Remembering Barbara Bush in “the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”

On April 17, former First Lady Barbara Bush died at age 92. During her long and illustrious life, Mrs. Bush championed the cause of literacy — a passion that Bonnie Squires, board president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, had the privilege of witnessing in action. Squires covered the former first lady during a stop at the Free Library of Philadelphia, where Mrs. Bush was reading to a group of children. Squires specifically recalls the touching moment when the first lady put one of the children on her lap while she read. [Read more…]

Philly Jews “Pray With Their Feet” for Shabbat at March for Our Lives

Attorney General Josh Shapiro with his children Jonah and Sophia. Photo by Andrea Cantor

“The students and young people in this country, and here in Philadelphia, are inspiring the next generation of leaders, and their voices are lifting up the voices of so many on common sense laws in this country to prevent gun violence, and to keep our streets and our schools safe,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D-Pa.) to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice at March For Our Lives Philadelphia. “I wanted to be here today really to support the young people, support their voices, and frankly, to be inspired by them.”

The March 24 event in Philly was a Sister March with Washington DC’s March for Our Lives, called for by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors of the February 14 mass shooting that left 17 people dead. As reported by The Times of Israel, among the victims, five Jews were killed: Jewish students Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, Jaime Guttenberg, 14, Meadow Pollock, 18, and Alex Schachter, 14, as well as geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35.

[Read more…]

On a Quest to End Gerrymandering and Make a “Good Map”

Anne Hanna.

They canvass. They lobby. They protest. Concerned citizens insert themselves into the political process on behalf of the public good in different ways. Anne Hanna, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, became politically active in the best way she knew how: by using her computational and data analysis skills in the fight against partisan gerrymandering — a fight that is front-and-center in Pennsylvania right now. [Read more…]

Unrigging Our Elections

Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in League of Women Voters v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was just handed down. In its opinion, the court held that Pennsylvania’s congressional district maps violate the state constitution. The ruling also requires that the maps be redrawn in time for the May 2018 primaries.

People who are concerned that elections in the U.S. are “rigged” should be thrilled with the wave of new court cases on partisan gerrymandering, which voice this contention, and even better, propose remedies for the problem. [Read more…]

A Hanukkah Miracle

On the first night of Hanukkah, the state of Alabama witnessed a miracle of its own: the voters of this very red state elected a Democrat to the United States Senate for the first time in 27 years. In a highly publicized special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Democrat Doug Jones narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore. Moore, who was endorsed by President Trump, has been accused by multiple women of predatory sexual misconduct, dating back years ago when the women were teenagers and Moore was a much older man.

In Jones’ victory speech, the new senator-elect thanked family, friends and campaign staff, as well as voters of different demographics, even wishing a happy Hanukkah to his Jewish supporters.

Congress to Gut State Gun Control Laws?

Black Berretta hand gun. Photo: Gander Mountain.

Hand gun. Photo: Gander Mountain.

— by Jeff Dempsey, CeaseFirePA

A bill that would gut state gun laws, and force states to accept the more lax concealed weapon carry standards of other states, passed the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee this week. For example, we have a licensing system in Pennsylvania which relies on a strong background check, but this bill would force us to honor concealed carry permits from states with weaker systems, and even states like Mississippi, which doesn’t require a license or permit to carry at all. The mandatory Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill (H.R. 38), is a proposal that would make it legal for more dangerous and untrained people to carry hidden guns in more public places. Despite the fact that we’ve had the worst mass shooting in modern American history this year, Congress is still doing the NRA’s bidding and pushing for action that will weaken our gun laws. [Read more…]

Lynne Honickman Grants $100,000 for Matching Donations to CeaseFirePA

Honickman donation to CeaseFirePA announced at City Hall

Honickman donation to CeaseFirePA announced.

