After the 2010 census, Republican-dominated state legislatures began to enact laws that were designed to suppress Black voter turnout. Using the pretext of preventing voting fraud, legislatures adopted laws that are modern-day equivalents to poll taxes and literacy tests that prevented African Americans from voting during the Jim Crow era. The proof of this was revealed in three recent cases that struck down illegal and unconstitutional efforts to suppress African American votes.
The Texas Case
On July 20, 2016, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit delivered a strong rebuke to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. It was a stunning decision by one of the most conservative federal appellate courts in the nation.
In 2011 Texas enacted a law that which required individuals to present a Texas driver’s license or one of the following: a personal identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety; a U.S. military identification card with a photograph; a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo; a U.S. passport: a license to carry a concealed handgun issued by the Department of Public Safety: or an Election Identification Certificate issued by the State
A civil action was filed challenging the Texas laws as violations of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting rights Act. The trial court held that the law imposed an unconstitutional burden on voting rights and was enacted with a discriminatory purpose. That decision was appealed. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision on the discriminatory effect issue as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The Court remanded the discriminatory intent question for reconsideration by the trial court.
On July 29, 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s efforts to suppress African American votes. The case began in 2013, when North Carolina’s Republican-dominated legislature announced an intention to enact “omnibus” election law. Before proceeding, however, the legislature obtained detailed data that examined, by race, a number of voting practices.
Using this data, the General Assembly enacted laws that shortened an early voting period, eliminated same-day registration, prohibited the counting of ballots cast out of precinct, eliminated a preregistration program for 16-and 17-year olds, and implemented a strict photo ID requirement. Several observers called the legislation “the worst voter suppression law in the nation.”
A number of organizations filed suit contending that the legislation violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The trial court ruled in North Carolina’s favor. The Court of Appeals reversed. It found that the totality of the circumstances compelled a finding that the legislature engaged in intentional discrimination. It concluded that the General Assembly enacted the “most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”
The Wisconsin Case
On July 29, 2016, a federal judge ruled that several provisions of Wisconsin’s voting laws are unconstitutional because they discriminated against African American voters. After Republicans won legislative majorities in 2011, they enacted several measures that made voting more difficult and manipulated state laws to give themselves a partisan political advantage.
Wisconsin’s tactics included, among other things, implementing one of the harshest voter ID laws in the nation, restricting early voting hours, changing laws regarding absentee ballots and changing regulations in a way that injected partisanship into polling places. Other changes included unprecedented partisan redistricting.
A lawsuit was filed that challenged the laws under the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The judge ruled that several provisions of Wisconsin’s voting laws are unconstitutional as they were designed to suppress African American voter turnout. The Court recognized that laws were designed achieve a partisan objective, “but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.” This was deliberate, unconstitutional racial discrimination.
Resurrecting the Reconstruction Era Tactics
The decisions in the North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin cases prove that the Republican Party has gone to extraordinary lengths to suppress the turnout of African American voters. Their tactics are a throwback to an earlier and uglier era. Disenfranchisement during Reconstruction Era of the late 19th Century was based on laws, new constitutions, and practices that were used to prevent African American from voting.
Those measures were enacted by the former Confederates who gained control of state legislatures after federal troops were withdrawn from the South. Their sordid tactics were used to return political control to White Democrats and to impose a regime of White supremacy. This time Republican-dominated legislatures that are engaging in massive voter suppression. A different political party is leading the current effort but the racist objectives are the same.