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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Inui

Weekly News Blast | Nov 19 - 26

Updated: Jul 6

A court case handed down in the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals significantly weakens voting rights in the region (Fine Photographics/Unsplash)

Federal Court Weakens Voting Rights Act

On November 20, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that drastically weakens the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In a 2-1 vote, the court held that only the federal government can bring legal challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a crucial provision that prohibits racial discrimination in election or voting practices. 

The decision was met by severe pushback from many voting rights advocates. “For generations, private individuals have brought cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect their right to vote,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, the director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “By failing to reverse the district court’s radical decision, the Eighth Circuit has put the Voting Rights Act in jeopardy, tossing aside critical protections that voters fought and died for.” Historically, most appeals under Section 2 have been from private organizations or individuals; there have only been 15 successful federal cases under Section 2 since 1982, as opposed to 182 successful private cases (of more than 400 total private cases). 

However, many conservative groups have hailed the decision as a victory. “The Voting Rights Act remains intact as a tool to prevent actual discrimination and disenfranchisement,” said Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, a conservative group. “But the V.R.A. is not, and was never intended to be, a partisan weapon against democratically enacted election integrity laws and redistricting practices.”

As it stands now, the ruling applies only to states in the 8th Circuit (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota). However, the decision is almost certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court, where its fate is unclear. The court’s conservative majority has weakened the Voting Rights Act in the past, but they also issued a June ruling that struck down a Alabama congressional map that they found was racially discriminatory. However, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, this will remain a historic case in civil rights history.

Number One Cryptocurrency Exchange Up For Money Laundering

Changpeng Zhao, the founder of cryptocurrency exchange Binance, pleaded guilty to three charges of money laundering on November 21. The charges are the result of a years long joint-investigation by the Justice Department, Treasury Department, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. 

According to the Justice Department, Zhao and associates violated the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to implement anti-money laundering programs and willfully violating U.S. economic sanctions. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen explained that Binance allowed more than 100,000 illicit transactions that supported activities such as terrorism and illegal narcotics, with ties to Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Qaida, and ISIS. She also expalined that the exchange allowed more than 1.5 million transactions that violated U.S. sanctions. Yet, according to Yellen, Binance “never filed a single suspicious activity report.” In short, Zhao and other executives “engaged in a deliberate and calculated effort to profit from the U.S. market without implementing the controls that are required by U.S. law,” explained U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

As part of his guilty plea, Zhao agreed to pay a $50 million fine and step down as Binance’s chief executive. He currently faces up to 18 months in prison, but prosecutors are looking to impose a stiffer penalty. Besides Zhao, a representative from Binance also entered a guilty plea with federal prosecutors. Asde from paying a $4.3 billion fine, Binance will now be under the supervision of a government monitor.

Zhao’s guilty plea, just weeks after Sam Bankman-Fried (another cryptocurrency mogul) was taken to trial for fraud, shook up the cryptocurreny and wider finance world. Binance is currently the largest cryptocurrency exchange, at one point processing two-thirds of all digital currency trades, and Zhao is largely considered the richest man in crypto. Now, with Binance under the leadership of Richard Teng, the former Global Head of Regional Markets, and Zhao planning to do only some “passing investing” in various crypto projects, the future of the crypto market looks uncertain. 



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