Now that Racism isn't a Problem…

Back from vacation today and I still have sand in my shoes. Takeaway from Connecticut shoreline visit: Connecticut beachgoers love them private beaches. If they only had walk-throughs allowed, it wouldn’t be so absurd. We’re talking razorwire, machine gun emplacements, North Korean border guards and a sign that said “NO.” (It’s hard not to think of Woody in that “This Land Was Made for You and Me” song: “As I was walkin’ I saw a sign there/ and that sign said no trespassin’/ but on the other side it didn’t say nothin’.”)

Makes it all the more annoying to see the latest from John Roberts’ court. Seems they think we don’t have race-based vote suppression any more, so we don’t need to worry. The places that, because of histories of race-based vote suppression, formerly had to have new voting laws cleared by the Department of Justice can now do what they see fit, with repercussions only coming if there’s a successful lawsuit–once the damage has been done, and once someone has stepped forth with sufficient standing. I.e., after an election has been messed up and its results ratified.

It seems likely that the GOP’s prominent mouthpieces who have in recent years disingenuously invoked the chimera of “voter fraud” will not see this as problematic. I’d be more than happy to be wrong about that.

I remember well a scene from Mississippi, circa 1981, in which a rather portly gentleman in creaky cowboy boots squinted at my father, then a pastor embroiled in an effort to change the church’s overtly racist bylaws, and said, straining with the effort, “Brother Jim, you don’t understand. They just aren’t like us!”

We haven’t come so far that these things aren’t an issue 30 decades later. What could possibly go wrong? Heck, that fellow in the boots may be in charge of something these days, so we can rest easy he’ll be an indefatigable champion of those who just aren’t like him.

If there’s anybody who has a right to be angry, it’s Rep. John Lewis, bona fide civil rights leader of the ’60s. Here he is on today’s great leap backward (hit the link for video):

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Lewis, who witnessed the signing of the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965 after he helped wage a bloody fight for civil rights in America, said today he was “shocked, dismayed and disappointed” the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the landmark law.

“What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Lewis told ABC News. “This act helped liberate not just a people but a nation.”

Lewis, 73, who is among the last living leaders of the civil rights movement, called the decision “a very sad moment” for the nation. He stood in his congressional office, surrounded by black-and-white photographs from a bygone era and watched with ABC News as the Supreme Court released its ruling.

“I’m in disbelief that members of the Supreme Court would take this position,” Lewis said. “We’ve come a distance. We’ve made progress, but there is still progress to be made.”


And it commences

ATLANTA (AP) — Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.

After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.

AND ALSO: From Harvard Magazine last year:

The new ID laws have almost invariably been sponsored—and promoted—by Republicans, who claim that they are needed to prevent fraud. (In five states, Democratic governors vetoed ID laws passed by Republican legislatures.) Often working from a template provided by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Republican state legislators have insisted that the threat of election fraud is compelling and widespread; in December 2011, the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) buttressed that claim by publishing a list of reported election crimes during the last 12 years. Republicans have also maintained that a photo ID requirement is not particularly burdensome in an era when such documents are routinely needed to board an airplane or enter an office building. Public opinion polls indicate that these arguments sound reasonable to the American people, a majority of whom support the concept of photo ID requirements. The Supreme Court has taken a similar view, although it left open the possibility of reconsidering that verdict if new evidence were to emerge.

Critics of these laws (myself included) have doubted both their necessity and their ability to keep elections honest. The only type of fraud that a strict photo ID rule would actually prevent is voter impersonation fraud (I go to the polls pretending to be you), and, in fact, voter impersonation fraud is exceedingly rare. In Indiana, where the Republican-dominated legislature passed one of the first new ID laws in 2005 (on a straight party-line vote), there had been no known instances of voter impersonation in the state’s history. In Texas, a strict ID law was enacted last year, although the 2008 and 2010 elections gave rise to only five formal complaints about voter impersonation (out of 13 million votes cast). “There are more UFO and Bigfoot sightings than documented cases of voter impersonation,” quipped one Texas Democrat. Close inspection of the RNLA’s inventory of election fraud, moreover, has found it to be flawed and misleading; most election experts believe that the greatest threat to election integrity comes from absentee ballots—a threat that would not be addressed by the current laws.

As importantly, the burdens placed on prospective voters by these ID requirements are not trivial. Men and women who already possess driver’s licenses or passports, of course, will be unaffected. (So too will those in Texas who have permits to carry concealed weapons—since those permits meet the ID requirement.) But citizens who lack such documents will now be obliged to assemble various other pieces of paper (birth certificates, naturalization forms, proof of residence, etc.) and make their way (presumably without a car) to a government office that can issue an official photo ID. Who are these men and women? Studies indicate that they are disproportionately young or elderly, poor, black, and Hispanic; demographically, they are more likely than not to vote Democratic. (In states covered by the Voting Rights Act, such as Texas and South Carolina, the photo ID laws are being challenged by the Department of Justice on the grounds that they disproportionately affect minorities.) The number of people potentially affected is considerable: the Texas secretary of state, for example, estimates that at least 600,000 already registered voters do not possess the documents to cast ballots in November. New York University’s respected Brennan Center for Justice has estimated that a total of more than five million people may lack the requisite identification documents in states that have passed new ID laws.

James Heflin

Author: James Heflin

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