Thursday, July 12, 2012
ABQ Fair Redistricting Committee Initiates Public Records Inquiry Concerning Partisan Violations of Open Meetings Act and Hispanic Voting Rights Dilution
Following is a press release provided by Lora Lucero.
This afternoon, community leaders representing the ABQ Fair Redistricting Committee submitted a public records inspection request to the City of Albuquerque, inquiring about back-door partisan communications that reduced the number of the City Council’s Hispanic Voting Age Majority districts to just two of the city’s nine council districts. Since 2000, 75% of the city’s new growth has been Hispanic, now comprising 47.2% of the city’s whole population. The National League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is assisting the group with its IPRA request and potential litigation.
“There’s simply too much at stake for Albuquerque’s Hispanic population and core historic neighborhoods to let this injustice go unaddressed,” said Lora Lucero, a north valley activist working with the group. “The five councilors might have scored a ten-year partisan majority, but they did so at the cost of diluting the voices of many minority and impoverished communities.”
Partisan power-grabs like that achieved by the five city councilors on February 22, and signed by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry on March 5, were the target of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In addition to Hispanic voting dilution, the decision also packed into one district many communities of interest, including most of the city’s federally designated “pockets of poverty,” areas in need of street improvements, communities desperate for revitalization, and areas with crumbling infrastructure.
Although the Albuquerque City Council is a non-partisan body and the redistricting committee process was mandated to be public, the ABQ Fair Redistricting Committee wants to know what communications were not made available to the public but might have had a significant impact on the outcome of the city council redistricting. For that reason, the group’s letter requests copies of all documents and communications (correspondence, e-mails, and attachments) related to the City Council redistricting process since June 1, 2010. Recipients of the IPRA request will have 15 days to respond and the information garnered will inform the ABQ Fair Redistricting Committee’s decision to pursue legal recourse.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Advertisement Falsely Accused Organizations of Illegal Activities
Legal counsel representing New Mexico’s Center for Civic Policy (CCP) and the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), two non-profit nonpartisan civic engagement organizations, sent letters to Senator Phil Griego and the Albuquerque Journal calling for a public apology and retraction of a defamatory advertisement.
The advertisement, paid for by the Committee to Elect Phil Griego, ran in the Albuquerque Journal North on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012 and falsely accused both organizations of illegally funding the work of the campaign of Senator Phil Griego’s opponent in the June primary election. See ad here Journal North P. Griego Ad
“The blatantly false allegations made by Phil Griego’s campaign are unacceptable. To accuse us of these kinds of illegal electoral activities is malicious and requires public correction,” said Stephanie Maez-Gibson, CEO of the Center for Civic Policy. “Our organizations have extensive track records of non-partisan civic engagement. This is an example of Senator Griego’s apparent intent to obstruct and retaliate against our efforts to educate New Mexicans on important legislative issues.
Phil Griego’s half-page advertisement dishonestly alleged that CCP and SWOP secretly paid the campaign manager of one of Griego’s opponents in the June election. Those flagrant falsehoods contain serious charges, implying that CCP and SWOP have been engaged in criminal conduct. The actual facts in the matters concerned, which contradict those charges, could have been easily obtained and verified by both Griego and the Albuquerque Journal.
“Our history of non-partisan civic engagement year in and year out, including directly communicating to the public about voting records of public officials, is well established.” said Bineshi Albert, Co-Director of the SouthWest Organizing Project. “To see an ad like this that attempts to paint our non-partisan work as electioneering strikes us as a low-blow, especially in light of the media’s extensive coverage of the recent 10th Circuit Court ruling that established irrefutably our right to such free speech.”
With regard to the Albuquerque Journal’s role in the matter, both organizations are inquiring about the newspaper’s process for fact-checking the material that it publishes. In this instance, it is particularly troubling that the Journal appeared to have run these ads without verifying the truth or falsity of these accusations, given that the Journal is well aware of the free speech protections that have been accorded to the civic engagement work of CCP and SWOP.
As recently as April 13th of this year, an article in the Journal recognized the 10th Circuit District Court affirmation of the organizations’ free speech right to engage New Mexicans in the public policy process – a piece of reporting that effectively refuted previous false accusations that the work instead was a prohibited form of “express advocacy.” Electioneering, or coordinating with any campaign, would jeopardize the non-profit statuses of each organization. Conspiring to hide campaign donations would also subject them to various criminal penalties.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Attorney General Asked to Investigate Dona Ana DA Campaign Practices
New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has been asked to initiate an investigation into campaign practices by Dona Ana County District Attorney Amy Orlando after a mailer and her website were identified as violating New Mexico’s campaign finance laws.
