Mia Brett

The Supreme Court paved the way for Republicans' voter suppression

Voting rights have a long complicated history in this country and we've never quite achieved the aspirational goal of a true democracy with universal enfranchisement. For much of US history, laws explicitly sought to limit the vote based on race, gender and wealth. Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, we as a country at least made universal enfranchisement the explicit goal, if not the reality. Unfortunately, this aspiration faced a major setback in 2013 when the United States Supreme Court invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act in the case Shelby v. Holder.

Since 2013, states all over the country, particularly those controlled by Republican legislatures, have scrambled to pass new voter-suppression laws now that they don't need federal approval. Congressional Democrats have a solution to this problem with the For the People Act, HR1, aimed at restoring the Voting Rights Act and instituting voting reforms to modernize voting across all states. Universal enfranchisement and improving democracy should be a clear bipartisan proposal, but Republican responses are showing voting rights remain an entrenched partisan issue in this country.

Until the Civil War and the Reconstruction amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th), voting rights were mostly left to the states. Voting based on race, gender and property requirements varied from state to state, or election to election. One theory used to limit enfranchisement in early America was that voters should be "disinterested." Theoretically "disinterested" voters would vote for the good of the whole community because they were wealthy enough to not need to vote in their own self interest.

Based on this theory, some freed Black people who met the property requirements were able to vote in Northern elections and occasionally widows with significant wealth could also vote. However, these groups could usually only vote in local elections and their rights were far from consistent. By the Civil War, enfranchisement had been expanded to most white men, but Black voting rights in the North had become more limited as a result. With the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments, the federal government became more involved in voting rights by guaranteeing the vote would not be denied based on race, previous condition of servitude or sex. It was not until the Snyder Act in 1924 that Native Americans were federally guaranteed the right to vote and non-White immigrants were still prevented from naturalization affecting their voting rights until race and gender were removed from naturalization considerations in 1952.

Federal law barred race as a consideration in voting laws after the 15th Amendment but that did not stop the Jim Crow South from passing superficially neutral laws intended to suppress the Black vote in application. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and felon disenfranchisement laws were all used to suppress Black voting rights without ever mentioning race in the text of the law. Literacy tests and poll taxes had "grandfather clause" exemptions to allow white people to vote despite the laws. Felon disenfranchisement laws targeted Black people because they were paired with the criminalization of Black people living in the Jim Crow South. The Voting Rights Act in 1965 made these discriminatory laws much more difficult to pass by requiring that Southern states get federal approval to pass voting reform laws. Unfortunately, since 2013, we are seeing a new wave of superficially neutral racist voter suppression.

Since 2013, states have passed restrictive voter ID laws while closing DMVs and polling places in majority Black neighborhoods. States have also limited early voting and voting hours. None of the laws go out of their way to mention race, but they were still able to target Black voting populations. These state laws also make it more difficult for women, gender non-conforming people and disabled people to vote.

This is what Georgia's new voting law hopes to accomplish. It may not mention race but the provisions in the law are a clear attempt to restrict Black and marginalized voting. Georgia already has a voter ID requirement and has closed DMVs and polling places across the state. As of 2019, Southern states had closed 1,200 polling places and many Georgia counties only had one. While the newly passed Georgia law expands early voting, it also adds new ID requirements for absentee voting, restricts access to ballot drop boxes, and shortens the time frame to request and return mail-in ballots.

Perhaps the two most egregious provisions in the new law are giving oversight election power to the election board, instead of the secretary of state, and making it illegal to provide food and water to those waiting in line. The argument is that providing food and water could be seen as influencing the voter but really it's just to make it harder for people to stand in line waiting to vote. Increasing the power of the state election board also increases the power of the Republican-controlled legislature.

The For The People Act is a necessary voting reform that would curb voter-suppression laws being passed all over the country and help modernize and expand enfranchisement. Republicans oppose the act by claiming it's an example of federal overreach or just admitting that it will hurt Republican chances of winning elections.

Even with the passage of HR1, universal enfranchisement is still a long way off. It would still permit voter ID laws that could disenfranchise groups. Polling places still won't be made universally ADA-compliant and the incarcerated will mostly still be disenfranchised. However, with the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, modernizing voter registration, early and mail-in voting and felon enfranchisement, the For The People Act act would be a huge leap forward in the goal of universal enfranchisement.

