Jailed Journalist Update: Media Respond Timidly; Judge Fights Civil Rights Firm; Rights Anniversaries Loom
The nation's journalists have compiled an erratic and ineffective record of supporting jailed journalist Roger Shuler, an Alabama blogger who has spent more than five months behind bars. His crime? Failing to spike his stories before a libel trial in a case largely determined via secret court proceedings.
Meanwhile, the presiding judge Claud [sic] Neilson, shown in a file photo, is also a private attorney fighting one of the Deep South's best-known civil rights firms. According to an Associated Press story, the firm Sanders and Sanders has been devastated by the costs of a major civil rights litigation victory on behalf of black farmers hurt by many years of discrimination in federal funding programs.
Separately, a founding partner of the firm is assembling with her team next month an impressive edition of the annual civil rights reform effort in spirit of the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma for voting rights. In the name of law and order during the segregationist era, 150 police officers used clubs, bullwhips, tear gas and horses in a surprise attack against peaceful marchers in Selma. The police brutality captured on video excerpts below shocked the nation. President Johnson and Congress approved the historic Voting Rights Act that summer.
The U.S. Supreme Court last summer voided key provisions of that law at the request of Shelby County, the same conservative jurisdiction that is jailing the progressive blogger Shuler. His jailing by a judge defying national precedents on First Amendment and open courts law has attracted national attention.
To redress such rights deprivations of recent years, Sanders and Sanders co-founder Fara Rose Touré this year is leading a team that has expanded the Bridge Crossing Jubilee that they have organized since the late 1960s. I'll preview their civil rights campaign on these pages in coming days, and cover it on the scene beginning next week.
Another notable anniversary in the region is the 50th anniversary March 10 of the New York Times v. Sullivan U.S. Supreme Court ruling that dismissed a trumped-up libel judgment in Alabama. The ruling enabled national news coverage of the 1960s civil rights struggle and has been regarded otherwise until recently in Alabama as a bulwark for the nation's free press.
Today's column addresses these inter-related developments, most of them located in a triangular region encompassing Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham. Shelby County, just south of the Birmingham, is the jailer of Shuler. The county also was the plaintiff in a civil rights victory to void key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
I am traveling to Selma for the march next month and giving speeches at nearby venues to raise awareness of widespread rights violations that turn back the clock. I hope you'll read further, and join me in Selma or nearby.
The clip above is from a National Archives video, Confrontations for Justice, about the 1965 Selma march.
Regarding the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) included Shuler as the only jailed journalist within the Western Hemisphere in its annual list of more than 200 incarcerated unfairly around the world. Inclusion has been a bright spot for the Birmingham-based writer in his fight to regain his freedom and resume writing about others victimized by the legal system. Shuler, shown in his mug shot after his beating by deputies during his arrest in his garage, would be far less visible without CPJ's recognition of his ordeal.
Several other news organizations or outlets cited the CPJ's mention in news treatments about his situation. Most mentions were brief news items in web reports primarily read by members. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also submitted a legal brief as a friend of the court, but does not serve as his lawyer.
In January, the New York Times ran a full-length Sunday feature story on Shuler's plight: pre-trial jailing in apparent violation of legal precedents.
But the Times timid approach glossed over the appalling circumstances, among other dubious reporting decisions, as we described here Jan. 17 in Alabama Court Again Hammers Blogger As NY Times Flubs Libel Story.
The March 10 anniversary for the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan provides an occasion to reflect on what has been widely regarded until now as a precedent that has enabled robust media coverage of public figures. By a 9-0 vote, the court rejected libel damages of $500,000 in a case that an Alabama police commissioner had brought against civil rights workers and the Times because of minor errors in a Times ad purchased by segregation opponents.
The ruling also voided nearly $300 million in other libel judgments across the Deep South brought by segregationists against news organizations. The "absolute malice" standard the court cited in the ruling requires public figures alleging libel to prove at trial that a communicator knew a claim was false, or else proceeded recklessly without making an attempt to check the facts.
Neilson has defied those settled holdings in the Sullivan decision by his pro-plaintiff and ex parte decision-making even before a trial of the facts. In November, the judge held a "trial," with practical ability for the jailed Shuler to call witnesses, have an attorney or otherwise prepare a case. The so-called trial occurred with Shuler in chains and any spectators forbidden from entering the courtroom by deputies.
