The Stolen Supreme Court Justice, the new Attorney General and Voter Suppression

The Stolen Supreme Court Justice, the new Attorney General and Voter Suppression
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Authors: Joshua L. Miller, PhD, Crystal M. Hayes, MSW, and Hannah Karpman, PhD

The Trump regime, with multiple daily tweets and Presidential decrees, along with a penchant for hurling insults and bullying people, has created great unease and angst among the majority of the American people. Despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million people, Trump continues to behave as if he has a broad mandate to enact his xenophobic, authoritarian, alt-right agenda. However, it has been heartening to see the resistance to his edicts through demonstrations, call-in campaigns, lawsuits, judges and officials questioning the legality of his actions, and the courage of some major media outlets to call him a liar when he dissembles and distorts on a daily basis. It can be difficult, however, to sort through the gravest threats from medium dangers to maddening yet less consequential distractions. We believe that with the ascension of Jeff Sessions to the office of Attorney General, along with the vacant Supreme seat stolen by the Republicans and the nomination of ultra-conservative Neil Gorsuch, we are facing a major pillar in Trump’s authoritarian rise.

Between his Electoral College victory and his inauguration, Trump crowed during his “victory laps” that African Americans had “stayed home” during the election. Wow! This may be the only time that we have heard an incoming president brag about suppressing the vote of the citizens that he is about to lead. But is it surprising? We think not.

The modern Republican party has ascended utilizing a very race-based plan, termed the “Southern Strategy” by Nixon aide Kevin Phillips in the late 1960s (Note – Phillips has since expressed his regret about this approach). It was based on implicit and explicit dog whistles appealing to white racial identity and white racism to mobilize Southern whites, with terms such as “the silent majority,” which was juxtaposed to the Civil Rights Movement, “law and order” and playing on white resentment about issues such as school bussing to achieve integration. Later examples of this included Ronald Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens,” coded for whites as Black women on welfare, and George H.W. Bush’s use of the infamous “Willy Horton” commercial when campaigning for President, which played on white fears of Black felons. It worked! Southern states went from electing a majority of Democrats to the reddest states in the nation, forming a mainstay of any Republican electoral calculus. Ironically, Phillips argued that Republicans should not fight the Voting Rights Act because it was viewed as a threat by many whites who valued their institutional and electoral supremacy and would serve as a stimulus to their voting for the Republican Party, which evolved as the de-facto party of white control.

According to Higginbotham in The Ghosts of Jim Crow, the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 removed racialized barriers to voting and immediately increased the number of African American voters by 800,000 and the number of Black office holders to 10,000 from 300. An important provision was the federal supervision (under the Attorney General’s office) of voting plans in districts that historically had suppressed the African American vote, mostly in the South. Despite constant Republican efforts to dismantle the Voting Rights Act, it retained the support of Republican Presidents, including even Ronald Reagan, and remained in place until 2014. It was then that the fruits of the Republican Southern strategy were harvested when the Supreme Court gutted the supervision requirement – a Supreme Court that reflected the ability of Republican presidents, who had benefited from the Southern strategy, to appoint conservative Justices who were opposed to the race-based provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Within hours, red states had passed voter suppression laws that limit the times polling hours are open, decreased early voting, increased ID requirements, and closed voting facilities in areas that had heavy percentages of people of color. All of these measure were known to depress the voting of African Americans and were justified by the non-existent threat of voter fraud. Added to this were gerrymandered districts in red states that diluted the power of voting of people of color and amplified the power of white, Republican voters.

Donald Trump is setting the stage to continue this trend by claiming that wide-spread voter fraud gave Clinton the Electoral College lead, by appointing an Attorney General who is opposed to the Voting Rights Act and by filling the stolen Supreme Court justice seat with someone who we presume will be opposed to voting rights. His closest advisor, Steve Bannon has talked of ways to suppress the Black vote. Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General, who represented Alabama as Attorney General and Senator, a state with some of the most repressive voter suppression laws, has said that he finds the Voting Rights Act “intrusive.” This is correct if one adds some qualifiers, it does intrude on the ability of white people to dominate the political process to the exclusion of the rights of everyone else. Sessions is also unlikely to protect a woman’s right to choose, pursue workplace discrimination cases, protect LBGTI rights, and stand up to Trump when he breaks the law, as he did with his anti-immigration edicts.

The Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by President Obama. There are many reasons for this but one is that an Obama appointment may well have supported a majority of Supreme Court votes for a reinstatement of the Voting Rights Act provision on federal pre-clearance and supervision of state voting plans. Even though President Obama nominated a centrist justice who had been praised by Republicans in the past, even though there was nearly a year left in Obama’s term as President and even though it is the Constitutional duty of the Senate to review and vote on a President’s nominee, the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, blocked a vote. Now, he is very eager to fill the seat with a Trump appointment. The Republican Party’s thirty-year strategy of racialized voter suppression and entrenching white supremacy is reaching a crescendo with the new appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General by a President desperate to achieve legitimacy by lying about voter fraud and who will try to fill the stolen Supreme Court seat with another vote against voting rights. What can be done to stop this thwarting of the Constitution, gutting of legislation that protects the rights of everyone to vote and may well lead to the entrenchment of white authoritarian rule?

Block a Trump Supreme Court Nomination

If there was ever a time and a justification for the Democratic Party to stick together to block an appointment it is now. If the Republican Party can not only get away with debasing the Constitution but are able to then stack the Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues, our democracy is indeed at risk. The ability of an authoritarian Trump regime to violate laws and policies, target groups of American citizens, use the presidency to enrich those who are governing, violate international laws, wreak havoc and cruelty on those in need, and to continue voter suppression may well be upheld by a Supreme Court that he has helped to appoint. Neil Gorsuch may be a nice person but he is young and is in the mold of Scalia, who was opposed to the Voting Rights Act. We believe that it is important to go to the wall on this issue and for us to hold all of our national elected officials responsible for not folding. If your elected official is a Democrat, make sure that they understand how strongly you feel about this issue and if you live in a Republican district, confront your representative with the stolen seat.

Shine a Light on Voter Suppression

We are all social workers and are members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which has chapters in every state. Voter suppression runs counter to our professional code of ethics. We expect every NASW chapter to monitor voting laws, redistricting and racist voter suppression and to publicize this locally and nationally. We hope that other professional associations will do the same, along with lobbying and advocacy groups such as the ACLU, Common Cause, Southern Poverty Law Center, #BlackLivesMatter, The Color of Fear, Human Rights Watch and others.

Join the new Civil Rights Movement

There is a wind of activism kindled by all of the bombast and blarney coming from the Trump regime. The threats to democracy are many and they are real. The civil rights of all people living in the US (and secondarily abroad) are threatened by the demise of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism. People have taken to the streets since Inauguration Day and have been standing up ever since. This did not arise out of nowhere and there are many organizations, some mentioned in the section above, who were already countering oppression and standing up for democracy. This is a moment like no other since the Civil War. We hope that the growing protest movement will coalesce, hang together, and be united as raise our voices and we march, write, lobby and teach Trump and his cronies: “this is what democracy looks like.”

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