The Supreme Court has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. The act empowered the Justice Department with a veto (pre-clearance) over changes to voting laws in a handful of states and some localities with a history of discrimination in voting. This act was most recently renewed by Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush in 2006:
…every single Senate Republican and the vast majority of House Republicans voted for it. But today SCOTUS asked Congress to take another crack at regulations that would backstop states or counties if they passed laws that discriminated against the voting rights of any racial group.
So…that’s one thing. Superficially, it seems there is wide support in Congress to put into place some type of enforcement power in the Voting Rights Act. In theory, it should be easy for this Congress—even with a powerful obstructionist agenda motivating Republicans—to pass a new version of the law. But “theory” cannot really be trusted with the current crop of right wing Congressional nut jobbers. But…if they did rewrite the law, they could well improve it.
How can it be improved? Besides “updating” the outdated formula specified in Section 4, they could broaden the law to all states. Over the last decade, we have seen an alarming increase in state laws that disproportionately disenfranchise minorities, the poor, and non-native English speakers. Remember Karl Rove? The man was either delusionally paranoid or politically cunning in pushing the meme (with a big assist from intellectual fraudsters Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund) of widespread “voter fraud!” In reality, voter fraud is extremely rare, rarely organized, and in the rare instances it is organized, it’s usually committed by Republicans. (Okay…I made up the last “fact”…in reality, we cannot know because the sample sizes are tiny).
The result of Rove’s “fraudulent” fantasies is that Republican groups developed “model laws” that, if enacted, would disenfranchise minorities disproportionately. These model laws have been introduced in a number of non-Voting Rights Act states controlled by Republicans. Essentially, we are in a new era where many states not covered by the Voting Rights Act are at risk of disenfranchising minority voters—state like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The solution is for Congress to put some teeth into the 15th amendment and pass a Voting Rights Act that covers all states equally and significantly broadens protections for disadvantaged persons.
Yeah…whatever…that’s all pie-in-the-sky. Within hours of the SCOTUS decision several states have indicated they would go forward with their blocked or stalled voter ID laws. This does not mean they”ll succeed—after all, the 15th amendment is pretty fucking clear! But it means the Justice Department must now sue states to get the laws blocked. That process takes substantially more effort, so it is an imperfect solution.
In the long run, this court decision may well hurt Republicans. By further disenfranchising minorities, Republicans will fail at “winning the hearts and minds” and VOTES of minority and disadvantaged voters. It is a medium-term demographic disaster for Republicans. Related to that, Joshua Green points out:
Many of the GOP’s current problems stem from the fact that it is overly beholden to its white, Southern base at a time when the country is rapidly becoming more racially diverse. In order to expand its base of power beyond the House of Representatives, the GOP needs to expand its appeal to minority voters. As the ongoing battle over immigration reform demonstrates, that process is going poorly and looks like it will be very difficult.
The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act will […] intensify the Southern captivity of the GOP, thereby making it harder for Republicans to broaden their appeal and win back the White House.
That is…we have years of “Republican amateur hours” to look forward to in the House.
The final implications I want to discuss are the Constitutional ones. A reading of the ruling turns up very few specifics on why the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional:
…[I]n Shelby, five conservative justices gutted the Voting Rights Act anyway, deeming it inconsistent with Constitution because, well, they said so. These jurists said the same law used to be perfectly constitutional, but somehow morphed into being unconstitutional without anyone noticing, and without violating anything specific in the Constitution itself.
That leads to the question, “When did it become unconstitutional to subject states to pre-clearance??
Oh wait…That was Scalia’s question about same-sex marriage…
If time can morph things from constitutional to unconstitutional because “things change” couldn’t today’s ruling have implications for, say, the first amendment. I mean, they didn’t have the intertubes, high speed laser printers, Twitter, wireless phones, or even electronically-enhanced megaphones when the First Amendment was ratified. “Free speech” was more akin to a lowly musket compared to the GG-95 PDW that is today’s high powered speech technology.
Hmm. Speaking of muskets and modern personal defense weapons…shouldn’t this ruling provide “ammunition” (doh!) for those who argue that the rights conveyed in the second amendment no longer apply because of technological change in weapons technology?
Holy shit…I think the conservative Justices have given us a living Constitution! Fucking judicial activists!