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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court Vitiates Voting Rights Act

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, rendering the rest of the landmark piece of civil rights legislation largely moot. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions that have previously evinced discriminatory voting policies must secure federal approval before they change any voting practice or procedure; this is referred to as pre-clearance. Section 4, articulates the guidelines which determine which jurisdictions must meet the pre-clearance requirements. It was Section 4 that the Court struck down as unconstitutional today. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority that “the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.” While the guidelines describing which jurisdictions are subject to obtaining pre-clearance haven’t changed, the VRA does provide those jurisdictions a means to prove they no longer require such closer federal oversight; specifically, having no episodes of voting discrimination for a 10 year period. One hundred and ninety jurisdictions have done so. Shelby County, Alabama, the jurisdiction that challenged the VRA, however, could not, because of a 2008 redistricting in the city of Calera that eliminated the city’s only majority-black city council district. Calera officials went ahead with the election despite Justice Department objections.

Taliban Fighters Assault Presidential Palace

Late yesterday, Taliban attackers armed with explosives and guns raided the Afghan presidential palace compound in Kabul. A spate of explosions were followed by a nearly 90-minute gun battle, as security forces clashed with several militants. All of the attackers perished, along with three guards. The attack did not reach President Hamid Karzai’s residence; Adela Raz, a spokesperson for Karzai, dismissed the suggestion that the palace had been under threat, saying any shooting had taken place far from the compound’s walls. The attacks may have been targeting the Afghan defense ministry and the Ariana Hotel, the CIA’s Afghan station. Significant smoke was seen rising from the Ariana Hotel at the height of the exchanges, but it is unclear what damage was sustained. This attack comes days after the Taliban invited the U.S. and Afghan envoys to begin peace talks in their new Qatari-based office.

Nigerian Moratorium on Capital Punishment Ends

Despite a seven-year informal moratorium on capital punishment, four prisoners have been hanged in southern Nigeria. Chima Ejiofor, Daniel Nsofor, Osarenmwinda Aiguokhan, and Richard Igagu, were hanged at Benin City prison after an Edo state court had ordered their executions yesterday afternoon. A fifth unnamed prisoner is due to be executed by firing squad tomorrow. Nigeria has nearly 1,000 prisoners on death row, but only two governors have signed death warrants since the country’s return to democracy in 1999. The majority of those on death row were convicted under dubious adherence to jurisprudence during a tumultuous period ruled by military juntas. Nigeria’s attorney general, Mohammed Bello Adoke lamented the choice of Edo’s Governor Adams Oshiomhole, saying “I’m personally against corporal punishment and I don’t believe it’s a practical deterrent. The state is aware of the moratorium in place. But it’s not legally obliged to follow it.” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan recently called for more death warrants to be signed, “no matter how painful”, as a means to solve the problem of overcrowding in Nigeria’s prisons. Lucy Freeman, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa, is confounded by this suggestion, saying “Governors talk periodically about resuming executions to decongest the prisons, but 80% of prisoners are awaiting trial, so it doesn’t make any sense at all.” She added “Executing four people does not decongest the prisons. It’s bizarre.”

Turkish Police Arrest Dozens

Turkish police have raided several homes in the capital city of Ankara, arresting at least 20 people thought to have been involved in recent anti-government protests. According to the state-run Anadolu press agency, the arrested are allegedly linked to “terror” groups and are suspected of “attacking police and the environment” during recent protests that swept the country. The protests, which began late last month over a controversial re-development plan backed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, quickly morphed into nation-wide demonstrations critical of the PM, following heavy-handed police action against peaceful activists. As the demonstrations became violent, Erdoğan repeatedly referred to the protestors as terrorists. While such protests have grown spare in recent days, thousands marched in Istanbul last night to protest a court decision which gave bail to a police officer accused of killing a demonstrator in Ankara earlier this month.

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