The Jim Crow Five and the Coming Political War 12/13/2000

By Nathan Newman <

Last night, five Justices of the Supreme Court declared that
the 14th Amendment was created to suppress the black vote
and protect the white corporate elite's hold on power. In
the name of "equal protection", these five Jim Crow Justices
sanctified the results of an election where black voting
districts often saw as many as 25% of their votes thrown
into the trashcan of inaccurate machine counts.

As dissenting Justice Stevens noted, for all the majority
worried about possible inconsistencies in hand counts from
different counties, they seemed blithely unconcerned about
the fact that there was no consistency in the very voting
systems used in different counties. Largely poor and black
districts were systematically more likely to use the
inaccurate punch card voting systems, while richer whiter
districts saw their votes protected by more accurate optical
scanning systems. Yet the Jim Crow Court majority upheld
such county-based inequalities in the name of - get this -
"local expertise."

That the Rehnquist majority has thrown away all credibility
for their supposed "states rights" federalism jurisprudence
is a given. But that basic hypocrisy pales before the
obscenity of Chief Justice William Rehnquist's concurring
opinion, a decision evoking equal protection by a man who 
as a law clerk at the time of Brown v. Board of Education
argued "I think Plessy v. Ferguson, the legal foundation 
for mandatory racial segregation, was right and should be
re-affirmed." This is a man who would later in the 1950s 
and 1960s lead GOP efforts at polls in Arizona to harass 
and disenfranchise black voters using the literacy tests and
other tools of Jim Crow voter intimidation. Yet this man had
the audacity last night to cite civil rights precedents in
overruling the Florida Supreme Court.

Dripping with contempt, Justice Ginsberg decried Rehnquist's
"casual citation" of cases overturning state Supreme Court
decisions made "in the face of Southern resistance to the
civil rights movement" when the situation in Florida was
"hardly comparable." Left unsaid was the fact that Rehnquist
was aligned with that Southern resistance to civil rights;
his citation of those cases was an Orwellian twisting of
history to protect the racist disenfranchisement of voters
in Florida that those cases were originally meant to stop.

Evidence from the Florida election has continued to show
that the old Jim Crow techniques have given way to new, only
slightly more sophisticated forms of voter intimidation 
and disenfranchisement. The NAACP and other groups have
documented systematic efforts to block black and latino
voting, from police roadblocks to illegal demands for
multiple IDs. But the most truly odious addition to the 
Jim Crow arsenal this election was what some have dubbed
"disenfranchisement by database." In Florida, Secretary of
State Katherine Harris hired a company called Choicepoint,
run by a bevy of GOP corporate funders, to produce a
blacklist of voters to purge from the voting rolls. These
names were supposedly purged because they were felons, but
the list was so inaccurate that well over 7000 innocent
people - 54% of them black - were illegally stripped of
their right to vote by Harris and Choicepoint.

It is this partisan theft of the election through dis-
enfranchisement that Rehnquist and the rest of the Jim Crow
Five upheld last night.

One might think that this racist disenfranchisement was an
isolated act of opportunism to gain Presidential power. But
the disenfranchisement of blacks, latinos and others who are
rapidly becoming the new majority in America, is actually
the very threat that has driven the GOP to this partisan
election theft, from preelection purges of the rolls to the
thugs at the Miami-Dade canvassing board to last night's
Court decision. The GOP corporate elite sees the coming
demographic shift and knows it may very well spell the 
end of their easy dominance through racial scapegoating.

In their screwed up and conflicted way, the Democrats have
been and continue to be the vehicle for the self-empowerment
and enfranchisement of a whole range of excluded groups in
our society, from the Civil Rights Acts to Motor Voter to
the expansion of citizenship for new immigrant groups, and
the corporate Right decided that this process needed to be
turned back in this election. The corporate Right has only
had to look at what's going on in California, as latinos and
other non-whites have become the majority and the GOP has
been nearly obliterated as a political force, to fear for
the future. New pro-union, pro-education and pro-health 
care policies have been passed by the state legislature and
even more radical change in the state is mobilizing in the
streets. The Right tried and failed to stem that political
tide in California through anti-immigrant measures like Prop
187 and anti-affirmative action measures like Prop 209. They
now justifiably fear the future as the same demographic and
political upheaval will extend to other states and across
the country.

The fight over who is a citizen, who is enfranchised to
vote, and the whole gambit of "electoral profiling" to 
shut down the voting power of the excluded is the chasm of
conflict that has been revealed in this election. And it's
not going away. The Jim Crow Five on the Supreme Court felt
the need to jump in to stand square against the right to
vote. In ringing words, the majority proclaimed that "the
individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to
vote for electors for the President of the United States"
except at the sufferance of state legislators and, apparently, 
the United States Supreme Court. And if there is no right to
vote, the Court has established the precedent for a whole
onslaught of subtle and possibly not-so-subtle attempts to
deny that right to vote to all sorts of groups in coming

To understand why the Supreme Court majority would so
blatantly undermine its credibility as it did in this 
case, you have to see it as a sacrifice play - trade off
credibility on a whole host of other issues in order to try
to win on the most fundamental issue and always the issue in
our partial democracy - who is a citizen and who shall rule
along the color line of corporate America.

But the Court's racist actions are likely to gain little 
but a delay in the face of rising activism by not only blacks
and latinos but allied unions and other progressive forces.
By stripping the illusion of impartial legitimacy from the
organs of power, the Jim Crow Five will only help progressives 
organize greater unity in the fact of their attack. Blacks,
latinos, the elderly, the disabled - those immediately dis-
enfranchised by this latter-day Jim Crow Court are only the 
most obvious candidates for questioning the fundamental
legitimacy of our whole corporate-dominated system.

In his dissent, Justice Stevens noted the fundamental hole
the majority had ripped in the legitimacy of the system:
"Although we may never know with complete certainty the
identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election,
the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's
confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the
rule of law."

With Rehnquist's racist past highlighted by last night's
decision, the Supreme Court has shed its aura of neutral
protector of authority and been revealed as the pure naked
partisan protector of racial and corporate privilege it has
become under the Jim Crow Five.

The establishment's loss of confidence will be the gain for
progressive forces as we organize against the illegitimate
stolen GOP Presidency and against the corporate interests
pulling the strings from the shadows. The stealing of this
election by the Right is only a temporary thumb in the dike
against the progressive forces, embittered by this racist
action, that will flood the streets and polls in coming


Copyright (c) 2000 Nathan Newman. All Rights Reserved.