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Renée Graham

The Supreme Court aids and abets voter suppression

A Liberty Bell sign at a Democratic voter registration drive in Philadelphia.
A Liberty Bell sign at a Democratic voter registration drive in Philadelphia.Ruth Fremson/New York Times/File

WHO NEEDS a poll tax when you have John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Neil Gorsuch?

The US Supreme Court is aiding and abetting voter suppression. In a partisan 5-4 decision this week, the court upheld a harsh Ohio law that allows the state to remove from its voting rolls infrequent voters who have also failed to respond to an address confirmation notice from election officials.

Imagine if states could snatch away your license just because your car spends more time in the garage than on the road. This, of course, is far worse, and it won’t end with the Buckeye state. This is an assault on a constitutional right that, last time I checked, didn’t come with an expiration date.


Pure and simple, this is a voter purge. And if it’s bad for most people, it’s nothing short of disastrous for the historically disadvantaged, especially people of color, those with disabilities, and low-income people.

Between 2011 and 2016, Ohio purged more than 2 million registered voters, with African-Americans in the state’s largest counties twice as likely as white people to be removed.

In her separate dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “Our democracy rests on the ability of all individuals, regardless of race, income or status, to exercise their right to vote.” President Trump, meanwhile, gloated on Twitter. “Just won big Supreme Court decision on Voting!” he tweeted Monday. “Great News!”

At the time, he was on his way to meet his new BFF, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who also has no use for democracy.

For a change, Trump is right. This is great news for anyone who wants the Voting Rights Act eviscerated — and that means the party he leads. Remember all of his rants about rigged elections and voter fraud in the 2016 general election? Without a speck of evidence, Trump claimed that at least 3 million people fraudulently voted in that election.


There’s no proof of widespread voter fraud. Then again, Trump doesn’t care about proof or fair elections; he’s only interested in hindering specific groups from exercising their right to vote. And long before Trump became president, Republicans, with a major assist from the Supreme Court, were laying that groundwork for him.

In 2013, another 5-4 decision by the court freed jurisdictions with histories of discrimination to make election changes without federal approval. By 2016, nearly half of all states had enacted new voting restrictions. They ranged from changes in absentee ballots and early voting periods to voter ID laws and polling place closures. And yes, this benefited Trump more than Hillary Clinton.

It was the first presidential election in 50 years without full Voting Rights Act protection. Now states have a green light to purge its voting rolls.

Fifty-five years ago this week, Medgar Evers, who led voter registration drives in Mississippi, was assassinated outside his home — one of many murdered in the name of voting rights. Vernon Dahmer died after the Klan set his house on fire. Viola Liuzzo was shot in the head. James Reeb was beaten to death by white supremacists. Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were kidnapped, executed, and buried in a shallow grave.

Benjamin Tillman, an early 20th century segregationist and South Carolina US senator, once described efforts to keep black people from voting: “We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.”


More than a century later, neither Trump nor these conservative justices are ashamed of efforts to obstruct millions from our most fundamental right. Paid for in blood, the right to vote should be recognized as sacrosanct by every American, regardless of politics. If its erosion by Republicans and their black-robed allies on the high court goes unchallenged, this fractured nation is destined to suffer the disgrace of a democracy that exists in name only.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.