Repeal, Restrict and Repress

by CHARLES M. BLOW

Republican state lawmakers, emboldened by their swollen ranks, have a message for minorities, women, immigrants and the poor: It’s on!

In the first month of the new legislative season, they have introduced a dizzying number of measures on hot-button issues in statehouses around the country as part of what amounts to a full-throttle mission to repeal, restrict and repress.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

As Reuters pointed out this week, in the midterms, “Republicans gained nearly 700 state legislative seats and now have their largest numbers since the Great Depression, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.”

Judging by the lead-up to those elections, one could have easily concluded that the first order of business on Republicans’ agendas would be a laserlike focus on job creation and deficit reductions to the exclusion of all else. Not the case.

As MSNBC and Telemundo reported recently, at least 15 state legislatures are considering Arizona-style immigration legislation. If passed, four of the five states with the largest Hispanic populations — California, Texas, Florida and Arizona — would also be the most inhospitable to them.

As Fox News Latino recently reported, state legislatures are poised to break the record on the number of immigration measures and resolutions introduced this year, having already introduced 600 by the end of last month. For comparison, 1,400 were introduced in total last year, according to a report issued last month by the state legislatures’ group. A record number of those laws were enacted.

And, according to the State Legislators for Legal Immigration, which was founded by State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican of Pennsylvania, lawmakers from 40 state legislatures have joined the group that last month unveiled “model legislation to correct the monumental misapplication of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

On another note, Republicans in Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and Oregon are pushing legislation that would require drug testing of welfare recipients.

This despite the fact that, as the American Civil Liberties Union rightly pointed out, the policy is “scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound.” Other states have considered it but deemed it not feasible or impractical. In Michigan, the only state to implement it, only a tenth of those tested had positive results for drugs and only 3 percent had positive results for hard drugs, which the A.C.L.U. points out is “in line with the drug use rates of the general population.”

Most importantly, the Michigan law was struck down as unconstitutional, with the judge ruling that the rationale for testing people on welfare “could be used for testing the parents of all children who received Medicaid, State Emergency Relief, educational grants or loans, public education or any other benefit from that state.”

Despite all this, these states are pushing ahead because the made-for-the-movies image of a crack-addicted welfare queen squandering government money on her habit is the beef carpaccio of red meat for spending-weary, hungry conservatives.

On the gay rights front, Republicans in Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia and Wyoming (where Matthew Shepard was tortured to death) are pushing constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.

Republican Rick Snuffer, a freshman delegate from Raleigh, W.Va., turned logic on its head when arguing for that state’s amendment. He chided Democrats’ pro-choice position, and reasoned that, “They don’t want you to choose your definition of marriage, so they’re not really pro-choice. If they’re pro-choice, let the people choose their definition of marriage.” So let me get this straight. To be pro-choice, one has to submit to the tyranny of the majority, which may seek to restrict the rights and choices of others?

This is exactly the kind of thinking that the shapers of the Constitution worried about. A quick read of the Federalist Papers would help Mr. Snuffer understand just how concerned they were about the danger posed by majority rule to personal freedom.

Republicans in New Hampshire have filed bills to overturn that state’s same-sex marriage law, even though, according to a recent WMUR Granite State Poll, the state’s residents want to leave the law in place by a majority of more than 2 to 1, and when asked which were the most important issues the State Legislature should address, “almost no one mentioned dealing with hot-button social issues such as gay marriage or abortion.” I guess that “let the people choose” argument only works when the people agree with the Republican position.

A Republican state representative in Utah has even gone so far as to introduce a bill that would bar same-sex couples from drafting wills.

According to The News and Observer in North Carolina, Republicans are considering severely narrowing or repealing the state’s recently enacted Racial Justice Act, which allows death-row inmates to use statistics to appeal their cases on the basis of racial discrimination.

Two studies of the death penalty in the state have found that someone who kills a white person is about three times as likely to be sentenced to death as someone who kills a minority.

And in Wisconsin, Republicans are pushing a bill that would repeal a 2009 law that requires police to record the race of people they pull over at traffic stops so the data could be used to study racial-profiling.

Furthermore, abortion rights advocates are now bracing for the worst. NARAL Pro Choice America is now tracking 133 proposed bills thus far this legislative season, and that’s just the beginning. Donna Crane, the policy director of the group, said earlier this month that thanks to the gains by conservatives in the Nov. 2 election, “2011 will be a banner year for anti-choice legislation in the states.”

Richard Gephardt once said, “Elections have consequences.” He was right, and the consequences of the last election could well be a loss of liberty, choice, access and avenues of recourse for many. Brace yourselves. It’s on!

Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.”

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