The killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has raised old concerns about everything from racial profiling to gun violence. That’s frustrating, as so many Americans had hoped that their country might have bent the arc of history a bit more toward progress.
But the shooting in Sanford, Florida, has done something else. It has focused new attention on the structural supports for legislating on behalf of special-interest, and on the way in which the American Legislative Exchange Council turns bad ideas into bad law.
That has created a new clarity with regard to the need for a pushback against ALEC and its corporate sponsors. And that clarity has renewed a civil rights coalition that will be needed if there is to be any hope for breaking the grip of one-size-fits-all lawmaking and renewing small "d" democracy and sound governance in the states.
The focus of the moment is, of course, on the "Kill at Will" laws—known variously as "Castle Doctrine" and "Stand Your Ground" measures, referred to by former Florida US Attorney Kendall Coffey as "License-to-Kill" laws—that ALEC has been promoting nationally since 2005 in cooperation with the National Rifle Association, the gun manufacturing industry and gun retailers. These laws, which afford immunity to gunmen who shoot unarmed individuals they presume to be threatening, go far beyond the traditional self-defense protections that have been afforded Americans from the founding of the republic. They tie the hands of responsible politice officers and prosecutors. And they create openings for abuses like those that have been highlighted in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
This is appropriate. But it is not an end point for new civil rights campaigners. ALEC has been in the forefront of promoting restrictive Voter ID laws and related measures that open government and democracy groups identify as voter suppression schemes. The group, which links corporate representatives and conservative legislators to develop and promote so-called "model legislation," has as well pushed measures that undermine public-employee and private-sector unions, threaten public education and remove regulatory protections that are most vital to low-income Americans.