'Vaccine passports' are a common feature in American history

With a large portion of the country getting vaccinated, we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. To protect public health, certain activities will obviously require people to be vaccinated, a kind of policy that has existed in some form or another since the American Revolution. Despite the longstanding established practice, the idea of a "vaccine passport" has people making bizarre comparisons to the Holocaust and tyrannical governments. It is common practice for people to provide their vaccination records in order to go to school, have certain jobs and travel to certain countries. The concept of a "vaccine passport" is just to streamline this process and make it easier for people to show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination. If one doesn't want to get vaccinated, they might just have to forgo participating in certain activities.

Compulsory vaccination laws are justified legally based on the state's compelling interest in protecting the health and welfare of the population. It is common to restrain a little individual liberty in order to protect the safety of the larger society. Consider the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Our liberty must be restrained if said liberty has the likelihood of putting others at risk. This applies to gun laws, traffic laws, or bringing shampoo bottles on airplanes. If a person doesn't want to get vaccinated, that is their choice. But they likely forfeit traveling, attending schools, or having certain jobs.

It is common to restrain a little liberty in order to protect the safety of the larger society. Consider the Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."

Compulsory vaccination policies in this country began during the American Revolution. Smallpox was a huge threat to the Continental Army and word of the disease was actually halting enlistments. In order to protect soldiers and the war effort, General Washington ordered all new recruits receive the "variolation" for smallpox in 1776. The policy was successful at eradicating smallpox among soldiers, which helped the Continental Army defeat the British invasion at Saratoga.

The first law that required the general population get vaccinated was passed in Massachusetts in 1809. The state empowered local boards of health for towns to require free vaccinations of people over 21 if the boards felt it was necessary. If a person refused, they had to pay a $5 fine (about $100 in today's money). States across the country followed with their own compulsory smallpox vaccination laws though the specifics varied widely. Some only required compulsory vaccinations in the midst of an epidemic. Some only required vaccinations for children attending schools.

New York City exercised particularly broad power in allowing health officials to enforce vaccinations or quarantines. As a busy international harbor, the city felt particularly threatened by incoming diseases. As a result, immigrants and ships were often required to quarantine. Unfortunately, these policies often took on a distinctly anti-immigrant and nativist turn. Public health officials often blamed poor immigrants for spreading diseases rather than engaging in education to encourage vaccine compliance. Common policy in the late 19th century was to place a yellow flag in front of an infected building and not allow anyone in or out. However, there weren't clear guidelines on forcing a person to comply with a vaccination if they didn't want to. As a result, in 1894, Brooklyn's top health official Z. Taylor Emery would often enforce quarantines, to the point of not allowing provisions to be delivered, on those who refused being vaccinated. Emery's arbitrary and coercive policies resulted in backlash but the appeals court supported Emery's rationale of protecting the public.

In 1905, the question of compulsory vaccination laws made it to the United States Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. At the time, Massachusetts was one of 11 states that had compulsory vaccination laws. Jacobson was a Swedish immigrant who had a bad experience with a childhood vaccination. He refused the smallpox vaccination as an adult in Massachusetts. Jacobson was prosecuted and fined for refusing. He challenged the fine, claiming it was an invasion of his liberty. In a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory vaccination laws are not arbitrary or oppressive, as long as they don't "go so far beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public." Jacobson was affirmed in 1922 in Zucht v. King to support a school district refusing admittance to a student who was not vaccinated. That ruling was used as precedent in 2020 concerning cases resulting from COVID-19 policies.

There is a complicated history in the United States for compulsory healthcare with vulnerable communities. Coercive policies to force vaccinations might have produced results, but in 2021, we know better ways to encourage vaccination and public safety.

Education and restricting participation in certain activities, jobs and schools will likely be the vaccine policies going forward. We don't yet know exactly what activities will require proof of vaccinations, but such policies are not anything new. A "vaccine passport" on your phone will only serve to make the existing process of vaccine proof for schools, jobs and travel a little easier. This is a far cry from fascism or tyranny.

Mia Brett

Yes, the founders favored gun control

According to the Mass Shooting Tracker, there have already been 124 mass shootings in the United States in 2021. Most mass shootings are domestic violence incidents that never make the news. Unfortunately, the past two weeks have seen two tragic public mass shootings. Last week eight people, including six Asian women, were shot in Atlanta and this week a man killed 10 people in a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.

