ALEC Ratified the NRA-Conceived Law That May Protect Trayvon Martin's Killer

Trayvon MartinA Florida law that may protect the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February is the template for an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) "model bill" that has been pushed in other states. The bill was brought to ALEC by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and fits into a pattern of ALEC bills that disproportionately impact communities of color.

Florida's "stand your ground," or "castle doctrine," law could prevent the prosecution of George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old "neighborhood watch" vigilante who shot the unarmed Martin as the teen returned from a trip to 7-11 with an iced tea and a pack of Skittles. The law, also pushed by its supporters under the name the "Castle Doctrine," changes state criminal justice and civil law codes by giving legal immunity to a person who uses "deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." It also bars the deceased's family from bringing a civil suit.

Evidence suggests a major reason Zimmerman thought he needed to use deadly force against the unarmed Martin is because the teen was black -- on the recording of Zimmerman's call to 911 (which he made before pursuing the teen), he is heard using what sounds like a racial epithet and saying "he's a black male...Something's wrong with him...These a**holes, they always get away." Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime.

As Media Matters reported earlier, Florida's "stand your ground" law is nearly identical to the ALEC Castle Doctrine Act.

From the Florida law:

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

And from the ALEC model:

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

ALEC is the corporate-funded organization that allows global corporations like Wal-Mart and ideological special interests like the NRA to hand state legislators changes to the laws they desire. ALEC “model bills” have served as the template for voter ID laws that swept the country in 2011, for the “voucher” programs that privatize education, for anti-environmental deregulatory bills, and for the wave of anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana.

NRA 2005 Castle Doctrine ALECThe NRA and its lobbyist Marion Hammer helped draft the "stand your ground" law and first pushed it in Florida. Florida Senator Durell Peaden, an ALEC member, introduced the law in his state and it passed in early 2005 as the NRA's Hammer reportedly "stared down legislators as they voted." After Governor Jeb Bush signed it into law, Hammer presented the bill to ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force (now known as the Public Safety and Elections Task Force) months later.

As the Center for Media and Democracy has uncovered, the NRA boasted that "[h]er talk was well-received," and the corporations and state legislators on the Task Force voted unanimously to approve the bill as an ALEC model. As CMD and Common Cause have noted, ALEC Task Force meetings are closed to the press and public, but corporations and ideological special interests or trade groups like the NRA vote as equals with elected officials. At the time, as CMD has documented, Wal-Mart was the corporate co-chair of the Task Force (see the screenshot here). Since becoming an ALEC model, 16 states have passed laws that contain provisions identical or similar to the ALEC "Castle Doctrine Act." In 2007 it was passed in four states and highlighted by ALEC on their "legislative scorecard," as discovered by Common Cause.

In 2011, controversial governor and ALEC alum Scott Walker signed into law in Wisconsin a Castle Doctrine bill that echoes the ALEC bill in key elements. On March 3 of this year, 20-year-old college student Bo Morrison was shot and killed by a homeowner in Slinger, Wisconsin as the young man hid from police after attending an underage drinking party. Because of the Castle Doctrine, no charges will be filed in the shooting. Like Trayvon Martin, Bo Morrison was black.

Codifying Racial Bias

"The 'Stand Your Ground' law is a license to kill," former U.S. attorney Kendall Coffey told NBC News, noting that the number of "justifiable homicides" in Florida has tripled since the law was passed in 2005.

The Castle Doctrine and its "stand your ground" provisions give license for people to engage in vigilantism without liability. As such, the ALEC bill can put the decision to take a life in the hands of a person whose fears are motivated by prejudice and racial bias. The law establishes a presumption that a person acted in self-defense if a killer claims they had a reasonable fear of bodily harm, but in situations like the killing of Trayvon Martin, where there were few eyewitnesses other than the alleged killer and the person who is killed, the presumption of immunity can be very difficult to rebut. In those circumstances, unfounded fear based on racial prejudice that leads to murder could end up being protected under the law.

If the ALEC "Castle Doctrine Act" opens the door for racial bias to be protected under the criminal justice system, the ALEC model "Voter ID Act" may sanction racial prejudice in the electoral system.