As Dona Ana County District Attorney, Amy Orlando is used to seeing the inside of a courtroom. But a recent political mailer from her campaign may give her a totally new perspective: that of criminal defendant.
A recent mailer from Orlando to prospective voters and supporters failed to disclose the name of the person or group behind printing the mailer. Similarly, her campaign website, www.amyorlandoda.com, fails to disclose the person or group responsible for paying for and publishing the site. According to New Mexico law (NMSA 1-19-16), failing to disclose either the printer of mailers or persons responsible for paying for campaign advertising and communications is a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18-months in jail.
Just last week, Orlando told the Las Cruces Sun-News, “[a]s district attorney, I can not and will not pick and choose which laws I will follow.” Ironically, under the law, Orlando is responsible for investigating and prosecuting violations of this type.
On Thursday, ProgressNow New Mexico formally requested that Attorney General Gary King launch in inquiry into Orlando’s campaign practices.
The mailer is an invitation to attend a fundraiser headlined by Governor Susana Martinez on Friday.
Orlando was handpicked by Governor Susana Martinez, the former Dona Ana County District Attorney, to succeed her in the post after Martinez was sworn-in as governor in 2011.
A review of campaign finance reports on file with the Secretary of State show a March 10, 2012 expenditure to Zia Printing of Santa Fe for “Campaign Materials.” It is not clear if this is the printer for the illegal mailer. Neither of Orlando’s campaign finance reports lists expenditures for website expenses.
Copies of the mailer, and the letter to the Attorney General are available on the ProgressNow New Mexico website at http://www.progressnownm.org/blog/2012/04/irony-alert-district-attorney-runs-afoul-of-election-laws.html
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Inquiry into ABQ House Candidate Becomes Criminal
Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver tells ProgressNow NM that she has referred the case of GOP State House candidate Johnny Luevano to the Sheriff and a criminal investigation is underway.
On Tuesday, ProgressNow NM reported that Luevano had registered to vote and declared his candidacy for State House in a district where he did not live. We shared the report with the County Clerk, and late yesterday received a response that she had turned over Luevano's voter registration card in question and requested the county sheriff initiate an investigation.
ProgressNowNM questioned whether Luevano could have legally registered to vote at a District 16 address where no certificate of occupancy had ever been issued.
"The law says you can only register to vote where you actually live or intend to return. But, there was no house there for years, and a certificate of occupancy was only issued on March 14 - eight days after the deadline to establish residency for candidates for office. You can't return to a place you never lived, and you sure shouldn't represent a neighborhood if you don't even know your way to the grocery store," says Pat Davis of ProgressNow NM.
"We applaud our county clerk for her efforts to uphold the integrity of our voting system," adds Davis. "Ironically, those who try to gain an upper hand by breaking voting laws will likely lose their right to vote in the end. And, that's the way it should be."
Mrs. Toulouse Oliver also tells us that the case was assigned to the same detective currently investigating the family of US Senate Candidate Heather Wilson's senior staffer whose dog was illegally registered to vote earlier this month. ProgressNow NM exposed that scandal in early March.
Friday, February 17, 2012
State House Redistricting Case Moves Forward in Federal Court
Guest Blog post By Sterling Fluharty, Owner of Southwest Political Services www.swpsnm.com
A panel of three federal judges (Hartz, Black, and Johnson) met this afternoon in Albuquerque to consider taking jurisdiction for redistricting of the State House of Representatives. After two hours of presentations, questions, and answers, they set a briefing schedule for the parties that will occur over the next ten days.
Republicans (the plaintiffs for now) filed in federal court last Monday and Democrats asked to intervene in the case. Republicans argued that the New Mexico Supreme Court gave Judge James Hall unconstitutional instructions when they told him how to produce a new State House map by February 27. Democrats sided with the state Supreme Court and argued that the federal court should not get involved. Today the judges granted all motions to intervene, but did not decide who will ultimately be the defendants and plaintiffs if this case moves forward. According to Republicans, the Navajo Nation and other persons who were not parties to the state cases are contemplating intervention.