A week before the shooting in Boulder, a judge ruled that Boulder could not enforce its citywide ban on assault rifles that would have included the rifle used in the deadly shooting. An AR-15 style rifle was also used in the Las Vegas shooting, the Tree of Life shooting, Sandy Hook, Parkland, the Orlando nightclub shooting and more.

The judge's ruling in Boulder is particularly upsetting when you consider that 82 percent of mass shootings are committed using legally obtained weapons. Additionally, evidence shows that cities and states with stronger gun-control laws have fewer mass shootings and that the 1994 assault weapons ban curbed mass shootings as well as the number of deaths that occurred in mass shootings.

In reality, gun regulations were common among the British colonies before the American Revolution and well after the ratification of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

It is clear that the best defense we have against mass shootings and gun violence are gun control measures. Despite the fact that commonsense gun reform has wide support among Americans, the National Rifle Association is still able to block a lot of gun reform measures through lobbying and propaganda. One of their most successful media narratives has been to ahistorically change the purpose and meaning of the Second Amendment. We have hundreds of years of gun regulations and plain text readings of the Second Amendment, a "well-regulated militia," to support reasonable gun control. But the NRA has been so successful that many on both sides of the aisle believe the Second Amendment makes many gun regulations unconstitutional.

In reality, gun regulations were common among the British colonies before the American Revolution and well after the ratification of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Unsurprisingly, the first firearm regulations in the British colonies were racist and meant to keep guns out of the hands of Indigenous people. In 1619, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that allowed colonists to be put to death if they provided Indigenous people with "any piece, shot, or powder, or any other arms offensive or defensive." It was also common for colonies, and later states, to pass laws that made it illegal for enslaved Black people to own guns for fear of slave rebellions.

Most North American colonies continued the common law tradition of restricting traveling with firearms, or as we might call it, "open carry." It wasn't until an 1846 case, Nunn v. State, in Georgia that the "open carrying" of weapons was a protected right, but not the concealed carrying of weapons. While this case has been used as important precedent for contemporary gun rights, there is important context in the antebellum Southern concern over policing enslaved people and their possible rebellions. The case was a stark example of expanding gun rights to uphold slavery.

There were also gun regulations for practical safety concerns around the storage of firearms. Many states stipulated how gunpowder could be stored and transported as well as how much a person could own or possess. Cities like Boston also prohibited storing loaded guns in your home. Instead, guns had to be stored safely and unloaded. Some states passed laws about where a person could shoot a gun in order to protect population centers. Additionally, gun registration was a common part of gun ownership. Many states required that you register your weapon with the local militia.

During the American Revolution, there were gun regulations that many today would find extreme. Several states passed laws requiring people take loyalty oaths or risk confiscation of their weapons. Many were concerned with those still loyal to Great Britain posing an armed threat to the Continental Army and its cause. Even after the Revolution, states had provisions for disarmament of threatening citizens. After Shay's Rebellion, the Massachusetts governor offered pardons to those who participated but only if they swore an allegiance oath and offered their arms to the state.

One of the most controversial discussions about the Second Amendment is if its language guarantees an individual right to own a gun or if it only guarantees the right to those who are part of a militia group. It wasn't until 2008 that the Supreme Court ruled that Americans did have an individual right in District of Columbia v. Heller. However, even in this win for gun rights advocates, the court still acknowledged the right was not unlimited. In his majority opinion Justice Scalia emphasized the decision should not be used to cast doubt on longstanding gun regulations like concealed weapons bans or laws restricting those with felony convictions from owning a gun.

We have a long fight to pass reasonable gun control measures in this country like universal background checks, red flag laws, and assault weapons bans. But we should remember that the founders probably would have supported many of these laws.

The truth about the Atlanta shooter's supposed excuses

After a shooting that killed six Asian women (four were Korean), a white man and a woman at an Atlanta massage parlor, police are scrambling for explanations other than racism and misogyny. Many rushed to label the shooter, Robert Aaron Long, an "incel."

Long, however, claimed he killed them because he suffered from "sex addiction." Long apparently told police the shootings were not "racially motivated." Instead, he killed eight people because the massage parlors were "a temptation he wanted to eliminate."

