Bad laws in our nation ruled by law: Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal) & Shelby v Holder (voting rights)

Number 4 of Casey Sullivan’s 13 worst Supreme Court decisions:

4. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896): The Court’s famous “separate but equal” ruling upheld state segregation laws. In doing so, the Court made sure that the gains of the post-Civil War reconstruction era were quickly replaced by decades of Jim Crow laws.

And now the gains of the civil rights era and voting rights laws are being quickly replaced by contemporary Jim Crow laws, i.e., states’ Orwellian voter ID laws, created to correct the non-problem of voter fraud.

Here, from government archives, is a description of the bad things that preceded and produced the Voting Rights Act:

This “act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution” was signed into law 95 years after the amendment was ratified. In those years, African Americans in the South faced tremendous obstacles to voting, including poll taxes, literacy tests, and other bureaucratic restrictions to deny them the right to vote. They also risked harassment, intimidation, economic reprisals, and physical violence when they tried to register or vote. As a result, very few African Americans were registered voters, and they had very little, if any, political power, either locally or nationally.

The Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Eric Holder, that freed specific states from the Voting Rights Act’s restrictions to inventing baroque voter suppression laws, was not one of Sullivan’s 13 worst decisions, but I’m adding it here.

The Shelby decision effectively allowed states to regress to the Jim Crow status quo as described so vitally in that indented paragraph above.

Here’s an article from the Times on the Shelby decision which amply quotes Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion. Which invariably infuriates me since Roberts basically said, “Oh, see, those specific states the Voting Rights Act punished for screwing around with the voting rights of blacks, well, gee, they’re not doing it anymore! So we no longer need to watch ’em like a hawk!”

Immediately–I mean, immediately–after that decision, a whole bunch of eager-beaver states jumped in with their own nasty voter suppression laws.

And then there’s gerrymandering but let’s leave that for now.

To me, it’s simple. All of us who are American citizens and over 18 years ago have the absolute right to vote. We should not have to prove our right to vote beyond registering, and signing our names at our polling place, or filing affidavits on the rare occasions when our names don’t show up. (It happened to me, once.)

That’s it.

And any effort to make it difficult for people to vote drives me absolutely crazy with rage.



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