Thursday, February 28, 2013

John Roberts has long hated the Voting Rights Act

By Frank Moraes 

Something I really hate is how John Roberts is held up as some model of reasonable conservatism. I'm sure he will go down in history just like William Rehnquist: a man who was extremely conservative but is said to have been reasonable because the people who came after him were even more extreme. In the case of Roberts, Samuel Alito provides all the breathing room he could want.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Voting Rights Act. All the conservatives justices (except Thomas who never says anything) were very aggressive in their questioning. In particular, Roberts asked, "Is it the government's submission that citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?" This goes right along with what has become standard operating procedure for the conservatives on the court. This isn't a question; it is polemics in its purest sense. The question is not about citizens, although I suspect that yes, they are more racist. The bigger question is if there are systemic aspects of these systems that perpetuate racism in how voting is done. And after this last election where all kinds of clearly racist attempts were made to finesse the election, these questions shouldn't even need to be raised.

In fairness, the real question here is whether we should keep assuming that areas that were once overtly racist should be held to a higher standard. Should they have to get preapproval from the federal government before they change their voting laws. I wish we were going in the other direction: moving toward making all local governments get approval before changing the law. The way it now works, some place makes it harder for minorities to vote; they are slapped down about it later; but that doesn't change the skewed election results.

John Roberts has a long history of being against the Voting Rights Act. He was a big part of the Reagan administration's push to weaken the law. Adam Serwer wrote the history of this: "Chief Justice Roberts' Long War Against the Voting Rights Act." In it, he details how Roberts argued that the federal government should have to prove the law changes were intended to be racist. In other words, it's all good as long as some governor doesn't say, "This law will keep them darkies from voting!"

It's very sad, but Roberts clear undemocratic opinions are typical of conservatives everywhere and increasingly the elite everywhere. At the hearing today, the conservatives seemed to be very concerned about how democracy worked and indicated the need for them to step in and fix its problems. We're not talking about stopping mob rule. Instead, Scalia noted that the law was so popular that the legislators didn't feel free to vote against it. What a terrible thing, right? Representatives actually listening to their constituencies? What's next: the rule of law?!

Don't be surprised if the important Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is struck down. In fact, don't be surprised if the whole act is struck down. This court has shown an eagerness to make decisions that are far broader than the question at hand. It used to be that the court calmed a more excitable legislature and executive. Now, the court is the more excitable. And democracy is in great danger.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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