The Attorney General's office argued that they should have represented the Secretary of State at today's proceedings. The Secretary of State's position is that she has hired her own independent counsel. The federal judges told the Attorney General's representative that his office could file an Entry of Appearance, and begin to receive electronic notices and participate in the proceedings, as soon as today. The Attorney General's office has until Tuesday to resolve the question of who represents whom.
The judges said today, “The big issue for us is our authority.” Democrats argued that state Supreme Court decisions are generally appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The judges asked the parties to respond to the question of whether they have higher authority than the state Supreme Court. The judges were surprised that Republicans wanted a decision from them before Judge Hall finishes his work. Democrats and Republicans were both ordered to submit briefs on this question by Wednesday with replies by Friday.
Republicans argued the state Supreme Court gave Judge Hall unconstitutional instructions in requiring a redistricting map in which communities of interest would be a higher priority than the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote.” You “can't build a house on a faulty foundation,” they argued. Democrats argued that Judge Hall's map will likely be constitutional and he needs to produce a map before it can be ruled unconstitutional. Judge Hall began working this week with Brian Sanderoff, an expert witness, on the new map. Briefs on the constitutionality question are due Thursday with replies the following Monday.
Republicans argued for an expedited court case, since candidate and election administration deadlines are quickly approaching. State statute allows the Governor and Secretary of State to issue and amended proclamation on March 6. March 20 is deadline for declaration of candidacy and nominating petitions, with certification on April 10. County clerks will start sending out ballots to military personnel stationed overseas on April 20. Republicans argued a State House map has to be ready by March 5, or it will be impossible for candidates and officials to meet election deadlines. Democrats argued the federal court could allow the election to proceed under a flawed map, if the correct map was in place for the 2014 election. Briefs on the authority to delay election dates are due Thursday with replies the following Monday.
With this briefing schedule, the federal judges will have all briefs and replies submitted by Monday, February 27, which is also the deadline for Judge Hall's revised map. Based on their questions and decisions today, the federal judges appear ready to master the relevant materials (such as transcripts and opinions), to proceed with this case, and to consider or draft maps, if three conditions are met: 1) only after Judge Hall finishes his work, 2) if they are persuaded it is necessary, and 3) they are convinced they have the authority. Two of the judges are Republicans and one is a Democrat, one of the Republicans is known for being quite fair, so neither Democrats nor Republicans should expect preferential treatment as this case moves forward.
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
US Senator Fred Harris Write's Letter to NM Reps re: Driver's License Law
Somos Un Pueblo Unido shared this letter with democracyforNM. Esteemed statesman US Senator Fred Harris wrote the following letter to all House Democrats regarding the Foreign National's Driver's License Law being debated once again in our 2012 State Legislature.
February 7, 2012
Before I went to the U. S. Senate, I served in Oklahoma’s state legislature, so I know how tough your job is. I am writing to thank you for all you do on behalf of all New Mexicans and to offer my observations as to how a national Republican political agenda is being forced on New Mexicans.
It’s my observation that the foreign national driver’s license issue has become the “gateway” for other negative efforts against immigrants. No question, the current law has some flaws and we need to find ways to address the fraud problem. We seem to be in the age of no compromise in Washington and, now, with this administration here in Santa Fe, too.
New Mexico is not Arizona, and we don’t want to be. So, we should guard against any prejudice-driven or politically motivated efforts (like the Governor’s residency reverification program that cost taxpayers $177,000) that seek only to divide our communities. I was concerned by an article in the Albuquerque Journal, toward the end of the special session, that reported an out-of-state group with a radical history and a discriminatory nature, Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), has committed resources to assist the Governor in her effort to repeal the foreign national’s driver’s license law.
Just last week, Governor Martinez again refused to agree to any compromise or alternative legislation. The Governor’s approach stalls progress on addressing the foundational issue- dealing with potential fraud. Any of us who have been involved in the legislative process know without meaningful compromise and thoughtful discussion, good public policy cannot be implemented.
The issue in 2012 should be: “Who focused on the real problems of fraud and keeping insured motorists on the road, while allowing for law enforcement at all levels to access a database of foreign nationals?” Wedge issues have been used against us before, and now is not the time to allow the driver’s license issue to undermine the important advances New Mexico has made for individual safety.
