The NAACP’s Senate scorecard makes a mockery of civil rights—and the group’s legacy
In an effort to stay relevant during the 2022 election year, the NAACP and other civil rights groups have released a Civil Rights Scorecard, rating each member of the U.S. Senate on his or her support of voting rights legislation. In theory, this is exactly the kind of thing the civil rights organization, now more than a century old, should be doing—holding the feet of both parties to the fire to ensure that black Americans’ voting rights are protected. But when I read the scores, I discovered that every single Republican senator received an F, while all the Democrats got an A or an “incomplete,” making it clear that this once-proud organization will continue to choose partisanship over actual black progress.
Founded in 1909 by luminaries that included W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People once fought crucial legal and political battles that enabled black Americans to secure the full rights of citizenship. And by any reasonable standard, the group’s efforts succeeded beyond what my ancestors could have dreamed of. Within decades of its founding, black Americans gained universal suffrage, saw the end of legal segregation, broke countless barriers, and rose to the top of almost every profession imaginable.
As with any organization that largely achieves its mission, the NAACP has needed to reinvent itself to remain relevant. Even with most of the important legislative and legal victories for black advancement won, there are still innumerable ways the organization could have continued its work: Improving education, securing urban public safety, and strengthening families are just a few ideas that come to mind.
Instead, the historic civil rights organization has become unapologetically partisan, choosing an often radically progressive agenda over the interests and values of most black Americans. In recent years, this shift has included supporting teachers unions over the ability of black parents to choose their children’s schools and promoting LGBTQ activism—including the appropriation of civil rights language and moral authority for that cause. Tragically, the NAACP also supports abortion policies that have led to the deaths of millions of black babies.
The language in the new Civil Rights Scorecard makes it clear that the NAACP is determined to claim that racially motivated voter suppression is a very real and current threat. “It is time we put senators jeopardizing our civil rights on notice,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the organization. “We must be loud and clear, all across the nation, that we will not rest until voting rights for all are restored.”
The measures used for the scorecard were whether senators supported two pieces of proposed legislation: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act. The first would in effect reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, which updated federal oversight of Southern states that had not been revised to reflect election conditions since 1972. The NAACP also demands that senators support the elimination of the filibuster in the Senate.
In his speech in Georgia two weeks ago, President Joe Biden, who defended the filibuster as recently as last summer, now compares those opposing such measures to the legacies of George Wallace and Bull Conner.
Many critics believe that the John Lewis Act is essentially a Trojan horse to get rid of voter ID laws, which are supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans, including 77 percent of non-white voters.
Voting rights are an emotionally charged issue for many black Americans, as we were denied the right to vote in many states within living memory. A more meaningful look at voting rights that served our interests would take a more nuanced look at each senator’s record and at least consider the importance of election integrity, since every illegally cast ballot has the effect of canceling out a legitimately cast vote.
But to say that nothing has improved since 1972 or to refer to any effort to block these bills as “Jim Crow 2.0” is a profound insult to all those who bravely protested real disenfranchisement in order to give us the liberty we have today: Blacks voted in record numbers in 2020, and in 2012 voted at even higher rates than whites.
By giving blanket approval to all Democrats and blanket condemnation to all Republicans, the NAACP is trying to make black support for Democratic candidates a foregone conclusion. And in doing so, the once noble organization is putting the interests of a single political party over its own founding mission.
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