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Friday, October 11, 2013

Retribution or Reconciliation?

Earlier this year, on February 27, 2013, the United States Supreme Court heard an argument by a lawyer representing Shelby County, Alabama, in regard to the applicability and current accuracy of the premise upon which the 1965 Voting Rights Act was based.  The 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress over opposition from Democrats (primarily in the South) yet signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  It was a landmark decision in the vein of the Reconstruction laws that applied to the Southern states following the Civil War.  Prior to that, it was generally understood that all federal laws had to apply equally to all citizens and to all states.  Article IV, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states…

"The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States."

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution specifically protect the rights of African Americans and serve as the bedrock of protections of all citizens against discrimination, especially the right to vote.  Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment specifically states

"The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation the provisions of this article."

While the intent and the letter of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments is abundantly clear, they alone did not solve the problem of discrimination in the South.  As noted in a previous blog, the election of our first Progressive (i.e. liberal) President, Woodrow Wilson, dramatically reversed the progress in race relations and economic advancement in the South.  Wilson, an outspoken racist who grew up in the deep South (born in Virginia, but raised in Georgia), helped to engineer the re-segregation of the South.  Wilson, a student and disciple of Richard T. Ely [an influential founder of the Progressive movement], first re-segregated the Federal Government, reversing the policies of Republican Presidents before him.  Ely and others, who believed that African Americans had not sufficiently progressed ethically, then went about encouraging and achieving the re-segregation of the South.

The re-segregation of the South led to the infamous Jim Crow era that lasted from the time of Ely until the 1960s.  Through the use of poll taxes, threats, and physical harassment, African Americans were denied the right to vote.  It was a sad era in American history.  Repeatedly, Republicans in Congress tried to pass civil rights legislation, but it was continually voted down or watered down by the Democrat majorities in Congress up until 1964.

Finally, in 1964, a strong Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress over the objections of Southern Democrats and Democrats from as far North as Montana.  Similarly, in 1965, the historic Voting Rights Act was passed.

The argument made by Shelby County, Alabama, was that today, 48 years after the Voting Rights bill was passed, race relations, economic opportunities, and voting access to all citizens in that county are dramatically different than they were in 1965.  In other words, they argued before the Court that the premise upon which the Voting Rights Act was based, that Alabama and other Southern states actively discriminate against African Americans, is no longer true today. 

The Supreme Court ruled in June 2013, that it is unjustified to assume that no racial progress has been made in the states to which the 1965 Voting Rights legislation applies.  However, the Court did not state that no restrictions could apply, but simply that the Congress should evaluate the current status of these states and form a new basis for applying the Voting Rights Act.  Moreover, the Court did not view the requirement for government issued photo identification as discriminatory.

This ruling set off a firestorm of outrage on the left by many who had been active in the civil rights movement back in the 1960s, and those of other motivations.  But, before I get into that outrage, let me provide you with a quote from USA Today on the ruling…

"Declaring that 'our country has changed in the past 50 years,' Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's four other conservatives said the 1965 law cannot be enforced unless Congress updates it to account for a half-century of civil rights advances."

Apparently, Americans from all walks of life, all political parties, political philosophies, all ages, and both men and women agree with Chief Justice Robert's appraisal that racial progress has been made over the past 50 years.  A survey taken by Elon University in North Carolina of North Carolina residents (I picked this one because it is in the South) showed these amazing results…

Now, remember this is a poll of North Carolina citizens only.  In each and every category, no matter how you slice it, every group favors the use of government issued photo identification cards as a requirement to vote.

Similar national polls show support for government issued photo identifications voter cards to be above 70%.  This includes all categories shown above, plus folks who identify themselves as liberals! In all cases and in all groups the support is above 50%.

So the question crosses my mind, if African Americans living in the South support government issued ID voter cards, is there any doubt that "our country has changed in the last 50 years?  Is there really any likelihood that photo identification cards will negatively impact minority voting?  If all minority groups support government issued voter identification cards, they must not feel that the requirement that a voter show a government issued photo identification card will dissuade them from voting.

So, then, what is the objection to using ID cards to provide integrity in the voting system?  Why the opposition to securing the validity of the voting franchise?  Why the outrage at the Supreme Court ruling?

The Alabama law and most other voter security laws (they exist in 34 states), allow everyone one to vote, even those without a government issued photo ID, on a provisional basis.  In other words, even if you do not have an ID card, you can cast your ballot provisionally until it has been verified that you are who you claim to be.

And, frankly, virtually everyone has a government issued photo ID card today.  Such cards are required to receive food stamps, drive a car, purchase liquor or cigarettes, etc.  Moreover, in those states that require a photo ID to vote, you can get one for free from a local state office.  How much easier can we make it to vote?

