Minnesota Counties’ Actions on Refugee Resettlement 

Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, 23 already have issued consents to future refugee resettlements while another 8 have indicated they will be considering the issue in the near future and only one has refused to so consent. There is little word from the other 56 counties in the state although there is no legal requirement for them to take a position on the issue since not voting is deemed to be a negative vote and although the state’s refugee resettlement agencies has not been soliciting those counties that have had little prior experience with such resettlements.

Here is a review of the 31 that so far have indicated some position on the issue of refugee resettlement.[1]

Counties Saying “Yes”

Blue Earth County. [2] On December 17 the board of south-central Blue Earth County (population 64,000 with its county seat in Mankato, population 39,300, and home of Minnesota State University Mankato) joined the consenting list. It did so unanimously with almost no discussion. One of the commissioners afterward said, “We’ve always accepted refugees. This is nothing new.”

Brown County.[3] In late December, County commissioners unanimously voted to consent to resettlement. Its virtually all white population of 25,890 live immediately west of  the just mentioned Blue Earth County and the later mentioned Nicollet County. Its county seat is New Ulm.

Clay County.[4] On December 17, County commissioners unanimously voted to resettlement. With a population of nearly 59,000 people, it abuts North Dakota with a county seat in Moorhead (population 38,000) and is home for four institutions of higher learning.

Cook County.[4a] On January 14, the County Board unanimously voted to accept more refugees. Its Chair, Myron Bursheim, said, “I see this as a symbolic thing. My intention is to be welcoming.”

Commissioner Dave Mills said he’d never received more email feedback on an issue in the North Shore county, all in support. “I see the issue from a practical and principled standpoint. I don’t think it’s going to directly affect our finances or operation. Out of principle, this is what our community values.” Commissioner Virginia Storlie added, “We would do the best we can with folks who need help.”

Cook is the northeastern tip of the state, colloquially called “the Arrowhead,” pointing at Canada on the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior. Its population is 5,393 (White 85.0%; African American 1.0%; Native American 8.5%; Asian 0.9%; Latino 2.5%; other 2.1%),  and the county seat is charming Grand Marais.

Dakota County.[5]   An approval of consent on January 7 came from the board of  Dakota County, which has a population of 425,423  (77.7% white; 7.0% African-American; Latino 7.4%; Asian 5.2%; Native American 0.6%; and other 2.1%) in the south-eastern corner of the Twin Cities metro area with its county seat in Hastings.

Goodhue County.[6] On January 7, the Goodhue County Committee of the Whole, by a vote of 3-2, approved consenting to refugee resettlement. Although there was no time for public comment, there were many attendees, causing the meeting to be moved to the larger space of the courtroom. On the western banks of the Mississippi River, it has a population of 46,304 (White 91.8%; Latino 3.5%; Native American 1.5%, African-American 1.4%; Asian 0.7%; other 1.1% with its county seat in Red Wing.

Hennepin County.[7] On January 7, Hennepin with the city of Minneapolis is the state’s most populous county at 1.252 million (White 68.6%; African-American 13.6%; Asian 7.5%; Latino 7.0%; Native American 1.1%; Other 2.2%)in the central part of the state, by action of its County Board, approved consenting. Here are highlights of the “Whereas” paragraphs of its consent letter:

  • “Minnesota’s reputation for a strong economy and commitment to the social safety net has resulted in successful refugee resettlement since the 1800s.”
  • “Minnesota’s robust network of non-governmental resettlement agencies works with the federal government to resettle refugees, including resettlement in Hennepin County.”
  • “1,345 refugees have been resettled in Hennepin County over the last five years.”
  • “The breadth of countries and regions of origin resettling in Minnesota continues to expand and includes Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Europe, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tanzania, and Vietnam.”
  • “The success of refugee resettlement in Hennepin County has helped affirm the county’s status as an urban center of international importance.”

Kandiyohi County. As noted in a prior post, on December 3, 2019, Kandiyohi County in western Minnesota was the first to consider this issue when it voted, 3-2 to consent to refugee resettlement.

Mower County.[8] In early January, the County commissioners unanimously voted to authorize consent. In the southeastern part of the state bordering Iowa, its county seat is Austin, famous as the headquarters for Hormel Foods. Its population is 40,011.

Murray County.[9] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state with its county seat in Slayton, it has a population of 8,725 (93.8% white, 3.6% Latino. 1.1% Asian and 1.5% other.

Nicollet County.[10] This county is just north of the previously mentioned Blue Earth County and on the same date (December 17), also consented with a County Board vote of 4-1. One of the affirmative votes came from Commissioner Terry Morrow, who  said all refugees that arrive are thoroughly vetted by the federal government, confirming they are fleeing war, genocide or severe poverty while Commissioner Jack Kolars called refugees “‘new Americans,’ who follow in the footsteps of past groups of refugees and immigrants who often faced discrimination and persecution when they arrived and went on to be productive citizens. And he said current newcomers are working in the area in large dairy farms, shingling roofs and in food-processing plants. ‘In many cases they’re doing work others won’t do.’”

Nicollet County has a population of 34,200 (92.3% white; 3.7% African-American; 0.5% Native Americans and 3.5% other), and its county seat of St. Peter is the former capital of the state and the home of Gustavus Adolphus College.

Nobles County.[11] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state and bordering Iowa and South Dakota, this county has a population of 21,900 (white 58.2%, Latino, 28.4%, Asian, 7.1%, , Other 0.1%)/African-American, 5.4%. Its county seat is Worthington, which recently has received a lot of attention due to its unusual ethnic diversity, as discussed on this blog.

Olmsted County.[12] On December 6, the County’s Administrative Committee unanimously approved a consent to resettlement. The County Board chair, Jim Bier said, “It’s stuff we are doing already.” A county official stated 30 new refugees already had been settled in the county in 2019 while an official for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota said that in 2018, 26 individual refugees came to Olmsted County from other countries. The county in the southeastern part of the state has a population of 144,200 (white, 85.6%; Asian, 5.4%; African-American, 4.8%’ and Latino, 4.2%. Its county seat is Rochester, which is famous for the Mayo Clinic.

Otter Tail County.[13] On December 16, the Commissioners voted to consent to resettlement. It is located in the west central part of the state on the continental divide with a population of 58,300 (white 97.1%; Latino, 1.7%; and other 1.2%; the county seat is Fergus Falls.

Pipestone County.[14] On January 7, this county joined others in consenting to resettlement. The county seat has the same name and the county’s population is 9,600 (white 96.7%; African-American 1.5%; Latino 0.7%; Native American 0.5%; other 0.6%. It borders South Dakota in the southwestern part of Minnesota.

Pope County.[15] On January 7, the County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved to consenting to resettle refugees. “While all board members agreed that they would be surprised if they were asked to host refugees, all of them were more than willing to approve an affirmative letter saying the county would accept refugees. ‘We should be ready to help,’ said Commissioner Larry Lindor.” After the item passed, Chair Gordy Wagner told his fellow board members, “I am proud of you all. Thank you.”

Located in the west-central part of the state with Glenwood as its county seat, Pope County’s population is 11,097 (White 95.9%; African-American 0.5%; Native American 0.4%; Asian 0.6%; Latino 1.5%; Other 1.1%).

Ramsey County.[15a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to refugee resettlement. The Board Chair, Toni Carter, said, “We recognize that refugees and foreign-born residents are an important part of Ramsey County. It’s important we honor and respect all who are among us.” Similar words came from Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo: “For me this is a celebration of our good work and the good work of our refugee communities. We have all benefited from having refugees in our community.” Another Commissioner, Victoria Reinhardt, said that, aside from Native Americans, nearly all Americans can trace their roots to immigration. “I am glad this country welcomed my German and Irish ancestors. That is what makes this place rich.”

The county, which includes the state’s capitol in St. Paul, accepted 4,215 refugees from 2015 to 2019. In the past year, the county accepted 71% of all refugees who initially settled in Minnesota. Moreover, avout 16% of its overall population of 508,639 is foreign-born.The composition of itsl population is White 61.4%; African American 12.6%; Native American 1.0%; Asian 15.3%; Latino 7.6%; Other 2.1%..

