Earlier this month, the Delaware Supreme Court became the latest judicial body in America to roll back voting access when it struck down same-day registration and vote-by-mail laws recently passed in the state.
Coming just weeks before Delawareans prepare to cast their ballots in crucial local and federal midterm races, the reckless decision throws those elections into chaos. Voters and poll workers alike are now scrambling to ensure the people can exercise their rights on Nov. 8.
That this most recent assault on voting occurred in deep-blue Delaware — home to President Joe Biden and proud booster of its history as the first state to ratify our Constitution — makes the symbolism particularly painful.
But the reality is, this needless and harmful restriction on voting access is just the latest in an avalanche of moves by right-wing legislatures and complicit judges across the nation to limit how people can vote. Perhaps the extreme far right realizes its odds of success are better on issues like economic fairness, women’s health care, and criminal justice by stacking the deck against the people, rather than relying on their unpopular arguments.
It’s no accident that this ruling was issued by an all-white panel of judges — in a state that’s 25% Black. Justice Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, a respected legal mind and the lone Black jurist on the court, recused herself from this decision as she awaits Senate confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals. It’s a cold, harsh reminder of just how critical inclusion is for our American system of justice. And it’s not just the Delaware Supreme Court; the Delaware Court of Chancery — a powerful and opaque business court that oversees 66% of Fortune 500 companies in this country — is also void of a single justice of color, and similarly struck down these crucial voting rights provisions before that decision was appealed at the Supreme Court.
“If Delaware wants to truly honor the ideals and values enshrined in The Constitution, its leaders must make equity in its courts a reality.”
Our institutions function legitimately only when the people have faith and trust in those institutions. That can only be achieved with representation — when everyone subject to laws and judicial decrees has a real and fair opportunity to shape those edicts, and when those decisions take into account the needs of the governed. It’s the foundational belief system of the U.S. Constitution that the state of Delaware so frequently celebrates yet so infrequently adheres to. Without this value system in place, minority communities will continue to be forced to the margins of American society.
As serious as this setback is, there are remedies that can be taken now to correct this regressive ruling: Gov. John Carney (D) and Delaware elections officials must take corrective action immediately to make sure those who were planning to utilize vote-by-mail or same-day registration this election still can. A public information campaign must be launched informing Delawareans of how they can exercise their franchise. The governor and legislature must go to work immediately to pass new laws or constitutional amendments that secure the right to vote. And the Delaware attorney general must move quickly to appeal the ruling at the highest judiciary levels. Relief can perhaps be found in the federal appeals court.
These are immediate short-term solutions, but they don’t address the deep-rooted causes of court decisions that leave out more than a quarter of the state’s population. Gov. Carney must appoint justices of color to Delaware’s court system, starting with Justice Montgomery-Reeves’ soon-to-be vacant seat on the Supreme Court, and also extended to the powerful Chancery Court.
Going backwards is the wrong way to remain the First State. If Delaware wants to truly honor the ideals and values enshrined in The Constitution, its leaders must make equity in its courts a reality.