Here’s the National Journal’s real world analysis of what today’s US Supreme Court decision means regarding the Voting Rights Act – plus one pro-Court overview and a video report from WRAL-TV. The Court’s 5-4 conservative majority did not rule directly on the constitutionality of Section 5’s requirement of preclearance. Section 5 says certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination must get pre-approval from the feds of any change in their election practice to make sure it doesn’t put a disproportionate burden on the voting strength of minority citizens. Some observers thought the conservative majority would nullify Section 5. Instead, the crafty old guard agreed that Section 5 has helped increase minority voter participation in the covered jurisdictions (which are spelled out in Section 4), so maybe it’s not needed in those places anymore; the list of jurisdictions is not based on current data of discrimination, is arbitrary, and therefore is no longer enforceable. In other words, Section 5 is still on the books, but Congress must start over and identify where it applies; until Congress acts, Section 5 just sits on paper. Meanwhile other parts of the VRA, such as Section 2, are still in tact. But Section 2 requires aggrieved voters to prove the election change was intentionally done to discriminate against protected voters, a pretty tough task. Section 5 focuses on impact and doesn’t require the Justice Department to read the minds of local government officials as it undertakes the preclearance review.
Here’s a statement from Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, that uses a seat belt analogy for the ruling: The US Supreme Court ruling today effectively said that requiring seat beats in cars (requiring preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Right Act) has indeed saved lives (prevented racial discrimination), but because of that remarkable success (greater black voter participation), we no longer need the requirement for seat belts. Sounds irrational and contrived? It is, and worse.
The Court’s majority said it recognizes that people still get killed in accidents (racial discrimination in elections still exists) but because there’s not a consistent basis for what vehicles and passengers are covered by seat belt requirements across the nation (Section 4 is objectionable), then nobody anywhere has to use a seat belt until we get a uniform standard.
The decision is a slap in the face of victims of racial discrimination and all people of conscience who oppose barriers that handicap certain groups. Patriots on the eve of celebrating Independence Day should feel insulted. Voting is the great equalizer in our democratic republic; we are all equals at the ballot box. Section 5 was the most effective tool for making real that promise for millions of Americans. It still exists on paper, but the decision says nobody is affected by it until some far off date when a dysfunctional Congress agrees on who and where. Meanwhile, discrimination in elections can increase and freedom lovers will have to find other legal tools to protect basic American rights.