On Wednesday, the US Senate voted 49-51 to keep the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act from moving to a final vote. The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act would modernize, but also restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, such that states and localities with a history of voter suppression must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice before changing election laws. However, needing pre-clearance before writing a new voting law was seen as unconstitutional in 2013 under Shelby County v. Holder, as having an outdated formula. The lack of (as many) anti-voter laws between 1965 and 2013 made them think this.
The explosion of voter suppression laws that came after Shelby County v. Holder confirmed that we had not been seeing voter suppression laws, not because politicians weren’t trying to suppress voters, but because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 itself, doing what it is supposed to do.
While voting laws are applicable to all voters, it is only Black people’s equitable right to vote that is not upheld. Wednesday’s vote further confirmed that the Black vote has always been used for White power. Given that the political power of a county is defined by its population, White people defined enslaved people as 3/5th of a person to solely increase the political power of slave-owning states. The Electoral College was formed such that slave states could elect their politicians. When voting became a constitutional right, not to be shortened on the basis of race, there was an explosion of voting laws that led to Black people not being as able to vote as White people. The raced and gendered institutionalization of power now overpowers the nation yet again.
If it does not take congresspeople, presidents, or legislation to give rights to the White man, it should not be necessary for congresspeople, presidents, or legislation to give rights to Black people or women. On Wednesday, the Senate voted against voting rights, or rather, didn’t even let the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act get to a vote. Black people may have an equal right to vote, but they have always been deprived of their equitable right to vote. In 1976, Washington v. Davis, the Court made it so laws that have a racially-based effect but were not written to knowingly further racism are still constitutional. In effect, when racism is measured by the very oppressive systems whose definition of racism has formed its very foundation, racism will always be constitutional.