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Supreme Disappointment: The creeping ease of voter discrimination

Guest Opinion: Let's not be blinded by DOMA. The Supreme Court also threw out Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act this week, opening the door to uncontrolled voter discrimination.
Manhattan protestors in 2011 fight unfair voting practices. With the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Section 4 of the VRA, these could become more common without any federal protection of voter's discrimination rights.

Manhattan protestors in 2011 fight unfair voting practices. With the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Section 4 of the VRA, these could become more common without any federal protection of voter's discrimination rights. Photo: Michael Fleshman

In the years before I could vote, I grew up mostly in the South, attending the segregated public schools of the time. Minorities I knew there, mainly African-Americans, were seldom able to exercise their right to vote. They were able to vote only if they paid a poll tax or if they passed a literacy test.

I heard stories of how poll workers worked actively to suppress minority votes. Folks I knew recalled how registrars shuffled through voting rolls, neglecting to find their names. The authorities changed voting hours to make it difficult, if not impossible, to cast a vote. Districts were ludicrously drawn to dilute the strength of minorities.

The federal government was compelled to act — and it did. The result was the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of the most effective pieces of Civil Rights legislation ever enacted. Section 4 ensured a fully functioning 15th Amendment by requiring federal preclearance of changes to voting laws in jurisdictions with a history of abridging voting rights. 

The VRA arguably was the capstone of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.  And, no less, it was the landmark achievement of one of this state’s most effective legislators, Sen. Warren G. Magnuson. Maggie, as we knew him, had been handed the daunting job of working to pass LBJ’s civil rights legislation. As was said locally, “The whole load of hay fell on Maggie.” That he and the president succeeded was nothing short of a miracle.

President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965. Photo: U.S. National Archives. 

So, when the deeply-divided U.S. Supreme Court threw out Section 4 on Tuesday, it was profoundly, grindingly disappointing. The court’s decision disrespects a linchpin of this country’s democratic ideals.

Unless Congress rewrites the act using updated data (as directed by the Supreme Court), there are fears that the mostly-Southern states governed by the Voting Rights Act will revert to their discriminatory ways, working to disenfranchise minority voters.

This is not just a rhetorical fear. The Supreme Court, while divided on the decision, did agree on one thing: discrimination in voting still exists. Without a rewritten law — something that’s likely impossible in the present Congress — minorities can no longer count on equal access to the ballot box.

Even today, states have found ways to disallow minority voting rights, not only to bar African-American voters, but Hispanic and Native American minorities. Although some of the most egregious ploys, such as the poll tax, have since been abolished and there have been increases in minority turnout, there still remain many means — subtle and otherwise — to deny voting rights.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, cited a number of such incidents. For example, in 1995, Mississippi sought to reenact a dual voter registration system, originally enacted in 1892 to disenfranchise black voters, that would require separate registration for federal and municipal elections. And she noted that, following the 2000 Census, the City of Albany, GA, proposed a redistricting plan that the Department of Justice found to be “designed with the purpose to limit and retrogress the increased black voting strength in the city as a whole.”

Justice Ginsburg singled out other examples. She noted that, as recently as 2006, the Supreme Court found that Texas’ attempt to redraw a congressional district to reduce the strength of Latino voters bore “the mark of intentional discrimination that could give rise to an equal protection violation” and ordered the district redrawn in compliance with the VRA.

That the VRA made it possible for the Department of Justice to counter these moves through prior approval was its strength. Now, with the act gutted and its primary enforcement mechanism struck down, minority voters are at great risk of being disenfranchised.  


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 27, 3:41 p.m. Inappropriate

"those in the Obama administration have vowed to take swift enforcement action against discrimination, but without the main tool that made that enforcement possible, it will be difficult to ensure citizens’ free exercise of voting rights."

The Obama Administration doesn't give a darn about the integrity of the voting system and gleefully supported the Court's decision against AZ's law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. Obama, Gooden and those that support them do not care that they are disenfranchising legal citizen voters on a regular basis.

Cameron

Posted Thu, Jun 27, 4:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Jean. You and Justice Ginsburg got it 100% right.

Kafkaeske

Posted Thu, Jun 27, 7 p.m. Inappropriate

Another bullshift piece. Last time I looked there was a black guy in the White House and he wasn't the janitor, which was always the case when it was occupied by a white Democrat. The reason Obama won is because millions of white voters cast their lot with him. It's safe to say that most black voters, about 12% more or less,of the voting public, voted with whitey. As did Latinos and Asians.

In the long run it seems that the only ones who don't get it, are white liberal progressives who can't grow with the times. They're stuck in the past and most of their talking points are old, very old.

Godden probably thinks it perfectly okay to have gerrymandered house districts that ensures the correct ethnic representative is elected and sent to D.C. She can't stand it when Texans take a page from the liberal playbook and apply it.

Djinn

Posted Fri, Jun 28, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Now that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act has been ruled outdated and unconstitutional, the corrupt Obama DOJ can spend more of its valuable resources overseeing SPD and perhaps King County Elections. Modern day oversight can replace decades old obsolete grievances and cottage industry shakedowns.

animalal

Posted Fri, Jun 28, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Does this mean we're liable to see more White Panthers with sticks intimidating people from the polls?

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Jun 28, 11:23 a.m. Inappropriate

I am very disheartened by the court's decision, and concerned about the integrity of the voting process now that this protection has been gutted. I'm not at all sanguine about the chances that this congress will pass anything like an update to the VRA, even after all the evidence of poor practice across the country in the last national election. A bolder congress would take that evidence, all those bungled voter registrations and appallingly long lines to get into the polls, and create a new set of criteria -- if you have to stand in line for an hour or more to get into the polls, or if you have to produce a piece of identification that you needed to pay for in order to register to vote, your jurisdiction is not doing its job. Your right to vote has been compromised and the jurisdiction should be examined.

sandik

Posted Fri, Jun 28, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

"and concerned about the integrity of the voting process now that this protection has been gutted."

Integrity? you libs wont even stand for photo ID. You need it to buy beer
and to get on a plane, but NOT to vote. What integrity?

tjp

Posted Fri, Jun 28, 12:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Godden's article places a necessary damper on excessive celebration of the DOMA victory. In the grand scheme of things, gutting the Voting Rights Act was likely the more significant decision. As some of the comments above demonstrate, racism has not gone away but now comes cloaked in self-righteous anger.

woofer

Posted Fri, Jun 28, 4:26 p.m. Inappropriate

The knee jerk cry of racism doesn't cut it any more. Where is the racism you claim.

jhande

Posted Fri, Jun 28, 4:58 p.m. Inappropriate

I would hope that Ms. Godden could allow that at some point provisions such as Section 4 will become unnecessary and moot. At some point? However, she writes as if she considers it permanent.

dbreneman

Posted Sat, Jun 29, 5:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Change has to come from within and she's not capable of it. She, like so many of her ilk, are in their comfort zone of the old ways and when the world changes they fall back into their entrenchments instead of moving forward. I suppose that's why the left's new mantra is "lean forward but don't move".

Djinn

Posted Wed, Jul 3, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

It's no accident that the vast majority of voter suppression efforts happen in the states of the former Confederacy or in regions that were sympathetic to it. And it's also a real riot watching right-wingers cry "racism" when the racism of their fellow travelers is pointed out to them.

Racism still exists in the good 'ol USA in a big way - Section 4 was and is still needed to protect the voting rights of minorities in this country - right wing denial notwithstanding.

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