Monday, July 01, 2013

Voting Rights: Who Needs Them?

It seems that what I noted in my last blog about the “poisons hatching out” has already begun. To wit, the latest outrage from the Supreme Fools, who voted in their usual 5 to 4 pattern to eviscerate the once universally-admired and most “American” Congressional action of the last century, the 1965 Voting Rights Act that ended the disenfranchisement of black voters. That act, pushed by Lyndon Johnson through a Congress still housing racists from the South, was paid for and stimulated by the blood of civil rights marchers in the very state of Alabama which brought the recent case to the Supreme Court. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that Section 4 of the law—the part designating which states, mostly in the old South like Alabama, and based on past discrimination (again like Alabama), needed federal “preclearance” for any changes in their voting laws—could no longer be upheld. The data on which their constraints was based, said Roberts, was “decades old;” the nation, after all, has black mayors in Mississippi and even a “black” president. Thus, the once-inhibited states would henceforth be free to establish any voting rules they chose. Texas, one of the liberated nine, immediately announced that it would go ahead with its voter ID and redistricting laws previously blocked by the Justice Department and the courts:

“With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” he [the Texas Attorney General] said in a statement. “Redistricting maps passed by the legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.” (NY Times, 6/25)
These are precisely the kinds of discriminatory changes that the Voting Rights Act was meant to forestall, for what these and other rules like gerrymandering (redistricting) do is create “safe” districts for white racists. The voter ID laws (most of which follow a pattern recommended by groups like ALEC, and which 7 of the 9 affected states have tried to pass) tend to make it far more difficult for racial minorities to prove their eligibility to vote—thus increasing the chances that Republican voters in rural areas can outvote the usual Democratic majorities largely composed of black, Latino, and women voters in the cities. This is a more subtle type of disenfranchisement than the old poll taxes, but it is disenfranchisement nonetheless. The disenfranchisement, according to Spencer Overton, law professor at George Washington University, will particularly affect local offices like city councils, school boards, and sheriffs, and thus affect “important decisions related to schools, criminal justice, health and family services, and economic opportunity that directly affect our daily lives.” (NY Times, 6/25)

            The shameful vote was shared by two Italian Americans—whose parents were subject to discrimination themselves—and by the one remaining black justice, Clarence Thomas, who sits where he does thanks to the very civil rights laws he now joins his conservative colleagues to strike down. His, like theirs, is a classic case of repudiating one’s origins. Thomas, in fact, reminds one of nothing so much as the “house negro” portrayed in Quentin Tarantino’s recent blockbuster, Django Unchained. This is not to say that I liked the movie; it’s an exploitation-of-violence film if there ever was one, and preposterous on its face. But Tarantino’s house slave Stephen (played by Samuel Jackson), portrays, if in highly exaggerated form, the devotion to the Massa over any empathy to his fellow slaves that Malcolm X long ago excoriated. Stephen gets his comeuppance in the end, of course, this being Hollywood, but we are not likely to see Justice Thomas getting his any time soon. Too bad. He deserves, like Stephen in the movie, to be kneecapped for his betrayal of his own people. The same goes for Scalia and Alito. They shamefully betray the pain endured by Italian immigrants like their parents (who were in fact racialized by the white America they entered a century ago) by inflicting it upon those who suffer a like pain in our time. Scalia, in fact, said that the renewable of the Voting Rights Act would be a “perpetuation of racial entitlement”—as if the Africans who were brought to this country in chains, and who still suffer outlandish racial profiling and discrimination and economic slavery, are somehow taking advantage of their oppressed state. Amazing that someone with such intelligence could be so blind to his own prejudice, so ignorant of his own people’s history, so unaware of his own sick need to identify with his oppressors.

            The NAACP and other groups are calling, expectedly, for Congress to write new updated rules to maintain the protections lost under Section 4. But most Congress-watchers consider it very unlikely that the current divided Congress could possibly agree on such rules. As Senator Charles Schumer of New York said, “As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and Democrats don’t have 60 votes in the Senate, there will be no preclearance.”

            Indeed. And as long as the current racists hold a majority on the Supreme Court, we can expect similar outrages. The hits will keep coming, the racists will keep being appointed (remember John Roberts at his confirmation hearing, talking about being a “non-activist” and impartial judge who would simply “call balls and strikes”?), the oppression and inequality will get worse, the poisons will keep hatching out. All that remains to be seen is whether the benighted public has a breaking point, or whether it will, as is its wont, simply bow its head and keep hoping the axe will get dull on others before it makes its fatal cut.

Lawrence DiStasi

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