How a defender of new GOP voting laws accidentally revealed their nefarious origin: legal experts

How a defender of new GOP voting laws accidentally revealed their nefarious origin: legal experts

In right-wing media outlets — from Fox News and Newsmax TV to talk radio to Breitbart — it isn't hard to find MAGA Republicans furiously denying that there is anything racist about the voter suppression bills being pushed in state legislatures all over the U.S. But legal experts John C. Brittain and Dennis Aftergut, in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark this week, stress that saying a bill or law isn't racist doesn't make it any less racist. And they point out that during the Jim Crow years, apologists for voter suppression were also denying the truth.

While Brittain is a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, Aftergut is a former assistant U.S. attorney. The two of them delve into U.S. history in their article, noting the parallels between voter suppression in the past and voter suppression efforts in 2021.

"Denying racism in racist actions is nothing new," Brittain and Aftergut explain. "Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who in 1963, notoriously stood in a doorway trying to block federal troops from requiring the University of Alabama to integrate, once stated, 'I had to stand up for segregation or be defeated, but I never insulted Black people by calling them inferior. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous 1896 Supreme Court case whose segregationist 'separate but equal" doctrine lasted until its 1954 reversal in Brown v. Board of Education, Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote: 'Laws permitting, and even requiring, (the races') separation…. do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race."

According to Brittain and Aftergut, it is no coincidence that many of the voter suppression bills being pushed by Republicans in state legislatures are targeting areas with a lot of African-American residents.

"Voting-restrictive bills in Texas and Georgia are antagonistic to Black people," the legal experts observe. "For example, Texas' bills 'zero in' on Harris County, home of Houston, the country's fourth-largest city and the one with the state's largest African-American population. The Texas election bills outlaw the 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting that Harris County adopted in November 2020…. In 2020, while Texas overall voted 53 to 46 for Trump, Harris County went 56 to 43 for Biden."

Now-President Joe Biden also performed well in Austin and El Paso, both of which have a lot of non-White residents, in the 2020 election. El Paso is predominantly Latino and heavily Democratic.

"While legislation may have primarily partisan motivation, that makes it no less 'antagonistic' toward African-American election participation," Brittain and Aftergut argue. "Lest you miss that antagonism in the voting-restriction bills, one Texas Republican state representative, Briscoe Cain, praised the bills for maintaining the 'purity of the ballot box.' Presumably the 36-year-old spoke unwittingly, but it is striking that, as Texas historians have observed, that phrase goes back to Jim Crow as code for keeping blacks from polling places."

The legal experts continue, "Similarly, the Republican majority in Georgia's legislature has targeted Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta and its 51% Black population. First, the legislature has initiated the process of taking control of the county's independent elections board. Second, in Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb Counties, Georgia's new laws also reduce the number of absentee ballot dropboxes from 96 in 2020 to 23. Those are the state's four largest counties and the four with the largest Black populations."

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