Give Us The Ballot

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    Will U.S. Supreme Court Legalize Voter Suppression?

    Polls aside, challenge to voting rights could impact Obama’s re-election

    The U.S. Supreme Court resumes another term this week with significant and symbolic issues on the docket for the highest court in the land to deal with: the University of Texas affirmative action case, and the extension of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

    Just like the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies came under attack several years ago and barely survived, the University of Texas is fighting to maintain its affirmative action policies before the nation’s high court. But the court with a conservative majority could overturn affirmative action, which will have serious implications on similar policies in public universities across the country.

    The key issue of voting rights before the court reflected in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which requires that certain states with the sordid history of voter disenfranchisement clear any change to their state election laws with the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice, has serious implications.

    In 2006, Congress extended Section 5 for another 25 years. But states like Alabama, Arizona and others are asking the Supreme Court to nullify Section 5 despite the blatant efforts by some of these very states to make it burdensome for minorities to vote by requesting photo ID and other identification.

    And the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts has already signaled where he stands on the issue now before the court.

    “The historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are undeniable. When it was first passed, unconstitutional discrimination was rampant and the registration of voting-age Whites ran roughly 50 percentage points or more ahead of Black registration in many covered states. Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare, and minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels,” Chief Justice Roberts, wrote in 2009 in a related case.

    What about the mounting evidence of voter suppression around the country where Blacks and Latinos are subjected to all sorts of personal demands aimed at making it difficult for them to vote in this presidential election?

    What about the battles that the Justice Department has been engaged in, in the South to ensure that those same states, such as Arizona, Alabama and others, comply with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the integrity of the voting process, ensuring people’s right to vote?

    Is the U.S. Supreme Court now willing to throw away documented evidence of vote suppression that’s been so rampant on the alter of political expediency?

    This is the challenge for the Roberts court.

    In the race to Nov. 6 we’ve seen how minority voters are being restricted with various measures masking as protecting the integrity of the vote. But in actuality it is a calculated ploy to discourage the number of Blacks and Latinos coming out to vote for the Democratic Party, to stem the wave of massive voter turnout we witnessed in November of 2008.

    Thus, the persistence of many Republican secretaries of state to demand photo ID claiming it is designed to minimize vote fraud — when the evidence doesn’t hold the theory — has the potential to return in this election back to the election that saw the U.S. Supreme Court choose George W. Bush over Al Gore.

    It would be logical that the most trumpeted democracy in the world not be seen as violating the basic tenet of democracy, which is the ballot. By creating many and varied measures they are impeding the ability of Blacks and Latinos to vote.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., talked about the hypocrisy of our democracy in a speech titled “Give Us the Ballot,” in which he charged the federal government and Republicans and Democrats alike for being unresponsive to the voting rights of Blacks.

    “But even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote,” King said.

    “Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice. The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds. Give us the ballot and we will no longer worry the federal goverment about our basic rights.”

    Following is an excerpt from the speech given at the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom.

    Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

    Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill and send to the sacred halls of Congress, men who will not sign a “Southern Manifesto” because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.

    Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy, and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.

    Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May seventeenth, 1954.

    In this juncture of our nation’s history, there is an urgent need for dedicated and courageous leadership. If we are to solve the problems ahead and make racial justice a reality, this leadership must be fourfold.

    First, there is need for strong, aggressive leadership from the federal government. So far, only the judicial branch of the government has evinced this quality of leadership. If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother.

    But we so often look to Washington in vain for this concern. In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical.

    This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party.

    In the midst of these prevailing conditions, we come to Washington today pleading with the president and members of Congress to provide a strong, moral, and courageous leadership for a situation that cannot permanently be evaded.

    We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological struggle with communism. The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now, before it is too late.

    A second area in which there is need for strong leadership is from the White northern liberals. There is a dire need today for a liberalism which is truly liberal. What we are witnessing today in so many northern communities is a sort of quasi-liberalism which is based on the principle of looking sympathetically at all sides.

    It is a liberalism so bent on seeing all sides, that it fails to become committed to either side. It is a liberalism that is so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed. It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm.

    We call for a liberalism from the North which will be thoroughly committed to the ideal of racial justice and will not be deterred by the propaganda and subtle words of those who say, “Slow up for a while; you’re pushing too fast.”

    A third source that we must look to for strong leadership is from the moderates of the white South. It is unfortunate that at this time the leadership of the white South stems from the close-minded reactionaries.

    These persons gain prominence and power by the dissemination of false ideas and by deliberately appealing to the deepest hate responses within the human mind. It is my firm belief that this close-minded, reactionary, recalcitrant group constitutes a numerical minority. There are in the white South more open-minded moderates than appears on the surface.

    These persons are silent today because of fear of social, political and economic reprisals. God grant that the white moderates of the South will rise up courageously, without fear, and take up the leadership in this tense period of transition.

    Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His forthcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.


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