Posted by Tess Waggoner on March 26, 2019 in Blog
On the morning of Tuesday, March 26, AAI staff joined coalition partners for a rally ahead of the Supreme Court's hearing of two cases that relate to gerrymandering. Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maryland governor Larry Hogan, numerous members of Congress and representatives from non-partisan grassroots coalition movements stood shoulder-to-shoulder urging the court to acknowledge the negative impact gerrymandering has had on our electoral processes, and the American ideals of representative democracy upon which said processes depend.
Below are the prepared remarks delivered by our Policy Counsel Ryan Suto, Esq., at the event:
Thank you all for coming out today and showing your support for a better democracy.
The national narrative that we tell ourselves as citizens, including what we teach our children, is important. It sets the foundation for civic participation, it gives our citizenry a sense of purpose and of national progress.
The narrative of voting rights in America has been one of gradual expansion: from land-owning white males to eventually including all adults over 18 years of age. Yet for 100 years, these rights were not actualized for black Americans until the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
For Arab Americans, rights under the law have often been replaced by rejections from participation, exclusionary political rhetoric, limited language access, and distrust of government fostered by unwarranted surveillance programs, fostering an understanding that Arab Americans are unwelcome in the political sphere.
Nonetheless, America's legal expansions of the franchise are taught as moral redemptions for the country, structural solutions to historical exclusion. The Narrative states that any citizen, regardless of wealth, national origin, language spoken, color, or creed, has equal access to vote.
But the past decade offers a different narrative; one that shows that we cannot presume that the salvation of the American character will come through the passage of time alone.
In 2013 this Court decided Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the most important provisions of the Voting Rights Act protecting black Americans, and all but declared racism dead. While gerrymandering has existed for as long as districts have been drawn, the issue has gained renewed prominence after Shelby County allowed it to be re-weaponized against minority communities.
Then last year this Court handed down a set of decisions which made the electoral process in this country even more hostile to minority voters. And yet the backsliding has been most severe at the state level: voters in 23 states face stricter voting requirements than they did a decade ago, many of which disproportionately impact minority communities.
And so today, this Court will hear cases regarding gerrymandering from two states. One was perpetrated by Republicans in North Carolina, enacted only after a racial gerrymander was struck down. And the other was perpetrated by Democrats in Maryland, who rejected proposals to increase minority representation in favor of a political gerrymander.
A decision in today’s companion cases declaring a constitutional interest in fair maps and fair elections would bring us closer to a more perfect union. Indeed, there is little difference between not having a vote and having a meaningless one. Nonetheless, our work will not be done after these 9 votes are counted, but only after all our votes are counted--and counted equally.
Indeed, the recent threats to democracy call for a fierce urgency to reform institutions which cause systemic inequality. Whether strict voter ID laws in Wisconsin, de facto poll taxes in Florida, early voter registration deadlines in Alaska, everything that happened in Georgia, or not awarding the presidency to the candidate with the most votes, the fight must continue to ensure that all voters have access to cast equal ballots. We must also confront the strong evidence from across the world that the very foundation of our majoritarian electoral system systemically disadvantages ethnic and racial minorities.
So while we rally in front of our high Court today, tomorrow we must continue to vigorously support more inclusive voting laws, ensure that voters choose their representatives instead of the reverse, and do the hard of work of democracy on a daily basis. By doing this, we can write a new narrative of American voting rights: one of vigorous equality and responsive reform.
Watch video footage of the event courtesy of Common Cause; Ryan begins speaking around 1:16.