Let's try this exercise: Close your eyes and visualize a Republican legislator. Be honest. You're probably seeing a 40-something white guy, a little bit over the optimal weight for his height, with a suit that doesn't quite fit right. And a flag pin in his lapel.
There's nothing wrong with that. Most Republican legislators are white. Most Democratic legislators are white. Heck, for the time being, most Americans are white.
But now go back to that Republican guy. Look at him closely and tell me if you would trust that guy to stand up for the voting rights of all Americans, including those who don't look or think like him. If the guy is in the state Legislature in Arizona (or Texas or Virginia or a whole lot of other places), the answer is, sadly, a resounding no. He'll stand up for the voting rights of people who look and think like him. He considers that his patriotic duty because he's steadily running out of people who look and think like him.
For the past month, this guy and his ever-shrinking band of like- (and small-) minded homies have been absolutely giddy over the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to gut part of one of the greatest pieces of legislation in the history of this country—the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the decision for the 5-4 majority, came to the odd conclusion that while voter discrimination continues to exist, it doesn't look like it did back in the 1960s, so we don't need that part of the law any more.
When the law was first passed, Sections 4 and 5 were set to expire after five years. Section 4 contained a formula to determine which states would be required by Section 5 to have federal oversight of various election decisions (including redistricting, voter ID laws, etc.). Congress has routinely—and in a quite bipartisan fashion—extended them over the years. In 2006, they were extended for another 25 years. The vote in the Senate was 98-0.
Seriously, you'd have trouble getting the Senate to vote unanimously to pass a nonbinding resolution thanking a Cub Scout for helping an elderly person across the street. But, across party lines, the Senate felt strongly enough about protecting voting rights to go 98-0, only to have the Supreme Court step in and say, "Um, no." (And, believe me, "Um, no" is about as literate as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas et al. get in their headlong pursuit of their far-right-wing agenda.)
Arizona's leading Republican, Gov. Jan Brewer, showed off her GED skills in her response to the decision when she said, "It's another blow—another strike, if you will—for states' rights." It's absolutely guaranteed that she wouldn't have had that apostrophe in the right place had she written rather than spoken that clumsy-ass sentence.
It has long been a source of embarrassment that, other than Alaska, Arizona was the only state outside the redneck South where the act was applied statewide. However, in Arizona's meager defense, the act was also applied in certain counties in New York, California, South Dakota, North Carolina and Florida, as well as in some communities in Michigan.
To be fair (something that Republicans almost never are), the original reason for Arizona's inclusion on the list is semi-lame. It involved the fact that Arizona didn't have bilingual ballots in 1972. I think that a reasonable (and nonracist) argument can be made against multilingual ballots. For example, if we are going to insist that new citizens under immigration reform will be required to speak and read English, is it outrageous to ask the same of current citizens? Just askin'.
Republicans are quick to point to the fact that the original problem was remedied in 1974. But at the same time, they conveniently ignore their own recent efforts to screw people of color and those of lower means out of their right to vote. One of the loudest voices belongs to Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, who stretches logic like a piece of taffy—way beyond the breaking point—when he argues that our state never should have been included because, at the time of the action, Arizona had a Mexican-American governor (Raul Castro). That's just embarrassing. Bolick probably claims to have black friends, too.
It's somewhat ironic that we could probably count on Barry Goldwater to stand up for voters' rights, but not so for the organization named for him. (Goldwater, who famously—and inexplicably—voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was not in the Senate during the vote on the Voting Rights Act in 1965.) Meanwhile, the institute, which started out as a watchdog of government spending, has pretty much lost all credibility, having run itself off the rails with an absolutely inexcusable defense of secretive spending practices, with taxpayer money, by (public) charter schools.
Arizona voters will probably get a chance to vote next year on the exclusionary voting laws that were rushed through at the end of the recent legislative session. At the same time, Congress should probably reinstate Section 4, if for no other reason than to tell the Supreme Court to mind its own damn business. (As in, "Hey Scalia, why don't you just stick to fixing the outcome of presidential elections?")