, etc.., once the other lines are set for the 2012 election, County associations ask for a handful of changes to election schedule. There is, literally, a domino effect to the redistricting process.
But underlying all of this is a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, aka preclearance. It’s possible that the Texas legislature passed such extreme redistricting plans, and a Voter ID bill, just to bring about judicial challenges to the law. Here’s a short synopsis of Section 5:
Section 5 of the Act requires that the United States Department of Justice, through an administrative procedure, or a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, through a declaratory judgment action “preclear” any attempt to change “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting…” in any “covered jurisdiction.”
Redistricting in Texas will certainly keep the next few months interesting for those who like this kind of political wrangling. Be sure and keep an eye on the Texas Redistricting site for all the latest news.
Mr. Morton’s lawyers have asked that the judge recommend a “court of inquiry” to investigate whether Mr. Anderson violated the law and should be charged in a criminal proceeding. While this process is an urgent matter for Mr. Morton, it is also a test of American justice — whether a prosecutor who flouts his duty under the Constitution to disclose crucial evidence to a defendant is subject to any meaningful sanction.
Prosecutors have enormous power in determining who is subjected to criminal punishment because they have broad discretion in deciding criminal charges. The Brady rule, established by the Supreme Court in 1963, is supposed to be an important check on that power. It requires prosecutors to disclose evidence favorable to the defendant. But their failure to comply is rarely discovered, and, even then, prosecutors are almost never punished.
The Supreme Court, in an outrageous decision earlier this year, further weakened the ability of wronged defendants to make prosecutors’ offices liable by giving them nearly absolute immunity against civil suits. Justice Clarence Thomas justified the ruling, noting that an “attorney who violates his or her ethical obligations is subject to professional discipline, including sanctions, suspension, and disbarment.” But bar associations hardly ever punish this behavior; judges seldom discipline prosecutors for such violations; andcriminal sanctions are rarely imposed against prosecutors.
This is why the Morton inquiry is crucial. The Innocence Project report found that Mr. Anderson willfully failed to disclose police notes that another man committed the murder, concealed from the trial judge that he did not provide the full police report and advised his successor as prosecutor “to oppose all of Mr. Morton’s postconviction motions for DNA testing.” If a court confirms these findings, it must hold Mr. Anderson accountable — or it will send a message to prosecutors in Texas and elsewhere that the criminal justice system is incapable of deterring or punishing this conduct.
The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes everyone is enjoying their holiday as it brings you the last roundup of 2011.
Last week’s House Republican cave-in on the payroll tax cut extension is intertwined with the Keystone XL pipeline: both have to be decided upon again in 60 days. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs has some discussion about the implications.
BossKitty at TruthHugger – is very pleased with Congressman Lloyd Doggett. The Texas Republicans are still trying to mess with Lloyd’s District. Bosskitty shares an example of how Lloyd responded to an email concerning the HR 10 vote. UPDATE: Response to HR 10 Consequences
“We have a senator who’s good for business,” he said. “It’s time for us to have a senator that’s good for the people of this state.” - Former Democratic state Rep. Paul Sadler speaking on why he decided to run for US Senate. [LINK]
For some time our politics and economics have been steered by an assumption. That if the people and our government serve business first, eventually we will all benefit. The so-called “free market”, trickle-down, approach. It should be clear to anyone from the middle class on down that this assumption is false. As the unfairness and inequality of our political and economic systems have been on the rise, so have the bank accounts and balance sheets of corporations and the already wealthy. It only seems logical that potential candidates for office would see these issues as an opportunity to run and win.
Over the recent decades the great equalizers, things that built the American middle class, have been under attack. Pensions, unions, public education, higher education, affordable health care, Social Security, unemployment insurance, etc.. What we know as the social safety net. Two other things that built the middle class, that are talked about less, are business/corporate accountability and higher taxes on higher income/the progressive tax rate. The investments made in research and development (R&D) that began in the 1950′s in the government and at public universities paid off in the later years – one of them is called the internet.
But those kind of public investments are a thing of the past. They’ve been sacrificed to tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. They’ve been sacrificed to privatization schemes like toll roads. And some have just been sacrificed and are crumbling. But that’s where the opportunity lies for a politician today. It’s time to put first what’s right for the people, and the future of our country. It’s time for equal sacrifice from those (including corporations) with the most. It’s time for accountability from everyone (and corporations are people too).
We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living–a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit of reasonable saving for old age. [Emphasis added]
But it’s also perplexing why, for all the good that is contained in the above quote from Sadler, a few lines later in the article he’s quoted as saying that he’s going to make his campaign about something completely different.