“I was surprised," said American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama Legal Director Randall Marshall, "that there wasn’t more of an outcry from the media world when this first happened.”
Shuler got lost in the courtroom shuffle, just as vast numbers of others disappear into criminal and civil courtrooms with little scrutiny anymore because the mainstream media -- and ultimately the public -- no longer seems to care about what happens in courts, except for a few big cases. Shuler has cared, however, and that's why he got into trouble.
A graduate of the respected University of Missouri School of Journalism and a former Birmingham newspaper reporter, Shuler began a legal blog during his spare time in 2007 while working as an editor for the University of Alabama.
He initially blogged about his litigation ordeal in a property dispute with a suburban neighbor and the high-profile criminal prosecution in the news about of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges. The university later fired Shuler because of its claim he used university time and other resources for his research, which he denies.
He named his blog Legal Schauzer after his late pet, and began writing pro-consumer investigations about alleged unfairness in the courts across the Deep South, especially in Alabama. His hard-hitting investigative columns five days a week documented hundreds of courthouse ordeals, especially for those in criminal cases like Siegelman who were repeatedly smeared by prosecutors and the mainstream media for what, on closer examination, seemed like politically motivated cases.
His coverage extended into police stations, divorce courts, jails, and prisons, and often antagonized news subjects, including a few who had come to him with information to hurt someone else but found that as he dug deeper he pursued matters to uncomfortable levels. Sometimes those probes led to sex and financial scandals, which he pursued aggressively. Last year, for example, he ran a nude photo that Shuler identified as one appearing in the late 1990s on a gay website and portraying a famous federal judge in his youth.
That was the background for Shuler's jailing. Here is what happened next.
Shuler published columns in 2013 claiming that the prominent Alabama attorney Robert Riley, son of two-term former GOP governor Bob Riley, had had an affair with lobbyist Liberty Duke that resulted in an abortion and led to a divorce of Duke and her husband.
Shuler reported also that the two had failed to respond to his inquiries for comment. Seeking comment is one of the steps reporters normally take both for fairness and as protection against a libel action. The plaintiffs, their attorneys and Moore have failed to respond to my requests for comment.
Riley and Duke denied the allegations and sued Shuler in a case that was sealed. Shuler avoided legal service of the suit, at least in his interpretation of valid service.
Meanwhile, Alabama's Chief Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who defied the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 by installing a monument to the Ten Commandments at Alabama's Supreme Court, appointed Neilson to hear the libel case against Shuler, thereby bypassing the elected judges in Shelby County. Neilson is a retired circuit court judge from Demopolis, a part of Alabama near Mississippi. Neilson now advocates for private clients.
On order of Neilson, Shelby County deputies arrested Shuler at his home Oct. 23 for contempt of court based on his failure to spike his stories pre-trial. The judge has forbidden bail in the case.
The docket and courtroom were sealed from public view during the case's first months, which reportedly included a ruling by the judge from the bench that he has heard enough of the facts to decide the case. Any such ruling would be without trial preparation, witnesses, pre-trial depositions, a jury or such other procedures normal in courtrooms. The judge reputedly kept Shuler in chains during proceedings and barred visitors from the courtroom. Now that most decision-making appears to be over, the docket has been opened at the request of the plaintiffs.
Shuler, who had been a nationally prominent blogger authoring hundreds of columns about courtroom injustice affecting litigants across the Deep South, has no lawyer nor any funds for a lawyer.
His wife, Carol, says she seldom leaves their home except to sneak away on shopping trips because she is under a contempt of court arrest order on a claim that she co-administered his blog.
Roger Shuler researched and largely wrote his columns from a public library to conserve funds. Both are jobless after what they claim as retaliation for Shuler's blogging begun in 2007. They say they have no funds for an attorney, especially since Neilson has imposed $34,000 in fines, and need one badly.
Several of my Alabama legal sources tell me the Shulers have scant chance of obtaining an attorney. They say Shuler is unpopular with lawyers because of his strongly pro-consumer columns often blame lawyers and judges for problems.
