John wrote about the conservative effort to gut the Voting Rights Act yesterday, but I’d like to look at the timeline a little more closely, because there’s a strange and inexplicable twist right there at the end:
First, we amended the US Constitution:
Section 1. 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.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The problem with voting is, when state or local actors disenfranchise certain voters with laws that discriminate, it is very difficult for those targeted voters to organize and then vote to remove those state and local actors from office and thus change the discriminatory laws, because they can’t VOTE.
Hence, “preclearance” or federal review of changes to certain state voting laws, before the targeted voters are disenfranchised:
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) bans racial discrimination in voting practices by the federal government as well as by state and local governments.
Passed in 1965 after a century of deliberate and violent denial of the vote to African-Americans in the South and Latinos in the Southwest – as well as many years of entrenched electoral systems that shut out citizens with limited fluency in English – the VRA is often held up as the most effective civil rights law ever enacted. It is widely regarded as enabling the enfranchisement of millions of minority voters and diversifying the electorate and legislative bodies at all levels of American government.
Today, we renew a bill that helped bring a community on the margins into the life of American democracy. My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court. (Applause.) This legislation is named in honor of three heroes of American history who devoted their lives to the struggle of civil rights: Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King. (Applause.) And in honor of their memory and their contributions to the cause of freedom, I am proud to sign the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. (Applause.)
Republicans in Congress and former President Bush didn’t want their names associated with gutting historic civil rights legislation like the Voting Rights Act, so they reaffirmed the Act publicly, while planning the court battle.
U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada condemned Republican efforts to use federal courts to kill a vital provision of the Voting Rights Act. Despite a bi-partisan effort in Congress and a bi-partisan White House ceremony where President Bush signed the bill into law, the American Enterprise Institute along with Congressional Republicans are filing law suits to kill the Voting Rights Act.
They are seeking to strike down Section 5 which freezes new election procedures in certain states until they have either received an administrative review by the United States Attorney General, or after a lawsuit before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
“Republican efforts to kill this vital section of the Voting Rights Act are both appalling and hypocritical,” said Reid. “Democratic and Republican leaders worked to pass this bill, now forces in the Republican Party want to continue the argument against democracy and look for new ways to reduce the number of minorities who vote.
Allow me to translate: most elected Republicans and former President Bush were too chickenshit to gut the Voting Rights Act in Congress or veto the reauthorization of the Act, so they put on a public show while planning to take the teeth out of it in federal courts. If “forces in the Republican Party” are successful in court, the Republican Party proper won’t be held publicly or politically accountable for destroying historic civil rights legislation, so this elaborate charade may work out pretty well for them. No Party of Lincoln fingerprints on it.