When It Comes To Democracy, Tea Party Conservatives Lack “Basic Mental Ingredients”

I just can’t get the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision out of my head, particularly as I observe what trouble Egyptians are having establishing a bona fide democratic government. It’s just not that easy to form a true democracy and then maintain it. It’s taken us 237 years and we still don’t have it quite right.

As was widely reported at the time, just a couple of hours after the Supreme Court made the country safe again for restrictive, Jim Crowish voting laws in the South and elsewhere—via its ideologically-driven 5-4 mutilation of the Voting Rights Act—the Attorney General of Texas said:

With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.

Republicans in Texas developed the state’s blatantly discriminatory voter ID law and redistricting plan obviously in order to suppress and dilute the vote of minorities, who don’t value Tea Party conservatism as much as palefaces do.

Texas is—uh, was—required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to get approval from the Justice Department or the D.C. federal court before it could breathe new legal life into Jim Crow, and thanks to two separate panels of federal judges, reactionary Republicans in Texas failed to get what they wanted. The federal court found that racial minorities would be disproportionately and negatively impacted by both the voter ID law and the redistricting plan and thus blocked them.

But the Supreme Court, with its conservative majority full of phony “originalists“—folks who ostensibly believe in a Dead Constitution—essentially disabled Section 5 of the Act by striking down the “formula” in Section 4, the formula that determined which states and jurisdictions were covered under Section 5’s preclearance requirements.

Now, as Nina Totenberg reported on NPR Friday morning, it happens that not all conservatives are happy with the Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder:

Although the decision was hailed by many political conservatives, its reviews from academic and judicial conservatives were considerably less admiring.

Harvard Law professor Charles Fried, a former state Supreme Court justice who served as the Reagan administration’s advocate in the Supreme Court, thought the court’s decision was just wrong.

“Because we’re not there yet,” he says. “We’re not there yet, and the facts on the ground in Shelby County itself showed that.”

The reactionary virtual-rag Breitbart.com responded to Totenberg’s reporting by, what else, suggesting Charles Fried is not an authentic right-winger, as his opinions “are not usually conservative.”

Okay. Totenberg quoted another conservative constitutional law scholar, Michael McConnell, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center:

Stanford’s McConnell says the decision’s reasoning is just “made up.”

“There’s no requirement in the Constitution to treat all states the same,” he said. “It might be an attractive principle, but it doesn’t seem to be in the Constitution.”

McConnell’s conservative credentials are unimpeachable. He has defended originalism in ways that would make Antonin Scalia blush. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit by George W. Bush. He was also considered as a “short list” candidate to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist—the job would go to Bush-appointee John Roberts, who authored the majority opinion in the Voting Rights Act case—and was also rumored to be a potential Court nominee under a McCain or Romney administration. McConnell also supports a partnership between a “neutral” federal government and religion, as well as a constitutional amendment that would outlaw abortion. So, McConnell cannot be charged with being a phony right-winger.

But because of the consistency of his originalist approach to constitutional interpretation, he would not have joined the majority in the Voting Rights Act case, writing:

Conservatives should be wary of reading specific prohibitions into generalized structural principles, just as liberals should be (but are not) wary of reading specific prohibitions into generalized notions of “liberty.”

The problem is that this conservative Court has made, and will continue to make, a living by reading into the Constitution what it wants to find there, even as its most outspoken members attack liberals for believing in a Living Constitution. If such hypocrisy were not so damaging it would be amusing.

But it is damaging, as the Texas Attorney General’s announcement made clear. Minority voters will be harmed—heck, the state admitted it to the Justice Department—and such harm will not stop with Texas. As Time’s Swampland notes:

Since the high court’s ruling on June 25, four of the other 15 states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia — are in position to move forward on tightening voting laws.

Conservatives, whose ideas have limited appeal, have always wanted to limit participation in the democratic process and it took Congress, acting in 1965, to finally put a stop to it. So, conservatives found another way to restrict voting: overrule Congress in the name of judicial restraint!

