In part I, I examined the history leading up to the creation of the Voting Rights Act as well as the immense role that it has served our nation ever since. In Part II I will examine how one decision by 5 Supreme Court Justices has lead to the rebirth of Jim Crow out of the smoldering ashes of the VRA. The doppelganger to the Phoenix has risen.
Haven’t Seen Part 1? Read Part I.
The Ghost of Voting Present
This past year, in an extremely questionable 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court decided in Shelby County v. Holder on June 25th, 2013. Authored by Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito, the decision ruled that the landmark legislation of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was obsolete, and unfair to those States that had warranted oversight under the VRA.
Roberts wrote as his argument “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” continuing with “obsolete statistics” and that the coverage formula “violates the constitution.”
5 out of the 9 Supreme Court justices struck down the essential “coverage formula” as unconstitutional, stating that it was “no longer responsive to current conditions”. The Court left in place Section 5 intact, but lacking Section 4b, no jurisdiction is subject to Section 5 preclearance.
Once one of the country’s greatest success stories in the pursuit of equality, the VRA of ’65 had been sufficiently lobotomized. “The Coverage Formula” which covered nine states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) and parts of six others (in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota) was dropped from the bill, leaving enforcement of the VRA dead on the Court room floor. Justice Clarence Thomas went on to take it one step further and stated his belief that Section 5 is also unconstitutional, which he had previously stated in an early encounter with the VRA in 2009.
So, was Jim Crow dead? Did the 5 Justices have insight that we were lacking?
On behalf of herself and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a wide-ranging dissent.
“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective…The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed…the record for the 2006 reauthorization makes abundantly clear [that] second-generation barriers to minority voting rights have emerged in the covered jurisdictions as attempted substitutes for the first-generation barriers that originally triggered preclearance in those jurisdictions.” Justice Ruth Ginsburg
The Fallout- In short, Jim Crow is alive and well
Literally, within hours of the decision having been made by the Supreme Court, the States once held accountable for their previous practices of disenfranchisement of their own citizens began to implement new restrictive tools for stacking the deck.
The Brennan Center Study
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, findings…
The Citizens most greatly affected by the Photo ID laws…
- The Elderly
- Students of Voting Age
The Brennan Center Study estimates over 500,000 eligible voters in 10 states who could be negatively affected by these photo ID laws.
In Texas, nearly 13%, close to two million inhabitants, of the state’s eligible voting–age, live a distance greater than 10 miles away from the nearest state office issuing voter ID’s. the study goes on to note that in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas, many of the part-time ID-issuing offices are the ones found in the rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty who are not able to find transportation nor the proper time slot in which to get a new voter ID.
“In Wisconsin, one town’s government ID-issuing office is only open on the fifth Wednesday of the month. Admittedly, the town’s population is under 5,000, but the fifth-Wednesday rule results in the office being open only four times during 2012. With February and May behind us, it will open again on Wednesday, August 29, but not in September. If you miss August, wait until October 31.” Then there is the “Mississippi Catch-22: in order to get a government-issued photo ID to vote, one must present a birth certificate, but a photo ID is required by the state before a birth certificate can be issued.” New America Media (link below)
“The analysis by Cohen and Rogowski was recently released by the Chicago-based, Black Youth Project, a nonpartisan coalition launched in 2004 to examine the political participation of African-Americans aged 15 to 25. It estimated that new photo requirements potentially could turn away:
“170,000 to 475,000 young black voters.
68,000 to 250,000 young Hispanic voters.
13,000 to 46,000 young Asian-American voters.
1,700 to 6,400 young Native American voters.
700 to 2,700 young Pacific Islander voters.”
“In 2004, turnout for minority voters ages 18-24 was 44% for blacks, 20.4% for Hispanics, and 23.4% for Asian-Americans. In 2008, 52.3% of young blacks, 27.4% of young Latinos and 27.8% of young Asian-Americans turned out to vote.” CBS NEWS.com
As for women’s voting rights… Beware these new ID Laws may greatly affect you as well.
