The Washington Post

Amending the U.S. Constitution

The U.S. Constitution is under assault.

So much so that maybe we ought to inscribe this Italian phrase, Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate, or Abandon all hope, ye who enter here, on it alongside the other weighty ideas. This is particularly true for African Americans on the lower economic rungs.

We need immediate grass-roots support because the right to vote will no longer be a sacrosanct and safeguarded principle if conservatives have their way. That was the thinking of many who gathered in the nation’s capital for the recent Congressional Black Caucus weekend.

Barbara R. Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law since 1989, said a “voting rights wall of shame” is being erected in this country that could disenfranchise minorities and youth in 2012. Just last week, a federal judge in the District reaffirmed the continued need for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and its extensions after a challenge by Shelby County, Alabama.

As a young political appointee at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, I became familiar with the nuances and complexities of voter disenfranchisement during the 2000 presidential election. That electoral debacle, in which George W. Bush narrowly defeated Al Gore, included hanging chads, police intimidation, roadblocks and improper purging of felons from the voting rolls.

Scores testified at the commission’s 2002 hearings in Florida about the pain of being deprived of their constitutional right to vote. Those witnesses were primarily black, brown and Democrats. Many had a fore­father who had risked life and limb to gain access to the voting booth.

After days of testimony and close scrutiny of voter polls and county level data, commission chair Mary Frances Berry’s report found—surprise, surprise—that the “disenfranchisement of Florida voters fell most harshly on the shoulders of African Americans...African American voters were nearly 10 times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected in the November 2000 election.”

Nearly ten years later, we are still on the battlefield for full enfranchisement. As a response to the clear and decisive disenfranchisement agenda of the right, the U.S. Constitution needs to be amended to make the right to vote explicit!

Joy Freeman-Coulbary, a native Washingtonian, is a civil rights attorney. You can reach her at and follow her on twitter @enJOYJFC.

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