And Speaking of Voting Rights …

I had considered doing a Saturday Surprise post today, but … frankly, my heart wasn’t in it and my mind kept going back to an editorial I read yesterday by Attorney General Merrick Garland.  Perhaps there might be a Sunday Surprise tomorrow, but for today, please read AG Garland’s words, think about them, put them into the context of the post I wrote yesterday about Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964.  Then ask yourself … WHERE are we headed?  WHY should a person’s right to vote be infringed upon because of the colour of their skin?  And WHAT, if anything, can We the People do to stop this runaway train that will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, rob them of their voice in our country’s government?

Merrick Garland: It is time for Congress to act again to protect the right to vote

Opinion by Merrick B. Garland

Friday, 06 August 2021

Merrick B. Garland is attorney general of the United States.

Our society is shaped not only by the rights it declares but also by its willingness to protect and enforce those rights. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of voting rights.

Fifty-six years ago Friday, the Voting Rights Act became law. At the signing ceremony, President Lyndon B. Johnson rightly called it “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.”

Prior attempts to protect voting rights informed his assessment. The 15th Amendment promised that no American citizen would be denied the right to vote on account of race. Yet for nearly a century following the amendment’s ratification, the right to vote remained illusory for far too many.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 marked Congress’s first major civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. That law authorized the attorney general to sue to enjoin racially discriminatory denials of the right to vote. Although the Justice Department immediately put the law to use, it quickly learned that bringing case-by-case challenges was no match for systematic voter suppression.

Things would not have changed without the civil rights movement’s persistent call to action. By the time a 25-year-old John Lewis was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., the Justice Department had been embroiled in voting rights litigation against the surrounding county for four years. Although the county had approximately 15,000 Black citizens of voting age, the number of Black registered voters had only risen from 156 to 383 during those years.

By 1965, it was clear that protecting the right to vote required stronger tools. The Voting Rights Act provided them. Central to the law was its “preclearance” provision, which prevented jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices from adopting new voting rules until they could show the Justice Department or a federal court that the change would have neither a racially discriminatory purpose nor a racially discriminatory result.

By any measure, the preclearance regime was enormously effective. While it was in place, the Justice Department blocked thousands of discriminatory voting changes that would have curtailed the voting rights of millions of citizens in jurisdictions large and small.

One thwarted change involved McComb, Miss. A large group of Black residents in the city had long voted at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, which was close to their homes on the east side of railroad tracks that run through the city. In 1997, the city tried to move that group’s assigned polling place to the American Legion Hut on the west side of the tracks. To cross those tracks, Black voters on the east side — many of whom lacked transportation — would have had to travel substantial distances to find a safe crossing. Recognizing that difficulty, the Justice Department blocked the change.

While the Voting Rights Act gave the Justice Department robust authority, it also imposed checks on that power. Jurisdictions had the option to go to federal court to show that their voting changes were lawful. This ensured fairness and accountability, but without the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness that existed prior to 1965. It was a balance that worked and received broad support: Congressional reauthorizations of the act were signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970, President Gerald Ford in 1975, President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and President George W. Bush in 2006.

That invaluable framework was upended in 2013, when the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder effectively eliminated the act’s preclearance protections. Without that authority, the Justice Department has been unable to stop discriminatory practices before they occur. Instead, the Justice Department has been left with costly, time-consuming tools that have many of the shortcomings that plagued federal law prior to 1965.

Notwithstanding these setbacks, the Justice Department is using all its current legal authorities to combat a new wave of restrictive voting laws. But if the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision were still operative, many of those laws would likely not have taken effect in the first place.

In a column published after his death, Lewis recalled an important lesson taught by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.”

On this anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we must say again that it is not right to erect barriers that make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote. And it is time for Congress to act again to protect that fundamental right.

25 thoughts on “And Speaking of Voting Rights …

  1. The more I learn about the USA, the less I see a democracy. In Canada, everyone who wants to can vote without obstruction. It doesn’t matter the colour of their skin, the amount of money they earn or inherit, the religion they practice–if they have one–or what their sex or gender. If you want to vote, no one is stopping you.
    America is the total opposite. The more you can restrict who votes, the better off for white Christian males. Since white Chrstian males are a definite minority, this is a form of dictatorship. Next they will not let non-white Christian males even run for office–that is the next obvious restriction.
    If someone does not soon do something about what is happening in America, you are going to end up with a one-party system like those you say you detest. The time is now! The choice is yours! Rise up, or dig your own grave. I know you want to believe you already have a democracy, your whole self-image demands that you believe it. But if seeing is believing, I see nothing that looks lIke what you believe you have.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yep … the longer I live here, the less I see democracy, too. But, I’m not quite ready to give up just yet. Our government has gotten out of control, with lawmakers who believe their self-worth is greater than the good of the nation, whose pompous asses have long since forgotten why we pay them a generous salary. It is most definitely time for a change, and I’ve come to believe that simply ousting the current batch and electing new ones will not be enough to put the country back on track. You say “Rise Up”, but that is far easier said than done in a nation where half the people are so ignorant that they believed a madman who lied with every breath.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. His words ring familiar as Heather Cox Richardson said much the same in her most recent write-up (8/6/21).

