The Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act Ruling Declares Racism Dead. Long Live Racism!

Categories: The Courts

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Ever heard the quotation, "Past is prologue"? The U.S. Supreme Court apparently hasn't, and its ruling Tuesday on the Voting Rights Act virtually assured that we're doomed to repeat history. In an incredible sweep, the majority chucked the nearly unanimous, bipartisan will of Congress and dismantled the preclearance measure of the law, which requires jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting laws (like basically all of Texas) to first clear proposed changes with the Department of Justice.

Now, only lengthy litigation can remedy racially minded Texas redistricting maps and other tools of voter suppression, like the voter ID law, which, by the way, Secretary of State John Steen just announced is now in full effect. Lawyers rejoice! Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already announced the legislature's redrawn 2011 electoral map -- which federal judges called intentionally discriminatory -- will take effect immediately. Defenders of Tuesday's ruling will no doubt argue that as a country we've gone post-racial. They'll say that in an age when our president is black, these laws are anachronistic throwbacks to darker days.

But there's a prologue to this story, and it matters. Let's start in 1927, when Texas barred blacks from voting in primaries. Or in 1944, when a court had to strike down a tweaked but largely identical law. That's when Congress started figuring out that tamping down racist voting laws was like whack-a-mole. So, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1957, 1960 and 1964, Congress eventually authorized the U.S. Attorney General to seek injunctions against state and local attempts to interfere with minority voting. These lawsuits, of course, took thousands of man hours to prepare. Litigation was slow-moving; voting officials could seek continuance after continuance; and even when the Feds won, the states would change up their tactics, evade court orders or freeze the voting rolls.

This wasn't working. A century had passed, and still the promise of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution had not been delivered.

The answer was the preclearance measure in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Nearly as many blacks registered to vote in the five years after its passage in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina as had in the previous century.

That doesn't mean the Department of Justice wasn't forced to continue batting down discriminatory voting laws. The laws simply evolved, got smarter. Because preclearance jurisdictions couldn't outright deny access to the polls, they gerrymandered districts to weaken the voting power of minorities. They instituted at-large districts, so that overall majorities, usually white, selected each city council member, even in towns with strong minority districts. For a local example, think Farmers Branch (until recently).

Congress got wise to this, and reauthorized the Voting Rights Act for five years in 1970, seven years in '75, 25 years in '82. Starting in 2005, the House and Senate held nearly two dozen hearings, heard testimony from scores of witnesses and amassed volumes of evidence consuming some 15,000 pages. They discovered that there were more objections to discriminatory voter laws by the DOJ between 1982 and 2004 than there were between 1965 and 1982. Since '82, they found evidence that 800 proposed changes made by preclearance jurisdictions were altered or withdrawn to avoid a formal objection from DOJ. They commissioned a study that found that although these jurisdictions held only a quarter of the U.S. population, they were host to more than half of all successful legal challenges to discriminatory measures between 1982 and 2004.

Everything Congress learned convinced it to reauthorize the law in 2006 for another quarter century. In the House, there were only 33 nays. The Senate reauthorized the Voting Rights Act unanimously.

If there was ever an example of legislating from the bench, it can be found in Tuesday's opinion. The catch-22 the dissenting justices identify in the majority ruling is glaring, and it can be boiled down to this: If the Voting Rights Act worked, there would be less evidence of discrimination. What need would there be to continue if the law had done its job? Of course, if it didn't work, why bother perpetuating a failed policy?

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg laid example after example of contemporary attempts to suppress minority voters. There is the 2006 Supreme Court ruling holding that Texas redrew its congressional map, effectively diluting the voting strength of Latinos in District 23, which includes San Antonio and El Paso. Governor Rick Perry responded by attempting to curtail early voting. The Court blocked him.

In 2004, in Waller County, outside of Houston, two black college students who announced their intention to seek office were threatened with prosecution. District Attorney Oliver Kitzman claimed they didn't enjoy the presumption of residency status like others in the county. Then the Waller County Commissioners Court decided to reduce the number of early voting days at a polling station near Prairie View A&M, a historically black college.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has decided these dark days are over. They write about the Voting Rights Act as though it's some rigid, eternal regime that can never be escaped. Yet there is a "bailout provision" that allows jurisdictions to shed the preclearance requirement. And do you know what they have to do to "bailout"? Not enact discriminatory voting laws for 10 years! It's telling that only two districts in Texas -- the Jefferson County Drainage District around Baytown and the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District -- have strung together enough years to bailout. There are 200 other bailout districts in states covered by preclearance.

That's the prologue to Tuesday's news, and I'll end it with Justice Ginsburg's words:

"After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the [Voting Rights Act], including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support. It was the judgment of Congress that '40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution."


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11 comments
Obummer
Obummer

Yo see, in muh line o' werk you gots ta keep repeating things ova an' ova an' ova ag'in fo' da truf ta sink in, ta kind o' catapult da propaganda.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

what's a race-baiter to do now?