But now, let's talk about the outrage. 

I have worked with a lawyer in New York City.  Although we have never met, I have talked with him on several occasions on the telephone in regard to a legal matter in which both he and I were interested.  I believe he is a very sincere man with strong principles.  I do not agree with him politically, but I believe he is honest, competent, and desires justice.

When the US Supreme Court first heard the Shelby County, Alabama, case my acquaintance in New York City was outraged.  He sent out a news release on the comments made by the Judges during oral arguments and he was livid.  This is, in part, what his news release said…

"In August 1968, three years after the Voting Rights Act was passed, Henrietta Wright began her testimony on August 10th in the first voting rights damage suit in a Federal United States District Court in a Mississippi courtroom. She was suing Sheriff John Wages, the Sheriff who brutally beat her, hospitalized her and jailed her because she tried to register to vote on August 25, 1965 -- 20 days after the historic act was passed.

When the first voting rights suit was filed by the Department of Justice, Winona County, Mississippi, had 7,639 white persons and 7,250 Negroes of voting age. At least 5,343 white persons were registered to vote.

I was Mrs. Wright's lawyer."

My friend goes on to explain how Henrietta Wright was beaten up and mistreated by the police in Winona County, Mississippi, just because she tried to register to vote.  It is a very emotional and, I am sure, absolutely true story.  It describes a shocking case of voting rights abuse.  For this lawyer, it was just yesterday that this trial took place.  He story is vivid and his passion for justice shows through as he tells the story…

"Henrietta Wright's handcuffs were removed. She spent that night in jail, with no offer of dinner. The next morning Wages, Miller, Morgan, and Cross[the Sheriff and his deputies] entered her cell, dragged her off the cot, and slammed her head and back against the concrete floor. They kneed her in the stomach, thighs, and mouth, knocking out two front teeth, her mouth filling with blood. She resisted as best she could. They tried to handcuff her to keep her from fighting back, but they were not able to get more than one lock snapped on.

Her damage trial lasted a week. A constant angry white crowd congregated each day, all day, outside the courthouse. Mrs. Wright and I were surrounded, cornered, bumped and threatened as we came and went to the courthouse. I got phone calls at my hotel threatening, 'Slick, you won't leave town alive'.

The all-white jury deliberated for two hours. We lost the case, but we won. Mrs. Wright won first by trying to vote, then by merely bringing the suit and making the Sheriff face her lawyer and her cross examination, and by the fact that an all-white jury needed two hours to deliberate and did not return an immediate verdict against Mrs. Wright.

Mrs. Wright was cheered as she left the courthouse by some of her neighbors who, after hearing of the verdict, came to support and protect her after she left the courthouse.

It is now 45 years after Mrs. Wright's trial. On February 27, 2013, the Supreme Court heard Alabama's attack that the voting Rights Act could no longer stop states from discriminating against black voters. The lawyers for Shelby County, Alabama, argued that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was no longer necessary in 2006 for times had changed."

You can see from reading his news release that he is still infuriated by what happened to Mrs. Wright, and he honestly believes that nothing has changed in the South.  This is what he said about the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Shelby County, Alabama, case…

"Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in support of Alabama's position, rhetorically asked whether 'the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North.' Justice Roberts tried to show it was unfair to single out the South for racial discrimination and that the law was now being unequally applied; and that this unequal application may be more troublesome than the racial discrimination itself. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whose vote was known to be critical, then rhetorically asked the government lawyer whether Alabama today is an 'independent sovereign' or whether it must live 'under the trusteeship of the United States government.'

But it was Justice Antonin Scalia who had the temerity to say that the Voting Rights Act, a great civil rights landmark, now amounted to a 'perpetuation of racial entitlement.'"

In my friend's eyes, nothing has changed in nearly 50 years.  The South is today, in his mind, just as racist and bigoted as it was 45 years ago.  I can almost understand his ire, but his position is clearly one based on his personal experience, and not on facts.

I think we can trust African Americans living in North Carolina when it comes to whether or not the requirement for government issued photo ID cards to secure the integrity of the ballot box will keep them from voting.  And, as far as nothing has changed is concerned, African Americans are returning to the South from the North, for jobs and for retirement.

In an article for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, Daniel DiSalvo, an assistant professor of political science at the City College of New York, wrote of the remigration of blacks from the North to the South.  Other major publications have also taken note of this phenomenon.  This is some of what Professor DiSalvo reported…

"A century ago, nine of 10 African-Americans lived in the South, primarily in formerly Confederate states where segregation reigned. Then, in the 1920s, blacks began heading north, both to escape the racism of Jim Crow and to seek work as southern agriculture grew increasingly mechanized. 'From World War I to the 1970s, some 6 million black Americans fled the American South for an uncertain existence in the urban North and West,' wrote author Isabel Wilkerson in [her book] 'The Warmth of Other Suns.'

