Disregard of Laws Not a New Thing

1870 celebration of the Fifteenth Amendment as...
1870 celebration of the Fifteenth Amendment as a guarantee of African American voting rights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news this week is that the attorneys general and governors of several states are saying they will not respect the Affordable Care Act.

That is not surprising, nor is it particularly troubling. Over the course of American history, there have been several controversial laws either passed by Congress or upheld by the United States Supreme Court that states have ignored.

When Brown vs. Board of Education decided that there was no such thing as “separate but equal,” schools in some states closed rather than comply with the requirement to integrate. In Virginia, Mississippi and other states, there was open resistance to the High Court’s ruling.  On the site, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-aftermath.html, we find written: “The “deliberate speed” called for in the Supreme Court’s Brown decision was quickly overshadowed by events outside the nation’s courtrooms. In Montgomery, Alabama, a grassroots revolt against segregated public transportation inspired a multitude of similar protests and boycotts. A number of school districts in the Southern and border states desegregated peacefully. Elsewhere, white resistance to school desegregation resulted in open defiance and violent confrontations, requiring the use of federal troops in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Efforts to end segregation in Southern colleges were also marred by obstinate refusals to welcome African-Americans into previously all-white student bodies.”

When the 15th Amendment was passed after the Civil War, again, states rebelled and refused to comply with the law. Writes Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund,  “How is it possible that African-Americans after slavery can have the vote in hand and then 100 years later from 1865 to 1965 are still fighting for the vote? We have to understand that American history is not linear or upward progress. American history is about peaks and valleys.” After the brief peak of Black elected officials during Reconstruction right after the Civil War ended, the next valley began when Mississippi called a constitutional convention to look for ways around the 15th Amendment. The result was decades of new voting laws across the South requiring literacy tests, “grandfather” clauses that prohibited anyone from voting if their grandfather hadn’t, and other “colorblind” policies whose main purpose was actually to keep people of one color from participating in our democracy.

Now, we have the Affordable Care Act, and states again are participating in civil disobedience. That is the right of being an American, a right that people in other countries with different governments apparently cannot do. But it is troubling that so many of the laws that have inspired such open rebellion and repudiation have been concerned with the rights of the disenfranchised, the poor, those for whom “the American dream” is elusive.

The fact that at least 46 million more people will have health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act is comforting to me; the fact that America is so deeply in debt is troubling, and so I can understand the protest against the cost of this massive bill. But at the end of the day, I still submit that a nation cannot be called “great” if it has such a large underclass that is exploited by those in power. The laws cited in this piece, concerning education, voting rights and now, health care, are designed to help those who have been so long ignored.

The debt that America carries is not solely because of the”entitlements” that so many are against. The fact that many working Americans cannot afford health care is not their fault. The fact that America has a culture that has supported disenfranchisement of a large number of her citizens is regrettable …but the fact that there have been put in place laws that protect this nation’s most vulnerable says that the ideal called democracy can work.

I shudder to think what America, the “land of the free and home of the brave” would look like had not these and other protective laws been passed. Although Reaganomics says that if there is a wealthy upper class, the wealth will “trickle down” to everyone else, that theory has not been shown to have merit. Neither is it apparently true that humans can be expected to take care of “the least of these” in America without laws, although America is willing to seek and to take care of “the least of these” in other countries.

It will be interesting to see how the fight against the Affordable Care Act will shake out, just as it will be interesting to see how the efforts at voter suppression will affect this nation. After all the struggle America has gone through, it seems that our problems are still the same. As “the preacher” said in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

A candid observation …

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2 thoughts on “Disregard of Laws Not a New Thing

  1. You’re right, the disregard of laws is certainly not a new thing, though it baffles me that a law that brings healthcare to so many who could not previously afford it is so heavily protested. I mean, there are those who have the bigger issue with who created the law, because of course, so many people ‘want their country back’ and want to get the black man out of office. We all knew that if the Affordable Care Act passed, it would be met with heavy backlash, but, above all else, I’m glad that millions more will now have access to healthcare, being one of those million.

  2. It doesn’t make sense that a nation cares so little about the poor. I am thankful for the Affordable Care Act; I only wish it went further.

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