Musicians in New Orleans. By law, each and every one of us should have the same right to vote, unencumbered by partisan politics.
I grew up in the South, witnessing the awful prejudice and injustice that blacks (and migrant workers) encountered on an everyday basis. I saw the separate entrances and waiting rooms at doctors' offices and restricted areas in restaurants and sports facilities. I've written previously that when schools were forced to integrate, a few families - including our next door neighbors - moved their children to private schools "up North" to avoid mixing with black children. Even at the age of 12, I was in awe of the hard-fought successes of the Civil Rights movement, spearheaded by so many brave leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy and Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Much progress was made, but racism and discrimination remain, simmering just beneath the surface in many, many areas (illustrated by Paula Deen's flippant remarks).
A mere two hours after the Supreme Court's inexplicable ruling Tuesday to gut voters' rights, the small-minded Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott began measures to restrict voting rights of minorities.
This is Richard Cohen's impassioned response to the Supreme Court decision:
From my office at the Southern Poverty Law Center, I can see the route where thousands marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in support of the right to vote. Today, the Supreme Court basically said that the country should reverse its course.
"In its decision to gut key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the Court brushed aside the considered judgment of a nearly unanimous Congress and opened the door to new forms of discrimination against minority voters.
After compiling an extensive legislative record, the House passed a bill in 2007 reauthorizing the preclearance provisions of the Voting Right Act by a vote of 390 to 33. In the Senate, the vote was even more lopsided – 98 to 0. Today, by a narrow 5 to 4 vote, the Supreme Court has said that Congress has to start over.
Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the activist wing of the Court, said that the formula in the Voting Rights Act used to identify jurisdictions like Alabama and Mississippi for added voter protections was no longer “justified by current needs.”
The facts tell a different story.
In the history of voting in Alabama, not a single black candidate has been able to defeat a white incumbent or win an open seat in a statewide race. Black office holders in Alabama are confined almost exclusively to minority districts because voting in the state is still highly polarized along racial lines. This polarization distorts the political process and gives the majority the very ability to dominate the minority that the Voting Rights Act was designed to address.
And yes, places like Alabama in the Deep South are different. Again, the facts tell the story. While 40 percent of the white voting public cast their ballots for a black president nationwide, only 15 percent of white voters did so in Alabama. And as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, there are still Alabama legislators who talk openly about suppressing the black vote and refer to black voters as “aborigines.” Freed by the Supreme Court from the protections for minority voters that Congress envisioned, one can only imagine what these kind of legislators will think of next.
At the conclusion of the great Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, Dr. King said that it would not be long before the era of discrimination in voting would be behind us. After today’s decision, the path will be much longer and tortuous. But we must not be discouraged or give up. The dream is still worth fighting for.