Voting Rights took a serious hit today with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down key provisions in article five of the Voting Rights Act.
They didn’t take a sledgehammer to section five but in many ways, it amounts to the same thing because they took away the enforcement mechanism. The pre-clearance provision remains intact. Rather, the majority felt that the formula for pre-clearance is outdated and called on congress to revise the formula. Yes the same congress that couldn’t pass universal background checks despite the fact that over 80% of the country wanted them. It isn’t a stretch to figure out that this congress will do nothing to revise the formula.
For many reasons, this decision while dreaded was expected. One need only look at the Chief Justice’s long battle with the VRA, Justice Scalia’s “racial entitlement” comment and Justice Thomas’ perceptions in general and his established opposition to the VRA specifically to figure out how the conservative Justices would rule. It was clear that they would prevail with Justice Kennedy’s observations about states’ rights in relation to this case.
The Chief Justice wrote the decision backed by the usual conservative coalition and Justice Ginsberg wrote the minority opinion, joined by Justices Sotomayer, Kagan and Breyer.
It has often been reported that the Chief Justice cares about the integrity of the Supreme Court as an institution. Perhaps he does, but with all due respect to the institution, this ruling does little to reassure Americans that the Supreme Court rules on the law, rather than on narrow political interests.
One need only look at the numerous and not so subtle attempts to suppress the vote by Republican controlled states in 2012 to see why we still need the Voting Rights Act and why we still need section 5. Some Republican officials admitted publicly that the purpose of those laws was to suppress the black vote during the past election. Following a shellacking in the 2012 election, Republican lawmakers continue to persist in their effort to rig the system be it by rigging the electoral college or with laws that that studies show adversely affect specific segments of American voters: African Americans, seniors, college students, women and the poor.
Yes, there was a high voter turnout by people most adversely affected by vote suppression efforts. However, the turnout wasn’t a testament to how far lawmakers have come since the days of Jim Crow and poll taxes. In reality, it was a backlash against laws designed to suppress the vote.
That dynamic was missed by the majority of the Supreme Court, but not lost on Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan.
It isn’t often that a Supreme Court Justice reads the entirety of their minority opinion out in open court. It happened today because this ruling was a big freaking deal and honestly, America deserves better than what we got in the majority’s ruling, as noted in the minority opinion.
Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today. 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. See supra, at 18-19. Without even identifying a standard of review, the Court dismissively brushes off arguments based on “data from the record,” and declines to enter the “debat[e about] what [the] record shows.” Ante, at 20-21. One would expect more from an opinion striking at the heart of the Nation’s signal piece of civil-rights legislation. (my emphasis)
This ruling also gives us a lesson in political reality. Republican governors and Republican controlled state legislatures will suppress the vote. Voting Republican means endorsing vote suppression. We see that in the fact that all voter suppression programs, be they subtle or blatant were passed by Republican controlled state legislatures and signed by Republican governors. It is that simple and will be that simple for several election cycles.