US Senate ready for voting rights showdown

Jamie Stiehm, syndicated columnist

The Capitol candlelight vigil for the mob attack on Congress gave way to a Senate showdown on voting rights — a scene straight from the heart of darkness.

Timed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, it’s a showdown Senate Democrats don’t know they can win. But they have to try, for a fair field in the upcoming midterms. Plus, it’s a great chance for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who plays Hamlet to the hilt, to choose “to be” with his own party.

President Joe Biden gave a speech in Georgia Tuesday, urging the Senate to change its filibuster rules, if necessary, to restore voting rights. That prospect has Senate Republicans breathing fire.

But the heart of darkness is across the street from the Capitol: the Supreme Court. While the Capitol endured a physical brutal assault, the Court often tears down the walls of democracy from inside.

In 2013, the Court struck down a shiny pearl from the civil rights era: the Voting Rights Act. That’s the reason why the Senate is in the crosshairs now. The activist Supreme Court acts in all the wrong ways — with more to come.

Chief Justice John Roberts and other Republicans waged war on a widely praised voting rights law, applied to the South where patterns of racial discrimination persist. The infamous case was brought by Shelby County, Alabama, and brought the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s strongest dissent.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer declared, “Everyone in this chamber will have a chance to go on record … on defending democracy.” Since the Jan. 6 siege, he says, voter suppression laws are on the rise.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, canny and shrewd, says a rule change on the 60-vote filibuster would “break the Senate.” Why, heavens above, Democrats want to “federalize elections.”

Yes, Mitch. Federal offices should be subject to federal oversight laws, as they were for nearly 50 years. Presidential and congressional elections by right need federal backbone and should not be left to uneven states.

In the darkness of the “big lie” loser former President Donald Trump has spread (that the 2020 election was stolen), the urgency of passing a new Voting Rights Act is here and now. The Supreme Court left democracy with no umbrella in the rain, no winter coat on an arctic day.

Roberts is not even the worst Republican on the high court. Among the three Trump appointees, Brett Kavanaugh himself egged on a “preppie riot” as Florida votes were counted in the deadlocked Bush v. Gore election.

America got by for a cycle or two. The 2020 election was free and fair, by all accounts, with high turnout that looked like nonviolent resistance to me, multitudes standing in long lines. Biden won decisively.

But 19 states have just changed their voting laws and made it harder to register and to vote. Several Republican Trump loyalists are running for secretary of state, the office responsible for vote-counting. This means state electors may be more partisan instead of neutral. In Georgia, it will now be illegal to give water to voters waiting in line.

This is happening in plain view since the attempted murder of a peaceful democracy on Jan. 6, 2021. The senator with the most at stake is the Rev. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached. He’s on the ballot again, after an upset win in 2020. In fiery floor speeches, he states nothing matters more in American democracy than protecting the rights of minority voters.

The Supreme Court gave us campaigns with unlimited “dark money,” in Citizens United. It restricted a constitutional right to reproductive freedom in Texas. Employer mask mandates are at risk.

Just you wait for the crux: whether the Court will allow the release of Trump’s records from during the Jan. 6 siege. See what I mean? I rest my case.

Editor’s note: Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com.


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