Supreme Court’s voting rights ruling throws fuel on a new fire

Fifty years ago this month, Medgar Evers arrived at his home near Jackson, Miss., in the early morning hours of June 12. The evening before, President John F. Kennedy had delivered his landmark televised address to the nation, calling on Congress to pass legislation ensuring the civil and voting rights of black Americans. It was a tumultuous year — culminating in the seminal march on Washington later that summer and Kennedy’s assassination in November.

Out of the ashes of 1963, Congress, under a new president, did pass a Civil Rights Act in 1964, and in 1965, the Voting Rights Act.

This week, in striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court invoked that ugly history — declaring it an artifact of a bygone era, rendering the act irrelevant to the way voting laws are administered today. A crowing Chief Justice Roberts took pains to point out that Philadelphia, Miss., and Selma, Ala., two of the hot spots during 1964’s “freedom summer,” are today governed by black mayors. “Problems remain in these states and others,” he said, “but there is no denying that, due to the Voting Rights Act, our nation has made great strides.”

Also, did you notice that the guy in the Oval Office is black? Throw in the majority’s references to high voting levels among minorities in 2012, and the court’s decision amounts to blaming black voters for the demise of the signal accomplishment of the Civil Rights Movement.

Clearly, America has changed considerably since the 1960s. No longer is racial terror the order of the day in the southern enclaves that barred black people from exercising their citizenship, by law or by force, all those years ago.

And yet, Barack Obama’s election and reelection as president exposed deep, continuing fault lines of race, region and generation in our country, with white, rural and southern Americans, and black, brown, young and urban voters increasingly lining up on opposite sides of the ideological fence.

The tension between older “tea party” America and younger, browner America courses through every national debate and every vote in Congress and in our legislatures — on healthcare, programs for the poor, immigration and guns.

And it courses through our electoral politics, too — not in theory, but in fact.

Before a single vote was cast in the last presidential election, GOP governors and legislatures, from Florida to Wisconsin, studied ways to break the cycle of generational and racial drift toward Democrats. Their methods were not vintage 1960s, but tailored to the modern age. Voter ID laws, limitations to early voting that choked off the “souls to the polls” Sunday before Election Day — traditionally favored by black churches — demands for proof of citizenship and more. Combined, they represented a full-throated attack on the kinds of voters Republicans fear they can’t woo with their conservative ideology, so they’d just as soon keep them home.

Groups like True the Vote organized to fight fictional in-person voter fraud, including by physically intimidating voters at the polls. Make them feel “like they’re driving with the police following you” was how True the Vote’s national elections coordinator Bill Ouren put it.

The restrictions didn’t need to be coded by race: They were designed with the full knowledge that young and minority voters, students, the disabled, the poor and the elderly are far less likely than white voters to possess the kinds of identification that would be required at the polls. In Texas, a gun license was good enough. A student ID was not.

Now, thanks to the court, Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona, Georgia, Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, no longer need federal assent to enact their voting laws. Those who feel victimized by those laws will have to find their remedies in the courts. Because while the Roberts court claims Congress is free to legislate new formulas for divining which states and counties would restrict the right to vote, we all know Congress won’t.

Without Section 4, which sets the rules for which states require preclearance, Section 5, the preclearance requirement itself, has no meaning. The malevolent Clarence Thomas’ sneering call to rid the country of that section, too, isn’t required. Our most ironic justice gets to have his way without another 5-4 vote.

2014 will be our first national election unbridled by the Voting Rights Act that emerged out of the horrors of 1963. We have indeed entered a post-civil rights era, where the protection of minority rights is deemed by Justice Antonin Scalia to be “racial entitlements,” and the court legislates in place of Congress, to “protect” Old America from the rest of us.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

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