Give Us the Ballot by Ari Berman

book jacketGive Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman (2015)

This is a decent history of how African Americans struggled to get the vote in reality, including coverage of the Jim Crow era. But the real meat of the book starts about page 236 when the whole Shelby disaster gutting the Civil Rights Act began.

It is especially bitter to be writing this today. Today, April 7, 2017, was the day the Supreme Court was killed by Mitch McConnell and his cronies by changing the rules to get the judge, Neil Gorsuch (forever will be Gorsuck to me)  that ruled against women’s access to contraception in the disastrous Hobby Lobby decision [rest in hell Scalia] on the freaking Supreme Court. His opinion was based on the absurd belief that WOMEN’S REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH RIGHTS were subordinate to the religious delusions of employers. His claim was based on the notion that ANYTHING that allowed women employees to have access to birth control made the “religious” employers “complicit” in allowing women to have bodily autonomy and not be forced to become pregnant and subsequently be forced to give birth.

Simultaneously, naturally, every possibility that women might be able to choose even insurance independently paid for (wrong on too many levels to digress here) becomes the employers’ business. Other laws popped up, like employers being able to fire women who used birth control, and forcing women to ask permission from bosses to use birth control. Plus the traditional ability to fire pregnant women “at will.” Not all laws were able to be implemented, but now Gorsuck makes those illegal laws more likely to be held constitutional against all reason because of the zealotry of this new Justice. He will not rule according to actual justice, but will follow his god’s law, separation of church and state be damned.

Farewell progress; farewell women’s reproductive rights. Farewell justice and farewell any pretense of democracy or even a Republic. The Powell Memorandum has been implemented and we have a coup.

Tyranny of the majority has now reached the extreme by making it mathematically impossible for 50 percent of the country (or more) from having any representation in the federal government. The Rethuglicans make the rules, control everything, and so can change any of the rules they want to that will prevent Democrats from passing anything just because they can.

The ability to achieve absolute adherence to their foul party line would be admirable compared to the Democratic spinelessness, except for their party line fundamentally hates the government they now control.

The point is that the gutting of the Voting Rights Act allowed the debacle and corruption of the 2016 election to happen. Obviously, another Scalia legacy, Citizens United, was the full nuclear destruction of the electoral process in the United States by letting billionaires and corporate interests buy ads (aka propaganda) that were not held to any standard of truth contrasted, say, with assertions made by consumer products. (Itself a regulation certain to fall soon.)

Page 236 profoundly understates how ill-prepared Democrats were for what they had thought was a slam dunk reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.  This debacle of what we know now was an intentional malicious and sadly victorious intentional destruction of the fairness of the elections to make sure that anyone who might vote Democratically end up unable to cast their vote.

The reauthorization of the law seemed assured. But opponents of the VRA weren’t going to give up without a fight.”

A stockbroker, Ed Blum, moved to the downtown district in Houston once represented  by the iconic Barbara Jordan. A Republican, he decided to run for congress and lost.

After the 1990 census, Texas gained three new congressional seats. To create a new majority-Hispanic seat in Houston, some Hispanic voters were moved from the Eighteenth District and put into the new Twenty-ninth District, which fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle. The once-compact inner-city Eighteenth now stretched from the Intercontinental Airport in the north to the Astrodome in the south, resembling a broken window with four jagged corners.

Blu lost the election by thirty points. Six months later he read about he Shaw v. Reno case in the New York Times. “I thought that if there was a good case in North Carolina, there very well may be a good case in Texas,” he said. (p. 237)

The basic story involves the good old-fashioned cheating by gerrymandering that plagued us after the 2000 census and the 2010 census even worse. The Republican majority drew the lines of districts in ways to make sure they maintained all incumbent seats. One technique is by packing all the people of color into one district to dilute their vote. The one district might go Democratic, but the other districts are packed so only Republicans can win, and the majority of the districts are drawn to be Republican and with the corrupt “winner-take-all” philosophy — not a requirement of the Constitution — the votes of the Democrats were overwhelmed by the Republican majority districts.

