High Court Opens Door To More Voting Rights Suppression
Hartford Courant Editorial
July 01, 2013
"Our country has changed," wrote a smug Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in a Supreme Court majority opinion last week that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the landmark legislation that lowered barriers to voting for racial minorities across the land.
The Voting Rights Act was widely seen as the most effective weapon in fighting Jim Crow of any during the civil rights era. With its crippling by the court, the United States has taken a giant step backward.
If Justice Roberts meant such barriers — onerous voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, cuts in poll hours, etc. — no longer threaten the ability of minorities and the poor to use the franchise, he is sadly mistaken. The barriers are on the rise.
The Voting Rights Act, last renewed only seven years ago with bipartisan support, outlawed discriminatory voting practices. It imposed federal oversight of elections administration on nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — and on scores of counties and municipalities in other states.
The covered jurisdictions had to get an OK in advance, called "preclearance," from the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal courts before making changes affecting voting.
By 5-4, the court invalidated the formula by which the jurisdictions were chosen, saying it was based on outdated information. The court majority said Congress could come up with a new scheme based on contemporary data.
Will this Congress agree on which states suffer discriminatory voting practices? Fat chance. But it must try. With no preclearance, the only remedy for discriminatory voting practices will be after-the-fact lawsuits.
There has been change in the past 48 years; the chief justice is partially right. President Barack Obama and his electoral coalition are proof of that.
But there are still governors and state legislators who want to limit voting opportunities for minorities and the poor.
The decision was no sooner announced than Texas said a previously blocked burdensome voter identification law would go into effect. Early voting hours are being cut back in several states.
Connecticut, happily, is going the other way. Our state tries to make it easier for everyone to vote.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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