As I said, I just can’t get over it. The day the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act was a bad day for American democracy, even as some conservative folks are today throwing rocks at Egyptians struggling to find their democratic way. David Brooks, a conservative but not a Tea Party nut, ends his Friday column by saying that Egypt “seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients” necessary for a transition to true democracy.

I wish he would say the same about conservatives on the Supreme Court and in certain parts of the country.



  1. Duane,

    You know, it looks to me as if, over the last few years, SCOTUS is using a dart board to make its decisions. They are all over the map. Liberal and conservatives joining each other in bizarre ways.

    If you look at the polls (http://www.pollingreport.com/court.htm) you see that less than half the pollees approved of the job the Court is doing. And the polls about specific decisions of the Court usually parallel national opinion — gay marriage, voting rights, etc.

    Given what now appears to be a confused and disorientated Court, I wonder if we’ll reach a point where, like Andrew Jackson, we’ll tell the court collectively, “They’ve made their decision, now let them enforce it.”



  2. I agree with Herb when he said,

    You know, it looks to me as if, over the last few years, SCOTUS is using a dart board to make its decisions. They are all over the map. Liberal and conservatives joining each other in bizarre ways.

    I also have a theory as to why this is happening, and also why the political divide is so deep. This is what representative democracy looks like in the absence of a unifying external national threat. The history of America is one of frequent wars that engaged the common citizens’ fears but now even the nature of war and of the Armed Forces (the AVF) has changed radically. Those forces no longer apply in the same way and the fears of enemy invasion or destruction of our economic system have devolved into fears of pen knives. I agree with Duane’s dismay, but I think this is the new reality.


    • King Beauregard

       /  July 7, 2013

      Me, I blame the Civil Rights Act: just about all the divisiveness we’re currently wrestling with starts there and reverberates out from there. The Southern Strategy? Check. The rise of the Religious RIght? Also check — the Religious Right had more to do with preserving Bob Jones University’s tax exempt status (despite segregating its students) than anything else. The 1994 Republican Revolution? Led by angry white men who felt they weren’t getting a fair shake despite being the most privileged people in all of world history. Teabaggers? The only ones who can’t smell the racial resentment are the Teabaggers themselves.

      The cure, I’m pleased to say, is already underway, as the fecundity of the African and HIspanic races far exceeds that of the Caucasian. Just kidding about that wording — I was playing 19th century racial theorist for a second. But seriously, the demographic profile of the United States is changing, and the jerks who have been trying to keep everyone else disenfranchised are on the losing end of that profile. Oh, they’ll still be with us for a while, but they will cease to be the defining force in our democracy.


      • King, it doesn’t make sense to me to blame the Civil Rights act just because that instrument of change evoked racial resentments. (Have you been into Herb’s scotch supply?) And while fecundity will surely prove politically powerful at the voting booths, (you’re right there) the ability of the 1% to hold and even widen their edge in income and wealth will not be diminished thereby. It’s no accident that even the Obama administration draws it’s legal and financial talent from Wall Street and the Ivy League, and that’s a club that knows how to butter its own bread. Also, the U.S. is becoming more and more Balkanized through gerrymandering, which is my own personal big worry. We are getting the same infection as the Shiites and the Sunni’s and may end up looking more like Egypt than the American Dream.

        Sorry to be so pessimistic. I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.


        • King Beauregard

           /  July 7, 2013

          You’re right, I shouldn’t blame the Civil Rights Act itself, but it is nonetheless the event where today’s current path started. This is not to say I think we were wrong to pass the Civil Rights Act, though; as bad as things are, an ongoing “gentleman’s agreement” to do nothing about racial inequality would have been worse. But the Civil Rights Act certainly accelerated the process of America’s worst being exposed for what they are … and they are reviled by the growth demographics (minorities and the young).


  3. Jim and King,

    I think what we have here is that the country has morphed into a plutocracy where democracy is controlled by the elite, and where Main Street demures to Wall Street.

    And, as Jim says, in lieu of an ongoing REAL war to unite us, we have made one up. As a result, the military industrial complex has expanded into the conterterrorism industrial complex.

