The beloved 40 year-old Voting Right Acts, implemented by Lyndon B. Johnson after violence and death to Voting Rights activists in Selma, Alabama in 1965 has been all but gutted by the George W. Bush administration. The VRA celebrated it's 40th anniversary this summer, even as Bush's Department of Justice was destroying one of its most important measures by covert political caveat.
That gutting now appears to be becoming a still greater threat to our democracy as it is being institutionalized by recent policy changes which bar career Voting Rights staffers and attorneys in the DoJ from offering opinions on new laws that fall under the jurisdication of the VRA.
Two recent reports by Dan Eggen of the Washington Post revealed that Bush political appointees in the DoJ has overruled the recommendations of career staffers and attorneys in the Voting Rights division tasked with determining the legality of two separate laws sent to the department for "pre-approval" under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 5 requires that states with a history of discriminatory election practices --- like Texas and Georgia --- must receive pre-approval from the DoJ before implementing any changes to their voting systems. It prohibits "retrogressive" changes to voting laws, or laws that would bring harm to minority voters.
In the last several weeks Eggen has reported on remarkable memos leaked by DoJ staffers showing that they had recommended against approval of new laws both in Georgia, where the legislature had insituted a new Photo ID requirement at the polls, and in Texas, where then Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) had helped to redistrict the state to allow for more Republican representatives after the GOP gained control of the state house in 2002.
Georgia's law has since been ruled unconstitutional by two Federal Courts who deemed the law to be a "Jim Crow-era Poll Tax". Texas' law has resulted in 7 additional Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. The fallout from the DeLay led gerrymander of Texas districts has resulted in several indictments for DeLay and his cronies who helped force it through the legislature and allegedly conspired with the Republican National Committee to launder money in support of GOP candidates running for the new seats. The Texas law, which had been unanimously recommended against by 8 DoJ staffers, including the lead attorney in the Voting Rights Act division, still stands.
Today Eggen reports that such staff opinions are now completely banned in Bush's Department of "Justice"!
Disclosure of the change comes amid growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas and Georgia that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.
The one ray of hope that Eggen offers is that Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) is considering Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings...at least on the Texas redistricting case.
We often bristle when we hear those on the Left criticize the Bush Administration as Fascistic. It's simply too easy to ascribe to them the worst possible traits as a blunt political weapon. But if the issues discussed above don't send a shiver down the spine of every democracy-loving American it's either because they don't understand what's actually at stake --- and being dismantled in the process --- or they simply don't give a damn about this country's most important legacy to the world: A free and fair electoral system where all citizens are given an equal voice in the selection of our leaders...or at least a system as close to that as we can possibly muster.
Our Republic is in grave danger.