Rice County.[16] In early January, the County’s commissioners voted to authorize consent. Located in the southeastern part of the state with a county seat in Faribault, it has a population of 66,523 (White 89.0%; African-American 5.4%; Asian 2.1%; Native American 0.4%; Other 5.1%).

Sherburne County.[17] In December, the Commissioners for this County voted to issue consent. Located only – miles northwest of Minneapolis in the central part of the state, it has a population of 96,036  (white 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.9%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; other 1.4%). The county seat is Elk River.

Steele County.[18] A consent letter was authorized by the County Board. Located in the southeastern part of the state, just south of Rice County, its county seat is Owatonna. Its population is 36,887 (White 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.7%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; Other 1.6%.

Washington County. [18a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to resettlement at its meeting in the county seat of Stillwater. This county sits on the west bank of the St. Croix River across from the State of Wisconsin and east of Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul. Its population is 236,114 (White 82.2%; African American 4.9%; Native American 0.5%; Asian 6.2%; Latino 4.3%; other 1.9%).

Watonwan County.[19] On January 7, the County Board, apparently unanimously, approved a letter of consent to refugee resettlement. This county is located in the south central part of the state and south of the previously mentioned Brown County and west of Blue Earth County, and its county seat is St. James.  Its population is 10,980 (White 71.0%; African-American 1.3%; Native American 1.3%; Asian 1.2%; Latino 25.2%).

Future Consideration by Other Counties

 Lyon County.[20] On January 7, the Lyon County Board, after discussion, voted to postpone the vote on the merits.

Stearns County.[21] On January 7, the Board of Stearns County,  with its county seat of St. Cloud, 66 miles northwest of Minneapolis. But their vote was to postpone consideration of the merits.

Commissioner Steve Notch said he still had too many unanswered questions and wanted to hear from the public and other experts. He lamented equating humanitarian concerns with economic ones. Commissioner Joe Perske, on the other hand, said it was “imperative” that the county decide the issue immediately. “The question I hear today is, are we a welcoming community or not?”

It should also be noted that St. Cloud, the county seat and largest city in the country, over the last several years has had major controversies over the large number of Somali refugees and immigrants who have resettled there.

St. Louis County.[22] Also voting to postpone consideration of the merits on January 7 was the Board of St. Louis County, population 200,200 (white, 94.9%; Native American 2.0%; Black, 0.9%; and Other, 2.2%) in the northeastern part of the state with its county seat in Duluth (population 85,900 on the southwest tip of Lake Superior).

After a heated debate for 1.5 hours with a standing-room only crowd, the county board voted, 4-3, to postpone a vote on the merits until May 26.

The majority commissioners on that vote represented people on the Iron Range and more rural areas who said they wanted more time to consider the implications of allowing such resettlement while the minority represented Duluth and other cities in the county. The minority on that vote included religious and social justice leaders, local Northland politicians, former sponsors of refugees, and one Northland refugee whose family was from Serbia and who had lived his early life in an Austrian refugee camp.

Another commissioner representing the city of Hibbing (population 16,400) said refugees were still welcome in the county. “We closed no doors.”

Five Other Counties.[23] Becker, Dodge, Ramsey, Scott and Winona counties are expected to consider the resettlement issue in the near future.

County Saying “No”

Beltrami County.[24] So far this is the only county to reject such resettlements. It occurred on January 7, when the County Board In the north-central part of the state voted 3-2 to refuse to provide its consent. This county has a population of 44,442 (2010 census), 76.9 % of whom are white, 20.4% Native American, 0.4% black and 2.3% other. Its county seat is Bemidji (population 12,431).

One of the speakers favoring consent was a member of the Red Lake Nation, who said, “If you’re not a Native American from this area, we all have origin stories. I think most of the people here today are re-settlers. It just seems un-American to me to say that “You’re not welcome.” [25]

This vote was largely symbolic: This county has not resettled refugees for years and is not being targeted by refugee agencies for resettlement anytime soon. In addition, its low population and far northern location make it an unlikely destination. In any event, its rejection of resettlement received national news attention and may have motivated some of the previously mentioned 19 counties to say “Yes.”

Subsequently, a Bemidji business owner/operator and the daughter of World War II refugees, Monika Schneider, lamented the bad publicity the county has received. She said, “We should be so lucky to have a few young, energetic [refugee] families choosing to rebuild their futures in our tundra-adjacent paradise.” She concluded, “Bemidji is loaded with beautiful, loving, open-minded people of all backgrounds. I relocated here from a big city and there is no place I’d rather be. We who live, work and raise our families here are kind, generous, creative, hardworking, dedicated and resourceful people, committed to supporting our community in many lovely ways. We all value our sense of place and our great outdoors. Our downtown is vibrant and growing. We’re eager to offer our expertise for your enjoyment. As this story evolves, the entrepreneurs of Bemidji are here at work, ready to welcome and serve you, whoever you are.” [26]

 

 

 

Conclusion

 Although there is no requirement for any county to consider this issue, we will wait to see whether any of the other 59 counties in Minnesota take any action in this regard.

A broader analysis of this situation was provided in a Washington Post article.[27]

=====================================

[1] The most comprehensive analysis of the positions on this issue of the Minnesota counties are by Greta Kaul: As Minnesota counties vote on accepting refugees, here are the counties where refugees have actually moved in the last decade, MINNPOST (Jan. 9, 2020) and by Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020)   Thanks to these journalists for their contributions. Population data (July 1, 2018 estimates) for the counties is available on the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Quick Facts” website; any corrections to the ethnic percentages would be greatly appreciated.

[2] Krohn, Blue Earth, Nicollet counties vote to continue accepting refugees, Mankato Free Press (Dec.17, 2019).

[3] Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] See n.3.

[4a] Slater, Cook County opens door with refugee consent, Duluth News Tribune (Jan. 14, 2020); Slater, North Shore county gives unanimous consent to future refugee resettlement, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[5] See n.3.

[6] Fergus, Goodhue County approves refugee resettlement, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 7, 2020);

[7] Hennepin County Board Minutes (Jan.7, 2020); Hennepin County, Letter of Consent for Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020).

[8] See n.3.

[9] See n.3..

[10] See n.3.

[11] See n.3.

[12] Petersen, Olmsted County will remain open to refugees, Post Bulletin (Dec. 7, 2019)

[13] See n.3.

[14] See n.3.

[15] Rapp, County to accept refugees if asked, Pope County Tribune (Jan. 13, 2019)

[15a] Vezner, Ramsey County votes to accept more refugees. It already accepts most in MN, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[16] See n.3.

[17] See n.3.

[18] See n.3.

[18a] Washington County votes to continue accepting refugees, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 14, 2020).

[19]  Anaya, Watonwan County provides consent to federal government for refugee resettlement, St. James Plaindealer (Jan. 10, 2010); Watonwan County Board, Agenda (Jan. 7, 2019).

[20]  See n.3.

[21] Rao, Minnesota counties continue to weigh refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020); Rao & Galioto, Minnesota county votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[22] See n. 21; Slater, St. Louis County delays refugee resettlement vote to May, Duluth Tribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[23] See n.3.

[24] Liedke, UPDATED: Beltrami County votes no to accepting refugees, Bemidji Pioneer (Jan. 7, 2020); Assoc. Press, Northern Minnesota County Bans Refugee Resettlement, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2020); What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020); Kelly, What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Some residents say refugees would just make Beltrami County’s struggles worse, StarTribune (Jan. 11, 2020).

[25] Apparently Appomattox County in Virginia also has voted against such resettlement. See Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020).

[26] Schneider, Reflections from a Beltrami County businessperson, StarTribune (Jan. 15, 2020).

[27] Sacchetti & Morrison, North Dakota county accepted refugees, but the debate is far from over, Wash. Post (Jan. 8, 2020).