This pattern is common after white men commit mass murder, acts of terrorism, or any kind of violence against women. The police and the press strive to understand what could possibly have motivated a white man to commit such heinous acts of violence, and the answer is never the obvious—racism, misogyny, or toxic masculinity.

Instead, we hear about supposed mental illnesses, a lonely troubled existence, and "difficulty with women." Media discussions of Long include mentions of his deep Christian convictions and how plagued he was by his "sex addiction." As if any of this matters—as if any of this would matter if the shooter had not been a white man.

Truth is, whatever Long claims, whatever the police claim, and however the media explains it, Long's actions were motivated by racism and misogyny. There should be no doubt. Even if we accept the justification of "sex addiction" as having some relevance, Long would never have decided "eliminating" his temptation by shooting people was an option if not for racism and misogyny. It's not a coincidence that the majority of women killed in these shootings were Asian, or that Long targeted massage parlors that advertise as Asian spas. There is a long history of dehumanizing and fetishizing Asian women in American history. That fetishization commonly results in violence.

The first restrictive US immigration law was the Page Act in 1875. It limited entry of certain "undesirable" immigrants—criminals, prostitutes, and Chinese laborers. It was mainly used to deny entry of Chinese women by claiming they were all prostitutes. Asians were barred from naturalizing. Federal law required immigrants to be white or of African descent. In 1875, however, Chinese women were barred entry under the claim they engaged in "immoral behavior" and would spread disease. By 1882, virtually all Chinese immigrants, male as well as female, were prevented from immigrating.

Basically, a Chinese woman had to prove beyond a doubt that she was not a prostitute. How? By submitting "an official declaration of purpose in emigration and personal morality statement, accompanied by an application for clearance and a fee to the American Consul."1 Immigration authorities pretty much assumed that Chinese women who were not traveling as wives to join their husbands in the United States were prostitutes. Less than 1,000 managed to emigrate between 1875 and 1882.

The Page Act enshrined stereotypes about Asian women, specifically Chinese women, that remain with us to this day. They were cast as sex workers who corrupted, defiled or infected innocent (white) American men. The law encouraged the fetishization of Asian women as sex objects. Fetishization often accompanies dehumanization that reduces women sex objects. Dehumanization leads to a lot of violence against sex workers. Robert Aaron Long's case is an example of racism against Asian women.

Long claimed he wanted to reduce "temptation." One wonders if he would have used this to justify killing all women he has been sexually attracted to—or just Asian women. Is Long not "tempted" by white Christian women in the world? Or does he just not fetishize them, in the same way, to dehumanize them to the point of seeing them as disposable? Additionally, if you truly want to "reduce temptation," you could seek therapy, medication, isolation or, you know, chemical castration. Long's desire to "protect" himself at the expense of these women is part of violent dehumanization.

There is a long history in this country of turning a blind eye to the murder of sexually promiscuous women, or sex workers. They "tempt" men into transgressing. (They had it coming, as it were.) In the 19th century, men were rarely punished for murdering unmarried women. Stereotypes about women of color also over-sexualize them and assume they can't be raped. They instead corrupt men who otherwise would be good Christians. The benefit of the doubt, in other words, was part of being a white man.

One cannot separate Long's claim of sex addiction as a cause of the shooting from his racism and misogyny. Long didn't target all women. He sought out Asian women he associated with sexuality. (We don't yet know if they self-identified as sex workers, though that isn't stopping racist jokes about massage parlors and "happy endings.")

Red Canary Song, a collective of Asian migrant sex workers, has called on us to reckon with our history of racism and imperialism that has contributed to the blurring of the lines between "migrant Asian women, sex workers, massage workers, and trafficking survivors" rather than addressing the unique racialized and gendered violence that the victims of this Atlanta shooting faced as Asian women and massage workers.

Long's claims of sex addiction, eliminating temptation, and his Christian morality do not matter. He justified his actions, whatever he claims his motivation was, through the racist and sexist dehumanization of Asian women. Remember the victims' names, instead of debating his motives. (Two names have not yet been shared.) They are:

Delaina Ashley Yaun
Paul Andre Michels
Xiaojie Tan
Daoyou Feng
Julie Park and
Park Hyeon Jeong.
BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.