A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing highlights the hypocrisy of restrictive voter laws in the age of Citizens United.
On March 15, 1965, in the heat of the moment for what would become known as the Voting Rights Act, just eight days after a young John Lewis had his skull cracked by a lawman on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, just a few hours after President Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress on civil rights, Republican Senator Everett Dirksen issued his own weekly radio and television report to his Illinois constituents.
At the time, Sen. Dirksen was the ranking Republican member of a Senate Judiciary Committee controlled by James Eastland, the racist Democratic senator from Mississippi, the man who had called the ominous disappearance in his state of civil rights workers Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman "a publicity stunt." Of the need for federal legislation to protect the rights of minority voters, Sen Dirksen, the Senate Minority Leader, said this:
There has to be a real remedy. There has to be something durable and worthwhile. This cannot go on forever, this denial of the right to vote by ruses and devices and tests and whatever the mind can contrive to either make it very difficult or to make it impossible to vote.... All this is then by way of saying that the job of freedom in all its glorious aspects never seems to be quite consummated. Freedom and its attributes, the right of a free citizen to vote is somehow a battle that is never quite fully won in any time or generation and so now the torch is lighted for us and the mantel falls on our shoulders to carry on where those before us left off.
The measure, as everyone now knows, passed into law. And it is fair to say that, in the intervening 47 years, tens of millions of Americans have been able to exercise, freely and fairly, without harassment or intimidation, a basic right of citizenship that had been broadly denied in law and fact to their ancestors. No reasonable Republican today would dare argue against the principles of the Voting Rights Act. But no Senate Republican has spoken out against state voter identification laws that federal judges have found to be discriminatory, either. America, and the GOP, have both come a long way since Sen Dirksen's eloquent appeal.