Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A blow for bigotry: The Supreme Court demolishes the Voting Rights Act

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As you may have heard by now, the Supreme Court -- or, rather, the Supreme Court's right-wing majority, issued a ruling today that significantly undermines the efficacy of the Voting Rights Act:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, ruling that Congress had not provided adequate justification for subjecting nine states, mostly in the South, to federal oversight.

"In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. "Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were."

The court divided along ideological lines, and the two sides drew sharply different lessons from the history of the civil rights movement and gave very different accounts of whether racial minorities continue to face discrimination in voting. 

There was -- and remains -- good reason for such federal oversight.

What the Roberts-led majority is basically saying is that racial prejudice is a thing of the past ("the nation is no longer divided along those lines") and that the success in overcoming such prejudice means there's no longer a need for voting rights protections of the sort that were enacted back in the '60s as part of the broader civil rights movement.

Which is ridiculous.

Conservatives have been waging war on voting rights for a long time, by which I mean forever, and this is the blow they were waiting to strike.

The argument itself is bullshit. Things have gotten better, no doubt, but deep racial divisions remain, and Republicans all across the country have gone to great lengths even just recently to deny citizens access to the polls, at the very least indirectly targeting racial minorities among others.

Indeed, this is yet another example of the conservative ideology and right-wing judicial activism that has taken hold of the Court.

And Justice Ginsburg, writing for the minority, was not amused:

"[T]he Court's opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decision making," wrote the leader of the court's liberal wing. "Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today's demolition of the VRA."

Joined by the three other liberal-leaning justices, Ginsburg scolded the conservative majority and its rationale for throwing out Section 4 of the law — which contains the formula Congress has used to determine which states and local governments must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws.

"Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court's opinion today," she wrote. "The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. Instead, it relies on increases in voter registration and turnout as if that were the whole story."

Congress has renewed the Voting Rights Act four times — most recently in 2006 by an overwhelming 390-33 vote in the House and a 98-0 vote in the Senate.

That's right, it's not just that racism is still a problem, contra Roberts, it's that Congress itself has voted repeatedly to renew the VRA. And so here's the Roberts Court making a terrible argument while simultaneously thumbing its nose at the American's people's elected representatives in Washington.

President Obama was right to be "deeply disappointed" in the ruling: "Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent."

But, then, what do conservatives care about voting fairness, and about those specifically who have been targeted by Republicans? They're driven by hubris, as Ginsburg wrote, as well as by a political agenda, evident on the Court just as much as in Congress, that seeks a return to the ugly past, and to the unfettered domination of a ruling class that is very much of their own kind.

This is a terrible day for America, but there are lessons to be learned. Indeed, this ruling should serve as a reminder of what conservatives do when they're in power and that the best way to stop them is to vote for a president, and legislators, who will uphold and strengthen voting rights and appoint justices who will do the same.

Anything less, as we're seeing today, is a travesty of justice.

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