Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
This week, the COVID-19 outbreak continued to disproportionately affect some groups of Americans more than others, jails continued to be a hotspot for COVID-19, Wisconsin Republican legislators forced an unsafe election to continue, and some states made progress on vote by mail.
The conservatives on the US Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, along with WI GOP state legislators, forced an in-person election for a critical State Supreme Court seat to continue, despite CDC social distancing guidelines. On Monday, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overruled a unanimous 7th Circuit affirmance of a district court order which had previously extended the deadline for voters to request and for the state to receive absentee ballots for a critical state Supreme Court election on April 7th. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, also attempted to delay the election and pleaded with legislative Republicans to allow for every citizen to automatically be mailed an absentee ballot. Unfortunately, late on Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, voting along ideological lines, forced the election to continue as well, and Republicans instead insisted on encouraging voters to vote at the polls, despite CDC social distancing guidelines. In Milwaukee, the largest city in the state, the most number of COVID-19 cases have occurred and have disproportionately been among African-American men. Nonetheless, the city was forced to move from 180 polling places to only five for the entire city, leaving voters waiting in four-hour lines, close together, in the rain. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in her dissent from the Court’s order that she “fear[ed] [it] will result in massive disenfranchisement.” GOP Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos, while standing in head-to-toe PPE (which has been in short supply) at a polling place, nonetheless stated, “You are incredibly safe to go out.” (New York Times’s comprehensive coverage and Madison.com). A Politico reporter called the election “one of the most dangerous elections in U.S. history.” Following the election, one state senator discovered “3 large tubs” of absentee ballots that were not counted. (Twitter).
Jails remain a hotspot for COVID-19. Chicago’s Cook County jail is now the “nation’s largest-known source of coronavirus infections” according to data analyzed by the New York Times. The “ballooning outbreak . . . confirm[s] the fears of many health officials, who warned that America’s overcrowded and unsanitary prisons and jails would likely be a significant source of the virus’s spread.” (NY Times).
U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, called stay-at-home orders “draconian measures” and suggested that they may be lifted by the end of April. The U.S. death toll is currently near 15,000 and continues to rise. (Twitter and ABC News).
Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign. The Senator has advocated for various progressive policies but received less support this cycle than in his 2016 run for the same role. While Senator Sanders had been very behind in the delegate count for several weeks, it is now more clear than ever that Vice President Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States. (New York Times).
Legislators continued to use the virus as cover for sometimes bizarre requests that can hurt civil rights and civil liberties. In Wisconsin, Republicans suggested that as part of COVID-19 response efforts, that they should drastically cut funding to most of the state’s public schools, despite no clear link between the schools, which remain closed, and virus response. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
The unemployment rate continued to increase. 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week alone, bringing the total to about 16 million in the last three weeks. Economists now project that the unemployment rate will soon reach 15%, the highest rate since prior to World War II (The Guardian).
Momentum is building for vote-by-mail efforts. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order allowing all New Yorkers to vote absentee in the state’s primary election on June 23rd. (Axios). Meanwhile, President Trump, who voted by mail for himself in the last presidential election, stated, “Mail ballots are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters.” (New York Times)