Days after a momentous national election, the United State Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The high court will decide a case brought by an Alabama county objecting to a provision of the Voting Right Act requiring certain jurisdictions to obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes in election laws or voting rules.
The provision of the Voting Rights Act under question is meant to protect the rights of minority voters in areas of the country with a history of racial discrimination.
Although most of the regions covered by Act are in the Southern U.S., Monterey, Yuba, and Kings County in California are also included. In recent years, Latinos in Monterey County cited the Voting Rights Act to delay consolidation of judicial districts and to block the County's move to reduce the number of polling places in a special election.
Advocates who believe that the provision of the Act should be eliminated or changed argue that the racial discrimination which created the need for the provision no longer exists in the states and regions under the provision's requirements.
But within the last year, the Justice Department invoked the Act to block enforcement of voter identification laws in Texas and South Carolina, and to challenge reduction of early voting in Florida. Justice Department officials said that these laws would have a negative impact on African American and Latino voters.
On May 4, justices on the California Supreme Court appeared split on the question of whether Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative that amended the state constitution to ban affirmative action, violates the federal constitution.
The high court heard arguements in a lawsuit challening a 2003 San Francisco ordinance that gives firms owned by racial minorities and women a slight advantage in bids for city contracts.
The city of San Francisco argued that the program is necessary to level the playing field and counter ongoing discrimination.
An attorney for two white-owned contractors argued that the San Francisco ordinance violates Proposition 209, which prohibits affirmative action in government contracts, public employment, and public education.
Immediately after the passage of Proposition 209 by 54% of voters in November 1996, Governor Pete Wilson identified 31 state-funded programs for elimination or curtailment, including summer science programs for elementary school students and hiring programs that ensured recruitment from minority communities.
Civil rights attorneys filed a class action lawsuit to stop Proposition 209 from taking effect. In late December 1996, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the initiative. In 1997, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Henderson's ruling.
The state supreme court is not bound by the earlier federal court ruling.
John A. Perez, a Democrat representing Southeast Los Angeles, is the first openly gay person to be selected as Speaker of the California State Assembly. The Assembly's Democratic Caucus voted unamimously to support the freshman lawmaker to become the legislative body's next leader. A formal floor vote to confirm Perez as Speaker is scheduled for January. Raised in a working class Los Angeles family, Perez worked for 15 years in the labor movement and became a leader in several unions and the California Labor Federation. For a gay former union official to become Assembly Speaker is significant given that the state of California criminalized homosexuality from 1850 until 1975, and given that Southern California civic leaders in the 19th and early 20th centuries were hostile to organized labor. Current Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who represents the West Los Angeles area, recruited Perez to be her successor. Bass herself made history when she became the first African American woman to named Assembly Speaker.
This lesson broadens the study of the ongoing struggle for racial equality in the schools beyond Brown v. Board of Education through an examination of the judiciary’s role in safeguarding the rights of communities of color to a quality public education. Students will understand how the battle by different ethnic and racial communities to end school segregation in California in the late19th and first part of the 20th centuries predated more well known efforts by African Americans in Southern states, how the Mexican-American community in southern California through Mendez v. Westminster in the 1940s used groundbreaking legal strategies to challenge school segregation, how minority populations use a range of political strategies to fight for equality in public education, the difference between de facto and de jure segregation, and the impact of residential segregation on school segregation.
The California affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement with the State of California that will establish a comprehensive monitoring and enforcement system to ensure school districts do not unlawfully charge fees to public school students for educational activities.
In September, the ACLU affiliates filed a class action lawsuit against the state for allowing school districts throughout California to charge fees for books and other essential educational materials.
The settlement, which requires court approval, is contigent on enactment of legislation that would empower students and parents to use an existing complaint process to identify and recieve reimbursement for illegal school fees.
Under such legislation, if auditors find a district charged illegal fees, the district would be required to fully reimburse parents or suffer a financial penalty. Furthermore, parents would be able to challenge illegal fees immediately through a complaint process that provides for resolutiion within 30 working days.