Judge Sandra Watts of the 117th District Court has already felt the harsh reality of what is to come in the next round of major elections later this year. Quoted as saying:
“What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote…This is the first time I have ever had a problem voting…”
So, what was the reasoning for Judge Watts coming into such complications as to be stripped of her voting rights? The difference came down to the way her name appeared on her drivers license when compared to her voter registration form. Her license read that her maiden name, was her middle name and on her voter registration her actual middle name appeared.
This is already proving to be a black hole of voting disenfranchisement for women voters. Marriage status changes are often not kept up with on all documents. If ID’s don’t perfectly match voter registration cards, the vote will not be heard.
Racial/and political party Gerrymandering
Although Racial Gerrymandering is still covered under sections 2 and 5, these laws too have been greatly weakened over the past 20 years. Gerrymandering has become an Art form as States are dicing up their counties into ever intricate patterns to get the best yield in their electorate’s favor.
Practices that had once been overseen by the Federal Government to protect the balance of keeping Fraud out of the system has been dismantled and those States who cried that the VRA was outdated and that they were being wrongfully punished, have once again proven that the VRA’s existence and reinforcement is just as necessary today as it was in 1965.
The Ghost of Voting Future
The Future is not set in Stone, but one thing is certain; If the VRA is not strengthened, our country will see a level of Voter Fraud which has not been seen since before 1965. These Photo ID laws, which are said to prevent fraud, are actually the largest voter disenfranchisement tools of the Jim Crow kind since the 60’s.
“Supporters of the voter ID law, such as Governor Rick Perry, argue that it’s necessary to stop the rampant menace of voter fraud. But there’s no evidence that voter impersonation fraud is a problem in Texas. According to the comprehensive News21 database, there has been only one successful conviction for voter impersonation—I repeat, only one—since 2000.
Texas has the distinction of being one of the few states that allows you to vote with a concealed weapons permit, but not a student ID.” The Nation.com
The question I have for our politicians is, where was this mass voter fraud that these ID laws needed to fix? There has been only 1 recorded case of voter fraud in Texas in the past 14 years, and such voter fraud could very well be in favor of the conservatives not just the liberals. Their case falls flat. There are no such grave voting fraud issues that needed fixing. An excuse was needed to stack the deck and so the fear was created.
Is there light at the end of this tunnel?
Perhaps. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s short sighted decision, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation to put the tooth back into the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The legislation, known as “The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” represents the first attempt by a bipartisan group in Congress to reinstate the vital sections of the VRA that the Supreme Court said were outdated and no longer needed.
This bill would help reinstate much of what was lost but it will not fully address the issues raised by the New ID Laws and therefore is far from perfect. The issue with this weak link is that VRA supporters may very well also veto this New Amendment based on the lack of Photo ID coverage, but if currently added the Conservative Congress which does not benefit from voting equality, is sure to strike it down. The timing seems perfect for a Congressional election season in which many GOP candidates are finding themselves against the wall for their behavior of the 113th Congress.
The question I have for all of the citizens of the USA, is, “What do we really want? Do we want a vote that is weighted in one party’s favor, if it means that the vote is fraudulent, or do we truly stand for every vote to count?”
As for me, I stand strong behind the belief that the true majority should be heard, whether I am part of that majority or not. The now Corporately Controlled Congress and Supreme Court are obviously weighing in, in favor of stacking the deck and winning, for their sponsors, by cheating the US citizens out of their right to be heard, to help pass more laws granting more tax subsidies to the corporations sending our jobs over seas, more tax breaks for the richest 1%, and less Environmental oversight in Industry, which as we speak is poisoning the waters of West Virginia.
Partisan Politics aside, the disenfranchisement of voters only strengthens the global corporate strangle hold on our nation. Our votes are meaningless if our politicians are all working for private corporate entities and not the people. Ethically and constitutional every legal citizen has the right to be part of the process.
