Is there, or should there ever be, a point when a state is no longer penalized for its discriminatory past?
Not according to the Department of Justice, which last Friday rejected a South Carolina law that would have required voters show a valid photo ID before casting their ballots.
Justice says the law discriminates against minorities. The Obama administration said, "South Carolina's law didn't meet the burden under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory practices preventing blacks from voting." Why South Carolina? Because, the Justice Department contends, it's tasked with approving voting changes in states that have failed in the past to protect the rights of blacks.
Are they serious?
There are two African Americans representing South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives, One is Tim Scott, a freshman Republican. The other is 10-term Rep. James Clyburn, the current assistant Democratic leader. There are numerous minority members of the S.C. state legislature and Governor Nikki Haley who is Indian-American.
This is not your grandfather's South Carolina. This is not the South Carolina of the then-segregationist and Dixiecrat presidential candidate Strom Thurmond. Yesterday's South Carolina had segregated schools, lunch counters, restrooms and buses and a dominant Democratic Party. Today's South Carolina is a modern, integrated, forward-looking, dual-party state.
If Justice thinks proving who one is by showing valid photo ID discriminates against minorities, how does it explain the election of so many minority legislators? Are only whites voting for them?
Democrats, especially, should be sensitive to states and people who have demonstrated that they have changed. It was the Democratic Party of the late 19th century that resisted integration throughout the South, passing Jim Crow laws that frustrated blacks who wanted to vote. Those were Southern Democrats who stood in schoolhouse doors, barring blacks from entering. Today, many members of that same party refuse to allow poor minority students to leave failing government schools as part of the school voucher system because they, apparently, value political contributions from teachers unions more than they value educational achievement.
The South Carolina law that offends the Justice Department anticipated objections that some poor minorities might not have driver's licenses (and certainly not a passport) because they might not own cars. So the state will provide free voter ID cards with a picture of the voter on it. All someone has to do is prove who they claim to be. A birth certificate will do nicely. A utility bill can be used to prove residency.
Not requiring a voter to prove his or her citizenship and residence is a recipe for voter fraud. Democrats like to accuse Republicans of trying to keep minorities from voting because they know most will vote for Democrats. Even if that were true (and it's debatable) the reverse is probably truer. Some Democrats have allegedly encouraged people to vote who were not eligible, some more than once. Without a valid ID, how can we stop this?
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has compiled a list of new voter identification laws passed this year. In addition to the one in South Carolina, all require some form of photo identification. Will Justice go after all of them, as well?
According to the Brennan Center, a new law in Kansas, effective Jan. 1, 2012, requires a photo ID, with certain exceptions such as a physical disability that makes it impossible for the person to travel to a government office to acquire one, though they must have "qualified for permanent advance voting status..."
Even historically liberal Wisconsin passed a new law this year requiring voters to prove who they are, in most cases with a photo ID.
Governor Haley and South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson vow to fight the Justice Department ruling. They should. Photo IDs are required when flying on commercial aircraft or cashing a check. That discriminates against no one. Neither does requiring people to prove who they are before voting, unless, of course, there's another agenda, like "stuffing" the ballot box.
Send email for Tribune Media Services columnist Cal Thomas to firstname.lastname@example.org.