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https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/restore-ex-felons-voting-rights-its-right-thing

The U.S. House Committee on Administration was authorized by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to conduct field hearings, at locations around the country, on voting rights issues. The committee decided to conduct its first such hearing in Brownsville, Texas. Last month, Civil Rights attorney and UCLA Lecturer, Chad Dunn, along with other civil rights attorneys, was asked to give testimony to the committee and to answer member questions.

To learn more about the specific voting rights issues discussed, watch the full hearing video HERE.

By Chad Dunn, Brazil & Dunn, Attorneys at Law, and Matt Barreto, Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies, UCLA

In 2013, Texas passed a restrictive voter identification law requiring any potential voter to show a government-issued photo ID before they could vote. However, Texas was subject to the preclearance provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), Section 5; and before the law could be put into place, Texas had to prove to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. that the law would not have a discriminatory effect on racial and ethnic minorities. Chad Dunn along with other attorneys, intervened in the case and offered evidence that the law would prevent Texans from voting and that minorities would be disproportionately impacted, a result that was intended by the number and nature of IDs Texas chose to allow. Texas lost that court case and the D.C. Court found the voter ID law did have a significant discriminatory effect and blocked Texas from implementing this law. That was when the Voting Rights Act had its full weight.

In 2014, in Shelby v. Holder the Supreme Court held that the Section 5 requirements that stopped Texas from discriminating against voters was outdated and they struck down the so-called Federal preclearance requirements in so far as Congress had applied it to various states and jurisdictions. Within minutes of the ruling, Texas reinstituted their voter ID law, which had already been found to be discriminatory.

https://www.brennancenter.org/legal-work/shelby-county-v-holder

Without Section 5 and Texas intent on enforcing their discriminatory ID law, voting rights attorneys would need to step in and find individual plaintiffs to sue Texas under a different provision, Section 2 of the VRA. On June 28, 2014, Dunn and other nationally known civil rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against Texas alleging that the voter ID law, had a discriminatory effect against blacks and Latinos, and more, that Texas passed this law with discriminatory intent. In an era without the Federal oversight protections of Section 5, it is now incumbent on civil rights advocacy groups and voting rights attorneys to bring individual lawsuits against voting procedures they believe are discriminatory; and to do this, they must rely on academic experts in history and the social sciences to prove, with thorough and methodical research and data analysis, that a voting rule or procedure discriminates against a specific racial or ethnic group. In the case of Texas, Mr. Dunn reached out to Professor Matt Barreto (Chicana/o Studies & Political Science) to provide a critical piece of the social science expertise documenting discriminatory effect.

Barreto collaborated with University of New Mexico Professor Gabriel Sanchez, to implement a large statewide survey of eligible voters across the state of Texas and determine what types of documents and identifications potential voters in Texas possessed. For would-be voters who did not have a proper photo ID, the survey probed if they had the necessary underlying documents needed to go an obtain an ID. Further, Barreto and Sanchez assessed the barriers placed in front of Texas citizens to get a photo ID, such as needing to take time off work, having to find someone to provide transportation, having to drive over 20 miles to the nearest driver’s license office, or having to pay fees to track down their original birth certificate. In full, the social science research pointed to a clear pattern of discriminatory effect in which blacks and Latinos in Texas were statistically less likely to possess a photo ID, and statistically less likely to have the underlying documents necessary to obtain an ID. Further, due to extensive disparities in socioeconomic status, blacks and Latinos in Texas faced considerably more barriers than whites in being able to obtain an ID.

Dunn and Barreto have successfully worked on numerous Voting Rights cases and are now collaborating on a graduate level class at UCLA the includes masters, PhD and JD students. In this class, students learn the steps toward successful prosecution of voting cases from the perspective of the trial lawyer and the expert witness.

 

Chad Dunn of Brazil & Dunn, Attorneys at Law, consistently receives awards from legal publications for his extensive trial and litigation practice in Courts all over the country. From the United States Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit, the Texas Supreme Court and virtually all trial and appellate courts below, Chad has the experience to prevail in the most difficult conditions and environments. He has handled complicated litigation in various states including Texas, Tennessee, the District of Columbia, New Mexico, North Carolina and Florida, and has tried numerous jury cases, trials to the bench and arbitrations.

