Today, the Supreme Court took up a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1964 which was renewed in 2006. If you’re not familiar with the Act, it was passed by Congress to prevent many of the states of the old Confederacy from denying African-Americans representation and the right to vote.
For many years, in the Jim Crow South, blacks were denied the vote through a combination of literacy tests, poll taxes, outright violence and intimidation. To end, or at least reduce, those practices, Congress demanded that southern states present any changes in voting procedures and redistricting to the Department of Justice for prior approval. Frustrated by the restrictions, Shelby County, Alabama challenged the law in court with the backing of the Republican Party.
It’s no surprise that Republicans would want to repeal the Voting Rights Act so they can better gerrymander congressional districts and suppress minority votes. After all, African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for President Obama.
Why wouldn’t they? Barack Obama is the first president with African-American heritage in our nation’s history. Moreover, since the Republican Party embraced the Southern Strategy, it has consistently supported policies that discriminate against minorities. GOP economic policies have been particularly damaging to minorities.
According to a new study by the Brandeis Institute on Assets and Social Policy, the wealth gap between blacks and whites has accelerated since the early days of Trickle Down Economics in 1984. Over a 25-year period, the median net worth of white households has grown to $265,000 compared to just $28,500 for black households!
If Justice Scalia has his way in deciding the Voting Rights Act, things are bound to get worse.
During oral arguments before the Court, Scalia said the act represents the “perpetuation of racial entitlement!” Say what? Exactly how does this pompous right wing apologist think African-Americans are entitled? Entitled to less representation than they already have? To be denied the right to vote? To even less wealth?
After hundreds of years of slavery and discrimination, it is likely to take many more generations of protections for African-Americans to level the playing field. At the time of emancipation, very few were literate and most had no property or assets of any kind. They were denied adequate wages for back-breaking jobs. They were segregated into slums with inferior schools. They were denied the right to vote. More recently, they have seen multinational corporations ship their jobs overseas.
Unfortunately, African-Americans and other minorities still need help to end the cycle of poverty and violence. They still need help achieving equal representation. And they need help to fend off win-at-any-cost politicians from marginalizing their representation and denying them the right to vote.
What they don’t need is a fat white man in a robe making insensitive and racist comments before voting to limit the few protections they have.