Nearly 150 years after the end of the US civil war, the South and the federal government are poised for a rematch over the voting rights of black Americans, and ultimately over the fundamental rights of all Americans. Once again, the former Confederate states are determined to defend their traditions and way of life, while the Union forces in the North – the federal government – are positioning themselves to defend justice and equality. But this time, in an ironic twist, two black men – President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder – are leading the charge. In the 1860s, the fight between the North and the South was about slavery and the right of the Confederate states to maintain a dreaded institution that kept people of African descent in bondage. Unprecedented carnage resulted. A century later – in light of the 1954 US supreme court decision in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, which ended racial segregation in public schools – the South struggled to maintain a Jim Crow system that kept black people legally and politically impotent, all in the name of states’ rights. Two hallmarks of the civil rights movement are the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, the legislative victories were achieved only through the blood of civil rights workers, both black and white, who were beaten, sprayed with fire hoses, shot, firebombed, bitten by police dogs and lynched.
The purpose of the Voting Rights Act was to apply a nationwide ban against discriminatory election practices such as literacy tests. The existing anti-discrimination laws, Congress concluded, were insufficient to overcome the Southern states’ resistance to the Fifteenth Amendment.
In June 2013, the nation’s high court cut the voting law at its knees in Shelby County v Holder when it eviscerated the key component of the act – the section 4 preclearance requirement – which determined which states must receive approval from a federal court or the Justice Department before making changes to their voting procedures. The act applied to nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – and various other localities and counties across the country.
In the second decade of the 21st century, the latest battle centers around southern states with a history of voting rights violations, and currently exhibit the most anti-black, racist sentiment. These states want to employ restrictive and racially discriminatory voter suppression methods such as voter ID. This time, the Republican party has replaced the Dixiecrats as the party of white supremacy and the old Confederacy, of racial discrimination and voter suppression. And Holder has decided to make an example of Texas, firing the first shot at the Lone Star state.