All eyes will be on Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who became the first African American woman on the bench last week. She is the first African American woman to serve in this role, and the third Black Supreme Court Justice to serve in this role (if you include Justice Clarence Thomas). Her every move will be watched as she navigates her way through societal judgements and expectations. A new term begins with the Supreme Court and there is a list of historic cases that will require decisions over the next few months. There have already been “conservative” changes that some may feel have set the country back by decades, and that those changes will impact the outcome of upcoming elections.
During the first case of the new term, Justice Jackson was anything but quiet during the hearings and even raised several questions regarding the cases at hand. In addition, she discussed some aspects of history regarding the 14th amendment, which pertains to the “rights of citizens” and “equal protection under the law,” and how it impacted Black people, the Civil War and slavery. She also raised questions surrounding Alabama and how race should be considered when deciding if more Black districts should be drawn.
The Alabama case is centered around Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan, which was put in place by the Republican state after the 2020 census. In a recent article by National Public Radio (NPR), it was noted that, “More than a quarter of the state’s population is African American, but in only 1 of 7 districts do minority voters have a realistic chance of electing the candidate of their choice. Black voters are either concentrated in that district, and they are either a supermajority there or spread out across the remaining six districts, which is also known as Packing, so that their voting power is Diluted. This is just another way of suppressing the rights of the Black voters to ensure that the majority continues to elect who they want to be elected.
One thing that is for certain is that the Supreme Court will have its hands full regarding the Alabama case and The Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was a law that was signed by on August 6, 1965. It eliminated “discriminatory voting practices” that many southern states put into effect and included a literacy test that Black people had to pass to qualify to vote. This Act has been up for review before, and since 2013, the Supreme Court has cut or blocked certain elements of the voter’s act.
In 1980, the Supreme Court decided that “voting rights advocates” had to “prove intentional discrimination” to nullify an electoral system. An amendment was then added that allowed minority voters to “prove a discriminatory result.” This is easier than trying to prove intentional discrimination and has been put in effect by the Supreme Court and lower courts since 1980. The decisions that need to be made involve overruling or modifying some of the previous decisions that have been in effect for more than 30 years.
Texas is no stranger to voter suppression. Just last year, Governor Abbott signed off on Senate Bill 1, which placed new restrictions on voting. Passing this bill was very strategic especially before the upcoming 2022 elections. This bill placed a ban on drive thru voting, which was a convenient option for voters and allowed them to place their vote while remaining in their car. It even proved to be a popular option amongst voters. The bill also placed regulations for voting hours, which included eliminating 24-hour voting. In addition, the distribution of mail-in ballot applications was banned. In the past, all voters who were eligible to vote received an application to vote by mail.
Anyone 65 and older qualifies to vote by mail but mailing out unrequested applications to them is a crime. Allowing mail in ballots was beneficial for those with disabilities or for those who simply have no transportation to get to the polls. This also include new laws on ID requirements for voting by mail. If people are voting by mail, they must provide their driver’s license or the last four digits of their social security number. Some people may not have a driver’s license or their social security info, which would disqualify them from being able to vote. There are also new guidelines put in place for poll watchers that gives them “free movement,” while in a polling place. It is now a criminal offence to block their view or their observation.
Additionally, this bill requires monthly citizenship checks to “identify noncitizens.” According to the Pew Research Center, there were approximately 25 million noncitizens living in the U.S. as of 2017. That included 12.3 million permanent residents and 2.2 million temporary residents in the country with legal permission and 10.5 million living in the country without legal permission.” This bill makes it possible to disqualify as many voters as possible.
And lastly, the bill prohibits assistance for those who need assistance with filling out their ballots, even those individuals with disabilities. If anyone is to help them, they must fill out forms discussing the nature of their relationship to the voter, as well as reciting an oath, and their interaction with the voter must be limited while they place their vote.
All these elements were designed to disqualify as many votes as possible. For hundreds and hundreds of years, race has always been an issue at the forefront of politics. Two things that remains the same, is that suppression is very real and how Black voters need to get out and vote.
With almost a month out from the November election, every Black voter needs to research who is running for what position, and really key in on their platform, their morals, values, and their history to truly understand who they are as a politician. Most importantly, do not vote for someone based on their skin color. Just because a person is Black, or the same race as you, it does not mean they are for you. Do your research and on November 8, 2022, get up and get out to vote like your life depends on it.