A US Supreme Court for the few or the many? Not voting gives your voice to others to decide. (Photo: Zach Gibson / The New York Times)
It is no secret that the makeup of the US Supreme Court will be a major issue as the fall election campaigns unfold. And yet, many voters will choose not to vote. “It’s too much effort. I forgot to register when I moved. My vote won’t matter.”
I’ve heard every excuse, but whatever the reason, not voting gives power to others to make decisions that do in fact affect most of our lives.
Examples? Here are some cases and issues to watch.
US Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks at a town meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 18, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
The Supreme Court has completed its 2015-16 calendar of cases ending in June, when it normally issues its most political decisions. After a fairly quiescent 2014-15 term, cases pending decision on the court’s docket will affect the important Democratic constituencies of women, labor and communities of color; possibly weaken majoritarian policies on health care and voting rights; and even rule on a significant immigration issue for good measure.
Politico sums up: “With at least five core Obama policies on the line … Democratic insiders are bracing for the Supreme Court to dismantle huge chunks of core issues for the president and other Democrats.” One experienced Supreme Court litigator finds it “hard to imagine a set of issues that could have as great impact and are as politically salient in an election year.”
The far-right backlash against our civil rights progress reaches the U.S. Supreme Court this week with two critically important cases that could dramatically set back efforts to achieve racial equality in our nation.
In Evenwel v. Abbott, heard by the Court today, the plaintiffs are seeking to demolish our longstanding “one person, one vote” standard, so that only voters, not all people, are counted when legislative districts are drawn.
This is nothing less than a power grab and a frontal assault on the core of the 14th Amendment, which was enacted after the Civil War to give equal representation and protection to all people.
Protestors gather outside of the US Supreme Court in support of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in Washington, February 27, 2013. The Supreme Court on Tuesday morning, June 25, 2013, announced a vote of 5 to 4 in the Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder case, striking down part of the act. (Christopher Gregory / The New York Times)
In 2016, the US will hold the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 – and thousands of voters in the South will face new barriers to voting. That’s because states and counties previously covered under the VRA’s preclearance provision requiring federal approval for voting changes were released from those requirements following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.
In his new book Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, Ari Berman, a national correspondent for The Nation and an investigative fellow at The Nation Institute, looks back on the 50-year history since the VRA’s passage to shed light on the current debate over the right to vote in the South and across the country. He describes the ways that the VRA was a success and also the opposition to it that began as soon as law was enacted.
On November 20, Berman was in Durham, North Carolina for an event at the Regulator Bookshop co-hosted by the Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Facing South. We sat down with Berman before the event to talk about the VRA’s impact in the South and the region’s role in the modern fight for voting rights.
In 1971, the United States ratified the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.
The idea, in those Vietnam years, was that 18-year-olds, being old enough to be drafted, to marry and to serve on juries, deserved a vote. It seemed plausible at the time, and I myself have argued in the past that we should set the drinking age at 18 for the same reasons.
But now I’m starting to reconsider. To be a voter, one must be able to participate in adult political discussions. It’s necessary to be able to listen to opposing arguments and even — as I’m doing right here in this column — to change your mind in response to new evidence.
The letter comes more than a week after he marked the 50th anniversary of the 1965 act by asking Congress to pass new, broader legislation to address recent efforts to impede Americans’ voting rights.
“I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place,” Obama wrote in Wednesday’s letter.
Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: berniesanders.com)
Bernie Sanders | Reader Supported News | August 6, 2015
hursday, August 6 marks the 50-year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This landmark piece of legislation was a milestone in the fight for civil rights and a great step forward in the advancement of our democracy. This important and popular law passed the House and Senate with the support of large majorities from both parties.
Unfortunately, some people would rather increase the power of the privileged few than defend voting rights. Right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been promotinglegislative proposals which make it harder for minorities to register and vote. Sadly, those proposals have had some success at the state level.
Then there’s the Supreme Court. The Court’s conservative majority struck a blow against democracy in 2010 with its Citizens United decision. In 2013 it struck another blow, when it overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. That made it very difficult to step in and enforce voters’ rights under the Act.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of a landmark achievement of the civil rights movement. It was August 6, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and now 14-term Congressman John Lewis looked on. The law has been under constant attack ever since. Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down parts of the measure in a case called Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder when it ruled states with histories of voting-related racial discrimination no longer had to “pre-clear” changes to their voting laws with the federal government. One month later, North Carolina passed sweeping voting restrictions that cut early voting and eliminated same-day registration. During the midterm elections in 2014, these new rules prevented thousands from casting their vote. We speak to Ari Berman, author of the new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.
AMYGOODMAN: “We Shall Not Be Moved,” recorded by amateur audio documentarian Carl Benkert, who made recordings of the third March on Selma. Benkert wrote of the experience, “music was an essential element; music in song expressing hope and sorrow; music to pacify or excite; music with the power to engage the intelligence and even touch the spirit.” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, as the Republicans prepare to hold the first presidential debate of the 2016 race, the media are focusing largely on which candidates will be heard. On Tuesday, Fox News announced Republican Governors Chris Christie and John Kasich had grabbed the last spots in Thursday’s 10-candidate debate. Fox News said it calculated its top 10 list by averaging five national polls, a process which came under fire from polling agencies earlier this week.
As the early stages of the 2016 presidential race begin, state legislatures are already considering hundreds of laws that could determine voters’ access to the ballot. Since the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, and as of May 13, 2015, at least 113 bills that would restrict access to registration and voting have been introduced or carried over in 33 states. Over the same time period, at least 464 bills that would enhance access to voting were introduced or carried over in 48 states plus the District of Columbia.
For the third year in a row, bills to expand voters’ access to the ballot box outpace those to restrict voting, both in terms of introduction and enactment. This strong show of support for making the ballot accessible has not necessarily put voters ahead of where they have been in recent years, because some recent restrictive legislation continues to make it harder for citizens to participate.
Of the 113 bills restricting access in this legislative session (including bills carried over from last session), 6 of them are active in 5 states, in that there has been legislative activity beyond introduction and referral to a committee in 2015 (such as hearings, committee activity, or votes).
This weekend marked the fifteenth year that John Lewis has led a bipartisan congressional delegation on a civil-rights pilgrimage to Alabama, under the auspices of the Faith and Politics Institute. This year 100 members of Congress joined him, the largest delegation in the pilgrimage’s history. I was lucky enough to tag along.
They visited 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where four young girls were killed in a 1963 bombing, and heard Lewis give a riveting account of being imprisoned and beaten during the Freedom Rides in 1961, when he was only 21. They visited the Rosa Parks museum in Montgomery and celebrated the Voting Rights Act (VRA) on the steps of the Alabama capitol. And, of course, they visited Selma to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, where they met the foot soldiers of the voting-rights movement and listened to President Obama celebrate the most important march in civil-rights history.
Obama spoke at the foot of the bridge where his hero, John Lewis, nearly died fifty years earlier. The president linked the struggle for the right to vote in March 1965 to the fight for voting rights today.