Georgia Republicans cancel election for state Supreme Court, so governor can appoint a Republican

“The state of Georgia was supposed to hold an election Tuesday to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court. Justice Keith Blackwell, a Republican whose six-year term expires on the last day of this year, did not plan to run for reelection. The election, between former Democratic Rep. John Barrow and former Republican state lawmaker Beth Beskin, would determine who would fill Blackwell’s seat.
But then something weird happened: Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and the state’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, canceled Tuesday’s election. Instead, Kemp will appoint Blackwell’s successor, and that successor will serve for at least two years — ensuring the seat will remain in Republican hands.

On May 14, the state Supreme Court handed down a decision that effectively blessed this scheme to keep Blackwell’s seat in the GOP’s hands. The court’s decision in Barrow v. Raffensperger is unusual in many regards — among other things, six of the state’s regular Supreme Court justices recused from the case, and they were replaced by five lower court judges who sat temporarily on the state’s highest court. The court’s decision in Barrow turns upon poorly drafted language in the state constitution, which does suggest that Blackwell, Kemp, and Raffensperger’s scheme was legal.”

“In late February, just a few days before the deadline for candidates to file to run to replace Justice Blackwell was about to expire, Blackwell sent a letter to Kemp announcing that he intends to resign his seat, effective November 18. That means that Blackwell will leave office a few weeks before his term was set to expire on December 31.

Shortly after receiving this letter, Kemp formally accepted Blackwell’s future resignation. The governor then informed Raffensperger, the state’s chief elections officer, that he intended to fill Blackwell’s seat by gubernatorial appointment. In response, Raffensperger canceled the election to fill Blackwell’s seat, which was scheduled for May 19.

Both Democratic candidate Barrow and Republican candidate Beskin filed lawsuits seeking to reinstate the election, but these pleas were rejected by the state Supreme Court in a 6-2 vote.”

“an appointed justice may serve until January 1, 2023 — and longer, if that justice eventually wins the 2022 election. The new justice will also be able to run with all the advantages incumbency provides.”

“As a practical matter, this decision is likely to prove very easy for retiring justices to game if they belong to the same political party as the incumbent governor. Indeed, under the court’s decision in Barrow, Blackwell likely could have announced that he would resign effective December 30 — just one day before his term would have expired — and Kemp still would have gained the power to name Blackwell’s replacement.”

Will Civil Rights in Latin America Be a Permanent Casualty of Coronavirus?

“The world response to the COVID-19 epidemic has been completely unprecedented. At the time of writing, 82 countries have restricted travel through their borders and 37 have completely closed them completely. Both the invisible and physical walls that separate the world have grown less penetrable, but no region has enacted measures as strict as Latin America, whose governments fear their vulnerable health systems will not be able to cope with widespread outbreak.
A dozen Latin American countries—with a combined population of more than 175 million people—have placed their citizens on full lockdown, a measure which some countries are enforcing by deploying soldiers to the streets.”

“The primary barrier to governments enacting controversial power grabs are the critics and institutions who would object, so a handful of Latin American leaders are taking dramatic steps to silence those who check their power. They’re now muzzling journalists through intimidation, arrest, or character assassination.

In Honduras, the government passed an emergency measure that temporarily suspended constitutional protections on free speech for both citizens and journalists. On March 25, the Bolivian government announced a decree that allows imprisonment for up to 10 years of those who “misinform” or “promote non-compliance” with government regulation. The nonprofit Human Rights Watch has criticized the language of the law, saying it is intentionally vague and could be used to prosecute political opponents and journalists alike.

In Venezuela, freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas was arrested by Special Action Forces (FAES) and imprisoned for his coverage of the coronavirus crisis. The local Venezuelan press has covered half a dozen instances of journalists being intimidated. And on April 6, FAES arrested Luis Serrano, a civil assemblyman who would have determined the next election oversight board in Venezuela, according to WOLA, a human rights group in Latin America. They seized masks and protective gear Serrano’s organization had donated to journalists covering COVID-19 and detained politicians who’d been contradicting the government’s official coronavirus statistics, which many medical experts consider unbelievably low.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has turned the crisis into a political weapon, claiming that the press is trying to destroy his presidency through misinformation. Despite ignoring advice from health officials within his own party about the danger of the epidemic, he used the crisis as justification to release an executive order that abolished freedom of information legislation, effectively undermining the ability of journalists or NGOs to obtain public health information. The executive order was quickly struck down by Brazil’s Supreme Court.”

“Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia have all been heavily criticized by the United Nations for violent repression of a continent-wide wave of protests that swept through Latin America just months ago. If civil unrest flares up again over economic or health issues during the current state of emergency, protesters in many countries may find themselves facing down state forces with extralegal powers and a muzzled press.

