Voting Rights in Black and White
As the AP reported today, the Bush administration once again appears to be standing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on its head. In an unusual lawsuit, the Justice Department is bringing action against Ike Brown, the African-American head of the Democratic Party in sparsely populated Noxubee County. Brown, the suit contends, used coercion and intimidation to prevent the white voters, who make up only 30% of the county, from going to the polls.
This is neither to suggest that Brown did or did not undertake the suppression of the white vote in Noxubee County nor to deny the possibility of voter suppression by entrenched African-American political machines. But given the track record of George W. Bush and the Civil Rights Division in his Department of Justice, Americans should be very suspicious indeed.
The Bush DOJ, after all, has not brought a suit on behalf of disenfranchised black voters since 2001. Far from backing African-American claims of voter suppression and intimidation, Alberto Gonzales has spurned enforcement of the Voting Rights Act in Mississippi, Texas, and Georgia. This despite promises from both Bush and Gonzales that the administration supported the extension of the 1965 Act.
The Georgia case is particularly instructive. As I wrote back in January, Gonzales overruled a review team of his own Civil Rights Division, which voted 4-1 not to grant Georgia's new ID card law the "pre-clearance" required by the DOJ under the Voting Rights Act. Ultimately, a U.S. District Court last October blocked the law passed by Georgia Republicans to smother black voter turnout. Eventually, the Georgia legislature approved and Governor Sonny Perdue signed a revised voter ID law. (In a bitter twist of irony, the late Coretta Scott King would lay in state in the Georgia House just days after the bill's passage.)
Judging from the AP story, Ike Brown sounds like quite the character and something may very well be rotten in Noxubee County. But when it comes to rights of African-American voters, the rot is usually coming from the Bush White House.