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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Voter ID and the 'Jim Crow' Lie

[ Patrick Tuohey ]

[The following is an excerpt from James Taranto's June 21 Best of the Web Today column.]

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, Baghdad Bob of the liberal left, dutifully trots out the latest propaganda line. He claims that "an attack on the right to vote is underway across the country," through, among other things, antifraud measures requiring voters to present identification before casting a ballot:

Besides Texas, states that enacted voter ID laws this year include Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Tennessee. Indiana and Georgia already had such requirements. . . .
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, by 6 to 3, upheld Indiana's voter ID statute. So seeking judicial relief may be difficult. Nonetheless, the Justice Department should vigorously challenge these laws, particularly in states covered by the Voting Rights Act. And the court should be asked to review the issue again in light of new evidence that these laws have a real impact in restricting the rights of particular voter groups.
"This requirement is just a poll tax by another name," state Sen. Wendy Davis declared when Texas was debating its ID law early this year. In the bad old days, poll taxes, now outlawed by the 24th Amendment, were used to keep African Americans from voting. Even if the Supreme Court didn't see things her way, Davis is right. This is the civil rights issue of our moment.
In part because of a surge of voters who had not cast ballots before, the United States elected its first African American president in 2008. Are we now going to witness a subtle return of Jim Crow voting laws?

Here Dionne parrots an assertion by the unwieldily named Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who said earlier this month that Republicans "want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws." (Literally? She's lucky there's no literacy test for members of Congress.) Even the left-leaning site PolitiFact.com rated this false.

The claim is that laws requiring voters to show identification impose a special burden on black citizens and are therefore discriminatory. Why this should be the case is never clearly explained, but in any case it is bunk. As PolitiFact notes:

Jim Crow was about much more than just voter disenfranchisement. While laws to restrict voting were an important part of the system of Jim Crow, they were just one part. . . . Legalized discrimination in the South ran the gamut from separate hotels and buses to to unequal schools to separate water fountains.

Many landmark civil rights cases involved not voting but public accommodations--services provided to the general public by government or private companies, which were segregated in the Jim Crow South. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana law that required railroads to "provide equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored races" in passenger trains. Decades later, the court repudiated the doctrine of "separate but equal." And in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. (1964), the high court upheld the Civil Rights Act, passed a few months earlier. The unsuccessful plaintiff in that case was "the owner of a large motel in Atlanta, Georgia, which restricts its clientele to white persons."

Today railroads and hotels, along with almost all providers of public accommodations in almost all circumstances, are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race. So what happens when you ride on Amtrak, the government-subsidized railroad? You hear an announcement over the PA system advising you to be prepared to show your identification if the conductor asks to see it.

Likewise, these days there is a good chance you will be asked for identification when you check into a hotel. You need ID to board an airplane or to drive a car. Recently we visited a doctor whose office is in a hospital. Just to enter the premises, we needed to present ID to a security guard.

If black people have trouble producing identification, how come nobody ever claims that these requirements are discriminatory?

Another important aspect of civil rights is equal employment opportunity. Under the 1986 immigration law, when you are hired for a job, you are required to provide your employer with documents proving both your identity and your citizenship or legal residency. How come nobody ever claims these requirements discriminate against blacks?

[botwt0621]It is possible that the ID requirements for planes, trains, automobiles, hotels, hospitals and jobs have justifications so compelling as to justify discrimination. It is also possible that by contrast, as Dionne maintains, preventing election fraud is not a sufficiently compelling justification. The point here is that no one has ever had to make the former argument, because nobody claims ID requirements are discriminatory against blacks except when it comes to voting.

Why? If Dionne or Wasserman Schultz has a good answer, we'll be happy to acknowledge it in a future column. Our answer is that their claim of discrimination is a dishonest and divisive partisan appeal to blacks' fears of racism--fears that, in this instance, do not appear to have any basis in contemporary reality.

 

6/21/2011 9:00:04 PM

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