In the United States, the right to vote is nowadays affirmed as a basic right of all people, not a privilege granted by an indulgent state.
William Galston has posted an inquiry into the philosophical roots of the new crop of Republican-initiated voter suppression laws and rules at The New Republic. He says they aim to change our understanding of this basic right. Voter ID requirements that will be especially burdensome to poor and aging voters, additional hoops added to registration procedures, and cut backs in early voting periods all spring from a view of the franchise that is very different from that which most United States people embrace.
Because I am working on a campaign that would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole, I've had to think hard about what values ought to underly our legal system.
I am profoundly convinced that all of us have a right to expect justice that works -- and that a tough system that keeps people who commit terrible crimes in prison is something that law-abiding citizens deserve. At the same time, we want a justice system that ensures that the state never risks executing an innocent person. We know mistakes are possible. We can never be certain that we have not killed an innocent person so long as the death penalty is possible.
In the debate over the death penalty, we confront, along with daunting waste and cost concerns, quite fundamental questions about how our society can ensure more authentic justice for all. It doesn't surprise me that Galston goes to this issue when looking for analogies to the interplay of inalienable rights with privileges. The discussions do have a lot in common.
The history of liberty in the United States has been about the gradual expansion of voting rights from a few propertied men to nearly everyone. This expansion is part of our gut understanding of what our liberty means in this country. It is a terrible thing to see Republicans willing to undermine fundamental liberties -- to make participation in elections more difficult for people who might vote against them -- in order to win partisan advantage.