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Bush's Voting Rights Act

July 27, 2006

In Washington today, President Bush signed a bill extending by 25 years the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In so doing, Bush once again succeeded in having it both ways. While publicly proclaiming his support for the Voting Rights in public, the Bush Justice Department has blocked its enforcement at every turn.
The President's rhetoric, of course, is designed to establish Bush's civil rights credentials and aid the Republican Party's outreach to moderate and African-American voters. On Martin Luther King's birthday in January, President Bush solemnly intoned, "We all must recognize we have more to do. And Congress must renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965." (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales followed suit, proclaiming, "The right to vote is fundamental to the American dream, and so we will push for re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act.") In his one and only address to the NAACP last week, Bush declared to applause, "President Johnson called the right to vote the lifeblood of our democracy. That was true then, and it remains true today." And in signing the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization of 2006, the President once again offered lofty phrases of support, proclaiming, "Congress has reaffirmed its belief that all men are created equal." The Voting Rights Act of 1965, Bush said, "broke the segregationist lock on the voting box."
As it turns out, not so much.

Behind the scenes, Bush the civil rights crusader has been undermining the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act in practice. The President's subterfuge has been accomplished by simply having his Justice Department automatically grant the required "pre-clearance" to coercive, exclusionary voting laws emanating from the Act's nine suspect southern states. In Georgia, in Texas and in Mississippi, Attorney General Gonzales simply reversed the decisions to withhold clearance made by the career staff of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. As a result, Gonzales in his application of the Voting Rights Act differs little from the coterie of neo-confederate Republican Congressmen who so vociferously - and unsuccessfully - opposed its extension.
To see the two faces of the Bush White House at work, the case of Georgia's voter ID card program is particularly instructive. In March 2005, the GOP-controlled Georgia legislature passed a voter identification law. Nominally aimed at countering voter fraud, the transparent aim of this virtual poll tax is to suppress the African-American vote - and Democratic prospects - in the state, especially in Atlanta. The bill's sponsor, Augusta Republican Sue Burmeister explained that when black voters in her black precincts "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls."
Under the law as originally passed, Georgia voters would have to present one of six officially recognized forms of identification. Those without driver's licenses would have to pay $20 a new digital ID card, available at motor vehicle offices in only 59 of Georgia's 159 counties. The impact of the law would be dramatic. The ACLU estimated that as many as 153,000 Georgians would be impacted (based on 2004 numbers) across the state.
Unfortunately for the Republican Party, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 not only banned poll taxes, but mandated that Georgia and eight other southern states must submit proposed voting rules changes to the Justice Department for review of their impact on minority voters. This "pre-clearance" process allows DOJ to block laws and rule changes in the suspect states that would dilute minority voting.
Which is where the Bush Justice Department comes in. As the Washington Post reported in November, Bush political appointees overruled the overwhelming recommendation of DOJ career staff that the Georgia ID program be halted. In a 51-page memo on August 25, 2005, the Civil Rights Division review team voted 4-1 to block the Georgia law. The next day, however, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his aides granted pre-clearance.
Today, the Georgia ID program is in limbo, thanks to the action of the federal courts. In October, a U.S. District Court blocked the plan, comparing it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax. In response, the Georgia legislature passed and Republican Governor Sonny Perdue signed (just days before the death of Coretta Scott King) a modified version of the ID program. The changes, however, once again failed to withstand judicial scrutiny in July, with Judge Harold Murphy delivering a stern rebuke from the bench.
The Bush administration also performed its charade of pre-clearance in the infamous Texas redistricting case. The Supreme Court ultimately endorsed the legitimacy of the unprecedented 2002 gerrymandering Tom Delay and Texas Republican legislature used to pick up six GOP House seats. The Court, however, in a separate 5-4 ruling that Texas' new 23rd district violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act with its suspicious gerrymandering shifting 100,000 Hispanic voters elsewhere.
Once again, the Bush administration was on the other side of the argument. Gonzales' Justice Department supported the position of the state of Texas in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry. Once again, the career staffers voted overwhelmingly to block pre-clearance of the Texas plan. And once again, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales unilaterally overrode their decision. In December of 2005, Gonzales simply decided to ban staff opinions in voting rights cases.
Which brings us back to President Bush's voting rights act in Washington today. Flanked by the Attorney General, Bush offered soaring platitudes in tribute to the Voting Rights Act his administration has enforced once during his presidency.
That was against the African-American head of the Democratic Party in sparsely populated Noxubee County, Mississippi to protect the voting rights of the county's minority white voters.
UPDATE: The AP just released a story describing calls by civil rights leaders for President Bush to actually enforce the new Voting RIghts Act he just signed. As should be clear from the history above, they should be wary of Bush's empty promise that "My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court."

2 comments on “Bush's Voting Rights Act”

  1. Mr. George "forked mispeaking tongue" Bush...Satan's representative on earth...because this is where hell is.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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