Also, even an attorney who might be willing to advocate on Shuler's behalf faces retaliation by the courts in Alabama's system for representing a targeted suspect, some say, or could reasonably fear harsh criticism or even litigation from Shuler if, as likely, future rulings continue against him. Alabama court rules also prevent lawyers from criticizing a judge, adding teeth to the one-sided burden faced by litigants.
However, Shuler may have already passed the critical stages of his case. Neilson asserted that the proceeding held in November constituted a trial sufficient for a final order on the case. If Shuler's protests, while jailed, do not count as an appeal his options are very limited, according to an expert who has followed the case closely. That raises the question posed Marshall of the ACLU on the presence of the major media organizations.
To undertake my own informal roll call: The ACLU provided a valuable friend of the court brief that appeared to shape Neilson's final order by narrowing its original broad scope to certain statements that Shuler is forbidden now to make about Riley and Duke.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also made a friend of the court filing. The Committee To Protect Journalists listed Shuler as a victim, which prompted several other journalism groups to include his ordeal in their news publications. Several individual journalists reported the abusive practices early on, as previously reported here. They included commentators Wayne Madsen, Peter B. Collins, and Matt Osborne, as well as HuffPost Live "Freedom Watch" anchor host Alyona Minkovski, New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller and Fox News Talk Radio host Alan Colmes.
In general, however, the effort by media organizations was far less than adequate, or what the profession should have been doing in a case of this importance.
Shuler's treatment underscores also the experience of those caught in the system who are not part of the media and have no special protections or organizations. Who cares about them? Shuler did, for one. But he's in jail for the foreseeable future.
In an odd twist, the judge brought out of retirement to handle the Shuler case is also working as the advocate for plaintiffs litigating against a leading Alabama civil rights law firm.
Neilson represents the family of the late Selma civil rights attorney J.L. Chestnut Jr. in massive litigation against Chestnut's former partners, state Sen. Hank Sanders and his wife, Faya Rose.
At issue is division of a $5.2 million fee that arose from a long-running federal discrimination case the firm Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders litigated for many years as a class action filed in 1997 on behalf of the nation's black farmers, who alleged discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in its programs. The fee was part of a $1.2 billion award approved last summer to settle the case.
The years of litigation have helped ruin the law firm. "Hank Sanders is the only remaining partner in the firm that was once one of the most prominent African American law firms in the South," reported Phillip Rawls of he Associated Press in a December story, Selma's once thriving Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm much smaller and splintered.
Rawls quoted Neilson assaying the Chestnut family deserves a significant share of the $5.2 million because Chestnut was a major figure in the farmers' case from the start and was "a very well-known and respected lawyer" who helped the firm generate income.
But the state senator, Sanders, said he is the only partner remaining from a firm that once employed 40, and that the firm had $2 million in debts and owed another $1.5 million to its pension program when Chestnut died. Sanders said Chestnut was heavily involved in the first part of the black farmers' case that produced a $100,000 award, but he said he and his wife did most of the firm's work with other attorneys nationally on the second, more lucrative part that produced the $1 billion in damages.
Sanders' wife, Faya Rose Touré, spent most of her career as Rose Sanders until she decided to step away from what she called her "slave name" in 2003. A graduate of Harvard Law School like her husband, she was the first African-American female judge in Alabama and is founder of the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, among other civic organizations.
One of them is the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, the annual multiday civil rights education festival in Selma that celebrates the 1965 civil rights "Bloody Sunday" march led by the Rev. Hosea Williams and future Congressman John Lewis. The march was from Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery.
The ceremonial high point of the Jubilee is the crossing of a river bridge in Selma the afternoon of Sunday, March 9. The event, just one day before the Sullivan ruling anniversary, brings together many sectors of the state and national civil rights movement.
The Siegelman Factor
Supporters of imprisoned former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003) plan a major presence in honor of a Democrat relentlessly prosecuted by Republicans.
We have frequently reported evidence of significant prosecution and judicial misconduct in the case. Among our many columns are is one on the Huffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges.
Many other journalists, including Shuler in hundreds of his blog columns, have raised similar questions. Many prosecutors and legal scholars have described Siegelman's 1999 actions as a non-crime. The most important convictions centered on the governor's reappointment to a state board a donor to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation, which was advocating for better educational opportunities via funding from a state lottery.
