The best analogy I can find to characterize the 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act is to imagine a patient with high cholesterol, probably because of poor nutrition. The doctor gives the patient a cholesterol-lowering drug and the cholesterol goes down to a safer level. The doctor concludes that the patient is cured and makes the patient stop taking the pills. We all know what’s going to happen next.
“The patient is cured” states the essence of the argument of the five right-wing justices who decided that nine states no longer need to get approval from the federal government before making changes to voting procedures.
But don’t the many recent attempts to limit voters’ rights in these nine plus many other states prove that the disease has not been cured? These voting restrictions always seem to affect minorities, the poor and the young more than other groups. Keep in mind that many if not most of these new restrictions on voting were blocked by the feds, overturned by courts or repudiated by their sponsors after the election. The Latin phrase, res ipsa loquitur—a thing that proves itself—seems to apply to recent Republican attempts to prevent people from voting. We just know those good old boys are still eating bacon and fried foods slathered in gravy, yet the good doctors of law at the Supreme Court took them off their Lipitor.
But at the end of the day, this decision is going to mean little. Whatever the decision would have been, Republicans will keep introducing legislation to make it more difficult to register to vote and to vote. And when those laws pass the many Republican controlled state legislatures, civil rights groups, Democrats and organizations representing minorities will continue to take them to court. Most but not all of the laws restricting voting rights will be overturned. The controversy will continue to energize voters on both sides—but that will help the Democrats, since theirs are the voting groups targeted by Republican efforts.
Yes, registering to vote and voting will become harder in many locations. But voters will become hardier and more assertive as they react with anger to attempts to limit their rights. Groups will continue to do a better job of registering voters and escorting them to the polls on both sides, but there are more potential voters for the Democrats. The Republicans are playing a losing hand.
One thought on “Bad Supreme Court decision in voting rights case won’t make difference in real world”
If only this were true. It will make a huge difference. Sections 4 & 5 of the Voting Rights Act prevented jurisdictions in Southern states from enacting at large voting for everything from school boards to city councils to county commissions. They may now do so without fear that those will be overturned. Why does this matter? Because if a community is 2/3 white and 1/3 minority voters, a system which elects single member districts means that there will be some minority representation on those governing bodies, while at large voting means that if the 2/3 majority all vote for majority candidates, there will be no minority representation on those governing bodies. And why will they be able to do this without fear of it being overturned? Because the Supreme Court has held that in order to prove an equal protection violation under the Fourteenth Amendment, the plaintiff must prove that the discriminatory effect was intentional, which is virtually impossible to prove.
Just last election cycle, Texas’ voter ID law was struck down in federal court under Secs. 4 & 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It will now become law, and it will be impossible to strike it down, though there will be a legal challenge brought, I am sure. It will lose. This will have serious consequences. And by the way, the rationale of the opinion was not “the patient is cured,” but rather, that the doctor’s prescription was based on stale evidence of disease. The fact is, a lazy Congress failed to update its data to support reauthorization in 2006. Having said that, it’s amazingly contemptuous of a democratic republic for 4 white men and a black man to decide that Congress was irrationally wrong in its conclusion that the patient was still sick and still needed the medicine. This is exhibit “A” that the Roberts Court may be among the most activist courts in history. A judicially conservative opinion would have shown more deference to the duly elected representatives of the people, particularly where there is no important Constitutional provision being jeopardized by the 2006 authorization, which was a legitimate use of Congressional power to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.