This case took the reverse approach, Blum spent $7,000 a month of his own money to represent him and several other plaintiffs to destroy the packed minority districts. In this case, by diffusing minority voters among predominantly white Republican voters, their votes are entirely subsumed and worthless.

The irony and hypocrisy of Republicans, who have gerrymandering themselves into power and to remain there for decades, decrying racially based gerrymandering as if it they wanted to help minority voters would be laughable except it worked.

Colorblind conservatism was the concept they based their challenge on: “The challenged districts ‘bear the odious imprint of racial apartheid,” wrote Judge Edith Jones, borrowing Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor’s infamous langue from the Shaw decision.”

The three district judges Blum brought the suit before were, of course, Reagan and Bush appointees. It doesn’t specify which Bush, and I suppose it doesn’t matter, but W did pack the courts when he was in office. Then the Rethuglicans blocked most of Obama’s appointees until they made some kind of deal about the process by which nominees were confirmed by the Senate with the Democrats who were, as usual, the losers.

Like the new normal of NewSpeak, for Blum and his pals, black is white and white is black. They assert that their cause is noble: a colorblind society. Unfortunately for all people of color, reality is NOT COLORBLIND. It’s just another spin on how to discriminate based on race or ethnicity. The case, Bush v. Vera went to the Supreme Court.

On page 237 a man, Stephan Thernstom,  whose name I did not recognize was quoted after the win as saying the decision was, “a victory for those who favor a colorblind society.” When I looked up the name, I recognized the title of the book he and his wife, Abigail, wrote, America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible. Look closely though because these people ARE NOT acting for the good of minorities. It’s all very Orwellian. This paragraph appears in the link on Thernstrom’s name above. The Chavez referred to is Linda Chavez, nominated by W as Secretary of Labor, but who had to withdraw having been discovered to have employed an undocumented worker.

Abigail Thernstrom, who serves on the board of Chavez’s Center for
Equal Opportunity
, an anti-affirmative action “research group” in
Washington, was still fuming: “She did not employ that woman. She
took in this–this was a battered woman! Linda is such a giving
person–you can’t imagine. She’s always taking people in, people in
trouble. I could never do what she does. Every summer, she hosts these
Fresh Air Fund kids and pays for their Catholic-school tuition.”

Note how the NewSpeak works, they are OPPOSED TO EQUAL OPPORTUNITY, so they named their anti-affirmative action group something that is opposite of what one might think are the policies it supports. Chavez being cited as noble for paying for CATHOLIC-SCHOOL TUTION is another example of how self-righteous zealots are unable to recognize their own prejudices.

BTW, though most searches will get you nice stories about the Fresh Air Fund — about which I am ambivalent — patronizing maybe, condescending, maybe not that nice to show kids what they will never have? Maybe it is nice for the kids and mean spirited of me to question the opportunity. However, something about the name of that charity was ringing bells for me, something from when I lived in New York. And I found it.

A child sexual abuse scandal was why I had heard of the charity before. You really can’t take anything conservatives do or say at face value. There are too many maggots there when you turn over the rocks they hide under.

Another organization cited in the article about the Thernstrom’s, The Manhattan Institute (though the link is bad, so I went to Wikipedia), is a right wing think tank with the tiresome mantra of neoliberals and conservative alike “individual responsibility” for economic well-being. In other words, if you are poor you are to blame. Something must be wrong with you. Nothing can be wrong with capitalism, especially “FREE” MARKET capitalism. Just because you call something free doesn’t make it good, correct, or accurate about the actual consequences of “free” market policies on the 99 percent.

There is a plague on this land with these numerous high-minded sounding names that in fact are conducting fake research and presenting custom-tailored results to support invalid economic policies based on self-interest of billionaires, corporate wage slave masters, and simply mean people with power and money that never have to suffer the consequences of their policies.

OMG, once you start following links on such people it is shocking how much and how pervasive their presence is and yet no one knows their name but the people who place them in behind the scenes places of power.

Stephan is a Harvard professor! Gag. Here is a link to an article on how his “colorblind” teachings were not well received there.

