Using that success as an excuse to cripple it, noted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent, is like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Indeed, had the nation not changed dramatically since 1965, would that not have been cited as evidence of the Act’s failure? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, then: The Voting Rights Act never had a chance.
This court, said Lewis, “plunged a dagger in the heart” of the freedom movement. Nor is it lost on him that the majority which struck down this bedrock of black freedom included a black jurist: Clarence Thomas. “The brother on the court,” said Lewis, “I think he’s lost his way.”
So what now? Lewis says we must push Congress for legislation to “put teeth back in the Voting Rights Act.” Given that this Congress is notorious for its adamantine uselessness, that seems farfetched, but Lewis insists bipartisan discussion is already under way.
Fine. Let us demand that bickering, dysfunctional body do what is needed. But let us — African-Americans and all believers in freedom — also serve notice that, whatever lawmakers do, we will not stand placidly by as history repeats and citizenship is repealed, but that we will energetically resist by every moral means.
Saying that, I hear the ghostly echo of those who, once upon a generation, marched into Southern jails, singing “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” It is an ancient song of defiance that feels freshly — sadly — relevant to our times.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at email@example.com.)
Photo: Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia Commons