The End of Reconstruction 2.0

The pundit argument coming out of the last election that the Republican Party must make an immigration deal to appeal to Latino voters has just gone out the window. Rather than changing the Party’s message or even its positions to appeal to Latinos, it’s a heck of a lot easier to just disenfranchise them — which the Supreme Court has just enabled the Republicans to do.

The recent Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act marks the end of Reconstruction 2.0.  The first Reconstruction, after the Civil War, ended in 1877 with a deal between the Republicans and Democrats — the Republicans got the White House (Rutherford B. Hayes became president), while the Democrats got an end to Federal intervention in the South.  This enabled Southern Whites to disenfranchise Blacks and retake control of Southern politics.

The end of Reconstruction 2.0 was much slicker.  The majority of the Court essentially decided they were tired of the old rule, that America had somehow moved beyond racism and didn’t need Federal oversight of state law, or at least, not this particular rule. Of course, hours after the decision was made, North Carolina and Texas immediately announced they would bring back to the floor bills the Justice Department had killed, claiming they would only serve to disenfranchise Blacks and Latinos.  To the Republicans of those two states, disenfranchisement was the point.

Now these states — and all the other states with Republican-dominated legislatures — will soon be enacting every sort of law they can think of to eliminate minority voting.  Say goodbye to Sunday voting (Black churches organize drives to bring their parishioners from the church to the polls).  Say goodbye to early voting (early voters are predominantly Democrats).  Say hello to Voter ID laws (many poor people don’t have driver’s licenses).

Although disenfranchised voters can still sue, the burden is now on private groups to contest the laws through the courts, rather than just the Justice Department making a decision, greatly increasing the cost and complexity of fighting the states.

It’s unclear how many poor people, Blacks and Latinos will now be prevented from voting — 10%? 40%?  But even small changes to the voting population will have major effects on state and national races.

So the Republicans have bought themselves another decade, maybe even two, before they have to worry much about broadening their appeal.  They may lose a few more presidential elections, but they will maintain their control of the Congress, and maybe at some point even gain the Senate.  It’s going to be a long, tough slog from here.A


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