Challenging Republicans to Take a Stand Against Bigotry

09/04/2016 09:04 pm ET

In this most unusual election, over one hundred Republican leaders have announced they will not support Republican nominee Donald Trump.  They have cited many reasons for doing so, but one appears to be his bigotry, as a recent YouGov/Economist Poll reported that 51% of voters think Trump is a racist.

While we must applaud these Republican statesmen for having the political courage to reject their party’s nominee in this age of hyper-partisanship, we also must be careful not to permit Trump to serve as a lightning rod that deflects attention from the party’s record on race.

White House photo by Paul Morse
President George W. Bush signs the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 with Rep. Sensenbrenner and other sponsors behind him.

Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to voter suppression.  In 2006, President Bush signed the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, which reauthorized the Voting Rights Act that was first passed in 1965 in response to Bloody Sunday in Selma.  The bill, which was introduced by then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), passed the House 390-33 and the Senate unanimously.

After a surge in African-American voting in 2008 propelled Barack Obama to the White House with wins in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, the Republican Party abandoned voting rights in favor of voter suppression. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that from 2008 to 2014, Republicans led efforts to suppress minority voting in 7 of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, and 9 of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth in the 2010 Census.  

In 2012, in Shelby County v. Holder, an activist conservative majority of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s enforcement mechanism that enabled the Justice Department to block discriminatory voting laws.  In 2014, Rep. Sensenbrenner introduced legislation to reverse the Shelby County ruling, but it just sat there without even a hearing on the subject.  That same year, House Republicans elevated Steve Scalise (R-LA) to House Majority Whip despite his ties to white supremacist groups.

Within hours of the Shelby County ruling, however, Texas and North Carolina announced their intent to move forward with measures that previously had been blocked by the Justice Department.  In North Carolina, the legislature requested data on the use of voting procedures by race and then “enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.” 

These new laws include measures to require a photo identification (which in Alabama was coupled with closing DMV offices in majority black counties); cutting back early voting especially on Sundays when African-American churches uses buses to bring “souls to the polls”; and restrict voter registration drives and same-day voter registration.

Republicans claim the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud, which essentially is non-existent as studies have estimated an occurrence rate of approximately 0.00004 percent.  Nonetheless, Rolling Stone reports that Republican election officials in 29 states will begin a campaign to purge predominantly minority voters from voting lists as a means to combat non-existent voting fraud.

This summer, a number of restrictive voting laws were thrown out by the courts in several states including Texas, Wisconsin and North Carolina for being discriminatory.  The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals called out North Carolina for “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow”.  The court explained:

Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation. “In essence . . . the State took away [minority voters’] opportunity because [they] were about to exercise it.” [Which] “bears the mark of intentional discrimination.”

The Fourth Circuit, however, did not necessarily have to read between the lines since there are a number of statements by Republican officials about how these measures are designed to increase Republican chances of success in November by reducing minority voting.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Obama with Rep. John Lewis commemorating the 50th anniversary of Selma's Bloody Sunday.

Martin Luther King once said, “[h]istory will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”   Rep. Sensenbrenner reintroduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act this Congress and, again, it has just sat there ― even as President Obama and others marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday. 

Fifty years after Selma, the Republican Party is standing not with John Lewis and others who dared march on that day, but rather on the side of George Wallace and the Alabama state troopers who attacked them.  While I commend Republicans who have stepped forward to denounce Donald Trump’s bigotry, we need your voice to denounce your party’s standing on the wrong side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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