In June of 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a contentious 5-4 ballot divided along ideological lines. From his naive and privileged white male perch, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, “Our country has changed…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.”
Two months later writer Ari Berman of The Nation, apparently a little wider-eyed than the conservative SCOTUS wing, wrote a piece entitled The Voting Rights Act Is in Peril on Its Forty-Eighth Anniversary. In it, he observed:
“The Supreme Court’s decision in late June invalidating Section 4 of the VRA threatens to roll back much of the progress made over the past 48 years. Since the ruling, six Southern states previously covered under Section 4 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions, with North Carolina recently passing the country’s worst voter suppression law. The latest assault on the franchise comes on the heels of a presidential election in which voter suppression attempts played a starring role.”
But that’s why Roberts and his cohorts threw the ball back at Congress, right? Surely our elected officials wouldn’t stand for rampant modern disenfranchisement efforts after so many fought and died for truly universal suffrage.
I guess the court’s right wing is so deeply committed to the study of law, they haven’t paid much attention to the news since Obama took the oath of office in January 2009. The most recently adjourned 113th Congress produced just 22 percent of it’s “Do-Nothing,” 1947-1948 counterpart. Suffice it to say the Voting Rights Act is every bit as imperiled on its 50th anniversary this year, as it was on its 48th.
Maybe it’s because I just stepped out of the ballot box this week, casting my vote in an effort to unseat Chicago’s machiniest (yes, I just invented a word) Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Maybe it’s because most of the volunteer faces I saw at my local polling place making the magic happen were African-American ones, but I’m more irked than usual by Capitol Hill’s failure to act.
On last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press, Republican House Member Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania spoke with Chuck Todd about the fate of the VRA. Despite actually supporting a Congressional rewrite of the law, Dent provided the usual rhetorical cover for his less noble party mates on the subject of voter ID restrictions (the ones that in many states allow for concealed weapons permits to be presented, but not student identification):
“Well, I do support voter ID. I think Republicans will insist on voter ID being protected. I’m from Pennsylvania. I have witnessed voter fraud. We had a state senator thrown out because of absentee ballot fraud in the 1990s. I lived through that.
It was awful. It was a stolen election. And we’ve seen it. We had a candidate for Congress in Maryland not so long ago in 2012 who voted in both 2006 and 2008 in Florida and Maryland. She had to drop out. So, there is real fraud out there. And I think you can be against discrimination and against fraud. Those two ideas are compatible.”
After hearing Dent’s comments, a rather simple observation occurred to me. What is the common denominator in the Representative’s two fraud examples? Both were perpetrated by politicians rather than private citizens. I think most of us are still waiting for the “awful” tales of our next door neighbor running to the ballot box multiple times just for kicks. In the fraudulent absentee ballot scenario, is there any doubt it was a conspiracy cooked up by the state senate candidate and his or her staff?
It should be no surprise by this time, but whenever present-day Republicans point a finger and cry “foul,” you can be reasonably sure the crime is an inside job. But when justice, common sense and decency fail to get them to move, sometimes a little shame is the most effective weapon. If Dent hopes to be taken at all seriously after his television appearance last Sunday, may he repeat his words early and often to his GOP colleagues:
“I think many Republicans recognize that the Voting Rights Act is the single most important civil rights legislation ever passed in American history. And we also take seriously the fact that we do need to amend the Voting Rights Act, given the court’s rulings.”