As the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the case of Shelby County v. Holder, we Americans must question the wisdom of those Justices who would overturn key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The most threatened of these is Section 5 (preclearance) which requires approval from a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before changing “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting…” in any “covered jurisdiction” (i.e. those states and localities with a history of voter discrimination).
The plaintiff, Shelby County (AL), is asserting that preclearance, and the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b), are unconstitutional, burdensome and unwarranted. The Supreme Court refused to address the constitutionality issue in 2009. The question of burden has never been adequately explained by the challengers to the law, and whether or not it is still warranted can be answered by recent evidence including a 2008 discriminatory annexation and redistricting plan by none other than Shelby County.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is landmark legislation that outlawed discriminatory voting practices responsible for widespread disenfranchisement of Black Americans predominantly in the South during the decades following the Civil War (Jim Crow Era). It has been reauthorized four times by Congress, most recently in 2006 when the GOP-controlled House of Representatives reviewed thousands of pages of documents and subsequently approved it by a 390-33 vote. The GOP-controlled Senate similarly voted 98-0 in favor, and Republican President George W. Bush signed the bill into law.
So, what has changed since 2006? The election of Barack Obama as President in 2008, the rise of Tea Party extremism in 2010, and the stark confirmation of a major demographic shift away from modern conservatism in the 2012 electorate. Those who declare contemporary America to be a post-racial society are being brazenly disingenuous. Most people are not that gullible and understand what this is really all about – a desperate attempt to hold onto political power by an ideological sect unwilling to compete in the marketplace of democracy. The prelude to the 2012 election confirmed this sad reality as a wave of Republican-sponsored voter suppression efforts swept through the states without even a modicum of legitimate justification. New voter id laws were passed to remedy voter fraud that didn’t exist. Numerous attempts were made to purge voter registration rolls of likely Democratic Party supporters. Early voting hours were cut back in the swing states having the worst records of ballot access (an estimated 200,000 Floridians were unable to vote in 2012). Billboards were posted in poor neighborhoods across the Midwest threatening local residents with potential criminal prosecution if they dared to vote. Groups like True the Vote monitored polling stations throughout the U.S. in a futile attempt to intimidate Obama voters. The list goes on and on and on.
Fortunately, these efforts largely failed in 2012 due to the diligence of civil rights organizations, the Department of Justice, and the legal foundation of the Voting Rights Act. However, the fight continues. 2013 began with Republican plans in swing states to rig the electoral college votes in their favor.
Republican leaders have even admitted their intent in rare moments of candor and admission. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told Republican state committee members last year “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Jim Greer, the former Florida GOP Chair, revealed that the party’s new voting laws were racially motivated and aimed at suppression. And now, this is what conservative firebrand Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had to say recently about the wide margin with which the Voting Rights Act was reenacted in 2006:
“Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”
Racial entitlement? Apparently, Justice Scalia does not believe in the concept of one person, one vote. Either that, or there are other more nefarious thoughts running through his tortured mind.
Striking down any part of the Voting Rights Act would be a despicable ruling by the Supreme Court at this point in time. America is not a post-racial society by any stretch of the imagination. The Civil Rights Era forced the latent racism in all of us into the murky shadows of human motivation, but it remains nonetheless. We will not solve this problem by pretending it doesn’t exist. And if we don’t solve it, it will consume us as it did in 1861. The legacy of Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the countless thousands who suffered and died in the pursuit of freedom and equality, should not be spat on by a callously partisan court.
Further reading: Analysis: In voting-rights case, liberal justices pitch to Kennedy