Racists Are Still Trying To Prevent Minorities From Voting-- And Doing Well For Their Efforts
Above is a 10-minute highlights video of President Obama's speech yesterday at the Selma 50-year anniversary memorial. The White House has also released the entire two hour and thirteen minute speech. After the speech, the President and his family led the march-- which included 100 Members of Congress and former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura-- across the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Confederate general and later KKK Grand Dragon and Alabama senator.
If Rudy Giuliani was listening, he must have been confused to hear President Obama paint a soaring and idealistic picture of the hopeful America he loves. Obama: "We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice... We have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done. Our march is not yet finished."
Ari Berman's report in The Nation was... less optimistic and meant to keep Americans focused on the harsh reality that "the right to vote is currently under the most sustained attack since the passage of the Voting Rights Act." Many states controlled by Republicans are going to great efforts to prevent minorities from equal access to the ballot box, particularly Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas, the Dakotas and Iowa.
In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states, with new laws adopted in nineteen states that made it harder to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Many of these laws were blocked in court in 2012, but a year later the Supreme Court gutted the VRA, dealing a devastating blow to voting rights. As a result, twenty-one states had new restrictions in place in 2014.
...Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, states with the worst histories of voting discrimination, like Alabama, no longer have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. The Southern states that were previously subject to “precelarence” have been particularly aggressive in curbing voting rights.
...Texas’s voter ID law, the strictest in the country, was blocked in 2012 under the VRA. But immediately after the Shelby decision, Texas officials announced it would go into effect. The law was blocked again in 2014 as an “unconstitutional poll tax,” but the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overruled the court’s decision and approved the law for 2014, which the Supreme Court affirmed.
A month after Shelby, North Carolina passed the most sweeping voting restrictions in the country-- requiring strict voter ID, cutting early voting, ending same-day registration and curtailing virtually every reform that made it easier to vote. A preliminary injunction against key provisions of the law was rejected by the courts.
As North Carolina shows, the restrictions go well beyond voter ID. Alabama required proof of citizenship for voter registration. Florida cut early voting, shut down voter registration drives and disenfranchised ex-felons. Georgia drastically reduced the number of early voting days and is poised to cut it again. Local jurisdictions like Augusta, Georgia, and Pasadena, Texas, have changed their election structures to make it harder for minority candidates to be elected.
This trend is getting worse in 2015. In the first few weeks of this year, forty new voting restrictions were introduced in seventeen states. That number will grow as state legislatures consider proposed legislation. Nevada, New Mexico and Missouri are among the states moving to pass voter-ID laws. “It’s surprising and remarkable that in 2015 we’re fighting over the same thing we fought over 50 years ago—the right to vote,” says Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center.
What can be done to combat the attack on voting rights? I suggested a few ideas in “How to Protect the Vote,” from aggressively enforcing the remaining provisions of the VRA to passing electoral reform to ratifying a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote.
The best starting point would be for Congress to revise and restore Section 4 of the VRA, the formula determining which states have to approve voting changes with the federal government. The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would place the worst actors under federal supervision and serve as a deterrent to other states toying with voting discrimination.
This KKK billboard can be seen from the Edmund Pettus Bridge today
The legislation has bipartisan support in the House but has thus far gone nowhere, even though Congress recently unanimously passed a resolution awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Selma marchers and 100 members of Congress will visit Selma on a civil rights pilgrimage led by John Lewis.
The Selma anniversary offers lawmakers a prime opportunity to move from symbolism to substance. Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Selma recently told me: “My hope is that the bipartisan efforts we’ve made will move people to recommit themselves to restore the teeth back into the Voting Rights Act. Gold medals are great-- I think it’s long overdue and much deserved that the foot soldiers are going to finally get their place in history, but the biggest tribute that we can give to those foot soldiers is fully restoring the Voting Rights Act.”
|One day they'll probably name a bridge for Jefferson Beauregard Sessions too|