Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2019

Currently: 56° — Complete forecast

Guest column:

Kavanaugh’s record on voting rights is alarming

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has sparked conversations about how a conservative majority of justices could affect historically oppressed communities.

At Make It Work Nevada, we resist policies and practices that constrict communities of color and women. While we know that a court with Kavanaugh in place of Anthony Kennedy could roll back abortion access, religious freedom, affirmative action and more, it’s important to remember that voting rights are on the chopping block too.

The possibility of living in a country with rampant voting restrictions is quickly becoming a reality with this announcement. In 2011, South Carolina attempted to implement a policy requiring stricter photo identification requirements for voters. Mind you, the lawmakers in support of this bill did not present one case of voter fraud as evidence of its need. These requirements would disproportionately affect black voters, and black legislators in South Carolina knew it. They staged a walkout when the first version of the bill was introduced to the House in 2009. In 2011, the bill was signed into law, but the federal government intervened, claiming such a law violated the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, fought for long and hard in the civil rights movement, outlawed methods used by southern states to prevent African-Americans from voting. The Voting Rights Act prohibits states from implementing such voting qualifications as the literacy test given to black voters in Jim Crow Alabama. In the case of South Carolina, the Justice Department rejected the law.

That’s where Kavanaugh comes in. As a judge on the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012, he voted to uphold the South Carolina Voter ID law that the Obama administration had struck down. He denied the law’s potential impact of disenfranchising nearly 80,000 voters, insisting that the law was misunderstood by the Justice Department.

At the time of his judgment, 19 states had just implemented a slurry of voting restrictions that disproportionately targeted voters of color. These states included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia — all states with a deeply entrenched history of racism and voter suppression.

Fast forward to now. We are living in a country that just gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, removing provisions that required states with a history of voter suppression to obtain federal preclearance prior to implementing new voting requirements. If you pair that with the fact that SCOTUS conservatives supported voter purging and racial gerrymandering in recent years, you see that America has a very real possibility of going backward.

Americans are diverse in opinions and may think voter restrictions could improve U.S. elections by cutting down on fraudulent ballots. They may also think that requiring voters to produce different forms of photo identification is not too much to ask.

Neither of these is the case.

Many elected leaders reject the notion of voter fraud. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham, all Republicans, have all refuted the idea that false ballots are being cast in mass numbers. Nevada’s Secretary of State, Barbara Cegavske, reported that there was no evidence of voters casting illegal ballots in Nevada in the 2016 election.

As for the idea that requiring photo identification is an easy ask, consider Larrie Butler’s story. The South Carolina-born man moved to Maryland after serving in the military. In 2010, when he returned to South Carolina, he was told he needed a South Carolina ID to vote. The then-84-year-old jumped through numerous hoops to get the documentation required for an ID and voting access, all to be told he could not yet be part of their democratic process. Butler was born at a time when black people were not allowed in some hospitals in the South and as a result, he was born at home without a birth certificate.

All of this being the case, can we afford to put Kavanaugh in a position of power? The fight for equality has been a steady push, with each generation building upon the work of the prior, and our future has no room for racist policies. Join us in making sure the court is as fair as possible by urging our senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Dean Heller, not to confirm Kavanaugh.

Carmella Gadsen is the organizing fellow for Make It Work Nevada, a legislative advocacy program for working families.