Principal destinations in the Great Migration, as the exodus came to be called, included Chicago, Detroit and New York City, and carried tremendous political implications, both good and bad. It helped spur the civil rights movement, but it also trapped many blacks in urban ghettos. More recently, the Great Migration has reversed itself, with blacks returning to the South."

He goes on…

"The New York Times noticed in the early 1970s that, for the first time, more blacks were moving from the North to the South than vice versa. Last year, the Times described the South's share of black population growth as 'about half the country's total in the 1970s, two-thirds in the 1990s and three-quarters in the decade that just ended.'

Many of the migrants are "buppies" -- young, college-educated, upwardly mobile black professionals -- and older retirees. Over the last two decades, according to the Census, the states with the biggest gains in black population have been Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Florida. New York, Illinois and Michigan have seen the greatest losses. Today, 57 percent of American blacks live in the South -- the highest percentage in a half-century."

Professor DiSalvo sums the remigration of blacks from the North to the South this way…

"The first is the push and pull of job markets. States in the Northeast and on the West Coast, where liberalism has been strongest, tend to have powerful public-sector unions, high taxes and heavy regulations, which translate into fewer private-sector jobs. In southern locales, where taxes are lower and regulations lighter, employment has grown faster; the fastest-growing cities for job creation between 2000 and 2010 were Austin, Raleigh, San Antonio, Houston, Charlotte and Oklahoma City. For upwardly mobile blacks, the job-creating South represents a new land of opportunity.

The second reason for blacks' southward migration is the North's higher housing prices and property tax rates. The 2010 median single-family home price in northeastern metro areas was $243,900, compared with $153,700 in southern metro areas, according to the National Association of Realtors. Overall cost of living is an issue, too: Groceries, utility bills, housing and health care cost less south of the Mason-Dixon Line. High costs in the North make life difficult for the middle class regardless of color, but they pose a particular challenge to black families. From 2005 to 2009, according to a Pew survey, inflation-adjusted wealth fell by 16 percent among white households but by 53 percent among black ones.

Third, high taxes in northern cities don't always translate into effective public services. Public schools are a prime example: Though class sizes have shrunk and average per-pupil spending has increased markedly over the last three decades, schools with large black populations continue to perform poorly. In search of a solution, blacks have become far more amenable than other groups to experiments with vouchers and charter schools.

Finally, many blacks moving to the South are retirees who, like other older Americans, are seeking better weather. Over the past decade, Florida has attracted more black migrants than any other state. Sociologists Calvin Beale and Glenn Fuguitt have found that black retirees are moving not only to classic retirement destinations in the South but also to 'a cross-section of southern counties from which thousands of blacks migrated during the exodus from farming in the 20 years or so after World War II.' Many may be responding to what anthropologist Carol Stack describes as a 'call to home.'"

From this data it is impossible for anyone to conclude that nothing has changed in the South over the past 50 years.  Can anyone seriously argue that tens of thousands of African Americans would willingly move from the North to the South for jobs and for retirement if they thought they would be discriminated against, especially in the voting process? 

I am confident that my lawyer friend is sincere in his beliefs.  He is just wrong.  There is no logic, and there are no facts to support his argument.  But, I understand how and why he clings to these false ideas.

Sadly, my friend is not alone in his false conclusions.  No less than the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, is throwing about wild accusations that the required use of government issued photo ID cards is designed to suppress the black vote and that those behind this movement are racists.  In the Wall Street Journal editorial of October 8, 2013, the editors say in regard to his lawsuit against North Carolina's photo ID law…

"According to Holder, this [the law requiring a government issued ID as a requirement for voting] amounts to a shocking return to the Jim Crow era.  He describes these modest measures to secure the integrity of the ballot as 'aggressive steps to curtail the voting rights of African Americans.'  And he is suing the state to bring it back under the federal supervision of the Voting Rights Act for all of its future voting-law changes."

What a disaster this would be.  According to J. Christians Adams, a former attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, attorneys in that division not only refused to enforce the law, but stood by as politicians to their liking corrupted the voting process.  Attorney General Holder is defying the ruling of the Supreme Court with his lawsuit, which is sure to be the first of many if he is successful.  To again quote the Wall Street Journal editorial…

"Under Section 3 of the Act [1965 Voting Rights Act], states can be required to get federal preclearance if a court finds that the state has intentionally discriminated against minorities in its voting laws.  That's a high legal bar that the Justice Department will find hard to prove, especially since many of the states' [North Carolina and Texas] voter ID provisions are widespread in other states."

