With the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington approaching, is the time at hand for mass protest and civil disobedience against the Republican/Tea Party’s war against voting rights and immigrant rights?
That is among the immediate questions as the Roberts Court has dropped the hammer on the 1965 Voting Rights Act, while a dubious “immigration reform” bill passed the Senate on its likely way to an even worse fate in the Tea Party-controlled House.
Together, with the Court’s Citizens United decisions protecting secret money in campaigns, Republicans are doing everything possible to cement a grip on power as a numerical white minority bloc. Successful Republican efforts to gerrymander House seats to gain ground in the Electoral College, combined with the rising tide of anti-abortion restrictions in southern states, reinforce the drift toward a new civil war – one fought by political means with recurring episodes of mass violence. The Court’s narrowing of affirmative action also guarantees a widening of the racial divide in education and economic opportunity.
The Court’s composition reveals its underlying partisan character, with the decisive tilt occurring after the 2000 election between Al Gore, Ralph Nader and George Bush, in which the Court usurped the verdict of a majority of voters, thus becoming a de facto branch of the Republican apparatus.
The Republican bloc now includes: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. (George Bush, Jr., 2005), Antonin Scalia (Ronald Reagan, 1986), Anthony Kennedy (Reagan, 1988), Clarence Thomas (George Bush, Sr., 1991), and Samuel Alito (Bush, Jr., 2006).
The Democratic bloc includes: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Bill Clinton, 1993), Stephen Breyer (Clinton, 1994), Sonia Sotomayor (Barack Obama, 2009), and Elena Kagan (Obama, 2010).
The Republican tilt is likely to continue indefinitely, with Obama only able to appoint replacements to retiring liberals. The tilt will become a lock if a Republican president is elected in 2016.
Lost in both the partisan spin and rhetorical legalisms is that the scale of political power is being tipped far to the right in spite of progressive majorities, which elected and re-elected President Obama. In the voting rights decision, the Court has prevented aggressive action by the Justice Department to deter egregious methods of suppressing voter turnout among communities of color. University surveys show that most whites in the southern states, with the addition of Pennsylvania, are more prejudiced than the national average. (National Annenberg Election Survey, 2008) The most lost or settled voting rights cases have occurred in the South. (New York Times, June 23, 2013) It is true that both blatant and subtler cases of voter suppression occur outside the states covered by the Voting Rights Act, but that is an argument for expanding the Sec. 5 protections, not weakening them.
The point is that Obama was elected twice with the support of 75-95 percent of African American, Latino and Asian American voters, and any government-imposed inhibitions on their registration and turnout will make the difference in close national and state elections. Without federal intervention, the challenge of protecting voting rights will be left largely to massive volunteer efforts by civil rights and labor organizations.
With respect to immigrant rights bill passed by the Senate this week, the measure shifts US military buildups from the Muslim world to the Mexican border, airports and coastlines. A Minuteman at the watchtowers replaces the Statue of Liberty. The projected cost is $40 billion, which is sure to rise with overruns, making the costs comparable to other major military operations. The total of Border Patrol agents will double to 40,000, and the fencing is to cover 700 miles. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was right in calling the bill a boondoggle for Halliburton. (For the historical record, the original fencing metal strips came from Halliburton’s corporate predecessor, Brown & Root; the metal was from landing strips installed for US aircraft during the Vietnam War.)
The billionaires’ boondoggle aside, the question is whether – and when – the immigrant rights bill will include voting rights, if ever. Obama temporarily legalized the DREAM Act youth who participated heavily in the 2012 election. Their future now is linked to the immigrant rights bill, or will require an extension of Obama’s executive order. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1.2 million of the DREAM Act generation could become empowered to vote. In addition, there are one million projected voters in the category of Title II, the Agricultural Worker Program. That would leave about nine million immigrants facing the pitfalls of the so-called “pathway to citizenship”, which will take perhaps 13 to 20 years. According to an analysis by Peter Schey, it is likely that four to five million mostly low-income immigrants will be unable to adjust their status because of roadblocks to eligibility.
It is anyone’s guess whether the Tea Party Republicans in the House will accept any immigration reform, especially one that will empower low-income, brown-skinned people to vote. That would shift the political balance of power toward the multicultural majority, now represented by Obama, for the coming generation. The all-important electoral balance will shift away from the Republican Party in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and elsewhere – through the fault lines of the Mexican War of the 1840s.
The point is that the Tea Party, the Republican Party, and Corporate Agriculture will consent to between two and seven million brown-skinned people becoming new voters. If the conservatives finally acquiesce, it is reasonably certain that they will make the “pathway to citizenship” as uphill, filled with obstacles, and gradual as possible.
This is not only about raw partisan political power, but also about the last stand of the xenophobes and nativist elements in America’s political culture. Those who consider these words an exaggeration should read Patrick Buchanan’s State of Emergency, with its foaming fear of a new reconquista in California, or Reagan Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger’s prediction of war with Mexico.
Historically, it was difficult enough to achieve democracy in America as a form of minority rule. The British had to be defeated and a new republic given birth where a minority of white male property owners were enfranchised. Each expansion of democratic voting rights has come in the wake of war or massive civil strife. Now, even with a new and more tolerant American majority coming into view, the resistance from the Right will harden in every way. Politics, including the politics of American progressives, will be seen increasingly through this lens.