The American Prospect article on the Thernstrom’s mentions that at the time of the article, Abigail was a commissioner on the Civil Rights Commission, which would be laughable except that it is not funny.

This isn’t funny either: Mr. Stockbroker Blum was asked by “Paine Weber to stop his anti-affirmative action efforts. He resigned in protest.” Alas, that triggered him to move to Washington, D.C. and spread his message that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was no longer needed because racial injustice was so obviously over. Being rich having been a stockbroker, he was able to start another Orwellian-named organization “to lobby against the VRA’s reauthorization.” Named in NewSpeak, the Project on FAIR REPRESENTATION was thus created and Blum and Thernstrom became entrenched as go to boys for fake minority activism, testifying before Congress, speaking at conservative Federalist Society events, and naturally enough, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission because nothing says “minority rights” like denying racism exists.

Bull Connor is dead,” Blum told the House Subcommittee on the Constitution. “And so is every Jim Crow-era segregationist intent on keeping blacks from the polls.”

This overlooks the fact that their goal was exactly that, to keep blacks from the polls or to make sure that the black votes did not count. Affirmative responses like the Voting Rights Act were NOT SEGREGATIONIST and to say they were to Congress, credulous wanna believers they are, was simply lying. (Quotes sprinkled about from pp. 238-239)

More players in this drama come on the scene, Lynn Westmoreland and Charlie Norward, both from Georgia (almost enough said). Conservative Republicans of course. Westmoreland “became best know for sponsoring a bill to place the Ten Commandments in Congress.”

You may recall him from the Colbert Report segment “Better know a district.” And the funniest part was that he could not even cite all of the Ten Commandments.

Westmoreland was not troubled by the fact that Congress had passed the reauthorization and W had signed it.

“We needed 218 votes in the House,” Westmoreland said, “but we’ll only need five votes on the Supreme Court.” (p. 244)

The election of Barak Obama as president was viewed as evidence that, “We don’t need to talk about disfranchisement in the same way anymore.” (Quote from Abigail Thernstrom speaking to the New York Times 2008 cited p. 249.)

Eight days after the signing ceremony [of the reauthorized VRA], Blum filed a case from Texas challenging the constitutionality of Section 5. (p. 244)

Section 5 is the part that requires certain states that were the most severe in racial discrimination to have any state law changes to election procedures and districts approved by federal oversight.

Chief Justice Rehnquist died on September 3, 2005, at the age of eighty. . . . Bush [W] nominated [Justice John] Roberts to succeed his former boss as chief justice.

The White House released fifteen thousand pages of records documenting Robert’s tenure in the Reagan administration, which revealed his extensive efforts to limit the scope of the VRA in the early 1980s. (p. 249)

You don’t have to know history to guess what happened. Roberts played coy in answering questions at his hearing, and everyone decided to hope for the best. When will the Democrats stop being fools?

Blum started another organization called Donors Trust. They claimed that Section 5 was “an unconstitutional overextension of Congress’s enforcement power to remedy past violations of the Fifteenth Amendment.” Blum lost in the lower courts and appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in Northwest Austin Municipal District No. 1 v. Holder (NAMUDNO) one hundred days after Obama’s inauguration.

The author goes on to relay the organ arguments of the court where the new Chief Justice Roberts aggressively sought reasons to deny the validity of the VRA reauthorization. He wrote the majority opinion.

“The Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs. The Act also differentiates between the State in ways that may no longer be justified.”(my emphasis)

The Court’s opinion “emboldened many in the Republican Party to feel more comfortable criticizing Section 5,” Blum said. Robert’s words guaranteed that there would be another challenge to the VRA very soon. (p. 253)

More pushes for voter ID continued along with the myth of  voter fraud. We now all know that the true corruption happened not as voter fraud but as ELECTION fraud.

Texas was far from alone in pushing to restrict access to the ballot. In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states, with twenty-seven new laws taking effect in nineteen states, nearly all of them controlled by Republicans. The right to vote had become deeply politicized.