 

Another Update on States’ Consents to Refugees Resettlement 

President Trump on September 24, 2019, issued Executive Order 13888, entitled “Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement” that required state and local governments to submit to the Department of State written consents for resettlement of refugees as a precondition for such resettlements.[1]

The deadline for providing those consents, however, has been confusing in the primary and secondary sources. But it now appears that the key date is January 21, 2020, which is the deadline for local refugee resettlement agencies to submit applications for funding of those efforts by the State Department’s Bureau of Population Refugees and Migrations (PRM) and that such funding applicants must submit to PRM such “consent letters from state and local officials on a rolling basis both before and after submission of their proposals.”  (Emphasis added.)  Thus, there is no explicit deadline for submitting the consents.[2]

List of Consenting State & Local Governments

PRM now is publishing on its website a list of state and local governments that have submitted letters of consent, copies of most of which are hyperlinked to the list.[3] However, there is no “as of” date for the PRM’s list which will be updated from time to time. In any event, here is the latest PRM list consolidated with lists from other sources identifying 34 states (15 Republican governors and 19 Democrat Governors)  that have consented.[4]

State PRM Other

Sources

Local

Entities

PRM Other

Sources

Arizona (Rep. Gov.)   X    X Phoenix (City), Tucson (City)

Maricopa (County), Pima (County)

   X
Arkansas (Rep. Gov.)    X
Colorado (Dem. Gov.)   X
Connecticut (Dem. Gov.)   X    X New Haven (City)   X
Delaware (Dem. Gov.)   X    X
Illinois (Dem. Gov.)   X    X DuPage County, Chicago (City)   X     X
Indiana (Rep. Gov.)    X
Iowa (Rep. Gov.)   X
Kansas (Dem. Gov.)   X     X
Louisiana (Dem. Gov.)     X
Maine (Dem. Gov.)   X
Massachusetts (Rep. Gov.)   X     X Easthampton (City)   X
Holyoke (City)   X
Northampton (City)   X
Salem (City)   X
West Springfield (City)   X
Michigan (Dem. Gov.)   X     X
Minnesota (Dem. Gov.)   X     X Minneapolis (City)    X
Montana (Dem. Gov.)   X     X
Nebraska (Rep. Gov.)     X
New Hampshire (Rep. Gov.)   X
New Jersey (Dem. Gov.)   X    X
New Mexico (Dem. Gov.)   X    X
North Carolina (Dem. Gov.)   X    X Durham County    X
North Dakota (Rep. Gov.)   X     X Burleigh County    X
Ohio (Rep. Gov.)     X
Oklahoma (Rep. Gov.)
Oregon (Dem. Giov.)   X    X
Pennsylvania (Dem. Gov.)   X     X
Rhode Island (Dem. Gov.)   X
South Dakota (Rep. Gov.)    X
Tennessee (Rep. Gov.)    X
Texas (Rep. Gov.)   X[i] Bexar County   X
Utah (Rep. Gov.)   X    X
Vermont (Rep. Gov.)    X
Virginia (Dem. Gov.)   X    X Alexandria (City)   X
Richmond (City)   X
Roanoke (City)   X
Washington (Dem. Gov.)   X    X
West Virginia (Rep. Gov.)    X
Wisconsin (Dem. Gov.)    X

Finally no state so far has affirmatively rejected such resettlements although there is no requirement to do so. Rejection is implicit if there is no affirmative consent.

Conclusion

Many of the current letters of consent contain inspiring words about welcoming refugees that will be discussed in a subsequent post while another post will cover religious justifications for welcoming refugees.

Now we wait to learn what the other 16 states (11 Republican (Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming) and 5 Democrat (California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Nevada and New York ) will do.

It should be noted, however, that the official website of New York’s Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo on September 17, issued a statement criticizing the Trump Administration’s new lower cap on refugee admissions and saying, “We believe that our diversity is our greatest strength, and we are proud to be home to refugees across the state who are breathing new life into their communities as members of the family of New York. While President Trump undermines the values that built this state and this nation, New York will always welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms.”[6]

==================================

[1]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 4, 2019; U.S. Senators Oppose U.S.Reduction in Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 11, 2019);Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019); Updates on States’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 16, 2019);   https://dwkcommentaries.com/2019/12/16/update-on-states-consents-to-refugee-resettlement/  Tennessee Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 20, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), FY 2020 Notice of Funding Opportunity for Reception and Placement Program, Funding Opportunity Number: SFOP0006252 (Nov. 6, 2019) FY2020 R&P FINAL NOFO.

[3]  State Dep’t, State and Local Consents Under Executive Order 13888.

[4] See prior posts listed in footnote 1. See also Assoc. Press, Oklahoma governor give consent for refugee resettlement, koco.com (Dec. 22, 2019); Assoc. Press, GOP Governors Grapple With Whether to Accept Refugees or Not, N.Y. Times (Dec. 23, 2019); Assoc. Press, 15 GOP Govs Request Refugee Resettlement in Their States, NEWSMAX (Dec. 26, 2019); CBSChicago, Mayor Lightfoot Issues Letter To U.S. State Department Authorizing Refugee Resettlement in Chicago (Dec. 24, 2019); Assoc. Press, John Bel Edwards to Trump: Louisiana will keep taking refugees, Advocate (Dec. 23, 2019); Carson, Evers says Wisconsin is open to refugee resettlement in response to presidential order requiring states, counties to consent, Milwaukee Sentinel (Dec. 18, 2019); Stoddard, Gov. Pete Ricketts says he’ll consent to refugees continuing to resettle in Nebraska, Omaha-World Herald (Dec. 19, 2019).

[5] It appears that Texas is on the PRM list only because Bexar County has submitted a consent. On December 26, 2019, a Texas newspaper reported that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has not submitted such a consent letter and that his spokesman “did not return multiple calls, texts, and emails seeking comment.” On the other hand, “Mayors and county leaders of all Texas’ biggest cities —including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin — sent letters opting in,” but those consents are effective only if the state consents.  (Kriel, Trump give states power to admit refugees. As other GOP governors sign on, Abbott is silent, Houston Chronicle (Dec. 26, 2019).)

[6]  Statement from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on the Trump Administration’s New Refugee Cap (Sept. 17, 2019).

 

 

 

 

Update on States’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement

President Trump on September 28 issued an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consents to refugee resettlements for Fiscal 2020. Thereafter, as previously noted in this blog, at least three states—Utah, North Dakota and Minnesota– provided such  consents with at least three North Dakota counties, one Minnesota county and the City of Minneapolis doing the same.[1]

Here are some updates on this subject while we await until the January 31, 2020, deadline for consenting to see what other states and localities do in response to this challenge.

Evangelical Support for Refugee Resettlement[2]

In the meantime, we have learned that two evangelical nonprofit supporters of U.S. immigration—World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table—have been urging U.S. States to consent to resettlement of refugees in Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019—September 30, 2020).  This effort is directed at the governors of the following 15 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

The World Relief president, Scott Arbeiter, said, “After being forced to leave their countries to escape war, persecution or natural disaster and being legally allowed entry to the U.S., the last thing refugees should have to experience is being denied access to communities in which they wish to dwell. Halting the resettlement of refugees to states will disrupt families and could lead to the end of vital ministries by local churches.”

Consents by Arizona State and Local Governments[3]

On December 6, the Republican Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, sent a letter of consent to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The letter stated, in part, “Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has been a refuge for individuals fleeing religious and political persecution in their homeland, and Arizona has historically been one of the most welcoming states in terms of the number of refugees resettled here.”

This action was applauded by Arizona’s State House Speaker Rusty Bowers: “Our state is one that offers opportunity for all. We welcome people from all backgrounds, religions, and cultures to come here and share in that special spirit. I applaud Governor Ducey for affirming that Arizona will continue to welcome religious and politically-persecuted refugees who have been vetted through the State Department’s Reception and Placement Program.” Similar messages came from Stanford Prescott, Arizona’s community engagement coordinator of the International Rescue Committee, and from Arizona’s Surge Network of evangelical churches.

On December 11, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego added her city’s consent, telling Secretary Pompeo, “”The refugee resettlement program has a long and important history” in Phoenix; “these individuals have made invaluable contributions to our community and economy, opening businesses, creating community, and bringing greater diversity to the nation’s fifth largest city.” The same day this city’s county (Maricopa) did likewise. Previously other local Arizona authorities had provided their consents–Pima County and Tucson.

