Just when we discover that, much as we had feared, money need not be the defining weapon of politics, we come to the issue, agreed recently by the Supreme Court to review, of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
If we went ballistic over the purchase of votes by PACS and rich would-be Senators and Representatives, you can imagine how we feel about the Court’s desire to review this landmark legislation which guarantees a second great freedom in the US of A: the right of all to vote.
This past autumn and summer, we have witnessed Republican controlled state legislatures try to suppress the public’s right to vote by changing early voting days, taking advantage of gerrymandering and changing the borders of House districts, advising voters that the real date for the election was November 8th, not 6th, and having a goon-squad of poll “observers” intimidate young people, blacks, Hispanics, older people.
But all this amounts to nothing if on rehearing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 the Supreme Court once again undermines democracy in this country. Worse, demonstrates to the world at large that we’re not the people we thought we were, and that civil rights here in the United States still belong to a fraction of its citizens.
There is no doubt in our own mind that the Supreme Court knew exactly what it was doing, and what it was going to do, by rehearing Citizens United two years ago. The Court, in effect, has become politicized. Since Bush v Gore, the Court has lifted its skirts to show all of us where on the political spectrum it exists.
Forget the endless Senate confirmation hearings, wherein each nominee to the Court promises to abide by earlier Court decisions, except in rare cases. This Court is now dedicated to pulling down around our ears the very structures that have made the United States the envy of the world, the one nation almost every thinking man and woman from other climates and cultures wants to enter in order to live what had been called, up until now, the American Dream.
Clearly the Court has come to believe that that dream is restricted. Worse, should be restricted, to people who are white, have money, and live at the top of the social ladder.
Citizens United in effect showed to the world that our prized independence and our age-old mantra of one man one vote was passé.
Citizens United institutionalized the purchase of votes, or that possibility, probably for the next few decades.
Now the Court has a new chance to undermine our sense of American exceptionalism by calling for a rehearing of a 1965 bill that was designed pure and simply to shore up the value of our own fifteenth amendment which says, in astonishingly clear language, that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
That’s it. Short, sweet, simple, everlasting.
But what the Court now wants to go after is what followed, the winnowing down of other desperate possibilities, such as poll taxes, voter i.d., intellectual tests to see whether citizens in question could understand a ballot (literacy tests).
Lyndon Johnson’s Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed simply and purely to close loopholes.
Now between the passing of the 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, and 1964, when civil rights battles erupted throughout the land, were nearly one hundred years of ignoring the 15th amendment is favor of a status quo the one percent could live with and wanted to live with. Fine, they might have said, we’ve done our duty. We’re given the vote to everyone. Now, let’s go about taking it away from them, slowly and painstakingly, until the 15th means about as much as any ordinary bank statement.
So for one hundred years, until 1965, African Americans were guaranteed the right to vote, but simply couldn’t. “Separate but equal” was the letter of the day.
The Voting Rights Act allowed Congress to rectify some of the more egregious standard behaviors of that day. And Congress did, including the now infamous Section 5, which is what the Court says it wants to focus on.
In everyday speech, Section 5 says that if a state has a history of unequal voting treatment, this may be rectified by applying for new rules and statutes that must be approved by the Attorney General’s office before they can go into effect. What this amounts to is a governor of states rights behavior.
Many of the states in our union that have been guilty of unequal treatment of voters under this set of statutes exist in the South, but not entirely. This most recent election cycle has shown that Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, not to mention Texas, Florida and South Carolina are still in the business of trying to keep blacks, Asians, students, older people from voting lest they vote Democratic.
It is our suspicion that the Supreme Court approves of these voter suppressive tactics. Further, the Court would like to see them continue and made even stronger for the future of their party.
In our recent election, as always, was the threat that if one side or the other won, the selection of nominees for the Court could alter American life for generations. A conservative court could set in stone restrictive measures the entire country would have to live under; a liberal court would be devoted to blowing those up.
Wondrously, the Supreme Court is now working under the same time pressures the electorate does. With at least three elderly justices perhaps due to retire soon, if the Court wants to alter in any meaningful way voting rights, it has to act quickly, lest a vacancy go to a liberal which would then throw the majority into confusion and disarray.
This time pressure makes clear that the Court knows it is walking on sacred and treacherous grounds. It wants to be an equal power in government by, in effect, becoming what the Republican Party has been yelling about for years: an activist court.
American citizens for generations have held to the idea that if all else failed, they could take their complaints for discussion and redress to the Supreme Court and get justice.
We now have a series of decisions promulgated by this same court that proves that sooner rather than later Americans will consider the Supreme Court just another arm of the Republican Party and its value as arbiter — calm, reasonable, thoughtful, and most important of all, above individual personal consideration — will evaporate and become a hub of academic studies and histories.
Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, the Affordable Health Care Act which the court narrowly but purposely upheld largely in order to maintain its own sense of value and relevance, and now finally the Voting Rights Act of 1965 review — assuming as we do that the statutes under question will be found unconstitutional by virtue of penalizing some states rather than all states for miscreant behavior — will have cheapened the very value the Court seeks desperately to maintain.
“Sappers” are disguised enemy soldiers who appear to be working for the “right” side, generally in a civil war setting, but who really are on the ground to blow up each and every opportunity for peaceful solutions.
In our mind, that pretty well defines the current Supreme Court and its mind-set.
Alas, once more, those Americans who care about equality under the law have to organize to let these nine very blessed people – one of whom is blessed by virtue of nothing more than his color— know that as Americans we want better than we’re getting from them. We want real deliberations, not preordained decisions that seek to maintain a way of life which, as the election has so dramatically proved, is changing even as we breathe.