​​Republican revolution from below


OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion


A wave of new election integrity bills is being approved by Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country that require only a simple majority for passage. This surge of state legislation was also triggered by US Supreme Court rulings, which acted on a party-line, majority-vote basis in the past decade.

The announcements by Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin of West Virginia that they will not support filibuster-free voting rights legislation means Congress cannot act except with a bipartisan supermajority of 60 senators.

Their decision effectively restricts Democrats’ ability to undo election integrity measures passed by their Republican colleagues in the states and GOP-appointed justices on the Supreme Court. Thus, Democrats have little chance of a federal takeover of the election system this decade.

Stopping the Democrat’s so-called “Voting rights” legislation is the most dramatic example of how Republican-controlled state governments, the majority on the Supreme Court-appointed by Republicans and filibusters conducted by Senate Republicans restrict Democrats’ ability to set national policy, even as they hold unified control of the White House, House and Senate for the first time since 2010. Additionally, the combination means Republicans may be able to see abortion rights, established with Roe v. Wade in 1973, overturned, and also restrict public school teachers from using CRT in classrooms.

Because the filibuster severely limits the prospects for legislation on those topics that impose any mandate on businesses or individuals, Joe Biden is resorting to unilateral regulation. Nevertheless, he faces an uphill battle because the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority, many times in cases brought by red-state attorneys general, is aggressively blocking those regulations, most recently by striking down the administration’s mandatory vaccine or test requirement for large employers.

In sum, the offensive and defensive moves by this alliance represent a revolution from below — an effort by Republican-controlled institutions to influence national policy, despite Democrats’ control over the executive branch and Congress. With the filibuster heroically upheld, Manchin and Sinema have effectively neutralized the most powerful tool Democrats have to resist: their ability to set new national standards in all the areas being resisted by the Republican alliance through unified control of the Congress and the White House. Since history suggests Democrats stand a high risk of losing control of either chamber of Congress in November, fortunately, it may be years before they have another opportunity to respond.

The GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court and Republican red state officials are restraining the DNC’s power grabs.

Over roughly the past decade, the so-called voting rights issue has developed into a clear example of the interlocking action-reaction dynamics of the new GOP alliance.

Though intermittent battles over federal election control had already broken out, the first decisive step in this modern conflict was taken in 2013. In Shelby County v. Holder, the GOP-appointed majority on the Supreme Court set the stage for the current stand-off since it struck down a central provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act: Federal “preclearance” requirements for changing voting laws by municipalities or states with histories of “discrimination.”

It was a party-line and majority-rule decision, and the five (then) Republican president-appointed justices outnumbered the four Democratic nominees.

This ruling immediately freed 15 states covered in part or whole by the law from preclearance (a list that includes Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona in whole, and Florida and North Carolina in part). It also encouraged other Republican-controlled states to pursue new rules to make sure the feds didn’t take over what the states are supposed to be running.

Red states instituted a number of rules to ensure election integrity after Shelby, including tighter voter-identification requirements and removing the deceased from voter rolls. According to the Brennan Center, 19 Republican-controlled states passed 34 laws to ensure election integrity in 2021 after former president Donald Trump accused Democrats of fraud in the 2020 election.

These trends are supported by Republican elected officials and conservative thinkers who believe that allowing states more freedom to develop their own policies on abortion and voting rights reduces political tensions by allowing local views to be reflected in policies. All of them affirm that the voting laws states are passing will do no more than safeguard election integrity without curtailing citizens’ right to vote.

Democrats say that the Republican alliance is undermining long-established national rights, but it is Democrats who seek to undermine political institutions by abolishing the filibuster or expanding the Supreme Court, two ideas that the GOP alliance is fighting back against.

“There is almost no appetite on the right for changing the fundamental institutions of our democracy,” policy analyst John C. Goodman wrote earlier this month as a senior fellow at the conservative Independent Institute. “But there is on the left.”

With or without majority support, Republicans will have a greater chance of controlling the White House and Congress if they tilt the playing field in enough states. Fortunately, Manchin and Sinema are blocking Democratic attempts to damage the Republican red state/Supreme Court/Senate alliance so long as they uphold the filibuster.

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