Voting, Democracy, and Amy Coney Barrett

| Reproaction

By: Evonnia Woods

Since its inception, the U.S. political system has been used to codify and legitimize white supremacist patriarchal beliefs. Racism was codified. Slavery was codified. Segregation was codified. Xenophobia was and is codified. However, laws advancing equality were also codified. The 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments to the Constitution marked the end of chattel slavery and gave Black men and women the right to vote. The history of the United States is one of domination and resistance and the Supreme Court has always played a huge role. For that reason, a Supreme Court nomination should never be rushed.

The gains that came out of the Civil Rights movement were acquired by activists who used a range of tactics. Though the civil rights era is famously known for its usage of direct-action protests, the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that desegregated public educational institutions denotes its inception. Subsequent national triumphs came in the form of more landmark Supreme Court victories, legislation, and executive orders. There was Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 in 1961 that enacted affirmative action in federal hiring decisions. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed a broad range of social inequalities, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 196 which addressed racial discrimination in voting. While it is not my intention to provide an exhaustive list, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that banned miscegenation laws in 1967. Though the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that made access to abortion a federally legal right is not usually included as a civil rights victory, that is exactly what it is. Access to legal and safe abortions is a civil and human right. These civil rights victories combined to vastly transform the social, economic, and political standing of women and racial minorities.

The era that followed is often referred to as the post-civil rights era. Barack Obama was twice elected president during this era, which prompted some to assert that the United States had become a post-racial society – an assertion that required selective amnesia of the immediate backlash each civil rights victory throughout history has unleashed, including the election of President Barack Obama.

As the post-civil rights era progressed, overt racism in laws and attitudes lost mainstream popularity. This shift in the political and social landscape prompted conservatives to alter their approach. They began to incorporate social justice concepts like freedom, choice and rights, and used coded language like welfare queen, thug, and inner-city to forward their racist agenda and strip away gains made by civil rights activists. Through these adjustments, conservatives secured support for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, and paved the way for the Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Shelby resulted in the immediate rise of voter suppression measures, such as names being purged from voter registration rolls, judges preventing recounts of close electoral races, judicial rulings in support of gerrymandering, passage of more voter ID laws, and the closure of polling places in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods. The Supreme Court wields tremendous power over the right to vote, so when the President asks the Senate to confirm a new Supreme Court justice 35 days before the general election, there is good reason for concern.

The highest court of the land is not an objective body of decision-making power that prioritizes human rights (see Plessy v. Ferguson, Takao Ozawa v. the United States, and Dred Scott v Sanford). [1] Thus, our advocacy must incorporate a thorough examination and full consideration of a nominee’s beliefs and stances on issues. Amy Coney Barrett’s history as a lecturer and her incredibly short stint as a judge should give us all pause at the least. Responding to questions about how she might rule in future cases, she indicated the high probability of Roe being overturned and the ease through which Brown v. Board could be as well, which would respectively end legal access to abortion and reinstate the possibility of segregation laws. [2]

There is much cause for alarm. Barrett ruled that a supervisor calling an employee a racial epithet did not constitute enough evidence of a hostile work environment or that the employee had been fired because of their race, and in a meeting with Senator Corey Booker (D-New Jersey) she stated that she was unaware of racial disparities in sentencing. [3] Barrett’s ruling in a case that stipulated her favor for a convicted felon to regain their right to own a gun, but not to vote, is incredibly alarming. [4] While it is true that the Senate has the power to reject or confirm the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, we have the power to demonstrate our disapproval by calling, writing, and speaking to our senators. Our power can also be demonstrated at the polls.

The history of the United States is one of domination and resistance, where a range of tactics can be used to garner regressive and progressive political gains.

We reside in a country where power in the political sphere is garnered by election or appointment by an elected official, making voting a powerful tool of resistance. We have witnessed how elected officials and their appointees can wield their power to further both progressive and regressive policies. Voting is at the core of determining who will be in a position to directly determine or influence which of us are eligible for resources and opportunities.

Though there is no individual tactic will result in social justice, voting is an important one. Voting is how we get our school boards, city council members, aldermen, mayors, sheriffs, local judges, representatives, and senators in our state and federal legislatures, governors, and of course, our president. Some of these people have the power to appoint other political leaders like school superintendents, state and federal judges, as well as Supreme Court justices. While voting alone will not solve social justice issues, nor provide certainty that things will go in our favor, it gives us a fighting chance.

As significant as voting is, our electoral system does not start or stop at the polls, and believe it or not there are roles for those who are eligible and those who are ineligible to vote. Of course, register yourself and others to vote. Get educated on candidates and issues. Run for office and encourage others to run. Support candidates by working on their campaigns. Start or join an issue campaign. VOTE. Help others vote or figure out their voting plan. Work at the polls. Hold elected officials accountable, which can look like anything from direct lobbying to preventing their re-election.

The history of the United States is one of domination and resistance, and there is room for everyone to participate in our electoral system.

It may be discouraging to hear that change takes time, but as history tells us, regressive victories are not permanent. History has also shown us that if we build together and stay consistent, our setbacks will not be permanent and things can and will improve, sometimes in very surprising ways. In other words, we can win. Every advancement for marginalized people in this country has won through collective struggle. With a critical election pending, we cannot succumb to feelings of hopelessness and despair. Even if the Senate rushes through this Supreme Court nominee process, we can hold them accountable. Our power to change things has been demonstrated time and time again through action. The key is using all of the tools for action in our resistance toolbox. Protest, write op-eds and letters to the editor, teach, create art, march, boycott, run for office, conduct research, contact your elected officials, and vote on election day.

References:

  1. Plessy v. Ferguson, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson
  2. Allen, Jonathan. October 13, 2020. “Barrett reveals formula for reversing landmark rulings.” NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/barrett-reveals-formula-reversing-landmark-rulings-n1243248
  3. Raphelson, Samantha. October 13, 2020. “Sen. Booker Challenges Judge Barrett On Bias In The Justice System.” National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/sections/live-amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-confirmation/2020/10/13/923481075/sen-booker-challenges-judge-barrett-on-bias-in-the-justice-system
  4. Ewing, Philip. October 15, 2020. “ Voting Is An ‘Individual Right,’ Barrett Testifies, But Critics Remain Leery.” National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/sections/live-amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-confirmation/2020/10/14/923626264/voting-is-an-individual-right-barrett-testifies-but-critics-remain-leery
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