Voting Rights Act Under Threat (Again) | Crooked Media
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November 20, 2023
What A Day
Voting Rights Act Under Threat (Again)

In This Episode

  • A federal appeals court on Monday issued a ruling that jeopardizes the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that private groups or individuals can’t sue under a key provision of the VRA. We’re joined by Jay Willis, Editor-in-Chief of Balls and Strikes, to discuss what comes next.
  • Over in Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Tuesday in a case that could toss Republican-drawn legislative maps. The lawsuit was filed by 19 Democratic voters in Wisconsin who argue that the maps are proof of gerrymandering because they ensure the GOP has an unfair advantage in State Assembly and Senate races.
  • And in headlines: Microsoft hired Sam Altman and Greg Brockman to lead an A.I. research team, far-right populist Javier Milei was elected to be Argentina’s next president, and autoworkers ratified their contract with Detroit carmakers.


Show notes:


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Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Tuesday, November 21st. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What a Day. The pod that wishes President Biden a happy birthday. 


Josie Duffy Rice: A belated happy birthday. It was yesterday. So hopefully he doesn’t hold a grudge because as we know, Scorpios never hold grudges. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, he better not hold a grudge. He lucky he’s getting a happy birthday wish from us. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s true. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Okay? 


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s true. You hear that, President Biden? [laughter] We almost didn’t wish you happy birthday. [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, the drama at OpenAI continues with hundreds of workers threatening to leave. Plus, auto workers ratified their contract with Detroit carmakers. 


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, an opinion out of the eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday is jeopardizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That’s the only primary federal law protecting voting rights from state legislatures who pass racially discriminatory voting laws. Not that important or anything. No big deal. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I mean, and of course, this ruling isn’t racist at all. 


Josie Duffy Rice: No. 


Tre’vell Anderson: There’s no problem’s here. 


Josie Duffy Rice: No problems at all. Mm hmm. For real though, this is honestly pretty wild. The way that most Voting Rights Act enforcement works is that a private citizen or like a group of voters, will sue in court, saying that a state violated the Voting Rights Act. Right? But this eighth Circuit three judge panel, which consisted of one Trump appointee and two George W Bush appointees, ruled 2 to 1 that there actually is no private right of action, that only the DOJ can enforce the VRA. This is not true or how things have worked. The statute has been around for 60 years and there’s always been a private right of enforcement. But this panel has ruled, nope, we’re changing the rules. That’s not how it works. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Okay. So this opinion is saying that private bodies cannot enforce the Voting Rights Act. But what does that actually mean now? What will happen to the Voting Rights Act going forward? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Well, that’s the big question. So I called up our good friend of the pod Jay Willis, he’s the editor in chief of Balls and Strikes, an outlet that publishes critical and progressive commentary on the legal system, where I’m also a contributing editor. I started out by asking him what’s at stake here if this ruling stands. 


Jay Willis: Even under a Democratic administration, the Department of Justice just doesn’t have the time or the resources to enforce the Voting Rights Act everywhere it needs to be enforced. It’s like playing whack a mole against Republican racists in various states, like you’re not going to be able to get there. And the flip side of that, under a Republican presidency, the attorney general is not going to be enforcing the Voting Rights Act at all. They’re going to be, I don’t know, something about Hunter Biden’s laptop. It’s–


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Jay Willis: –honestly never really been clear to me. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Or they’re going to be enforcing it in like the worst possible way, it seems like it could also just be really manipulated. Is that right? 


Jay Willis: A Republican attorney general manipulating the law to suit their party’s own ends?


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s crazy. 


Jay Willis: Crazy. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Okay. So we could see this case taken up at the Supreme Court if it’s appealed, which it will be. So what is your prediction for how the justices would weigh in here and what happens if they do agree with this ruling from today? 


Jay Willis: Off the top of my head, I don’t know that the Supreme Court allows this like one eighth Circuit weirdo to rewrite 60 years worth of Voting Rights Act precedent. But I’ve seen the Supreme Court do weirder stuff over the past couple of years. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Jay Willis: Whatever the result of this particular case, this is the product of a judiciary dominated by Trump judges. It’s just a big sort of anti-democracy echo chamber. I’m reminded a little bit of sort of the discourse over the Rahimi case before the Supreme Court now, where the Supreme Court issued this unhinged Second Amendment decision in Bruen. And suddenly it’s having to sort of frantically backtrack as the result of the application of its test, results in domestic abusers having unfettered access to firearms. Sort of the same thing here. Over the past couple of years, there’s been two cases in which Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch both sort of put little flags in Voting Rights Act cases where they said, you know, we’ve never actually decided whether Section two has a private right of action. And that’s a signal to conservative activists and or conservative judges to, like, decide otherwise. And even if the courts you know has to backtrack here, this is the kind of thing that’s going to happen sometimes, which is conservatives are going to see a lane, a permission structure for them to rewrite the law as they would like it to be, and they are going to take it. 


