Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thoughts on Voting Rights and SCOTUS

A siren, flashing lights. Fred pulled over. The police car stopped right behind us. We had no idea why we were being pulled over. We weren't speeding. We were on the way home from Junior Achievement where I was CEO of our company and Fred was the CFO. We were good kids.
"Girl, does your Daddy know you got a nigger boyfriend."
"No, sir. He isn't my boyfriend. He's giving me a ride home because Dad has the car at work."
"You kids know you got a taillight out? Gotta write you up."
That was Topeka, Kansas circa 1968, almost 20 years after Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. It was not acceptable to that policeman to see a white girl in a car with a black boy.
Lydia and I were new neighbors out walking and talking, learning our new neighborhood. Children of the '50's, we were nervous when we noticed the sheriff's car that seemed to be on every street corner.
"You ladies live around here?"
"Yes, sir. We just moved in next door to each other on ??? Circle."
"Got any proof of that?"
In Denver suburbia late 1990's, there was still a bit of paranoia among law enforcement about blacks.
On another morning walk, we saw "NIGGER GO HOME! BLACKS GET OUT!" painted on the van around the corner.
A 4-year old says to a fellow student in her pre-school class, "I can't play with you because you have brown skin." The year was 2000. Again in Denver suburbs, not one of the areas covered by section 5 of Voting Rights Act.
Those last three events happened rather recently, more than 40 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed and 50 years after Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. We still don't live in a color-blind world. Even though I thought we'd gotten past the prejudices of the 50's and 60's, we haven't, not even here in our middle-class, highly educated suburban neighborhood. What must it be like in the areas specified in section 5?
How incredibly naive is Justice Thomas when he declares that there is no need for the Voting Rights Act? When Justice Scalia says it is perpetuation of racial entitlement? If this old white lady in suburbia can see that prejudice is still systemic and some SCOTUS justices can't, what hope is there for justice? Just seven years ago, Congress did a massive review of facts and almost unanimously voted to renew the Voting Rights Act. Is it justice if five members of the Court acting on their opinions, and obviously willfully ignorant of facts, can strike down a law that is still necessary?
Some might say that the voter suppression activities that we saw in 2012 were color-blind changes. If they are honest, they might say they were efforts geared toward suppressing Democrat voters, but those most directly impacted were minorities. Look at the photos and you will see long lines of black Americans waiting in 6-hour long lines to cast their ballots. The Sunday voting programs are predominant in Black dominant churches. The counties restricting voter registration were often counties with large percentages of black or Latino citizens. Even if the discriminatory practices were designed to keep Democrats from voting, the evidence indicates the majority of the victims were non-white. 
So long as a young girl hears "I can't play with you because you have brown skin" and hoodlums paint vans with racial epithets and law enforcement expresses suspicion based solely on skin color, the Voting Rights Act and all its provisions must be preserved. To kill it in the Supreme Court is to kill justice in this country.

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