Many years ago I had the privilege of serving on the board of the Legal Defense Center of Santa Barbara. It was founded by community activists Katy Peake and Kit Tremaine, to provide legal representation to defendants in cases arising from the Isla Vista riots.

Through the years, the center took on a wide range of cases, protecting those who lacked the resources to protect themselves in the jaws of the legal system. Over time, however, the work of the center moved to a heavy emphasis on homeless issues. Richard Solomon was the first lead attorney for the organization, succeeded, I believe, by Willard Hastings. Will Hastings was certainly the longtime face of the Legal Defense Center for many years, until its ultimate closure.

In the meantime, he was a loyal friend and effective advocate for many homeless people involved in a variety of legal issues. The center brought prominent homeless activist Mitch Snyder to Santa Barbara, and it mounted a forceful battle against the city’s anti-camping and anti-sleeping ordinances.

For my money, however, the jewel in Will’s work was his effort to empower homeless people to vote. The case was first heard in Santa Barbara Superior Court, where Judge Ronald Stevens ruled against the plaintiffs. Hastings then appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura, which unanimously overturned that ruling in December 1985. Denying voters’ applications for registration on the grounds that they listed a city park as their residence violated their right to equal protection, the court said. This case had wide significance, as it became the law throughout the State of California.

How can it be, then, that Native Americans in North Dakota are in danger of being disenfranchised, even though they have a legal address at a P.O. Box but lack a street address? This is, of course, a critical state, with Heidi Heitkamp in a tight race to preserve her Senate seat, both as part of the battle for control of the Senate, and in the wake of her courageous vote against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

The Republicans seem emboldened by the outrageous confirmation of Kavanaugh, thinking that they can get away with even the most corrupt schemes of voter suppression. North Dakota is only one of several states pursuing bald-faced strategies to steal this election. It is one of two in which secretaries of state, who oversee the election, are also the Republican candidates for governor in their states. President Jimmy Carter spoke up urging the Secretary of State in Georgia to step aside to move away from this obvious conflict of interest. Once again, the Republicans simply ignore what has previously been a norm in such instances. And of course, let’s not forget that in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling supporting North Dakota’s law requiring a street address to vote, one of the votes was cast by Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination was opposed by Heidi Heitkamp.

Round and round we go.


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