Here’s a safe prediction for 2013: few people will pine for the Presidential campaign of 2012. Even Barack Obama’s most ardent supporters acknowledge that his victory provided little of the euphoria of four years ago. Not many Republicans have longed to hear from Mitt Romney since his swift journey to political oblivion. Anyone miss the barrage of Super pac ads? (Those, alas, will probably be back in four years.) The pseudo-candidacy of Donald Trump? (Ditto.) But in last year’s spirited competition for the nadir of our political life the lowest blow may have been the Republicans’ systematic attempts to disenfranchise Democrats. To review: after the 2010 midterm elections, nineteen states passed laws that put up barriers to voting, including new photo-I.D. and proof-of-citizenship requirements, and restrictions on early and absentee voting. In most of those states, Republicans controlled the governorship and the legislature. The purported justification for the changes was to limit in-person voter fraud, but that claim was fraudulent itself, since voter fraud is essentially nonexistent. Mike Turzai, the Republican leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, revealed the true intent behind most of the laws last June, when, after the House passed such a measure, he boasted, in a rare moment of candor, “Voter I.D., which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done.” Turzai’s prediction was wrong, but that doesn’t mean that the Pennsylvania law and others like it weren’t pernicious. Obama won in Florida, too, but a recent study by Theodore Allen, an associate professor at Ohio State University, found that, in central Florida alone, long lines, exacerbated by a law that reduced the number of days for early voting, discouraged about fifty thousand people, most of them Democrats, from casting ballots.
It is against this backdrop that, next month, the Supreme Court will take up a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the most effective law of its kind in the history of the United States. A century after the Civil War, the act, in abolishing many forms of discrimination employed by the Southern states, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, finally turned the legal right for African-Americans in those states to vote into an actual right to vote. Bipartisan congressional majorities have reauthorized the law four times, most recently in 2006. (It passed the House overwhelmingly and the Senate unanimously, and was signed into law by George W. Bush.) The question now is whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Voting Rights Act as a violation of states’ rights.
The case under review, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, represents an attack on what has become the most important part of the law, known as Section Five. Section Five applies to most counties in nine Southern states and a handful of counties in the rest of the country, all of which have histories of discriminatory voting practices. The law says that these places must receive prior approval, known as “pre-clearance,” from the Department of Justice or from a federal court before they can make any change in their electoral rules, regarding everything from the drawing of district lines to the location of polling places. The case will determine whether Shelby County, or any other county or state, still has to comply with the pre-clearance requirement.
Full Article: Jeffrey Toobin: Defending Our Voting Rights : The New Yorker.