Op-Ed

Our right to equal representation is under threat

TNS

In March, I joined a pilgrimage to Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, which was a pivotal moment that led to greater understanding of the need to protect the rights of every American. It led to Congress passing and President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to ensure that the voting rights guaranteed by the 13th and 15th amendments would be protected and enforced.

The fundamental principle that everyone in America deserves equal representation needed to be defended then, and it needs to be defended now.

Two years ago, the Voting Rights Act was effectively gutted, and now the same organization that led that legal attack is at it again. On Dec. 8, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Evenwel v. Abbott, a case that threatens political representation for some of our country’s most vulnerable — our nation’s children. When the plaintiff’s lawyers address the bench they will argue that states must exclude large segments of their populations when drawing legislative districts simply because they cannot vote.

Imagine what it would mean if we applied that kind of exclusion in other areas, if we pretended millions of people didn’t exist? What would it mean for school districts if school children weren’t counted for purposes of government funding? What if we pretended that countless others in our cities and towns across the country were ignored when allocating transportation dollars for the maintenance of roads and bridges? The answer is obvious: It wouldn’t make sense.

No democracy can work if government officials aren’t accountable to the people in their districts, whether they vote or not.

That’s why the Democratic National Committee filed an amicus or “friend of the court” brief in this case. We cannot stand by while our democracy is threatened by attempts to diminish anyone’s voice in our representative system. We are joining hands with other concerned citizens and civil-rights organizations across the country to stand up for our belief that Americans, regardless of their age, where they live, or if they’re currently able to vote, deserve political representation.

The Children’s Defense Fund noted in its own brief that leaving out 23 percent of the entire American population who are children would result in those children and their families having “less access to critical resources, including quality education, healthcare and services supporting children living at or below the poverty line.”

While Sue Evenwel, the plaintiff, is a member of the Texas Republican Party, her position is so extreme that the Republican governor of Texas is the defendant who opposes her.

Take a minute to consider: If Evenwel has her way, a full 30 percent of African Americans would be left out of our democracy for purposes of representation. The same holds true for one-third of Native Americans, 45 percent of Asian Americans and a majority, 55 percent, of Hispanics.

I have had the great privilege to represent hundreds of thousands of Floridians. I have a duty to represent everyone in my district regardless of whether they voted for me or not. I know the responsibility elected officials have to their community. The Democratic Party will continue to work diligently across the country to shed light on this egregious attack on our democracy.

I was among the countless Americans moved to tears, smiles and chills by the sight of President Obama and my colleague and friend U.S. Rep. John Lewis walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge a few short months ago. That didn’t happen by accident. The steps taken half a century ago in the struggle for equality and the blood men and women like Lewis left on that bridge, paved the way for equal representation and the idea that any child could grow up to be president.

Removing a child’s voice today would have an equally significant impact going forward.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat, represents Florida’s 23rd Congressional District and is chair of the Democratic National Committee.

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