Friday Reads: We need a Voting Rights Act!

Good Day Sky Dancers!

The Democratic Congress Critters have abandoned hope for any sort of Voting Rights Act just as we continue to see the Republicans chip away at voting access and the Roberts Court continue to ensure that.  I keep wondering what exactly Chief Justice Roberts has against ensuring all citizens have access to their constitutional right to vote.

The editorial board at WAPO explores this writing: “The Roberts court systematically dismantles the Voting Rights Act.”

At times, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has labored to maintain the Supreme Court’s legitimacy against the gale-force pressures of partisan acrimony and social division. When it comes to voting rights, he has pushed in the opposite direction, presiding over the court’s systematic dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, overriding Congress’s clear intentions and gravely injuring U.S. democracy.

The first major blow came in 2013, when the court eviscerated the act’s Section 5, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to preclear changes to voting rules with the Justice Department. The decision left in place a backstop, Section 2, which allows legal challenges to discriminatory election rules after they have been enacted. On Thursday, the Roberts court sharply limited that provision as well.

The court upheld two Arizona election rules the Democratic National Committee claimed discourage minority voting. The legitimacy of Arizona’s policies could be debated, and the court could have struck them down without indulging in dangerous overreach. But in its reasoning and guidance for future cases, the six justices in the majority, including the chief, flashed a green light to state lawmakers eager to erect new barriers to voting.

The majority imposed stipulations on applying Section 2 that “all cut in one direction — toward limiting liability for race-based voting inequalities,” Justice Elena Kagan pointed out in a dissent. This new list of restrictions, Justice Kagan continued, “stacks the deck against minority citizens’ voting rights. Never mind that Congress drafted a statute to protect those rights.”

The majority invites states to argue that unnecessarily strict voting rules impose no more than mild burdens on casting ballots, despite the fact that the Voting Rights Act was meant to eliminate obvious as well as subtle forms of voting discrimination. What may appear to be mere inconveniences or seemingly race-neutral rules can in practice reduce minority voting. Some of that is fine, the court said. While admitting that one of the Arizona laws in question disproportionately affects Black, Latino and Native American voters, the majority declared that the difference was too small to matter. Yet elections are often decided by fractions of percentage points, and every vote should be seen as precious.

This reminds me of how the’ve been chipping away at Abortion and other privacy-related rights.  It also reminds me of how they keep enabling dark money in elections. What’s with Justice Roberts any way?  I mean we know that Republican politicians know they’re increasingly a rump party.  They also know that gerrymandering and voting restrictions are the only way to slow down the tsunami of voters not in their narrow demographics. Joan Biskupic, CNN Legal Analyst, put it this way: “John Roberts takes aim at the Voting Rights Act and political money disclosures, again.”

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has hollowed out the historic Voting Rights Act, curtailed regulation of big political donors and limited challenges to partisan gerrymandering.

The final two decisions of the court session on Thursday continued this trend of Roberts’ stewardship that cuts to the heart of democracy and generally benefits conservatives over liberals, Republican voters over Democratic voters.

The pattern on voting rights traces to Roberts’ early years serving in the Ronald Reagan administration when the young GOP lawyer opposed racial remedies and argued for a constricted interpretation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has hollowed out the historic Voting Rights Act, curtailed regulation of big political donors and limited challenges to partisan gerrymandering.

The final two decisions of the court session on Thursday continued this trend of Roberts’ stewardship that cuts to the heart of democracy and generally benefits conservatives over liberals, Republican voters over Democratic voters.

The pattern on voting rights traces to Roberts’ early years serving in the Ronald Reagan administration when the young GOP lawyer opposed racial remedies and argued for a constricted interpretation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That emphasis reemerged again Thursday, just as Attorney General Merrick Garland has pointed to a “dramatic rise in state legislative actions that will make it harder for millions of citizens to cast a vote that counts.” Dissenting liberal justices on Thursday observed that “efforts to suppress the minority vote continue” yet “no one would know this from reading the majority opinion.”

