Experts call voter suppression laws disgraceful, historic

Law experts, leading professors and advocacy strategists met for two days to discuss and craft suggested policy around issues affecting voter suppression, critical race theory, immigration, violent extremism and the funding of insurrections.

The summit, “A Social Justice Policy Summit: A New Administration,” was held December 8-9 and sponsored by the American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and the ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice to create awareness around racial equity and social justice.

A pressing topic at the summit was figuring out ways to stop voter suppression. Currently there are two bills before Congress that could help to remedy it.

Legal experts on the panel, “Legislative Backlash: Anti-Protest Bills, Voter Suppression Laws and Critical Race Theory,” cited an increased state-by-state assault on voting rights.

Deborah Archer, president of the American Civil Liberties Union said she has seen voter suppression bills that cut early voting, voting by mail and polling locations in minority communities. She also cited laws that enacted voting purges and strict voter ID laws.

Archer, who teaches about inequality at the New York University School of Law, said though voter suppression is  “heartbreaking and disgraceful,” the efforts are a “totally predictable” consequence in reaction to an increase in political participation by people of color.

Wendy Weiser, vice president for Democracy at the Brennan Center for Justice, has been tracking and fighting efforts to restrict access to voting for a decade. She said the push this year “is the worst we’ve seen by a long shot.”

“What we’re seeing today, the state legislative push to restrict voting access in America, has been swift, aggressive, wildly successful and is the biggest legislative rollback of voting rights since Reconstruction,” Weiser said. “It is really quite dramatic.”

Since 2011, 96 restrictive voting laws have been put in place in 33 states and Weiser said one-third of them were enacted this year.

“The reality is worse than the numbers suggest because there is a growing number of states passing omnibus bills with many voting restrictions in them,” Weiser added.

Weiser suggests the only way to get back to “strong footing” with voting rights is for Congress to support the Freedom to Vote Act, which includes proven best practices and national standards that would stop suppression efforts and manipulation of voting rules to gain an advantage, and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would modernize and restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act.

“What happens in the coming weeks with this legislation will be critical not just to voting rights in America, but to the future of our constitutional democracy,” Weiser added. “I hope the Senate finds a path to get these bills over the finish line.”

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