Tag Archives: Chief Justice John Roberts

Who's Afraid of the Voting Rights Act?

Monday’s Supreme Court Decision on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act seems to have caught the civil rights community by surprise. The high court affirmed, for the time being, the validity of Section Five of the Act, which requires a pre-clearance before a municipality covered by it can bail out of it. The decision, however, seems to have raised as many questions as it answered.

The court allowed a Texas jurisdiction covered by the Voting Rights Act to opt out, largely because it had no past history of discrimination against black voters.

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At the same time, they punted on the constitutionality of the Act itself. Maybe that’s because Congress passed an extension back in 2006, and  an 8-1 majority decided they didn’t want to be the ones that struck it down. The ruling did allow for challenges in the future, and make no mistake, those will come, and come quickly.

There are those who would argue that the election of Barack Obama makes the Voting Rights Act obsolete (knock wood, the court wasn’t one of them).

What nonsense! One need only look at various attempts (mostly by Republicans) to pass voter ID laws to realize that attempts to disenfranchise people of color and the poor are alive and well.

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Chief Justice Roberts was right when he said “The South has changed”. That, however, would mandate an update of Section 5, not gutting the Act itself.

Isn’t it ironic that some of the same politicians who criticize President Obama for not being forceful enough in speaking out about elections in Iran want to gut a law that provided for free and fair elections here?

And what specific harm has the Voting Rights Act done to America?

Has it disenfranchised Americans, as was the practice of many jurisdictions prior to 1965? Has the Justice Dept. been accused of using Section Five (or any other section for that matter) in an arbitrary manner?

No, the effort here, and on the part of some conservatives in Congress, was to eviscerate the Act before the redistricting that will come with next year’s census. Some states, free of the Act and on the brink of passing voter ID laws, could draw legislative lines that could make it that much more difficult to elect people of color. Some of those places are not in the South. But then, the Voting Rights Act didn’t just cover the South.

I’ve posted my personal mea culpa on this blog in the past to those who sounded the alarm about the Act back before Congress extended it. It wasn’t that I thought it wasn’t needed, I just never thought Congress would let it lapse without renewal. I may have been right about that, but I was wrong about the need for continued vigilance. If the recent p;ast has taught us anything, it’s that taking rights for granted can sometimes lead to them vanishing before our eyes.

What do you think? Was Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act a victory?

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Hurry Up and Wait on Sotomayor?

There are times when our elected officials act like little more than sullen, spoiled children (witness what’s happening in the New York State Legislature, but that’s another post). Now that Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy has announced a July 13th start date for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, Republicans are crying foul. “Not enough time”, they bleat. Senator Jeff Sessions argues “It’s far more important we do this right then we do it quick”.

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In other words, there isn’t enough time for the GOP to play “Gotcha” with this nominee. They know they don’t  have the votes to stop her confirmation, so now they grasp at straws. When confronted by the fact that Leahy’s timeline is remarkably similar to that of Chief Justice John Roberts when he was confirmed, they counter that she’s ruled on ten times more decisions than he , hence the need for more time.

And of course, the flaw in the Republican argument. If experience on the bench is an important qualifier for the nation’s highest court (and we’ve heard the GOP trot this out many times in the past), Judge Sotomayor would make the grade just by the number of decisions she’s rendered. Still, the Republicans argue that under the July 13th timeline announced by Leahy, they’d have to review 76 cases per day to be prepared for her confirmation hearing.

Well, if Senate familiarity on national security briefings is any indication, Most of them won’t be doing the heavy lifting themselves anyway. That’s why they have paid staffs, and trust me, they don’t skimp on them. No, the GOP wants time because they want to find something, anything that would torpedo Sotomayor’s nomination. To be fair, this isn’t new, nor is it the sole province of Senate Republicans. But they ought to be honest and say that’s what they’re doing.

If they were totally frank, they’d say they need more time not  not to study Sonia Sotomayor’s record but to figure out how to make themselves look good to moderate and independent voters during the televised confirmation hearings. Seen from that vantage point, the political stakes are high, high enough to make a big stink about the timing of the process. Make no mistake. If the Republicans still controlled the Senate, those hearings wouldn’t start until after Labor Day, and no power on earth would make them move faster.

All this attention around Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation is a good thing. Americans ought to have something substantial to focus on besides “Jon and Kate, Plus 8” (lol).

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The Supreme Court  has a tremendous impact on the way we live our lives. The Senate should look at her record. Barring any surprises, it shouldn’t be found wanting.

What do you think. Is July 13th too early for Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings to begin?

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