The Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, ruling that the United States had sufficiently moved beyond its Jim Crow past and has rendered the law's formulas unconstitutional. Writing for the conservative 5-4 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts, who has a long history of trying to undermine this law, struck down Section 4 of the act. This part of the law determines which states and counties must adhere to strict guidelines governing any change to their voting laws. (The point of this provision is to prevent regions that have a history of fiddling with voting laws to discriminate against certain groups from trying such stunts again.)
More MoJo coverage of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act
As proof of the nation's racial progress, Roberts cited elevated voter registration figures among black voters (setting aside the main issue of whether black voters have the same access to the voting booth once they're registered) and the fact that civil rights battlegrounds such as Philadelphia, Mississippi, and Selma, Alabama, currently have black mayors.
In the court's view, the Voting Rights Act has accomplished its mission of squashing racism:
Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, "[v]oter turnout and registration rates" in covered jurisdictions "now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels." Northwest Austin, supra, at 202. The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years. Yet the Act has not eased [its] restrictions or narrowed the scope of [the formula that determines which parts of the country that are covered]. Instead those extraordinary and unprecedented features have been reauthorized as if nothing has changed, and they have grown even stronger.
TheNew Republic's profile of Sen. Rand Paul is well worth a look—and so is the remarkable cover photograph, which captures the Kentucky lawmaker crossing his fingers:
The New Republic
The amazing photo set off a round of accusations that the image had been Photoshopped to make Paul look bad. But the picture, by the esteemed photographer Platon, wasn't doctored. Nor, as TNR senior editor Noam Scheiber points out, did Platon ask Paul to pose in this fashion. It wasn't until Platon was reviewing his photographs after their shoot that he noticed the money shot.
So why was Paul crossing his fingers? As some internet commenters have observed, there may be deeper significance to this "good luck" hand gesture. The crossed fingers have traditionally been used by POWs trotted out for propaganda purposes to indicate that the subject is participating under duress. Perhaps Paul was embracing the role he's carved out in Washington from Day One—that of a conservative freedom fighter deep in enemy territory.
The hidden messages may not stop there. Paul's choice of neck tie may also be sending a signal. As Matthew Schmitz, the deputy editor of the conservative religious magazine First Things, notes on Twitter, the libertarian-leaning lawmaker appears to be wearing a floral tie from a London-based company: Liberty.
Paul's office didn't respond to an inquiry about whether he was photographed under duress, or about whether the symbolism of his attire was intentional.
Edward Snowden revealed to the world the startling breadth of the National Security Agency's surveillance efforts, but his story also highlighted another facet of today's intelligence world: the increasingly privatized national security sector, in which a high school dropout could bring in six figures while gaining access to state secrets. Over the last decade, firms like Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden worked for three months, have gobbled up nearly 60 cents out of every dollar the government spends on intelligence. A majority of top-secret security clearances now go to private contractors who provide services to the government at stepped up rates.
"I like to call Booz Allen the shadow [intelligence community]," Joan Dempsey, a vice president at the firm, said in 2004, as captured in Tim Shorrock's book, Spies for Hire. No kidding. Here's a look at our mushrooming intelligence contracting sector:
OUR PRIVATE INTELLIGENCE APPARATUS, BY THE NUMBERS
12,000: Number of Booz Allen Hamilton employees with top-secret clearances
483,263: Number of contractors with top-secret clearances
1.4 million: Number of public and private employees, total, with top-secret security clearances, as of FY 2012
7th: Where employees with top-secret clearances would rank, by population, if they were a single American city
1: Occupations, out of 35 analyzed by the Project On Government Oversight, in which privatization yielded statistically significant savings—groundskeepers
4.4 million: Number of private contractors serving the federal government in 1999
7.6 million: Number of private contractors serving the federal government 2005
In January, Politicoreported that the conservative pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List was organizing special training sessions to teach male Republican lawmakers how to not make ignorant comments about rape (see: Akin, Todd). How's that working out so far? On Wednesday, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who is sponsoring a bill that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, pushed back against an effort to insert an exception for women who have been raped by arguing that rape usually doesn't result in pregnancy:
The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low. But when you make that exception, there's usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation. And that's what completely negates and vitiates the purpose of such an amendment.
TheAtlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta has the best deconstruction of this myth, but most serious studies of the issue conclude that pregnancies from rape are quite common. I've reached out to Rep. Franks' office to ask if he had attended the SBA List rape seminar. It seems unlikely.
The big problem facing legal challenges to the National Security Agency's surveillance powers has always been standing—the legal requirement that, before you can sue, you must prove you've been harmed. The trouble with proving that you've been illegally spied on is that who gets spied on is generally secret. In Amnesty International v. Clapper, the Supreme Court court ruled that a collection of journalists and advocates lacked standing to sue the NSA for warrantless wiretapping because they couldn't prove that they had, in fact, been spied on. In Al-Haramain v. Obama, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an Islamic charity that had been wiretapped couldn't challenge the surveillance in court because the documents it had been inadvertently provided that did prove wiretapping were state secrets and thus inadmissible. (The case was remanded back to the lower court, Al-Haramain tried again, and was finally defeated by the Ninth Circuit in 2012.)
But now, thanks to the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the ACLU thinks it has an in. The leaked documents specifically implicate Verizon Business Network Services, Inc. as providing metadata from phone calls to government databases. The ACLU is a client of Verizon Business Network Services—and the government has already declassified the existence of its program to gather phone data, so it will have trouble claiming that the program is a state secret. On Tuesday, the ACLU filed suit in federal court to "obtain a declaration that Mass Call Tracking is unlawful" and "to enjoin the government from continuing the Mass Call Tracking under the VBNS order."