Other States Providing Consents[4]

The consent column also has been joined by the states of  Kansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington with Democratic governors and New Hampshire with a Republican governor.

Texas’ Republican Governor  Greg Abbott has not yet offered his decision on this issue, despite pleas from Texas evangelicals and the mayor of Fort Worth to continue accepting refugees.

Conclusion

Now there are at least nine states that have provided written consents to the resettlement of refugees for Fiscal 2020, while so far no state has declined to consent. This blog approves of these actions.

Rather surprisingly there is no readily identifiable website with an ongoing national tally of those categories. (If any reader knows of such a website, please identify it in a comment to this post.) There also is some confusion from the various articles about the deadline for submission of such consents to the Department of State and the period of time to be covered by such consents. (Comments with clarification on these issues are also welcome.)

All of this activity and confusion about the U.S. new lower quota for refugee admissions and the new requirement for state and local governments’ consenting to such resettlements are causing great uncertainties and challenges for the refugee resettlement agencies throughout the U.S.

One of those in Minnesota (International Institute of Minnesota) this year is celebrating its centennial of helping refugees and other immigrants with English classes, job training and other supports. One of its celebratory events last week was hosting a ceremony for the naturalization of new U.S. citizens. Welcoming them was U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel, who said, “Becoming an American does not mean renouncing your love for the land where you were born or forgetting your native language and the songs and dances you learned as a child. As a U.S. citizen, you are free to follow your own path wherever it takes you.”[5]

All of this is happening while the U.N. is calling for all nations to increase their acceptance of the escalating numbers of forcibly displaced people, now over 70.8 million, 25.9 million of whom are refugees.[6]

=================================

[1]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 4, 2019; U.S. Senators Oppose U.S.Reduction in Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 11, 2019);Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019).

[2] Smith & Jordan, Trump Said Local Officials Could Block Refugees. So Far, they Haven’t, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2019); World Relief, Press Release: World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table Urge Governors in 15 States To Accept Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019).

[3] See n.2 supra; Gonzalez, Arizona will continue to resettle refugees, Gov. Doug Ducey tells Trump administration, azcentral (Dec. 6, 2019); Gonzalez, Phoenix, Maricopa County tell Trump administration they will keep accepting refugees, azcentral (Dec. 11, 2019); Resnik, Arizona leaders tell Trump they will welcome refugees. That doesn’t mean we’ll see more of them, 12News (Dec. 15, 2019).

[4] Macchi, More US States Welcome Refugees Under New Trump Rule, Voice of America (Dec. 6, 2019).

[5]  Rao, Refugee Center’s Future in Flux at 100, StarTribune (Dec. 16, 2019).

[6] UNHCR, International community must do ‘far more’ to shoulder responsibility for refugees, says UN chief (Dec. 17, 2019); UNHCR, Global Refugee Forum (Dec. 17-18, 2019); Assoc. Press, UN Urges ‘Reboot of Refugee Response as Millions Uprooted, N,Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2019).

 

World Faces Demographic Challenges

“The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being,” is the cheery synopsis of the new book, “Enlightenment NOW: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress “ (p. 52)  by Harvard University’s Johnston Family Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker.

Important aspects of this “spectacular progress,” he says, are world-wide increasing life expectancy, declining maternal mortality and declining birth rates (pp. 53-57, 125-26, 273).

Unless I missed it in the 453-page book, however, Pinker does not grapple with the problems created by lower birth rates coupled with longer life spans. Examples of such problems are seen in Iowa and Minnesota in the U.S. and Brazil, Japan and Cuba.

Iowa [1]

For the Wall Street Journal, Iowa is an example of “a problem playing out in many parts of the Midwest, a region with lower unemployment and higher job-opening rates than the rest of the country. Employers, especially in more rural areas, are finding that there are just too few workers.” In fact, if “every unemployed person in the Midwest was placed into an open job, there would still be more than 180,000 unfilled positions, according to the most recent Labor Department data. The 12-state region is the only area of the country where job openings outnumber out-of-work job seekers.”

This problem is associated with low birth rate coupled with and an outflow of people. A net 1.3 million people living in the Midwest in 2010 had left by the middle of last year, according to census data. The area also attracts fewer immigrants than the rest of the country.”

Minnesota [2]

A similar problem exists in Minnesota. Last month, its unemployment rate dropped to 3.2%, compared with 4.1% nationally. This has made it difficult for “manufacturers, construction firms and repair-service firms to fill job vacancies and replace departing retirees try to meet the need for more employees, some firms, “employer associations and cooperating unions are working jointly to expand the labor pool.”

For the tech sector of the economy, last year Minnesota added 3,500 jobs, up 1.4% to 250,000 and constituting around 8% of the state’s total work force. And there is demand for even more such workers.

Minnesota’s need for immigrants is especially pronounced in the assisted-care industry. In late March the Trump Administration announced that it was ending, effective March 31, 2019, the Deferred Enforcement Departure program for certain Liberians in the U.S. One of the largest communities of Liberians lives in Minnesota and at least 1,000  are members of a local union that provides workers for assisted-care facilities.

Brazil[3]

“Retirement outlays already eat up 43% of Brazil’s national budget, and health care about 7%, while two expenditures that are critical to economic development—education and infrastructure—claim only about 3% each.” Its “social security system’s revenue shortfall widens each year as the worker-to-pensioner ratio shrinks.” This problem is exasperated by decisions last century to grant pensions to millions of peasants and informal workers who hadn’t paid [into the pension system]. . . . Rural workers paid about $3 billion in social-security taxes for the 12 months through September 2017, while rural retirees drew about $36 billion in benefits.”

The solutions are obvious. “They can raise the minimum retirement age, increase the number of years that workers must pay into the system, or reduce payouts. The bad news is that such measures tend to repel voters.”

Other Countries[4]

Brazil is not alone.

Japan has a very low birth rate, very high life expectancy and very low immigration. As a result, it has an aging, declining population, which should lead to declining economic and political importance in the world.

Cuba has the same sort of problems. It has a declining birth rate associated with readily available abortion services, longer life-spans associated with good health care and many younger people leaving the island to find greater economic opportunities elsewhere.

 More generally, “throughout Latin America and Asia, decades of falling birth rates and growing life expectancies have produced more retirees with fewer workers to underwrite their care. For government policy makers, this means challenges as burgeoning pension and health costs leave less money for economic development.”

“The United Nations projects that by 2050, the number of potential workers per retiree in upper-middle-income developing countries such as Brazil will tumble from the 2015 figure of seven to just 2.5.”

“Credit-rating firms are getting anxious. Standard & Poors estimates that unless there are major changes to publicly funded pension and health-care systems, population aging will help drive net government debt in the biggest emerging economies to extraordinary levels—307% of gross domestic product in Brazil, 274% in China, 262% in Russia and 341% in Saudi Arabia by 2050.”

Conclusion

The U.S. now has a fertility rate below the replacement rate. It, therefore, needs foreign immigrants to sustain population growth, especially in the rural parts of states like Iowa and Minnesota.[5]

Such immigration also would provide workers to pay into the Social Security trust fund and thereby help to finance the increasing number of older Americans who now draw benefits from that fund and who face rising costs of medical care.

======================================

[1] Raice & Morath, Iowa’s Employment Problem: Too Many Jobs, Not  Enough People, W.S.J. (Apr. 1, 2018).

[2] St. Anthony, Horizon Roofing lures workers with higher pay, training, as industry embraces apprenticeships, StarTrib. (Mar. 25, 2018); St. Anthony, Twin Cities tech employment grew 1.6 percent last year, but many jobs go unfilled, StarTrib. (April. 2, 2018); Trump to end deportation protection for Liberians, StarTrib (Mar. 27, 2018); Koumpilova, Local Liberians rally to salvage deportation protection program, StarTrib (Mar. 16, 2018);Koumpilova, Trump administration announces end of deportation reprieve for Liberians in Minnesota, elsewhere, StarTrib (Mar. 28, 2018).

[3] Kiernan & Magalhaes, These Developing Countries Are Getting Old Before They Get Rich, with Dire Consequences, W.S.J. (Apr. 2, 2018).