Sadler said he thinks the debate over the national debt, budget deficits and immigration will define the 2012 Senate race….
Sadler, or any Democrat for that matter, will have a hard enough time getting elected statewide or in areas like Williamson County. But their only chance is to make the election about the issues that matter to the people. If Sadler, or any other Democrat for that matter, makes their election campaign about issues that are polling in the single digits, they will have absolutely no chance of winning.
Texas and Williamson County are tough places for Democrats to win. But one of the main reasons they’re having trouble breaking through is because they’ve been running campaigns about issues that, for the most part, don’t matter to the people. In other words they’ve been unable to convince enough people that their election will make a difference in their daily lives or in their future. That means they’ve been running on issues that are no good for the people of this state. And until that changes, it’s unlikely their chances of winning will either.
The good news is there’s still time for all Democratic candidates, announced and those still pondering running, to make their campaigns about the issues that are good for the people.
“A lot of people think I want a pound of flesh,” said Michael Morton, who was freed after new DNA evidence tied another man to the crime. “Revenge is a natural instinct, but it’s not what I’m looking for here, just accountability.” [LINK]
Michael Morton completed one leg of his legal journey Monday when a judge formally dismissed his murder charge, declaring him innocent of the crime that cost him almost 25 years in prison.
But District Judge Sid Harle delayed a decision on Morton’s second request: that a special court examine allegations that his prosecutor, Ken Anderson, broke several laws by concealing evidence before, during and after Morton’s trial.
Harle said he needed more time to review the request to convene a court of inquiry, an ad hoc, fact-finding process often used when the actions of a public official have been called into question.
A decision is not expected before year’s end because Harle also offered Anderson, now a Georgetown district judge who has repeatedly denied allegations of misconduct in Morton’s 1987 trial, a chance to file briefs opposing the inquiry.
All Michael Morton wants is justice and accountability, which isn’t much to ask for all he’s been through.
But Harle’s signature Monday on the motion to dismiss charges formally released Morton from the murder case and brought the hearing to a close with a standing ovation from a packed courtroom.
“What befell you and your family many years ago was a horrendous tragedy,” Harle said, commending Morton for never giving up his fight for innocence, even when he was offered a chance at parole if he accepted responsibility for his wife’s murder.
“Mr. Morton, you and your family are frankly an inspiration to me,” Harle said.
Facing a crowd of reporters and cameras after the hearing, Morton sought to balance competing emotions.
“This is a happy day for me, obviously, but let’s not forget that this was a horrible crime,” Morton said, noting that his wife had been savagely beaten. In addition to losing 25 years, he said, “I lost all of my son’s youth; he’s 28 now.”
Morton also said he was not out for “a pound of flesh” with his request for the inquiry.
“Revenge is a natural instinct, but it’s not my goal here,” he said. “I hope through all this we get a little something. We get some reform, some change. Just balance the books … level the playing field. We don’t want the prosecutors to do anything special, but just to obey the law.”
The simplest way to state the wrong that was done to Michael Morton is that the evidence that exonerated him was available when he was convicted, and all through the 25 years he was incarcerated. It just wasn’t looked at until 2011. As soon as all the evidence was looked at and investigated it became clear he did not murder Christine Morton. He was then released from jail, and has now been declared innocent of the crime he was convicted of committing.
The only thing left to determine is whether all of this evidence was withheld all these years because of malice or ineptitude. Either way most, if not all citizens, should agree that those involved with keeping Michael Morton deserve to be held accountable.
As a presidential candidate, Gov. Rick Perry wants members of Congress to take a pay cut, but earlier this year he boosted his own income by taking early retirement from the state while also drawing his paycheck as governor.
Perry now receives an annual compensation from taxpayers of more than $240,000, according to financial documents his presidential campaign filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.
Perry reported a salary of $132,995 a year as governor plus a pension payment of $7,698 a month — or more than $92,000 a year. Perry, 61, began drawing the retirement pay in January.
All told, Perry and his wife, Anita, have an income in excess of $326,371 a year — possibly as much as $407,871 annually.
The governor’s arrangement is perfectly legal for elected officials under the state’s employee pension law. But the disclosure drew criticism from some quarters because Perry has campaigned as a small-government conservative and a vocal critic of Social Security, the only retirement plan many Americans have.
Oh, the hypocrisy. Are you fed up? But there’s more and he’s not the only elected official that might do this.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said he will use the same provision to supplement his salary if he is elected to the lieutenant governor’s office in 2014. He said the late Bob Bullock, a Democrat who had been secretary of state and comptroller, used the early retirement law to supplement his salary when he was lieutenant governor.