Yet higher courts and the Obama administration have affirmed nearly all the Siegelman prosecution methods and convictions, and have resisted calls for investigation of corrupt practices.
Siegelman lost re-election to Riley in 2002 when more than 3,000 votes were flipped electronically in rural Baldwin County after polls closed in what I, among others, have described in my book, Presidential Puppetry, as one of the pioneering election frauds of the electronic vote era. I have described in such columns as Alabama Decisions Illustrate Abuse of Judicial Power how Alabama's tolerance for activist right-wing judges is a self-affirming feature of the state's politics that has wide impact on voting rights, job security, and a host of other quality of living issues that the public takes for granted.
Voting rights advocates are expected in significant numbers to attend the Selma march. Among the reasons are the U.S. Supreme Court voting rights case decided last summer, Shelby County v. Holder.
All five of the court's Republicans voted to overturn key provisions of the law that Congress had reauthorized in 2006 by 98-O in the Senate 390-33 in the House over the objections of die-hard States Rights supporters in the House.
Siegelman, once his state's most popular Democrat, is now serving a long sentence, and urging his supporters to join the march and seek reform on multiple issues. He is shown at right in a photo taken during a previous march behind him at the bridge. Standing behind him in a baseball hat and with "Free Don" sign is the late Rev. Jack Zylman, who died last year after being one of the Alabama's leading white voices for civil rights for a half century.
David Walters, a Murphy High School friend of Siegelman, has recalled for me that the future governor was a student government officer in 1964 and a voice for peaceful racial accommodation when the Mobile school was one the first in Alabama to undergo desegregation.
My five years of research is that authorities ruthlessly targeted Siegelman since 1999 with criminal investigations because he was virtually the only Democrat who could win votes from both whites and African-Americans sufficient for a statewide victory.
Furthermore, I have reported that the Obama administration has not dared support him in any way following many years of smears and the antipathy of the Riley political machine and its powerful GOP allies in the U.S. Senate, Jeff Sessions and Dick Shelby.
In turn, many in Alabama and elsewhere challenge critics of the prosecution by saying Siegelman has already obtained more than his share of news coverage and has failed to persuade even leaders of the national Democratic Party to act on his behalf. His own response in a message to marchers is to focus on the causes for which he was fighting, such as expanded educational opportunities that led to his conviction and the missed opportunities for many others across the state and region.
To that, I would that my own focus on the Siegelman case for more than five years is similarly not for him but in the belief that the frame-up of such a prominent office-holder and cover-up by top law enforcement officials of both parties demonstrates proof-positive that similar injustice can befall anyone. Therefore, attention on his case, like that on Shuler's, is not deference to any kind of higher status on their part but instead an apt illustration that injustice exists with scant remedy, even for the well-known.
Clearly, central Alabama is a hotbed of activist judges who work with like-minded peers on the state and federal level to discipline the disfavored.
Every once in a while, what remains of the nation's civil rights coalition and journalism establishment rouse themselves to celebrate the past. Can they overcome apathy, fear and disorganization to do anything now?
This year's Bridge Jubilee Event has an extraordinarily powerful agenda. The basics are already on the website, with headliners to be announced shortly.
I plan to report on event first-hand with a presence on five days from March 6 to 10, with a side-trip to Shelby County to try to interview Shuler in jail. This is a great opportunity to maintain First Amendment, due process and other civil rights -- and show that grass roots supporters still care.
This are historic times -- and not in a good way. But the country has been through worse, and so there is always hope.
Editor's Note: This column was updated in several respects Feb. 27, primarily to reflect major updates to the Bridge Crossing Jubilee speaker program.
Related News Coverage
Legal Schnauzer, Publisher Roger Shuler Will Appear at Jefferson County Hearing on Wednesday, March 5, Roger Shuler, March 3, 2014. Legal Schnauzer publisher Roger Shuler will appear at a hearing at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 5 at the Jefferson County Courthouse. The hearing, before Judge Don Blankenship, is in a lawsuit filed by Republican political figure Jessica Medeiros Garrison. The hearing reportedly will involve an attempted default judgment that Garrison is seeking. Shuler is unlawfully incarcerated in the Shelby County Jail because of a lawsuit filed by Rob Riley, one of Garrison's Republican political allies. Garrison is the former campaign manager for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. Editor's Note: Shuler has been held without bond on a contempt of court charge for failure to spike his stories pre-trial after being sued in a separate libel case. He has no lawyer, and this column was delivered by a phone call from jail to his wife, Carol.
