THE eyes of America are on Texas, because the state quickly demonstrated the foolishness of the U.S. Supreme Court’s implosion last week of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“The demolition of the V.R.A.,” in the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, allows states with a history of discrimination in voting practices to avoid prior approval of election changes.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the 5-4 majority, blithely argued times had changed.
His words were mocked by Texas, which immediately announced it would impose voter-ID laws, which were challenged by the Justice Department last year, and a redistricting plan previously blocked by federal court as discriminatory against Hispanics.
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States around the country, but mostly in the South, have been required to have changes screened and receive a so-called pre-clearance. The scrutiny applied to all levels of government in nine states, and select counties and local jurisdictions within six others.
Congress renewed the essence of the Voting Rights Act multiple times since 1965. The last extension of the law was under a Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President George W. Bush.
As Ginsburg noted, the nature of the discrimination has grown more subtle over time, but still exists. The target has changed with the nation’s diversifying demographics.
Hispanics now suffer the rejections and challenges once imposed on blacks. Alabama and Mississippi are moving ahead with voter- ID laws that will not be reviewed. Arizona proposed an insidious redistricting plan in 2002 that was blocked in the pre-clearance phase.
One could almost imagine the smirk on the chief justice’s face as he opined the court’s halting of the pre-clearance procedure created an opportunity for Congress to redesign the formulas and thresholds used to screen changes.
Was it whimsy, cynicism or premeditation behind a suggestion that would go nowhere amid the elemental dysfunction on Capitol Hill?
Voting is the fundamental entry point into America’s sense of democracy. The Voting Rights Act symbolized official inclusion for Americans who had been willfully excluded from participation in society, from lunch counters to drinking fountains.
Congress moving to update the Voting Rights Act would speak to a continued commitment to an indivisible nation with justice for all, and a recognition that the need for vigilance never ceases.
The erosion of a basic right by the nation’s highest court is unnerving.