Published on -6/30/2013, 6:44 AM
The Supreme Court's ruling striking down a significant part of the Voting Rights Act this past week is shocking, and to me, too egregious to go unmarked. I cannot be the only person in a four- or five-county area who is old enough to recall some early 1960s civil rights events. Let's start with the "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King's speech reminded each of us that dreams and aspirations are part of what makes our lives worth the effort we expect to extend if we live in America. Several months after that speech, we watched the Civil Rights movement head South for the Voting Rights summer, and we endured with horror the news that three young civil rights workers had not only gone missing, but that their remains were eventually discovered buried in an earthen dam by white men to protest the voter registration attempts, just outside of Philadelphia, Miss.
Why recall shocking events from 50 years past to determine whether a law and its concomitant regulations should be retained or stricken? Because history is important. We should face the fact that America has a history of democracy, making it crucial that we know these landmark events that have shaped our country.
When our Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, determined that the United States has come so far in race relations that our nation doesn't need a very important set of voting guidelines for certain states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia -- that had miserable records of restraining non-whites from registering and voting, we need to ask whether the voting climate in these states has really improved? If so, has it improved because of that 1965 law? Further, without the federal guidelines, will those states revert to those self-same practices that hounded and haunted non-whites for generations? Texas reverted immediately, installing voter ID laws that Justice Department officials had declared "too racist to be legal" -- a way to keep white people in office and in power.
I am one voter who still has a historical memory of ugly Jim Crow practices of excluding non-white from restaurants, of reading KKK notices of meetings in Pine Bluff, Ark., of burned interstate buses. I watched television report the impactful scenes of hundreds of blacks and whites march across the Selma, Ala., bridge, only to be beaten bloody by hate-filled white police and sheriffs and their deputies, because the marchers had the temerity to expect to live and vote without interference. I grieved when three little black girls were murdered at a church Birmingham (aka Bombingham), and hated the sight of other Americans being attacked with police dogs, hit with clubs and high-powered water hoses.
Justice Antonin Scalia claimed the Voting Rights Act was a side benefit of "racial entitlement" that has historically been very hard to limit or remove from the public sphere once enacted. Well, those most helped by the Voting Rights Act say no, it is not an entitlement for any one person more than for another, and they maintain rightly that it has been the U.S. as a whole that benefited when all its citizens voted, readily, without fear, intimidation or interference.
My questions for the reader are these: Do we really want to return to the era when we must all tolerate limitations on all our registrations and voting day practices? Why are we so fearful of minority voters? Are we so fearful because someone has told us that we should be fearful -- that perhaps one day white voters will be sharply outnumbered and outvoted?
If you, like me, are outraged that such a wrong-headed ruling can stand, then it is finally time to write a congressman and say so.
No, the Supreme Court does not work for us, but the justices should not be working against what we value, indeed what we hold sacrosanct in this country: free, impartial voting.
Mary B. Schwindt