Tag Archives: 1965 Voting Rights Act

A Guide to Women NOT Voting

This year marks a century since the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution assured women the right to vote.  But it’s tough to imagine that only now will we be getting our first female vice-president.  Still, it’s equally difficult to understand there was a time when the concept of women voting was radical and almost subversive.  The old guard of White men who bore something like 99% of the nation’s wealth and power 100 years ago usually had trouble extending those privileges.

In 1917, the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company (the publishing arm of the National Woman Suffrage Association) came out with “This Little Book Contains Every Reason Why Women Should Not Vote.”  And all of its interior pages were blank.  It was essentially a comical publication, but at its core was a serious message: there are no good reasons to deny women the right to vote.

Granting women the right to vote was just one major step in the ongoing struggle for voting rights in the United States.  As much as detractors tried, they couldn’t squelch the myriad movements to ensure that very basic right, such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Considering what’s happened in this year’s elections, it appears that struggle is not over.

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Barrett Block

“It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), February 14, 2016, “Meet the Press”

“The court — we are one vote away from losing our fundamental constitutional liberties, and I believe that the president should next week nominate a successor to the court, and I think it is critical that the Senate takes up and confirms that successor before Election Day,” Cruz said. “This nomination is why Donald Trump was elected. This confirmation is why the voters voted for a Republican majority in the Senate.”

Cruz, September 18, 2020, hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If hypocrisy was a virtue, many politicians would be among the most honorable of citizens.  Sadly, political environments seem to have no room for such people.  Hypocrisy reigns, as U.S. Senate Republicans rammed through the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett this week, in order to fill the seat left by the death Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.  Ginsburg’s failing health and ultimate death had been the subject for years among Supreme Court watchers.  Liberals and even moderates feared her death would come at such a pivotal moment in U.S. history as we’re in now.

Allegations of a double standard aside, my biggest concern with Barrett is her unwillingness to answer questions regarding one particular issue, the most sacred element of democracy: voting.  I’ve always found it odd that conservatives will move mountains to protect gun rights, but unleash similar amounts of energy to thwart voting rights.  It’s obvious this matter is critical because we are on the cusp of a presidential election.  Yet, the right to cast a ballot has come under threat since Barack Obama fairly and legitimately won his first election in 2008.  (Understand there’s never been any question of the validity of Obama’s elections.)  States with predominantly Republican legislatures suddenly became concerned with voter fraud and began implementing measures to combat it.  Similar reactions erupted after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1971.

My home state of Texas, for example, was among the first to tighten voter identification.  College ids and utility bills were nearly eliminated as proof of one’s existence or residency, but they retain their positions as supplemental forms of identification.  Other measures, such as fingerprints and retina scans were proposed – all in a futile attempt to combat the mystical voter fraud; much the same way Ted Cruz managed to fight off myriad communist sympathizers on the manicured grounds of Princeton University.

In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of standing in crowded places to cast a ballot made many people shudder.  Generally, senior citizens and the disabled were among the few granted the privilege of mail-in voting.  But, as the novel coronavirus remains highly contagious, mail-in voting became more palatable.  Then, as if on cue, President Donald Trump and other right-wing sycophants raised the ugly specter of voter fraud.  And, of course, mail-in voting – just like the overall right granted by the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – was in jeopardy.

When voting rights advocates tried to compromise by pushing for drop-off ballot boxes, conservatives again balked.  On October 1, Texas Governor Greg Abbott mandated that only one drop-off box would be acceptable per county.  That works great for tiny Loving County (pop. 169), but not for massive Harris County (pop. 4.7 million).  U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman overruled Abbott; denouncing the governor’s proclamation as “myopically” focused.  But the governor persisted, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him.

Earlier this week, however, Judge Barrett couldn’t seem to bring herself to declare the importance and value of voting rights.  Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Barrett about the freedom of the formerly incarcerated to regain their voting rights.  She highlighted one of Barrett’s 2019 dissent in Kanter v. Barr that voting should be granted only to “virtuous citizens.”  In the Kanter case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled it reasonable that the litigant, Rickey Kanter, lose his right to own firearms after a felony conviction for mail fraud.  Barrett was the only member of the 3-judge panel to resist and brought up the “virtuous citizens” remark, which subsequently invoked discussions of what constitutes virtuous.  As with any moral declaration, the concept of virtue can be purely subjective.  Yet Barrett didn’t stop there.  In her dissent, she went on to write that the application of virtue should limit the right of citizens to vote and serve on juries.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard conservative political figures announce their support for ex-convicts to regain their right to bear arms, if they’ve served their full sentences.  None, however, have expressed similarly ardent advocacy for the same ex-convicts to earn back their right to vote.  I suspect this is because they all realize the significance of the power of voting and the power it gives even to the poor and disenfranchised.  Hence, measures in the past with poll taxes and “grandfather clauses”.