The degree of authoritarianism varies by country”

The war on Israeli democracy

“The West Bank’s Palestinian residents, who live under the grinding realities of occupation, are not Israeli citizens and don’t have a voice in the policies that profoundly shape their lives. The Israeli settlers, many of whom moved to the West Bank with the explicit ideological purpose of seizing control of Palestinian land, do.

Israel is a democratic country within its internationally recognized borders, but it maintains a military occupation of land on which millions of people live while denying those people the right to vote. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this inherent instability has started to tip toward outright authoritarianism throughout the territory under Israeli control. In a 2019 poll conducted by the nonpartisan Israeli Democracy Institute, a majority of Israelis (54 percent) said their democracy was “in grave danger.”

Since Netanyahu took office in 2009, the nationalist right has mounted an assault on liberal institutions and eroded democracy in Israel. The Israeli parliament has passed a bill formally defining Israel as a state for its Jewish citizens, implicitly slotting the sizable minority of Arab Muslim Israeli citizens into a form of second-class citizenship.”

“Netanyahu allegedly struck a deal with a major newspaper to exchange political favors for favorable coverage.

When this scandal was exposed, Netanyahu was indicted on bribery charges; his response has been to attack the media that reported on the scandal, demonize the prosecutors who brought the case, and attempt to pass a law immunizing himself from prosecution while in office.

Israel is heading down a path already trod by countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Venezuela: former democracies whose elected leaders have, gradually and through mostly legal processes, twisted the state’s institutions to the point where the public no longer has a meaningful choice in who rules them. The signs are subtle, but I found them striking during my trip last fall”

“Some of the causes of this anti-democratic drift are uniquely Israeli. No advanced democracy maintains anything like the occupation of the West Bank. The foundational Zionist vision, a state that’s both meaningfully “Jewish” and “democratic,” leads to a constant high-wire act in a country whose citizens are around 25 percent non-Jewish.”

““bad civil society.” These relatively new organizations — the big ones were founded in the 2000s — use the tools of a free society, like court filings and free speech, to attack and shut down people and groups that disagree with them. “These [NGOs] view differences in perceptions of society and the state as being sufficient justification for silencing or delegitimizing others,” as Jamal puts it.

Such “bad civil society” groups are well-funded allies of the right-wing parties in power; they sometimes even share personnel. One prominent far-right MK, Bezalel Smotrich, is a co-founder of the pro-settlement group Regavim. They perform tasks that official members of government can’t or won’t, helping to hollow out Israeli civil society while claiming to be part of it.”

America’s democracy is failing. Here’s why.

“The system is rigged. It was rigged from the outset, quite intentionally, to favor small states. Under current political coalitions, that’s become an enormous advantage for Republicans. The country’s framers obviously could not have known that they were creating a system that would give Donald Trump’s party an unfair advantage over Hillary Clinton’s party more than two centuries later. But they did create a system that favors small states over large states.”

“Republicans, meanwhile, take their unfair advantage and build on it by gerrymandering the states they control, using their Senate “majority” to fill the courts with Republican judges, and then using their control of the judiciary to bolster their own party’s chances in elections.”

“According to 2018 Census Bureau estimates, more than half of the US population lives in just nine states. That means that much of the nation is represented by only 18 senators. Less than half of the population controls about 82 percent of the Senate.”

“Senate malapportionment is a relic of an unstable alliance among 13 young nations. As Yale law professor Akhil Amar explains, the Articles of Confederation that preceded the Constitution were “an alliance, a multilateral treaty of sovereign nation-states.” The Constitution did not simply change the rules that governed an existing nation; it bound 13 independent and sovereign states together.

The Founding Fathers came together at Philadelphia to achieve union at nearly any cost, because they wanted to avoid the persistent warfare that plagued Europe. Without a union, Amar says, “each nation-state might well raise an army, ostensibly to protect itself against Indians or Europeans, but also perhaps to awe its neighbors.”

Nor was this merely a hypothetical concern. When large states proposed a fair legislature, where each state would be given seats proportional to its population, Delaware delegate Gunning Bedford literally threatened that his state would make war on its neighbors. “The large states dare not dissolve the Confederation,” Bedford insisted, or else “the small states will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith.””

“The Senate does not simply give extra representation to small states, it gives the biggest advantage to states with large populations of white, non-college-educated voters — the very demographic that is trending rapidly toward the GOP.”

“Realistically, the most democratic solutions, such as abolishing the Senate or replacing it with a body that fairly represents all Americans, are off the table in a nation that cannot amend its Constitution. And so we’re likely left with our undemocratic system for a long while, pushing for reform when and where possible, but likely unable to fix the system absent a major political realignment.”