How 2 Supreme Court Cases Could Send Our Voting Rights Back To 1964

Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer once said our nation fell woefully short of a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Two cases before the United States Supreme Court this fall could deliver a final blow to our hard-won voting rights, reverting us to the “with the handful, for the handful, by the handful” government of Hamer’s time.

A North Carolina case could give state legislatures the power to cherry-pick whose vote counts without oversight from the state supreme courts. Another in Alabama could further erode Black voting power in a state where a quarter of its citizens are Black.

I refuse to accept that. I refuse to watch my son, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins get cheated out of the right to elect leaders willing to meet their needs. That includes safety from police brutality, equal pay for equal work, access to health care and safe abortions, and the rights all American residents and citizens deserve. It’s why I and my staff are on the ground getting out the vote in battleground states.

With midterms looming and the 2024 Presidential election season around the corner, right-wing extremist state lawmakers have seized the moment. They’re using the same 1960s race-baiting playbook from the “Southern Strategy” — arguing for states’ rights and saying it has nothing to do with color.

North Carolina Republicans want the Supreme Court to revoke their state Supreme Court’s constitutional authority to review election laws.

Alabama plaintiffs say their congressional map violates a section of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) prohibiting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, thus diluting their political voice. With a population that’s more than one-fourth Black, only one of Alabama’s seven districts is majority-minority. As it stands, a quarter of the state’s electorate lacks voting power. So, local community groups want a second Black district to reflect the actual Black population.

A lower court tossed out the GOP-drawn congressional map. But the Supreme Court, favoring the state, halted the lower court’s order. Alabama claimed its method for drawing the map was “race-neutral.”

Conservatives in both cases want to reverse the lower court orders that rejected congressional maps drawn by Republican-controlled legislatures. If the Supreme Court agrees, it will destroy the remaining voter protections provided in sections of the VRA.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act eradicated poll taxes, literacy tests and Black voter intimidation — tactics that white Southern racists used to terrorize Black people and undermine our voting power. Initially, the most vital VRA protection required states or counties with histories of refusing to protect Black voting rights to answer to the Department of Justice.

But SCOTUS has been killing the VRA softly for decades.

In 2005, Indiana passed a law requiring voters to show a photo ID, which the Supreme Court initially confirmed. Although the state court later struck it down for violating Indiana’s Constitution, several states followed with their own voter ID laws using the “voter fraud” justification.

In 2013, the Supreme Court knee-capped the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder when it ruled in favor of state Republicans who claimed Alabama’s VRA designation based on its voter suppression history was unconstitutional. The decision weakened the VRA’s most powerful provision to prevent race-based voter suppression. Moreover, it freed states with histories of race-based voter discrimination to shut down thousands of polling places, intensify their voter purges and change voting laws without federal approval.

In short, our country is trending backwards, toward a government elected by a minority of ultra-conservative rich white guys. Welcome back to 1964.

Now, white supremacist lawmakers have nothing or no one to hold them accountable. They’re free to “gerrymander” — spreading voters they dislike across multiple districts or isolating them into one, guaranteeing all-white (and all-conservative) congressional majorities. The object is to dilute the power of the Black vote so we can’t elect representatives who protect and fight for our interests.

A few things must happen to save the VRA. First, we must expand the Supreme Court and rid ourselves of its conservative majority. And second, Congress must strengthen the VRA so states like Alabama can’t hide behind “race neutrality” while disenfranchising a quarter of its voters.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed that Black voters have cooled toward Democratic candidates. Some may feel Democrats have failed to address the issues Black people most care about. I know how that feels.

But right now, if we’re complacent or don’t vote wisely in the midterms, our complacency could cost Black and brown people our voting rights for generations. We showed the potential of our political power when we stood in long lines for hours to elect President Obama in ‘08 and ‘12. The political trend to weaken the VRA is a backlash against our proven political power. To keep that power we must now stand up for our citizenship rights, flock to the polls and elect the right folks in the states this November! Vote like your future depends on it — because it does!


DaMareo Cooper is the Co-Executive Director of The Center for Popular Democracy Action, a national network of more than 50 community organizations dedicated to achieving racial and economic justice through local grassroots organizing.