With the midterm elections just months away, a trio of federal judges late Monday struck down Alabama's newly drawn congressional districts on the grounds that they discriminated against Black voters, forcing state lawmakers to craft new maps.
In its unanimous ruling, the three-judge panel ordered that "any remedial plan" from the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature must "include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it."
"We've said since the beginning that we would refuse to let unconstitutional maps be used without a fight."
The map that the judges deemed discriminatory contained just one majority-Black district in a state where Black people make up roughly 27% of the population.
"Under the totality of the circumstances, including the factors that the Supreme Court has instructed us to consider, Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," the judges wrote.
Alabama's Republican attorney general swiftly vowed to appeal the ruling, a move that could ultimately put the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Evan Milligan, one of the plaintiffs in the case, applauded the judges' decision, arguing in a statement Monday that "the congressional map our legislature enacted fails Alabama's voters of color."
"We deserve to be heard in our electoral process, rather than have our votes diluted using a map that purposefully cracks and packs Black communities," said Milligan. "Today, the court recognized this harm and has ordered our elected officials to do better. My co-plaintiffs and I hope that more Alabamians will embrace the important role we play in holding our officials accountable, until all of Alabama's voters are fairly represented."
Alabama's racially gerrymandered map was just the latest Republican-led redistricting scheme to be struck down in the courts as voting rights groups and activists rush to challenge the GOP's nationwide map-rigging spree—with no help from Democratic lawmakers at the federal level.
Earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court invalidated the state's GOP-drawn congressional districts. Civil rights organizations are also challenging gerrymandered maps in South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and elsewhere throughout the country.
"We've said since the beginning that we would refuse to let unconstitutional maps be used without a fight, so we are pleased that the court recognized the importance of urgently remedying the congressional district maps ahead of November's election," Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the ACLU of Alabama, said late Monday. "It's past time for Alabama to move beyond its sordid history of racial discrimination at the polls, and to listen to and be responsive to the needs and concerns of voters of color."
The redistricting cycle that began in 2021 was the first since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the section of the Voting Rights Act that required states and localities with a history of racial discrimination to obtain "preclearance" from the Justice Department or a court before implementing new maps.
"In five of the six redistricting cycles since 1960, Alabama's legislative districts—congressional, state, or both—have violated the rights of voters under the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. Enough is enough," the ACLU said Monday. "Lawmakers cannot manipulate district lines to undermine the political power of Black voters—in Alabama or anywhere. We won't stop fighting for fair maps."
Georgia Republicans push bill banning all government mandates of ‘any vaccination’ including in public schools
Georgia Senate Republicans are pushing a bill that would end any requirements for any vaccinations by any state or local government agency or office in the Peach State, including vaccines for children entering public school.
The bill also bans any government agency from requiring private companies or entities from requiring any proof of any vaccination.
The bill, SB 345, was filed on January 14 with five original co-sponsors. It now has 17, including state Senator Jeff Mullis, whose campaign website prominently features photos of him with former Vice President Mike Pence, and former President Donald Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr.
"No agency shall require proof of any vaccination of any person as a condition of providing any service or access to any facility, issuing any license, permit, or other type of authorization, or performing any duty of such agency," the bill's text reads in part.
Georgia State Law law professor Anthony Michael Kreis posted Georgia's school vaccine requirements, suggesting those would be optional were the bill to become law.
Legislation has been introduced in the Georgia Senate with to ban any public entity from requiring *any* vaccination as a precondition for services or facility access, wiping out the preexisting standards. #gapol https://t.co/uKg5Y85T71 pic.twitter.com/TsyljBC10x
— Anthony Michael Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) January 24, 2022
The CDC recommends a list of about 17 different vaccines children should have before entering school. The list includes inoculations against diseases, often deadly, including Hepatitis B, Rotavirus, Diphtheria, tetanus, & acellular pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Pneumococcal conjugate, Inactivated poliovirus, Influenza, Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), Varicella, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, diphtheria, & acellular pertussis, Human papillomavirus, Meningococcal, Meningococcal B, and Pneumococcal polysaccharide.
Indian actress Shilpa Shetty has been formally cleared of obscenity charges dating from when Hollywood star Richard Gere publicly kissed her at an AIDS awareness event 15 years ago.
The incident triggered a local firestorm at the time, with radical Hindu groups burning effigies of both celebrities to protest the perceived insult to Indian values.
A judge soon afterwards issued arrest warrants, with both accused of various counts of obscenity and indecency.
The charges against Gere were quickly shelved, allowing the actor -- one of the world's best-known Buddhists -- to return to India for a meeting with the Dalai Lama.
But the case against Shetty languished in India's glacial legal system for more than a decade until it was finally discharged in Mumbai last week.
In a court order made public on Tuesday, a judge said the charges against the actress were "groundless" and that she had been subject to an unwanted amorous advance from the Hollywood A-lister.
"It seems that... Shilpa Shetty is the victim of alleged act of accused No. 1 (Richard Gere)," the order said.
Footage of the 2007 incident shows Gere spontaneously kissing Shetty on the hand, before tightly hugging her and planting repeated kisses on her cheek, while both were onstage.
Shetty's lawyer said the entire case rested on the fact that "she did not protest when she was kissed by the co-accused".
"This by no stretch of imagination makes her a conspirator or perpetrator of any crime," the lawyer added.
Shetty, 46, has not yet issued a public statement in response to the court order.
Back in 2007 she had defended Gere's actions and blamed India's "lunatic fringe" for the uproar.
Gere later apologized for his exuberant display, apparently an attempt to demonstrate that kissing was a safe activity that did not spread AIDS.
Shetty is perhaps best known outside of India for her appearance on British reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.
The series was engulfed by scandal after Shetty was subjected to racist bullying by other contestants.
© 2022 AFP