Tag Archives: federal court

Federal Court Rules Texas Voter ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the current voter identification law in Texas, which was enacted in 2011 and is one of the strictest in the country, has had a “discriminatory effect” on minorities, and violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

While there are similar laws in Wisconsin and North Carolina, the voter ID law in Texas is considered to be one of the strictest in the country because it requires one of seven forms of a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, a U.S. passport, a concealed-handgun license or an election identification certificate issued by the State Department of Public Safety. University IDs, voter registration cards and utility bills are not allowed.

“We urge the parties to work cooperatively with the district court to provide a prompt resolution of this matter to avoid election eve uncertainties and emergencies,” wrote the members of the federal Appeal’s Court.

In Oct. 2014, a U.S. district judge blocked Texas’ voter ID law, calling it an “unconstitutional poll tax,” and saying that its purpose was to discriminate against Hispanic and African-American citizens by creating “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

[RELATED: Voter ID Laws Blocked In Wisconsin And Texas]

The Texas attorney general’s office appealed the decision, and while the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the strict voter ID law would have a “discriminatory impact” that was in violation of the Voting Rights Act, it did not determine whether Texas legislators had a discriminatory purpose in passing the law.

The members of the appeals court claimed that although they saw “the charged nature of accusations of racism, particularly against a legislative body,” they also recognized the fact that “racism continues to exist in our modern American society despite years of laws designed to eradicate it.”

The Associated Press reported that the when the voter ID was used in Texas during the 2014 midterm elections, it required “an estimated 13.6 million registered Texas voters to have a photo ID to cast a ballot.”

[RELATED: Poll: Independents Will Soon Outnumber Republicans And Democrats Combined]

In a statement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Department of Justice is “pleased that the court of appeals agreed unanimously with the district court that the Texas statute violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act” and they are “studying the opinion in light of the future proceedings the court of appeals has ordered.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling a victory for the state, rather than a defeat.

“Today’s ruling was a victory on the fundamental question of Texas’ right to protect the integrity of our elections and the state’s common sense Voter ID law remains in effect,” Paxton said. “I’m particularly pleased the panel saw through and rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that our law constituted a ‘poll tax.’ The intent of this law is to protect the voting process in Texas, and we will continue to defend this important safeguard for all Texas voters.”

In a statement from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, he said that the state will continue to fight to uphold its voter ID law.

“In light of ongoing voter fraud, it is imperative that Texas has a voter ID law that prevents cheating at the ballot box,” Abbott said. “Texas will continue to fight for its voter ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections in the Lone Star State.”

For more election coverage click here.

Silk Road ‘Mastermind’ Ross Ulbricht to be Sentenced Friday Afternoon

NEW YORK CITY – On Friday afternoon, convicted Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht will find out how many years he will spend in prison for his role in the Silk Road online marketplace. With federal mandatory minimum sentences, Ulbricht is facing at least 20 years in prison.

In February, the Silk Road trial concluded as the jury reached a verdict of guilty on seven charges related to distributing narcotics, fraudulent documents, money laundering, and continuing a criminal enterprise. The jury took just three hours to convict Ulbricht on all charges. Now, US District Judge Katherine Forrest will weigh the evidence and decide what length of sentence to give Ulbricht.

At least 97 friends and family members of Ulbricht have written to the judge asking for the most lenient sentence possible. (Ars Technica has posted the letters online along with the court filing of photos of Ulbricht and many family and friends.) Ulbricht himself wrote the judge asking her to give him 20 years so he might still have his old age. The 31-year old tech genius faces prison until at least his early 50’s.

Despite Ulbricht’s defense team continuing to argue that he was not the Dread Pirate Roberts mastermind, but instead was “left holding the bag”, Ulbricht told the judge: “Silk Road turned out to be a very naive and costly idea that I deeply regret.” This marks the first time the public is hearing from Ulbricht directly.

Ulbricht has received support from the Drug Policy Alliance’s nightlife community engagement manager Stefanie Jones. On the Drug Policy Alliance’s blog, Jones asks whether or not putting Ulbricht behind bars will accomplish anything. She says the Silk Road actually was a beneficial market for three reasons:

  • Silk Road reduced the potential violence associated with buying drugs.
  • It allowed for better knowledge about content and purity.
  • It encouraged harm reduction among users.

