Supreme Court Declares Mission Accomplished on Voting Rights

Mission AccomplishedPreviously, I chronicled the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the Shelby vs. Holder case that dealt with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Specifically Section 5, that basically said that jurisdictions with horrible histories of minority disenfranchisement have to get pre-clearance before they made any changes to their voting laws.  With the Court’s conservative bent and justices like Antonin Scalia calling voting rights a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” in the past, it’s no surprise that the court gutted the Voting Rights Act.

The thinking appears to be that since the Voting Rights Act was such a success, it’s no longer necessary.  In other words, Mission Accomplished. The problem with unfurling a bright banner on this particular aircraft carrier is the same as it was last time around: the sentiment is entirely divorced from reality.   One wonders how the plaintiff in the case, frequent and flagrant VRA violator Shelby County, Alabama, had the gall to bring the suit at all. Let alone stand in open court detailing how unnecessary the Voting Rights Act is today.  Here’s Justice Sotomayor, who seems to get this very basic fact during oral arguments:

In — in the period we’re talking about, it has many more discriminating -240 discriminatory voting laws that were blocked by Section 5 objections.

There were numerous remedied by Section 2 litigation. You may be the wrong party bringing this.

That’s right. The folks bringing the case against the Attorney General, proclaiming that things are right as rain in Shelby, are recent and frequent breakers of said law.  “You may be the wrong party bringing this” might be the understatement of the year.  But according to the plaintiffs and now the Supreme Court, everything is super-awesome. It strains credulity.

Shelby County isn’t the only offender, however — nor is this only an issue in the South. There have been a recent spate of voter ID laws that were passed in spite of the VRA.  What do you suppose will happen now that it’s gone?  Well, Texas gave us our first hint. A mere two hours after the ruling, Texas’ Attorney General moved ahead with both their new voter ID law and their redistricting plan.  That would be the same plan that was already found to be discriminatory by a Federal court just one year ago.  The VRA was the only thing stopping or slowing down these types of measures whether it’s a legislature redistricting it’s electorate specifically to dilute minority voter participation, or anything else.  But why let little things like objective reality color your rulings? As long as there aren’t crosses burning on people’s lawns, don’t sweat it!

No one is seriously making the argument that things are the same as they were in the Jim Crow South back in 1965. But typically, disenfranchisement is of a more subtle variety in the modern age. Except of course for Pennsylvania Majority House Leader that is.  He wasn’t shy when it came to the reason his party was pushing voter ID laws.

Since the Court held that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was a “formula based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day,” I’ll let them in on a few little secrets.  Today, poll taxes have been replaced with voter ID laws. Outright and overt intimidation has been replaced with “concerned citizen groups” monitoring elections.  Just because the name has changed from the White Citizens Council to some random Tea Party franchise doesn’t mean the effect isn’t the same.  Remember those billboards that threatened voters in Ohio and Wisconsin?  Isn’t it weird that they only showed up in neighborhoods with high minority concentrations?  I’m sure it’s just the wildest of coincidences.  Same with all of the Hispanic people in Arizona who just happened to be told the wrong election date.  I’m mean, sure stuff like this happens all the time.  But pattern recognition is for squares. Things are FINE!

You know, it’s bad enough to ignore Shelby’s horrible history and current abuses.  But to turn a blind eye to everything else that is happening is just willfully ignorant.  Pennsylvania is about as reliable a blue state that there is.  And voter ID laws are not only being passed there but also bragged about as a mechanism to allow the Republican candidate to win the Presidency!  No part of this country’s recent history suggests we should be doing anything but adding even more localities to the Voting Rights Act.  But when you start with the premise that you’re going to strike down the law, facts like these only get in the way.

As I said in the introduction, I’m not surprised by this turn of events.  All we can do know is push Congress to pass legislation that would protect voting rights based on some new formula that the Supreme Court won’t have a problem with.  Unfortunately, the affected groups are all major constituencies to the Democratic base. Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Women and young people voted against the Republicans by wide majorities in the last Presidential election.  Therefore, the Republicans in the House and Senate have exactly zero interest in doing anything about it.

RIP, Voting Rights Act, section 5. You did good work. Now it’s up to the rest of America (with or without its useless lot of current legislators) to stand up and pick up where you were forced to leave off — and as a country, I can only hope we are up to the task.

Categories: Politics Fix

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