Today we honor the legacy and passing of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. Soon, we may be grieving at the passing of his legacy, as the landmark laws that were King’s greatest legislative achievements are litigated to death. Due to the Supreme Court’s recent far-right swing, the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and Fair Housing Act could all face extinction by Supreme Court decree.
Through its ability to deem whole laws or chunks of laws unconstitutional, the Supreme Court can wield unparalleled power over the laws of our country. In 2013, on a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court decreed an important piece of the Voting Rights Act to be null and void – the provision which required certain states to approve changes to voting and elections before implementing them. This provision was meant to stop bad practices from hurting voters before they even went into place. Since that decision, there has been a rash of voting restrictions going into place across the country, with more than half the states passing new laws.
Thanks to the Republicans’ successful theft of the Supreme Court seat from President Obama, Chief Justice Roberts is now considered the swing vote for upcoming trials about key civil rights laws. This is a scary thought, for many who have followed his judicial career. Roberts was considered an important figure in the Reagan Justice Department. There, he apparently “had it in” for the Voting Rights Act, according to a Justice Department lawyer who was there during that time. And, it was Roberts who wrote the decision for Shelby v. Holder that has already done so much damage to voting rights.
Upcoming Supreme Court cases could do even more damage, but there is hope. While the courts are supposedly neutral, history has shown that social movements have the ability to sway the courts’ opinions. This is certainly not the first time that the Supreme Court has enshrined discrimination through its decisions, and it won’t be the last.
Martin Luther King Jr. called voting rights the “Number one civil rights issue”. “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself,” King stated in a 1957 speech, “Give Us the Ballot – We Will Transform the South.” Republicans are afraid of unfettered voters because it will bring about the transformation promised in that title.
Protecting our democracy requires champions of voting rights in every community – regular people who are dedicated to working together against voter suppression efforts. As Bayard Rustin, a black queer mentor of MLK, put it, “we need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.” How can you be a troublemaker against the forces of voter suppression?
Here are a couple suggestions:
- Volunteer with or donate to a national organization fighting voter suppression, such as Let America Vote.
- Volunteer with or donate to local organizations that are champions of voting rights. For instance, if you’re in Georgia, you could support Fair Fight Georgia, or the New Georgia Project.
- Become a poll worker and be on the scene to make sure voters don’t face barriers or harassment.
- Support Heart of Democracy!
However you choose to support voting rights, the most important thing is to do something. Voting rights, civil rights, and the country as a whole needs this right now. No matter how dark our political realities might get we must remember another MLK quote, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”