Sunday, February 28, 2016

Is Holding a Presidential Caucus on Shabbat Unconstitutional?

This past week Nevada held their third annual state Caucus. The Republican Caucus was held on Thursday while the Democratic caucus  was held on the following Saturday. The timing of Democratic Caucus has sparked controversy because Sabbath-observing Jews cannot partake in elections due to their religious obligations. In Nevada, the Jewish community is a major demographic for both parties, and their inability to participate in this year's Democratic Caucus will undoubtedly skew the polls.

The result of the state caucuses has a remarkable influence and important implications for who the Democratic and Republican nominee for President will be.  By denying Jewish peoples’ ability to vote in their perspective party's caucus, is the US Government impeding on their right to Free Exercise?

The timing of the Nevada Democratic caucus is made more problematic because of a caucus is a relatively unknown process to most citizens. Unlike primary elections, the process of caucuses is much more complicated and far less familiar to the general public. Not only is having the Caucus be on Saturday bad for Jewish representation, also, this will lead to even less of the general public understanding and participate in caucuses.

Although multiple Orthodox groups have voiced concern about the timing of the caucus nothing has been done to change it. Republicans argue that this is not an issue on the grounds that the interest from this demographic is lacking. In the words of Sandy Mallin, who headed the Jewish campaigns in the state of Nevada for Republicans, “I don’t know anybody who is going to caucus”. However, this is a stark contrast from what Joel Wagner a point man for Hilary Clinton said, He stated that in his canvassing has found upwards of 300 eligible Jewish voters.

This case reminded me of Braunfeld v. Brown, a case concerning whether a blue law restricting business operation on Sundays, were an unconstitutional burden on Jewish business owners because it required them to have their stores closed one more day than their Christian competitors. However unlike that case, I believe that this is an unconstitutional burden on the Jewish people of Nevada because it makes it impossible for them to practice their civic duty. Braunfeld v. Brown ruled that blue laws are constitutional because they serve a secular purpose by giving people a day of rest; however holding a caucus on a Saturday although convenient for some people makes it impossible for people of the Jewish faith to participate.

In my opinion, this is a tremendous problem. By excluding a whole religion the polls will be skewed and their voices will not be heard. Making it so Orthodox Jews have to choose between their civic duties or religious duties, in order to participate in this year's caucus is despicable. Unlike Braunfeld v. Brown, which was concerned with economic losses, Making it impossible for Sabbath-observing Jews to participate in the Caucus is a loss of rights. Being able to engage fully in the presidential election is a right, not a privilege. This loss of rights is blatantly unconstitutional and puts the Democratic Party at a huge disadvantage because the voices of a main demographic are being silenced furthermore their demands are left unheard.

Hopefully, in the future, the parties will take into account important religious events like this, and ensure poor timing of very important political events violates that one person’s rights on. This blatant disregard for Sabbath is not only insensitive but unconstitutional.


Rebecca J said...

I agree with Lucy that holding the primary on a Saturday, the Jewish sabbath day, is unconstitutional. The connection of this case with Braunfield v. Brown is important. In Braunfield v. Brown, the businnesmen who could not work on Saturday were at a financial disadvantage, but they could have pursued other job opportunities that did not require them to work on Saturdays. However, in the current case, Jewish individuals in Nevada do not have the option of when to participate in the primary elections. They are forced to choose between their religious obligations and their political participation, which is essentially limiting their free exercise of religion. I think the fact that primary participation is low and that there is a small Jewish population in the state is not important. The opportunities for a specific religion to participate in the political process is still being limited solely because of their relgiion, which clearly violates the first amendment.

Hannah L. said...

I also see the connections to Braunfield v. Brown and, like Lucy and Rebecca, think this case in particular is unconstitutional and prohibits the free exercise of religion. In the Braunfield case, the store owners had the option to work in a different occupation or work on the other days of the week. They chose their occupation and, while they were burdened financially because of it, they had other options. In this case, the caucus only occurs on one day and it happened to be on a day when a group of people had to choose between their religious beliefs and their political convictions. I believe this is a violation of the constitution and the free exercise of religion. In addition, the Democratic party is now at a disadvantage because they lost a voting population due to their religious views.

Jim R said...

I agree with the opinions of the previous posters.

Holding the primary on Saturday forces interested Jewish voters to choose between their duty to their religion's day of rest and the secular duty of informing themselves about candidates they wish to vote for once the primaries are complete. This action impedes on the right to attend the assembly for Hebrews. An indirect burden, even if it is unintentional, should not force a person to compromise their morals to fulfill a public duty. As Hannah pointed out, this event happens once every four years and the dates are often planned months in advance, so there is no opportunity for an alternate or secondary debate to take place that has the same accessibility for these citizens.

Sedona Boyatzis said...

I agree with the opinions from previous comments. This voting schedule creates a conflict that is significantly harmful to the not only the Orthodox portion but for the entire Jewish community of Nevada. Restricting Orthodox Jews from their freedom to vote based off of religious requirement is unconstitutional and should not be pardoned. This not only disadvantages this population but disadvantages the Democratic caucus by losing votes it could have otherwise received. This disadvantage clearly demotivates the entire Jewish population, as the blog post states, obviously because it brings about a frustration that can be dealt with by simply not attending the caucus. This schedule should have been reconsidered for another date, not only to ensure a just amount of votes for the Democratic party but also to ensure the Jewish populations' freedom of religion.

Lauren Caldas said...

I agree with all of the previous comments that this situation is unconstitutional. It limits the rights of these Jewish citizens to vote freely due to their conflicting religious practices. Voting is a basic right provided to American citizens that is being taken away from these people. They should not have to chose between their religious practices and their political activism. Since the Jewish population that is having the conflict is a group that is usually well representing in the voting, they should have been taken into more careful consideration. It is nearly impossible to accommodate for all different religions but since the Jewish Sabbath day would obviously cause a conflict, this should have been looked into more carefully. However, this does not mean that other religions should be disregarded, but this unconstitutional conflict could have been easily avoided.

nick paray said...

Voting is a right in our democratic republic, not a mandate; anyone can vote, but no one may be forced to vote. First of all, caucus and primary dates are decided by respective political establishments, not the government. There's no law mandating that a primary must be held on a certain date, they are allowed to change. It's ridiculous to suggest that a political party schedule caucus dates with any and all potential conflicts--religious or not--in mind. The decision of a privately owned establishment to decide when they hold an official public ballot should not be considered unconstitutional.