Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. This week, Democrats took control of the House in high-stakes midterm elections.
Democrats take the House. With 422 out of 435 House seats declared, Democrats have officially taken control of the House of Representatives. Pollsters expect that, as close finals races are called, Democrats will pick up nearly 40 seats. As expected, Republicans maintained their Senate majority after defeating Democratic incumbents in North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana.
Democrats retake state houses. Further down the ballot, Democrats gained seven Governor’s seats and flipped control of several key state legislatures, including New Hampshire chambers, Minnesota’s House, and Maine’s Senate. This may enable these states to be new vanguards for civil rights: for example, after Democrats regained control of the New York State Senate, it looks likely that the state will pass legislation to provide driver’s licenses to all, regardless of immigration status.
Republicans sue to stop count of Florida votes. Vote counting from Tuesday’s election continues — including in Florida and Georgia, where elections were marred by machine breakdowns and long lines to vote. In particular, Democrats are concerned by “under votes” in Broward County, Florida, where 714,859 people cast ballots but (according to the current count), only 682,453 voted in a razor-thin Senate race. But Republican Governor Rick Scott filed a lawsuit Thursday to halt the vote count, raising unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
Voter suppression may have swung the Georgia Governor’s race. In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State and Gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp put 53,000 voter registrations (nearly 70% of whom were black voters) through a widely criticized “signature match” policy, then without evidence accused Democrats of trying to “hack” elections. Kemp appears to have won (a recount is pending) by little more than 85,000 votes — suggesting it’s the kind of close race that could be swung by voter suppression.
States expand access to the ballot and raise the wage. Ballot initiatives to advance civil rights and economic justice passed across the nation. Check out CR-CL’s special round-up of the results of state ballot initiatives here.
Trump Administration unveils a plan to dramatically restrict asylum. On Thursday, the public learned about the Trump Administration’s new plan to ban asylum for adults and families who cross the border between official border crossings (known as “ports of entry.”) The policy would also significantly raise the standard of proof an asylum-seeker must show in an initial interview to avoid summary deportation.
And the ACLU sued to block it. The ACLU filed suit Friday to block the new asylum policy, arguing that it violates the Administrative Procedure Act and exceeded the scope of executive power.
Trump fires Sessions. On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions submitted a “resignation letter,” making clear it was only signed at President Trump’s request. As Attorney General, Sessions waged a sustained attack on civil rights and racial justice. His firing throws Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign into jeopardy.
Sessions replaced by Matthew Whitaker. Sessions was replaced by his chief-of-staff, Matthew Whitaker, who has publicly opposed the Mueller investigation, criticized the New Deal cases upholding workers’ rights laws like the minimum wage, and says Marbury v. Madison was one of the “worst decisions” in Supreme Court history. But Whitaker’s appointment as Acting Attorney General may not be legal, because he’s never been confirmed by the Senate.
Sessions restricts consent decrees. In one of his final acts as Attorney General, Sessions restricted the ability of law enforcement officials to use court-enforced consent decrees to force police departments to change practices that violated civil rights law.
Brett Kavanaugh formally joins the Supreme Court. Brett Kavanaugh’s investiture ceremony to formally join the Court took place Thursday morning.