A recent Lake Research Partners poll shows that 64% of New Mexicans support a compromise proposal that would subject foreign nationals to additional residency requirements and finger printing, while still allowing them to receive a driver’s license. That’s the way we should go—and stop this constant attack on immigrants, because it’s just wrong.
Thanks for letting me express my support for all you do.
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
Great News for Love Today, CA Appeals Court Finds Prop 8 Unconstitutional
I only wish Barb was here to revel in this victory for love with me. We must keep on pushing for civil rights for all. Let's not have other couples loose each other in death prior to celebrating their lives together in love and commitment.
I am going to link to a few articles that explain the history and the ruling today in detail.
The NOH8 campaign is a website specifically designed to follow California Prop 8, you can find the coverage here.
American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER)is leading the fight for the freedom to marry and equality under the law, AFER is the sole organizational sponsor of the groundbreaking federal court case to overturn California's Proposition 8.
And the Courage Campaign. Adding to the information today that the opponents were trying to get Judge Walker thrown of the case cause he is gay, but no on that measure as well. From the Prop 8 Trial tracker:
Prop8TrialTracker.com has received the 9th Circuit’s opinion in Perry v. Brown that Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-enacted ban on marriage equality in California, is unconstitutional. In addition, the appeals panel ruled that the proponents of Prop 8 did have standing to pursue their appeal of Judge Walker’s decision striking down the marriage ban, and upheld District Court Judge Ware’s decision denying a stay to throw out Walker’s ruling because he is gay. The ruling on constitutionality was divided on an 2-1 vote, with Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Michael Hawkins voting to strike Prop 8 down, and Judge N. Randy Smith voting to uphold the ban. The ruling regarding standing and the motion to throw out Judge Walker’s decision was a unanimous 3-0 vote
The Decision can be read following this here.Read up NM State Rep.Chavez, who is currently embarking on his own Prop 8 look alike for the State of NM. Chavez has proposed legislation regarding outlawing marriage of loving couples. He too wants to put love out to a vote to New Mexicans to change the Constitution saying marriage is illegal for same sex couples, and Chavez goes further to say that anyone in another state who is married is not welcome here with their marriage. Is this what New Mexico is about? This diverse state? This matter is being challenged through the courts, and the answer is coming out the same, lesbians and gay men have a right to marry. Marriage is a piece of paper which joins two in love and commitment in the eyes of society.
Also, here is a message to the Legacy Church Pastor Mr. Smothermon: The LGBT community also has a right to work, anywhere we want to work. Take note protoge Dan Lewis running for Congressional District 1.
Next will be the United States Supreme Court, I am sure the haters will not quit on this one.
This used to be a good ole chant: We're here, we're queer, get used to it!
DFNM has done several other posts while following this campaign of hate. See one here.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
10th Circuit Upholds ACLU Challenge to Albuquerque Sex Offender Ban
Court says 2008 law banning registered sex offenders from all public libraries violates First Amendment.
Friday, in a First Amendment lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that Albuquerque’s ban on sex offenders from accessing the city’s public libraries is unconstitutional. This decision affirmed the U.S. District Court of New Mexico’s ruling that the ban infringed too broadly upon the fundamental First Amendment right to receive information.
“The Tenth Circuit is right in affirming that the City of Albuquerque cannot categorically exclude an entire group of people from a constitutionally protected space,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “People have a First Amendment right to receive information in public libraries and the government needs to explicitly justify its actions if it’s going to infringe on such a fundamental right.”
The 10th Circuit found that, “The First Amendment includes a fundamental right to receive information. By prohibiting registered sex offenders for accessing the City’s public libraries, the City’s ban precludes these individuals from exercising this right in a particular government forum.” The Court further concluded that the City of Albuquerque did not show proper justification for the overly broad and overly restrictive policy.
“When the government wants to restrict rights as fundamental as those protected under the First Amendment, the bar for justification is set very high,” said ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorney Brendan Egan. “We do not believe the City of Albuquerque met that obligation, and we are encouraged that one of the highest courts in the nation agrees.”
Read the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision here.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Environmental Groups Act to Protect the Air in New Mexico and the Four Corners Region
In a push for healthier air across New Mexico and the Southwest, a coalition of environmental groups has filed a motion in federal court, approved today, to block an effort by New Mexico power company PNM to evade requirements of the Clean Air Act. In August, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered the installation of adequate pollution controls at the company’s San Juan Generating Station.
