Last week's column made a brief mention of why I think Eric Holder is a disgrace. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough space to tell you what I really think of him. Here, fortunately, I do.
Last Tuesday, one of my clients became an American citizen. He did it the hard way, unlike those of us who were fortunate enough to be born on native soil (thanks, Mom.) From “illegal” immigrant, to lawful permanent resident to-finally-naturalized citizen, “Abdul” made a lot of sacrifices to proclaim “I am an American.” And guess what his first words were, uttered moments after passing the exam? “Now, I can vote.”
To the distressingly large percentage of our compatriots who can’t be bothered to make it to their local polling places, caught up as we are in the minutiae of our daily lives, that might not seem like a big thing. But to someone who comes from a place where heading to the polls means risking your life (try Afghanistan) it is the difference between abject servitude and the chance to be heard at a political level. Sure, one person’s vote is unlikely to make a significant change in the grand scheme of things. But to that single person, it is a badge of dignity, and honor.
And under our Constitution, the best in a world of infinitely inferior alternatives,t the franchise is a fundamental right. That’s why it’s so important to guarantee its integrity.
Recently, a number of states have mounted initiatives to ensure that those who have a right to vote can, and those who haven’t earned that right don’t. Some of these efforts include Voter I.D. requirements that mandate photo identification at polling places. Critics see a nefarious, racially-motivated attempt to keep the poor and minorities from exercising their constitutional rights. They compare these efforts at preserving the integrity of the vote to historical efforts to suppress the voices of Blacks and the indigent, things like the illegal poll taxes which placed a monetary barrier to legitimate voters.
Of course, those things are not only illegal, but immoral. You cannot deprive a citizen of his or her right to change government. It is as fundamental to democracy as the right to speak freely, to worship, to be free from unwarranted searches and, yes, to bear arms.
When my father was a young lawyer, he spent a summer in Mississippi registering people to vote. At that time, there was the very real risk that you could be killed for trying to demand your unalienable right to be heard at the ballot box. Jim Crow caused rivers of blood to flow, and perverted the nature of this country, until its better angels could take control. The same thing can be said of laws which prevented women from voting, reducing them to societal footnotes.
But despite what some may argue with their skewed statistics, there is no national conspiracy to keep people from voting. The Voting Rights Act is still in force, and even though the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department has recently perverted the meaning and application of the Act by, in some cases, ignoring discrimination against non-minorities (as we in Philadelphia saw with the Black Panthers on election day three years ago) voting rights are protected. Eric Holder may come out and say, as he recently did, that electoral laws are being used to advance discrimination, but the Attorney General has yet to explain how forcing someone to prove they are citizens violates their fundamental rights.
He has a particularly hard time explaining how the South Carolina requirement of government-issued photo identification amounts to a 'poll tax' when the state has also made provisions to provide that identification, free of charge. Hear that, Mr. Attorney General? The only thing the voter has to do is show up and get his or her photo taken. And if that's too much darn trouble well, then, that person can do something else on election day.
You cannot vote unless you are a citizen, either native born or naturalized. Proving this is not an option. You may disagree with the methods used to prove eligibility, but a requiring a photo I.D. in a country where even the homeless have cell phones with computer capabilities (remember the Occupy floaters?) doesn’t seem to be too much to ask. I could understand the opposition if , for example, we asked people to list all of the Presidents alphabetically while standing on their heads (which would probably also violate the Americans With Disabilities Act.) But to demand that someone prove they are citizens by providing the easiest and most readily available form of identification is not only reasonable. It’s common sense.
In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s Voter I.D. law, rejecting arguments that it was a stealth move to make it more difficult for ‘undesirable minorities’ to vote and refused to find that such a law is “unconstitutional on its face.” Of course, people can always try and show that when applied, the regulation has a discriminatory impact. But so far, no one has been able to show authoritatively that racial and other minorities are harmed.
To Abdul, and to me, voting is a precious right. It should damn well be worth the few seconds it take to say ‘cheese.’