Law & Power

How laws are made, justice weighed and elections played in the Golden State    

RECENT POSTS

Explaining the Latest Supreme Court Ruling on Campaign Spending Limits

SCOTUS DecisionThe Supreme Court on Wednesday removed a 40-year-old cap on the total amount of cash  individuals can contribute to political candidates and party committees. The latest in a string of rulings chipping away at longstanding campaign finance limits, the court’s 5-to-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission is expected to let new flood of money pour into America’s already cash-saturated political process.

What the decision actually does

It removes the cap on the combined amount of cash that any one person can directly give to candidates running for federal office, or to political party committees. Continue reading

The Voting Rights Act: An Illustrated History

Includes cartoon infographic

The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the first of his three-part illustrated series on voting rights in America, comic journalist Andy Warner tells the story of the Voting Rights Act. Scroll through the slideshow or read it as a single image graphic below.

Continue reading

Lesson Plan: An Educator’s Guide to Teaching Gun Control Issues

Includes downloadable lesson plan

guncontrol_guide_final2_Page_1

 

As part of a collaboration with the National Writing Project, this is the first in a series of teacher-created educator guides on key topical issues. Written by two NWP-affiliated high school English and media arts teachers – Kirsten Spall of Natomas Charter High School (Sacramento) and Chris Sloan of Judge Memorial Catholic School (Salt Lake City) – the guide helps teachers explore and navigate the highly-charged political and emotional issues behind the topic of gun control. Based on content featured on The Lowdown, the guide provides ideas for integrating the issues into English language arts and social studies curriculum. It includes Common Core Standards Alignment, a synopsis of key background information, integration tips, and lists of issue pros and cons, creative writing prompts and best classroom practices.

Download the entire guide here (PDF)

History of Immigration in America: A Turbulent Timeline

Includes interactive timeline and chart

Ever since the first Europeans landed here over four centuries ago, America has had a conflicted relationship with its newcomers. It’s a serial drama that continues today in the halls of Congress, as legislators wrestle over a new round of immigration reform. We are, of course, a nation of immigrants, a destination for huge numbers of people from around the world. And the vast majority of us – everyone, in fact, except for American Indians – can trace our roots to foreign lands. Despite that common thread, though, America has not always treated its newest residents with empathy.

There have been four major waves of immigration to America, the last of which – mainly from Mexico, other Latin American countries, and Asia – continues today. Several themes play out consistently in all four chapters:

  • Each successive wave of immigrants has been, to an extent, a reflection of social and economic conditions elsewhere in the world, and within the U.S. itself.
  • Nearly every cycle of newcomers has faced animosity and backlash from already assimilated communities.
  • The history of America’s immigration policy is a swinging door that often opens during periods of economic prosperity and slams shut when times get tough.

Scroll through the timeline below to follow the tangled history of America’s ever-changing immigration policies. (Easiest to view in full-screen mode) The interactive chart beneath it shows rates of legal immigration from 1820 to the present (use the scroll bar to zoom into specific chunks of time).

Immigrants obtaining legal permanent residency, 1820 to 2012

Note: In 1820, 8,385 immigrants legally entered the United States. The Census from that same year listed the total U.S. population at 9,638,453 (of which 1,538,022 were slaves.)  In 2012, the U.S. population was 312,780,968, and there were 1,031,631 legal immigrants.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics

View data table

May Day Explained: An Overlooked Milestone in the Fight for Workers’ Rights

Includes video

Correction note: The original version of this post stated incorrect information about the history of Labor Day. It was established in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland (not 1955). The information has been updated to reflect this change.

The Haymarket affair, as depicted in a Harper’s Magazine engraving (Wikimedia Commons)

 

For some, May Day means prancing awkwardly around a feather-wreathed pole.

But that ancient Druid rite of Spring is likely not what today’s immigrant rights protestors have in mind.

In about 80 countries throughout the world, May Day is actually an official labor holiday, often commemorated with large strikes, rallies, and demonstrations in support of workers rights. The day’s roots date back to a heated struggle for something that most of us now take for granted: the eight-hour work day. Continue reading

Think You Know Your State’s Voting Rules?