Justice Integrity Project, Alabama Court Again Hammers Blogger As NY Times Flubs Libel Story, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 17, 2014. An Alabama judge imposed a 90-day sentence this week on corruption-fighting Alabama blogger Roger Shuler, who is jailed indefinitely in a libel case brought by a prominent attorney. Meanwhile, a New York Times reporter tried so hard to be balanced that he underplayed the damage to the public from the court system's outrageous confiscation of Shuler's rights.
AllHipHop News, Oprah will produce Martin Luther King Jr. film about Selma, Feb. 26, 2014. The race to make the definitive Martin Luther King motion picture of the 21st Century continues. February 26, Deadline reports that Oprah Winfrey has attached herself to an upcoming film inspired by Martin Luther King’s voting rights campaign. Ava Duvernay has been tapped to direct the film as well as rewrite the script and Paramount Pictures are currently seeking national distribution for the film. Selma will focus on King’s 1965 voting rights campaign which led to the August 6th 1965 enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B Johnson. King’s campaign included three attempts at organizing a march from Selma, Alabama to Alabama’s state capital in Montgomery. The first two attempts were stopped by police and governmental interference with the first one occurring on March 7th, 1965, a date referred to as Bloody Sunday due to the police brutality on the protesters. The third attempt was successful on March 25, 1965.
OpEd News, Live In Or Visit Alabama? Be Afraid, Very Afraid, Kathryn Bauman Rubenstein, March 5, 2014. This is a warning if you live in or plan to visit the state of Alabama. There is the possibility that you may be arrested, beaten and thrown in jail without cause. Normal Civil Rights and respect for the United States Constitution do not apply. Roger Shuler, an Alabama based blogger, was arrested in October 2013 and to date remains in jail after being beaten and arrested by Shelby County sheriff deputies. The judge on the case was hand-selected by the Rileys to ensure their brand of justice prevails. I have had my own experience with unlawful judicial proceedings in Alabama after uncovering and substantiating forgery of my father's Will and Trust. Four years ago I left the state abruptly, concerned my own fate would mirror that of Roger Shuler's or worse. Mr. Shuler was arrested without a warrant. In Alabama's lawless society, it could happen to any of us.
Legal Schnauzer, Unlawful Incarceration of Legal Schnauzer Publisher Roger Shuler Places Him in a Volatile Situation, Roger Shuler, Feb. 26, 2014. Six fights have broken out in a recent two week period at the cell block where Legal Schnauzer publisher Roger Shuler has been housed in the Shelby County Jail. Shuler has not suffered any injuries and he's not aware of any injuries to anyone else, but it's a sign of the volatile conditions in which he has been unlawfully placed. "I want the public to understand that my physical well-being is in danger, and that also applies to other inmates here who can be in a peaceful environment one moment and in an ugly situation the next. The change usually happens when one or two guys make bad decisions and it can make the situation dangerous. Most recently I had a fight break out near my bunk when I was sleeping in the middle of the night and fortunately no blows happened, but if they had it would have been inches from my head."
Justice Integrity Project, U.S. Drops 13 Places To 46th On 'World Press Freedom Index,' Andrew Kreig, Feb. 10, 2014. The United States experienced a major decline in press freedom over the past year according to the new annual study announced Feb. 11 by Reporters Without Borders. "2013 will go down in history as the worst year for press freedom in the modern history of the United States," said New York Times investigative reporter James Risen as he moderated a panel at the National Press Club announcing the results. Risen said government obstruction and prosecution of whistleblowers has chilled reporting on public affairs in Washington, hurting the public and democratic values. The report cited a number of Obama administration prosecutions of leakers as a major reason for the decline in the ranking of the United States from 32th to 46th. In the photo courtesy of by Noel St. John, Risen was flanked by Reporters Without Borders United States Director Delphine Halgand and panelist Huong Nguyen.
Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Black Caucus chairman asks U.S. AG Eric Holder to block Miss. voter ID law, Jimmie E. Gates, Feb. 27, 2014. A letter has been sent by the chairman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus asking the U.S. Department of Justice to preclude the implementation of Mississippi’s voter ID law. “The law adversely affects Mississippi’s most vulnerable population, namely, the elderly, minorities and disabled,” said state Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton. “Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional, Mississippi was covered by the “preclearance” requirement.” The Justice Department has yet to say whether it will challenge Mississippi’s Voter ID law, similar to challenges made in a couple other states.
Associated Press via Al.com, Selma's once thriving Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm much smaller and splintered, Phillip Rawls, Dec. 15, 2013. Hank Sanders is the only remaining partner in the firm that was once one of the most prominent African American law firms in the South. One of the South's prominent African-American law firms has disintegrated in a fight over money after helping black farmers nationwide win $1.2 billion in a discrimination case. The Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders law firm in Selma once had nearly 40 employees and handled high-profile cases ranging from defending capital murder defendants to pursuing civil rights complaints. In recent years, it has shrunk dramatically and struggled with financial problems. The firm was best known for the black farmers' case. It began with a lawsuit in 1997 with black farmers alleging discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several law firms were involved, but Chestnut was one of the faces of the case, testifying to Congress and speaking across the country to alert black farmers. The farmers originally got $100,000. Then a second round of litigation produced $1.15 billion, bringing the total to $1.25 billion.
Blog of the Legal Times (BLT), Judge Awards $90.8M in Fees in Black Farmers Class Action, Matthew Huisman, July 11, 2013. A federal judge in Washington has awarded $90.8 million in fees to the plaintiffs lawyers involved in the high-profile black farmers’ discrimination litigation. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman concluded the plaintiffs’ attorneys should receive the maximum amount—7.4 percent—under the terms of a historic settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. The deal set out a fee range between 4.1 percent and 7.4 percent. The distribution of the legal fees and expenses will be handled by lead class counsel Andrew Marks of Coffey Burlington, Henry Sanders of Chestnut Sanders Sanders & Pettaway and Gregorio Francis of Morgan & Morgan.
Black Radio Network, Judge Reviewing Black Farmer Settlement, Staff report, Feb. 24, 2014. U.S. Federal District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington is reviewing the $1.25 billion settlement in a class action stemming from allegations the government discriminated against black farmers in loan processing. Friedman met for about eight hours with the plaintiffs' team, government lawyers and farmers, some of whom traveled from across the country to attend the fairness hearing. Friedman said he will promptly issue an opinion on whether the settlement is fair and reasonable for the tens of thousands of potential class members. The Blog of Legal Times reports the settlement would compensate farmers who, despite their eligibility, did not participate in an earlier deal executed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Friedman in May granted preliminary approval for the deal. Several speakers, Marks said, disagreed with the plaintiffs’ request for more than $90.8 million in legal fees, the top of the range set out in the settlement. Friedman is reviewing whether the range—4.1% to 7.4%—is fair. He will decide later on how much money the lawyers in the case should be compensated. The U.S. Justice Department said it opposes the $90.8 million fee request and will file court papers in the coming weeks outlining the government’s position.
Wikipedia, Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. On June 25, 2013, the Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional because the coverage formula is based on data over 40 years old, making it no longer responsive to current needs and therefore an impermissible burden on the constitutional principles of federalism and equal sovereignty of the states. The Court did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4(b), no jurisdiction will be subject to Section 5 preclearance unless Congress enacts a new coverage formula.
Editor's note: President Bush signed the Voting Rights Act reauthorization in 2006, as portrayed in the photo, following overwhelming support in Congress. But courts found a different way and and overturned the judgment of Congress and the GOP president.
