The United States Supreme Court this morning decided that voting rights – guaranteed to all citizens in the 15th Amendment – are in fact entirely negotiable if particular states would prefer to greatly restrict them. In this case, the particular state is Ohio, which sought to purge minority voters from voters rolls in both a blatant and very effective attempt to tilt the state toward conservative candidates.
Ohio’s Attorney General, a Republican named Jon Husted, has argued that the voter purges are necessary because voting rights have to be used to be kept. He literally said as much in an interview:
“If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period…”
Husted’s understanding of voter rights mirrors the common understanding of rights widely shared throughout society, in which they are sacrificed if not used within a time-frame introduced by political partisans.
The Court’s majority opinion, written by Samuel Alito, agrees with Husted’s understanding of voting rights, deciding that, rather than being guaranteed to all citizens in a what-seems-to-be-very-clear 15th Amendment, they are in fact use-it-or-lose-it properties, which can be denied on a state’s whim if doing so would advantage conservative political goals. The officially accepted argument is that voters who skip an election, regardless of why, can be safely assumed to no longer want to vote, and can be prevented from voting accordingly; that Ohio doesn’t have same-day registration, meaning that voters who discover they have been removed cannot re-register on the day that they discover it, matters not to the current conservative majority. Alito – who was joined in his opinion by John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Neil Gorsuch – made the decision after collectively deciding that the following language in the National Voter Registration Act…
The NVRA prohibits any state from removing a registrant from the federal roll “by reason of the person’s failure to vote.” Congress intended this provision to protect Americans’ right to vote and not to vote, barring states from implementing a “use it or lose it” policy that punished infrequent voters.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
…were all just jokes not to be taken seriously, especially if the Court’s conservative wing wants to make it easier for conservative candidates to win elections by suppressing voter turnout, something the court’s conservative majority has seen as its outstanding obligation in the wake of Barack Obama’s first presidential win. Since that happened, the Court’s conservative majority has repeatedly asked itself, “What does our side need to do the tilt the scales even further in our favor?” and then made issued rulings adhering to those answers, including decisions to further empower conservative billionaires, decisions to suppress minority voter participation, and today’s decision. (Sonia Sotomayor’s blistering dissent, which notes that suppressing minority voter participation is quite obviously the point, makes the point far more eloquently.)
There will be those who claim that this description of today’s decision is unfair and that these justices cannot be held responsible for having decided things the way that they did. It should be considered entirely unrelated that today’s decision happens to benefit a voter suppression movement lead by unbelievably dishonest conservatives, and that any allegation that these two things are related is insufficiently deferential to the allegedly objective positions occupied by judges, and especially America’s most conservative ones. Yes, today’s decision aligns with what those particular judges want for America politically, and yes, today’s decision allows states to deprive their citizens of their right to vote, but to suggest that both are in any way related is inexplicably beyond the pale, because decency, or some similarly ridiculous attempt to excuse away the decision’s obvious intent.
Those making such defensive claims are either willfully deluding themselves about American institutions or are themselves part of the scam. This goes double for those who genuinely go along with the idea that Ohio’s goal is simply to keep its voter rolls accurate, and has nothing to do with an ongoing attempt to infringe upon the state’s minority voters. But for those who do willingly believe in such transparent hokum, surely the numbers themselves reveal that Husted’s purge was carried out without regard for political ideology?
In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, 5 percent of voters in neighborhoods that backed Obama by more than 60 percent in 2012 were purged last year due to inactivity, according to the Reuters analysis of the voter lists. In neighborhoods where Obama got less than 40 percent of the vote, 2.5 percent of registered voters were removed for that reason.
Why it’s just the damndest coincidence in the whole wide world!
But rest assured, there is nothing to see here, beyond the newly invented legal idea that rights can be forfeited if not used often enough, something that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority would definitely agree to in other similar examples.