Through his typo-ridden decision that declared illegal the presentation of voter information in any language other than English, Iowan Polk County District Judge Douglas Staskal joined the Civil Rights Rollback Hall of Shame.
On March 31st, Judge Staskal upheld the claim of petitioners that it was illegal for Iowa's Secretary of State to continue to prepare voter information in Spanish, Vietnamese, Laotian and Bosnian. (Note to Bosnian refugees, etc: Judge Staskal would like to remind you to please be fluent in English the exact instant you become eligible to vote; otherwise, no voting! Thanks!)
How much, you ask, did this practice of presenting multi-lingual voter information cost the state of Iowa? A whooping $630. No, not thousands: six hundred and thirty dollars.
Despite the low cost - and the recent reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act - printing voter information in non-English languages was found illegal in Iowa because of the 2002 Iowa English Language Reaffirmation Act. This Act states that all forms should be printed in English. The relentlessly unlawful Iowa Secretary of State decided that, in addition to printing all forms in English, it would aid democracy to also print those forms in a range of languages. Unless appealed, Judge Staskal's decision will end such a practice.
How does this weakening of democratic inclusion strike some? Well, according to the Des Moines Register, Craig Halverson, state director of the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, was "elated by the judge's decision."
When a case this troubling comes along, it does us well to pause and consider from where the case came. And, thus, we introduce to you Republican U.S. Representative, Steve King, of Iowa, lead petitioner in the case. You may know Rep. King from his controversial comment that al-Qaeda would be "dancing in the streets," were Senator Obama to be elected President.
It turns out that the last few years have been busy ones for Rep. King. In 2006, King was a leader in the Republican efforts to block the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Nothing if not consistent, King was opposed to the fact that the Act required bilingual ballots in districts where 5% of the public speaks a language other than English. May it be noted, his 2006 Voting Rights Act amendment efforts failed.
Bouncing back from his inability to rollback voting rights on a national level, King reappeared in the public eye just a month later. At this point, Rep. King took to the House floor and proposed that Congress should build an electrified fence on the border. King, on record as calling undocumented immigration, "a slow-rolling, slow-motion terrorist attack on the United States," then proceeded to build a miniature version of such a fence, in front of the House. King said of electrifying immigrants, "We do this with livestock all the time."
The electro-shock fence proposal failed to pass through Congress, leaving the Representative only his miniature version to play with at home.
Two defeats in a row, and Rep. King wasn't going to back down. After the July introduction of his fence idea, King sprung into action shortly before the November election in 2006. Incensed that the state of Iowa was presenting voter information in languages other than English on its website, despite the state's 2002 law ordering otherwise, King demanded that the information be taken down. Those forms remained online until just a few weeks ago, shortly after Judge Staskal's recent decision was announced.
King proves that right-wing attempts to rollback civil rights are far from dead. Even those crazy enough to propose an electrifying border fence can still have their agenda backed in the courts of this land. What happened in Iowa on March 31st isn't a solitary event. Creative, tenacious and well-funded, the right-wing agenda moves forward in courtrooms across this country.
Activist judges do exist, only they're actually right-wing, and their decisions, such as this one, often go under-reported.