Donald Trump’s phony prayer for the black vote at an African-American church in Detroit should not distract us from the truth. Ever since Barack Obama was elected as our first black president in 2008, the GOP-controlled state legislatures have been passing laws to block black and brown voters from voting.
It’s clear from their platform and voter suppression legislation that Republican National Committee and Republican Party don’t want black and brown people to vote. Not for Trump. Not for anyone. You’ve heard of Rock the Vote? The GOP campaign is Block the Vote.
The GOP’s voter suppression honchos must be tearing their hair out because the federal courts are finally on to them. In recent months, federal courts across the country have issued a series of decisions striking down or requiring changes to GOP’s racist voting laws.
The GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature got caught red-handed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit when it ruled on July 29 that North Carolina’s 2013 restrictive voting law was enacted with “discriminatory intent” that used “almost surgical precision” to stop blacks from voting.
The evidence was clear to the Fourth Circuit: “the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the [black voter] franchise in modern North Carolina history” and even admitted in a “smoking gun” argument that the voting restrictions were necessary due to “concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise.”
Message from the GOP to black voters in North Carolina: you are voting too much, so we need to curb those black votes with a voter suppression law!
The GOP pushed through the voter suppression law after realizing that black voter registration in North Carolina jumped by 51 percent between 2000 and 2012, and black voter turnout surged up to 42 percent in 2000, 72 percent in 2008 and a whopping 69 percent in 2012.
The Fourth Circuit is not the only court to call out these discriminatory voting laws in the last several weeks.
In Michigan, where Trump spoke at the black church, a new GOP law banning Michigan’s straight-party ballot option was blocked on July 21 optional link: by a federal judge who ruled that the ban disproportionately hurts black voters and therefore violates the Voting Rights Act.
Until the GOP ban, Michigan offered voters a bubble on their ballots allowing a straight-party vote without checking off all the individual candidates, which is favored by many black voters. Without that one-and-done option, black voters would take longer to vote and create long lines in precincts already plagued by long lines. Michigan’s GOP attorney general has challenged the ruling in a September 2 emergency filing with the Supreme Court by Michigan’s Republican attorney general.
Then down in New Orleans, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the most conservative federal appeals court in the country, shocked everyone on July 20 when it ruled that the new Texas voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act. The court held that 600,000 Texan voters who are disproportionately black, Latino and poor lack the ID required by the new law—including a driver’s license, military ID, passport or weapons permit—and most would be unable to obtain such an ID. The court did not strike down the law but ordered a lower court to fix it before the November 8 election.
The GOP must be panicking now that the federal court judges who once backed voter-ID laws are getting wise to the GOP shenanigans. Judge Richard Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh District says his vote upholding the Indiana law was wrong; he realizes that photo-ID laws are “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.” Boom!
These voter suppression laws were made possible by the conservative block of five justices of the Supreme Court who voted to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.
When Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that “Voter turnout and registration rates” for black and white voters were nearly equal in the South, the GOP saw this as an endorsement of their fears that black and brown voters were gaining too much voting power.
Since 2008, Republican legislatures in 17 states have adopted new restrictive voting laws. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin imposed strict voter ID requirements. North Carolina and other states eliminated the early voting days favored by guess who—blacks and Latinos—along with a variety of other provisions that can disproportionately keep voters of color from the polls.
The GOP is waging a panicky fight to save its voter suppression laws in the weeks before the election. North Carolina’s GOP governor filed an emergency application asking the Supreme Court to reinstate that state’s restrictive voting law found to be discriminatory by the Fourth Circuit. But the Court got tangled up with a 4-4 tie vote and could not reinstate the discriminatory voting rules.
The GOP has a sinister Plan B in North Carolina. A leaked email from North Carolina Republican Party leader Dallas Woodhouse reveals that the GOP is urging local voting officials in North Carolina to eliminate Sunday voting favored by blacks, which could circumvent the Fourth Circuit decision. “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting,” Woodhouse wrote to local voting officials, according to The News & Observer.
It’s crazy that the modern Republican Party calls itself the “Party of Lincoln” and Trump has called the Democratic Party is the “Party of Slavery.”
Don’t be fooled by this historical amnesia. The two parties switched sides for good when Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson rammed the Civil Right Act and Voting Rights Act through Congress. The Republican Party is now the Party of the New Jim Crow Voter Suppression.
Trump argues that black voters have nothing to lose by voting for him. Wrong. Black and brown voters will continue to lose their right to vote—which is a constitutional right and not a privilege like a driver’s license—if they chose Trump and other Republican candidates.
Susan E. Seager is a First Amendment lawyer who teaches media law at the University of Southern California and was a volunteer poll observer for the Barack Obama presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. She tweets at @seagreen55.