This week the Supreme Court began reviewing a case which may result in at least a partial discontinuation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The creation of the 15th Amendment in 1964 outlined the Constitutional right for any and all US citizens, including previously disenfranchised minorities, to be able to participate in elections without barriers to entry like a poll tax or literacy test.
Given the heavily entrenched racism and voter intimidation common in many areas of the South, Congress saw it necessary to mandate the enforcement of these aspects of the 15th Amendment in the form of the Voting Rights Act. The Act stipulates that such areas where equal voting access may be curtailed must gain federal approval of any changes made in a state’s election procedures before they can be implemented. At present, the VRA applies to nine states and a number of other counties and municipalities which are classified as “covered jurisdictions.”
Though it is not looking likely that the entirety of the Voting Rights Act will be struck down, Section 5 of the VRA may be changed or removed. Section 5 of the VRA is the clause which dictates the ability of the federal government to give “preclearance” to “covered jurisdictions” when attempting to change their voting procedures; they cannot do it on their own. Essentially, Section 5 is what gives the federal government the teeth to be able to enforce the VRA and the 15th Amendment in practice.
So why, even after being being signed into renewal by Bush in 2006 for another 25 years, is this case even being brought before the Supreme Court? Those leveling the case against the federal government claim that the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed – it is outmoded and serves only as a mark of shame. The challengers assert that this is because the VRA still operates based on a coverage formula created in 1975; if anything, they say, discrimination in general has declined or disappeared – we have a (half) African-American president, after all, right? No, they say, the only function of the VRA, at this point, almost 50 years later, is to shame the states with a Scarlet Letter-esque legislative mandate (no doubt bringing them to tears on at least a bi-weekly basis).
I’ve got to say, the reasoning behind the challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is pretty weak and baseless at best and at worst another transparent attempt by the GOP to suppress voters, particularly minority voters. In the lead up to the 2008 presidential elections we saw a number of states attempt to enact various suppression measures, such as requiring voter identification at the poll (supposedly implemented to quell acts of voter fraud – a matter found to be a non-issue, at worst); fortunately, these didn’t succeed in many areas precisely because of the VRA.
So let us just suppose for a moment that the issues meant to be addressed by the Voting Rights Act, have been, successfully, as the legal challengers claim. Then what burden is it actually placing on the state at this point? If your state is conducting elections fairly then the VRA should be a non-issue. I think many will agree with the claim that implementation of the VRA and the areas determined to need federal oversight based on a plan created in 1975 is outdated and unwise. So let us update the plan; the data is plentiful and readily available to make a accurate, modern assessments and if that is unsatisfactory, then lets get some grant money to sociologists. But let’s not throw out the Voting Rights Act, which even the challengers in court have more or less admitted has influenced racial discrimination at the polls in a positive way.
Without any serious, legitimate reasoning for this neutering of the VRA, it becomes rather obvious the level of pettiness and power play being attempted here. In a country where its white majority has remained unchallenged since the nation’s birth, it seems that many within this group are beginning to see the writing on the wall: whites will no longer be the majority and instead in many areas minorities, often times ones who do not speak English, will become demographically and politically very powerful, even dominant, and this terrifies them. With the GOP’s refusal to consider any platform other than “let’s go back to the 1950s – the good ol’ days before women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Act” which for some bizarre reason is not gaining traction with non-whites and women they’re beginning to understand that the sun is setting on their hegemony – play time is over.
Hidden in a smoke screen of dangerous “colorblindness” (an issue to be tackled in coming weeks, do not fret) and false victimization, these challenges and the possibility that the Supreme Court may strike down the most significant clause of the Voting Rights Act may mean that these groups get what they want; they may even be able to generate a very pleasing outcome in the next few elections. But such victories can only be fleeting – the fact is, whites will never again be a power majority and will continually shrink as a group while others, Asians especially, gain more population numbers. So while neutering the VRA may work in the short term, in the long term it won’t matter and if anything will work against the GOP or whatever will remain – people are not as blind and forgetful as they may wish they were.
If racism is no longer present and the South has moved on past its unpleasant history, how about beginning by not raising that Confederate flag so righteously every day?