[4] See n.3 supra; these posts to dwkcommentaries: The Importance of a Growing U.S. Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 27, 2017); Projected Cuban Population: Stabilizing and Aging (Sept. 6, 2016); Cuba Addresses Its Declining and Aging Population (Oct. 17, 2016); Cuba Faces Economic Challenges (Dec. 14, 2016); Comment: Cuba’s Economic and Political Challenges for 2017Comment: Cuban Government’s Bleak Economic Assessment for Cuba (Dec. 28, 2017); Economic Problems Bedevil Cuban government and President Raúl Castro (Mar. 23, 2017); Comment: Elderly Cubans Unable To Retire (Mar. 26, 2017); Cubans Want Economic Growth and Opportunity (Mar. 22, 2017).

[5] The Importance of a Growing U.S. Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 27, 2017).

 

Edward B. Burling’s Years at Harvard University, 1890-1894

This series about the life of Edward B. Burling commenced with a post about his connections with Katherine Graham, the owner and publisher of the Washington Post, and then retreated in time to a post about his birth and early years in Iowa, 1870-1890. Now we look at his four years at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[1]

 Harvard College, 1890-91

For the  academic year, 1890-91, a wealthy relative (Perkins Bass) paid for Ned (and his brother James) to attend Harvard College, where they each earned another B.A. degree in 1891. Again Ned worked hard at his courses, earned good marks and made no friends.

Harvard Law School, 1891-94

In the Fall of 1891, at the suggestion, and again with the financial assistance, of Perkins Bass, Ned started at the Harvard Law School. The three years there, in contrast to his other years of higher education, were “very happy, satisfactory.” He did very well in his classes and was a member of the Harvard Law Review, finishing with “highest honors” and a LL. B. degree in 1894. Moreover, Ned became good friends with classmates, especially with Learned and Augustus Hand, both of whom became noted federal judges, and with George Rublee, who became a public-spirited U.S. lawyer who involved himself with state and national political reform during the Progressive Era (1910-1918) and with international affairs from 1917 to 1945.

Immediately after law school, Perkins Bass financed a nine-month tour of Europe for Ned to accompany one of the Bass sons. Later Ned commented that the trip turned out to be a handicap or burden, rather than a blessing, because it exposed him to the glamorous life of the wealthy and “diverted my attention from my main undertaking, which was to earn a living.”  As that old song goes, “How are you going to keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree [Paris]?”

Conclusion

The next installment of the Burling saga will discuss his years as a Chicago attorney, 1895-1917.

=========================================

[1] Citations to the sources for this post are found in this blogger’s Edward Burnham Burling, The College’s Quiet Benefactor (April 2008)(18-page essay and bibliography; on file in Grinnell College’s Special Collections and Archives). A subsequent post will discuss Burling’s life-long friendship with Learned Hand.

 

 

 

 

 

Senator Chuck Grassley’s Outrageous Conduct Regarding the Supreme Court Nomination of Merrick Garland 

 

Iowa Senator Charles (“Chuck”) Grassley, the current Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is following the dictates of the Senate Majority Leader and his fellow Republican, Mitch McConnell, to not do anything with respect to President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland. Grassley’s conduct with respect to this nomination stands in sharp contrast to the rational argument for the nomination recently offered by President Obama as discussed in a prior post and in the White House’s website for the nomination.

Grassley started out this “do-nothingism” on what was a high note for him. Immediately after the announcement of the Garland nomination Grassley said “Article II, Section 2 [of the Constitution grants] the power to nominate an individual to the Supreme Court . . . to the President and authority is given to the Senate to provide advice and consent.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it describe how the Senate should either provide its consent or withhold its consent.” In addition, according to the Senator, “A majority of the Senate [the Republicans] has decided to fulfill its constitutional role of advice and consent by withholding support for the nomination during a presidential election year.”[1]

Grassley, therefore, has not submitted any questionnaire to the nominee, has refused to schedule any hearing on the nomination and has promised not to submit the nomination for a vote by the entire Senate. In addition, Grassley initially even refused to extend the courtesy of meeting with Judge Garland. Subsequently, however, Grassley said he would meet with Garland to tell him why Grassley was not supporting the nomination.[2]

Grassley Speech on Senate Floor

On April 5, Grassley escalated his obstructionism by an intemperate speech on the Senate floor criticizing Chief Justice Roberts for saying, 10 days before the death of Associate Justice Scalia and thus before the controversy over the Garland nomination: “When you have a sharply divided political divisive hearing process, it increases the danger that whoever comes out of it will be viewed in those terms.  You know if the Democrats and Republicans have been fighting so fiercely about whether you’re going to be confirmed, it’s natural for some members of the public to think, well, you must be identified in a particular way as a result of that process.” [3]

According to Grassley, “the Chief Justice has it exactly backwards.  The confirmation process doesn’t make the Justices appear political.  The confirmation process has gotten political precisely because the court has drifted from the constitutional text, and rendered decisions based instead on policy preferences. In short, the Justices themselves have gotten political.  And because the Justices’ decisions are often political and transgress their constitutional role, the process becomes more political.”

“In fact, many of my constituents believe, with all due respect, that the Chief Justice is part of this problem,” added Grassley. “And contrary to what the Chief Justice suggested, a major reason the confirmation process has become more divisive is that some of the Justices are voting too often based on politics and not on law.   If they’re going to be political actors after they’re confirmed, then the confirmation process necessarily will reflect that dynamic.”

This Grassley speech also criticized Roberts for trying to counter the perception by some Americans that the Court has become politicized. Said the Senator, “I think he is concerned with the wrong problem. He would be well served to address the reality, not perception, that too often there is little difference between the actions of the court and the actions of the political branches. So, physician, heal thyself.”

Reacting to this speech, Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker, said this speech “was close to breathtaking in its intemperate incoherence.” It included an “extended attack on Chief Justice John Roberts, who had recently expressed the unexceptional view that the Court should stay out of politics as much as possible.” According to Grassley, “The confirmation process has gotten political precisely because the Court has drifted from the constitutional text and rendered decisions based instead on policy preferences.” Presumably Grassley was referring to two cases upholding the Affordable Care Act that were written by Roberts.

An editorial in the Baltimore Sun had similar words of condemnation. It said that Grassley’s argument was “infantile” and “allows Mr. Grassley or any other self-appointed expert on constitutional law to make a similar claim every time a justice interprets the law in a manner that is not lock-step with the critic’s own. . . . Shame on Senator Grassley for suggesting that Justice Roberts has somehow betrayed the institution when it is the judiciary chairman who seems to be bent on rewriting the Constitution — not only to limit President Barack Obama’s authority to fill a court vacancy but now to imply that the chief justice has somehow sabotaged the court. . . . Iowa voters, take note: Your six-term senator deserves to be put out to pasture, if only for sheer soft-headedness.”[4]

Grassley Op-Ed in Des Moines Register

On April 10, in reaction to a Des Moines Register editorial objecting to the Senate’s obstruction of the nomination and probably to Iowa voters objecting to his “do-nothingism,” Grassley published an op-ed in that newspaper” to defend his position.[5]

He asserted that it was absurd to argue that somehow “the federal judiciary is debilitated without a ninth Supreme Court justice for a brief period of time.  As the [changing] numbers [of the Justices over time] make clear, the size of the court as Congress designed it over the years has frequently changed, and hasn’t left the court in disarray.” He continued, “The temporary impact of a split decision pales in comparison to the damage an election-year political brawl would cause the court and the country . . . . A nomination considered during this heated campaign season would be all about politics, not the Constitution.”