Patterson said if he wins that office, he will be giving up a job that pays $137,000 a year for one that pays $7,200. (The lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate but is elected statewide, is paid the same salary as senators.) Even taking his early retirement means he would take a cut in pay for the job.
“If I can do something where I can afford to be lieutenant governor in 2015, I’m going to do it,” Patterson said.
Two of Patterson’s likely opponents — Comptroller Susan Combs and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples — also could tap into early retirement if they wish.
Perry’s current term of office runs until January 2015.
The details of his pension are not public information under state law but had to be disclosed under federal law because he is running for president.
Citing obscure provisions – which is to say, claiming a loophole – is a pretty good clue that you’re deep into weasel territory. Did you notice that he’s been double dipping since January but the only reason anyone now knows about it is because of the more stringent federal financial disclosure requirements? Who knows when the public might have found out about this if Perry hadn’t let his ego get the best of him by pursuing the Presidency. You’d think if there were nothing dishonorable or unusual about this that Rick Perry might have informed us about it before he was compelled to do so.
There’s a case to be made that Perry has broken the law, or at the very least that he has in fact vacated the office of Governor, by his actions. I trust someone will pursue those lines of inquiry. Be that as it may, my fellow Democrats and I have long since lost our ability to be surprised by anything Perry does. We’re just wondering when the rest of you will catch up to us.
This may be the proverbial “straw that broke the camels back” when it comes to Perry’s political career. This should bother everyone, no matter what one’s political affiliation might be.
Lawyers for Michael Morton will ask today that a special court be convened to examine accusations that former prosecutor Ken Anderson broke state laws when he prosecuted Morton for murder in 1987.
In a hearing today, Morton’s lawyers will present District Judge Sid Harle with a report, likely to exceed 160 pages, detailing their investigation into Anderson’s actions as prosecutor, a member of Morton’s legal team said Sunday.
They also will ask Harle to recommend that a court of inquiry examine their accusations that Anderson illegally withheld documents favorable to Morton and that he acted in contempt of court for failing to comply with a judicial order to turn over those documents in 1987.
Much of the inquiry has focused on the typed transcript of a police interview with Rita Kirkpatrick, the mother of Christine Morton. Kirkpatrick told police that the Mortons’ 3-year-old son apparently witnessed the murder and said his father was not home.
Trial lawyers for Morton did not know about that conversation despite a longstanding requirement that prosecutors reveal evidence favorable to defendants, according to previous court filings.
Morton’s legal team — Houston lawyer John Raley and members of the Innocence Project of New York, including Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison — also have accused Anderson of violating a judge’s pretrial order to provide his court with notes and reports from former sheriff’s Sgt. Don Wood, who conducted much of the investigation into Christine Morton’s death.
At the urging of defense lawyers , District Judge William Lott, now deceased, had ordered the documents to be submitted to his court to determine if they contained information favorable to Morton. They did not, Lott ruled at the time.
The documents were sent in a sealed envelope to the 3rd Court of Appeals as part of Morton’s challenge . But when that envelope was retrieved from storage and opened this summer, it contained only a five-page report on Wood’s first day of investigation and forms, signed by Morton, allowing police to search his house and pickup.
Anderson has said he complied with Lott’s order — which he called confusing — calling for Wood’s notes and reports in one pretrial hearing but only a single Wood report in another hearing.
If an inquiry is needed to get truth and justice for Christine Morton, Michael Morton, and their families then so be it. After that the other reason for this would be to bring accountability to our criminal justice system which is reeling because of cases like this. If the law was broken and Anderson is not held accountable what message does that send to DA’s across Texas? This kind of “justice” must stop, and the sooner the better.
Death sentences and the use of the death penalty are hitting record lows. Mostly because of the corruption and injustice in our criminal justice system. It’s led WCNews at Eye On Williamson to wonder, Is the death penalty dying?
Third-party presidential candidates may make some noise and perhaps even some news in 2012, writes PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.
The Texas Democratic Party is launching an outreach program for Latinos, but young Latinos especially, by using the latest tools and techniques. It’s called The Promesa Project.. Here’s the introductory video:
Two-thirds of our state’s rapid population growth over the past decade has come from Latinos.
That emerging demographic will eventually turn Texas Blue. But for our schools and families struggling under disastrous Republican policies, “eventually” isn’t soon enough.
That’s why we developed this bold and innovative new approach to Latino outreach – The Promesa Project.
