While most eyes were focused on Texas’s illegal abortion ban, the Lone Star State continued its assault on the Constitution last week, when Governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB1—Texas’s voter suppression bill. The new law makes it harder to obtain mail-in ballots, prohibits drop boxes to turn in those ballots, limits early voting times, and eliminates drive-through voting.
Texas Republicans claim that these measures are necessary to secure elections from threats of voter fraud, even though those same Republicans could find no evidence of voter fraud during the last election. The real reason the Texas GOP has taken these measures is to suppress the voting strength of people of color—and we know that because all these methods have been empirically shown to disproportionately suppress the participation of people of color in elections. When state legislators do something that intentionally discriminates on the basis of race, it’s fair to call those legislators “racist,” even if they would rather people whitewash their true intentions.
Unfortunately, the corporate media has accepted the idea that discriminating against voters of color is just one valid policy option among many. Pieces in both The Washington Post and The New York Times, for instance, framed SB1 as a legitimate side of a “fierce” battle between competing political views, as opposed to the triumph of Jim Crow–style political apartheid. A big part of the Republican game plan is getting their media enablers to treat their racist policies as “normal,” and they’ve been largely successful at cowing the corporate press into doing exactly that.
While Texas Republicans race backward toward 1859, there is nothing Congress, controlled by the Democratic Party, is doing to stop them. In July, Texas Democrats literally fled the state in an attempt to stop SB1 from passing. They went to Washington, begging for help. But none came. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema remained unmoved and unwilling to break the filibuster to protect the right of people of color to vote. Neither the For the People Act nor the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is close to becoming law. The Senate seems content to allow whites in Texas to have more voting power and access than nonwhites. One can almost understand why the Roman Emperor Caligula once appointed a live horse to his era’s Senate. When an elective body is this useless, mocking it feels like wisdom.
As for President Biden, executive powers alone aren’t enough to stop voter suppression. Our system of government has always placed the power to hold elections squarely under the authority of the individual states. Only the Reconstruction Amendments—specifically the 14th and 15th amendments, as well as the 19th Amendment—are supposed to place limits on what the states can do to their elections.
That leaves the courts. In response to SB1, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has sued the state of Texas (on behalf of the Houston Area Urban League, Houston Justice, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and The Arc of Texas), alleging the new law violates: The Voting Rights Act, the American with Disabilities Act, and the 14th and 15th Amendments.
If federal courts in Texas or the Supreme Court cared about these laws and amendments, the Texas voter suppression bill would be stopped. Again, that’s because all of Texas’s new restrictions are designed to suppress the votes of people of color, not combat (nonexistent) voter fraud. And the restrictions accomplish this racially discriminatory goal with precision.
The problem is that the conservatives in the judiciary do not care about some of our most crucial laws and amendments. They were picked by Republican presidents in large part because of their hostility to voting rights, not in spite of it. This past June, the six conservative justices on the Supreme Court ruled that laws designed to suppress the votes of people of color were perfectly constitutional so long as the states behind those laws were only a little bit racist. And, oh yes, the measure of how much racism is acceptable is apparently defined only by Samuel Alito’s tolerance for bigotry.
So, here we are. Republican state legislatures are actively trying to discriminate against people of color to suppress their votes, and Democrats in Congress are doing nothing. Conservatives on the Supreme Court are actively ignoring the Reconstruction Amendments, just as earlier whites-only versions of the Supreme Court once did, and the Biden administration is doing nothing to rebalance the judiciary. The forces of white supremacy have risen again to do exactly what they always do to ensure white dominance in the electoral process, and the white people who run corporations and media conglomerates just shrug their shoulders and leave people of color to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous bigotry.
Later, when the twin forces of Republican voter suppression and total federal inaction from Democrats conspire to get Democrats curb-stomped in the midterm elections, the same white people who today do nothing will blame me, or some other Black person, or most likely Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for being too “liberal” and turning off white people at brunch.
People of color can only save America from becoming a white ethnostate if you let us.