A notorious 2013 US Supreme Court ruling gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and unleashed the onslaught of voter suppression laws by Republicans that continue to this day, according to Robert J. McWhirter, who addressed the June 22, 2021, meeting of the LD9 Democrats.

The Court in Shelby County v. Holder ruled that Arizona — which has a dark history of suppressing Black, Latino, and Native votes — no longer had to get pre-clearance of voting laws from the US Department of Justice. “The 15th amendment says Congress shall have the power to enforce appropriate with appropriate legislation. Pre-clearance should have been constitutional,” McWhirter said.

Today, Republicans have advanced 100 bills restricting voting in Arizona. Right-wing state Rep. John Kavanagh (R-LD23) appallingly said, “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud.”

McWhirter said, “I’m happy to own that one.”

Kavanagh added, “Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote. But everybody shouldn’t be voting.

McWhirter said, “It’s pretty darn clear what the purpose is with these bills. That’s why the 14th amendment reads the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Republicans imagine that a massive fraud caused Arizona to vote for Biden by .3% in 2020. “It would have taken a conspiracy of 63,000 people to affect that margin,” McWhirter said. “That’s a conspiracy of epic proportions. That’s the lunacy of these arguments about voter fraud.”

Voter suppression embedded in 1876

Jim Crow anti-Black laws were institutionalized in 1876 when Rutherford B. Hayes cut a deal with Southern delegates to win the presidency.

Meanwhile, Supreme Courts led by Justice Morrison Waite and Melville Fuller from 1874 to 1910 “were absolutely abysmal,” McWhirter said. “They produced the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court.” The Waite and Fuller courts hobbled the ‘civil war’ amendments — the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. “The courts narrowed the scope of them to render them effectively meaningless, which allowed the Jim Crow south to take hold.”

That led to racist juries, which were drawn from the voter rolls. The prime example is the murder of Emmett Till, who was murdered at age 14 for supposedly whistling at a white woman. The child was abducted, mutilated, shot, and thrown in a river. In September 1955, an all-male white jury acquitted the killers, who later admitted that they committed the crime.

In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that jurors cannot be excluded on the basis of race. Eventually, this led to more diverse juries. “The racial composition of Derek Chauvin’s jury included six black or multiracial jurors. The right to vote makes a difference,” McWhirter said.

Racist Southern Strategy

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited racial discrimination in voting and required southern states to get pre-clearance to enact voter laws. “And if you’ll notice there, we are Arizona, right smack as one of the states that required pre-clearance because of this state’s history of voter discrimination.”

Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater developed the GOP “Southern Strategy,” in 1964 to target racist southern states — which were the 9 states affected by pre-clearance. “And it pushed the Republican Party further to the right,” McWhirter said. “Which is why were are the good guys now on racial issues and the Republicans are not.”

“The Republican laws in Georgia and Arizona, both subject to pre-clearance, could never have passed section 5 and 4 pre-clearance coverage formula. That is what Shelby County v. Holder gave us. That is why elections matter. And that is why the composition of the court matters.”

Even after the civil war, the 15th amendment, and voting rights acts, there remain two Americas. One is dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. And the other does not. One is fighting for the vote. It’s an expansive view that America is a big country of universal rights with an inclusive constitution. The other is a limited American citizen. Boundaries are strict, and some people are considered by them to be inferior.”

“The right to vote is a promise,” McWhirter said. “That is what we fight for as Democrats. And that is why we are going to win.”