Monday, February 15, 2010

Let's test them first

Tom Tancredo (yes, I'm embarrassed to be from his state) wants to bring back literacy tests for voting. You know, the "literacy tests" that were used to bar certain people from voting. Rachel Maddow had the only possible response:
"But I want you to know first, that this is what it was like. You would head down to the courthouse to register to vote, if you dared. In order to register, you‘d face an exam. It was sometimes called a literacy test, but it wasn‘t testing to determine necessarily if you could read or write. If you were black, the test was designed purely to afford a legalistic veneer of justification for denying you your constitutional right to vote.

The questions weren‘t about ABCs. They were—they were questions like this one, from Alabama‘s literacy test in 1965. If a person charged with treason denies his guilt, how many persons must testify against him before he can be convicted? Do you consider yourself qualified to vote in this country? Can you answer that question?

You want to hear it again? If a person is charged with treason—if a person charged with treason denies his guilt, how many persons must testify against him before he can be convicted?

Or how about this one from the same test: In what year did the Congress gain the right to prohibit the migration of persons to the states? Do you know the answer to that one?

Again, these are from Alabama‘s literacy test in 1965. It was applied selectively, of course, to black voters, to keep them from registering.

If you lived in Georgia in 1958, you would have faced questions like this one: Who is the solicitor general of the state judicial circuit in which you live and who is the judge of such circuit? If such circuit has more than one judge, name them all.

How did you do on that one? Or how about this one: What does the Constitution of Georgia provide regarding the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus?

If you wanted to vote in Georgia in 1958, those are the questions you would have to answer. But, of course, not everyone would face those questions. The board of registrars had the sole authority to determine who got asked which literacy test questions and whose answers to those questions rendered them ineligible to vote.

The idea was that black voters weren‘t being denied the right to vote based on race. That would be illegal. No, those voters just couldn‘t pass this literacy test.

This isn‘t the plot of some Kagzo (ph) Klansman gothic short story. This isn‘t a theoretical for first-year law students. This isn‘t some State Department report on some tin pot dictatorship halfway around the world that we can‘t pronounce.

This is American history. This is really, really recent American history—as in this lifetime for a lot of people American history.

And the opening night speech at the national tea party convention this weekend proposed bringing the literacy test for voting back. And that proposal got a warm round of applause
I suggest that the FIRST people to have to pass a "literacy test" should be the ones calling for it. Since they seem to be misinformed bigoted cranks absolutely unaware of history (or uncaring of it), it should be easy for them, right? Right?

I couldn't answer those questions. Could you?

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