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How a true democracy operates
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Cokie's mother, Lindy Claiborne Boggs, was born on a plantation in the segregated south before women could vote. When she died last week at 97, Barack and Michelle Obama celebrated "her legacy as a champion of women's and civil rights [that] will continue to inspire generations to come."
Protecting the right to vote was the central principle of Lindy's political career. During the Louisiana governor's race of 1939, she organized a group of women to prevent a corrupt machine from stealing the election. One of her cohorts stayed through the night "in a rough waterfront precinct" guarding a ballot box," Lindy wrote in her memoir, "Washington Through a Purple Veil."
Lindy eventually served 18 years in Congress, succeeding her husband Hale, who was killed in a plane crash in 1972. Hale risked his career to support the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and a cross was later burned on their lawn in New Orleans to protest his vote.
"Hale and I strongly believed that the freedom to register and to vote were inherent rights of all citizens of the United States, and that only through the exercise of those rights could true democracy operate," Lindy wrote.
Maw Maw -- as she was known to the family -- was right as usual. That's why we agree so strongly with Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to use the full weight of the Justice Department to salvage the law that Hale supported at such cost 48 years ago.
That law created a system under which certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination -- nine states and parts of six others -- were required to "pre-clear" any changes in election law with federal judges or the Justice Department. In June, the Supreme Court struck down that provision, saying the formula that defined the states covered by the law was outdated and unfair.
But the court did not touch the law's basic concept: The federal government has the right to oversee local election rules. It also left intact a section under which the Justice Department can challenge specific rules that are intentionally discriminatory.
That's exactly what Holder is doing, charging Texas with two counts of bias: an election map that diminishes the role of racial minorities, and a law that makes it harder for poorer and less-educated citizens to register and vote.
Things are much better today -- thugs don't stuff ballot boxes or punch out women who try to stop them -- but Hale's warning remains valid. Discrimination still exists, and the recent efforts in Texas and other states are conclusive proof. The Voting Rights Act is weaker but still standing, and the administration is right to use every power it has left to protect the essence of "true democracy."
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.