Voting rights advocate Lucy Nicolar Poolaw of the Penobscot Nation casts the first Native American vote allowed on a reservation in Maine, 1955.

WAPO’s E.J. Dionne puts it even more succinctly: “Oligarchy Day at the Supreme Court”. 

Thanks to the six right-wing justices on the Supreme Court, our country has just become less democratic. In twin rulings issued Thursday, they said that states can make it harder for people to vote and they made it easier for big donors to sway elections in secrecy

You wonder if July 1, 2021, might come to be known as Oligarchy Day.

It should certainly be the day when advocates of democracy and equal rights rip off their blinders and stop pretending that the court’s conservative majority is in any way impartial or nonpartisan. The decisions in both cases could have been written by the Republican National Committee, attorneys for the Koch brothers and advocates of voter suppression.

In a much-anticipated case on voting rights, the court let stand Arizona laws requiring election officials to discard ballots cast in the wrong precincts and prohibiting campaign workers, community activists and others from collecting ballots.

The larger implication: The ruling in Brnovich, Attorney General of Arizona v. Democratic National Committee will weaken Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the most important part of the law left standing after the court’s 2013 decision gutting Section 5 of the law. That part had required Justice Department pre-clearance of voting rules changes in places that had a history of racial discrimination.

In an eloquent dissent rooted in fact, history and a respect for Congress’s right to legislate under the 15th Amendment, Justice Elena Kagan demolished the majority’s crabbed view of democracy. She noted that the Voting Rights Act “confronted one of this country’s most enduring wrongs” and “pledged to give every American, of every race, an equal chance to participate in our democracy.”

She concluded: “That law, of all laws, deserves the sweep and power Congress gave it. That law, of all laws, should not be diminished by this Court.”

But it was.

Three African American women at a polling place, one looking at a book of registered voters on November 5, 1957, in New York City or Newark, New Jersey] / TOH, Library of Congress

Last fall, I attended a series of round table discussions on the “The Long 19th Amendment”  provided by the Radcliffe Institute.  I learned that the amendment not only extended the franchise to women but was also key to extending voting rights of our Indigenous Peoples. Here’s an ariticle from Indianz on the Native American Suffragette, Jenni Monet, and her fight to ensure all Americans can vote. 

It took the better part of a century to pass a law saying American women had the right to vote. It took even longer to deliver this right to Indigenous women — which really short-changed all Native Americans.

For the longest time, the word “suffrage” has been aligned with the historic passage of the 19th Amendment, a decree ratified a century ago, this week, outlawing discrimination of voters on the basis of their sex. But in reality, such shorthand, couched in twentieth-century white feminism, was exclusionary. The right to vote in Indian Country tells another side of this struggle in which Indigenous women were on the frontlines from the start.

While the 19th Amendment represents a cornerstone of gender equality in America, few know about the way the vote was won or the limitations it imposed on people of color. Public school curriculum often portrays this history of the suffrage movement through the important advocacy of notable white women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

But there were so many more who helped make female suffrage possible; a few of them were Indigenous women: lawyers such as Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe, Yankton-Sioux writer, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin also known as Zitkala-Sa, and Omaha lecturer Susette La Flesche Tibbles.

Leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, these Native women participated in suffrage parades, made compelling speeches, and wrote commentary that would likely have gone viral, today. But more intriguing, Indigenous women were the source of inspiration for the movement’s lead organizers, Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage.

The women, two New Yorkers who lived on the colonized homelands of the Iroquois Confederacy, wrote how they grew motivated to make lasting voting rights change after recognizing the roles women played in the tribes. Then as now, the Confederacy’s six nations of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, and Tuscarora functioned as a government based on female authority in which Haudenosaunee women maintained authority over their subsistence economy.

They also had final authority over land transfers and decisions about engaging in war. And they practiced a structure of political power shared equally among all clan families and their members — a pure democracy — what also inspired the birth of the United States.