Mona Lisa lost her smirk.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

Didn't know you could get a degree in yellow journalism?

SCOTUS did not declare racism dead, this is not a news article it's a screed (you may need to look up the word). 

pak152
pak152

nice job of misrepresenting the decision.wouldn't have expected anything less from the DO

jcgreen59
jcgreen59

I cannot say that i was surprised.  I think that all of the signs were there that the majority of the Supreme Court would move against the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  That said, i kept hoping that the Court would leave the Voting Rights Act alone.  It did not work out that way.

It is critical that we understand that the attack on the Voting Rights Act is a conservative assault on the ‘future.’  This larger attack is not so much an undertaking by those who have always hated the Voting Rights Act, though that is, of course, one component.  Rather it is an offensive against the changing demographics of the USA and the implications that this raises regarding the potential for a progressive political realignment.  The political Right is very aware that the demographics are against them, therefore, gerrymandering plus gutting the Voting Rights Act is an effective approach if one wants to undermine the emergence of a new electoral majority.

Various liberal and progressive commentators have been suggesting that we must demand that Congress takes action.  While that sounds reasonable, in some respects, given the balance in Congress it is unlikely that anything will change.  What is, perhaps, more interesting is to consider a different side to strategy, that which was raised years ago by the former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., and has subsequently been raised by the on-line group “Color of Change”:  a Constitutional amendment on voting rights.  In other words, there must be a political movement built around expanding democracy–including but not limited to voting rights–rather than simply patching up the current system.  This is not to say that liberals and progressives in Congress should not act to reform the Voting Rights Act and deep-six the Supreme Court’s ruling.  I am hoping that something will be moved immediately.  But what we really need to look at is the larger question of democracy and, specifically, the manner in which it continues to be threatened by NSA surveillance, drones, and, yes, the attacks on voting rights.  These various issues need to be linked rather than treated separately.

We must keep in mind that since the 1970s there has been a concerted effort in the USA and most other advanced capitalist states, to turn back the clock on civil liberties and democratic rights.  The Supreme Court’s decision against the Voting Rights Act is only one act in a much longer and mean-spirited drama.  The moves towards authoritarianism must be resisted now, not some time in the future. In conclusion, As I reflect on the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voters Rights Act, I think of the blood that was shed for the right to vote. I think of the dogs that attacked those leaders who fought for the rights of all Black Americans to go to the polls. I am sadden, having been apart of history that saw Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gunned down in Memphis fighting for the rights of Blacks. I am sadden that the SCOTUS stomped on the blood of Medgar Evers, that Clarence Thomas turned the other cheek on the beating of Hon. Congressman John Lewis as he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Al. This is a sad day in America, all the freedom fighters that gave their lives for Blacks to exercise the fundamental rights to vote was crumpled upon today by the SCOTUS. My grandmother (God bless her soul) is rolling over in her grave at the actions taken today by the SCOTUS. We have not arrived, we are far from the Promise Land, this message should awaken all eligible voters to make your way to the polls, and exercise your fundamental right to change the course of government.

  

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

I cannot stand reading coverage of Supreme Court decisions written by non-lawyers.  At best, they're uninformed.  At worst, they're purposefully misleading.

I can't decide into which category this falls.

The Supreme Court did not "decide these dark days are over."  It decided that if Congress is to continue treating some states as though we are in the midst of dark days, then it has to actually find darkness in these days. 

This case was decided wholly on federalism grounds—the federal government can only treat the nine Section 4 states less favorably than the other 41 if it has the authority to do so under Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment.  Without a finding of contemporary voting discrimination in those states, the extraordinary remedy of Section 4 preclearance is without constitutional foundation.  

The Court did not decide that racism doesn’t exist, nor did it decide that African-Americans aren’t in some places unlawfully hindered from exercising the franchise.  Mr. Hargrove is wrong to indicate to the contrary.

mcdallas
mcdallas

Worst headline in DO history (and that's saying something).  

Note that the SCOTUS left in place other sections of the voting rights act - they just declared the methodology to be too old to matter (it was created in 1965, and along with other things emerging from the '60's, such as Jim Schutze, it's getting a little long in the tooth).

ruddski
ruddski

All ya gotta do is pass immigration amnesty reform and there will never be another republican in the White House, ever. That will make up for this blow to the black community.

However, as the US becomes majority Latino, it's going to be a whole new struggle, and really, Latinos couldn't give a shit about this 400 years of oppression stuff.

crimjunkie
crimjunkie

@mcdallas The provisions of the Voting Rights Act that SCOTUS left in place are the very whack-a-mole sort of provisions that have proved less effectual in combatting the evil.  The majority opinion is fairly summarized:  It used to be really bad.  But now it's all better.  :^)  So fuck the Voting Rights Act.

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