Supreme Court Rolls Back the Clock But We Shall Overcome

[raw]Today the Supreme Court of the United States has rolled back the clock. In a majority decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the court attacked a mechanism that has safeguarded the enfranchisement of millions of Americans.

Understand, this decision comes after the outrageous machinations undertaken during the 2012 election to curtail voting; it comes after a spate of new laws designed to restrict voting in areas with high African-American populations; it comes after the entire nation witnessed the serpentine lines where minorities were forced to wait for hours for the right to cast their ballot.

Yet Chief Justice John Roberts, writing in the majority opinion, says: “Our country has changed in the last 50 years.”

[/raw] Of course our country has changed, and it has changed for the better. Roberts and the court, however, confuse progress with perfection. Even the safest cities in America keep a police department, understanding that the presence of a watchful eye deters wrongful behavior. It surpasses logic to determine that improvement should signal the end of meaningful monitoring.

Passed at the height of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a historic piece of legislation meant to strengthen the 15th Amendment. Specifically, it was meant to protect African-Americans’ voting privileges after decades of disenfranchisement. And that’s exactly what it did.

Even after the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870, literacy tests for blacks, along with other restrictions, remained rampant in the South, effectively blocking voter participation by African Americans. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act maintained that 16 states—mostly in the South—with a history of discrimination must seek approval from the federal government before changing any election laws or procedures. That will no longer be the case.

Roberts is correct in asserting that racist public policy is not as blatant today as it was in 1965, but he and other justices in the majority opinion are ignoring the problems that do exist. Witness Texas’ disingenuous drawing of maps and literally dozens of other efforts to reduce the minority vote. In fact, Texas’ attorney general declared today that the state’s voter ID law will now take effect as well as the redistricting maps passed by the Legislature. We shall see how minority voters fare in that climate.

As Rep. John Lewis, a soldier for civil rights so eloquently wrote in The Washington Post, in the course of the 21 hearings it held on the Voting Rights Act in 2006, Congress found that although there has been improvement, “places with a legacy of long-standing, entrenched and state-sponsored voting discrimination still have the most persistent, flagrant, contemporary records of discrimination in this country.”

Those 16 jurisdictions affected by Section 4 represent only 25 percent of the nation’s population, yet they still are responsible for more than 80 percent of voting discrimination lawsuits. For decades, expanding voter access, increasing opportunities for registration and participation in the nation’s democracy have been the single focus of the states and the federal government and the courts.

Section 4 was challenged in this case by the local government of Shelby County, Alabama—one of the 16 states covered.

Those seeking to overthrow the voting rights act say their states have overcome racism and shouldn’t be handcuffed to the past by Congress. I would agree if it were that simple. As I have said before, the era of segregationist governors standing publicly against integration may be long past. But as recent court cases show, less violent and more subtle efforts to thwart the will of voters are alive and well today and constitute a fundamental, growing threat to democracy.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, called the majority decision “egregious” and recalled the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “’The arc of the moral universe is long, but ‘it bends toward justice,’ if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.”

She correctly noted, “that commitment has been disserved by today’s decision.”

It is also correct, however, that justice has a gravitational pull. This is a setback, and a serious one, but it is the last gasp of those who would see our country return to a past most of us have worked to overcome. Ultimately, however, we shall overcome.

Chairman Ridley-Thomas’ Huffington Post article is available here.

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California Science Center Board Approves Lease with USC

The California Science Center Board of Directors signed a new lease agreement with the University of Southern California Tuesday, with the university agreeing to invest $70 million to rehabilitate the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
USC has already invested millions into the Exposition Park neighborhood, helping it become a destination for school children and residents alike. The park is home to three museums including the Museum of Natural History, the California Science Center and the California African American Museum. The lease agreement was supported by all of the museums in Exposition Park.

The Coliseum, which was the site of the 1932 Olympic Games, hosted the opening and closing ceremonies and track events of the 1984 Olympics and is also the home field of the USC Trojan football team.

Under USC’s previous lease, the Coliseum was required to provide more than $60 million in repairs and upgrades to the aging facility. The Coliseum’s financial insolvency made it impossible to meet that contractual obligation.

The lease allowed USC to either walk away or finance the repairs itself, charging the Coliseum a 6 percent interest rate. The Coliseum could afford neither option. The new lease agreement will shift the cost of the repairs and renovations to USC and in exchange USC will manage the facility’s day-to-day operations.

The new lease agreement will also likely lead to a new governing body for the Coliseum. The Coliseum Commission, on June 5, approved a motion to cut the nine-member Coliseum Commission to three and to contract with the County of Los Angeles to handle the smaller commission’s administrative functions.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas led the task force that came up with the plan to streamline the Coliseum Commission. Now that the new USC lease has been approved, the Los Angeles City Council, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Science Center Board will vote on whether to approve the new Coliseum governing model approved by the Coliseum Commission.

“USC may not win every game it plays in the Coliseum,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Science Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas. “But in this case, the agreement forged by the Science Center Board and the university will represent a victory for all of Los Angeles for generations to come.”

