Voting Rights Act must never be nixed

Antonin Scalia should do the country a favor and resign from his lifelong job as U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Recently, Scalia described the 1965 Voting Rights Act as a “continuation of racial entitlement.” It is possible that the conservative-majority Supreme Court could overturn that historic act, one of the seminal forces for civil rights in this nation. Any court official who would choose the word “entitlement” to describe voting rights has been living in a bubble, far removed from current realities – especially the realities of blatant voter-suppression efforts in the last presidential election. This despicable thicket of voter-suppression efforts in many states and cities – still ongoing, by the way – takes many devious forms: stopping early-day voting options and Election Day voter registration and the requirement for voters to present various kinds of documentation (including photo IDs) before they can vote. The rationales for those efforts is to squelch “voter fraud,” despite the fact that fraud is virtually nonexistent.

Voter-suppression is one reason for the long lines and all-day waits for so many voters last year. Those “waiters” included blacks, the elderly and college students – the very demographic groups inclined to vote for Democrats.

Scalia and at least two other conservative high-court justices think there is no need for the Voting Rights Act because, they claim, there has been so much progress toward racial equality and polling-place procedures since 1965. Yes, thankfully, there has been progress since the dark days of Jim Crow voter suppression in the Deep South with its literacy tests and poll taxes. But to think there is no more need for a Voting Rights Act is a delusion, at best. Judging by the suppression efforts still going strong, we need that Act more than ever. In fact, it should be rewritten so it covers people of all races and so that it bans all states and localities from concocting voter-suppression schemes, period. If that Act is nixed by the Supreme Court, suppression efforts could multiply here, there and everywhere like the fleas that brought the plague.

Scalia’s describing the Voting Rights Act as an “entitlement” is a huge insult to all of the good people – mostly blacks – who fought such a long, patient, often-bloody battle to bring about the right to vote. As a highly-educated man and a long-time jurist, Scalia ought to know better. He should understand that “progress” is often brought about by laws and that repealing those laws can result in backsliding into the old unjust ways. Scalia should also realize that vital battles so hard-fought and won to establish equal rights for all Americans should not have to be re-fought all over again. And that’s what has been happening in recent years – reactionary politicians trying to repeal all kinds of long-established progressive accomplishments (Social Security and Medicare are just two other examples), making it necessary for people to spend precious time fighting those same battles again. Meantime, as people fight to retain what was once gained, the nation’s most important problems – and opportunities – go unheeded.

Wouldn’t it be good if Scalia could meet with the martyrs of the voting-rights movement? People like James Chaney, a young black man; and his two young white friends from the North, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. While trying to register blacks and poor-white voters in Mississippi in 1964, those three were intimidated, beaten and shot to death at point-blank range, execution-style, by thugs belonging to the “White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” a racist gaggle that included a sheriff and a Baptist preacher. The bodies were found 44 days later, buried in an earthen dam. Their murders and the corrupt justice systems in the South caused a national outrage that led directly to passage of the Voting Rights Act.

If those martyrs could talk, they would tell Scalia they didn’t work and die for a temporary Voting Rights Act; they worked and died, along with many others, for a permanent Act that would guarantee all Americans the right to vote once and for all and forever.

Dennis Dalman

Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.
Dennis Dalman
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