WASHINGTON, June 26, 2013 — With states still finding ways to restrict voting, particularly in the South, by making it difficult to vote, it was hard to believe that the United States Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote would strike out the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. But on Tuesday it did just that, effectively gutting the historic measure.
What that means is that all bets are now off, since the court has basically said all is well and the era of discrimination at the ballot box is over. After all, we have an African American president, don’t we, and a bunch of Southern black mayors.
The Supreme Court ruled that Congress has not given adequate justification for continuing federal oversight of the nine states, mostly in the South. Have the five justices, who supported Shelby County, Ala. contention, read the new tactics that are now being employed to suppress voter participation? How did they miss these recent efforts to restrict the right to vote:
1. Stricter voter ID laws with photo identification, a hardship on many minorities as well as the elderly and the poor.
2. Gerrymandering districts by race as was done in Texas, though temporarily stopped by federal judges.
3. Shortchanging minority districts with not enough voting machines, effectively making prohibitively long lines to vote.
So what were the five majority justices thinking? A look at the written majority opinion reveals a lot.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the law is “based on 40-year-old facts having no relationship to the present day. Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot simply rely on the past.”
But the Voting Rights Act is not a 40-year-old relic, but was renewed again in 2006 when then-President George W. Bush and a strong bipartisan majority in both Houses of Congress agreed that such legislation was still necessary to protect the right to vote and that, according to the Fifteenth Amendment, that right could not be abridged on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition servitude.”
And as was demonstrated in the 2012 elections, it was in those very jurisdictions, where Chief Justice Roberts thinks such wonderful progress has been made, that voter suppression was happening.
Maybe not with a poll tax. Maybe not with a lynch mob in white sheets. Maybe not with fire hoses and dogs. But suppressing the minority vote was still happening in the Deep South and even attempted in places like Florida and Pennsylvania.
The Chief Justice also cited the number of black voters in five of the states covered by the Voting Rights Act who now exceed white voter turnout. Sounds good. However, that is the very reason these states are doing whatever they can to erase those strides and why it is too soon to declare the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.
Yet even Roberts admits in his majority opinion that “Problems remain in these states and others, but there is no denying that, due to the Voting Rights Act, our nation has made great strides.”
Right, Mr. Chief Justice, which is why the Justice Department and federal judges are still needed to oversee what is going on and make determinations before voter suppression happens and not afterwards, which will now require after the fact costly litigation, shutting the barn door after the voter suppression horse escapes.
So what does this mean for the future? We won’t have to wait long to find out. Just look at what Texas attorney general Greg Abbott had to say: “With today’s decision the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the [Texas] Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
He is giving the OK for two the biggest ways to discriminate against minority voters in his state, both of which had been struck down earlier by the government.
In a strong dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up the effect of the Court’s decision perfectly: “Beyond question, the Voting Rights Act is no ordinary legislation. It is extraordinary because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment [which barred racial discrimination in voting and authorized Congress to enforce it].
“The court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’s decision.”
Egregious, definitely. And in the long run, dangerous to democracy.
To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.
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