SCOTUS Sticks it to Alaskans
Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court of the United States decided on a 5-4 vote to gut the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has a central provision, Section 5, that requires some state and local governments, mostly in the South, and also in Alaska, to get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes in their voting laws.
Indeed, it was the Voting Rights Act that was at the heart of successful efforts to stop states attempting to cut back on early voting hours and instituting voter identification laws that would have dramatically affected minority voter turnout during the 2012 election. Now, the opportunity to rely on the law to stop future efforts to curtail minority voting will have vanished in a 5-4 decision.
Alaska was included in Section 5 because of “educational discrimination” against Native Alaskans that resulted in higher rates of illiteracy, lower English proficiency, and diminished ability to read and understand questions on a ballot. Congress affirmatively included Alaska and Alaska Natives in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 1974 and in 2006, when the law was reauthorized.
This “preclearance requirement” for problem states has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court since the Voting Rights Act passed and stood as a crowning achievement of the Civil Rights movement.
Critics of Section 5 say it is a unique federal intrusion on state sovereignty and a badge of shame for the affected jurisdictions that is no longer justified. They point to high voter registration rates among blacks and the re-election of a black president as proof that the provision is no longer needed.
So, where does Alaska fall on this? Let’s check in with the man who is charged with overseeing the Division of Elections – Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell. Other than polishing the state seal, and various ceremonial photo op duties, overseeing the Division of Elections is pretty much his only responsibility. So, one would assume he takes that quite seriously.
Regarding the legislation that protects the voting rights of Alaska Natives, and other racial minorities, he’s totally against it. And you know why, right? Too much federal overreach.
The Parnell-Treadwell Administration actually filed an amicus brief in support of Shelby County Alabama which was the one to challenge the Voting Rights Act in the first place. And, they separately sued to invalidate Section 5 and protections for Alaska Natives. The amicus brief and lawsuit against the Voting Rights Act went counter to one filed by The Alaska Federation of Natives documenting persistent discrimination against Alaska Natives, including educational discrimination.
The Native American Rights Fund and other groups have provided voluminous documentation about discrimination against Alaska Natives, and Alaska’s entire Congressional delegation supported continued inclusion of Alaska when Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006. But that was then, and this is now.
“This comes down to protecting basic rights for all Alaskans,” said Mike Wenstrup, Chair of the Alaska Democratic Party.” As the overseer of the Division of Elections, it is unacceptable that Mead Treadwell would back the gutting of Alaska voter rights.”
So why, all of a sudden, is there this insistence on weakening the laws protecting Alaska Natives’ right to vote?
This month, Mead Treadwell launched a campaign opposing Senator Mark Begich (D) in his reelection bid. Begich won his spot in the Senate in 2008 by the narrowest of margins, and only because he enjoyed wide support from rural Native Alaskan communities who tend to vote Democratic.
But according to the Supreme Court, since the United States has a black President, it means that we now live in a post-racial society where ensuring the rights of minorities to cast their votes is just plain silly. And as a matter of fact, those states with recent histories of trying to keep minorities from voting are downright insulted that anyone thinks they still might want to do that.