March 4, 2013

Regarding the Feb. 28 front-page article “Justices weigh voting rights”:

In 2000, the people of Arizona passed a constitutional amendment that took the redistricting power away from sitting state politicians, who have a clear conflict of interest, and placed it in the hands of a politically balanced citizens’ commission. Arizona shares an indignity with several states of the deep South in that any changes to our voting laws must be “pre-cleared” by the Justice Department — a requirement of the Voting Rights Act that derives as a necessity from the durable shadow of Jim Crow. 

As one of the drafters of that Arizona amendment, I remain proud that we placed as the first criterion for political districts that they “comply with the United States Constitution and the United States voting rights act.” We were the first state to enshrine that federal law — an important step forward in U.S. history — in our state constitution.

Why? Because the Voting Rights Act is a template for good and fair governance. The contemplation of its provisions has helped Arizonans and many other Americans design better laws. In drafting our amendment, we were in regular touch with lawyers from the Justice Department who helped us avoid unintentional barriers to fairness. Being on the “pre-clearance list” was therefore far from an inconvenience. It was an advantage that I wish all states enjoyed, as all states certainly want all their citizens to have absolute equality at the voting booth and an absolute faith in the democratic system. We Americans are a long way from either of those absolutes, as last year’s long lines and abusive voter ID requirements proved.

Dennis Michael Burke, Phoenix

The writer was executive director of Common Cause of Arizona from 1997 to 2000.

Regarding the Feb. 28 editorial “Contempt of Congress”:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s inane interpretation of a 98 to 0 Senate vote as indicating a lack of support for a bill goes against everything we have been taught about the Supreme Court. Aren’t these judges supposed to be the best and the brightest that our country has to offer? This latest argument, following on the heels of his ridiculous broccoli analogy used during the health-care debate, proves this is no longer the case.

Paul Weiner, Bethesda