Justice Brett Kavanaugh has been sitting on the Supreme Court since Oct. 6, and already we are beginning to see the effects of a politically-divided court. The Supreme Court of the United States has always strived to be a symbol of non-partisan law practice; their job is to uphold the legal ideals of this nation. However, we now see a very clear political divide on the bench, and this latest confirmation has tipped the scales in favor of a conservative court.
One of the first major moves within this new court has been the decision to not intervene in North Dakota’s enforcement of a required street address in order to vote. North Dakota, and their voter identification laws in particular, have captured the attention of many as the new Supreme Court made one of its first rulings in regards to voting limitations within the state. In April of 2018, Native American residents were upset by legislation saying that, in order to vote, proper U.S. street addresses must be provided. Reservations tend to be isolated communities that have little power or representation within both local and federal governments, and these communities do not consistently have addresses that are legally recognized within the United States government. Originally, a federal judge issued an injunction that would allow voters to use a mailing address, giving Native Americans a loophole. However, an appeals court blocked the ruling, and the Supreme Court refused to vacate that ruling on Oct. 9 of this year.
Native Americans in North Dakota are not the only group that will find it harder to vote without a permanent address. Already, Georgia has enacted an “Exact Match” law, meaning that the data you register to vote with has to be 100 percent identical to the information they have on file or you will not be eligible for registration. Thus far, the majority of people who have been removed from the list since its enactment have been members of the African American community — be it for simple issues, like a clerical error, or more complicated issues, such as change of address. Due to these changes, members of the transient community will also find it increasingly difficult to register to vote and may find it difficult to check their registration status. Now that states no longer have to have court approval to enact voting changes, we may begin to see a state-by-state changes in voting regulations, which will look different across the U.S.
Florida, for example, has continued to make it increasingly difficult for ex-felons to regain the ability to vote. Most states have a maximum period that felons have to wait after having served their sentence before they automatically regain the right to vote, however, Florida struck that out of their state constitution after the Civil War and, instead, removes those rights for life for any convicted felon. The process to regain those rights is incredibly difficult. Ex-felons (82 percent of whom are nonviolent offenders) now have to wait a minimum of eight years before they can petition the governor and his panel (all of whom are white, only one of whom is female) to have their rights reinstated. The citizen has ten minutes to state their case, and the panel only meets four times a year. If you are denied, there is a lengthy wait process to try again.
The worst part is, Governor Rick Scott has no criteria for acceptance or denial. He has openly said the following in a recorded opening statement: “This is a board of clemency; there’s no law we’re following. The law has already been followed by the judges, so we get to make our decisions based on our own beliefs.” For one of the other panel members, Jimmy Patronis, “Do you go to church?” is one of the questions he judges by, making it abundantly clear that the separation of church and state is no longer in play here and directly corrupting what should be an impartial process.
The Court is able to make decisions like these because of a 2013 vote that struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 (VRA). By doing this, they are allowing the following nine states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and multiple counties and municipalities (including, but not limited to: Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan), to follow through with voting legislation is that was previously blocked by section 4 and 5 of the VRA. These sections made it impossible for specific areas with previously discriminatory voting laws to pass new ones without approval by the federal government.
When the courts struck these laws down in 2013, it was said that we, as a nation, no longer needed to police ourselves, in part because we had a sitting African-American president, thus proving they were not required. If anything, I think that having Obama was a sign that these laws could work in favor of the disenfranchised and that was why the Court felt a need to weaken their power.
We are attacking the weakest members of our community, lashing out like a bunch of scared children. The power held by white men in this country is astounding considering that, if you add up all of the marginalized groups against them, they are significantly outnumbered. Equality is all I care about, and this is not equal. If you have to stifle voices for yours to be heard, then you are in the wrong — or are your convictions so fragile that they cannot withstand the eye of scrutiny?
Studies have shown that this system has mostly impacted the African-American community. According to the New York Times, 1 in 5 African-Americans no longer have the right to vote in Florida, our country’s most notorious swing state. These large-scale systems aren’t going away either. It is up to us to hold our local systems accountable and make sure we are aware of our privilege and responsibility to vote. This Nov. 6, I urge you to make your voice count and remember that if your vote wasn’t important then they wouldn’t try so hard to take it away from you.