Law school hosts voter suppression discussion in honor of MLK Day

As part of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s monthly Community Conversations, Professor Monica Nuckolls hosted a discussion on voter suppression and voter protection. The discussion, which was held in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, covered the history and present condition of voter suppression. Presenters included Harold Pope of Dykema Gossett PLLC and Mark Brewer of Goodman Acker PC. 

The tone of the conversation was set with Nuckolls referencing a topical quote from King, “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind, it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact. I can only submit to the edict of others.”

When speaking about Dred Scott v Sanford, Jim Crow Laws, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other historical instances as the foundation for current state of voter suppression, Pope explained how inequalities in voting continue to this day.

“There are a lot of people in this state that don’t want there to be a non-partisan effort to protect the right for people to vote,” said Pope. “Assuming that those efforts are defeated, we will once again urge you to work with us to protect the right to vote.”

Brewer explained the Voting Rights Act by describing its positive effects, but also said, “Unfortunately, that Act, which is one of Dr. King’s legacies to all of us,  has been gutted in the past several years by the United States Supreme Court. And unlike the past, where Congress occasionally stepped in to correct an incorrect interpretation of the law, the Congress has not stepped in to deal with these Supreme Court decisions.”

Brewer further discussed the effects of these changes to the original Act, stating how key decisions of the Supreme Court and ongoing controversies have led to hundreds of bills being introduced around the country with the purpose of suppressing the vote. In Michigan specifically, he said that some of these examples include a very strict photo I.D. requirement, significant restrictions on absentee voting, and prohibition of non-partisan groups in having any challengers present in a voting place.

Pope said, “we have to understand that right to vote is fundamental in this country. No matter what your political background is, we don’t care if you’re a Christian or Islamic, you have the right to vote. We don’t care if you’re an atheist, you have the right to vote. If you’re an anarchist, you have the right to vote. And to prevent people from having the right to vote, basically because they don’t agree with you, is anathema to what this country is supposed to be about.”  

The full presentation can be viewed at WMU-Cooley’s YouTube channel.