Posted by David A. Lehrer
The following op/ed appeared in yesterday’s Los Angeles
A drama is unfolding in Los Angeles that may well play itself out in other large California communities and across the country.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors recently held a contentious four-hour meeting to decide how to draw the electoral lines for supervisors to last through this decade. The session considered two plans derived from the 2010 census: one drawn to minimize population shifts, the other to maximize the political strength of the Latino community.
Drawing electoral boundaries is, by its very nature, the embodiment of the rough and tumble of politics—deal making and negotiations rolled into one tough, nasty business. Issues from population balance to preserving contiguous cities and communities of interest to ethnic balance get put on the scales.
Into this morass the Voting Rights Act was inserted in 1965 to ensure the votes of, and rectify the decades of discrimination directed at, Southern Blacks. Lyndon Johnson wanted the “goddamndest and toughest” voting rights bill that could be written—and he got it.
In the nearly half century since the law’s passage it has been amended and interpreted in a variety of ways that have been expansive and broad. There is no denying the law’s success and, correspondingly, its diminished need.
As a federal court opinion noted, there are “challenging questions regarding the applicability of voting rights doctrines developed in a fundamentally different context than the rapidly changing multi-racial and multi-ethnic community that is present day Southern California.”
The vision of battered minority groups needing the help of the judiciary as their only recourse doesn’t quite match present-day realities. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials recently reported that California Latino electeds have increased by 89.2 percent from 693 in 1996 to 1,311 in 2010.
Despite that manifest progress, the Voting Rights Act and its potential use are being held as a Sword of Damocles over the discussions of how to draw L.A.‘s supervisorial districts. The ACLU “warned” the supervisors that they may be “violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund issued a Redistricting Action Alert urging its supporters to let the supervisors know that they are on the “verge of VIOLATING the Voting Rights Act, by failing to create a new Latino district.” (Sic).
There is nothing wrong with mobilizing constituents to argue vociferously for or against one plan or another—that’s how the process works. But it does an injustice to the process when a 46-year-old statute that was written for a different era and for vastly different circumstances is invoked as a threat.
The statute’s inapplicability to today’s realities was highlighted nearly a decade ago in
Cano v. Davis
, the case brought in federal court after the last congressional redistricting plan for California (when similar allegations of Latino under-representation were made).
The three-judge panel (all appointed by Democratic presidents) unanimously dismissed the charges. The court concluded that “Latinos are, as a practical matter, a far more formidable political force than they were in the 1980’s.” The Latino community is an even more potent and “formidable political force” today than it was when
was decided in 2002.
Interestingly, a decade ago, county Supervisor Gloria Molina, who recently suggested that the county may be inviting a Voting Rights Act lawsuit if it didn’t adopt the Latino-centric plan she favors, wrote in a
Los Angeles Times
’ op-ed about the Cano litigation:
“But ultimately, we trust the voters. Most citizens cast their votes the American way—they vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of race or gender. All we have to do is compete for votes the old fashioned way: by earning them.”
Let the “old fashioned” political process—unimpeded by divisive lawsuits that seek to impose the constraints and policies of a different era—work its way through this complex morass. We, our politics and inter-group relations will be better for it.
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August 19, 2011 | 4:45 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
This article appeared in the OC Register this week:
The NAACP recently brought its 102nd annual convention to Los Angeles. The gathering touched on a variety of topics, but clearly one issue dominated the three-day affair: voter identification laws.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters gave a speech telling the delegates that voter ID laws are “21st century poll taxes and literacy tests.” Apparently unafraid of the race card charge, Waters unapologetically defended race-conscious policies and told the audience, “We cannot be worried that some people will say, ‘Oh, they’re playing the race card’ ...”
Benjamin Jealous, the NAACP’s president, opened the convention by saying, “Our voting rights are under attack ...” and that voter ID laws are “the last existing legal pillars of Jim Crow.”
This must have some folks wondering, “So, when did showing identification, something just about every American does several times in the course of a day, become bigoted and controversial?”
Even a respected former president, Bill Clinton, has echoed Maxine Waters’ claims. Speaking to a group of liberal youth activists recently, Clinton called voter ID laws a determined effort by Republicans to keep blacks from voting.
As might be predicted, the Reverend Jesse Jackson has also made voter ID laws a priority. At the 40th annual Rainbow Push Coalition conference, he argued that black people and “other (unnamed) minorities” who tend to vote Democratic are less likely to carry ID with them.
If that’s true, instead of conjuring-up “new Jim Crow laws,” wouldn’t it be more helpful if Jackson was leading a positive campaign to educate poor black people about the benefits of acquiring and carrying ID – like casting a vote?
However, the claims of racist voter ID laws stand on legal sands that have already eroded. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can require voters to produce photo ID, or in some cases other official forms of ID, and that this does not violate their constitutional rights. Currently, 29 states require all voters to show some form of ID before voting.
Further, lawsuits challenging voter ID laws in Indiana and Georgia were tossed from court because plaintiffs couldn’t produce a single individual who was prevented from voting by these laws.
The protests that these laws disenfranchise black voters does give rise to the question, “Why is producing ID such an undue burden for black voters – but isn’t presumably a burden on other races?” Certainly the NAACP, and Jackson, must be aware that state and local governments make identification cards available for free to anyone who requests one. Are liberals and civil rights figures really prepared to argue that carrying ID is somehow a “white thing?”
It would be easy to toss this off as another example of the NAACP’s usual descent into race-mongering, Reverend Jackson’s expected plunge into rhetorical excess, or an ex-president condescendingly patting a racial grievance industry on their heads. But officials of the Democratic Party also appear to endorse this view.
The current head of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, recently argued that, “... now we have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally – very transparently – block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democrat than Republican candidates.”
It is disheartening to hear a liberal Democratic political figure casually toss around images from some of this nation’s darkest years. Evoking the term “Jim Crow” just to get the media’s or the public’s attention is political opportunism of the worst kind.
Jim Crow laws were not just about voting. In the main they were about apartheid – keeping Americans of different skin colors separate. They were also about segregating public transportation, education, housing and accommodations.
This was real racism, actual discrimination that was taking place against black citizens – not the crass manipulation of historic imagery as some are now doing.
Frankly, if voter ID laws are the equivalent of modern-day Jim Crow, why doesn’t the NAACP challenge other areas of every-day life where ID is also required – checking into a hotel anywhere in America, cashing a check, making a major purchase with a credit card, buying alcohol if you appear to be under-age, or getting on an airplane?
Couldn’t the NAACP also argue that ID requirements have a disparate impact on poor, ID-less black travelers, preventing them from getting a hotel room – and are thus racist?
Outside the ranks of the race-baiters, most Americans get the point – these are silly and divisive arguments. The question begging for an answer is why only 29 states have voter ID requirements? Shouldn’t all states require you to produce evidence that you are who you say you are before you cast a vote?
The real problem aren’t dysfunctional black people who are too stupid to acquire and use ID, as Reverend Jackson, the NAACP, and some Democrats imply; it’s really activists and political figures who can’t resist the paternalistic impulse to involve themselves in the manipulation of black people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.