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Supreme Court, in 5-4 decision, guts Voting Rights Act

2013-06-28

By now everyone who reads a newspaper, watches TV, or consults cnn.com, knows that the United States Supreme Court has invalidated a portion of the Voting Rights Act (which was re-authorized for 25 years in Congress in 2006) making it possible for previously supervised voting districts (mostly in the South) to write their own voting rules for the first time since 1965.

Affected jurisdictions responded by immediately passing laws that had previously been interdicted by the federal government as discriminatory.  The response was almost gleeful in its egregiousness.

When you read the text of the Supreme Court decision, you see that the Court has substituted its judgement for that of the Congress by claiming that the portion of the Act in question is outdated and obsolete.  This substitution of judgement allowed the Court to effectively suspend operation of the Voting Rights Act until the Congress acts to modernize this section– the one that names specific districts subject to prior review of any changes in voting law.

The Court knows perfectly well that Congress will not act, or at least it is counting on it.  The chances for the United States Senate to pass a non-filibustered bill that the House will then approve are small.  For the past three years, since the 2010 elections, we have seen complete paralysis of legislation.  There was only a Democratic supermajority in the Senate for three months, between the seating (delayed for months by Republican tricks) of Al Franken, the freshman senator from Minnesota, and the death of Senator Kennedy.

The Republican legislative strategy has been one of all-out obstruction in the Senate and repeated attempts in the House to pass bills that have no chance of Senate approval.   For example, the House has voted to repeal “Obamacare” almost three dozen times, and has recently passed an anti-abortion bill that is unconstitutional on its face.

So, the Court (a majority of them) has seen a chance to effectively repeal the Voting Rights Act despite that fact that it is clearly constitutional in all respects, being authorized by the Amendment that prohibits racial discrimination in voting and empowers the Congress to make laws that enforce anti-discrimination.  The reasoning that they use to do this is entirely specious, and they are probably aware of that.  If they do know, they don’t care, because they intend to enable discrimination in voting again by whatever means available.  It is an acknowledgement that the Republican Party understands that the only way that they can win is by cheating.

Discrimination in voting has changed its focus since 1965.  Now discrimination is accomplished by gerrymandering districts, to break apart minority voting blocs, and imposing onerous identification requirements.  New federal legislation is urgently needed to make drawing voting districts an objective practice performed by an independent authority, instead of leaving the biased local and state legislators to allocate districts based on their best chances for re-election.  Legislation is also needed to standardize voting hours, the distribution of voting machines, and identification requirements.  All these issues are subject to racially motivated interference with voting rights.

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