For a Voting Rights Amendment | The Nation


For a Voting Rights Amendment

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Most Americans will be shocked, appalled and outraged to learn that their Constitution does not grant them the right to vote. Yet that was the major lesson to be learned from Bush v. Gore. Even though the right to vote is the supreme right in a democracy, the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore told Americans--in their questioning of lawyers David Boies and Theodore Olson, and in their final ruling--that there is no explicit fundamental right to suffrage in the Constitution.

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Jesse Jackson Jr.
Jesse Jackson Jr., member of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, has represented Illinois's 2nd...

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Approve a Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution, granting all the
right to vote; craft a unitary voting system for federal, state and
local elections, guaranteeing an honest and efficient count.

What was consistent about the man was his belief that each state has a sovereign right to control its laws.

William Rehnquist and the "court of five" who decided the 2000 election by one vote said, "The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States..." [Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (Dec. 12 2000) (per curiam)]. It's the reason the Florida legislature could contemplate sending its own set of electors to Congress if it had lost in the Supreme Court. It could have ignored 6.1 million Florida voters, and still have been acting within the parameters of the US Constitution. As District of Columbia Councilmember Kevin Chavous and American University constitutional law professor Jamin Raskin said in an August 26, 2001, Washington Post article: "'One person, one vote' is the gold standard for democracy all over the world. The constitutions of at least 135 nations--from Angola and Argentina to Zambia and Zimbabwe--explicitly guarantee the right of the people to vote and to be represented at all levels of their governments. But our constitutional silence leaves us in the company of Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Singapore . . . all of which leave voting rights out of their constitutions."

The Rehnquist Supreme Court granted chads "equal protection" under the Fourteenth Amendment (quite a shocker for this court to rely on the Fourteenth Amendment for anything), but made it clear that the American voter has no inalienable right to vote. (Compare this to Attorney General John Ashcroft's repeated public statements that the Constitution grants individual Americans the right to a gun. Thus, many Americans believe they have a constitutional right to a gun, but are unaware they have no constitutional right to vote.)

We need to amend our Constitution because it was originally designed to allow only white male property owners to vote. We need a right to vote amendment because, in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court looked at the Constitution's Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth and Twenty-sixth amendments--then looked at the Tenth Amendment through the eyes of a strict constructionist--and concluded: Since there is no right to vote in the US Constitution, what does the state statute say? The state statute said Katherine Harris is in charge of the election, and there was a time deadline of December 12 to count the votes. So, unless all the votes can be counted in the next two hours, Bush is President.

Under the assumptions of Jeffersonian democracy and the constraints of the Tenth Amendment, Congress has not been given the power by the people to make voting a reality for every American. The Democratic Party--caught between the vice of this Jeffersonian tradition of limited government and states' rights, and a frustrated base of African-Americans and Jewish voters who were politically disenfranchised in Florida--offers only legislative reform programs and block grants to states that respect the Tenth Amendment. Thus, its base constituencies will remain agitated and American democracy will remain profoundly flawed.

Democrats proclaim they want a broad-based, grassroots movement in order to improve America. Well, constitutional amendments require two-thirds of the US House and Senate, and three-quarters of the state legislatures. Only an extremely broad-based grassroots movement can add an amendment to our Constitution. Yet no aspiring national Democratic leader, nor the Democratic Party itself--despite having the White House stolen away--looks prepared to lead the nation beyond Jefferson's rhetoric on this most fundamental issue in a democracy--the right to vote.

But there may be some hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing seems to bring about voting amendments quite like a war. The Civil War brought us the Fifteenth Amendment. World War I resulted in the Nineteenth Amendment. And the Vietnam War gave us the Twenty-sixth Amendment. Terrorism on the World Trade Center and anthrax in our mail have been described by President Bush and others as an attack on our freedom and democracy. Thus, the war on terrorism may give us the opportunity to both appreciate and critique our democracy, including adding its biggest missing piece--a Twenty-eighth Amendment to our Constitution granting us the explicit fundamental right to vote.

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