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, Wisconsin Republican legislators steadfastly refused to mail absentee ballots to voters for Tuesday’s critical state Supreme Court election, and other calls were made for vote by mail.
A federal district judge in Wisconsin 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, but stopped short of delaying the election. Judge James Conley (WD-WI) issued his ruling late Thursday afternoon. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, who is not empowered to delay the election but was among the earliest governors to issue a stay-at-home order, pleaded with legislative Republicans to allow for every citizen to automatically be mailed an absentee ballot, but Republicans instead insisted on encouraging voters to vote at the polls, despite CDC social distancing guidelines. Some cities, including Green Bay and Madison, had called for a delay in the election, and due to a shortage of poll workers, the members of the National Guard may have to volunteer to staff polling locations. Nonetheless, the Wisconsin Republican Party and the Republican National Committee are appealing the judge’s ruling. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). In response, voting rights advocate and author of Give Us the Ballot, Ari Berman, called the legislature’s refusal to mail absentee ballots to everyone an “absolute travesty. . . [done] in order to protect [a] right-wing state Supreme Court seat” and “voter suppression on steroids.” (Twitter).
The unemployment rate skyrocketed, with experts estimating it to be higher than any time since the Great Depression, “and rising at a speed unmatched in American history.” (Upshot/New York Times).
April 1st was Census Day, the day recognized by the U.S. Census as the official day for when things like location, marriage, and birth for people should be counted on the Census. Census Day also serves as a reminder to anyone living in the United States to fill out your Census form! (CensusCounts.org).
As the COVID-19 crisis continues and half the nation is under stay-at-home orders, data indicates that the virus is affecting poorer Americans more than wealthier ones. “In cities across America, many lower-income workers continue to move around, while those who make more money are staying home and limiting their exposure to the coronavirus,” new data shows. (New York Times).
On Thursday, the Trump administration continued to attempt to contain the COVID-19 crisis but appeared to misunderstand federalism. As the worldwide case number surged to over 1 million, in a press conference, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner insisted that the Strategic National Stockpile was strictly for use by the federal government, and not for the states: “The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.” (via Vox/Twitter). Politico reported the following day that “Jared Kushner’s family business could be a prime beneficiary of a provision in the federal recovery bill that allows owners of apartment buildings to freeze federal mortgage payments.” NY Opinion Columnist Michelle Goldberg was more blunt: “Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed.” (New York Times)
Tuesday, March 31, was Cesar Chavez Day, which celebrates the work and legacy of Cesar Chavez to advance labor, human, and civil rights. Chavez and Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. (Latino Victory/Twitter).
Florida legislators admitted on Friday that they intentionally made it challenging to file for state unemployment in an effort to make Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott two Republican leaders, look better, by lowering the state’s number of jobless claims. The $77.9 million-dollar online system is, in the words of an advisor to the governor, “a sh– sandwich, and . . . designed that way by Scott. . . . It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.” (Politico).
Momentum is building for national vote-by-mail efforts. On Tuesday, March 31, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stated that “[o]ur country needs vote-by-mail,” and many activists have called for provisions in the next COVID-19 rescue package to include funding for states to implement the practice. (Politico & Twitter). However, other legislators are against the measure. Georgia’s state speaker of the house called a potential system “devastating to Republicans.” (TheHill).