    And this won’t change as long as people have enough to eat and can pay their cell phone bills. There are fewer and fewer who are able to think critically, because they are not taught to think critically, or have an education sufficient to challenge the status quo. A friend of mine calls them “sheeple.” You won’t see anything in this country like what just happened in Egypt. Christ almighty, we don’t even protest over the government reading our mail!

    I hate to sound pessimistic or cynical, but I am both. As a pragmatist, I just don’t see a way to recover. We live in a country in denial; deferring to the three branches of government that are acting more and more like Larry, Curly and Moe, and could care less about the common good.

    We have many opportunities to dig out of the numerous holes we find ourselves in, but no political will to consider them, much less implement them. None of the potential solutions are perfect, so they are dismissed out of hand. Compromise? They don’t know nothin’ about no stinking compromise!

    Welcome to Pogo’s world.



    • Yep.


    • King Beauregard

       /  July 8, 2013

      We’re pretty bad, as a country, with confronting economic disparities; I won’t dispute that. But not all of American politics and American society hinges upon the 1% vs. the 99%. I think the Republicans are in for a fall, and it won’t be over economics nearly much as civil rights. Not paying employees enough is a grey area for a lot of people because “enough” is hard to nail down. But preventing people from voting or getting married … ? Impossible to justify to anyone who isn’t actively into disenfranchising people..

      I predict demographics are going to favor the Democrats pretty heavily in coming years, and say what you will about Democrats being in bed with Wall Street, they are still inclined to make sure everyone gets a piece of the pie. So Wall Street may still have a disproportionate influence even with Democrats running the show, but they won’t be able to run roughshod over the rest of the country. Velvet slippers, maybe, but not rough shoes.


      • King Beauregard

         /  July 8, 2013

        And yes, where I come from, people eat pie in bed. Don’t accuse me of mixing metaphors.


  4. To All,

    Came across this today on Stonekettle Station — http://www.stonekettle.com/2013/07/and-open-letter-to-idiot-nation.html. Read the whole thing if you want, especially you ex-military folks. But this part is too good not to pass on. From Jeff Foxworthy:

    If you can get arrested for hunting or fishing without a license, but not for entering and remaining in the country illegally – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If you have to get your parents’ permission to go on a field trip or to take an aspirin in school, but not to get an abortion – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If you MUST show your identification to board an airplane, cash a check, buy liquor, or check out a library book and rent a video, but not to vote for who runs the government – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If the government wants to prevent stable, law-abiding citizens from owning gun magazines that hold more than ten rounds, but gives twenty F-16 fighter jets to the crazy new leaders in Egypt – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If, in the nation’s largest city, you can buy two 16-ounce sodas, but not one 24-ounce soda, because 24-ounces of a sugary drink might make you fat – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If an 80-year-old woman or a three-year-old girl who is confined to a wheelchair can be strip-searched by the TSA at the airport, but a woman in a burka or a hijab is only subject to having her neck and head searched – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If your government believes that the best way to eradicate trillions of dollars of debt is to spend trillions more – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If a seven-year-old boy can be thrown out of school for saying his teacher is “cute,” but hosting a sexual exploration or diversity class in grade school is perfectly acceptable – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If hard work and success are met with higher taxes and more government regulation and intrusion, while not working is rewarded with Food Stamps, WIC checks, Medicaid benefits, subsidized housing, and free cell phones – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If the government’s plan for getting people back to work is to provide incentives for not working, by granting 99 weeks of unemployment checks, without any requirement to prove that gainful employment was diligently sought, but couldn’t be found – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If you pay your mortgage faithfully, denying yourself the newest big-screen TV, while your neighbor buys iPhones, time shares, a wall-sized do-it-all plasma screen TV and new cars, and the government forgives his debt when he defaults on his mortgage – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    If being stripped of your Constitutional right to defend yourself makes you more “safe” according to the government – you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

    I should probably send this to the idiots. If I thought they would get it, I surely would. And don’t call me Shirley.



    • To all,

      Please ignore, delete, erase, or otherwise forget my last post. Having a senior moment. Not understanding what I’m reading. Need serious help. May have to give up scotch. Arg!



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