Memo to those who tend to minimize Supreme Court nominations: They matter! A number of recent 5-4 decisions… bears this out.
Right now the high court is dealing with a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Those folks who have been warning for the past decade that the act is in jeopardy now see their worst fears possibly borne out.
At issue is one central provision of the act, the one that says certain states and municipalities must get federal approval prior to changes in voting procedures. This provision, known as Section 5, applies specifically to a number of southern states that in 1965 had a history of disenfranchising black voters. When Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006, they left the criteria for determining states included in Section 5 intact.
It is this hinge on which those who would gut the act now hang their hats. Make no mistake. It’s entirely possible, even likely this will be yet another 5-4 vote, this time in favor of finding Section 5 unconstitutional.
In questioning Wednesday, even those justices who are leaning toward that position are careful not to minimize the overall positive impact of the act. Instead, justices are asking questions about sovereignty. Is the sovereign dignity of Alabama, covered under Section 5 less than that of Ohio, which isn’t?
The Voting Rights Act was one piece of American legislation that moved this country out of the shadow of its racist legacy. It guaranteed a fundamental right of citizenship to those who were denied it simply because of the color of their skin. While it’s true that great strides have been made, there have been naked efforts over the past few years to erode those very same rights.
Voter ID laws, the abrupt closure of polling sites without proper notice to voters and other attempts at backdoor disenfranchisement still exist.
One wonders if the court will consider whether the federal government has ever abused its power under Section 5. Are there concrete examples of the government tyranny in considering states and cities changes to voting laws? (BTW, parts of New York City fall under Section 5). There is also a bailout provision that some counties in Virginia have already used.
So why gut the Voting Rights Act? Why not leave Section 5 intact, with a strong recommendation that Congress review its provisions with an eye toward updating them periodically? Theoretically, that could happen, but right now it doesn’t appear it will.
What do you think. Post a comment here. Should the Supreme Court blow up the 1965 Voting Rights Act?