By the time you read this article, the Supreme Court may have decided already to declare the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter that the Supreme Court has upheld the act four times, most recently in 2009; though they did express the caveat that they weren’t sure if it would survive another challenge, given how America has changed. Apparently it also doesn’t matter that Congress has voted to re-authorize the act several times, most recently in 2006; and it should be noted that the Senate voted 98-0 to re-authorize the act after reviewing 15,000 pages of documents amassed in an investigation of whether the act was still necessary.
Longtime conservative political pundit George Will seems to be against re-authorization of the act. He points out that when Congress made that decision in 2006, the most recent data they used came from 1972. Now while I wonder as to the veracity of his claim; he also once seriously claimed that, “The real reason for progressives’ passion for [high-speed rail]is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.” George Will is merely echoing the opinions of other conservatives, such as Rep. Lynn Westmoreland who said:
Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven, that Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents. We have repented and we have reformed.
Now these seem like reasonable criticisms; or at least they do to those who don’t see the need to find out what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story”. When it comes to the Voting Rights Act itself, it is by no means a perpetual “scarlet letter”, as this article points out,
The court affirmed that states and communities that can prove no history of discriminatory election activity in the last 10 years can apply for a “bailout” from the program. In fact, the Austin, Texas utility district at the center of Blum’s 2009 case, and many other areas, have been approved and removed from the federal oversight program carved out in Section Five. Shelby county and all of Alabama, for that matter, have never applied.
How can the law be considered unfair when all a state or community has to do to opt out of the Voting Rights Act restrictions is to show no history of discriminatory election activity for ten years? It’s been more than four times that long since the passage of the act, but even now Shelby county doesn’t feel that they are able to opt out of the act? Frankly, this should not come as a surprise to anyone from the Deep South. Furthermore, all one has to do is to look at this frankly inadequate list of voter suppression tactics that have been used since 2000 to see that the Voting Rights Act is still needed.
There’s more to the Republican war on democracy than the assault on the Voting Rights Act. There’s RedMap, the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Redistricting Majority Project, that they credit with maintaining the 33-seat Republican majority in the House of Representatives despite the fact that Democratic candidates received well over a million more aggregate votes than did the Republicans. Now the RedMap strategy is being touted as a way to the presidency since if it had been implemented nationwide prior to the 2012 election, Romney would have won, despite the five million vote deficit. It’s not hard to imagine what America’s Republicans would do if a Democrat won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by over five million votes!
But wait! There’s yet more that illustrates the growing Republican contempt for democracy. Perhaps the most egregious is the Michigan GOP’s Emergency Manager program, wherein if the governor decides that a city is in financial trouble, he can, without any public debate or discussion on the matter, decide to assign an Emergency Manager to that city. The Emergency Manager then has unilateral authority to hire and fire anyone within that city’s government, up to and including the mayor. Now while that may sound good on its face to some, it also means that the democratically elected government has zero authority in such cases; all the authority is now in the hands of a government-appointed Emergency Manager. The program has a less-than-stellar track record.
It’s the Republican war on democracy’s trifecta: repealing the Voting Rights Act, implementation of RedMap, and Michigan’s Emergency Manager program. Again, it’s not hard to guess the GOP’s reaction had the Democrats implemented any of these. I cannot imagine any former Republican president (including George W. Bush) since the passage of the Civil Rights Act supporting these, but today’s GOP has itself worked up into such a frenzy that abominations like these have begun to sound reasonable. Any serious student of history knows what can happen when the rank-and-file begin to accept authentically such deplorable policies.