The groups explain that PNM is appealing the EPA ruling, even though the company had years of warning that changes were needed to bring the coal-fired plant into legal compliance. The Coalition will support EPA’s goal of greatly reducing the pollution the plant sends into the air each day. Those toxins find their way into the skies over national parks and into the lungs of residents in the Four Corners area, environmentalists say.
“All the people of New Mexico deserve clean air and a healthy environment,” said Earthjustice attorney Suma Peesapati. “It’s high time to update the old, highly polluting coal burning power plant at issue here. The EPA rule we are supporting is based on years of sound scientific and economic data.”
Commissioned in 1973, PNM’s San Juan power plant is one of America’s largest single sources of harmful air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Each year, this inefficient, antiquated facility emits more than 8.5 million tons of carbon pollution and consumes more than 9.3 billion gallons of clean water, the Coalition says. EPA is requiring selective catalytic reduction at the plant, a proven, cost-effective technology designed to reduce emissions of NOx by more than 90 percent. This process is already in use at more than 208 coal-burning plants nationwide.
Through its appeal, PNM now seeks to use less efficient and less cost-effective pollution controls than those mandated by EPA. If allowed to bypass clean air laws, the plant would continue clouding the skies and harming public health.
“The air pollution coming out of PNM’s San Juan coal plant is known to cause increased rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, birth defects and infant mortality,” said Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy. “This pollution also worsens climate change and the dire economic consequences we are already seeing here in the Southwest with record-setting droughts, wild fires and tree loss.”
Western Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice filed the motion on behalf of New Energy Economy, San Juan Citizens Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment and the Sierra Club.
“Defending EPA’s ability to implement clean air rules will set the stage for nationwide action to reduce dangerous air pollution from antiquated, inefficient coal plants,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, Climate and Energy Program Director at Western Environmental Law Center. “Where it is more economical to invest in clean energy than these coal plants, we can and should accelerate our transition to life-affirming clean energy.”
“The people and parks of New Mexico deserve better than the dirty pollution the San Juan Generating Station keeps blowing in the air,” said NPCA Clean Air Counsel Stephanie Kodish. “In addition to widely-known health risks associated with the poisons emitted by this site, these pollutants damage New Mexico and the surrounding states’ proudest heritage, their iconic national parks, natural lands and historic sites. Visitors to places like Mesa Verde and Grand Canyon national parks are subjected to unhealthy air and hazy views, which greatly decreases the likelihood that they will make return visits — killing jobs and hurting local businesses.”
Thursday, September 22, 2011
NAACP, LULAC Denounce Gov. Susana Martinez's Extremist Allies on Driver's License Issue and Discriminatory Anti-Immigrant Agenda
In a joint press release issued today, New Mexico's chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) said they are concerned and appalled by the involvement of the Americans for Legal immigration PAC (ALIPAC) in New Mexico politics, as well as Governor Susana Martinez's continued attacks on immigrants and her apparent abuse of power.
"It has become apparent that Governor Martinez's anti-immigrant political agenda relies on support by national organizations with no ties to New Mexico and with questionable motives," said Pablo Martínez, a member of the LULAC Board and former law enforcement administrator. "We're concerned by ALIPAC's documented ties to white supremacists and other extremist organizations."
In an article in today's Albuquerque Journal, ALIPAC President William Gheen said the group will lobby New Mexico lawmakers to fight the "illegal immigrant invasion of America."
NAACP and LULAC pointed to reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that have repeatedly labeled ALI-PAC as an "nativist extremist" group and an organization that goes beyond mere advocacy of restrictive immigration policy to actually confront or harass suspected immigrants or their employers. Click for SPLC report.
Both organizations stated they believe Governor Martinez overstepped her authority in August, when she instituted the now-halted "Residency Certification Program" that targeted 10,000 individuals in the MVD foreign national driver's license database. The program has since been stopped by New Mexico District Judge Sarah Singleton, who ruled on September 13 that requiring re-verification based on national origin could violate the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution.
"LULAC views ALIPAC's attempt to influence our New Mexico State Legislature as a continuation of a national trend of racist militancy against Hispanic civil rights," said Dennis W. Montoya, LULAC's New Mexico Civil Rights Chair and District 1 Director.
