One of the American people’s greatest shortcomings is their goldfish memory for history. Intensely present-minded, they make the same mistakes time and again, believing always that they are blazing new trails. North Carolina Republicans are no different. On issues of race and law, they display exceptional historical cluelessness.
Republican myopia came into ugly focus last week when they repealed the Racial Justice Act, exactly fifty years after George Wallace stepped away from the schoolhouse door. Remarkably, the House passed its flagship voter suppression law on another grim anniversary, forty-five years to the day of Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.’s assassination. They probably don’t intend to display this galling insensitivity, and that is the point. As Paul Stam said of the RJA, “the evidence proved there was past discrimination in cases in North Carolina. We knew that”–knew, in the past tense.
The Republicans have forgotten all about racial discrimination, but they remember one strategy used to perpetuate it. In their rawest utterances, they don’t even pretend not to pursue interposition and nullification. In a remarkably antebellum-esque statement, the American Legislative Exchange Council–unquestionably our legislature’s puppet master–thundered that “state legislators are the last line of defense to stop this legislation from trampling on our health care freedom.” I profoundly hope ALEC and its human satellites in Raleigh have forgotten that states were once the “last line of defense” against another form of economic “freedom”–the freedom to own other people.
All this matters, because those who forget history really are doomed to repeat it. Spare me the notion that the Tenth Amendment permits nullification. The Amendment’s language reads “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people,” not “states may pick and choose what powers the federal government gets to have.” This and other fallacies discredited previous factions, and history will cast the same harsh glare on this Republican government.