Why flight restrictions over Ferguson?

Law, Policy

My op-ed for The Hill’s Congress Blog:

Shortly after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Mike Brown, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a no-fly zone over Ferguson, Missouri banning all flights within 3,000 feet off the ground.  The stated purpose of the flight restrictions is to “provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.”

Temporary flight restrictions issued under issued through Section 91.137 of the Code of Federal Regulations – on which the FAA solely relied in imposing temporary flight restrictions on Ferguson – are for “disaster/hazard situations” that warrant regulatory measures to restrict flight operations for a specified amount of airspace, on a temporary basis.The rationale behind temporary flight restrictions issues under 14 CFR Section 91.137(a)(1) is to protect individuals in the air or ground from “hazard associated with an incident on the surface when the presence of low flying aircraft would magnify, alter, spread, or compound that hazard.” Examples of this type of hazard that are provided in the Code of Federal Regulations include toxic gas leaks, volcanic eruptions, nuclear accidents, tidal waves, and other similar calamities.

While the chaos and violence of demonstrators in the streets of Ferguson is not exactly nuclear accident waiting to happen, it is not entirely farfetched that the situation in Ferguson might fall under one of the other two lesser rationales for temporary flight restrictions of less severity. For example, 14 CFR 91.137(a)(2) temporary flight restrictions may be imposed “to provide a safe environment for the operation of disaster relief aircraft.” This provision is eerily similar to the stated rationale for both the temporary flight restrictions placed on Ferguson on Monday night and in August – “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities”. This raises the question of how the stated rationale of providing a safe environment for law enforcement activities is more similar to tidal waves and nuclear disasters than to providing a “safe environment for operation of disaster relief aircrafts”.

The FAA imposed similar temporary flight restrictions last year over the Clark County, Nevada ranch of 67-year-old Cliven Bundy when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) attempted to confiscate cattle grazing on the land, which the BLM claimed as federal property. Just as in the NOTAM for the flight restrictions placed on Ferguson, no hazard or disaster was specified.

Are the FAA’s temporary flight restrictions truly protecting those in Ferguson from potential disaster or is the true disaster the inevitable succession from forgoing aerial news coverage to relinquishing control of the media narrative in Ferguson?

Source: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/225334-why-fli9ght-restrictions-over-ferguson 

Strength and weakness of the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014

Law, Policy, Voting

My op-ed for The Hill’s Congress Blog:

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which includes a provision mandating that specified states “preclear” any changes in election regulations with the federal government. The court upheld other provisions of the Vot­ing Rights Act intact, including Section 2, a permanent provision that prohibits racially discriminatory voting laws nationwide, but determined that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional. Section 4(b) constitutes the “coverage formula” used to apply Section 5. As enacted, Section 4 requires certain states and jurisdictions that were determined by the formula to have a history of racially unbalanced voting to preclear any changes in election regulation with the federal government, even changes as minor as moving a polling station from one building to another.

The Court in Shelby found that the provision was unconstitutional because it was based on outmoded data from voter turnout in 1964, 1968, or 1972 elections. Further, many states and vicinities subject to preclearance no longer correspond to the same incidence of racial discrimination in voting. In fact, the Census Bureau has reported that black voters voted at substantially higher rates than whites in seven of the states covered by Section 5, a rate higher than many other states that remain unaffected by Section 5.

A main qualm that many proponents of the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014 have with the holding in Shelby is not its invalidation of Section 4 itself, but the consequential rendering of Section 5 as toothless.  What many liberals overlook is that Section 5 is a temporary, emergency provision passed in 1965 that was originally supposed to expire after five years. In fact, the emergency provision was enacted for the purpose of providing temporary federal receivership of state elections. However, Congress renewed the so-called emergency provision for the fourth time in 2006.

I couldn’t agree more with proponents of the bill who contend that individuals should not have to jump through hoops to register to vote and locate their proper voting locations. However, I also believe that state officials should not have to overcome significant obstacles to manage insignificant changes to elections and placing the burden of proving that voting change “neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color” on each jurisdiction every time the voting location changes from one building to another.

Requiring federal preclearance with the Justice Department or a federal court of any minuscule change to voting laws is essentially putting these states into the equivalent of federal receivership. The few benefits of the bill are simply not worth the far-reaching political intrusion that this version of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would permit.

In addition to the fundamentally intrusive nature of the bill, the protections provided for are sorely inadequate. Two glaring example of essential weakness of the current version of the bill is the exceptions for voter identification laws and the increased reliance on federal litigation as the only means of enforcing the provisions.

How, then, has a bill that flagrantly infringes upon state rights and arbitrarily imposes obstacles on local election boards based on outmoded data without even touching on one of the most controversial modern voting restrictions gained such wide bipartisan support?

Perhaps the answer can be found in a nonpartisan common goal shared by legislators across America: reelection. Politicians can enact gerrymanders that, depending on the composition of the legislature, give incumbents or one party a substantial electoral advantage while more easily attributing the structure of districts on Section 5.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 oversteps its mark by a longshot and would be a substantial step back for the freedom of voters across the county. In Shelby, Chief Justice John Roberts invited Congress to “draft another formula based on current conditions.” I strongly encourage Congress to keep drafting.

Source: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/judicial/198922-strengths-and-weakness-of-the-voting-rights-amendment-act-of