The fight to protect voting rights at the federal level is dead. But there's still a glimmer of hope.

voting rights protestor with sign

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court signed the death certificate for voting rights.  In a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the Court decided that Arizona could implement restrictions that hamper the ability of Black and brown voters to cast their ballot. 

In essence, more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, the federal protections against racially discriminatory voting policies have been stripped away.  The conservative majority on the Supreme Court has given new energy to right wing states that want to keep minority voters away from the polls.

Democrats have the Supreme Court and red states against them. So their only choice left is to go local – and out-organize anyone standing in their way.

The big lie on steroids

While Republican-controlled states have passed onerous voting laws for years, the recent spate of voter suppression tactics  all stem from former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” The fact that President Joe Biden won the reliably Republican states of Georgia and Arizona sent a shockwave through the GOP. We all know, and perhaps expected, Trump to falsely claim that there was voter “fraud” after his 2020 loss. But now Republicans are falling all over themselves to please the former President by enacting laws to prevent these nonexistent “irregularities” from happening again. 

Arizona, where the Supreme Court case originated, prevents friends and neighbors from helping someone turn in absentee ballots. It also allows the state to disqualify voters who accidentally vote in the wrong precinct. Republicans claim they are trying to prevent fraud, but the actual intention is clear when you recognize that local GOP officials routinely shift voting locations in minority neighborhoods — making it easier for these voters to accidentally run afoul of the new law. 

Georgia’s new laws, the cause of much outcry earlier this year, not only tighten voter ID requirements — a dog whistle for preventing Black folks from voting — but also make it a crime to pass out water to voters in line. Considering there are generally longer lines where Black voters vote, the water bottle law is designed to force Black voters out of line before making it to the front. 

These laws aren’t just in swing states, either. States like Arkansas, Alabama, and Oklahoma have all passed laws making it harder to vote by mail, on top of many other voting restrictions. This is an epidemic, and Democrats must use every means at their disposal to fight back before it’s too late. 

Filibustering the filibuster 

The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats’ most effective response to voter suppression is to pass a new federal voter protection law. Indeed, some of the very first bills put forth in the US House and Senate this year were to protect voting rights, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The bills have not seen much success because of Republican intransigence.

The most common solution to move past the GOP is changing the filibuster, which prevents any bill from moving forward in the Senate unless it has 60 supporters. Given the 50-50 split in the chamber, this effectively gives the Republican minority veto power over almost every bill brought to the Senate floor. 

After the Supreme Court decision, Democrats are calling again for an end to the filibuster so that the voting rights law can pass. But that ship has sailed. The Democrats in the ideological center of the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have not moved on changing the filibuster. And with their stubbornness on the filibuster goes any chance of a new federal voting law.

Democrats across the country need to stop hoping that Congress or the courts will fix this problem. They won’t. Democrats need to take charge themselves.

Voter suppression boomerang

While efforts may be stymied at the federal level, Democrats do have a chance to harness the energy and outrage around voter suppression to increase voter turnout at the state and local level.

To start, they need to let Black, brown, and younger voters know that Republicans are trying to prevent them from voting, and inform them of how to stay on top of their right to vote. Major Democratic Super PACs are already investing in this kind of work, but more funds and more people will be necessary to make a real difference. 

In Arizona, where casting a ballot in the wrong place can lead to disqualification, voter education campaigns are essential. The GOP technique only works to suppress the vote when voters don’t know their polling location. With solid organizing, Democrats can ensure every single voter knows where to cast their ballot. 

In Georgia, ground zero for many false claims of election fraud, Democrats have already shown what it takes to fight back. Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight has been on the front lines of combating voter suppression. As a result, Georgia Democrats helped flip the White House and Senate in 2020. If Democrats are serious about combating voter suppression, they should set up a Fair Fight in every single state.

Perhaps the single largest step that Democrats can take to fight suppression and increase turnout is to invest in year-round organizing. In too many places, young Democratic staffers parachute in for one campaign cycle and then leave, forgoing the ability to forge the deep connections it takes to win over and help voters. 

The chair of the Wisconsin Democrats credits year-round organizing for the slim wins in both Wisconsin and Georgia, and the Democratic state party in Texas is already investing in this. It gets results. Texas Democrats managed to defeat an earlier attempt to pass draconian voter suppression laws, although the governor is still trying.

For the time being, Democrats can’t do anything about the Supreme Court. But the right to vote is precious, and we can use the threat of these new laws to inspire people to hold onto what’s theirs and fight back against Republican attempts to subvert democracy.

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A man who sued Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and 4 other airlines over the face mask mandate has taken his case to the Supreme Court

Supreme Court building

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A man who’s suing seven airlines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over mandatory mask-wearing on flights has taken his case directly to the Supreme Court.

Lucas Wall has asked the Supreme Court to issue a preliminary injunction against the CDC to put an end to the federal mask mandate, which has been extended through September 13.

Wall, of Washington, DC, last month filed a pair of lawsuits against the CDC and seven airlines over the mandate, arguing that it discriminated against people who couldn’t wear masks because of medical conditions. Wall said he’s been grounded because he can’t wear a mask due to an anxiety disorder.

Wall said in his 99-page Supreme Court application: “I respectfully ask for relief no later than Friday, July 16, because I have a flight booked to Germany on Saturday, July 17, to visit my brother and his wife.”

Wall hasn’t yet exhausted his appeals in the lower courts. With his emergency application to the Supreme Court, he is attempting side-step the formal process, legal scholars said. 

Elliot E. Slotnick, professor emeritus at The Ohio State University, said: “Such applications are both rare and rarely accepted, likely only in a case where irreparable harm could occur through not acting immediately.”

It was unclear if Wall — who has been stuck in his mother’s retirement community in The Villages, Florida, and listed $769.89 in flight-related costs — would meet the threshold for “irreparable harm.”

Legal experts who reviewed Wall’s Supreme Court application this week said his airline costs likely wouldn’t meet that standard.

Joseph F. Kobylka, chair of political science at Southern Methodist University, said the court would be more likely to take up Wall’s emergency application if a broad group of Americans were in situations similar to Wall’s. Otherwise, he doubted it would get traction, he said.

However, he added: “I also said that the court would never take Bush v. Gore.” 

The blue-and-white CDC sign in front of the agency's Atlanta headquarters at sunset

Wall’s earlier lawsuits were filed in US District Court in Orlando, in the 11th Circuit, so his application would be sent directly to Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the anchors of the court’s conservative wing. Thomas would then decide whether to bring the application to the full court. 

Nicole Huberfeld, professor of law, policy, and management at Boston University, said: “It is doubtful he would have a sympathetic ear in Justice Thomas, even though Thomas has long wanted to limit congressional authority over commerce.”

Wall, meanwhile, said in a phone interview that he felt his arguments were strong. 

“No one is a wise enough to predict what the Supreme Court will do on any given issue,” he said. 

However, he added: “If the Supreme Court denies preliminary injunction, then that’s the end of the road for that avenue.”

Emergency requests to the Supreme Court like Wall’s have become more frequent during the pandemic, creating what some scholars have called a “shadow docket,” Huberfeld said.  

She said legal scholars have been studying the shift, which included pandemic-era requests over whether churches and businesses should have been closed during the spread of COVID-19.

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