Includes interactive map and video
class="wp-media-credit">Flickr:Miish

Flickr/Miish

When it comes to America’s eclectic patchwork of voting laws, there is certainly no lack of variety. Rules often vary dramatically from one state to another, and voting in some areas is a significantly harder feat than in others.

Take Virginia and West Virginia. While the latter doesn’t require any ID to vote, its neighbor to the east has one of the strictest ID laws in the nation. And while Virginia permanently strips certain types of violent ex-felons from voting, ex-felons in West Virgina convicted of the same exact crimes can regain the right to vote after completion of their parole.

To add to the confusion, a number of states have recently attempted to dramatically change their own rules on voter ID requirements, resulting in a constantly changing set of laws that can often leave voters feeling baffled and unprepared as elections approach (see examples at the bottom).

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark law that is widely considered among the most effective and successful pieces of U.S. civil rights legislation. At issue is a provision in the law called Section 5 that applies only to specific parts of the country with a history of discriminatory voting practices. It covers nine states, mainly in the South, plus regions within seven other states (including California). The law requires that all covered areas receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department before implementing any changes to voting laws.

The map below helps sort through the hodgepodge of individual state laws that determine who can vote. We’ve ranked and color-coded each state by the severity of its voting laws (taking voter ID, felon voting, early voting, and Section 5 into account). See the notes below the map for explanations on asterisked states that have recently changed laws, are waiting for federal approval to do so, or just happen to have their own unique rules.

State ID Legend Continue reading

The First Earth Day: How It Began And What It Did For The Environment

Includes: archival photos and video

A gas-mask wearing demonstrator during the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. (Associated Press)

 

Happy Earth Day!
To start, a quick quiz:

1. Who said the following quote:

“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they, more than we, will wreak the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later.”

2. Which organization contributed the most money and support to the first Earth Day?

(Yup, you guessed it: you gotta read the post to find the answers.)

Continue reading

How Did Prop. 8 Get to the Supreme Court? Tracking the Winding Path of Justice

Includes multimedia presentation

On March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban. Since voters approved the measure in 2008, there has been a dizzying string of state and federal court cases and appeals (and that, of course, doesn’t include the many years of political wrangling over the issue before Prop. 8 passed). Now the decision is in the hands of the High Court’s nine justices. But how did it go all the way from a California ballot measure to a Supreme Court case that could have a huge national impact? This presentation walks you through the many steps of the multi-tiered justice system that Prop. 8 had to pass through on its way to the highest court in the land.

Beneath the presentation is a diagram by the NY Times illustrating the various outcomes of the case.

Note: the presentation is best viewed in full-screen mode; use the arrows to advance and zoom in/out on any text or image

Continue reading

10 Years After the Invasion: Visualizing Key Details on the War in Iraq

Includes multimedia visualizations and video

On March 20, 2003 U.S. forces invaded Iraq under the false pretense that its government was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Intended to be a brief mission to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime and find the weapons, the Defense Department estimated the effort would cost about $60 billion.  Today, 10 years later, Iraq is still reeling from a prolonged conflict that, according to a recent study, has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion (and growing) and brought a death toll of nearly 190,000 civilians, soldiers, journalists and aid workers.

While the U.S. occupation did lead to the overthrow of Hussein and the semblance of a fragile democracy, it also launched the country into a state of civil war, fueled by an ongoing period of political instability and intense sectarian violence. The U.S. occupation officially ended in December of 2011, but today the bloodshed continues on a nearly daily basis as large swaths of Iraq remain mired in conflict.

This collection of visualizations illustrates some of the war’s cold hard facts, the big milestones, and the many layers of miscalculation and deception. Continue reading

Are States With Tough Gun Laws Actually Safer?

Includes interactives and video

Source: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Gun control advocates say yes. Gun rights folks beg to differ.

Big surprise on that one.

Source: Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group pushing for tougher regulations, assigned every state a grade based on 29 different policy approaches to regulating firearms and ammunition. California topped the list with an A-. New York, which now requires background checks for ammunition sales, has since surpassed it in the toughness of its gun laws. It’s the first state to enact such legislation following the Newtown shooting. And  efforts in a handful of other states — including California and Colorado —  to strengthen gun laws are already underway. Continue reading