    Point being … this gerrymandering needs to STOP!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is one of the issues that is front and foremost in our minds at the moment, so we’ll likely see/hear many opining on it, including me. It’s just too important to let it fade in people’s minds. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. congress has no interest in protecting the fundamental right to vote. To do so would be to consign the Republican Party to a minority role since the Democrats are the more numerous party. If Joe Biden can manage it, a way to get rid of the Filibuster is needed so the For the People Act can pass. Only at that point could the .malicious acts of disenfranchisement be overturned legally and hopefully shored up by another amendment to stop similar ploys in the future. Having a heavily politically biased Supreme Court willing to go along with the Republicans makes it harder to keep safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dissolve the Supreme Court and restructure it under a different name. Then make it so politics does not play any part in determining who sits on the benches. Whoever thought the SC should be peopled by politicians must have been blind to not see this situation coming. I have never understood Americans’ need to elect judges and law enforcement personnel. These positions should be totally non-political, and have severe requirements on education, motivation, mental health capacity, and other things that prevent racists and bullies from being in the service, let alone be the leaders. Don’t take this personally, but politicizing the Justice Department is a recipe for disaster.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Justices are not supposed to be partisan. No doubt each has his/her own party preferences, that’s just natural, but they are supposed to leave partisan politics alone when they don that black robe. Most do, but the last two that Trump nominated may not. It’s too early to say for sure, but their most recent decision on voting rights definitely seemed partisan to me.


        • “Supposed to” holds no water. It is human nature to want everyone to be like you, and when you are a Republican, you cannot help but look at the law through a republican lens. That”s what republican thinking does your a person.


    • You’re right … at least that is true of the Republicans in Congress. Check out Keith’s comment, if you haven’t already done so … it is chilling. If we don’t wake up and find a way to stop the madness, the Koch brothers and others will literally own this nation by the end of the decade. You’d never know that Democrats are actually a majority in this nation, for we have sat back and allowed the Republicans to do as they wish. My best guess is that the For the People Act will never see the light of day, because the narrow majority in the Senate is being held hostage by the likes of Joe Manchin, a closet-Republican I now believe. Our last, best hope are the courts, but as you say, we really cannot count on the Supreme Court anymore since the Senate sold us downriver and gave Trump a free hand to nominate very partisan people to the Court. Bah humbug. I’m going back to bed … wake me when it’s over.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jill, voter suppression efforts is all about demographics. The minority in power wants to keep it or gain more of it by limiting voting of perceived and actual opposing voting blocs. It is a voter focused Apartheid, if you will. Steve Schmidt, a Republican election strategist said the Koch Brothers sanctioned a demographic projection of Republican voters and did not like what they saw. Schmidt said that was done in the late 1990s. They set forth a strategy to appeal to more voting groups (that is OK), restrict the fountains of opposing votes (universities) and suppress voting rights in a way to impact the opposing voters. What we are seeing today is the continuation of that effort to suppress votes.

    Now, Schmidt did not say the following, but this is another reason for the fascination with autocrats, in that if whites cannot be a majority bloc in the future, then a more autocratic rule may be in order. He did say that the plan was for Republicans to control 2/3 of the legislatures to bring a constitutional vote and have the states appoint Senators again.

    I wish all of what I said above were not true. People who like conspiracy theories are overlooking one right under the nose. It should be noted that Schmidt led one of the anti-Trump movements because he saw precisely what Trump represented. So, Democrats must get out and vote because the other side is doing its darnedest to keep you from so doing. Keith

    Liked by 4 people

    • What you say here is bone-chilling, my friend. It is as if governance has stopped having any ties to the will of the people, but that at least one political party, run by the wealthy such as the Koch brothers, wishes to build an empire using the labour of the people to help them, but not allowing those people a voice. This is NOT how things are done in a democratic republic! If they are successful, there will be no more ‘democracy’ in this nation, but it will have become an autocracy, a plutocracy – government by the wealthy. And We the People can stop this, I think, but we’re going to have to gather our resources and stand firm in order to do so. Sadly, I just don’t see that happening today. I don’t see the same outrage, the same enthusiasm that we saw back in 1964. From what I’m seeing, people are too intent on their ‘things’ to step out of their comfort zones and demand justice, demand their rights and the rights of others. An acquaintance recently told me that she’s quite content, her life isn’t changed, so why should she worry. I sometimes think all the modern technological toys are the carrot at the end of the stick, they are a distraction that keeps people from paying attention, from caring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • […] but it will have become an autocracy, a plutocracy – government by the wealthy […]

        Your tense is incorrect. It has become a plutocracy already; from where I sit, outside looking in, I see democracy’s death throes. Your ‘unconcerned acquaintance’ on the one hand and, on the other, those who have been brainwashed over decades to ironically fear ‘reds under the bed’ guarantee it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re right … it very much is a plutocracy already … just look at the net worth of most of our legislators, and then look how many of them are funded by wealthy corporations such as the fossil fuel and gun industries. I still hope for something to change, for people to force change, but … I’m not holding my breath.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Nor am I. We’ve had decades to consider the options and change our ways… at this late stage, anyone who still believes that minds can be swayed is seriously deluding themselves.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jill, your comment about your friend being content is a lesson. It has always been a “my rights are more important than your rights mentality” in too many in our country. But, when they come for the rights of the person who thinks this way, he or she will say “I did not mean you could take my rights.” Keith

              Liked by 1 person

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