Despite Handy Election Victory for Obama, MSNBC Continues Attack on Voter ID Laws

With the election over and President Obama handily winning reelection -- including in photo ID states like Michigan and Florida -- you'd think MSNBC would go silent about voter ID laws, which clearly did not disenfranchise millions of seniors, students, or black voters nor did it turn the election in favor of Romney.

But no, the network will still flog the issue for the forseeable future. Witness Tuesday’s Now with Alex Wagner, which featured a discussion of the Supreme Court’s decision to review Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.   [See video below break.  MP3 audio here.]

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act deals with the issue of preclearance, a provision that requires states with a history of discrimination to receive federal approval before changes to their voting laws can take effect.  The one-sided panel rallied off the typical liberal talking points, starting with host Alex Wagner who claimed that, “these voter ID laws that would have affected and disenfranchised as many have acknowledged, hundreds of thousands of minority voters.” 

The segment continued with the president of the Brennan Center for Justice, Michael Waldman, who continued the false-narrative that voter ID laws suppress minority votes:

What happened in this election, we were all talking about it for so long, these laws got passed that could have hurt as many as 5 million people and their ability to vote, but by election day, those laws were almost all blocked.

Unsurprisingly, not a single member of the panel challenged the false claims made but instead the entire panel piled on the attacks against voter ID.  Wagner, like fellow MSNBC hosts have in the past, pointed out that, “It is worth noting that according to The Nation's Ari Berman of the 11 states that made up the former Confederacy; eight passed new voting restrictions over the last two years.” 

Of course Wagner failed to mention that these so-called former Confederacy states were controlled by Democrats who prevented minorities from voting prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  Rather than have a balanced panel discussion on the merits of voter ID laws, MSNBC continues to have one-sided rants cynically aimed at painting Republicans as racist and absolutely devoid of any attempt at actually having a discussion of public policy.


See relevant transcript below.


Now with Alex Wagner

November 13, 2012

12:32 p.m. EDT

ALEX WAGNER: Six weeks into the current term of the Supreme Court, a cornerstone of the civil rights movement looks in danger of toppling.  Late last week the court decided to take up a challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a key provision that requires states with a history of discrimination to receive federal approval before the changes to their voting laws can take effect. The law applies to nine states, nearly all of which are in the south and parts of seven others. In recent years Republican led state legislatures have tried to push the boundaries of the Voting Rights Act. In the view of numerous civil rights groups, these restrictions are aimed squarely at disenfranchising minority voters. It is worth noting that according to The Nation's Ari Berman of the 11 states that made up the former Confederacy; eight passed new voting restrictions over the last two years. Ultimately, many of those laws were blocked, including a strict photo ID law in Texas. Republicans argue that Section 5 infringes on states sovereignty. According to the director of the Project on Fair Representation, one of the groups behind the challenge the law is, quote, stuck in a Jim Crow era time warp. Joining the panel now is the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, Michael Waldman.  Michael, it's slways great to have you on the program.

MICHAEL WALDMAN: Great to be with you.

WAGNER: Big things, big things happening on the bench, and I guess my first question to you is, we were talking about this during the break, what -- I mean nobody can read the future, but based on the past, what do you think the likelihood is that the Supreme Court will strike down section five of the Voting Rights Act?

WALDMAN: Well, it's not a great sign that they took the case. This is a law that's been on the books, that’s been effective, it’s the part of the Voting Rights Act that has the most teeth and it was just reauthorized almost unanimously by Congress in 2006. So that they took the case at all is not such a good sign.  And some of the justices the last time they heard this issue, had a lot of questions about it, implied that they didn't think it was still constitutional. But some things have changed since then. That was in 2009. We've seen all this new evidence of why the Voting Rights Act is needed, not from newsreels, not on eyes on the prize, but right now.  And so, there's actually lots of new evidence of why we need the Voting Rights Act to be strong and these states are saying, well, you know, that was then, this is now. They would have a lot easier time making that argument if they didn't keep passing laws that disenfranchised minority voters.

WAGNER: Minority voters, yeah.  It’s worth noting that Section 5 covers nine states including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Six of those nine states tried to pass these minority -- these voter ID laws that would have affected and disenfranchised as many have acknowledged, hundreds of thousands of minority voters.

WALDMAN: And it was really important, really important, to have the courts be able to step in to have the Justice Department, the enforcers, be able to step in and protect those voters. What happened in this election, we were all talking about it for so long, these laws got passed that could have hurt as many as 5 million people and their ability to vote, but by election day, those laws were almost all blocked.


WALDMAN: Or blunted or repealed or postponed. And the Voting Rights Act was a very big part of that.  So, it's kind of an unfortunate time to turn to the supreme court and say hey, that worked too well, let's get rid of it.

