Preservation Of Hard Won Voting Rights Is A Timely Pro Bono Mission

by Baker Donelson


Recently, I was going through boxes while cleaning out my mother's house when I found something that was at once a historical relic and a timely reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same - it was her receipt for a $1.50 poll tax paid in Blount County, Alabama in 1956. Doesn't sound like much, but in that time and place $1.50 was probably a barrier to many. I don't know why she kept it - I'd be hard pressed to explain why she kept many things I have run across - but I am glad she did. While like many people, and especially lawyers, I am keenly aware of the renewed attacks on the voting rights of the poor and minorities, there was something different about holding this tangible evidence of discrimination in my hands. I already knew it was real, of course, but this little piece of paper brought it home in a way that I had never personally experienced.

Over the years, efforts to inhibit the votes of poor people and people of color have taken many forms and, until recently, had gone from blatant to much more subtle and more insidious. The more forthright forms of discrimination, like the poll tax, citizenship and literacy tests, and property requirements had largely been replaced by more complex things like redistricting schemes in which discriminatory intentions could be better hidden.  Indeed, new progress was taking place in some areas, with extended voting days and times and voting by mail increasing people's access to the polls. Now, particularly in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which eviscerated the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act, many state and local governments are passing new restrictions with abandon. Poll tax isn't constitutional? Well then let's require voter ID! The difference between these two devices isn't worthy of note. Many poor people lack a driver's license or other form of photo ID, a fact that is well known. Even if the fee for obtaining an ID is waived, there are numerous other obstacles to obtaining one. Yet voter ID laws are all the rage now, along with new districting plans, replacing historically minority seats with at-large voting, and restrictions on polling dates and times that limit people's ability to get to the poll to vote. Not to mention the wholesale disenfranchisement of ex-offenders.

If all of the people who are the targets of disenfranchisement efforts were able to get to the polls and vote, I wonder what would happen? Hmmmm. But so many can't, or are too discouraged, disillusioned, or just plain tired to even try. Lawyers working pro bono must stand in the breach and fight what Hillary Clinton recently called "an unseemly rush to enact or enforce laws that will make it harder for millions of our fellow Americans to vote." The need for litigation challenging restrictions, for advocacy to resist new restrictions, for monitoring and protecting against election violations, and for public education is vast. In her keynote address at the 2013 American Bar Association Annual Meeting, Clinton urged lawyers to join that fight, and she rejected the notion that new voting restrictions were intended as a safeguard against fraud. "Anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention," she said. Or they are, which is so much worse.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Baker Donelson | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Baker Donelson

Baker Donelson on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.