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What About The Voting Rights Act?

Submitted by on June 30, 2013 – 6:24 pm15 Comments

Much has been made over the past few days about the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 and what these rulings mean for marriage equality in this country. However, the very important and controversial decision handed down by the Court concerning the Voting Rights Act seems to have been lost in the shuffle.

What exactly did the Supreme Court decide in this case and what does it mean?

In a 5-4 decision, the Court struck down section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which provided the formula to determine what areas required preclearance, or federal approval, of any changes to voting laws and regulations, in order to avoid discrimination. The court reasoned that the disparity in the percentage of voter participation among the races in virtually all of these jurisdictions has all but dissipated, and that there is no longer a need for such federal approval. Justice Antonin Scalia, ”The Great Dissenter,” noted that the disparities had not existed for quite some time and that the provision probably would have been struck down a long time ago, but for what he termed “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

Here’s the issue: As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his opinion, most of the progress that has occurred in voting stats between races has occurred because of the Voting Rights Act and the approval required before changes may be made in the specific jurisdictions (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and counties such as Los Angeles as well as other isolated cities and counties in various states) covered by section 4(b). Taking those away opens the door for racial discriminatory policies to once again rear their heads, and it won’t take long.

We’ve already seen proposed voter ID requirements and other policies that have a discriminatory effect. In fact, in light of the ruling, Texas plans to immediately put its voter ID law into place. Texas isn’t alone, and by some estimates, 11 states will institute discriminatory laws concerning voting this year. The trick is that these laws do not seem discriminatory on their faces, but have the effects of blocking or undermining the voting power of certain racial groups or income levels.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg put it, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Roberts noted that it is up to Congress to update or replace Section 4(b) with a more current and relevant policy. Should we really have faith in our Congress to do that or anything else at this point?

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