"Our shared concern is the continued harassment of immigrants by the Governor's administration, as well as her apparent lack of concern for the impact her approach is having on New Mexico families," said Sam Bone, President of New Mexico's NAACP. "This constant attack on people that have abided by the current driver's license law is an abuse of power at the very least and is not at all reflective of New Mexico's values. We worry that this driver's license repeal effort is a the first step in the erosion of civil rights for all vulnerable minorities in our state."
Montoya went on to state that the Governor's approach towards immigrants represents "her lack of connection to the people of New Mexico, and a frightening display of overt discrimination. This repeal effort isn't about what's good for New Mexico, it's a part of a larger political strategy to alienate Latino communities from Arizona to Alabama. New Mexico has worked hard to foster positive and respectful race relations since statehood, and we don't appreciate these outside ideologies based on the politics of hate."
"We encourage the legislature to stand up to the Governor and support reasonable proposals that address fraud in the driver's license process, keep all New Mexico drivers insured and protect all of us from run-ins with uninsured motorists," said Bone of the NAACP.
Photo by M.E. Broderick.
September 22, 2011 at 06:59 PM in Border Issues, Civil Liberties, Hispanic Issues, Impeachment, Legal Issues, NM Legislature 2011, NM Legislature Redistricting 2011, Right Wing, Susana Martinez | Permalink | Comments (0)
No More Injustice: The Executions of Troy Davis and Willie McGee
This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
It's a tricky business, this politically charged issue of capital punishment. On the one hand are the victims of crime, who understandably seek emotional closure over the shattering of their lives, and the loss of their loved ones, usually under terrible circumstances. On the other side, as the execution last night of Troy Anthony Davis despite nagging questions as to his guilt reminds us, is the troubling reality that our legal system is never foolproof, disproportionally penalizes the poor and historically has targeted minority communities. Without minimizing the suffering of the victims, the historical parallels -- as in the case of Davis -- to a dark American past, ought be cause for all of us to consider the issues of his case, the application of the law and deeper questions of justice and injustice.
Just over sixty years ago, on May 8, 1951, Willie McGee, an African American laborer, was executed by the State of Mississippi despite a lack of evidence that he had committed any crime. Thanks to the efforts of one southern writer, William Faulkner, and others who soon joined his cause, McGee's case was one of the few capital punishment cases in the Jim Crow era that ever rose to international attention. The false charge against Willie McGee became one of the models for the fictionalized case against the character Tom Robinson in Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. McGee's case was revisited by the award-winning New Mexico writer Alex Heard last year in his book, The Eyes of Willie McGee. The history of abuse of the law is as troubling today as it was then.
McGee's trial lasted less than three hours. The all-white jury deliberated only two-and-a-half minutes before sentencing McGee to death. In the appeals that followed, a crusading young lawyer from New York, and a future Congresswoman, Bella Abzug, fought for clemency for her client, Willie McGee.
In the last days of McGee's life, the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to hear Abzug's appeal, and the Governor refused to meet with her; the hotels in Jackson, Mississippi refused to house her. In the final days just before McGee's execution, Bella Abzug was forced to spend the night crouched down and hiding in a locked bathroom stall of the Jackson, Mississippi Greyhound bus station while a band of racist thugs searched for her. Bella Abzug's legal crusade never stood a chance. In Willie McGee's Mississippi there were two systems of justice.
Decades after the McGee case, studies have repeatedly shown that race, place and economic status are key factors on who lives and who dies in capital punishment cases. A 2003 University of Maryland study shows that race and geography continue to plague the justice system in death penalty cases. A similar study in North Carolina found similar statistics. Another report, commissioned by the New Jersey Supreme Court, also turned up a similar pattern of capital convictions and helped convince that state's legislature to abolish the death penalty in the Garden State in 2007.
Last night's execution of Troy Davis by the State of Georgia makes painfully clear, once again, that six decades on we still have two systems of justice in the United States. Davis was convicted of the murder of a white police officer in Savannah in 1991. The officer, Mark MacPhail, was gunned down while rushing to the rescue of a homeless man being pistol-whipped in the parking lot of Savannah's Greyhound bus station. The day after the murder, several witnesses told police that Troy Davis was the shooter.