Assembly member Ricardo Lara (D-South Gate) has endorsed the settlement, so legislative action should move forward.
The lawsuit resulted from an investigation by the ACLU of Southern California , which uncovered a widespread practice among school districts of compelling students to purchase textbooks, workbooks, and assigned novels. Districts also charged students to take Advanced Placement examinations, even though completing these tests is a course requirement and affects students’ grades.
In 2004, the Schwarzenegger administration settled a similar lawsuit, Williams v. California, which charged that the state had failed to fulfill its constitutional mandate to guaranteee the bare minimum infrastructure--up to date textbooks, safe buildings, qualified teachers--for a quality public education.
The settlement in the Williams litigation provided up to a billion dollars for school districts to purchase educational materials, to identify and fix deteriorating schools, and to ensure that all schools hired qualified teachers. The state also agreed to standards for teachers, access to textbooks, sanitary and safe campuses, and a parent-supported system to hold school districts accountable to those standards.
Under the settlement reached in the school fees litigation, parents and students will be able to use the existing process estabished to report violations of the Williams settlement to report illegal fees imposed on public school students for educational materials and activities.
State Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno expressed concern that fundamental rights can be changed by a simple majority vote through California's initiative process. Moreno was part of the four justice majority that in May 2008 struck down California laws banning same-sex marriages. Six months later, 52% of voters passed Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages. Moreno was the sole dissenter when the court upheld Proposition 8 in May 2009. In his dissent, he wrote that the court's decision "places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities."
In a recent interview, he commented that voters can be misinformed by initiative campaigns, and that the initiative process, unlike the deliberative legislative process, does not benefit from review by fact-finding committees.
Within days, Chief Justice Ronald George, in a speech at Stanford Law School, was highly critical of California's initiative process. He suggested reforms, such as prohibiting changes to the constitution through initiatives.
The initiative process has been significant in shaping and misshaping civil liberties in California. It began as a progressive tool in 1911 to ensure that legislators controlled by the railroads and big business would not block laws benefitting the majority of Californians. The first initiatives granted women the right to vote, established a limit on working hours for women and children, and set a minimum wage.
But inititatives have been used more often to deny rights. In 1920, voters approved three to one the "Alien Land Law" initiative, prohibiting Japanese immigrants from leasing land. Proposition 14 passed by a margin of two to one in 1964. That initiative amended the state constitution to rescind existing fair housing laws and prohibited the legislature from passing future laws to prevent racial discrimination in housing. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court struck down the proposition as a violation of the federal constitution. In 1994, voters approved Proposition 187, which required state programs, including public schools and public health services, to deny aid to undocumented immigrants. A court injunction prevented the law from going into effect. And in 1996, the passage of Proposition 209 outlawed affirmative action in state programs.
Watch an appearance by Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi on KPIX's "Bay Sunday" program with host Sydnie Kohara.
On April 15, 2013, Sal Castro, a teacher and counselor in Los Angeles schools for more than 35 years, died at his home in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.
In March 1968, Castro was a 34-year-old social studies teacher at Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles. He helped organize Chicano students who were frustrated by overcrowded, understaffed, and run down schools in their neighborhoods.
Using the word "blowout" as the password for a student strike, 300 Chicano students walked out of Wilson High School on March 1. The following day, 2,000 walked out of Wilson High School; the next day they were joined by 4,500 students from nearby Lincoln and Roosevelt High Schools.
Students were unprepared for the violent police reaction to their protest. As students picketed in front of their high schools, Los Angeles police officers descended, attacking them with clubs.
Officers identified student leaders and chased them through residential neighborhoods, where Mexican American families looked on in shock.
The "blowouts" and the police response attracted national attention, spotlighting the bleak educational conditions in East Los Angeles.
Eventually Castro and 12 others were indicted on charges of criminally conspiring to create riots, disrupt the functioning of the public schools, and disturb the peace.
Thousands of people picketed in front of the Los Angeles jail to support Castro and the 12 others who were called the "East L.A. Thirteen."
Charges were ultimately dropped against the East L.A. Thirteen after an appellate court judge ruled that they were exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights.