The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans are dismantling the right to vote. But they’ve enshrined the right to infect.

Texas Democrats speak at a news conference on July 13 in D.C. (Michael Blackshire/The Washington Post)

In the United States in the year 2021, you, as an American citizen, do not necessarily have the right to vote.

You do not necessarily have the right to teach or to learn about matters of race, gender or anything else state lawmakers consider “divisive concepts.”

But you do have one absolute, sacrosanct, inviolate, God-given, self-evident and inalienable right: the right to refuse a coronavirus vaccine — and to infect as many people as you can.

With the blessing of the Roberts court, legislatures in Republican-run states are rushing to impose new voting restrictions, particularly on non-White voters. A tally by the Brennan Center finds that, as of June 21, 17 states had enacted 28 new laws restricting the ability to vote since the start of this year.

At the same time, 10 states have enacted, and 26 states are weighing, restrictions on classroom discussions of racism and sexism, according to an Education Week count. Ostensibly, these restrictions combat critical race theory, an academic notion turned into a boogeyman by Republican politicians and sympathetic groups.

But while curtailing freedoms for some, red states are simultaneously extending civil rights to a previously unprotected class: the anti-vaxxers. A count by the Husch Blackwell law firm lists at least 17 Republican-run states that have enacted laws or orders protecting the rights of those who refuse coronavirus vaccines, with more such laws in process.

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If there is a philosophy behind this selective approach, it’s this: Rights for me but not for thee. The red states are protecting the liberties of their political supporters — and taking liberties with everybody else’s.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

“These are Republicans who believe in the right to infect as a fundamental right,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, observed of the “very selective” approach to liberty in the red states.

I spoke to him outside the Capitol on Tuesday morning before he escorted three dozen Democratic Texas legislators to a news conference to decry the egregious attempt by Gov. Greg Abbott and the GOP-controlled legislature to suppress the votes of Black and Latino Texans. More than 50 Democrats fled the state to deny Republicans a quorum as they tried to ram through a law that would abolish the drive-up voting and 24-hour voting used heavily by minority voters in 2020.

“We are always going to push back against these sort of bigoted, racist, Jim Crow 2.0-style voting laws,” Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat who is Black, said at the news conference with the legislators.

Texas Republicans have been at the forefront of the nationwide effort to bestow freedoms on political allies while curtailing them for others. In addition to its voter suppression effort, Texas also enacted a law prescribing in detail how teachers can discuss race. Slavery and racism may not be portrayed as “anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.” No credit may be given for internships “involving social or public policy advocacy.”

Contrast these highly detailed restrictions with the sweeping freedoms granted to vaccine refusers. Abbott issued an order suspending part of the Texas health code so that “no governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.” And a law enacted last month decrees that “a business in this state may not require a customer to provide any documentation certifying the customer’s COVID-19 vaccination” to receive services.

The pattern holds throughout red America. Republican-run states are racing to restrict voting by mail and in-person voting hours and locations, and to implement voter purges and voter ID requirements that disproportionately disenfranchise non-White voters, all to combat the (largely imaginary) problem of voter fraud. Georgia banned giving food or water to voters waiting in long lines — lines caused by reduced polling access in Black precincts.

The new education edicts, likewise, propose a modern equivalent of book banning to mitigate the (fabricated) threat of critical race theory. Montana has declared that students may not be “forced to ‘reflect,’ ‘deconstruct,’ or ‘confront’ their racial identities.” Ohio is one of several states considering laws directing that “no school district shall teach, instruct, or train any divisive concepts.” Arizona will fine school districts if teachers don’t obey.

But the right to catch and spread covid-19 shall not be infringed.

As Axios’s Caitlin Owens wrote on Monday, Republican state legislators would “give unvaccinated people the same protections as those surrounding race, gender and religion.” In Montana, for example, a law requires that restaurants and other public accommodations must admit the unvaccinated. One law professor called the Montana law a “civil rights statute” akin to banning discrimination against the Irish.

Nonsense. Civil rights, as we knew them, prohibited discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Now, Republicans are trashing those rights in favor of a new protected class — on the basis of political views.

Read more:

Dana Milbank: Mitch McConnell, naked and afraid

Eugene Robinson: Republicans refusing to get vaccinated are owning no one but themselves

Jennifer Rubin: Why are White evangelicals embracing an anti-democratic movement? Because they’re panicking.

Greg Sargent: How Republicans hope to scam Democrats into committing political suicide

Paul Butler: Nikole Hannah-Jones just proved the correctness of critical race theory

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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