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SIMMONS: Nation has come a long way on voting rights

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

All eyes and ears are on Washington, D.C., where this month, perhaps as soon as Monday, the Supreme Court is expected to take the blinders off and rule on challenges to the seminal Voting Rights Act of 1965, whose signing by then-President Johnson drew women attired in hats and gloves, and had whites and blacks sharing near picture-perfect space in the White House as witnesses to history.

The law itself, as well as the attire worn by many of the women at the signing, represents a bygone era, a time when local, state and federal laws and private industry's policies blocked schoolhouse doors, polling booths and prohibited blacks from even trying on clothing and shoes in department stores.

Generally speaking, the Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority group. But that is not why the Supreme Court's calendar has us waiting with bated breath.

Everyone is at attention because the court has already heard arguments on Section 5, the part of the act that explains the so-called preclearance doctrine, which mandates Justice Department approval of states' and localities' proposed voting changes.

Those changes range from voter ID laws to precinct changes to redistricting.

In Oxford, Ala., for instance, when local officials turned Byname School into Bynam Community Center, they had to get Justice Department approval to change the name of the building because it serves as a polling site.

The process took about two months.

Now, with all the racially motivated bloodletting that occurred in Alabama and elsewhere in the deep and near South back in the day, I'm hardly the one to say let all bygones be bygones.

But really, baby, we've come a long way since white men were the only ones empowered with voting rights, and that, I suspect, is what some members of the high court will consider.

Indeed, if states like Texas and South Carolina really and truly want to institute voter ID laws, smart lawmakers would first institute policies that make it easier for the disabled, the extremely poor and those deeply embedded in rural America to get government-issued identification.

Still, you cannot compare a building's name change to poll taxes or any of the asinine questions and tests that blacks were required to answer correctly or "pass" in order to register to vote.

Those white-gloved women who witnessed the signing of the Voting Rights Act were denied rights that whites had always enjoyed, and praise the Lord the men controlling the White House and Congress rewrote that script in 1965 — two generations after women won that same right.

No, the Deep South isn't what it used to be, thanks to good ol' fashioned American democracy, lots of bloodshed and hell raising, and the First Amendment.

If the Supreme Court doesn't nix or call for modifications to the much-debated sections of the Voting Rights Act, then America is in deep trouble.

All gloves will be off — proving justice isn't blind at all.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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