Beyond the unsubstantiated charges that the requirement of photo IDs will result in minority voter suppression, the argument is made that there is no need for ballot security because instances of voter fraud are rare and insignificant.  As WSJ contributing editor John Fund has documented in his book, Stealing Elections, voter fraud is a real and significant danger across our nation.  Voter fraud is widespread and has undoubtedly changed the outcome of many close elections.

In fact, former and very liberal US Supreme Associate Justice John Paul Stevens supported the constitutionality of a strict Indiana voter ID law designed to combat fraud. Justice Stevens, who personally encountered voter fraud while serving on various reform commissions in his native Chicago, spoke for a six-member majority. In a decision two years earlier clearing the way for an Arizona ID law, the Court had declared in a unanimous opinion that…

"…confidence in the integrity of our electoral processes is essential to the functioning of our participatory democracy. Voter fraud drives honest citizens out of the democratic process and breeds distrust of our government. Voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised."

To sum it up, there are five reasons used to oppose enhancing the integrity of the voting process via government issued photo identification cards…

  1. Nothing Has Changed.  Nothing has changed in the South in regard to discrimination of African Americans.  It is just as bad today as it was in 1965.
  2. ID Cards Will Suppress Black Voting.  The very existence of requiring photo identification in order to vote will unfairly discourage black and other minority voting.
  3. No Danger of Voter Fraud.  There is no credible evidence or danger of widespread voter fraud.
  4. Political Advantage.  There is a political advantage in accusing the Republicans of wanting to suppress black and other minority voting by requiring voter ID cards.  It enables Democrats to scare black voters into believing that Republicans are racists.
  5. Impediment to Vote Theft.  The dishonest and crooked see voter ID cards as an impediment to vote theft.

If you believe nothing has changed, you are certainly entitled to your view, even though it runs totally counter to objective data.  Yes, racism exists and it will always exist.  It is a matter of the heart, not a matter of the law.

If you believe that voter ID cards will suppress black voting, there is just no evidence to support that belief.  Those affected directly do not fear voter ID requirements.  If you want to promote this idea, you need supporting evidence.

If you oppose voter ID cards for political advantage, shame on you.  You are a part of the problem, not a part of the solution.  You seek to divide Americans for political gain, not unite them for the common good.  You are driven by anger and seek revenge, not reconciliation.  You seek power over honesty and integrity in government. 

And, if you oppose voter ID cards because you want to encourage vote theft, you belong behind bars.  You are a crook.

Of all the bad policies promoted by our President and his Administration, I despise his conscious efforts to divide Americans the most.  Leaders do not divide, they unite, they encourage harmony.

The message of Christianity is reconciliation.  Through Jesus' death on the cross, man is reconciled to God.  Jesus died for our sins on the cross, so that we can live with him in perfect harmony forever in heaven.  As a Christian, I am to forgo retribution and instead forgive.  I am to forgive not only my friends, but also my enemies.  America is known as a nation that forgives, thanks to our Christian heritage.  When someone in public office admits their guilt, we are quick to forgive.

If we only had a leader in the White House whose goal was to reconcile black and white Americans, much progress could be made toward unity and harmony in our land.  Everyone would benefit.  Instead, we have a President and an Attorney General who either believe that nothing has changed and/or they encourage division for political gain.  Shame on them!

A few years ago, the late Chuck Colson wrote about a predominately white Baptist Church in the deep South.  I think it was in Montgomery, Alabama, but it really makes no difference.  The story he related took place in the late 1980s or early 1990s. 

Members of the church slowly, but firmly, came to the realization of their sin in resenting their black brothers and sisters, and of not working with them and for them in spreading the Gospel of Jesus.  One Sunday morning, the entire church went to a nearby predominately black Baptist church and expressed their repentance for their sinful attitude and actions.  On that Sunday morning true reconciliation occurred.  And, from that point forward, the two churches have worked together, socialized together, and prayed together.

This is just one anecdote, but there are many more of a changed and repentant South.  As a Christian, I know that in God's eyes to hate someone is to make me guilty of murder (1 John 3:15).  Racism is just another name for hatred.  Being a racist and being a Christian are incompatible.

Retribution may feel good at the instant of impact, but it damages the soul.  Reconciliation breeds love and understanding and friendship.  Yes, we have made great progress in race relations over the past 50 years and it should be celebrated.  And, no, we should not overlook or condone racism of any kind. 

And, we should insist that any office holder or political appointee eschew any policy or statement that divides Americans, instead of uniting them.  This should be a minimum expectation of any office holder, Republican or Democrat.  It's written on our coins and on the Great Seal of the United States—E Pluribus Unum.  It means out of many, one.  Diversity is nice, but unity is critical.

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