Barrett still wouldn’t clarify what she meant by “virtuous”.  In response to Klobuchar, she said, “Okay. Well, senator, I want to be clear that that is not in the opinion designed to denigrate the right to vote, which is fundamental … The virtuous citizenry idea is a historical and jurisprudential one.  It certainly does not mean that I think that anybody gets a measure of virtue and whether they’re good or not, and whether they’re allowed to vote. That’s not what I said.”

Klobuchar persisted.  In citing Justice Ginsburg’s writing in the landmark voting rights case Shelby County v. Holder, she asked, “Do you agree with Justice Ginsburg’s conclusion that the Constitution clearly empowers Congress to protect the right to vote?”

Shelby County v. Holder was crucial in the contemporary assault on voting rights.  It addressed Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting.  The seminal 1965 act was not-so-subtly aimed at southern states.  When the case arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, where a 5-4 ruling declared Section 4(b) unconstitutional because it was based on data over 40 years old.  The high court didn’t strike down Section 5.  Previous research had showed that both sections had led to increases in minority voting since the 1960s.  Contemporary voting advocates, however, claimed that recent efforts – especially after Obama’s 2008 victory and mainly in the South – made it easier for election officials to impose greater restrictions on voting.

Again, Barrett just couldn’t (more likely wouldn’t) bring herself to state her position clearly.  “Well, Senator, that would be eliciting an opinion from me on whether the dissent or the majority was right in Shelby County,” she told Klobuchar, “and I can’t express a view on that, as I’ve said, because it would be inconsistent with the judicial role.”

Klobuchar then brought up alarming news that Atlas Aegis, a Tennessee-based company, was trying to recruit former members of the U.S. military to show up at various polling places while armed; all in a supposed effort to ensure the security of voting.  The image of such activity has become plausible as even President Trump advocates for armed poll-watchers to prevent voter fraud.  Whether these people should be armed with bazookas or cell phones hasn’t been made clear, but the threat is obvious.

“Judge Barrett,” asked Klobuchar, “under federal law, is it illegal to intimidate voters at the polls?”

“Sen. Klobuchar, I can’t characterize the facts in a hypothetical situation and I can’t apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts,” Barrett said.

Well, that’s a nice, safe response.  And I have to concede it’s only proper in such a setting.  A fair jurist can’t logically state a position without knowing the facts.  As the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett’s self-admitted idol, once declared, “I want to hear your argument.”  But that should apply only to specific cases.  There should be no doubt about the concept of voting.

Barrett was also evasive in answers to other questions, such as abortion – the perennially key issue among conservatives – and the Affordable Care Act.  Trump had made it clear from the start of his presidential campaign that he wanted to overturn both the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and the ACA.  While he and social and religious conservatives offer no concessions for Roe, the president often mentioned a replacement for ACA, which has yet to materialize and – as far as I’m concerned – doesn’t exist.  Roe will always remain a thorn in the fragile ribs of conservatives, but the idea of eliminating health care coverage for all citizens – particularly while we remain mired in this pandemic and flu season already underway – is infuriating.  Not-so-ironically the high court is set to review the validity of the ACA next month.  As with the upcoming election, Trump wants to ensure a conservative majority on the court before both events.

Trump has already stated – as he did in 2016 – that he will only accept the results of the election if he wins.  Whatever fool is surprised, please raise your hand now, so we full-brain folks can laugh at you!  Loudly.  Yet it’s clear: Trump realizes this election could end up like 2000, when the Supreme Court ordered the state of Florida to stop its ballot recount and thereby hand the presidency to George W. Bush.  That Bush’s younger brother, Jeb, was governor of Florida in 2000 wasn’t lost on most.  The “good-old-boy” network was alive and well at the turn of the century!

And it thrives in the anti-First Amendment actions of Republican governors across the nation.  I feel that Barrett is basically their puppet; their tool in resolutions to ensure a conservative majority in the Supreme Court.  As with any justice, Barrett’s place on the court could impact generations of people.  As a writer, I’m a strong free speech advocate, which equals the right to vote.  They’re intertwined.  And I feel that many conservatives view the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as available to only a handful – people like them.  People who share their narrow view of the world and what is appropriate in order to function within it.

