By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
The right-wing majority on the Supreme Court just undercut the Voting Rights Act again. Having gutted the section that required pre-approval of state voting laws to protect the rights of minorities to vote in Shelby v. Holder, Republican-appointed justices now have castrated the backup clause — Section 2 — which bans racial discrimination in election practices in Brnovich v. DNC. The result will open the floodgates even further to the wave of partisan laws that Republicans are pushing in states across the country to suppress the votes of African Americans and other people of color. The right-wing justices continue their assault on the meaning and power of the Voting Rights Act, a triumph of the civil rights movement that Justice Elena Kagan, writing in dissent, noted represents the “best in America.” The reaction against the civil rights movement continues.
Every movement for equal justice under the law in this country has been met with a brutal reaction. When reformers tried to limit the spread of slavery into new states coming into the republic, the slave states seceded, launching the Civil War, the deadliest war in American history. After losing the war, when the federal government began reconstruction to free the slaves and guarantee equal political and economic rights to all, the reaction was brutal, with lynching and terrorism — led by the Ku Klux Klan and others — spreading to suppress the newly freed slaves. In the end, segregation — America’s version of apartheid — spread through the South and the hope of the civil rights amendments was crushed. Now, after the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act and the election of Barack Obama, the reaction has been fierce.
Across the country, Republican legislators have sought to make it harder for African Americans and other people of color to vote. The long lines that mark inner-city voting sites are a graphic demonstration of the success of those efforts, for many people can’t take the hours off from work to cast a ballot. In each era, the lawless reaction — and blatant violations of the Constitution — have been ratified by disgraceful decisions in the Supreme Court. The court ratified segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, inventing the doctrine of separate but equal — a concept that existed only in the judge’s imaginations, not in the realities of any of the former slave states. Voter suppression following the civil rights movement was ratified in Shelby v. Holder and now in Brnovich vs. the DNC, that have essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act, the crown jewel of the civil rights movement.
The so-called “conservative” justices on the Supreme Court are rewriting the laws passed by Congress to serve their own partisan purposes. Now the excuse is to limit voter fraud, even though there is no evidence of such fraud other than in the ravings of partisan politicians. This struggle will continue. Clearly, Republicans across the country have decided that rather than seeking to win the votes of African Americans and other peoples of color, they would rather pass measures to suppress their vote — from discriminatory changes in voting practices, to gerrymandering of districts, to (most dangerously) empowering Republican legislatures to overturn the results of an election. Once more people of conscience must stand up and organize to protect the right to vote and to counter those who would suppress it.
Once more, right-wing justices have written another shameful chapter of judicial ignominy that must simply be overturned. Once more Congress must act to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to counter the brazen efforts of the court’s right wing to neuter it. Once more, those standing in the way of equality under the law will find that the movement for justice will not be deterred.