The election of the first black president and the resurrection of new barriers to the ballot box were not a coincidence. “The proposal of restrictive voter-access legislation has been substantially more likely to occur where African-Americans are concentrated and both minorities and low-income individuals have begun turning out at the polls more frequently.” reported a study from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

“As minorities grow in the political process, it’s in the interest of one of the parties to tamp down voter turnout,” said Mel Watt. “It’s the same system that other people went through when there were poll taxes and literacy test. This is just another iteration of that.”

The accelerated push for voter ID laws didn’t emerge from nowhere. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, the tart-tongued first director of the Heritage Foundation, convened a gathering of fifteen thousand evangelical Christians for Ronald Reagan. Acolytes described Weyrich as “the Lenin of social conservatism.” he said in his speech: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Weyrich was also a key founder of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which paired conservative state legislators with large business interest to draft model legislation for state. For many years ALEC was the most influential organization that no one had ever heard of . (pp. 260-261)

There it is: this is not a conspiracy theory; it is a conspiracy. Everyone paying attention has heard of ALEC by now. Their template “your state here” legislation has not been just about voter ID laws but of all kinds of laws.

The new restrictions went well beyond voter ID. They were designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process, targeting the very methods that the Obama campaign had used so successfully in 2008 to expand the electorate, like intensive voter registration drives and early voting. (p. 261)

After detailing the extraordinary number and variety of ways that all kinds of people — non-white male Republicans — were stopped from voting, the author slips into the nullification of a 2008 Shelby County election by the U.S. Department of Justice. The new system fixed the change that the town of Calera, Alabama had made to eliminate “the city council’s lone majority black district, represented by Ernest Montgomery since 2004. Montgomery was only the second black officeholder in the town’s history.”

Mr. Montgomery then won the new election. But then Mr. Stockbroker Blum “read the objection on the DOJ’s website and called Shellby County’s lawyer, Frank “Butch” Ellis, urging him to challenge Section 5.”

Page 272 starts this tale of woe that ultimately resulted in the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. It took money and persistence by Blum’s organizations and willingly complicit judges and Justices to destroy 50 years of civil rights progress — while claiming it wasn’t needed!

Chief Justice Roberts once again led the attack in Shelby v. Holder. There is a rich source of information on Shellby out there because it was such a shock. Some people feel that the DOJ case was badly strategized, failing to present information about the many new voting restrictions that had been passed establishing that the VRA was still needed.

Here’s a link to a 2012 article before the case was heard by SCOTUS.

Here’s an article about a man who experienced Jim Crow poll tax and had to listen to the VRA being called a “racial entitlement.” Everything to the rich white male conservatives relating to social justice has been redefined to be unmerited and unearned “entitlements” including Social Security, health care, and economic security.

Guess which Justice called voting rights “racial entitlement?” If you guessed the despicable dead Scalia, you win. If you realized that Shelby was the demon spawn of Ronald Reagan, you would really know your history:

“The court’s five conservative justices had all been appointed by Reagan or served in his administration. The Shelby County decision showcased how the counterrevolution  against civil rights had captured the highest echelons of power in the United State.” (p. 280)

After Roberts finished [reading his majority summary], eighty-one-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest member of the Court, read a ten-minute summary of her fiery dissent.

“The Court points to the success of Section 5 in eliminating the test and devices extant in 1965 and increasing citizen’s registration and ballot access,” she said in her high-pitched New York City accent. “Does that provide cause to believe Section 5’s potent remedy is no longer needed?”

Her thirty-seve-page written dissent with Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor was much more scathing. “In the Court’s view, the very success of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy,” read the first line. It continued, “Throwing out pre clearance when it hs worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away our umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

“Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.”

(Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoted on page 281)

She closed her remarks from the bench by invoking the pivotal events that led to the passage of the VRA. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” Ginsburg said, quoting King’s famous line at the end of the march from Selma to Montgomery, “but it bends toward justice if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.

That commitment has been dissolved by today’s decision.”

And now we have Gorsuck to replace the miserable Scalia.

Long live the Notorious RBG!


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