Thus, the U.S. Senate’s kangaroo confirmation hearings for Barrett are ominous.

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So This Is Who We Have?

“I don’t make jokes.  I just watch the government and report the facts.”

Will Rogers

Both the 2020 Democratic and Republican National Conventions have come to an end, and I couldn’t be happier.  Last week former Vice-President Joe Biden accepted the Democrat’s nomination for president, while Sen. Kamala Harris accepted the vice-presidential role.  And, over the last few days, incumbent President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence accepted their respective nominations from the GOP.  Aside from watching these political love fests conclude, the only thing that excites me more about this entire process is that the demise of the 2020 presidential race is in sight.  I feel even more disenfranchised than I did four years ago.

Okay, one other thing that truly excites me is the prospect that Donald Trump will be voted out of office in November.  But I have to concede that I’m not too thrilled with the idea of a Biden presidency.  Joe Biden was good as vice-president, but I feel less secure with him in the role of Chief Executive.  I’m certain, though, he’ll be much better than Trump.  Hell, a stray dog would be better than Trump!

In 2016 I voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  A physician, Stein had been the Green Party’s candidate four years earlier.  I knew Iceland would see 80-degree temperatures on Christmas Day before Stein would win the U.S. presidency.  But I didn’t like either Trump or the Democratic choice of Hillary Clinton.  Clinton supporters blamed people like me for Clinton’s loss in 2016.  But we didn’t cause Hillary Clinton to lose the 2016 presidential election.  Hillary Clinton caused Hillary Clinton to lose the 2016 presidential election.  Her and the Russians.  As we now know, Russia essentially elected Trump; just like the U.S. Supreme Court elected George W. Bush in 2000.  America’s role as the beacon of democracy seems to have been shredded over the past 20 years.

I just never liked Hillary Clinton.  I loved Bill (Whose Your Daddy?) Clinton, but I never took a liking to Hillary.  By 2016, she had acquired top much baggage; more baggage than a Samsonite warehouse or a Lufthansa flight fresh in from Berlin.

And I definitely didn’t like Trump.  Donald Trump had been running for president for some 30 years by the time he made it official in 2015.  The idea had arisen back in the 1980s, when his name and persona first became public, and much of the nation had grown enamored with the concept of rapid-fire wealth and public prestige.  As AIDS and cocaine rampaged, many in the U.S. found the likes of Trump appealing.  He survived the collapse of the financial industry related to the savings-and-loan crisis and the string of high-profile prosecutions that ensued.  It seemed there was a price to pay for fiduciary recklessness.  No one knew at the time, though, that Trump was actually a womanizing failed businessman and tax cheat.  We know that well enough now.  But he’s president.  And, as another massive health crisis grips the nation and the world, we see how incompetent and ineffective Donald Trump really is.

I’m sure Joe Biden can do better.  But I keep thinking Biden should have called it a political life after his vice-presidency ended in January of 2017.  He should have retired to his estate in Delaware to consult on other political campaigns, give speeches and write books.  He’d served his time in office; he’d done his duty.

For the Democratic Party, the 2020 presidential campaign had started with high promises and an extraordinarily bright future.  The field of candidates was the most diverse that had ever existed among any political party.  But, by March, we’d ended up with two old White guys: Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.  Kind of like the Republican Party.  And I say this with all due respect to old White men.  I mean, I’m a mostly White man myself – in the golden days of middle age.  And, as I’ve declared before, White men aren’t the nexus of evil in America they’re often portrayed to be.  But I personally had hoped Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be the Democrats’ choice.  I would definitely be more excited with her at the head of the ticket.

As usual, there has been no real mention of either the Green or Libertarian Parties.  They’ve essentially been locked out of the convention hall – again.  And Americans are overwhelmed by the demagoguery of the Democratic and Republican Parties – again.  Indeed, the U.S. is becoming less and less like a democracy and more like an oligarchy.  Does my vote – or the vote of any individual – truly count?  Throughout the year the U.S. has seen covert attempts by the Trump Administration to thwart the right to vote – one of the foundational pillars of any free society.  That’s typical of social and political conservatives.  While the Republican Party of the 19th century pushed for the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it was the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that propelled many conservatives into the arms of the GOP.  Recent efforts to enforce voter identifications, calls for limiting early voting days and ongoing battles to undermine mail-in voting prove that conservatives – the ones who will move Heaven and Earth to protect their sacred gun rights – will do anything possible to circumvent the voting process.

