By Contributor on March 29, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court should not damage the Voting Rights Act.

On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder about the constitutionality, applicability and relevance of Section 5 of that law. That section required state governments with a history of discrimination to get approval of the Justice Department before they alter their election laws.

While we await the court's decision, it's important to note the fallacies in the main arguments that the state of Alabama is making.

"The children of today's Alabama are not racist and neither is their government," wrote Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in USA Today.

Such a broad statement is hard to justify. The record in the Shelby case, for instance, demonstrates the continuation of biased practices. Shelby County has had more than 200 discriminatory voting irregularities blocked by Section 5 objections.

Shelby's advocates also pretend that their attack on this law is high minded when in fact it's about power. It's about who makes the rules as to who can vote, when they can vote and where they can vote. It's a fight about turnout -- limiting some, enhancing others.

And that fight needs to be put in the present context. In the past two years, we've seen 19 states pass measures that make it harder to vote.

The Brennan Center for Justice called these schemes "the biggest rollback in voting rights since the Jim Crow era." Those measures included voter ID laws that disproportionately impact minority and Democratic Party voters.

Most of the states passing restrictive voter ID laws are in the South and are covered under Section 5. Voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina (as well as in Wisconsin) were struck down by the courts prior to the 2012 elections. Moreover, in Texas a federal court recently refused to clear the state legislature's redistricting plan, finding "the new lines intentionally discriminated against minorities." Because of Section 5, Texas was blocked from racial gerrymandering.

Some Republicans have made the intent to discriminate quite clear.

In June 2012, in the midst of a presidential election year, Pennsylvania Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai let the cat out of the bag when he said at a Republican State Committee meeting that the new voter ID law was "going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 for another twenty-five years. The vote was 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.

The U.S. Supreme Court should not overturn the will of the people as expressed so overwhelmingly in Congress, and it should not turn back the clock on racial justice in America.

Kevin Alexander Gray is a writer and activist living in South Carolina. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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