With a $100,000 challenge grant to CeaseFirePA, Lynne Honickman, founder and president of The Honickman Foundation and a board member of CeaseFirePA, is supporting communities calling for an end to gun violence. The foundation’s grant was publicly announced at a ceremony at City Hall attended by Honickman, Governor Ed Rendell, Councilman Darrell Clarke and executive director of CeaseFirePA, Shira Goodman. [Read more…]

Update on Redistricting Cases With Potential Pennsylvania Impact

The issue of partisan gerrymandering was on the docket during the first week in October, both in the U.S. Supreme Court and in courts in Pennsylvania. Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of intentionally drawing voting district lines in a way that benefits a particular political party. Here is a court-by-court update on the status of these gerrymandering cases.

In the U.S. Supreme Court

https://pixabay.com/en/supreme-court-building-usa-546279/

U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford. Early news reports of the argument suggest the expected: the four liberal justices see the injustice of a gerrymander that denies people of the “wrong” party a meaningful right to vote. The four conservative justices may be willing to stay with the existing system, under which courts do not interfere with redistricting on the grounds that it is a “political” matter. Justice Kennedy, who is potentially the key swing vote, appeared to take the arguments by the plaintiffs seriously. Judgment in the case will take a while, likely emerging sometime during the present term, which lasts until the end of June 2018.   –Ken Myers
 

In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

The day before the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin case, another partisan gerrymandering case was filed in federal District Court in Philadelphia by five Pennsylvania citizens. Taking a different approach from the Wisconsin case, the Pennsylvania plaintiffs in Agre v. Wolf argue that the the partisan nature of Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional district map violates the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They claim that even the attempt or intent to gerrymander is unconstitutional under this clause and that the court should require Pennsylvania to come up with a process of redistricting that has effective guarantees against partisan overreach.

As Raymond Solomon, one of the plaintiffs in the case, explained:

We’re not just looking for a new map, but a new process. California, Arizona, New Jersey and other states have shown that there can be neutral and fair processes that do not rig the outcomes in advance. We feel the U.S. House is the People’s House, and deciding who goes to the People’s House belongs to the people and not the politicians.

 

In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

At the state level, a hearing was held before Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in a partisan gerrymandering case brought by petitioners the League of Women Voters and individual voters from across the commonwealth. At issue in the hearing was whether this case should be delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court delivers its ruling in the Wisconsin case, as claimed by lawyers for the Pennsylvania General Assembly and its leaders.

The petitioners argue that a delay is not warranted because their case is based on the state constitution, not the federal one, and therefore, would not be governed by the Supreme Court’s ruling. They also emphasize that time is critical to prevent yet another election where the voices of Democratic voters are effectively silenced because their voting districts were drawn to secure Republican victories.

Judge Pellegrini said that even if he allows this case to proceed without waiting for the Supreme court’s ruling in the Wisconsin case, the judicial process will not be completed before the 2018 midterm elections. He did mention the option of a King’s Bench petition, which can potentially fast-track a case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

When can we expect Judge Pellegrini to rule on whether he will delay the case or permit it to proceed in Commonwealth Court? David Gersch, one of the attorneys for the petitioners, believes the judge will issue his order within a few weeks.

 

A Hearing on Gerry­man­dering in Pa. Commonwealth Court

Map of the U.S. congressional districts in Pennsylvania.

This week, Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic process. On Wednesday, October 4, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court will hold a hearing challenging the constitutionality of the state’s congressional district maps. Petitioners in this case, which include the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and individual citizens from across the state, claim that their votes have been rendered meaningless by maps intentionally drawn by state legislators to favor Republican outcomes. Proponents of redistricting reform are calling on Pennsylvania voters to show their support by packing the courtroom for the 10:00 a.m. hearing and the ensuing press conference. [Read more…]

Fighting to Make Our Votes Count

Carol Kuniholm addressing the press at the Pennsylvania Capitol, with supporters of redistricting reform behind her.

Now that the Pennsylvania General Assembly has returned from summer recess, advocacy groups, like Fair Districts PA and March on Harrisburg, are intensifying their fight for redistricting reform. Explaining the importance of their mission, Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA, said at a recent press conference in Harrisburg:

For the first time in generations, many of our fellow citizens are questioning the underlying premises of democracy itself. … We feel our votes no longer count and our voices are no longer heard. When we look for causes, we see our gerrymandered districts and our lack of choice at the polls.

[Read more…]