“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” was Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s (D) pledge in 1963. It would be great if attitudes like that were buried long ago in the landfill of racist history. But looking at Alabama today, it can feel like not much has changed.
Taking a page right out of Wallace’s 60-year-old playbook, Republican state legislators are fighting back against a direct order from the Supreme Court to redraw racially gerrymandered electoral maps that disadvantage Black voters.
The legislature dragged its feet and finally responded to the court’s June ruling in Allen v. Milligan by submitting a new map with one hitch — legislators freely admit that it doesn’t meet the requirements for an additional majority-Black district. Earlier this month, judges on a federal district court panel threw out the new map and made a point of writing that they were “deeply troubled” by the legislators’ deliberate nose-thumbing.
That was good news. But these Alabama lawmakers clearly think they can win by losing, because now they can appeal to the Supreme Court again. The Alabama House Speaker, unafraid to say the quiet part out loud, declared that since the court’s ruling against them last time was 5-4, “there’s just one judge” that needs to “see something different” for them to win this time around.
Meanwhile, a federal court is ordering that yet another district map be drawn up by a special master and a cartographer. (When was the last time you heard of a cartographer?) The dispute sends the state’s redistricting process back almost to square one. And if it isn’t resolved in time, elections could eventually go forward under the old, discriminatory map.
And if anybody thought Alabama was alone in trying to turn back the clock, Florida has jumped into the fray. Just days before the federal court in Alabama rejected the legislature’s new map, a state judge in Florida nixed a redistricting plan there. That plan also would disenfranchise Black voters. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is its biggest fan.
Other states, including Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, are embroiled in court cases over their maps, too.
There are probably plenty of people who will brush this off as “just politics.” But for millions of Americans, this is personal. And painful.
A couple of weeks ago I had the honor to speak at the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. I’m a millennial, and in my speech, I told the crowd what I know in my heart: that my entire life was made possible by the people who fought 60 years ago for me. To see voting rights under attack again all these years later is a gut punch.
So we do what civil rights advocates did decades ago, and we fight. Back in the 1960s, the remedy was federal legislation. It can be again; there have been two bills in Congress recently that are designed to protect voting rights against attacks, including redistricting abuses like the ones we’re seeing in places like Alabama and Florida. These bills, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, came really close to passing as a package before GOP opposition and failure to reform the filibuster killed them in the Senate last year.
But that doesn’t mean giving up; the Freedom to Vote Act was reintroduced by Democrats in July. The John Lewis Act will be, too, as its sponsor Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) says she plans a reintroduction. Sewell, of course, is from Alabama — the eye of the storm.
And while there might not be much chance that the current GOP-controlled House will do the right thing on voting rights — not when Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) falsely compares the latest Alabama map scheme to redistricting in New York — we keep fighting.
We can thank the courts for handing voters a partial victory with rulings against racist maps. But the real victory needs to come next November when we go to the polls with a clear focus: Only vote for those who will protect our voting rights.
Svante Myrick is president of People for the American Way.
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