Grassley-Garland Breakfast Meeting

The Grassley-Garland meeting did happen over breakfast in the Senate Dining Room on April 12. After the one-hour breakfast, Grassley tweeted that the meeting has been “pleasant” as he explained to Judge Garland why the Senate would not be moving forward with his nomination. Later the Senator’s staff released a statement: “The meeting was cordial and pleasant. As he indicated last week, Grassley explained why the Senate won’t be moving forward during this hyper-partisan election year. Grassley thanked Judge Garland for his service.” [6]

Grassley ‘s Reaction to President Obama’s Statement About the Nomination

Later that same day, April 12, the Senator released a statement to be made on the Senate floor in response to President Obama’s comments at the University of Chicago Law School that were discussed in an earlier post.[7]

“[U]nlike the President, I think it’s a bad thing that there’s politics in judicial decision-making these days. Politics in judicial rulings means that something other than law forms the basis of those decisions. It means the judge is reading his or her own views into the Constitution.  Unlike the President, I believe the biggest threat to public confidence in the court is the justices’ willingness to permit their own personal politics to influence their decisions. “

According to Grassley and contrary to the President, “what’s in a judge’s ‘heart,” or their personal “perspective [and] ethics’ have no place in judicial decision-making” and ‘is totally at odds with our constitutional system.   We are a government of laws and not a government of judges.”

Said Grassley, “Politics belongs to us—it’s between the people and their elected representatives.  It’s important that judges don’t get involved in politics. That’s because, unlike senators, lifetime-appointed federal judges aren’t accountable to the people in elections.  It’s also because when nine unelected justices make decisions based on their own policy preferences, rather than constitutional text, they rob from the American people the ability to govern themselves.”

Conclusion

A negative assessment of the obstructions to the Garland nomination by Chairman Grassley and other Republican Senators has been provided by 15 former presidents of the American Bar Association (ABA) and by this blogger.

The ABA leaders asserted in a letter to Senate leaders that “there is no election-year exception” to the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities in the Constitution, that Chief Judge Merrick Garland is “one of the most outstanding judges in the country” and that leaving the seat vacant “injects a degree of politics into the judicial branch that materially hampers the effective operation of our nation’s highest court.” Therefore, say the bar leaders, “The president has fulfilled his constitutional duty, and it is time for the members of the United States Senate to fulfill theirs by holding a fair hearing and timely vote.”[8]

Grassley’s previously cited op-ed made what, in this blogger’s opinion, is an absurd argument. He contended that with a vacancy on the Court this election year, “the American people have a unique opportunity to engage in a serious discussion about the meaning of our Constitution and the way justices read it.” So far there has not been any such serious discussion of this or any other issue and it is unrealistic to expect that there will be any difference during the remaining six-plus months of this election.

Moreover, Grassley who is not an attorney and who, to my knowledge, has never studied constitutional law, proceeds from an over-simplistic view of how cases present constitutional questions and how courts resolve them. He also ignores the Senate’s own interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions by its consistent practice of holding hearings and votes on nominations even in election years. Finally Grassley errs in suggesting that issues of constitutional law should be submitted to the average voter, similarly unversed in constitutional law. Instead the constitutional system submits selection of judges to the President and the Senate, neither of which originally was elected directly by the people.[9] This system of judicial selection is one way to preserve the independence of the judiciary.

Although I now live and vote in Minnesota, I am a native Iowan who obtained education in the public schools of the Iowa town of Perry and at the state’s Grinnell College. I, therefore, wrote to Senator Grassley on March 20, 2016. After reciting my Iowa background, I stated:

  • “I have long believed that most Iowans were reasonable, fair-minded people and that their elected representatives reflected this admirable trait.”
  • “You, however, disappointingly have dispelled this belief by your enlistment in the Republican Senate leadership campaign to deny a hearing and a Senate vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate on advising and consenting to President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court.”
  • “In so doing, you ignore that in 2012 President Obama won reelection for a term of office that does not end until January 20, 2017 with a popular vote of 65.9 million, which was nearly 5.0 million more votes than those received by the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. You also ignore that under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution the President has the power and the duty to “nominate . . . Judges of the supreme Court” and that the Senate has the power and duty to provide its “Advice and Consent” to such nominations.”
  • “Remember this is the Senate Judiciary Committee, not the Republican Judiciary Committee nor “your” Judiciary Committee.”
  • “I hope during this Senate recess that your Iowa constituents will voice similar views to you and that you change your position on this important issue and authorize the Judiciary Committee to proceed with its consideration of this nomination.”

To date I have not received any response to this letter from the Senator.

====================================

[1] Grassley, Grassley Statement on the President’s Nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court (Mar. 16, 2016)

[2] Reuters, Senator Grassley to Meet Garland Despite Opposition to Nominee, N.Y. Times (April 4, 2016); Shear, Meeting Merritt Garland to Tell Him Why G.O.P. Won’t Hold Hearings, N.Y. Times (April 4, 2016).

[3] Grassley, Grassley Floor Statement on the Public Perception of the Supreme Court (April 5, 2016); Assoc. Press, Capitol Hill Buzz: Grassley Takes on Chief Justice Roberts, N.Y. Times (April 5, 2016); Toobin, The Supreme Court Extremism of Clarence Thomas and Chuck Grassley, New Yorker (April 8, 2016).

[4] Editorial, Grassley v. Roberts, Baltimore Sun (April 10, 2016).

[5] Grassley: Grassley: Sky won’t fall with one less justice, Des Moines Register (April 10, 2016).

[6] Herszenhorn, Senator Grassley and Judge Garland Meet, and Rehash the Obvious, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2016);Reuters, Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley Tells Garland No Hearings, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2016); Assoc. Press, Senate Judiciary Chair Grassley Has Breakfast with Garland, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2016).

[7] Grassley, The Supreme Court and the Remarks of President Barack Obama at the University of Chicago (April 12, 2016).

[8] Assoc. Press, Ex-American Bar Association Chiefs Push for a Vote on Garland, N/Y. Times (April 11, 2016); Mascaro, Top GOP senator meets Obama’s Supreme court pick to tell him there will be no vote, Chic. Tribune (April 12, 2016).

[9]  U.S. Senators were not elected by popular vote of the people until 1913 with the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring such method of election. (U.S. Senate, Direct Election of Senators.) The President and Vice President, originally and still true today, are not elected by popular vote, but instead by electors in the Electoral College. And the first time there was a popular vote for electors was in 1824 with the procedure for the Electoral College established by the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution that was adopted in 1804.

 

 

 

U.S. Restrictions on Felon Voting Do Not Comply with International Law

Unknown

International law regarding voting is found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR or Covenant) that was approved and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16, 1966. The drafting of the treaty was the work of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, in which the U.S. participated.[1]

The Covenant’s Terms and Parties

This Covenant establishes an international minimum standard of governmental conduct for rights of self-determination; legal redress; equality; life; liberty; freedom of movement; fair, public and speedy trial of criminal charges; privacy; freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion; peaceful assembly; freedom of association; family; and participation in public life. The Covenant forbids “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;” slavery; arbitrary arrest; double jeopardy; and imprisonment for debt.

Article 25 (b) of this treaty states, “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 [race, colour [sic], sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status] and without unreasonable restrictions: To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.” (Emphasis added.)

On June 8, 1992, the U.S. finally became a party to the treaty, nearly 26 years after the Covenant had been approved by the U.N. The U.S. accession to the treaty was subject to five reservations, five understandings, four declarations and one proviso. Potentially relevant to the issue of voting rights for felons are the U.S. understandings that (1) distinctions based on . . . other status [felon?] are permissible if rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective; . . . (3) certain practices concerning accused and convicted individuals were preserved; . . . and (5) the obligation of the U.S. federal government to enforce the Covenant in the federal system were limited.”[2]

Earlier (on March 23, 1976), the Covenant had gone into force, in accordance with its Article 49(1), after 35 states had ratified or acceded to the treaty. Now there are 168 states parties to the Covenant.

The Covenant’s Human Rights Committee

UN Human Rts

Article 28 of this treaty establishes a Human Rights Committee that is empowered under Article 40 to receive, analyze and comment on periodic reports from parties to the treaty regarding their compliance with its provisions, and the Committee may also issue authoritative “general comments” about the treaty.

The Committee’s General Comment No. 25 Regarding Voting Rights

On August 27, 1996, the Committee issued its General Comment No. 25: “The right to participate in public affairs, voting rights and the right of equal access to public service.”

