Monday, May 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Court turns back clock on voting rights

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to civil rights progress on Tuesday by eliminating a key mechanism for ensuring access to the voting booth for all citizens. The court's undercutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ignores recent history and makes it more likely that voters will be adversely impacted by race-based mischief in elections. The court's majority, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, is either being disingenuous or naive to believe that federal supervision is no longer warranted. Just last year, Florida discovered once again such oversight was required to protect voters' rights.

In Shelby County vs. Holder, on a 5-4 vote, the court upheld the ability of the federal government to approve all voting changes — from redistricting lines to voter identification requirements — in states and localities with a history of racial discrimination. But the court rejected the formula used for decades in determining which jurisdictions should fall under so-called "preclearance" review. Moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the court's four conservatives in paying lip service to the fact that "voting discrimination still exists" while neutering the law's ability to actually be enforced.

Nine states — mostly in the South — and scores of counties and municipalities are subject to preclearance under the formula that the court declared illegal Tuesday, including five counties in Florida: Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe.

Roberts' ruling blamed Congress for failing to update the formula for identifying discriminatory jurisdictions, saying it had changed little since a 1975 revision. He pointed out that minority voting participation in many preclearance jurisdictions now beats out national participation rates.

But when Congress renewed the preclearance requirements in 2006 by large bipartisan majorities — unanimously in the Senate — it created an extensive record of current conditions that justified renewal. Congress found that while minorities vote in far greater percentages than 40 years ago, tactics are still being employed to tamp down their voting strength.

For instance, Florida's Republican-led Legislature passed an election law in 2011 that sharply decreased early voting days from as many as 14 to eight, which experts said would have a negative impact on African-American voters. A federal panel denied approval for the change in 2012 until the covered jurisdictions agreed to keep the polls open the maximum number of hours.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent, joined by the court's three additional liberals, cites some of the congressional findings that justify continuing the preclearance formula, including that between 1982 and 2006 the Justice Department blocked more than 700 voting changes in preclearance jurisdictions because they were discriminatory. And, between 1982 and 2004, more than 80 percent of the lawsuits where voting discrimination was proved came from covered jurisdictions.

There is almost no chance that Congress will muster the votes to pass a new formula for preclearance jurisdictions, which means the remedy for future prejudicial voting laws will have to be fought in the courts, probably long after an election has been won or lost. The court's ruling, in effect, nullifies what had been a historically successful policing mechanism toward ensuring a democracy in which all citizens can exercise their constitutional right to vote when it counts, in an election. On Tuesday, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court turned its back on that promise.

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Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

Editorial: Voters should decide whether legal sports betting comes to Florida

It’s a safe bet Florida will get caught up in the frenzy to legalize wagering on sports following the U.S. Supreme Court opinion this week that lifted a federal ban. Struggling horse and dog tracks would love a new line of business, and state l...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/16/18