If this court decides that this doctrine should be in effect, then your vote no longer matters. That is not an overstatement.
-Beau of the Fifth Column
At this point, I don’t think anyone worth consideration will pretend that the United States was a free and democratic society before 1964 or so. The existence of explicit, legislative racial segregation makes the very suggestion absurd. I would also argue that we haven’t have democracy (even the representative sort) since then, both in terms of general participation in governance, and in terms of the government’s responsiveness to the wants and needs of the people. Intentional hold-overs from the Segregation era, like redlining and white supremacist policing, combine with gerrymandering and capitalism to keep power in the hands of the same people who’ve always held it in this society.
I think that some form of direct democracy is what we need. Representative democracy has shown itself to be far too vulnerable to the abuses of the upper class, and looking at history, I think that was by design. It was a way to protect the privilege and power of those at the top. It let some new people into the club and complicated the process of ruling, as did the adoption of capitalism, but that was a price worth paying for making sure the club retained its benefits.
That said, representative democracy – even the vicious parody of it that we’ve had in my lifetime – is better than what may soon be in store for the United States.
At issue is the “independent state legislature theory” (ISLT), which the Brennan Center for Justice describes as a “baseless” concept “making the rounds in conservative legal circles” that posits congressional elections can only be regulated by a state’s lawmakers, not its judiciary—or even its constitution.
Prominent purveyors of former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen”—most notably, Ginni Thomas, a right-wing activist and wife of Justice Clarence Thomas—have invoked the dubious theory when pushing state lawmakers to help overturn President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
“In Moore, North Carolina lawmakers argue they essentially get a ‘free pass’ to violate state constitutional protections against partisan gerrymandering when drawing districts which undeniably hurt voters,” said Riggs. “We will vigorously fight these claims and instead advocate on behalf of North Carolinians to prove what the ‘independent state legislature theory’ has been all along—a fringe, desperate, and anti-democratic attack by a gerrymandered legislature.”
Joshua Douglas, an election law professor at University of Kentucky, called Moore an “extremely dangerous case in that it could take away state constitutional limits on state legislatures when they enact restrictive voting rules.”
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a plaintiff in the Moore, said in a statement that “in a radical power grab, self-serving politicians want to defy our state’s highest court and impose illegal voting districts upon the people of North Carolina.”
“We must stop this dangerous attack on our freedom to vote,” he added.
I would say this looks like a return to the Segregation era – and it may well mean that in some states – but I think it’s likely to be both different, and worse in a number of ways. With climate catastrophe looming, and global ecosystems already collapsing, the stakes are getting higher every year. When I look at what’s happening, and at the multi-generational effort that has gone into making all this happen, I have to assume that they’re also thinking about how to prevent their power grab from being undone.
As always, I think Beau’s take on this is worth considering.
In some ways, this doesn’t change anything. We still need to organize. We still need to work to bring about real democracy, for the sake of our survival. This is another symptom of the systemic problems that we’ve been trying to solve all along. It’s also a new level of bad when it comes to the amount of work that needs doing, and the danger of doing that work. The biggest reason I write about this sort of thing is that I want to provide tools that can help persuade people of the need for action that goes far beyond the boundaries of what our liberal society told us was “acceptable.
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William Brinkman says
These conservative activists want us to believe that the founders wanted states to be exempt from checks and balances? And no one realized this until last year?
This is messed up on too many levels.