Voting Rights Act: Time to Make Lemonade

voter rights actThe Supreme Court’s activist conservative majority, in a 5-4 vote on June 25, threw out the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which required states and localities (mostly in the Old Confederacy) to clear any changes in electoral law with the federal Department of Justice.  The argument was that the criteria and standards used by Congress were obsolete. Congress is invited to revise them, but of course everyone (including the justices) knows that this Congress is too gridlocked to agree on anything of the sort.

But, to paraphrase the old saying, when the Court gives you lemons, make lemonade. As the Court’s opinion affirms, conditions surrounding voting in this country are now radically different than they were in 1965. The old Democratic Solid South with legal discrimination against African American voters has been replaced by a Republican hegemony that is adapted to black voting. At the same time, Republicans have dedicated themselves across the entire country to various measures transparently intended to suppress minority voting, such as photo ID laws. And highly sophisticated redistricting after the Republican gains in 2010 had worked systematically to reduce the weight of those minorities who do vote.

The Court did not invalidate the entire law: its prohibition of discrimination against minority voters still stands. Thus, there is room for vigorous enforcement across the entire nation. The Justice Department certainly has authority to challenge discrimination anywhere in the country. And private plaintiffs with standing to sue can bring suit if they believe they have been discriminated against in voting.

john peelerThus the Court’s decision actually holds the potential of broadening the scope of a law that was formerly focused only on the South; what we face now is not a recalcitrant region so much as a national party that has adopted voter suppression as a policy.

Scalia, Roberts and their colleagues probably think they’ve struck a death blow to the Voting Rights Act, without actually ruling it unconstitutional. Time to prove them wrong.

John Peeler

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on June 26, 2013
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About John Peeler

John Peeler is a retired professor of political science at Bucknell University, specializing in Latin American and international affairs. His op-ed essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, as well as many in local papers in central Pennsylvania where he lives. He has had letters published in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Comments

  1. twocrows says:

    So the Voting Rights Act’s “prohibition of discrimination against minority voters still
    stands. Thus, there is room for vigorous enforcement across the entire
    nation. The Justice Department certainly has authority to challenge
    discrimination anywhere in the country. And private plaintiffs with
    standing to sue can bring suit if they believe they have been
    discriminated against in voting.”

    In other words, people who feel they have been discriminated against can go to court to prove it. People who are well off enough to do so [and there are fewer and fewer of those, these days] can hire a lawyer and go to court. Big Whoop.
    Alternatively, a state’s justice department can go to court.
    Both these actions take years to occur.

    Meanwhile, the person who won an election by using discriminatory laws will be in Washington busily making sure those people who were disenfranchised in order to allow him/her to win will never again get a chance to vote.

    And this is good news – how, exactly?
    I see plenty of lemons but not all that much lemonade here.

  2. TomDegan says:

    So, for all these years that key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional? Who’d have thunk?

    Look what these brutes are doing to your country. I said to someone
    recently that Texas will go blue in 2016 for the first time in
    decades. That was simply because of the natural – and totally expected -
    shift in the voting demographic that was bound to take place. It was as
    inevitable as the sun rising in the eastern sky.. What the Supreme
    Court did yesterday was nothing more than put a halt to sociological
    progress.. Clarence Thomas said out loud that if he had his way, he
    would do away with Affirmative Action as well.

    QUESTION: Where do you think that Judge Thomas would be today had it not been for Affirmative Action?

    ANSWER: He would be mounted on the front lawn of some beer
    distributor’s home in Albany, Georgia, wearing a jockey uniform and
    holding a lamp.

    Look at what the Republicans have done to your
    country. This is a party that will be extinct in five years. Remember
    you read it here, folks. You say you want a revolution?

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