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Sep 13, 2016 | 0 comments

Article 1: "Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina Voter ID Requirement"

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/30/us/federal-appeals-court-strikes- down-north-carolina-voter-id-provision.html?_r=0

According to the article, a federal appeals court decisively struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law recently, saying its provisions deliberately “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to depress black turnout at the polls.

The sweeping 83-page decision by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upended voting procedures in a battleground state about three months before Election Day. That ruling and a second wide- ranging decision recently, in Wisconsin, continued a string of recent court opinions against restrictive voting laws that critics say were created solely to keep minority and other traditionally Democratic voters away from the polls.

The North Carolina ruling tossed out the state’s requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls and restored voters’ ability to register on Election Day, to register before reaching the 18-year-old voting age, and to cast early ballots, provisions the law had fully or partly eliminated.

The court also held that the ballots of people who had mistakenly voted at the wrong polling stations should be deemed valid.

In the Wisconsin decision, Judge James D. Peterson of Federal District Court ruled that parts of Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law are unconstitutional. He ordered the state to make photo IDs more easily available to voters and to broaden the range of student IDs that are accepted at the ballot box.

The decision also threw out other rules that lengthened the residency requirement for newly registered voters, banned distributing absentee ballots by fax or email and sharply restricted the locations and times at which municipal voters, many of them Milwaukee blacks, could cast absentee ballots in person.

Judge Peterson’s sharply worded 119-page ruling suggested that Wisconsin’s voter restrictions, as well as voter ID restrictions in Indiana that have been upheld in the Supreme Court, exist only to suppress votes.

“The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter ID laws foster integrity and confidence,” he wrote. “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections.’’

The court decisions — the third and fourth federal rulings in recent weeks against Republican- enacted voting restrictions — were made as the two political parties raced from their summer conventions into the critical final months of the campaign, with Wisconsin, like North Carolina, considered a contested state.

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature rewrote the state’s voting rules in 2013 shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had given the Justice Department the power to oversee changes in election procedures in areas with a history of racial discrimination. Forty of the state’s 100 counties had been subject to oversight. Civil rights advocates and the Justice Department had sued to block the law, but a Federal District Court judge upheld it in April, writing that the state’s “significant, shameful past discrimination” had largely abated in the last 25 years.

On Friday, the three-judge panel emphatically disagreed, saying the lower court’s amply documented ruling had failed to consider “the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The judges noted that Republican leaders had drafted their restrictions on voting only after receiving data indicating that African-Americans would be the voters most significantly affected by them.

“We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history,” they wrote. “The court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” they stated. The panel stopped short of reimposing federal oversight on the state’s elections, saying that striking down the law was enough.

Voting rights advocates called the ruling, which Republicans say they will appeal, a resounding victory. Fresh from speaking Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention, the Rev. William J. Barber II, the president of the North Carolina branch of the N.A.A.C.P., which is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, called the decision “a moral and constitutional vindication of our constitutional critique of this extremist legislature and our extremist governor.

“A political majority doesn’t give you the power to run roughshod over the Constitution,” he said.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who was in Baton Rouge, La., on Friday, also welcomed the decision, saying the law “sent a message that contradicted some of the most basic principles of our democracy.

“The ability of Americans to have a voice in the direction of their country — to have a fair and free opportunity to help write the story of this nation — is fundamental to who we are,” she said. Republicans denounced the opinion as wrongheaded and politically motivated, particularly because the three judges who decided the case had been nominated to the appeals court by either President Bill Clinton or President Obama. (One of them, however, had originally been named by President George W. Bush in 2003 to a vacant seat on the Federal District Court in South Carolina.)

“We can only wonder if the intent is to reopen the door for voter fraud” in November’s federal and state elections, State Senator Phil Berger and the House speaker, Tim Moore, said in a statement. They pledged to appeal the ruling.

So did Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who is locked in one of the country’s tightest races for governor. “Photo IDs are required to purchase Sudafed, cash a check, board an airplane or enter a federal courtroom,” Mr. McCrory said. “Yet three Democratic judges are undermining the integrity of our elections while also maligning our state.”

Republicans say the restrictions were aimed at ending rampant voter fraud.

But on Friday, the appeals court dismissed that argument, saying the restrictions “constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.” Academic studies have repeatedly concluded that fraud at the ballot box — the sort that photo identification requirements might reduce — is already vanishingly rare.

The North Carolina and Wisconsin decisions could figure in November’s elections. Friday’s ruling stated pointedly that whether or not the North Carolina restrictions were driven completely by racial bias, they were clearly devised to keep Democratic voters away from the polls.
North Carolina has become a swing state in national elections in recent years in no small part because the protections of the Voting Rights Act allowed black voter turnout to approach that of whites, the court stated.

The state ended its decades-long history of backing Republican presidential candidates in 2008, when Barack Obama eked out a narrow victory there. But in 2012, Mitt Romney reclaimed the state for the Republicans.

