Trampling the Right to Vote

Photograph Source: Lauren Shiplett – CC BY 2.0

“Our battle cry is ‘Let My People Vote.’”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., June 19, 1965, urging the House to pass the Voting Rights Act.

Netflix is streaming a movie based on a true story about integrating a White school after an inferior Black school caught fire in Durham, N.C., in 1971. Titled “The Best of Enemies,” it has no big stars but a big, timely and important story to tell.

Watching the enmity between Blacks and Whites, I couldn’t help but feel as if nothing has changed in the half century that’s gone by because of the powerful, seemingly unbridgeable, anti-democratic division in this country today. It’s a throwback to harsh times and violence brought on by the anger and bitterness of the Vietnam War and the incendiary civil rights movement.

“The American experiment in dictating the course of history has reached a dead-end,” Andrew Bacevich, professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University, wrote recently for TomDispatch.

I refuse to believe that. Aren’t we too big to fail?

But then I see what the conservative Supreme Court has done twice to take apart the Voting Rights Act of 1965, adopted six years before the events of this movie. The court’s decisions dealt a major blow to what should be the inviolable right to vote.

The latest came last week just as Republican-dominated governments in states nationwide have been enacting laws and debating bills making it more difficult for minorities to vote.

The 6-3 vote that sided with Arizona in restricting the how-to of voting, with all three liberals dissenting, will make it difficult to challenge anti-balloting measures in the courts. The decision also opened the gate for more such voting suppression legislation to be passed.

“When it comes to voting rights, Chief Justice [John] Roberts [Jr.] isn’t a neutral player,” commentator Jonathan Capehart said on the PBS NewsHour Friday.

He’s right about that. Roberts wrote the majority opinion in 2013 that first hit the Voting Rights Act when it deleted the law’s Section 5. That part required states with a history of racism get federal approval to change anything in the act.

The historic move by the conservative Supremes, a reversal of demands for racial equality, is in large part a result of Donald Trump’s shrill, false cries denouncing a “rigged,” “stolen” and fraudulent election that dumped him by seven million votes from the White House.

No evidence of widespread fraud has been found despite Trump’s demands for recounts and his lawsuits thrown out of the courts. It’s all based on lies by a former incompetent, unruly, sociopathic, narcissistic president described by Ben Rhodes in his latest book, “After the Fall,” as a “fascistic lunatic.” Rhodes was President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

Yet millions of people believe in Trump, looked upon as some savior from a made-up cabal of liberal Democrats who run a Satanic pedophile ring that abducts, tortures and cannibalizes children, the proof of which never has surfaced. Trump fans believe he can save them from the QAnon fantasy. It’s like believing in some nonexistent Norse god.

Republicans in state legislatures that have passed bills curtailing voting and the governors who signed them into law may not believe this QAnon absurdity or even in Trump as their Dear Leader. But they apparently fear a vindictive Trump and his seeming success at being his party’s power broker.

But there are repercussions in the wider American public. People’s rights are being abridged because of what Trump has started, because of how he as a would-be tyrant has been picking apart the ideals and hopes of America to satisfy his own twisted wants.

Where are the adults? They’re expected to be in Congress, among other places where the educated roam. It’s the Senate Republicans who have blocked President Joe Biden’s For the People Act that would supersede the state laws bludgeoning voting rights.

This time it was Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. who wrote the majority opinion that blew away the Voting Rights Act, focusing on Section 2. It permits election officials to throw out ballots cast at the wrong precinct and makes it a crime for third parties to gather ballots and take them to the polls.

This section affects minorities because they were found in the 2016 election to have been twice as likely as Whites to have voted in the wrong precinct since they move more often.

Second, banning ballot collectors hurts minorities because “they are more likely to be poor, older, homebound or disabled; to lack reliable transportation, child care and mail service; and to need help understanding voting rules,” The New York Times reported.

 Its reference in both of these cases was to decisions by Judge William A. Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. He ruled in a case brought against Arizona by the Democratic National Committee in 2016, the newspaper said.

The Supreme Court ruling makes it absolutely imperative that the Democrats end the Senate filibuster rule and get both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act passed with majority votes instead of the 60 votes needed under the filibuster before they lose their majority in both houses of Congress.

Saving democracy takes precedence over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to conduct a “scorched earth” campaign if the filibuster rule is deleted. End minority rule.

And do see that movie, “The Best of Enemies.” You’ll get a closeup of what it meant to be Black in the South of 1971. And what it means now.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.