This Week’s Supreme Court Decision Takes Us Back To the ’60s

Voting Rights ActPardon me but I’m still seething from the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to nullify a key provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law that had been re-authorized and even strengthened four times since its inception by Congress. Which just goes to show that even when Congress manages to accomplish something, albeit not often, there’s a good chance the Supreme Court’s justices will come along and muck it up.

There’s a good reason why Tuesday’s decision split along party lines, 5 to 4. Voting rights has become a partisan issue and the Supreme Court has become a partisan tool, primarily that of the Right.

The current crop of Republicans in Washington are adamantly opposed to voting rights for the poor, the middle class, African Americans, Hispanics, and college students, just to name a few. Republicans are opposed to allowing these folks to vote because when they do, they have a nasty habit of voting Democratic. It’s apparent by their actions that the Republican Party finds it more palatable to disenfranchise voters than to change their policies.

Since things have not been going well for them since the country elected Barack Obama as president, they’ve been busy introducing and passing bills that will give them a better chance of winning back the White House in 2016. They were hopeful when this particular issue came before the Supreme Court that it would rule in their favor since five of the nine justices are inclined to do so. Now for those of you who thought the Supreme Court was impartial, non-partisan and “fair and balanced,” I have some prime ocean-front real estate in Arizona that I will sell to you at a bargain price, sight unseen.

It seems that the main reason SCOTUS voted to neuter the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was because a provision in it, Section 4, was no longer deemed necessary since we no longer discriminate against folks because of their skin color, religious beliefs, their nationality or sexual orientation. That’s a thing of the past, right?

The naivete of the five justices would seem to indicate that they don’t get out much. They must be spending a lot of time hitting the books and stuff. Whatever books they’ve been hitting, they apparently haven’t been ones about voter suppression in the 21st century.

Had they taken the time to read those books, they would have discovered that since 2008–just over the past five years–at least 38 states have attempted to place various restrictions on certain potential voters (see above). In that time they have increased requirements to register to vote, limited the number of days and locations where people can vote, and required IDs that many don’t have or they can’t easily obtain.

You may recall no further back than 2012 when Republicans pulled out all the stops in an undisguised effort to suppress the vote. Remember those long lines in Florida and some other states where people had to wait in line for hours in order to vote? Well, come 2014 and 2016, there are going to be more of them.

With the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday, a number of states immediately lurched into action in an effort to pass bills making it more difficult for certain segments of society to vote, those segments that tend to vote Democratic.

Here in North Carolina our Republican-controlled general assembly and governor didn’t hesitate to move legislation forward to disenfranchise its state’s voters. When it comes to disenfranchisement our state’s leaders are no slouches. Now before the Court’s ruling 40 of North Carolina’s 100 counties were covered under the VRA’s Sections 4 and 5. That meant that because they had been naughty in the past, they had to get prior approval from the DOJ (Dept. of Justice) before implementing any voting laws. Now that that pesky part of the VRA has been nullified, they’re free to move ahead and will limit voting in a variety of ways. The bill listing these will come up next week in the state senate, where it will pass.

In voicing his condemnation of the Supreme Court decision Tuesday, Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights legend, noted that the decision had been rendered on the 49th anniversary of the day in 1964 when three civil rights volunteers disappeared in Mississippi–James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman–and who turned up later, murdered. That event ultimately led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It’s times like these when one has the overwhelming sense that we as a nation are moving backwards.


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