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Democrats Plan Separate Fix For Voting Rights Act To Make Chief Justice Roberts Happy

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The move is a recognition of the need to show the Supreme Court evidence of present-day discrimination.

The big reform package on voting rights, campaign finance and ethics that House Democrats plan to pass in January will not include a reauthorization and fix to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, along with outside voting rights litigators, will support moving the Voting Rights Act measure separately to ensure they build a legislative record that will show why the law is still necessary when it faces court challenges.

“Everybody wants to make sure that they do this right and in a way that will not only be a stronger fix for the Voting Rights Act but also will be able to withstand any constitutional challenges,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program for the Brennan Center for Justice.

Democrats’ reform package, their first bill of the new Congress, will still include major voting rights reforms alongside its other pieces of campaign finance and ethics reforms. The bill will still include legislative language mandating automatic voter registration, preventing overly broad voter purges and promoting early and online voting. It will also include an affirmation in support of reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act along with a statement of facts inserting present-day examples of voter suppression into the congressional record.

None of those measures needs a record of evidence in the same way that a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act does. The federal government used to have the authority under the Voting Rights Act to shoot down election laws from certain jurisdictions if they were found to be discriminatory. In 2013, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court overturned that authority in Shelby County v. Holder.

In his majority opinion for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the formula used by the Department of Justice to determine discrimination relied on outdated data and evidence that did not reflect the changed nature of race relations in the United States. And Congress used that same outdated data, according to Roberts, when it reauthorized the act in 2006 instead of crafting a new formula based on more recent data and evidence of discrimination.

“Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions,” Roberts wrote. “It instead reenacted a formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”

Voting rights activists and Democratic Party politicians vehemently disagreed with Roberts’ ruling in the Shelby County case. But they recognize that any future reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act needs to have a developed record of evidence built alongside it to withstand scrutiny from the conservative Supreme Court.

“Obviously, we felt that before Shelby there was plenty of evidence of necessitating the Voting Rights Act to be kept as it was, but the Supreme Court felt otherwise,” said Todd Cox, policy director for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “And I think, quite frankly, there’s been ample evidence subsequent to Shelby pointing to the need to restore the Voting Rights Act. We have at least 10 cases where courts, federal courts have found intentional discrimination against voters.”

Those cases include the passage of voter identification laws in Texas and North Carolina, and North Carolina’s roll-back of early voting, same-day registration and registration drives, changes that targeted African-Americans with “surgical precision,” according to a federal court. They could also include the kind of voter purges deployed in Georgia’s gubernatorial race between Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the incoming oversight committee chairman, has already stated he wants to call Kemp in to testify.

Democrats will hold votes on both their big democracy reform package and the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, which will be introduced by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), next year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the biggest opponent of campaign finance reform, already stated that he would not allow a vote on the larger democracy reform bill. Republicans refused to move any fix for the Voting Rights Act after the Shelby decision in the past three Congresses.

Whether Senate Republicans support these bills or not, Democrats see passing them in the House as a necessary statement of what their party stands for and what it would do if it controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.

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Harvard University student becomes first DACA recipient to win Rhodes Scholarship

Jin Kyu Park, awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, stands in the Barker Center at Harvard University.

"There's no way something like this belongs to just one person," Jin Kyu Park said of how he feels about being awarded the scholarship.

A Harvard University senior made history as the first recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, to be awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

Jin Kyu Park, 22, was awarded the scholarship to continue his studies at the University of Oxford in the U.K. next year, the office of the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust announced Saturday.

Park, who grew up in the borough of Queens in New York City, was born in South Korea and has said he came to the U.S. at the age of 7. He is the first recipient of DACA, the Obama administration program that protects some young immigrants from deportation, to win the scholarship.

The Rhodes Trust provides full financial assistance for scholars to pursue a degree at the University of Oxford for two or three years.

Park told NBC News the achievement was still sinking in.

"When they first announced it, it was really — I felt nothing but like an immense gratitude," he said. "Now that gratitude has given way to kind of a desire to use this opportunity to make sure I lift up others in the community. There's no way something like this belongs to just one person."

This was Park’s second year applying for the scholarship. At the time of his first application, DACA recipients were not yet eligible for the award, according to the U.S. organizer for the program.

Elliot Gerson, the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, told NBC News Park was an “extraordinarily qualified” candidate, but the group could not change their eligibility policies midway through the process last year.

Gerson said he petitioned the trustees and they agreed to expand eligibility to include DACA recipients the following year and advertised nationally so other students could also apply.

“In looking for those Americans with extraordinary talent, a combination of academic excellence with character leadership and ambition to serve others, we didn’t want to exclude Dreamers who are, in our opinion, such important Americans and who offer so much to this country and to the world,” he said.

DACA allows children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. if they were under 16 when their parents brought them to the U.S. and if they arrived by 2007. The Obama-era initiative has allowed 700,000 young people, known as "Dreamers," to avoid deportation.

The Trump administration moved to end the DACA program a year ago, but federal courts have blocked that attempt. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court blocked President Donald Trump from ending the program, temporarily keeping DACA in place.Trump has urged the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

Park said he was hoping to start a conversation and was "shocked" the eligibility change happened so quickly.

"It came out of nowhere. I didn't expect any of that to happen," he said.

