Rule of Law

Trump’s Indictments, Alabama’s Racist Gerrymandering Prove We Must March On

With the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice rapidly approaching, countless civil rights, democracy, and social justice leaders plan to mark the anniversary with a march in our nation’s capital. The march’s potent tagline—”It’s not a commemoration, it’s a continuation. We march on!”—acknowledges that while progress has been made on a variety of issues, much work remains to be done. From rising levels of hate crimes and resurgent voting rights threats to attacks on the ability of workers to organize and persistent structural racial and economic inequality, challenges loom large.

As if any reminder were necessary of how much work remains to be done in the field of voting rights, the last few weeks have brought three such reminders: two additional indictments of former President Donald Trump and the intransigence of the state of Alabama. All three events demonstrate the right to vote and to have that vote be counted—one of the issues animating those who gathered for the 1963 March on Washington—remains very much imperiled.

Last week, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced a 41-count felony indictment of Trump and 18 other defendants. The alleged actions in the indictment could not be more serious, involving a then-sitting president conspiring with an array of influential people to thwart the will of Georgia voters in the 2020 election and to defraud the state of Georgia. The concerted activity described includes pressure campaigns aimed at election officials, efforts to organize fake electors, and the hacking of voting machines. The indictment paints a portrait of a leader who, faced with the knowledge that he had lost the election, wasn’t going to allow anything or anyone—not even Georgia voters—to stand in the way of remaining in power.

The Georgia charges follow close on the heels of Trump’s arraignment earlier this month on federal charges relating to the events of Jan. 6, 2021, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy to deprive people of their rights. This last charge refers to the right to vote and the right to have that vote be counted, and is grounded in a statute passed during Reconstruction primarily to allow the federal government to prosecute those who tried to prevent formerly enslaved Black Americans from exercising their right to vote. The framers of this Reconstruction-era law understood the danger to our nation when a threat to voting was not taken seriously. Nothing less than the functioning of our multiracial, participatory democracy was at stake.

And these indictments are not the only reminder that voting rights are under attack. Last term, in two cases called Allen v. Milligan and Allen v. Castor, the Supreme Court issued a powerful ruling that vindicated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, striking down Alabama’s problematic 2021 congressional map and affirming a lower court ruling. But stunningly, Alabama thumbed its nose at the Supreme Court, creating a new map that fails to remedy the defects the Supreme Court (and a three-judge lower court panel based in Alabama) identified. The state of Alabama found itself once again before federal judges last week, defending its new map and suggesting that it was ready to appeal any adverse decision.

We don’t know the results of the Trump trials (none of which have begun) or know how judges will react to Alabama’s new flawed map. But we know they remind us of how much work remains to be done to ensure that the right to vote—a right referenced in more places within the Constitution than any other right—exists not as a mere paper promise, but as a lived reality.

The Reconstruction amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution) all contained enforcement clauses, giving Congress the power and responsibility to effectuate the terms of the amendments. The framers of these constitutional provisions knew that more would be needed to make these rights real. For instance, passage of landmark legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1870 (the source of Section 241) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was required. These laws then must be enforced. And all members of the American family must remain vigilant. The right to vote does not protect itself. We march on—and the future of our democracy depends upon it.