Poster from 1909

NPR has more on this: “Not All Women Gained the Vote in 1920. For many women, the 19th Amendment was only the beginning of a much longer fight.”

When the 19th Amendment became law on August 26, 1920, 26 million adult female Americans were nominally eligible to vote. But full electoral equality was still decades away for many women of color who counted among that number. The federal suffrage amendment prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, but it did not address other kinds of discrimination that many American women faced: women from marginalized communities were excluded on the basis of gender and race. Native American, Asian American, Latinx and African American suffragists had to fight for their own enfranchisement long after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Only over successive years did each of those groups gain access to the ballot.

In 1920, Native Americans weren’t allowed to be United States citizens, so the federal amendment did not give them the right to vote. The first generation of white suffragists had studied Native communities to learn from a model of government that included women as equal democratic actors. But the suffragists did not advocate for indigenous women. Nonetheless, Native American activists like Zitkála-Šá continued to organize and advocate with white mainstream suffragists. With the passage of the Snyder Act in 1924, American-born Native women gained citizenship. But until as late as 1962, individual states still prevented them from voting on contrived grounds, such as literacy tests, poll taxes and claims that residence on a reservation meant one wasn’t also a resident of that state.

Native-born Asian Americans already had U.S. citizenship in 1920, but first generation Asian Americans did not. Asian American immigrant women were therefore excluded from voting until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 allowed them to gain citizenship more than three decades after the 19th Amendment. Despite being barred from citizenship and from voting, Asian American suffragists such as Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee worked alongside white Native-born women in the years leading up to 1920; Ping-Hua Lee and others advocated within their communities and even marched in suffrage parades.

Latinx women contributed to the success of the suffrage movement at both the state and federal levels, particularly with their efforts to reach out to Spanish-speaking women. And in Puerto Rico, suffragists like Luisa Capetillo worked to attain women’s voting rights, which were first given to literate women in 1929 and all Puerto Rican women in 1935. Yet literacy tests remained an effective means of keeping some Hispanic and other women of color from voting long after the federal amendment was passed. It took a 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act, prohibitingdiscrimination against language minority citizens, to expand voting access to women who rely heavily on languages other than English.

Some African American suffragists in the north were able, with the 19th Amendment, to realize the rewards of their activism, but throughout much of the country the same voter suppression tactics that kept black men from the polls kept black women from voting, too. Literacy tests, poll taxes, voter ID requirements and intimidation and threats and acts of violence were all obstacles. The struggle for suffrage, which began for black women in the early 1800s, continued until activists such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash won the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 200 years later.

Nixon signs the 26th amendment lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 on July 5, 1971.

There is an interactive display at the link along with some photos of suffragettes of color.

Access to voting is a signficant right for a functional democracy.  U.S. News & World Report provides the status of current Republican-held states and their voting restriction laws. “ Report: Republican-Led State Legislatures Pass Dozens of Restrictive Voting Laws in 2021. States with Republican legislatures have passed waves of new laws making it harder for constituents to vote in response to the 2020 election, experts say.”

The court’s ruling follows a report finding that as of mid-June, 17 states had passed 28 laws making it harder for constituents to vote in 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law. The report notes that the last year a similar number of laws passed restricting access to the ballot was 2011 – when 14 states had enacted 19 such measures by October.

Eliza Sweren-Becker, a voting rights and elections counsel at the Brennan Center, called the new wave of voting laws “an unprecedented assault on voting rights” as well as “a voter suppression effort we haven’t seen since the likes of Jim Crow.”

The nation’s high court previously gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, when Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a majority opinion arguing that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting should no longer be subject to oversight from the Department of Justice before effecting changes to their voting laws.

The Brennan Center report attributes this year’s batch of restrictive voting laws to “racist voter fraud allegations behind the Big Lie (a reference to former President Donald Trump’s repeated false claims of a rigged election) and a desire to prevent future elections from achieving the historic turnout seen in 2020.”

