Monday, January 19, 2015

The Real King, the Real Selma and the Real Struggle for Voting Rights

It is easy to love someone when they are dead. That is especially true when you take that person's image and distort it, sanitize it, dilute it and neuter it. What is left is a hollow shell, a one dimensional shadow of the original person. The remnants are malleable, capable of being twisted and contorted to support positions diametrically opposed to everything the real man stood for. That has happened to our dear beloved brother, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The brother gave his life for equal rights and justice. He fought for African Americans to obtain the right to vote. As a result of his work and the work of countless civil rights activists and organizations, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. That Act was written in the blood of the martyrs and the victims of police terrorism.

Approximately 50 years later, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court dismantled a key component of the Voting Rights Act, Section 4. Section 4 established the formula that was used to determine which states and jurisdictions were subject to preclearance. Section 4 applied to states with a long history of discriminating against black voters. Those states were required to obtain approval from the Department of Justice and/or a federal court before implementing any voting law changes. Section 4 prevented discriminatory laws from enacted without the need for long and costly litigation. It stopped discrimination before it had a chance to happen. Unfortunately, as a result of the disastrous decision in the Shelby County, we no longer have that critical safeguard. Consequently, several states are now free to enacted voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting, restrictions on third party voter registration and other laws designed to suppress the black vote.

As Congress celebrates the life of Dr. King and professes to love the man, the Voting Rights Amendment Act remains stalled and black voters remain in jeopardy. Voting rights should be a non-partisan issue. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As reported in the Hill,
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is teeing off on Republicans over the absence of voting right protections in the GOP's new congressional agenda.

Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he's "deeply troubled" by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte's (R-Va.) recent comments that Republicans have no intention of replacing central provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) shot down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
"If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand — one in which they are on the wrong side of," Butterfield said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Goodlatte said congressional action is simply not necessary to improve the VRA because the parts of the law remaining after the Supreme Court ruling are "substantial."

"To this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary because we believe the Voting Rights Act provided substantial protection in this area," he said during a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
If they really want to honor King, Congress should pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act. If we really love King, we must pressure Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act. Finally, if you willingly surrender to apathy and voluntarily forfeit your right to vote, please keep Dr. King's name out of your mouth.

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