A Not so Blast From the Past: Government Concurrence with Minority Voter Suppression in the United States

A Not so Blast From the Past: Government Concurrence with Minority Voter Suppression in the United States

Simeon Brown

The United States has a long history of mistreating its minority population. Since the founding of this country, from the 3/5 rule to modern voter-dilution practices, the U.S. has subjected minorities, and particularly African Americans, to state-mandated second-class citizenry. Of which, minority populations continue to struggle for fair apportionment and representation within our state and federal governments. After Abraham Lincoln gave his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863,[1] Congress took over seven years to draft, pass, and ratify the 15th amendment granting African American men the right to vote.[2]

In the South, where the evils of racism in the U.S. are historically most transparent, lawmakers began imposing a series of laws dedicated to suppressing black voter participation; among other things—the infamous Jim Crow laws.[3] Jim Crow policymakers imposed a series of literacy tests, poll taxes, and physical barriers to prevent African-Americans from voting.[4] At long last, in 1965, Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to protect minority voters by explicitly banning tests to qualify voters based on literacy, education, and English proficiency[5]—almost a century since the implementation of Jim Crow policies. Modern methods of voter suppression are subtler, but the intention is the same: to employ legal and illegal means to affect voter turnout in an election.

This Note examines Chestnut v. Merrill to highlight the latest in a long history of judicial rulings that fail to protect minority voting rights. In that case, the federal district court had interpretive options available to correct Alabama’s discriminatory legislative districting but instead effectively perpetuating Black voter suppression. Part I details the history of minority voter suppression in the U.S., specifically in the South, which led to the Congressional adoption of the VRA in 1965. Part II addresses the test the United States Supreme Court created in Gingles regarding a VRA § 2 controversy and how the Chestnut court applied the test. The analysis then examines the Chestnut court’s consideration of mootness and the doctrine of laches. This Part argues that Chestnut erred in its reasoning to deny Plaintiffs’ remedy, and further, that Chestnut provides another example of judicial encouragement of discriminatory practices. Part III looks to other federal court cases to differentiate the court’s reading in Chestnut to illustrate Chestnut as an outlier to recent judicial precedent. Part IV proposes judicial and legislative remedies to ameliorate the issue.

[1] The Emancipation Proclamation, Nat’l Archives, https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation#:~:text=President%20Abraham%20Lincoln%20issued%20the,and%20henceforward%20shall%20be%20free.%22 (last updated Apr. 17, 2019).

[2] 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights (1870), https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=44 (last visited May 16, 2021).

[3] See generally Jim Crow America: A Documentary History (Catherine M. Lewis & J. Richard Lewis eds., 2009) (using primary source materials to document the creation and effect of Jim Crow laws).

[4] Id.

[5] Voting Rights Act, 52 USCA §§ 10301–10314, 10501–10508, 10701, 10702 (1965).

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