Tyranny of the Minority

Voter SuppressionHistorian Timothy Snyder got it exactly right in his commentary on the political situation we face today “when the less popular of the two parties controls every lever of power at the federal level, as well as the majority of the statehouses.”

In such circumstances, he wrote, “The party that exercises such control proposes few policies that are popular with the society at large, and several that are generally unpopular — and thus must either fear democracy or weaken it.”

Snyder’s worrying conclusion helps put in context two disparate news streams — Trump’s “Election Integrity” commission and the Republican efforts to pass new health care legislation.

No matter how Trump dresses up the title, the [Election Integrity] commission’s true goal is to make it harder for people to register and vote.

No matter how Trump dresses up the title, the commission’s true goal is to make it harder for people to register and vote. Its vice-chair is Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and King of Voter Suppression.

The ACLU has sued Kobach four times on voter suppression and won every time. Indeed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit last year rebuked him for the mass disenfranchisement of thousands of people who registered to vote when they renewed their driver’s licenses under the National Voter Registration Act, known as the “motor voter” law. In the same case, a federal magistrate judge fined Kobach for making “patently misleading representations to the court.”

Last week, Kobach wrote a letter to all 50 states, requesting they send the commission the personal information on all registered voters. The push back was massive, even in states where Republicans rule. At last count, 48 states announced they will either not comply at all or refuse some aspects the demand for data.

But make no mistake, there is a concerted and growing effort to suppress voters. The same day Kobach sent his letter, the U.S. Department of Justice informed states that it is reviewing voter registration list maintenance rules and asked states to explain how they plan to remove voters from their rolls. This has been interpreted as clear signal that the Justice Department is preparing to sue states for failing to trim their rolls.

Turning to health care, Snyder’s prediction that a ruling party’s policy would be “generally” unpopular is an understatement. Trumpcare is wildly unpopular.

According to one recent poll, just 12 percent of Americans supported a Republican proposed health care plan. Some pundits have labeled it the most unpopular piece of legislation in three decades; others have called it the most unpopular legislation in history.

In an attempt to enact a bill with such little support, its sponsors have had to subvert democracy writ small. Trumpcare has been subject to far less public debate than Obamacare.

In the Senate, Obama’s Affordable Care Act was the subject of 106 public hearings and 160 hours of debate. And this was with the Democrats in charge. By contrast, there have been no Senate committee hearings on the Republican bill to repeal and replace the ACA, and the chairs of relevant committees have announced no plans to take up the bill before it goes to the Senate floor.

hector villagraThe Timothy Snyder quotes at the top of this blog are from his book titled, “On Tyranny.” Alarmingly, we are seeing it in action.

Hector Villagra
ACLU of Southern California

About Hector Villagra

Hector Villagra has been Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California since February 2011.

He launched the Orange County Office of the ACLU of Southern California in September 2005 and served as its Director until October 2009 when he became Legal Director for the ACLU of Southern California.

Before joining the ACLU, Mr. Villagra served as Regional Counsel for the Los Angeles Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) from 2001 to 2005 and as a staff attorney at MALDEF from 1999 to 2001. Mr. Villagra has served as counsel in civil rights cases involving such issues as educational equity, religious discrimination, immigrants’ rights, and voting rights.

He began his professional career as a law clerk for the Honorable Robert N. Wilentz, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt, circuit judge on the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Villagra graduated from Columbia University and Columbia University School of Law.

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