WAGNER: You know, Michael Eric Dyson, we talk about a post-racial America and the need for -- there are a lot of programs that rose in a pre-racial America that we are trying to ameliorate and I guess the question is, when we talk about this stuff there are terms that are thrown around, Eric Holder, the Attorney General, talked about some of these ID laws being akin to a poll tax. Here you have a group that is arguing for the overturning of section 5, likening it to a Jim Crow era prohibition, what this all speaks to is it is incredibly heated and incredibly emotional debate over what minorities need and whether this is targeting minorities. But certainly, I don't think anybody can really argue that we are past color in this country.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Oh no, and neither you know, post-racial never, post-racist, yes.  So let’s get the terms right. We should be post-racist, which means we’re not enshrining one particular group with the implicit assumption that they're superior or that the laws favor them. And what’s interesting here is that you see a parallel here.  Women rose up in mass and with their allies to say look, a bunch of old white guys deciding what women should do with their bodies is passé and acronistic and really hurtful.  But here it is that the Supreme Court, save one figure, Clarence Thomas, none of them have been subjected to these restrictions. None of them have been subject to the Willie nilly imposition of a southern sheriff's, you know, attempt to keep them from voting. But now these -- this court, men and women, will make a decision about the future of voting rights for African-American and other minorities and we need white women to step up to the plate. We need white women to say look, we are in –

WAGNER: This is not a racial issue, this is an American issue.   

DYSON: It's an American issue for American people and the disenfranchisement of millions of minority voters is a referendum on American democracy, not on what we as individuals are.   

WAGNER: And I think It's hard to make a case, you look at where this stuff is happening, bastions of the south, states that used to be part of the Confederacy, states that have Republican held legislatures, you look at the base of the Republican Party’s power right now, with this older, southern under educated white workers, how can you not say this is not a political issue?

STEVE KORNACKI: Well, I covered the reauthorization in 2006 in the House, the vote on that was like 390 to thirty.  The 30 were basically white southern republicans.  I remember it was an interesting spectacle.  You know, the House was sort of so polarized there, Bush's popularity was dropping, you had Jim Sensenbrenner who was the old conservative Republican from Wisconsin who was leading the fight with Democrats against this band of sort of southern Republicans, who were fighting it on the grounds that section 5 overreached, this preclearance provision you know out of the Voting Rights Act. The vote was overwhelmingly against that but that faction, that 30, is now reflected in the Supreme Court taking this case, the conservative Supreme Court taking this case and maybe, you know, these Republican legislatures in the state's Republicans governors in those states embracing that view.

WAGNER: And Michael [Waldman], you were talking about what the justices had said before in 2009 and I'll just read from Justice Roberts' opinion in 2009, he says, these improvements are no doubt due in significant part to the Voting Rights Act itself and stand as a monument to its success, past success alone, however, is not adequate justification to retain the pre-clearance requirements. He's suggesting, he’s definitely  keeping the door open, obviously he’s taking up the case again, but as far as how he goes with this current hearing.

WALDMAN: Look, this court is obviously conservative on some things like Citizens United, I think they went way beyond the constitution than what they ought to do, but we also know that sometimes you can make arguments and sometimes you can win these arguments. And the fact is, there are so many facts right now, including the fact that Congress didn't just close its eyes and push a button and pass this thing, there were 22 hearings. They knew exactly what they were doing.  And the members of Congress, of both parties, knew that this was a monument of American law. This was not just the Democrats. This was starting with Everett Dirksen when they first passed it and Bob Dole and Congressman Sensenbrenner. This is not in the past these voting issues have been American issues. They haven't been Democrat/Republican or left/right issues.

WAGNER: And nor should they be.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: And so then, what would it say about the court if the court does away with section 5 after we've just gone through the recent vote where as Steve was saying it passed overwhelmingly in both houses, with bipartisan votes?

WAGNER: I think you have some kind of mutiny. You even look at what the voter ID laws did in terms of turnout.  There’s a lot to be analyzed and certainly we're still sort of sifting through the data but the Atlantic's Andrew Cohen last Wednesday writes if there's one thing this election has proven, if there is one thing I have come to know, is that it is Americans don't like it when their right to vote is threatened. The very people whose votes the Republicans sought to suppress came out to vote.  You look at the exit polling in Florida, the black vote 13%, same as it was in 2008, in Virginia it was 20%, in Ohio it was 11% in 2008, it was 15% in 2012.

WALDMAN: I think President Obama had it right on election night. When he said, talking eloquently about the long lines of people and then he interrupted that and said, by the way, let's fix that, we're the world's greatest democracy, we shouldn't be having people waiting on lines for hours on end to cast their vote. We could do so many things to fix that to modernize voter registration so that everybody is registered, and there's no potential for fraud, to make it so that there's uniform standards around the country, about how many voting machines you need to have and that there's early vote. Think about early voting.

DYSON: A national holiday to vote.

WALDMAN: A national holiday.  Think about early voting. What other government program has as much demonstration of popularity that everybody wants to use it so let's cut back on it. Because it's too popular. That's the kind of thing we ought to be focusing on. Not -- not this question of the Voting Rights Act is one of the most successful laws in American history. It is a monument of American life. And were it to be overturned or this -- remember this is one section, but it's the suction with teeth, it’s the section that requires preclearance. It would be a really destructive thing should that happen and we should make sure everybody knows that.

WAGNER: We should.  And that's why we're going to continue having you on this program to talk about it until the Supreme Court makes its decision. Michael Waldman from the Brenan Center for Justice, thank you as always

Campaigns & Elections 2012 Presidential Racism MSNBC Now with Alex Wagner MSNBC Alex Wagner Jonathan Capehart Steve Kornacki Michael Eric Dyson