Let the people voteThe ALEC "Voter ID Act" would require voters show only certain kinds of photo IDs at the polls, which could potentially disenfranchise millions of people who do not have the required photo ID but who have proof of identity and residency -- primarily people of color, the poor, and the elderly. A study from the Brennan Center found approximately 5 million people nationally do not have the state-issued IDs that the new laws require to vote. In Wisconsin, around 220,000 eligible voters lack ID, with around half of all African-Americans and Latinos and a quarter of all elderly citizens not having a driver's license.

"The heart of the modern block the vote campaign is a wave of restrictive government-issued photo identification requirements," states a December report from the NAACP. "In a coordinated effort, legislators in thirty-four states introduced bills imposing such requirements. Many of these bills were modeled on legislation," the report notes, approved by corporations and politicians through the "American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a conservative advocacy group whose founder explained: 'our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.'"

ALEC Meetings Not Representative

While some ALEC bills disproportionately affect communities of color, it may be little surprise that African-Americans and Latinos are mostly absent at ALEC meetings. The 2011 ALEC meeting in New Orleans was overwhelmingly white based on the observations of those attending. But the lack of representation is striking for an organization purportedly concerned with giving a voice to those affected by government action.

After the Center for Media and Democracy analyzed and made available over 800 previously-secret ALEC "model bills" in July, ALEC's National Chair, Louisiana Rep. Noble Ellington, spoke with NPR's Terry Gross about the organization. Gross asked Ellington, "Why give corporations such a big say in drafting legislation?" Ellington replied, "Well, partly because they're one of the ones who will be affected by it."

While corporations may have had a say in drafting legislation, people representing populations most affected by ALEC model bills -- like communities of color -- were not in the closed-door meetings where politicians vote as equals with lobbyists. But some are raising their voices -- Color of Change has launched a campaign encouraging corporations that rely on business from African-Americans to stop funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) through corporate membership dues.

The Color of Change ALEC petition is available here. The group's petition demanding justice for Trayvon Martin is available here.

CMD's Executive Director Lisa Graves and Nick Surgey of Common Cause contributed research to this article. Please note the additional file attachments below.

* This article was updated with the March 27 Media Matters report, where Hammer admitted to helping draft the law.

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When I saw the 220,000 number for potential voters lacking photo ID's in Wisconsin combined with a claim that the number was comprised of half the black and Hispanic voters and one-quarter of the elderly I decided a simple Fact Check courtesy of calculator and Census Bureau was in order. Well, according to my calculations, half the black voting populace plus half the Hispanic plus one-quarter of the elderly is well over 600,000! If you can't get any closer than this I'm afraid the people demanding Voter ID may have an even better argument than they thought.

I appreciate your thorough review of the article. Those numbers come from Judge Richard Flanagan's order in the Dane County Circuit Court, and reflect mixed data available for those possessing driver's licenses and IDs: Flanagan notes that evidence suggests 221,975 voters do not have a driver's license or ID. That number is based upon a 2002 study, reduced by exclusions for felony convictions and people who are non-citizens. Around 80 percent of Wisconsinites have a driver's license, but only 45% of African-American males and 51% of African-American females possess a license, and for Latinos, 54% of males and 41% of females have a license. The study was not able to estimate how many individuals in those populations did not have a driver's license but did have an ID. According to the study, 23% of Wisconsinites age 65 and older (approximately 177,399 individuals) have neither a license nor a photo ID. The study is here:

I am just curious, with all of the controversy surrounding how the media has manipulated and/or twisted facts in the Trayvon shooting, why do you still use a photograph of a 12-year-old Trayvon when in fact he was 17 and 6"3". I have no opinion on anyone's guilt or innocence, but I feel its important to point out distortions in media.

The news has manipulated this story from the get go, to sell more papers, and all it did was enrage the civil rights leaders across the country, along with many many people !! They started out with some pictures from 5yrs ago, and kept saying the fact he went to the store for skittles-(like a small child would)-at first I was outraged,and didn't understand how come a grown man couldn't just grab him by the collar and take him home. Turns out the pictures are very old, and in fact the coroners report listed Trayvon as 6 foot 3 inches tall, and 160 pounds-(bigger than Mr Zimmerman)-who by the way could have been in his own house, and not caring about his GATTED COMUNITY,complete with rules for coming and going. That's why people pay more to live in a protected neighborhood. Everyone can quote any rummer they want to support their side of this case, but the facts are-(NONE OF US WHERE THERE)-sad but true. Another thing, where are they going to find 13 people who have not been soiled by the media ??? It is a very sad and tragic situation,someones going to have to figure out-(glad I don't have to)-