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.More »