Subsequently, seven of nine eyewitnesses, including the homeless man who was under attack at the bus station that night in 1991, recanted their statements, citing pressure from police in the case. Others implicated Sylvester "Redd" Coles, one of the original so-called "witnesses" to the crime. No physical evidence was ever presented that linked Davis to the crime, and the weopon was never recovered. Yet despite so many doubts in the Davis case, the courts refused to stop the execution that was carried out last night.
With so many questions about what really happened in 1991, Davis's life should have been spared.
"I hear Rosalee, see the eyes of Willie McGee," wrote the haunted African-American playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, in her poem Lynchsong, shortly after the execution that was carried out in Mississippi in 1951. The lines of her poem were a reference to the pleas of Rosalee McGee for the life of her husband. Like the southern writers, William Faulkner, and later Harper Lee, images of injustice were just outside the doorstep and never very far away from the thoughts of Lorraine Hansberry, as well, though she lived far from the Jim Crow south. Her family fought housing segregation in the courts in Chicago, and her circle of friends, including Richard Wright, Langston Hughes and Claude McCay, used their own pens over the whole span of their lifetimes to fight against a double-standard of justice far north of the Mason-Dixon line, where they lived and worked. New York's "Battling" Bella Abzug never stopped fighting for the equal treatment for all, in the courtroom or in Congress.
The rest of us need to pick up the torch and carry on their cause. No more injustice!
It is too late for us to save the life of Troy Davis, but it is never too late to carry on the work to end inequality, and demand equal application of justice for all. We need to abolish the death penalty, nationally, once and for all time, and end that state-sanctioned system of vengeance that disproportionately sentences the poor and the powerless -- while doing nothing to deter crime -- and we need to do it now. For proponents of fairness, last night's action by the State of Georgia against Troy Anthony Davis ought to prove one thing: silence is never an option.
To see more posts by Stephen, visit our archive.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
MALDEF Secures Preliminary Injunction in New Mexico Driver's License Lawsuit
More on the continuing saga of Gov. Susana Martinez's "investigation" into driver's licenses issued to foreign nationals in New Mexico. Yesterday, First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled the NM Taxation and Revenue Department does not have a “compelling interest” to continue its programs of requiring certain state residents to re-verify their residence at either an Albuquerque or Las Cruces office. Judge Singleton also agreed with attorneys opposing the re-verification program that they are likely to prevail on their argument that the so-called re-verification program unconstitutionally targets individuals based on their alienage or national origin.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) has issued a statement about the preliminary injunction noting that the court ruled yesterday that the injunction would remain in effect until the lawsuit challenging the program is finally resolved. To allow time for the preliminary injunction to be issued, Judge Singleton of the First Judicial District in Santa Fe has extended for another week the temporary restraining order issued on August 31, which prohibits all aspects of the unlawful re-certification program.
The court, however, will allow the State to continue with investigations into a small number of already-mailed letters that have been returned to the Department as undeliverable. While the re-verification program is on hold for now, Judge Singleton is allowing the NM Taxation and Revenue Department to investigate cases where it has specific and “particularized” information that fraud is likely occurring.
MALDEF intends to submit further briefing to the court on the limited investigation. The court has ordered the parties to submit a preliminary injunction in one week.
Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, "This court decision should serve as a warning to the Governor and Secretary that they should follow the law as set by the Legislature and cease attempts to implement their own anti-immigrant policy agenda."
David Hinojosa, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel, stated, "Today's ruling bolsters MALDEF's resolve to fight this unlawful program that unfairly targets immigrants in the state. While today's victory is a significant step toward righting the wrong of this unlawful program, we will continue to fight until the last vestiges of this anti-immigrant program no longer threaten the Latino community."
On behalf of a group of New Mexico legislators and residents of New Mexico, MALDEF and the New Mexico law firm of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan filed suit on August 24, 2011 against the Secretary of the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, seeking to stop the targeting of immigrants in the state.
On August 31, Judge Singleton issued the temporary restraining order, which prohibits all aspects of the unlawful re-certification program until the preliminary injunction is issued.
The court held a preliminary injunction hearing yesterday on New Mexico's anti-Latino driver's license re-certification program. MALDEF attorneys and co-counsel, who obtained the temporary restraining order (TRO) on August 31, presented arguments in the hearing.
In addition, you can stay current on the issue of the driver's licenses by visiting Somos Un Pueblo Unido's driver's license information page at www.somosunpueblounido.org/DLNews/.