SCOTUS Voting Rights Decision May Cause History To Repeat Itself…In Reverse (OP-ED)

Almost?50 years ago, the then Democratic President, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), took a risk?he knew?could cost?his party?the loyalty of a region?it had dominated electorally?since the end of Reconstruction.??Although slavery?as an institution had been destroyed some hundred years before,?African-Americans?had long suffered?under a?different kind of slavery, one of?social and economic inequality, but also when it came to voting rights. Whether it was through?outright intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan, or the implementation of Jim Crow Laws, Southern whites were determined to marginalize any attempt by African-Americans in the South to improve their condition.

By the early 1960’s, Democrats knew?they needed federal legislation to?ensure African-Americans had an equal voice at the polls.? With that goal in mind, the ?Voting Rights Act of 1965?(VRA) was drafted.? The VRA was designed?to closely resemble the language of the 15th Amendment, which prohibited?both the?federal and states’ governments from denying citizens the right?to vote on the basis of race or color.? A line had been crossed and?LBJ knew there would be hell to pay for it.? Shortly after signing the historic VRA, LBJ told his aide Bill Moyer,

I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.

LBJ’s fears were eventually realized. Southern white voters felt betrayed that the ?Solid South,? a region made up of all the former Confederate states, which had remained solidly Democrat, was being disenfranchised due to the VRA.? The landmark legislation gave the federal government the last say on any voting laws passed by state legislatures, demonstrating a documented history of suppressing minority voting rights. ??The GOP was quick to take advantage of the alienation between the Democratic Party and Southern white voters. They did so first during the 1964 Presidential election when GOP nominee Barry Goldwater began championing the slogan of ?States? Rights,? and then later, during the 1968 election, when soon-to-be GOP President Richard Nixon launched his ?Southern Strategy”. It appealed to the racist tendencies of Southern white voters.? In the words of Nixon’s political strategist, Kevin Phillips

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the VRA.? The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats

This strategy may have proved viable at the time. ?Demographic changes in the South coupled, with GOP endorsed voter ID legislation being implemented in many Southern states,? could spell trouble for the GOP in future elections.? Enter the recent and extraordinarily convenient SCOTUS decision to scrap Section 4 of the VRA, and it’s all but certain the GOP is setting itself up for a potential Electoral College disaster.? According to a recent ABC News poll, 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the SCOTUS decision on voter rights. ?That ?number soars to 71 percent among African Americans.

In wake of the SCOTUS decision, many Southern states wasted little time in reintroducing Voter ID laws which had been previously struck down as violations of the VRA.? Texas even went so far as to reintroduce redistricting maps, clearly seeking to marginalize the vote of the growing Hispanic population.? In spite of the SCOTUS decision, African American leaders, led by President Obama and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), have vowed to see that action is taken to protect the minority right to vote.

This is our watch, and we must guard our rights?for ourselves and generations yet unborn.? We must act swiftly and decisively, in a bipartisan manner as we did in 2006, to create a new formula to ensure that the Voting Rights Act remains a powerful tool to protect voters from discrimination

?It’s heartening that the SCOTUS only scrapped Section 4 of the VRA, which set the standards for which localities and states could be subject to increased federal scrutiny under Section 5.? But seeing how Congress has accomplished so little over the last two years, it seems unlikely a bill will emerge that the House can agree on. Some Democrats have predicted that GOP house members eager to ?rebrand the party,? may come up with a new set of standards.? However, other Democrats are worried that even if a bill passes the House and Senate, the bill still may fail to meet the standards of the SCOTUS.? Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) recently quoted to the Huffington Post

If the Supreme Court really had a real desire for us to come up with a new formula and if they really believed that we had some desire to bring them something that they thought was appropriate, then they would have given us some guidance or some direction as to what they were looking for

The GOP took ready advantage of the VRA when it passed in the mid-1960s, betting on the idea that the more African Americans that registered as Democrats, the more Southern whites would switch their allegiances to the GOP.? How ironic it is that the very law that the GOP used to gain a strong-hold in the South, and are now seeking to render unenforceable, is the very law that may very well spell the end of their dominance in the region.

Edited and published by WP.

Jonathan (Jon) Coffey is a freelance writer and a native Texan. A graduate of Texas State University, Jon holds a B.A. degree in Public Administration with a minor in History. Jon describes himself as a "New Deal Democrat," in the style of Franklin D. Roosevelt, though he is also an ardent fan of Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican. A former legislative aide to State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of District 116 (San Antonio), Jon aspires to become a full time writer and possibly running for office someday at a state or local level. He is an avid student of history and an ardent fan of the University of Texas Longhorns. Jon currently resides in San Antonio, Texas.