Commenting on the former president’s claims of mass voter fraud, Sweren-Becker says, “We know that’s false, but we have officials at the state level passing these laws making it harder for people to vote.”

Some of the specific provisions in these laws that can have a negative impact on voter turnout according to the Brennan Center include restrictions on voting by mail – some 63.9 million ballots had been sent as of Election Day 2020, data from the U.S. Elections Project indicated – challenges to in-person voting, and limitations on the number of mail ballot drop boxes in precincts.

As of now, The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is stalled. The GOP is resisting all forms presented.

Republicans during a U.S. House Judiciary panel hearing on Tuesday argued that a bill that would reinstate a preclearance section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is unnecessary because there is no discrimination in voting.

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Mike Johnson, (R-La.), said that the legislation is not needed and that the federal government should not be telling states how to run their electoral processes.

He added that recently voting bills passed by Republicans in Georgia and Florida are meant to “enhance election integrity and increase the public’s waning confidence in our election process.”

“It is outrageous to see the federal government fighting back against these common sense reforms, such as the latest lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against Georgia over its election law,” Johnson said. The Justice Department announced last week that the agency is suing Georgia in an attempt to overturn the state’s sweeping elections law passed in March.

The comments from the GOP came as Democrats again attempt some type of federal action on elections laws, after a massive legislative package by Democrats known as H.R. 1 was blocked in the U.S. Senate by Republicans. Democrats say the GOP state laws broadly disenfranchise many voters, including those of color, rural residents and people with disabilities.

Rep. Steve Cohen, the Tennessee Democrat who held the House hearing as the chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, contended it is necessary for Congress to pass H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Republicans seem intent on chipping away the rights of ordinary Americans.  It is time to stand up against their continued attempts to maintain and expand all vestiges of white nationalism, white male patriarchy, and a dominist christianist oligarchy.  The song below sustained me through our fight for the ERA.  I got to see and sing this with her in our first Women’s Festival in 1982. I tried desperately to create a festival in 1983 with participation and leadership of black women in the Urban League.  We had a successful Festival that follwed Maya Angelou speaking at Equality.  Our main speakers were Betty Friedan and Kate Millet. Equal rights and voting rights is important to all our rights in all the various way we participate in American Communities.

Whats on your reading and blogging list today?


11 Comments on “Friday Reads: We need a Voting Rights Act!”

  1. dakinikat says:

    Welcome to history buff kat Friday!!! Have a good holiday weekend!

  2. dakinikat says:

    • quixote says:

      Yup. Ronnie Raygun’s sainthood has needed discrediting and dismantling for decades. Ever since that perversion started.

      • dakinikat says:

        It was pretty obvious after the stock market crash, two recessions, and then the huge deficit with nothing to show for it that he was a trainwreck. Then, all those damn illegal military escapes!

      • djmm says:

        All true. President Reagan also failed to address the AIDS epidemic, seemly happy to ignore it because it was killing mostly gay men. He said as much. He actually delayed research that could have extended the lives of millions. He practically forced the untimely launch of the Challenger, which resulted in its destruction. He may even have delayed the release of the Iranian hostages. And don’t forget Iran-Contra debacle. And invading Granada – because…?

        It angers me to hear him treated as a saint. He was the worst President of my lifetime (slightly worse than Nixon in my book), until GW tied him and Trump took the lead for that non-honor.

  3. dakinikat says:

    • bostonboomer says:

      WTF?! Has he been arrested?

    • bostonboomer says:

      According to the story, he pleaded guilty to “family violence assault causing serious bodily injury.” That figures.

  4. dakinikat says:

  5. NW Luna says:

    So glad I live in a blue state with mail-in voting, but I’m very worried about red and purple states as voting rights are chipped away. Someone votes in the wrong precinct and the ballot is thrown out? If they live in the state and are registered to vote it shouldn’t matter where they turn in their ballots.