On the Fourth of July every year, Americans of all persuasions pay tribute to the concept of freedom.
It is our national birthday, one in which we celebrate the bravery of the people in the 13 colonies attempting to break free from a powerful empire while moving to create a nation different from any that had gone before. There would be no aristocracy or hereditary rulers. There would be no peasants or serfs. It would be a nation of free men — and in the beginning it was men, and white, property-owning men at that — who elected their government and ruled themselves.
On this day in 2021 — 245 years after July 4, 1776 — the grand experiment is hitting a rough patch.
On Jan. 6, the nation watched an unruly mob enter and desecrate our Capitol in Washington, D.C., fueled by lies alleging a stolen election. The insurrectionists gave their loyalty to a person, former President Donald Trump, rather than to the nation we all profess to love. It was and is profoundly un-American.
The failure of the Republican Party to stop the lies about the election and to investigate the events of Jan. 6 will lead to the extinction of this once-proud party of Lincoln. The actions of GOP leaders in failing to confront the dangers of Trumpism have been and remain shameful.
While they cower to a defeated politician, Republicans across the country — at the state and federal level — are seeking to restrict the right to vote. What, in a democratic republic, is more dangerous than a party seeking to control who votes?
A republic demands the rule of law, and a democracy requires the people vote in free and fair elections to choose their leaders. Seeking to exclude voters is the opposite of what our nation is supposed to represent.
Such attempts at exclusion are not new to the United States, if we are to be honest about our history. People of color and women could not vote for decades, and universal access to the polls did not occur until the mid-1960s with the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
That act is being gutted by a conservative Supreme Court in a series of rulings, most recently last week. In the latest decision, the court allowed Arizona restrictions on voting to remain.
In Arizona, Republican-backed laws rejected ballots cast in the wrong precinct and banned third parties from returning mail-in ballots on behalf of voters. Democrats claimed the laws discourage minority voting; that can be debated, but what is clear is the Supreme Court ruling went beyond upholding the Arizona laws. The 6-3 conservative majority made it clear the court likely would not strike down further barriers to voting.
Coming on the heels of the 2013 ruling that eviscerated Section 5 — the portion of the act that required states with a history of racial discrimination to clear changes with the Justice Department — this ruling further weakens the law. It concerned Section 2, which allows legal challenges to discriminatory election rules. The reasoning in the majority ruling held that even if minority voters are impacted, it simply isn’t that important. The court also is encouraging states to argue that their worries about fraud and election integrity can justify stricter rules.
Taken together, the Supreme Court has reduced the majesty of the Voting Rights Act, designed to ensure one man (or woman), one vote.
Congress can fix the problem — and it must — despite its sharp divisions, especially in the Senate with its 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats. As President Joe Biden stated, “The court’s decision, harmful as it is, does not limit Congress’ ability to repair the damage done today: it puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength.”
And that’s exactly what Congress must do — break the partisan gridlock in the Senate, use the House majority and pass a federal law that protects the right to vote, secures the election process and ensures all votes are counted. It’s the best way to celebrate the freedom that we cherish in this United States of America.