Josie Duffy Rice: That was my conversation with Jay Willis. And an ACLU attorney told Politico that she believes that the Supreme Court will likely take up the case. So given our current Supreme Court, that is isn’t giving me a lot of hope. But we will see. You can check out more of Jay’s work on Balls and Strikes, which we’ll have linked in our show notes below. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Thanks for that, Josie. Now on to another voting rights related story, this one coming out of Wisconsin or Wiscansin, if your name is T-Pain. Today their state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a redistricting case that could upend the status quo of political power in the state, seemingly in a good way for progressive minded folks. This is one of those types of cases we’ve mentioned on the show before, where Republicans have drawn voting maps in a way to ensure they maintain or gain power. In Wisconsin those maps basically have districts that are shaped oddly or otherwise don’t make any sense unless someone is purposefully trying to finagle their way through voter disenfranchisement. The shape of the districts are so odd that they’ve been compared to Swiss cheese. One Democratic lawmaker even said they, quote, “look like a two year old drew them.” 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, as a parent of a two year old, I have to say that’s a terrible endorsement. You never want your map to look like a two year old drew it. Tell us a little bit more about this lawsuit. Like who filed it, what’s at stake, etc.? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So the lawsuit was filed by 19 Democratic voters in Wisconsin who are basically saying that these maps are proof of gerrymandering because they ensure the GOP has an unfair advantage in state assembly and Senate races. Something important to know, it was this same court which used to have a conservative majority back in 2022 that approved these maps in the first place. But now, with the swearing in of Justice Janet Protasiewicz in August of this year, the state’s Supreme Court has a liberal majority for the first time since 2008. And Protasiewicz by the way was critical of these maps during her campaign. So we kind of know where she at least might be leaning. That said, the court has decided not to deal with the gerrymandering question directly. Instead, they’ll be focused on answering two questions specifically. The first question is whether or not the current maps violate the contiguity requirement of the state’s constitution. Democrats are saying, for example, that Republicans shouldn’t be able to carve out these islands or pockets of a district that are completely surrounded by another district. They’ve identified that 55 of the state’s 99 assembly districts and 21 of the state’s 33 Senate districts contain these, quote, “disconnected pieces of territory.” And so they’re saying that the contiguity requirement requires that every part of a district must be touching. And then the second question the court is focusing on is about whether the 2022 decision to enact these Republican drawn maps violates the state constitution separation of powers clause, especially since they adopted it despite a veto by the state’s Democratic governor. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And I bet you that the Republicans are thrilled about this. Would that be right? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Of course they’re not. Of course they’re not. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Oh, boy. 


Tre’vell Anderson: In addition to the conservative justices on the court vocalizing their disdain, one of them actually said, quote, “Redistricting should not be an annual event.” You also have Republican legislators calling for Protasiewicz’s impeachment, because she won’t recuse herself. They say that she’s biased because of those campaign comments I mentioned earlier. And all of this is particularly important because Republicans have a two thirds majority in the state Senate and they are only two votes away from that same threshold in the state assembly. If they were to get those two votes, they’d have the power to override the Democrat governor’s veto and further wreak havoc on Wisconsin residents. We will be sure to keep an eye out on how the court decides, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some advertisements. [music break]. 




Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Starting in Silicon Valley, where a weekend of drama led to big changes and an uncertain future at OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT. We told you yesterday that the co-founder of OpenAI, Sam Altman, was ousted as CEO last Friday. Well, late Sunday night, the company’s board of directors said it stood by its decision and would not reinstate Altman. Then Microsoft, which has invested billions of dollars into OpenAI, announced it hired Altman and OpenAI’s former president Greg Brockman to lead an AI research team at Microsoft. And on Monday, more than 700 of Open AI’s 770 staff members signed on to an open letter to call for the resignation of the board of directors and for Altman’s return. And they threatened to leave the company and join the others at Microsoft unless their demands were met. You don’t really want 700 of your 770 staff members threatening to leave. Those numbers aren’t good. In the meantime, Emmett Shear, the newest CEO, said in a post on X that he plans to hire an investigator to, quote, “dig into the entire process leading up to this point.” And that is what we know so far. But we will keep you updated as more details become available. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Over in Argentina, far right populist Javier Milei was elected to be the country’s next president. Milei is a libertarian economist and a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” who also happens to be an admirer of Donald Trump. He won nearly 56% of the vote with almost all ballots counted and beat Sergio Massa, the country’s center left economy minister. Some background on Argentina’s next president. Milei is a former television personality who said he would slash government spending, close the nation’s central bank and replace the peso with the U.S. dollar. During campaign rallies, Milei sometimes carried an actual chainsaw, which was meant to symbolize deep spending cuts. For context, Argentina is currently struggling with its worst economic crisis in years, with inflation soaring above 140%. And some political analysts who spoke with The New York Times said Milei’s rise shines a light on many Argentina’s need for change. And next for the country, Javier Milei will officially be sworn in as president on December 10th. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Shakira has long claimed her tax returns don’t lie, but she decided to settle in the fraud case against her anyway. The international pop star struck a last minute agreement with Spanish prosecutors yesterday on the opening day of her trial in Barcelona. She was accused of six counts of tax fraud for failing to pay 14.5 million euros in income taxes between 2012 and 2014. In court on Monday, Shakira told the presiding magistrate that she accepted a deal with prosecutors bringing the trial to an end after just eight minutes. Under the agreement, Shakira will get a three year suspended sentence and be fined more than 7 million euros. She’ll also have to pay for the unpaid taxes and interest. Prosecutors initially sought an eight year prison sentence, along with a fine of 24 million euros. Shakira said in a statement, quote, “While I was determined to defend my innocence in a trial that my lawyers were confident would have ruled in my favor, I have made the decision to finally resolve this matter with the best interest of my kids at heart.” But Shakira’s legal woes are not over yet. Back in September, prosecutors charged her in a separate investigation with alleged evasion of taxes on her 2018 income. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Ooh girl. Somebody lying. Something’s not right, Josie. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Spain would never see me again, I’ll tell you that. [laughter]


Tre’vell Anderson: Hot labor summer has turned to pumpkin spice labor fall. The United Auto Workers confirmed yesterday that 146,000 of its members ratified four and a half year agreements with the big three U.S. automakers, Ford, Stellantis and General Motors. That victory came about because of the union’s over six week strike that ended on October 30th. Some of the gains for UAW members include 27% general wage increases over the agreement’s life and the return of benefits like cost of living adjustments that were lost during the Great Recession. In a statement, UAW President Shawn Fain said in part, quote, “After years of cutbacks, months of our stand up campaign and weeks on the picket line, we have turned the tide for the American autoworker.” 


Josie Duffy Rice: Want to send your name to the stars? NASA has upped the vanity license plate to space age proportions. Ironically, by making it microscopic. Right now until the end of the year, you can submit your name to join at least 700,000 others that will be etched onto microchips and launched into space as part of the agency’s unmanned mission to Jupiter’s Europa Moon. The October 2024 mission hopes to determine whether Europa has that certain je ne sais quoi needed to support life, including reliable energy sources and liquid water. The microchips will join an engraved plate featuring a poem by U.S. poet laureate Ada Limón called, In Praise of Mystery: A poem for Europa. And for those of you thinking of submitting your favorite Bart Simpson esque fake name, know that NASA does approve or not each submission. Maybe try ‘Seymour Butts’ on a mission to Uranus instead. NASA has dubbed the Europa Initiative message in a bottle. Probably because the Clipper won’t arrive at Jupiter until 2030. So we’ve all got a while to wait. My opinion is do not give the aliens your name. [laughter] Don’t do it. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Unless. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Unless. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You are already not of this world. And you want them to know exactly where to come find you. When they’re ready to rescue you. 


Josie Duffy Rice: This is a fair point. This is a fair point. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know what I mean?


Josie Duffy Rice: Also by 2030, things here might be even worse and so– [laughter] 


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, we all might want to get the hell up out of here. 


Josie Duffy Rice: You might want those aliens to come and get you. You might want to roll those dice. [laughter] And those are the headlines. 


Tre’vell Anderson: [AD BREAK]


Josie Duffy Rice: And secondly, we’re going to be off the rest of the week to bake all the things, eat all the things and hug all the family. At least the family we actually like. I like all my family. For any family listening. We’ll be back with a new episode next Monday. [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Give the VRA some TLC and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just microscopic signatures like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. So check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


[spoken together] And Happy Thanksgiving. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I can’t wait to devour some, you know, smothered turkey wings. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s what will be on my stove. What are you eating, Josie? 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m eating all the potato dishes that can be potatoed. [laughter] [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers with help today from Saul Rubin. And our showrunner is Leo Duran. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.