And here we are: stuck with two old men who represent more of America’s past than its future.  I was enthralled with Bill Clinton and I liked Barack Obama.  Yet, I just can’t bring myself to get excited with the current campaign.

My two biggest fears?  If Trump is reelected, the nation will descend further into social chaos and economic madness.  If Biden is elected, he may die in office, which will send the nation into equally unending chaos.

I know I will vote nonetheless.  People have fought and died for this right – even within the past 100 years.  There are literally millions of people across the globe who would relish the chance to choose between the lesser of two or three evils.  The people of Belarus certainly wish they had that opportunity now.  Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic and a rash of voter suppression tactics, I will stand in line to select a candidate for the U.S. presidency.  It’s my right and my obligation.  Besides, I have nothing else to do two days before my 57th birthday.

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Vote Like It Counts

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One of the many elements that came out of the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” was a loud call for the United States to honor its commitment to voting.  People here often don’t think much about it, but voting is a critical factor in any democracy.  If you look at what’s happening in Syria right now, I’m certain a number of that country’s citizens wish they had the luxury of just voting, or impeaching, Bashar al-Assad right out of office.

A positive effect of the March on Washington was the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed that the U.S. would uphold that right for every proper citizen to cast one vote for the candidate of their choice.  It struck down poll taxes and literacy tests; measures often used, particularly in the Southeast, against non-Whites and poor people.  Why don’t people take this seriously?

I’m especially concerned after a report showing my beloved home state of Texas ranks 51st, after the District of Columbia, in voter turnout.  On average, declares the Texas Civic Health Index, only about a third of eligible voters in the nation’s second-most populous state make a concerted effort to vote.  I think that explains why Texas looks to be a blood-red bastion of far-right lunatics.  It’s why Rick Perry has been able to hold onto the governorship like the Pope and why Ted Cruz easily won a Senate seat last year, despite his extremist views.

The state’s Democratic Party hopes to turn its political establishment a striking royal blue.  I personally don’t want to see Texas metamorphose into another California or Illinois where extreme taxation and heavy regulations drive away businesses.  But, I definitely don’t want it to remain mired in crimson red.  A nice fuchsia would be more palatable, but I’m not a color maven.

The study noted – not surprisingly – that people with higher levels of education are more likely to vote.  Thus, it recommended improving civic literacy through education, starting at the grade school level.  But, recent cuts by the Texas legislature in education funding may make that challenging.  Conservative state officials moved Heaven and Earth to ban abortion, but don’t have too much concern for those children once they reach school.  Hence, the need for voting.

It’s actually an embarrassment.  I’ve made a concerted effort to vote in every major state and national election since 1992.  Obviously, I haven’t always seen the results I’d like – but, at least I tried to make a difference.

Low voter turnouts appears to be a national trend.  Last year only some 57.5% of eligible voters made it to the polls; lower than in the 2 previous elections, but surpassing the dismal rate of 54.2% set in 2000.  Critics at the time liked to point out that more people voted in “American Idol” than in the 2000 presidential elections.  When you realize that, in 2012, Mexican voters turned out at a rate of 62.45% – despite the omnipresent threats of violence and endemic corruption – it certainly speaks poorly of Americans.

Voting is like budgeting: you just can’t let things go and hope for the best.  It requires work and patience.  It’s what any civilized society – not just the United States – is all about.  It’s the foundation of democracy.  It really does count.

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Stupid Quote of the Week #1

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“Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this.  I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement.  It’s been written about.  Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, during oral arguments about the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the Act because of a lawsuit brought by Shelby County, Alabama.  Attorneys for Shelby County claim that the Act has essentially worn out its welcome because the nation has a biracial president and plenty of non-Caucasians in positions of power.  If it isn’t for the fact that the state of Alabama has a vitriolic history of voter suppression and intimidation, the lawsuit might have some validity.  But, the images of White police officers beating Black people protesting for their right to vote keeps swinging through my mind.  Despite the election of Obama, some Republican-dominated districts have made an attempt in recent years to reconfigure some areas that could ensure GOP wins.  Many of these areas are in the Southeastern U.S. where – if anyone has done their research – racial discrimination was more entrenched just a half century ago.  Selma, Alabama is the site of one of the most vicious attacks on unarmed citizens by police in U.S. history.

It doesn’t surprise me that Scalia would make such a statement.  As far as I know, he’s never experienced firsthand the feeling of a water hose against his face just because he wanted to be treated as a human being.  Then again, neither have I.  But, the Voting Rights Act and its predecessor, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, were meant to ensure that.  I guess Scalia – sitting up on his ivory throne – still hasn’t figured that out.

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