Click here to view the full text of Chairman Ridley-Thomas’ letter, which was read to the board before the vote.

Board of Supervisors Approves a Balanced and Fiscally Prudent Budget

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted a final budget today that, for the first time in five years, is balanced by revenues and does not rely on borrowing from reserves or by implementing service cutbacks. Although unemployment rates remain at historically high levels, Los Angeles County is seeing improvements in revenues from property and sales taxes.

The $24.9 billion-budget, includes more funding for the Department of Animal Care and Control, the sheriff’s department overtime pay, $15 million for affordable housing and $4 million for the care of severely mentally ill patients. In addition, the Chief Executive Office will identify $1.5 million for the Museum of Natural History to expand its programs and $3.5 million for a pilot project at Camp Kilpatrick that will improve education and rehabilitation for youths in custody.

In addition, the budget calls for 10 percent of unspent money to go into a rainy day fund. Due to labor’s partnership and the board’s fiscal prudence, the county avoided the layoffs, furloughs and draconian service reductions that plagued other jurisdictions across the United States since 2008.

Not included in the budget are the unforeseen costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, which will put a great deal of financial pressure on all counties to care for the uninsured.

“As we move forward, the county continues its effort to adopt a budget that advances public safety and reinforces the social service safety net in a fiscally prudent way,” said Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Natural History Museum Unveils a Garden Paradise

The inauguration of the Natural History Museum’s Erika J. Glazer Family Edible Garden brimmed with life, as both children and the garden’s denizens relished their time in the sun exploring the new space. Dozens of youngsters wandered around the garden, sampling the ripened fruits and vegetables growing out of raised cedar wood beds, insects danced on lavender buds, worms dug into the earth and rolly-pollies climbed on tomato vines.

As an educational and interactive park where visitors of all ages can watch birds, search for bugs, stroll along a creek, ramble through a grove of trees, the habitat is a perfect fit for the Natural History Museum, demonstrating how urban gardens thrive through the seasons.

In part the garden’s creation is due to the museum ‘s desire to join the growing chorus of advocates for home-grown vegetables, composting and working with the environment to create a habitate for beneficial garden bugs. Located next to the Butterfly and Spider Pavilions, the garden allows visitors to have a truly hands-on experience.

It all began in early 2010, when the museum was approached by Los Angeles County Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener, Florence Nishida, with a plan to build a teaching garden for the Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative. That initiative, which harkens back to the days of World War II when thousands of Americans grew “Victory Gardens” in their homes to sustain the home front. Through the initiative, new gardeners learn about gardening in hands-on workshops and ultimately creation of their own home gardens.

Ultimately, the garden is not only a beautiful sight, but it will also serve to educate all visitors on seasonal eating, sustainability and healthy food habits.

“This garden is a living, breathing example that should inspire all of our residents to grow their own gardens and to celebrate our good fortune to live in California’s temperate climate,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This garden effort goes hand in hand with what we are doing in the Second District to “green” and enhance open spaces in every corner.”

Live Music on Friday for Annual Make Music LA Event

On Friday, June 21, the sounds of music will echo throughout Los Angeles County in the 2nd annual Make Music LA festival. Whether it is on sidewalks, street corners, parks or schools, musicians will pick up their instruments and participate in the festivities in a celebration of music.

Los Angeles is one of 460 cities,  including New York, Palo Alto, Vancouver and Chicago and 110 countries in this unique celebration of the summer solstice. The concerts are free to the public, and it’s free to sign-up to perform. Based on France’s Fête de la Musique, a national musical holiday inaugurated in 1982, the festival has become a worldwide tradition.

Last year in LA County,  hundreds of musicians played in concerts, ranging from violin concertos to quartets, throughout the county including at parks, schools, restaurants and libraries. Also, a piano was donated for the day  and placed outside the Central Library downtown for any musician to stop by and play. Throughout the day,  it was not unusual to catch a glimpse of a chorus on a street corner or a violin player in a doctor’s office. This year, a piano will be available inside the Central Library and in Santa Monica, 100 harmonicas will be given away  to  anyone eager to learn how to  thrum a tune. Donated by Hohner Instruments, the harmonica event will take place at Palisades Park and will be  led by Tom Nolan, dean of music at Crossroads School.

“People have an opportunity to share their culture with the entire city,” said Dorsay Dujon founder and chief executive of Make Music LA, a nonprofit. “We live in the entertainment capital of the world. We have more talent per square inch than any other place on the planet. This makes it the perfect event for Los Angeles.”

Nearly 100 cities in Los Angeles County are participating in addition to 72 of Los Angeles City libraries. Participants are encouraged to register at

The following is a list of locations in the Second District that have registered:

  • Lennox Community Concert
  • Playa Vista Library
  • Industry Cafe & Jazz in Culver City
  • The Culver Hotel in Culver City
  • Joxer Daly’s Irish Pub in Culver City
  • Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center in South LA
  • Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park
  • Dial Art in Leimert Park
  • KAOS Network in Leimert Park
  • Living Legend Foundation in Los Angeles