Matt A. Barreto is Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA and the co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions. Time Magazine called Latino Decisions the “gold-standard in Latino American polling” and The Guardian wrote that Latino Decisions is “the leading Latino political opinion research group” in the United States. Barreto’s research was recognized in the 30 Latinos key to the 2012 election by Politic365, listed in the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012 by the European Politics Magazine LSDP, and was named one of the top 15 leading Latino pundits by Huffington Post which said Barreto was “the pollster that has his finger on the pulse of the Latino electorate.” In 2015, Barreto was hired by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to run polling and focus groups on Latino voters.

By Rahim Kurwa

Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

“…They came in with shotguns. They came in in vests. They came in in riot gear, and they held guns on us like we were wanted criminals. They surrounded my house… And when I say they looked, they did a massive search on my house. They went in my drawers. They held guns on my kids. They went in my kitchen drawers. In my son’s drawer. They pulled out an I.D. and some money and said bam – threw it across the table at me and said hah, who is this? That’s what the officer said. Yeah. We got her. Who is this?”

Sandra is a black woman living in the Antelope Valley – Los Angeles County’s northernmost suburb. In this quote from my interview with her, Sandra, who uses the Section 8 voucher program to rent her home, describes the experience of a surprise housing inspection. In this case, inspectors thought they had caught her violating the program’s residency rules (which bar unauthorized tenants from living in the home), but she was able to prove that her son had been approved to live there. Had she not, the inspection might have led to her eviction. Stories about inspections like this are a common thread in the interviews I conducted with voucher renters in the Antelope Valley. But how and why did this encounter occur – in a historically white suburb with little history of low-income housing assistance?

The explanation in large part traces back to the Civil Rights Era and the ways that white hostility to black residents has changed over time. The year 1968 produced two major housing landmarks – the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and the publication of the Kerner Commission Report. The first barred discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. The second identified racial segregation as foundational to a broader system of racial inequality and urged integrationist housing policy in response.

In the 50 years since, programs like housing vouchers have come to dominate federal low-income housing assistance, on the premise that vouchers could help renters move out of poor and segregated neighborhoods. In Los Angeles, the program tends to generate movement either within South Los Angeles or to far-flung suburbs like the Antelope Valley. But like white residents around the country who generally prefer not to have black neighbors, many in the Antelope Valley have also resisted racial integration.

A map of L.A. County, the Antelope Valley shown in orange. Photo: laedc.org

When I talked to local residents who weren’t using vouchers, I found that two-thirds were opposed to the program, voicing stereotypes and misconceptions about it and its participants that echoed the ideas used to undermine other “social safety net” programs over the past several decades. Some local residents referenced the city’s nuisance code as a tool they could use to exert power over neighbors or get rid of them altogether. They knew, for example, that five calls made about a single rental property could penalize the property owner or landlord, pressuring them to evict the tenant. I think of these practices as a participatory form of policing, illustrating the ways that policing operates outside of the traditional institutions and actors we associate with the term.

Nuisance laws are notoriously vague and subjective. The version employed by the city of Lancaster (one of the Antelope Valley’s largest cities) considers a nuisance to be anything that is “indecent,” “offensive,” or otherwise interferes with “the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.” It isn’t hard to see how these codes can be weaponized against people based on their race, class, or gender. In other cities their applications have had disastrous consequences for tenants. Here, local residents could simply observe unwanted neighbors and then report their perceived infractions to this hotline as a way to trigger fines, inspections, or even evictions. Some proudly admitted to doing so. And while many voucher renters I spoke to were determined to stay, they often knew others who had been evicted or simply decided that their neighborhoods were too hostile to remain in.

50 years after the landmark Fair Housing law that marked the legislative end of the Civil Rights Movement, we can now more clearly see how the attitudes of that time have persisted until today, and how their expression has adapted to changes in our country’s laws. To better combat racial segregation, we must see how policing contributes to it.

 

Rahim Kurwa recently completed his Ph.D. in Sociology at UCLA and will be an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the fall of 2018.