This year, Democrats are resting their hopes for a victory by Hillary Clinton on a strong turnout among black voters as they try to counter Donald J. Trump’s appeal among North Carolina’s white working-class voters.

The clauses that were overturned in the North Carolina law, labeled the Voter Information Verification Act, made voting harder in a number of ways. A much-discussed provision, which took effect this year, required voters either to produce one of six accepted forms of identification, such as a driver’s license, passport or military ID, or cast a provisional ballot.

Critics argued that some voters lacked those documents and that the law omitted some forms of identification, such as student IDs, held by blocs of voters who favor Democrats.

Among the other provisions, which were in effect during the 2014 elections, one of the most criticized shortened the state’s early voting period to 10 days, from 17. Voting rights groups charged that this would crimp African-American voter turnout, in part by eliminating one of the Sunday voting days on which black churches typically transported worshipers to a voting site.
Friday’s opinions were just the latest setbacks in recent weeks to advocates of photo IDs and other voting restrictions. The Wisconsin ruling, which appeared likely to be appealed, came only days after a different federal judge issued a separate ruling on that state’s voter ID law, stating that voters without photo identification could vote in November if they presented affidavits swearing to their identities.

In Texas, a federal appeals court has ruled that the state’s photo ID law, among the nation’s toughest, must be softened to eliminate its discriminatory impact.

Discussion Questions

1. What, specifically, were the North Carolina voting restrictions that were the subject of review by the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals?

As the article indicates, the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals focused on the following five (5) North Carolina voting restrictions:

a. The photo identification mandate;

b. A prohibition against registering on Election Day;

c. A prohibition against registering before reaching the 18-year-old voting age;

d. A prohibition against casting early ballots; and

e. A prohibition against counting the ballots of people who had mistakenly voted at the wrong polling stations.

2. Why did the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals strike down the subject North Carolina voting restrictions?

As the article indicates, the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the subject North Carolina voting restrictions because, according to the court, the provisions “target(ed) African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to depress black turnout at the polls. The Court found, as a matter of fact, that North Carolina legislative leadership had drafted their restrictions on voting only after receiving data indicating that African-Americans would be the voters most significantly affected by them.

3. Are you surprised by the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals finding (based on the evidence presented in the case) that the restrictions imposed by North Carolina’s voter identification law “target(ed) African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to depress black turnout at the polls? Explain your response.

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. As a life-long North Carolina resident, your author is deeply saddened by the facts and circumstances that led to the subject case, particularly the Court’s finding that North Carolina legislative leadership had drafted their restrictions on voting only after receiving data indicating that African-Americans would be the voters most significantly affected by them. Based on this finding of fact, the voting restrictions did not merely have an “adverse impact” on African-American voters; instead, according to the Court, North Carolina legislative leadership crafted the restrictions with specific intent to discriminate against African-Americans.

Article 2: "Conviction Against Brendan Dassey of ‘Making a Murderer’ Is Overturned"

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/13/us/brendan-dassey-making-a-murderer.html?_r=0

According to the article, a federal judge recently overturned the murder and sexual assault convictions of Brendan Dassey, one of the defendants whose case was the subject of the wildly popular Netflix documentary series, “Making a Murderer.”

Mr. Dassey, 26, must be released from prison within 90 days unless the authorities schedule a new trial, according to the order from a federal judge in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

In 2007, Mr. Dassey was convicted of participating in the murder and sexual assault of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer, and sentenced to life in prison.

The 10-part series by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, released in December, suggested that police investigators unfairly questioned Mr. Dassey, then 16, without a lawyer or parent present.

It suggested he was mentally unfit, was coerced into a confession that he later recanted, and that his court-appointed lawyer, Len Kachinsky, was content to cut a deal.

In the 91-page court order, the judge, William E. Duffin, said state courts erred in finding that investigators never made Mr. Dassey promises during his interrogation on March 1, 2006.

“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about,” Judge Duffin wrote. “These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”

The documentary also questioned the conviction of Mr. Dassey’s uncle, Steven Avery, who was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Mr. Avery was not affected by the court order.

“Today there was a major development for the subjects in our story and this recent news shows the criminal justice system at work,” Ms. Ricciardi and Ms. Demos said in a statement. “As we have done for the past 10 years, we will continue to document the story as it unfolds, and follow it wherever it may lead.”

Discussion Questions

1. In your reasoned opinion, should a judge have the power to overturn a jury (trial court) conviction of a criminal defendant? Explain your response.

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. Legally, a judge does have the power to overturn a trial court conviction of a criminal defendant if the judge determines that the jury a) abused its discretion and/or b) committed an error of law in its conviction of the defendant.

2. What (specifically) is the legal standard for determining whether law enforcement officials coerced a criminal defendant into making a confession?