National Archives, Confrontations for Justice, John Lewis -- March from Selma to Montgomery, "Bloody Sunday," 1965 (video). In 1965, at the height of the modern civil rights movement, activists organized a march for voting rights, from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, the state capital. On March 7, some 600 people assembled at a downtown church, knelt briefly in prayer, and began walking silently, two-by-two through the city streets. With Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) leading the demonstration, and John Lewis, Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), at his side, the marchers were stopped as they were leaving Selma, at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, by some 150 Alabama state troopers, sheriff ’s deputies, and possemen, who ordered the demonstrators to disperse. One minute and five seconds after a two-minute warning was announced, the troops advanced, wielding clubs, bullwhips, and tear gas. John Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture, was one of fifty-eight people treated for injuries at the local hospital.
Huffington Post, Alabama Decisions Illustrate Abuse of Judicial Power, Andrew Kreig, June 10, 2009. The plight of litigants who face a biased judge is illustrated by the track record of a prominent Alabama federal judge, as well by major recent decisions requiring new trials in West Virginia and Georgia courts. The track record of Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, Alabama shows that he continues to supervise cases compromised by his personal, financial or political interests despite his promise at his 2002 confirmation hearing to recuse himself from any conflicts.
Huffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges, May 21, 2009, Andrew Kreig, Huffington Post One of the most experienced federal judges in recent Alabama history is denouncing the U.S. Justice Department prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham calls for a probe of misconduct by federal prosecutors ─ including their alleged "judge-shopping," jury-pool "poisoning" and "unfounded" criminal charges in an effort to imprison Siegelman.
Reuters, Google ordered to remove anti-Islamic film from YouTube, Jonathan Stempel and Dan Levine, Feb. 26, 2014. A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday ordered Google Inc to remove from its YouTube video-sharing website an anti-Islamic film that had sparked protests across the Muslim world. By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected Google's assertion that the removal of the film "Innocence of Muslims," amounted to a prior restraint of speech that violated the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiff, Cindy Lee Garcia, had objected to the film after learning that it incorporated a clip she had made for a different movie, which had been partially dubbed and in which she appeared to be asking: "Is your Mohammed a child molester?" Representatives for Google could not immediately be reached for comment. Cris Armenta, a lawyer for Garcia, said she is delighted with the decision. "Ordering YouTube and Google to take down the film was the right thing to do," Armenta said in an email. "The propaganda film differs so radically from anything that Ms. Garcia could have imagined when the director told her that she was being cast in the innocent adventure film."
Center for Public Integrity, ICIJ denounces brutal attack on Ming Pao editor, Gerard Ryle, Feb. 26, 2014. On Wednesday Kevin Lau, the former chief editor of the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, was stabbed three times by an unknown assailant. Lau is reportedly in critical condition. Ming Pao was one of ICIJ’s partners in the Offshore Leaks investigation, and ICIJ director Gerard Ryle made the following statement today in response to the attack. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is horrified to learn of the brutal knife attack on Kevin Lau, the former Chief Editor of our Hong Kong media partner, the Ming Pao newspaper. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kevin and his family, and we remain hopeful that local police will apprehend the perpetrators as soon as possible.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
WLOX, Ole Miss fraternity chapter suspended amid statue noose case, Michael Clark, Feb 21, 2014. The fraternity SigEp indefinitely suspended its University of Mississippi Chapter after learning three freshmen members were suspects in hanging a noose around the James Meredith statue on campus. The three men were also expelled from the fraternity. Despite the group's actions, the district attorney says, so far, the act does not appear to be criminal. District Attorney Ben Creekmore told Action News 5 late Friday morning that investigators and prosecutors have looked into several misdemeanors as possible charges. He said because the statue was not physically damaged, and the suspects did not appear to be trespassing, his office would likely not be in a position to bring criminal charges against the suspects.
Washington Post, Comcast’s deal with Netflix makes network neutrality obsolete, Timothy B. Lee, Feb. 23, 2014.For the past two decades, the Internet has operated as an unregulated, competitive free market. Given the tendency of networked industries to lapse into monopoly—think of AT&T's 70-year hold over telephone service, for example—that's a minor miracle. But recent developments are putting the Internet's decentralized architecture in danger. In recent months, the nation's largest residential Internet service providers have been demanding payment to deliver Netflix traffic to their own customers. On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix has agreed to the demands of the nation's largest broadband provider, Comcast. The change represents a fundamental shift in power in the Internet economy that threatens to undermine the competitive market structure that have served Internet users so well for the past two decades.