Gerson said the Rhodes Trust was grateful to Harvard for endorsing Park last year despite his technical ineligibility.

“I think Jin is a wonderful example to others and he continues to show great courage under existing law,” he said.

Park said he hoped his achievement would highlight the stories of other undocumented immigrants and what they had to offer the country.

"I'm thankful and I think it's a testament to if you give immigrants in America an opportunity, if you allow us to live fully in our truth and see us totally in our personhood, this is the kind of thing that can happen," he said.

Park is currently completing his bachelor of arts at Harvard in molecular and cellular biology, according to a biography provided by the Rhodes Trust. Park plans on pursuing master’s degrees in migration studies and global health science and epidemiology at Oxford, according to the biography.

Park is also the founder of HigherDreams, Inc., a nonprofit aimed at developing resources for undocumented students seeking higher education, and serves as a chapter program leader for Define American, a nonprofit media and cultural organization working to change conversations about immigrants.

The Rev. Ryan Eller, the executive director of Define American, celebrated Park’s achievement.

"As a longtime leader in our Chapters Program, Jin is a shining example of how we can work together to get even the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world to change their rules and become more equitable,” he said in a statement.

The latest U.S. Rhodes Scholar class also of 32 also includes 21 women, the most ever in a single class, and nearly half of the group are first-generation Americans and immigrants.

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Mission Accomplished For Democrats, But Not Without Disappointment

Before national progressives fell in love with Rep. Beto O’Rourke and filled his Texas coffers with small-dollar donations, before Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum shockingly won a late August primary in Florida, the Democratic Party had a single goal for the 2018 midterm elections: Win back control of the House of Representatives in order to provide a check on President Donald Trump in the last two years of his term.

And they did.

“People can call it whatever they want,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Ben Ray Lujan told HuffPost when asked if Tuesday night’s results counted as a wave. “Tonight we won the majority back. It’s already approaching 30 seats. It may be better than that. That’s a lot of seats, however you measure it. Tonight was very clear where the American people stood.”

Democrats won big in the House, nearly sweeping the suburban districts they needed in order to obtain a majority, and then pulling off upsets in several districts won by Trump in 2016. 

Some of their most surprising wins came in urban and suburban areas: In Virginia, former CIA agent Abigail Spanberger defeated GOP Rep. Dave Brat in a district centered on the Richmond suburbs, and Navy veteran Elaine Luria defeated Scott Taylor in a district including Virginia Beach. In Oklahoma, nonprofit executive Kendra Horn pulled off a shocking upset in an Oklahoma City-area district held by GOP Rep. Steve Russell. Trump had won the district by double digits in 2016. 

The outcome reflected a growing rural-urban divide in American politics, with the GOP romping in Senate races in North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana, and GOP Gov. Rick Scott’s strong performance in rural parts of Florida powering his victory over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Those three Senate pickups, along with still undecided races in Montana, Nevada and Arizona, indicate Democrats could face a steep climb to win back control of the upper chamber in the foreseeable political future.

However, if Democrats sweep the three seats still up in the air, they would have limited Republicans to a single net pickup over the course of a cycle — an accomplishment, considering Democrats started the cycle defending 10 incumbents in states Trump won.

The biggest stings for Democrats came in states in the former Confederacy, where progressives were hoping to capitalize on demographic changes and expand the electorate. Gubernatorial candidate Gillum and Senate hopeful O’Rourke both lost by narrow margins, and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was trailing. All three candidates had won admiration from progressives across the country and raised heaps of money online. 

O’Rourke seemed to suggest he could run again in the future. (Some Democrats have suggested he run for president; others hope he will challenge GOP Sen. John Cornyn in 2020.)

“We will see you out there, down the road,” O’Rourke told his supporters. “I’m so fucking proud of you guys.”

And in an early morning speech, Abrams promised voters she would get a “do-over,” indicating she believed enough votes were outstanding to force the race to a runoff. 

There were also disappointments in the Rust Belt and Midwest. Although Democratic senators easily dispatched GOP opponents in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, they didn’t match those results at the gubernatorial level, failing to capture governor’s races in Ohio and Iowa, two states Trump had won easily in 2016.

But here, there were also reasons for optimism: In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers narrowly won early Wednesday, apparently finally ousting GOP Gov. Scott Walker. 

But Walker’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, said early Wednesday morning that the campaign wasn’t conceding.

“I’m here tonight to tell you that fight is not over,” she told supporters, before requesting donations to fund a possible recount. 

There were also other triumphs: Democrat Laura Kelly romped over a favorite of Trump’s, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, by a 5 percentage point margin. Initiatives to raise the minimum wage passed in Arkansas and Missouri, as did Medicaid expansion in a slew of red states. And the Democratic Party made massive gains at the state level, bringing unified Democratic government to Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico and New York. It also ended one-party GOP rule in Kansas, Michigan and New Hampshire.

But the biggest victory was always going to be control of the House, which will give the party the power to investigate every aspect of Trump’s administration and stop all but the most bipartisan legislation. In the past, presidents who have lost the House have appeared apologetic. When George W. Bush lost 31 House seats in 2006, he called it a “thumping.” When Barack Obama’s Democrats lost control of the House in 2010, he labeled it a “shellacking.”

The GOP’s gains in the Senate allowed Trump to make a different claim. 

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