The legal standard for determining if law enforcement officials coerced a criminal defendant into making a confession is based on whether the defendant was “tricked” or forced into making the confession, thereby depriving the defendant of his own free will. In essence, the court in the subject case concluded that Brendan Dassey did not voluntarily make a confession, based on the following judicial reasoning:

“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about. These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary.”

3. As the article indicates, Judge William E. Duffin determined that Brendan Dassey’s confession was involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (to the United States Constitution). What, specifically, does that mean?

According to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

According to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, “No State shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The Fifth Amendment sets forth the general proposition that all people are entitled to due process as a constitutional right, while the Fourteenth Amendment obligates all states to honor and recognize that right.

In the subject case, according to Judge Duffin, Brendan Dassey was deprived of due process because his confession was the result of coercion or trickery by government officials, and therefore involuntary.

Article 3: “IMF Tells China: Fix Your Debt Problem Now”

http://money.cnn.com/2016/08/12/news/china-corporate-debt-imf/index.html

According to the article, China needs to tackle its corporate debt problem before it spirals out of control.

That’s the message from the International Monetary Fund, which warned China about its debt levels recently.

“China’s medium term outlook is clouding because of high and rising corporate debt,” said James Daniel, IMF’s mission chief in China. He said the world’s second biggest economy must “urgently address the problem.”

At $25 trillion, China’s debt stands at about 254% of GDP, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements. Even though that’s high, it’s actually pretty close to some other indebted countries in the world.

The United States, for example, has similar levels of debt as China. What’s alarming about China’s mountain of debt is the speed at which it’s been growing in recent years. It has quadrupled between 2007 and 2014, according to a report by McKinsey.

It has also spooked many global institutions and investors.

“Investors are right to be worried: dealing with the unsustainable build-up of debt is one of the biggest long-run challenges that policymakers face,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

The massive lending spree was designed to provide a shot in the arm to China’s slowing economic growth after the financial crisis. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — governments around the world encourage companies to borrow in order to invest and build to keep the economic engines spinning.

But Evans-Pritchard said the trouble with China is that the credit is often poorly allocated, generating much weaker economic returns.

Rating agencies and international economic organizations have long warned China about the rising level of debt, especially among stalling state owned companies. The IMF said Friday, China should tackle this “zombie” debt problem and write off bad loans and recognize losses.

China is starting to get tougher with some of its state-owned heavy industry giants. Beijing announced earlier this year that it would cut 1.8 million coal and steel jobs and invest 100 billion yuan ($15.3 billion) in restructuring and training to find new employment for the laid off workers. But the IMF said China needs to broaden this effort to other industries and focus on more productive and innovative parts of the economy.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?

According to the International Monetary Fund web site (http://www.imf.org/external/about.htm):

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an organization of 189 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.
Created in 1945, the IMF is governed by and accountable to the 189 countries that make up its near- global membership.

The IMF, also known as the Fund, was conceived at a UN conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, United States, in July 1944. The 44 countries at that conference sought to build a framework for economic cooperation to avoid a repetition of the competitive devaluations that had contributed to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The IMF’s responsibilities: The IMF’s primary purpose is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system—the system of exchange rates and international payments that enables countries (and their citizens) to transact with each other. The Fund’s mandate was updated in 2012 to include all macroeconomic and financial sector issues that bear on global stability.

A core responsibility of the IMF is to provide loans to member countries experiencing actual or potential balance of payments problems. This financial assistance helps countries in their efforts to rebuild their international reserves, stabilize their currencies, continue paying for imports, and restore conditions for strong economic growth, while undertaking policies to correct underlying problems. Unlike development banks, the IMF does not lend for specific projects.

The IMF oversees the international monetary system and monitors the economic and financial policies of its 189 countries. This activity is known as surveillance. As part of this process, which takes place both at the global level and in individual countries, the IMF highlights possible risks to stability and advises on needed policy adjustments. In this way, it helps the international monetary system serve its essential purpose of sustaining economic growth by facilitating the exchange of goods, services, and capital among countries, and ensuring the conditions necessary for financial and economic stability.

2. What (if any) legal authority does the IMF have to monitor and/or regulate China’s (or any other nation’s) economy?

The IMF’s legal authority to monitor and/or regulate a particular country derives either from a) a loan contract the IMF has with that country or b) the surveillance authority the IMF has over its member nations (China is a member of the IMF).

3. Does corporate debt really matter? If so, why? If not, why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. In your author’s opinion, corporate debt matters significantly. Even though a debt-plagued corporation may invoke bankruptcy protections to address debt that is otherwise unmanageable, the company’s long-term solvency and survival may still be affected. Although Chapter 11 bankruptcy provides for debt restructuring, there is no guarantee that a company will be able to address (i.e., pay for) restructured debt. With Chapter 7 bankruptcy (liquidation bankruptcy), the company would cease to exist as an ongoing business concern.

In China’s case, even if many companies are state-owned, their unmanageable corporate debt could affect China’s ability to issue and sell future debt instruments. This, in turn, could significantly affect the reputation and performance of the Chinese economy.