The politically conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court, in a blatant act of partisan judicial activism, on Tuesday eradicated the essence of the 50-year-old Voting Rights Act. States and municipalities with a track record of discrimination will no longer have to “pre-clear” changes to their voter registration, polling or redistricting processes through the U.S. Department of Justice or federal district courts.
Allegations of voter suppression and dubious gerrymandering will now have to be litigated in a more cumbersome and costly case-by-case manner.
The Post and Courier applauded the court’s decision in a Wednesday editorial, noting that Southern states subject to “pre-clearance” have changed in the past five decades and, in many cases, now have higher minority voter registration and participation statistics than states which had no pre-clearance requirement.
The court and The Post and Courier’s editorial considered that to be proof that the Voting Rights Act had the desired effect and that pre-clearance is no longer needed, but their assumption ignores an easily verifiable truth — one doesn’t have to go back five decades to find evidence that Voting Rights Act pre-clearance is still essential, relevant and necessary.
South Carolina’s new voter ID law is now far more benign and less onerous than the original version because federal judicial scrutiny resulting from the need for pre-clearance led to radical changes for the law to stand.
The need for pre-clearance led the town of Gonzales, Texas, to abandon plans to move the location of a predominately minority voting precinct from a public elementary school to a once segregated private club that still generates complaints of discrimination — they couldn’t defend their plans when asked to do so.
The Shelby County case heard by the Supreme Court resulted from a redistricting plan that arbitrarily eliminated the seat of the only minority member of Shelby’s County Council.
None of the cited cases is five decades old — they’re all far less than one decade old and are among more than 20,000 such concerns addressed by the now eliminated Section IV of the Voting Rights Act.
To paraphrase the Rev. Al Sharpton, “Jim Crow” may be dead, but his son — “James L. Crow Jr., Esquire” — is alive and active. One only needs to look at some bigots in the political arena or to read the predictably ignorant and racist comments that will follow the online version of this column to realize that.
Chief Justice John Roberts said, in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 majority opinion, that improvements in states and municipalities heretofore requiring pre-clearance negate the need for Section IV of the Voting Rights Act — that “These improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.”
I agree with Justice Roberts. The aforementioned state changes speak to the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act.
I also, however, vigorously disagree with the chief justice on the need to wipe out Section IV of the Voting Rights Act. The progress in the aforementioned states suggests that pre-clearance should not be eliminated, but should be expanded to include all states, even those where racial bigotry is not as visibly blatant but is no less real.
The Supreme Court has tasked those in Congress — who can’t even agree these days whether the sun comes up each morning — to create a new formula for substantive enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.
While I’ll kindly pass on holding my breath while waiting for the present Congress to do the right thing, I will also offer some advice, in case someone decides to pursue substantive “next steps” on voting rights.
I know of no state that’s eliminated speed limits because the majority of drivers obey the speed limit.
I know of no good exterminator who tells a client that his services are no longer needed because cockroaches are no longer visible.
The successors of the “cockroaches” whose bigotry created the need for the Voting Rights Act may now be less threatening, more high sounding and more visually appealing, but they’re still problematic and still need to be continually managed and monitored so that we can achieve liberty and justice for all.
The Reverend Joseph A. Darby is the presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.