The League of Women Voters of Piedmont held its third speaker event in its Defending Democracy Speaker Series on March 1, 2022 with a discussion on Election Law and the Supreme Court by Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.
Dean Chemerinsky opened his talk by describing an unprecedented event in U.S. history: the first time an incumbent president tried to hold onto power after losing an election. Donald Trump plotted to have his vice president subvert the election and now 70 percent of Republican voters believe that Trump won the election. Since then, 18 states have adopted laws to make voting more difficult for minorities that will have an effect on our elections in 2022 and 2024.
Chemerinsky explained partisan gerrymandering, how lines drawn around election districts have long been maximized to favor either Democratic or Republican results. This is not new, but now it’s easier to achieve more favorable results with the aid of computers to analyze populations and draw maps. “Partisan gerrymandering is illegal when it dilutes the right to vote,” he said. In 2016 and then again in 2018, partisan gerrymandering was found to be unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court reversed this. In June of 2019, the Supreme Court declared challenges to partisan gerrymandering cannot be challenged in federal court because they are political questions.
Chemerinsky considers the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be the most important piece of legislation to counteract our history of Black voter suppression. Chemerinskhy made the point that the Supreme Court gutted Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in July of 2021 with its decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. Section 2 prohibits laws that discriminate against minorities. He pointed out the discriminatory effect of moving absentee ballot boxes and other election changes. While partisan gerrymandering cases cannot be heard in federal courts, racial gerrymandering can, as it falls under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Dean Chemerinsky favors increasing the number of Supreme Court justices and having 18-year non-renewable terms for Supreme Court justices. He believes that 40-50 years on the bench is too much power for one person. He thinks Katanji Jackson Brown is terrific and will be confirmed. Also, 2022 will be a momentous year on the Supreme Court, with Roe vs. Wade possibly being overruled and with other cases about states funding religious schools and addressing the issues of businesses refusing to serve same sex couples.
Chemerinsky closed his presentation with a lively question and answer session with audience members. When asked by Piedmont League President Lorrel Plimier “What can we do?” Mr. Chemerinsky urges people to vote, get others to vote, and work to get congress to adopt new voting rights legislation. This is nonpartisan work to ensure the people get out to vote and that their votes are counted.
To learn more about voting rights and the Supreme Court, please watch the recording of this presentation on our YouTube channel: lwvpiedmont.org/youtube.
The upcoming events in this series include “Can American Democracy Survive? An International Perspective” with Dr. Fiona Hill on Mar 30, and Election Subversion and Disinformation with Rick Hasen on April 5. The series is cosponsored by Leagues across the country in Collier County, Florida; Gunnison Valley, Colorado; Oakland, California; The Pikes Peak Region, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; Pueblo, Colorado; Santa Barbara, California; and Solano County, California.