Republicans Attack Democracy
Republicans are renewing their efforts to suppress the voting rights of minority populations, which raises a very serious question. Do Republicans want to live in a democracy or not?
We all watched in horror as domestic terrorists exposed the fragility of our democratic republic on live television January 6, 2021. Rioters brutally attacked police, rampaging through the Capital seeking to harm their designated enemies. defacing, desecrating and looting while chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” Despite hiding for their own safety, many Republicans persisted in promoting and validating Trump’s repudiated lie: the election was a fraud. When they returned that evening, 147 Republicans voted to prevent the will of the voters from being certified, attempting to overturn the electoral college results. Subsequently, a majority of Republicans decided it was time to “move on,” as if this attack on the fabric of democracy was not worthy of further discussion, and might risk implicating its instigator, Donald Trump. Republicans know there is only one way they can win, and they have set about making it happen.
The New Republican Party
This is no longer the battle between Big Government Democrats and Small Government Republicans of years gone by. It is a battle between those who want The United States of America to remain a democratic republic and those who do not. In this craven new world, a majority of Republicans want a country where they always remain in control. They will get there by following their new rules:
Rule No. 1: When Republicans get the most votes, they win the election.
Rule No. 2: When Republicans don’t get the most votes, revert to Rule No. 1.
There’s no mistaking that these are the rules they’d like apply, starting with the Former Guy’s overwhelming loss in the Presidential election of 2020. Repeatedly declaring unfounded, false figments of his imagination, the country’s victim in chief announced, on the contrary, that he actually won the election by a landslide. Thus, he concluded, Congress should set aside these fraudulent results so that he could continue as chief executive. And in this relentless pursuit to remain in power and save himself from the humiliation of defeat, he garnered support from Congressional and other sycophantic followers.
The Greased Path to Voter Suppression
While a variety of factors motivated his sycophants, there is no question all shared the same objective; overturn the election results and restore the Loser to power. Once it became clear that this was not going to happen, Republicans turned to other means with the potential to keep them in power and control the outcome of future elections. Despite a growing populace that does not support its policies, Republican dominance of many state legislatures provides them a path, and the Supreme Court has already greased it. That path is voter suppression.
The third arm of our constitutional republic—the Courts, including the Supreme Court—stood firm, remained apolitical and prevented the overthrow of the November 2020 election results. That’s true, but not as hopeful as it appears at first blush. Because in the last ten years the Supreme Court has made decisions that significantly advance the ability to suppress voting rights, particularly of minority communities, and it is poised to do so again.
Supreme Court’s Negation of Voting Rights
Though not directly restricting voting rights, in its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Court held that the First Amendment prohibited restrictions on expenditures for political communications of corporations, labor unions and other association. This overturned the 2002 Bi-partisan Campaign Reform Act and opened the flood gates to huge amounts of outside funding of election campaigns. In its infinite wisdom, the Court concluded that “independent spending from corporations or other actors to support or oppose candidates would not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.” With the ability to conceal the source of funding and the overwhelming amounts already spent on elections of every sort, I wonder if the Justices can look themselves in the mirror.
In 2013 the Court invalidated the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required certain states with a history of discriminatory laws to obtain federal approval in advance of changes to election laws. That decision was predicated on the essentially specious conclusion that conditions in 2013 no longer warranted such restrictions.
In 2019 the Court virtually assured the ability of entrenched political parties to retain their power regardless of shifts in the number of state voters favoring the opposing political party. The Court concluded that partisan gerrymandering presents political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. That decision allows currently gerrymanded state legislatures to reinvigorate themselves based on the 2020 Census and introduce more restrictive voting requirements.
It’s Full Steam Ahead with Voter Suppression
And they are doing just that—with a passion. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning law and justice institute at New York University, counts 253 bills in 43 states that seek to tighten voting rules. It’s largely a two-pronged attack. First, make it harder to register to vote and then harder to cast a ballot. Establishing a voter ID requirement with proof of citizenship difficult for minorities to come by is right up there among the favorites. Purging of registered voters for a variety of questionable reasons is another handy tool.
And there are so many more opportunities to impede actually casting a ballot– restricting mail-in ballots, early voting and Sunday voting are just the beginning. Then there are those old reliable standbys of reducing the number of polling places and dissemination of false information on voting dates, hours and where ballots can be cast. Jim Crow is apparently alive and thriving in the red states.
It is readily apparent that these restrictions impact minority communities of color, which should be a clear violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Though the words are quite clear, the Supreme Court seems to have a somewhat different interpretation of what that actually means. And it won’t be the first time the Court has rendered an Opinion that actually disenfranchises citizens of color.
The Supreme Court Mutes the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments
One such example hearkens back to 1883 when the Court effectively muted the relevance of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments when it declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. Some background: the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery; the Fourteenth amendment essentially forbade a State from making laws abridging the rights of U.S. citizens, and guaranteed due process. The1875 Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in public places and facilities such as restaurants and public transportation. It also made the denial of such services a crime to be tried in federal courts, rather than at the state level. Its proponents sought to protect the Black community from deprivation of minimal rights of citizenship.
In its 1883 decision the Court concluded that neither the Thirteenth or Fourteenth Amendments were infringed by the existence of uncodified racial discrimination. I take that to mean racial discrimination is OK as long as there’s no law specifically defining its legality. Of course, we of the not so learned class might conclude differently. That is, if it looks like a chicken, walks like a chicken and squawks like a chicken, it’s not a cow.
Supreme Court Considers a New Challenge to Voting Rights
That interpretation stood until the Supreme Court upheld the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But as indicated above, in 2013 the Court once again had difficulty seeing the difference between a chicken and a cow. It overturned a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which subsequently led to an expansion of suppression efforts to restrict voting of minority communities. Now the Court is hearing a case brought by the State of Arizona that could virtually end the remaining safeguards to voter suppression provided by what’s left of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The issue in question is whether changes in Arizona’s law cause a substantial difference in the opportunities for minority communities to vote, or are just an incremental burden.
Indeed, incremental burdens don’t sound like they would cause much pain, but the cumulative impact of incremental changes stimulated by the Supreme Court’s decisions have made it increasingly difficult for minority communities to vote. Keep in mind, Republicans behind these changes make no effort to hide the fact that they are designed to prevent minority communities from voting since they overwhelmingly vote Democratic. So once again the Court is about to see a chicken, but likely conclude it’s a cow.
Republican Strategy to Win Elections
Ordinarily when a political party loses an election, it looks to modify its message to attract more voters in the next election. But this is not the approach taken by today’s Republican Party. It’s clear that their objective is to simply reduce the number of people who can vote against them. This is extremely important because it represents a direct attack on democracy itself. It is not hyperbole to state that our democracy is at risk and too many Republicans see that as a positive development.
For Democracy to Survive
The remedy is obviously passage of a new Voting Rights Act, but given the lack of a substantial enough Democratic Senate majority, that is a remote possibility. Regrettably there are no magic bullets to restore Republican faith in democracy. It will take continuing concerted efforts to:
fight changes in voting laws at the Supreme Court;
register as many minority community individuals to vote as possible;
plan and financially support ways for such voters to cast their ballots in compliance with new restrictions;
encourage and support criminal prosecution of all those involved in the January 6th assault on the Capitol and ongoing terrorist activities.
The survival of our democracy cannot be taken for granted. It is a fragile construct and must be fiercely protected and defended or it will fall the way of other democracies taken over by fascists and white nationalists. The soul of this country is under attack, and all of us have to recognize the danger and the dangerous. We must do what we can to preserve it.