As for the new Supreme Court justice, he looks likely to be just as hostile to voting rights and democracy as the man who did more than perhaps anyone to get him his post. Gorsuch is a former member of the Republican National Lawyers Committee, a group of GOP lawyers that has played a key role in pushing for voter ID laws and other restrictive voting rules, and in opposing efforts to expand access to voting.
Neil Gorsuch was confirmed Friday morning to be the 113th justice of the Supreme Court, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell led Republicans in eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Meanwhile, as we reported Tuesday, a bill that would restrict same-day voter registration is making its way through New Hampshire’s legislature.
What do these developments have to do with each other? Let us explain.
The New Hampshire bill, SB 3, actually represented a tactical retreat for Republicans. After winning election in November, Gov. Chris Sununu said he wanted to abolish the state’s same-day registration system altogether. But Sununu backed off after learning that doing so would mean New Hampshire would now have to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. That 1993 law, known as Motor Voter, was aimed at making registration easier, and it requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at the DMV and public assistance agencies. But the six states, including New Hampshire, that either offer same-day voter registration or don’t require registration at all are exempted from Motor Voter.
Sununu’s administration decided that complying with Motor Voter would be worse than living with same-day registration. So New Hampshire Republicans instead settled for SB 3, which would merely threaten people who register and vote on the same day with a crime if they fail to show proof address, and is likely to pass soon.
We’re getting to McConnell and Gorsuch, I promise.
If, like me, you’re weirdly fascinated by examples of people arguing on principle that voting should not be made easier, the 24-year-old debate in Congress over the Motor Voter law is your Holy Grail. At one point, Rep. Spencer Bachus, a young Alabama Republican, lamented that offering voter registration opportunities at the DMV and social service agencies “will result in the registration of millions of welfare recipients, illegal aliens, and taxpayer-funded entitlement recipients.” (seriously, check it out — it’s at 1 hour and 45 second mark).
But here’s the thing: The House version of the Motor Voter bill exempted any state that at that time offered same-day voter registration, as well as any state that went on to enact it in the future. That was a way to incentivize same-day registration (SDR), which many Democrats saw as even better than Motor Voter in terms of access to voter registration.
But encouraging SDR was the last thing Senate Republicans wanted, and they managed to narrow the exemption so that it applied only to states that already had SDR, not to any states that might adopt it in the future. The leader of the Republican effort to narrow the exemption and avoid incentivizing SDR was Kentucky’s junior senator at the time, Mitch McConnell.
“We slammed the escape-hatch shut,” McConnell rejoiced before the final bill passed. “No longer is this bill a backdoor means of forcing states into adopting election day registration or no registration whatsoever.”
It’s likely that if the broader exemption had remained in the bill, incentivizing same-day voter registration, SDR would have been adopted by many or most states, if only because many states find compliance with Motor Voter burdensome. As it is, without that incentive, only a handful of additional states have enacted SDR.
In other words, were it not for McConnell and his allies, a major barrier to voting might well have been dramatically reduced.
Of course, that’s hardly the only time McConnell has fought to restrict, rather than expand, democracy. He played a key role in adding a voter ID requirement for some voters into a 2002 federal voting law. And he personally served as the plaintiff in a major—and partly successful—challenge to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, laying the groundwork for Citizens United.
Which brings us—ok, not quite—to last year, when McConnell, now the senate majority leader, denied the elected president the right to have hearings on his Supreme Court choice. After stonewalling for nearly ten months, McConnell then muscled through President Trump’s pick by killing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. The whole saga has amounted to a stunningly cynical subversion of democratic norms.
It’s almost like there’s a comprehensive agenda to make voting more difficult.