Last month marked 58 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, ushering in long-overdue voter protections to protect Black Americans from the evils wrought under Jim Crow.
But the landscape we are facing in 2023 is one where I fear our history is repeating itself.
Our elections should reflect the will of the people, not the will of politicians. But across our country, and especially in Southern states (like my beloved state, North Carolina), we are continually seeing politicians launch calculated and unethical attacks against our freedom to vote. These underhanded efforts range from manipulating our voting maps to diluting the voting power of communities of color to rolling back mail-in and early voting options that are widely used methods for many voters of color.
There are small things to celebrate, however. The U.S. Supreme Court delivered some much-needed relief this term in two consequential decisions, Allen v. Milligan and Moore v. Harper, that kept intact some critical protections against these brazen attempts to grab power by any means.
First, in Allen v. Milligan, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state of Alabama and reaffirmed the Voting Rights Act’s role in stopping politicians from diminishing the voting power of Black and brown communities.
Then, in Moore v. Harper, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the dangerous, and reckless, “independent state legislatures theory” that sought to give state legislatures unchecked power to change elections laws without facing the scrutiny of state judicial reviews.
This fringe case stemmed from a desperate attempt by a group of highly partisan legislators to overturn a fair maps victory that Common Cause and other voting rights advocates secured in my home state of North Carolina. Before being elected to Congress, I spent a decade serving in the North Carolina General Assembly and saw firsthand the extreme lengths some of my colleagues would go to tip the scales in undemocratic efforts to maintain one-party rule.
While relieved that we held the line in these court cases that risked upending the fundamental rules of our democracy, I know this is not a time to rest.
I am calling on my colleagues in the Congress to pass long overdue and comprehensive voter protections. The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom of Vote Act would reverse the considerable damage done to the Voting Rights Act by the courts over the last decade and stop this new generation of Jim Crow laws that have reared their heads in too many states, including North Carolina. While the House of Representatives has passed versions of these sorely-needed bills multiple times in recent years, continued Republican filibusters in the Senate have prevented them from becoming law.
Like the Supreme Court, Congress has a pivotal role in ensuring every eligible voter in America can cast a ballot and have an equal say in the future of our communities. We must act now to protect the very grounds of our democracy before it’s too late.
Valerie Foushee represents North Carolina’s 4th District. Before her election to Congress, she served for a decade in the North Carolina General Assembly.
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