Supreme Court Decision Requires Good Trouble to Defend Voting Rights

July 9, 2021 Ellen Buchman

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

The late Congressman John Lewis told us that to redeem the soul of America, there are times when we must get in good trouble, necessary trouble. Congressman Lewis demonstrated that conviction countless times in his defense of one of our fundamental rights, the right to vote.

Now is one of those times for good trouble. The recent Supreme Court Decision in Brnovich v. DNC is an affront to the soul of America and challenges the notion that every voter matters. Instead of taking a stand that inclusive and accessible elections for everyone are the bedrock of our democracy, the Supreme Court instead leaned toward the “big lie” narrative that is threatening our democracy and so many other things. This decision asserts that the discrimination that so many voters of color face takes a backseat to the fear that a small group of people hold regarding the massive voter turnout in the 2020 Election because it threatens their claim to power. Simply put, this decision tells voters, no, your voices do not matter.

It is jarring that this decision came down as many of us prepared to mark the nation’s independence and celebrate July 4th. Instead, we find that the freedom to vote for countless people is being stripped away. That means that Congressman Lewis’ message should remind us not to let dazzling fireworks distract from the fact that we are not yet one united nation that fights for and cultivates freedom and inclusion for everyone. Unfortunately – tragically – right now there are many people across the country who look at the latest decision and are emboldened to even further advance a troubling patchwork of efforts to keep our democracy exclusive – not expansive – by stripping citizens of their right to vote.

The justification is stark. The current attempts to disenfranchise people – whether it is through the obstacles to the freedom to vote that are being legislated by a growing number of elected officials or the invalidation of legitimate votes in 2020, by those who are advancing the big lie, seems to be nothing less than a desire to disempower challenges to white supremacy.

People who live in the margins are best equipped to point out the myriad ways that our system fails them, regarding this precious freedom to vote, and in other ways. More often than not, Black and brown people are most impacted by these systemic failures. The future of our multiracial democracy can only be strengthened by the votes of people who know our country's flaws best and are seeking to solve them. The American democracy is far from perfect. But without question, the journey toward a more perfect union must begin with expansion of the franchise, not shrinking it by taking away peoples’ freedom to vote. The right to vote is one of the few levers that citizens can pull to address the systemic change that is sorely needed, and in doing so the sort of governmental malfeasance that gives rise to the conditions that criminalizes the behavior of people of color and gives primarily white insurrectionists a pass from being further investigated. 

These narratives are intrinsic to the soul of our country and highlight how our democracy has been constructed and practiced in a deliberately exclusionary way. If we mean to create a society that affords us all the opportunities to reach our full potential, then we must uphold the values of diversity and inclusion by designing our voting culture to include the voices of historically excluded communities.

Through the freedom to vote, we are each given a way to create the world that we want to live in and uplift the values that we hold dear in doing so. From the Shelby decision to Brnovich, the Supreme Court has taken a divisive stance against the foundational principles of democracy, illustrating how essential federal legislation is for defending the freedoms at the bedrock of democracy. We must consider if we are abiding the narrative that seeks to create a world where power is concentrated among some at the exclusion of others. Or are we seeking to save our country’s soul, in the words of Mr. Lewis, and take on the transgressions as we get into good trouble to advance our shared vision of democracy that aspires to inclusion.