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The Hill: New justice must support expanding voting rights and fair districting

July 9, 2018

By Page S. Gardner

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement last week means that the court could become even more of a rubber stamp for rolling back important voting rights protections that prevent discrimination and weaken Americans’ ability to have their voices heard in our democracy.

Although Justice Kennedy was a swing vote for some of the court’s most high-profile cases that expanded marriage equality and protected a woman’s right to choose, he was on the wrong side of history when he joined with conservative justices to weaken the Civil Rights Act. And he opened the floodgates to unlimited dark money in our political system with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Since we are only four months from the midterm elections for the U.S. Senate, and the Senate holds a critical constitutional role in confirming the president’s nominee to the Supreme Court, it should be up to the voters to make their voices heard in November’s election. The American people deserve a role in this process and should have the opportunity to choose the members of the Senate who will use their advise-and-consent role from the U.S. Constitution to confirm or reject the president’s choice.

President Trump should choose a nominee who supports expanding access to the ballot box and will make sure states don’t discriminate against the “Rising American Electorate” — people of color, unmarried women and young people — who have been targeted for disenfranchisement.

In the Supreme Court term that just ended, Justice Kennedy sided with conservative justices to give states a green light for racially discriminatory voter purges and gerrymandering. With closely decided but far-reaching decisions, our highest court is forcing all Americans to fight for our most fundamental freedoms: voting and representation.

First, by a 5-to-4 margin, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s voter purges that eliminate voters who missed two elections and didn’t return postcards. Between 2011 and 2016, Ohio struck a staggering 1 million voters from its registration lists. According to a Reuters study, the purge disproportionately disenfranchised African-Americans. This case is having chilling effects across the country. Civil rights advocates in Georgia reluctantly withdrew a federal lawsuit challenging a similar statewide purge that disenfranchised some 400,000 residents.

In another 5-4 ruling, the court upheld Texas’ congressional and legislative district maps which a lower court ruled discriminatory against African-Americans and Latinos. This decision encourages other states to use the next round of redistricting in 2020 to further shortchange African-American and Hispanic voters.

These rulings are part of the historic struggle that African-Americans, Latinos, low-income people, single women and young people have faced to register and vote. Since winning one-party control of many states in 2010, growing numbers of governors and legislators are perpetuating their partisan advantage through voter suppression and gerrymandering.

The voting suppressors are imposing discriminatory voter ID laws, cutting back early voting and vote-by-mail, winking at voter intimidation, and failing to provide adequate enough voting machines, leading to long lines on election day. State officials have had an easier time disenfranchising the disadvantaged since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County vs. Holder severely limited federal authority to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Why weaken one of this country’s greatest civil rights achievements in the Voting Rights Act? Many politicians fear the political power of the Rising American Electorate, whom these restrictive regulations are designed to disenfranchise.

In these challenging times, the effectiveness of our government — and the very survival of our democracy — depends on every segment of society casting their votes, having their ballots counted, raising their voices, advancing their views and values, and being fairly represented at the federal, state and local levels.

Now that the Supreme Court appears to have abdicated its role in protecting these underrepresented groups, concerned Americans must step up to the challenge of defending democracy’s most fundamental freedoms. Justice Kennedy’s retirement sets the stage for a confirmation process that could determine whether all Americans enjoy basic voting rights for generations to come.

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Page S. Gardner is the founder and president of the Voter Participation Center and president of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, which informs and mobilizes unmarried women and the entire Rising American Electorate.


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