Welcome Back, Jim Crow

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

Joel Bleifuss

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

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.

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 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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