Will Judge Katherine Forrest take a similar view? Just ten days ago, she asked for a copy of the Silk Road website so she could perform searches for what products were available for sale. The government produced a fully functioning replica of the site from the server.

Although the charges Ulbricht was found guilty of in New York City do not include the controversial “murder-for-hire” charge, the accusation has still weighed heavily in this current trial. Ulbricht will eventually be tried on those charges in a Maryland court but that did not stop the government from mentioning chat logs that detail five murder-for-hire plots. Still, prosecutors filed no charges in New York, possibly indicating a lack of evidence.

Throughout the trial Ulbricht’s supporters, family, and defense team said they were being blocked at every turn. Witnesses were not allowed, evidence was removed from the record, and many believe the jury could not have possibly had a grip on the emerging technologies that played a large role in the trial- namely Bitcoin, the Tor Browser, and the Deep Web.

Another point of contention came in late March after two former federal agents were accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars during their investigation of the Silk Road. The two defendants are Carl Force, a former special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Shaun Bridges, a former Secret Service special agent. Force and Bridges were assigned to a task force based in Baltimore investigating Silk Road. Force was the lead investigator working undercover, and Bridges was a computer forensics expert working on the case.

According to a press release from the Justice Department, Force “served as an undercover agent and was tasked with establishing communications with a target of the investigation, Ross Ulbricht, aka ‘Dread Pirate Roberts.’” Force was authorized to communicate with Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR) online to gather information, but he allegedly went on to create several unauthorized, fictitious online identities.

“The Government’s efforts to keep the Carl Force scandal out of the public eye at trial is in itself scandalous,” said Joshua Horowitz, a defense attorney for Ulbricht. “The recently filed Complaint which names Carl Force as a defendant demonstrates that the Government’s investigation of Mr. Ulbricht lacked integrity, and was wholly and fatally compromised from the inside.””

Whether any of the latest revelations will have any effect remains to be seen. The fate of Ross Ulbricht now lies in the hands of Judge Katherine Forrest. Will the effects of this trial have a chilling effect on the internet and stifle new innovation, as some believe?

Ross Ulbricht will be sentenced in New York City at 1:30 pm EST. Derrick Broze will be attending the sentencing and will appear on RT America this evening to discuss the outcome. For the latest updates follow Broze on Twitter @DBrozeLiveFree

Alabama lawmaker threatens to ‘out’ other lawmakers’ affairs

Alabama’s first openly gay lawmaker has threatened to expose the adulterous behavior of other Alabama lawmakers after some fought the state’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage.

State Rep. Patricia Todd (D) sent out a warning over Facebook telling her colleagues, “I will not stand by and allow legislators to talk about ‘family values’ when they have affairs, and I know of many who are and have...I will call our elected officials who want to hide in the closet out.

The post was made in response to other lawmakers in Alabama who spoke out against a federal court’s decision to overturn Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. Notably, House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R) called the ruling, “outrageous when a single unelected and unaccountable federal judge can overturn the will of millions of Alabamians who stand in firm support of the Sanctity of Marriage Act,” according to AL.

Hubbard also issued a statement following Todd’s Facebook post saying, “I consider Rep. Todd a friend, and we have always enjoyed a good and cordial relationship, so I am sorry that she is upset about my remarks.” The statement continued by saying Hubbard and Todd had a fundamental disagreement on the issue, but Hubbard wrote he wold not back down from his position.

During the weekend though, a request for a two-week stay on the ruling was granted by District Court Judge Callie Granade, according to the Huffington Post. This stay means any same-sex couples who wished to marry in Alabama will have to wait until at least Feb. 9. On that date, the court will have to make a decision whether to continue the stay on the ruling, or to uphold the court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

Todd said according to various reports, her post was not made maliciously, but she “[does] not like hypocrites.” She has said if her colleagues want to defend the sanctity of “family values,” she expects those same colleagues to support those same values.