Voting Rights Act: A wounded animal

In Opinion
Courtesy of MCT
Courtesy of MCT

In a 5-4 ruling of the case Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court found that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Section 4 had been the criteria used to determine which states and counties would need to get approval from the Justice Department before they enact changes to existing voting laws.

Now that the high court has dismantled a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act, the situation of civic equity has once again become a part of the national debate.

Voting with the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “the act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.”

Roberts may believe that Section 4 is outdated, but he failed to see that the section would have been able to prevent newer, subtler forms of voting discrimination.

In the two years before the Court made its decision, Texas, Alabama and Florida passed strict voter ID laws that would have made it more difficult for African-Americans and Latinos to vote, according to the New York Times.

These states would have been prevented by the Justice Department from enacting their respective voter ID laws had Section 4 remained in place.

Pamela Karlan, a voting rights expert from Stanford University, pointed out that Shelby County, Ala. could have been exempt from seeking clearance from the Justice Department if they did not have any record of voting discrimination for 10 years.

Shelby County did not meet that guideline, as it had attempted to redraw district lines to prevent a city councilor from winning re-election.

At the same time, Roberts, who is no darling of the left, admitted that voting discrimination exists when he wrote the majority opinion.

It is difficult when looking at his statements in unison not to find them contradictory.

One says the need for federal oversight is no longer necessary while the other says people are still systematically losing their civil liberties.

Even if the Chief Justice believed that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed, he may not have considered the negative ramifications of its potential repeal in enabling communities with histories of voting discrimination to be able to continue their streak with no consequence.

The relevancy of Robert’s argument is no longer relevant, as North Carolina, Mississippi and Virginia join Texas, Alabama and Florida with their plans to tighten voter ID laws.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in an attempt to “protect the integrity of the vote,” tried to purge people who he did not believe were citizens from voter rolls.

From a list of 182,000 suspects, less than 40 were found to be ineligible to vote, according to the New York Times.

The governor’s action begs several questions: if less than one percent of registered voters are ineligible, why is he putting so much attention into this policy? Which groups of people are being adversely affected by voter registration purges?

Texas’ voter ID law would allow people to use their permit to carry a concealed weapon as proof of eligibility to vote, but the state would not allow people to use their student ID cards. Perhaps the state realized the ideological tilt of a concealed weapon carrier to that of a student.

North Carolina’s voter ID law reduces the number of early voting days; it also ended same day voter registration.

According to Politico’s analysis of North Carolina voting statistics, Democrats are more likely to vote early, and minorities are less likely to carry an acceptable form of identification.

On Aug. 28, 1963, over 200,000 people took to the streets, filling the space between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument to listen to Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

At that time, millions of Americans were living as second-class citizens, there was little economic opportunity, and people were being denied their civil rights.

Fifty years later, millions of Americans continue to live as second-class citizens, economic opportunity remains bleak and the civil rights that our grandparents fought for have come under question.

If the parallels between 50 years ago and today sound faintly familiar, so will the famous saying from philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not remember history’s mistakes are bound to repeat them.”

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