Earlier this month, the Delaware Supreme Court became the last judicial body in America to roll back access to voting when it abolished recently passed laws in the state for same-day registration and postal voting.
Just weeks before Delawareans prepare to vote in crucial local and federal midterm races, the reckless decision is throwing that election into chaos. Voters and pollsters alike are now struggling to ensure that people can exercise their rights on November 8.
That this most recent voter attack took place in deep blue Delaware — home to President Joe Biden and proud driver of its history as the first state to ratify our Constitution — makes the symbolism particularly painful.
But the reality is that this unnecessary and damaging restriction on voting access is just the latest in an avalanche of steps by right-wing lawmakers and complicit judges across the country to restrict how people can vote. Perhaps the far right is realizing that its chances of success are greater on issues like economic justice, women’s health care, and criminal justice by piling the deck against the people, rather than relying on their unpopular arguments.
It’s no coincidence that this verdict was issued by an all-white jury — in a state that is 25% black. Judge Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, a respected legal genius and the only black lawyer on the court, waived this decision as she awaits Senate confirmation from the U.S. Court of Appeals. It’s a cold, hard reminder of how crucial inclusion is to our American justice system. And it’s not just the Delaware Supreme Court; the Delaware Court of Chancery — a powerful and opaque commercial court that oversees 66% of the Fortune 500 companies in this country — also knows no judge of color and similarly struck down these crucial voting rights provisions before that decision was appealed to the High Council.
“If Delaware really wants to honor the ideals and values enshrined in the Constitution, its leaders must realize justice in its courts.”
Our institutions only function legitimately if people trust those institutions. That can only be achieved with representation – when everyone subject to laws and judicial decrees has a real and fair chance to shape those edicts, and when those decisions take into account the needs of the governed. It is the fundamental belief system of the United States Constitution that the state of Delaware so often celebrates and yet so rarely adheres to. Without this value system, minority communities will be forced to the margins of American society.
As severe as this setback is, there are now remedies that can be taken to correct this regressive ruling: Governor John Carney (D) and Delaware election officials must take immediate corrective action to ensure that those who intended to use make mail or register the same day this election is still possible. A public information campaign should be launched to educate Delaware residents on how to exercise their franchise. The governor and the legislature must get to work immediately to pass new laws or constitutional amendments that secure voting rights. And the Delaware Attorney General must act quickly to appeal the ruling at the highest court level. Redemption may be found at the federal appeals court.
These are immediate short-term solutions, but they don’t address the deep-rooted causes of court decisions that disregard more than a quarter of the state’s population. Governor Carney must appoint judges of color to the Delaware justice system, starting with the soon-vacant Judge Montgomery-Reeves seat on the Supreme Court, and also expanding to the powerful Chancery Court.
Going backwards is the wrong way to remain the First State. If Delaware is to truly honor the ideals and values enshrined in the Constitution, its leaders must make justice a reality in its courts.