Our project was carefully conceived and constructed over several months based on two key research findings:
Young Latinos are increasingly the trusted sources of political information in their families and social circles.
The internet has surpassed television as the main sources of political information for young people under 30.
We’re utilizing a combination of online and grassroots techniques to reach out to young Latinos and ask them to give us their promise, or “Promesa,” that they will be our Democratic messengers to their families and social networks.
We’ll use online outreach, campus organizing, our extensive network of young Latino Party Leaders and elected officials, and we’ll integrate all data gathered into our voter database so it can be used in Get-Out-The-Vote operations.
But to go a step further, we’ll also be integrating the very latest in online tools and techniques, including:
In-house production of web videos, which are shareable and optimized for mobile devices.
Talking points on various topics in a slideshow format, which are shareable online so they can be used in discussions at the kitchen table or on social media sites.
Social media identities on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Vimeo.
Paid ads on social media which only recently have developed targeting and placement options that now make these incredibly efficient and effective.
This project can potentially bridge the gap between the Texas that Republicans have created for us and the one we deserve.
On December 15, the Death Penalty Information Center released its latest report, “The Death Penalty in 2011: Year End Report,” on statistics and trends in capital punishment in the past year. The report noted that new death sentences dropped to 78 in 2011, marking the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 that the country has produced less than 100 death sentences in a year. It represents a 75% decline since 1996, when there were 315 new death sentences. California, which has the country’s largest death row, saw its death sentences drop by more than half this year – 10 compared with 29 in 2010. Only 13 states carried out executions in 2011, 74% of which were in the South. Only 8 states carried out more than one execution. Texas led the country with 13 executions, but that number represents a 46% decrease from 2009, when there were 24 executions. “This year, the use of the death penalty continued to decline by almost every measure,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the report’s author. “Executions, death sentences, public support, the number of states with the death penalty all dropped from previous years. Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011.”
The death penalty experiment is failing yet again. Undermined by overzealous prosecutors, a hobby-horse for incurious politicians, too often taken unseriously by jurors and witnesses, capital punishment in America has devolved since 1976 into a costly, inaccurate, racially biased, and unseemly proposition.
We clearly can’t do it right, and more people are wondering whether we should continue doing it at all. The facts and figures of 2011 soberly reflect the nation’s evolving perceptions of the problems inherent in the justice system’s ultimate punishment. For decades, “death is different” has been the courtroom mantra of capital cases. But now, and with increasing clarity, “death is different” is becoming a discernible trend all across the country.
Take the big death penalty stories of 2011. They all buttress the figures offered by the DPIC. For example, there was the dramatic September execution in Georgia of Troy Davis, which educated millions of people about the fallibility of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases. Reasonable people have reasonably disagreed about whether justice was served in the case, but one essential fact has always jumped out at me. After a trial that included at least 40 witnesses, it took Davis’ jury less than two hours to convict him of murder. That’s just not good enough.
Nor was the year’s ghastly search by officials in several states for a key ingredient of the drug cocktail used in lethal injections. These executioners were forced to scramble like thievesfor the drug sodium thiopental when its American manufacturer, Hospira, stopped making the product. What does it say about a state — and a society — that has to buy its lethal drugs on the sly through a private middleman, as Nebraska evidently did recently? It sends the same ghoulish message to the nation — and to the world — that the audience at a Republican debate in September sent when it wildly cheered the record rate of executions in Texas.
Following those cheers, Texas Gov. Rick Perry chillingly told debate moderator Brian Williams that night that he “never struggled” with the idea that one of the men executed during his tenure was innocent. This says more about Perry, of course, than it does about the Texas’ capital punishment regime, which has been repeatedly criticized even by the conservative United States Supreme Court. It says the gulf between the cavalier attitude of officials like Perry and the injustice often foisted upon capital convicts is large and growing larger.
The interesting thing is that the reason the death penalty is struggling is not because of a mass movement and protests against the it. The reason for it’s struggle is because of the utter disaster the criminal justice system has become in our country. Just like the Michael Morton case, and the problems the criminal justice system is facing here in Williamson County, has changed the conversation locally.
“I thank God this wasn’t a capital case,” -Michael Morton, when freed, after spending 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. [LINK]
The conversation has changed. It’ not about whether the death penalty is right or wrong. It about whether we, the “state” and the taxpayers, are putting innocent people in jail and killing them. No one knows for sure anymore if justice is being served when someone is put to death. If the death penalty goes away it will be because of the flaws in the criminal justice system, not because of the moral outrage.