After Voter Suppression

So much has happened in so many parts of the judicial system regarding Voter ID and other recent efforts to restrict the franchise that it’s hard to get a fix on the big picture. But at the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin has seen the future of SCOTUS action on voting rights in its rulings on Wisconsin (halting implementation on grounds of timing) and Texas (giving that state the green light) Voter ID laws, and it’s not good:

The Wisconsin and Texas rulings were just preliminary requests for emergency relief, and the Supreme Court may yet hear the cases in full on the merits. But there seems little chance that a majority of the current Court will rein in these changes in any significant way. In courtrooms around the country, it’s been made clear that these Republican initiatives have been designed and implemented to disenfranchise Democrats (again, usually of color). But the Supreme Court doesn’t care.

So Toobin thinks it’s time to make a mental adjustment back to the mid-1960s, when hostile state laws and practices on voting were overwhelmed by sheer the sheer moral and physical presence of people exercising the rights they still had and participating in elections whatever the difficulty:

Certainly, the obstacles for voters in the contemporary South do not compare to those that the civil-rights pioneers, black and white, faced until the early nineteen-sixties. In the Freedom Summer of 1964, the still nascent civil-rights movement coalesced around an effort to register voters in Mississippi. It was during that summer that the infamous murders of the civil-rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner took place. In addition, of course, black Mississippi residents endured less well-known but equally horrific abuse from state authorities during this time.​ In those days before the Voting Rights Act, the effort did not succeed in registering great numbers of voters, but it did focus the nation’s attention on the magnitude of the problem.

So it could today. In light of the changes in the state laws, it’s difficult but not impossible to register voters and make sure that they get to cast their ballots. And it’s absolutely mandatory in a democracy for that to be done.

The title of Toobin’s essay is “Freedom Summer, 2015.” It’s sobering to realize that’s what we may need to restore voting rights long thought to be relatively secure. But it’s also a reminder that reactionaries who fear democracy (not just judicial conservatives, but the Con Cons who think “losers” have forfeited the right to have any say in what “winners” do with their money and power) have been defeated before in more more extreme circumstances.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.