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Martin Luther King, Jr. shakes President Lyndon B. Johnson's hand at the August 6, 1965 signing of the Voting Rights Act.

Welcome Back, Jim Crow

With a helping hand from the Supreme Court, the GOP can cling to power by disenfranchising voters.

BY Joel Bleifuss

Thanks to Shelby County v. Holder, Republican legislatures in the Jim Crow South are free to gerrymander African-American and Latino communities into electoral oblivion and enact whatever voter suppression legislation they choose.

The Roberts Court’s decision by a 5-to-4 vote to dismantle the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a gift to both the billionaire political hobbyists who gave us the Tea Party Congress and the noisy charlatans who push for cynical “anti-voter-fraud” legislation that is crafted to suppress voter turnout.

The same five Republican justices gave us the court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that opened the door to cash-and-carry elections—no questions asked, no disclosure required. True, in 2012, GOP lucre didn’t succeed in swinging the Senate to the Republicans or buying the presidency for Mitt Romney; but the right-wing electoral machine maintains a firm grip on many state houses and has kept enough wingnuts in the House to effectively paralyze the government.

Now, in addition to unlimited secret campaign cash, thanks to Shelby County v. Holder, Republican legislatures in the Jim Crow South are free to gerrymander African-American and Latino communities into electoral oblivion and enact whatever voter suppression legislation they choose. Within hours of the ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that his state’s stringent 2011 voter ID law would go into effect immediately.

Unregulated political contributions and voter suppression schemes in and of themselves are effective ways to swing elections, but these features of our political landscape also create a culture in which potential voters—the fuck-it-tariate—become alienated from electoral politics, convinced that their votes make no difference.

Of course, inexorable demographic changes—hastened by conservative white voters passing on to that gated community in the sky—will soon sweep the Republican Party into the
dustbin of history. But we cannot sit back and wait for that heaven on earth. Racism has long been central to the Right’s attack on the welfare state, and the use of racialized “voter fraud”
measures will surely help mobilize and excite a dangerous rump of white reactionaries. And we can also count on our corporate-backed political class (composed of both Republicans and too many Democrats) to aid and abet the ongoing transfer of a greater and greater percentage of our annual national GDP to the 1%—and most particularly the 0.1%.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Mary Jo White, the new chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is faced with another policy donnybrook. (She’s the official who ruled that America’s biggest banks are free to circumvent Dodd-Frank laws regulating the $700-trillion market in derivatives—a market that has been credited with ushering in the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession.)

White could decide that all publicly traded corporations are required to make public their political contributions. Since the bulk of this money goes to fund the Right, Republicans have manned the barricades. Rep Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) told White during the three-hour grilling she was subjected to by the House Financial Services Committee: “We’re giving you an opportunity today to make a clear and emphatic statement that you will refuse to be bullied by these outside radical groups that are trying to exploit the corporate disclosure process.”

We eagerly await her decision, since it will signal where the Obama administration stands on clean and fair elections. 

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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