NYT: Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Part of Voting Rights Act

I haven’t felt motivated to write as of late. Call it medical-school-imposed myopic focus, call it laziness, call it lack of inspiration–whatever it was, I found something that bothered me enough to write again.
In a foolish move, the Supreme Court knocked down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Not surprisingly, it went party line. Quick summary on the Voting Rights Act: it sprouted from momentum of the civil rights movement of the 60s because the 15th amendment [1870], that guaranteed all people the right to unabridged voting, was being circumvented by voting tests, education requirements, etc. The amendment also gave the federal government explicit ability enforce voting equality–so the VRA was enacted.
The act itself has several sections to it, but let me highlight a few:
So today, section 4 was knocked down as unconstitutional and unnecessary. Justice Roberts, writing for the majority:

“Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, “[v]oter turnout and registration rates” in covered jurisdictions “now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.””

And

“The dissent relies on “second generation barriers,” which are not impediments to the casting of ballots, but rather electoral arrangements that affect the weight of minority votes.”

Ginsberg wrote the minority dissent.

 “Early attempts to cope with this vile infection resembled battling the Hydra. Whenever one form of voting discrimination was identified and prohibited, others sprang up in its place.” 

And

“Beyond question, the V.R.A. 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”

Both can be read here.

My thoughts:

The racism of today has taken on a look different from the racism of the past.Rather than written literacy tests or english-proficiency laws, we have redistricting that dulls minority voices, closed early voting that disproportionately affects low-income workers that can’t make it to polls, suppression of registrations groups like the League of Women Voters, and state identification laws that will keep people who can’t afford identification or don’t have any easily available from the polls–not an insignificant number in most states.

“Texas announced shortly after the decision that a voter identification law that had been blocked would go into effect immediately, and that redistricting maps there would no longer need federal approval. Changes in voting procedures in the places that had been covered by the law, including ones concerning restrictions on early voting, will now be subject only to after-the-fact litigation.” [NYT]

Apparently it’s okay to recognize the racist history of your town/city/state, but saying that it still persists is whole other beast. No one likes to say that the uncouth sentiments of the past may still persist in the “progressive” milieu of today, but it does. That is why federal oversight in these particular states is necessary. In 2006, when Congress reviewed voting data and heard testimonials from people covered in Section 4 areas, they deemed it reasonable and necessary to maintain the pre-clearance formula. It is Congress’s job to protect its citizens voices, even the minority voices, and yesterday’s ruling has seriously filed down the claws of the VRA.

After having grown up a minority in Arizona, lived in Texas, and moved to Massachusetts, I can say from personal and second-hand experiences that racism is still alive and well. If we do not work to keep the beast at bay, it will sneak up on us. Forgetting our past by deluding ourselves about the present is the equivalent of saying “Wow, I took my cholesterol medicine and my cholesterol got lower, so that means I should stop taking it!” There is not logic in that, and there is no logic in today’s argument. A sad, sad day for minority voters and one can only hope Congress will take up putting together a new formula for the VRA.


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