This is the Oath that every Supreme Court Justice swears to uphold
“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________ under the Constitution and laws of the United States; and that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Are these 5 justices in violation of this oath? Are they serving the interests of the People, the constitution and it’s laws that they were put on the bench to uphold, or are they serving the interests of a Corporate few to which they have great financial ties to and that have the most to gain from striking down the VRA?
Not perhaps well know is this little fact
Although Supreme Court Justices are awarded life long positions on the Bench, they can also be removed from their position through impeachment. If found guilty of neglecting their duties or misusing their power, they can be asked to step down. In light of the recent decisions made by the 5 Justices in question, most importantly, Citizens United and the VRA decision of 2013, we should be concerned as to what further damage they might do to our nation before they finally meet their maker.
There has been a great deal of talk from the GOP of Impeachment. I agree. I just do not agree on who needs to be impeached. Congress was asked by the Supreme Court in 2009 (during this 113th congress) to update the necessary studies on the VRA, to allow the Court to review newer data. Congress somehow forgot to fulfill this demand, or more precisely, ignored the demand in order to see the VRA collapse. Impeachment, is a word that deserves to be used a lot right now. The Tea Party Congress held the country hostage for 16 days costing the nation $24 billion dollars in service of the privatized health care industry. I think we should start impeachment inquiries into many of these members and the dirty money trail that has been hidden with help of the other unjust Supreme Court decision made by the very same 5 Justices in Citizens United.
Perhaps, the time has come for all citizens, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Liberal, conservative, male female, black, white, Gay, Straight, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew, and Buddhist and all others alike, to band together and stop being spun by our politician’s smoke screens and mass media, paid for by the very rich who are extorting the system. We have a common struggle to take back our nation from the now ruling 1% in their ivory towers. Let’s put “The People” back in power of our great culturally diverse nation. Make your vote count.
I believe that, prosperity does not come from the few greedy ruling the masses, but our collective nation, with varying thoughts, wisdom and opinions, deciding on the best direction forward, in the interest of the People.
If you are interested in being heard by your Senators, Congressmen and the Supreme Court and wish to help move the civil rights of the nation forward, then here are some links to sites and petitions for protecting the VRA.
Thanks for reading and more over being part for positive change in your country.
Moveon.org at: To be delivered to Rep. Donald Payne
VRA for Today at: On going updates on the VRA
The Leadership Conference Petition to your senators and congressmen at:
Research materials for this article and further reading at:
The Nation.com: http://www.thenation.com/blog/177962/members-congress-introduce-new-fix-voting-rights-act#
The Yale Law Journal: http://www.yalelawjournal.org/the-yale-law-journal/note/the-voting-rights-act’s-secret-weapon:-pocket-trigger-litigation-and-dynamic-preclearance/
Supreme Court.gov: http://www.supremecourt.gov/about/oath/textoftheoathsofoffice2009.aspx
CBS News.com: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/study-voter-id-law-would-exclude-up-to-700000-young-minorities/
New America Media: http://newamericamedia.org/2012/07/voter-photo-id-laws-have-harsh-impact-on-poor-elderly-and-minority-voters-study-says.php
James Tucker: http://www.nyujlpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/TUCKER-ENFRANCHISING-LANGUAGE-MINORITY-CITIZENS-TEH-BILINGUAL-ELECTION-PROVISIONS-OF-THE-VOTING-RIGHTS-ACT.pdf
The ACLU.org: https://www.aclu.org/timeline-history-voting-rights-act
The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2013/07/08/130708crat_atlarge_menand?currentPage=7
The Huffingtonpost: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/voting-rights-act-supreme-court_n_3429810.html
The NY Times.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/us/supreme-court-ruling.html?pagewanted=all
The Nation.com: http://www.thenation.com/blog/176792/texas-voter-id-law-discriminates-against-women-students-minorities#
As always, leave your thoughts and comments below!