It stated, in part, “The right to vote at elections and referenda must be established by law and may be subject only to reasonable restrictions, such as setting a minimum age limit for the right to vote. It is unreasonable to restrict the right to vote on the ground of physical disability or to impose literacy, educational or property requirements. Party membership should not be a condition of eligibility to vote, nor a ground of disqualification.” (Para. 10) (Emphasis added.)

The Comment added, “In their reports, States parties should indicate and explain the legislative provisions which would deprive citizens of their right to vote. The grounds for such deprivation should be objective and reasonable. If conviction for an offence [sic] is a basis for suspending the right to vote, the period of such suspension should be proportionate to the offence [sic] and the sentence. Persons who are deprived of liberty but who have not been convicted should not be excluded from exercising the right to vote.” (Para. 14)

Proceedings Regarding the Most Recent U.S. Report to the Committee [3]

  1. The U.S. Report to the Committee.

The U.S. has submitted four periodic reports to the Committee, most recently on December 30, 2011, which stated the following with respect to voting rights:

  • “Criminal conviction and mental incompetence. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly recognizes the right of states to bar an individual from voting ‘for participation in rebellion, or other crime.’ Accordingly, most states deny voting rights to persons who have been convicted of certain serious crimes. The standards and procedures for criminal disenfranchisement vary from state to state. In most states, this inability to vote is terminated by the end of a term of incarceration or by the granting of pardon or restoration of rights.” (Para. 457) (Emphasis added.)
  • Felony disenfranchisement is a matter of continuing debate in the states of the United States. It has been criticized as weakening our democracy by depriving citizens of the vote, and also for its disproportionate affects on racial minorities. As noted in the Second and Third Periodic Report, in August 2001 the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former Presidents Carter and Ford, recommended that all states restore voting rights to citizens who have fully served their sentences. At the time of the previous report, a number of states had moved to reduce the scope of felony disenfranchisement or otherwise to facilitate the recovery of voting rights for those who can regain them.” (Para. 458) (Emphasis added.)
  • “Since the submission of the Second and Third Periodic Report in 2005, modification of state laws and procedures has continued. For example, in 2005, the Governor of Iowa issued an executive order eliminating lifetime disenfranchisement for persons convicted of an “infamous crime” and making restoration of voting rights automatic for persons completing their sentences. This order, however, was revoked by a successor Governor in 2011. Also in 2005, the legislature in Nebraska repealed its lifetime ban on voting for all felons and replaced it with a 2-year post-sentence ban. In 2006, Rhode Island voters approved a referendum to amend the state’s constitution to restore voting rights to persons currently serving a sentence of probation or parole. In 2006, the Tennessee legislature amended its complex restoration system to provide a more straightforward procedure under which all persons convicted of felonies (except electoral or serious violence offenses) are now eligible to apply for a ‘certificate of restoration’ upon completion of their sentences. In 2007, the Maryland legislature repealed all provisions of the state’s lifetime voting ban and instituted an automatic restoration policy for all persons upon completion of a sentence.” (Para. 459)
  • “In 2009, the Washington state legislature enacted the Washington Voting Rights Registration Act, which eliminates the requirement that persons who have completed their felony sentences pay all fees, fines and restitution before being allowed to vote. Florida, however, toughened its laws in March 2011, banning automatic restoration of voting rights for all convicted felons. Currently 48 states restrict voting by persons convicted of felonies in some manner; further information on felony disenfranchisement can be found in the Common Core Document.” (Para. 459)
  • “In July 2009, a bill entitled the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 was introduced in both the Senate (S. 1516) and the House of Representatives (H.R. 3335). This bill would establish uniform standards restoring voting rights in elections for federal office to Americans who are no longer incarcerated but continue to be denied their ability to participate in such elections. A hearing on H.R. 3335 was held in the House of Representatives on March 16, 2010, but the bills did not proceed further. This legislation has been reintroduced in the House in the 112th Congress (H.R. 2212).” (Para. 460)[4]
  1. The Committee’s List of Issues for the U.S.

On April 29, 2013, the Committee issued its “List of issues” for response by the U.S. Its paragraph 26(a) stated, “Please provide information on: (a) The rationale for prohibiting persons with felony convictions from voting in federal elections once they have completed their sentence. Please provide information on steps taken to ensure that states restore voting rights to citizens who have fully served their sentences and those who have been released on parole. Please also provide information on the extent that the regulations relating to deprivation of votes for felony conviction impact on the rights of minority groups.” (Emphasis added.)

  1. U.S. Replies to the Committee’s List of Issues

On July 5, 2013, the U.S. submitted its replies to the Committee’s list of issues. In paragraph 128, the U.S. stated, “The U.S. Constitution generally provides that governments of the individual states, not the U.S. Congress, determine who is eligible to vote in their state. Congress has the power to regulate elections for federal offices and has constitutional authority to eradicate discrimination in voting through the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. According to the Brennan Center of NYU Law School, 48 states restrict voting by persons convicted of felony offenses in some manner, although the majority of these states provide for restoration of voting rights to felons who have been released from prison and/or are no longer on parole or probation. A few states prohibit felons from voting for life. Legal challenges alleging that state felon disenfranchisement laws violate either the U.S. Constitution’s non-discrimination principle or other federal voting rights statutes have generally not succeeded absent proof of racially discriminatory purpose.” (Emphasis added.)

  1. U.S. Attorney General’s Statement About Felony Disenfranchisement
Attorney General                    Eric Holder
Attorney General       Eric Holder

Outside the context of the Committee’s review of the U.S. report, on February 11, 2014, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made extensive and powerful comments regarding felony disenfranchisement in his speech, “Criminal Justice Reform,” at Georgetown University Law Center. He said the following:

  • “[W]e’ve seen that maintaining family connections, developing job skills, and fostering community engagement can reduce the likelihood of re-arrest. And we know that restoring basic rights – and encouraging inclusion in all aspects of society – increases the likelihood of successful reintegration.  We’ve taken significant steps forward in improving reentry policies and addressing the unintended collateral consequences of certain convictions.”
  • “Yet formerly incarcerated people continue to face significant obstacles.  They are frequently deprived of opportunities they need to rebuild their lives. And in far too many places, their rights – including the single most basic right of American citizenship – the right to vote – are either abridged or denied.”
  • “As the Leadership Conference Education Fund articulated very clearly in . . . [its] recent report, ‘there is no rational reason to take away someone’s voting rights for life just because they’ve committed a crime, especially after they’ve completed their sentence and made amends.’  On the contrary: there is evidence to suggest that former prisoners whose voting rights are restored are significantly less likely to return to the criminal justice system.  As . . . [this] report further notes, a study recently conducted by a parole commission in Florida found that, while the overall three-year recidivism rate stood at roughly 33 percent, the rate among those who were re-enfranchised after they’d served their time was just a third of that.”
  • “Unfortunately, the [Florida] re-enfranchisement policy that contributed to this stunning result has been inexplicably and unwisely rolled back since that study was completed.  And, in other states, officials have raised hurdles to be faced by those with past convictions seeking to regain their access to the ballot box.  And that’s why I believe that . . . [it] is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.”
  • “These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive.  By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.  They undermine the reentry process and defy the principles – of accountability and rehabilitation – that guide our criminal justice policies. . . . At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War repression. And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear.”
  • “The history of felony disenfranchisement dates to a time when these policies were employed not to improve public safety, but purely as punitive measures – intended to stigmatize, shame, and shut out a person who had been found guilty of a crime.  Over the course of many decades – court by court, state by state – Americans broadly rejected the colonial-era notion that the commission of a crime should result in lifelong exclusion from society.”
  • “After Reconstruction, many Southern states enacted disenfranchisement schemes to specifically target African Americans and diminish the electoral strength of newly-freed populations.  The resulting system of unequal enforcement – and discriminatory application of the law – led to a situation, in 1890, where ninety percent of the Southern prison population was black.  And those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives.  They could not vote.”
  • “Yet – despite this remarkable, once-unimaginable [civil rights] progress – the vestiges, and the direct effects, of outdated practices remain all too real. In many states, felony disenfranchisement laws are still on the books.  And the current scope of these policies is not only too significant to ignore – it is also too unjust to tolerate.”
  • “Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans – 5.8 million of our fellow citizens – are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions.  That’s more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states.  And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable.”
  • “Throughout America, 2.2 million black citizens – or nearly one in 13 African-American adults – are banned from voting because of these laws.  In three states – Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – that ratio climbs to one in five. These individuals and many others – of all races, backgrounds, and walks of life – are routinely denied the chance to participate in the most fundamental and important act of self-governance.  They are prevented from exercising an essential right.  And they are locked out from achieving complete rehabilitation and reentry – even after they’ve served the time, and paid the fines, that they owe.”
  • “Fortunately . . . in recent years we have begun to see a trend in the right direction.  Since 1997, a total of 23 states – including Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, and Washington State – have enacted meaningful reforms.  In Virginia, just last year, former Governor McDonnell adopted a policy that began to automatically restore the voting rights of former prisoners with non-violent felony convictions.”
  • “These are positive developments.  But many of these changes are incremental in nature.  They stop well short of confronting this problem head-on.  And although we can be encouraged by the promising indications we’ve seen, a great deal of work remains to be done.  Given what is at stake, the time for incrementalism is clearly over.”
  • “Eleven states continue to restrict voting rights, to varying degrees, even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole – including the State of Florida, where approximately 10 percent of the entire population is disenfranchised as a result.  In Mississippi, roughly 8 percent of the population cannot vote because of past involvement with the criminal justice system. In Iowa, action by the governor in 2011 caused the state to move from automatic restoration of rights – following the completion of a criminal sentence – to an arduous process that requires direct intervention by the governor himself in every individual case.  It’s no surprise that, two years after this change – of the 8,000 people who had completed their sentences during that governor’s tenure – voting rights had been restored to fewer than 12.”
  • “That’s moving backwards – not forward. It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values.  These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed.  And so today, I call upon state leaders and other elected officials across the country to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines.”
  • “And I call upon the American people – who overwhelmingly oppose felony disenfranchisement – to join us in bringing about the end of misguided policies that unjustly restrict what’s been called the ‘most basic right’ of American citizenship.”
  • The “inconsistent patchwork of laws affecting felony disenfranchisement varies so widely between states – and, in some places, between cities and counties – that even those who administer the laws are sometimes unfamiliar with how to apply them. The New York Times noted in 2012 that this kind of confusion means that many who are legally allowed to vote erroneously believe that their rights are restricted.  And too often, those who do understand their rights are wrongfully turned away.”
  • “[P]ermanent exclusion from the civic community does not advance any objective of our criminal justice system.  It has never been shown to prevent new crimes or deter future misconduct.   And there’s no indication that those who have completed their sentences are more likely to commit electoral crimes of any type – or even to vote against pro-law enforcement candidates.
  • “What is clear – and abundantly so – is that these laws sever a formerly incarcerated person’s most direct link to civic participation.  They cause further alienation and disillusionment between these individuals and the communities . . . . And particularly at a time when our prisons are overflowing – and many who are serving sentences for nonviolent drug crimes find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and incarceration – it is counterproductive to exclude these individuals from the voting franchise once their involvement with the corrections system is at an end.  It is contrary to the goals that bring us together today.”
  • “Whenever we tell citizens who have paid their debts and rejoined their communities that they are not entitled to take part in the democratic process, we fall short of the bedrock promise – of equal opportunity and equal justice – that has always served as the foundation of our legal system.  So it’s time to renew our commitment – here and now – to the notion that the free exercise of our fundamental rights should never be subject to politics, or geography, or the lingering effects of flawed and unjust policies.”
  1. Committee’s Hearings

At a Committee hearing on March 14, 2014, an U.S. representative (Roy Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice) said, “Persons convicted of crimes were not necessarily informed before sentencing that they would lose their right to vote.“

Austin also stated later at that hearing, “There was no national guarantee ensuring that defendants and prisoners were made aware of the loss of the right to vote. However, in practice, whenever defendants took a plea or were sentenced, they were informed of the fact that they would lose certain constitutional rights. Furthermore, the American Bar Association had launched a website entitled the National Inventory on the Collateral Consequences of Conviction as part of an effort to help defence [sic] lawyers fully inform their clients of, inter alia, any rights they would lose as the result of a conviction for a crime.”

  1. Committee’s Concluding Observations

After reviewing all of the records regarding the U.S. report,[5] the Committee on March 26, 2014, adopted its Concluding Observations. Here is what it said in paragraph 24 about U.S. voting rights.

“While noting with satisfaction the statement by the Attorney General on 11 February 2014, calling for a reform of state laws on felony disenfranchisement, the Committee reiterates its concern about the persistence of state-level felon disenfranchisement laws, its disproportionate impact on minorities and the lengthy and cumbersome voting restoration procedures in states. The Committee is further concerned that voter identification and other recently introduced eligibility requirements may impose excessive burdens on voters and result in de facto disenfranchisement of large numbers of voters, including members of minority groups. Finally, the Committee reiterates its concern that residents of the District of Columbia (D.C.) are denied the right to vote for and elect voting representatives to the United States Senate and House of Representatives (arts. 2, 10, 25 and 26)”

“The State party should ensure that all states reinstate voting rights to felons who have fully served their sentences; provide inmates with information about their voting restoration options; remove or streamline lengthy and cumbersome voting restoration procedures; as well as review automatic denial of the vote to any imprisoned felon, regardless of the nature of the offence. The State party should also take all necessary measures to ensure that voter identification requirements and the new eligibility requirements do not impose excessive burdens on voters and result in de facto disenfranchisement. The State party should also provide for the full voting rights of residents of Washington, D.C.” (Emphasis in original.)

This very polite language is the way the Committee was saying the U.S. was not complying with the Convention’s provisions regarding voting.[6]

Conclusion

The U.S. problem of felon disenfranchisement still persists. The previously mentioned proposed federal Democracy Restoration Act has not been adopted. Only two states (Maine and Vermont) do not have any restrictions on voting by citizens convicted of a felony. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia restore voting after completion of the term of incarceration; four states, after incarceration and parole; 20 states, after incarceration and parole and probation. The other 11 states permanently ban voting by felons under certain conditions. In addition 10 states restrict some people convicted of misdemeanors from voting.

Therefore, the  U.S. is not complying with the Convention’s provisions regarding voting.

===========================================================

[1] Weissbrodt, Ni Aoláin, Fitzpatrick & Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 141-43 (4th ed. LEXIS-NEXIS 2009). The Covenant is baed upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which states in Article 21(3), “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage . . . .”

[2] The long, convoluted history of the U.S. accession to the Covenant is discussed in a prior blog post.

[3] The most recent Committee’s consideration of the U.S. human rights record has been discussed in prior posts about the Committee’s hearings, its concluding observations and felon voting. The actual U.S. report, the list of issues, the U.S. replies to that list of issues, a summary of the hearings, the submissions from Civil Society Organizations and the concluding observations are available on the Committee’s website.

[4] The Democracy Restoration Act also was introduced in the Senate (S. 2017) in the 112th Congress, but it died in committees in both chambers.

[5] The record included several hundred submissions from Civil Society Organizations. Felony disenfranchisement was addressed by at least one such submission: the one from the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, the Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Sentencing Project. It argued that U.S. felony disenfranchisement laws had a disproportionate impact on minorities, and it reviewed the history and rationale of such laws, the increasing international isolation of the U.S. on such laws, the terms of such laws and the legal challenges to such laws. This submission also criticized the U.S. reply to this issue on the Committee’s list of issues and suggested recommendations for the Committee to make to the U.S.

[6] Another treaty to which the U.S. is not a party–the Protocol 1 to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms–has been interpreted to ban national laws that “applied automatically to convicted prisoners in detention, irrespective of the length of their sentence and irrespective of the nature or gravity of their offence [sic] and their individual circumstances.” This was the decision in 2005 by the European Court of Human Rights, which said “the severe measure of disenfranchisement was not to be resorted to lightly and the principle of proportionality required a discernible and sufficient link between the sanction and the conduct and circumstances of the individual concerned. “ (Hirst v. United Kingdom, 2005-IX Reports of Judgments & Decisions 195 (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. 2005),}