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  1. Opinion

We can’t afford a voting rights foe on the 11th circuit | Column

Many of us don’t think about how much of our democracy rides on the nomination of federal judges, but it does, writes Andrew Gillum.

On Wednesday evening, millions of Americans saw their Senate take an historic vote against President Donald Trump’s conviction in the impeachment trial. They turned away from their TVs, confident that the Senate could do no more harm that night.

But within the hour, the Senate took another hugely consequential action, one with grave potential consequences for Floridians: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved immediately to resume processing federal judicial nominations. One of those is the nomination of Andrew Brasher for the 11th Circuit, which includes Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

Even among President Trump’s judicial nominees, Brasher stands out. Not just because of his youth – he’s 38 – and scant judicial experience — he’s only been a district judge for nine months. Those are characteristics shared by many Trump judicial nominees.

No, it’s because even more than most, Brasher has devoted himself to opposing voting rights. And that makes him an especially bad fit for a circuit in which those rights are under serious attack.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act, Republican officials across the nation — and especially in the South — have raced to suppress the votes of populations that lean Democratic, especially voters of color. In Georgia and Alabama (the home of Shelby County) they’ve closed polling places in targeted neighborhoods, curtailed early voting and created draconian voter ID laws.

Here in Florida, just five counties were officially affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling. But voting rights expert Bob Moser writes that studies show “Donald Trump would not have won the presidency without racially biased election laws that sprang up post-Shelby” in a group of key states, including Florida.

Most recently, our state has struggled to ensure voting rights for returning citizens. Although Florida residents voted overwhelmingly in 2018 to ensure those rights, Republican lawmakers have fought back with requirements that these citizens pay a wide assortment of fees, fines and penalties they may have incurred in their cases. The requirement effectively eliminates voting for many people.

Many of these new restrictions will rightfully be challenged in the courts. Already, civic organizations are filing lawsuits to defend the right to vote.

And that is where Andrew Brasher comes in.

For Republicans determined to snuff out voting rights in the courts, Brasher is an ace in the hole. His record is clear: As Deputy Alabama Solicitor General, Brasher filed an amicus brief in the Shelby County case in favor of gutting the VRA. As reported by the Alliance for Justice, “Brasher also defended the state’s felon anti-voter law that, according to one study, disenfranchised over 286,000 Alabamians, more than half of whom were black. He supported an Arizona law, rejected by the Supreme Court, that would have required voters to show proof of citizenship before voting.”

Brasher even has a track record of outright defending racial gerrymandering. As Alabama’s solicitor general, he defended the states’ racially gerrymandering district lines; later, the Supreme Court struck them down. Undeterred, Brasher continued to promote his views, writing that racial gerrymandering ought to be harder to prove in court.

And the seat he is nominated for is not just any seat; it’s the seat once held by the late Judge Frank Johnson, a civil rights icon whose rulings helped strike down statutory segregation in the South. It was Johnson who issued the order allowing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate a foe of Dr. King’s vision in that seat today. Heartbreaking, too, are the consequences that befall people in our communities when they cannot vote, when elected representatives therefore don’t represent them, when government doesn’t serve them. Needs aren’t met; dreams are derailed; damaging cycles are perpetuated.

Many of us don’t think about how much of our democracy rides on the nomination of federal judges, but it does – especially when a nominee is so clearly chosen to fulfill a backwards agenda. Brasher is likely to be scheduled for a confirmation vote in coming days. Every U.S. Senator will get to cast a vote on that confirmation, and they care what their constituents say. We can call, write and demand that this nomination be rejected. And on Election Day, we can vote for a president and senators who will seat judges to uphold our rights, not deny them.

Andrew Gillum is the former mayor of Tallahassee, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Florida and a Fellow at People For the American Way.

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