I attended the oral argument in the Voting Rights Act case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and I came away even more convinced that the Court should uphold the contested parts of the law. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that covered states “preclear” their proposed election law changes with federal officials. Nine states plus parts of seven others are “covered,” and many of these areas are in the South. Conservatives often complain about “activist judges legislating from the bench.” But some of the more conservative Justices’ comments reveal that the fate of the Voting Rights Act should be a decision for Congress, not for the Court. Justice Scalia said he thinks Congress’s decision in 2006 to renew Section 5 was motivated by a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” It was the kind of political screed you might hear from Rush Limbaugh. Scalia’s baseless platitude could just as easily be made in the opposite direction–someone could claim Scalia wants to strike down voting protections to “perpetuate racial entitlement” whites have enjoyed for centuries. Neither assertion is appropriate in a court of law.
Editorials: The court’s conservatives seem to believe that the Voting Rights Act has outlived its purpose | Slate Magazine
If you’re trying to cure an illness, and you get better, but not entirely—say you had a high fever, but now you have the sniffles and a sore throat—does it make sense to keep taking the same medicine? What if your doctor insists? Justice Stephen Breyer offered the disease analogy Wednesday morning for racist efforts to block the power of black and Hispanic voters in the South during a sharply polarized argument—5 to 4, conservatives v. liberals—over whether Shelby County, Ala., has taken enough medicine from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Congress first enacted the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to deal with massive and violent suppression of black voters in the South. The problem was so entrenched that when federal courts would strike down a discriminatory measure like a poll tax, Southern states and counties would quickly dance around the ruling, enacting new barriers such as a literacy test. So Congress armed the Voting Rights Act in two ways. The first, Section 2, bans any voting practice that discriminates on the basis of race or ethnicity. It applies uniformly, throughout the country, and it has no expiration date. To enforce it, the government, or a group or person affected by the law, has to sue—and has the burden of proof. The second part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, relied on data showing a pattern of discrimination at the time to create a category of “covered jurisdictions.” Congress said that for 25 years the Department of Justice had to “pre-clear” any changes to voting rules in those places, or else the state or county had to go to court for approval before the changes could go into effect. The list of covered jurisdictions included most of the South, along with a smattering of counties and cities in other states.
The voter ID laws and other tactics that sprang up in several states last year to prevent minorities from casting their ballots offer incontestable proof of the need for strict voting rights laws. Yet at the argument on Wednesday in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices left the ominous impression that they were willing to deny this reality and repudiate Congress’s power to enforce the right to vote by striking down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires nine states (seven of them in the South) and parts of seven others with records of extreme discrimination against minority voters to get approval from the Justice Department or a special court in Washington before they can make any changes in how they hold elections. Without this provision, there would be no way to prevent new and devious efforts by local officials to block blacks and Hispanics from voting or to reduce their electoral power. In 2006, Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the statute. It found that these places should remain “covered” by this “preclearance” requirement because voting discrimination remained both tangible and more concentrated and persistent in them than in other parts of the country. House members from those places strongly supported the renewal: of 110 members from covered jurisdictions, 90 voted for reauthorization.
Italy is no longer striking a “bella figura.” The country’s post- election chaos has shaken the very foundations of the European Union as the idea of a politically united Europe appears to suffer a blow. Rome’s Colosseum appears somewhat run-down, with its enormous pillars stained gray by pollution and its basement vaults fallen down. Yet it continues to be a first-class European cultural good. Now, with the Italian capital’s coffers empty, a luxury fashion company is financing the site’s renovation, to the tune of 25 million euros ($33 million). These days, the monument to Rome’s former greatness appears to be a reflection of Italy. Because of its financial problems and current political stand-off, Italy – among the “most European” of countries – has become the problem child of the Continent. Like the Colosseum, the highly indebted eurozone country could be dependent on external help – namely that of the European Union. The EU is hoping that the Mediterranean country will be able to get itself out of its crisis, as the EU isn’t eager to take on the role of sponsor. But if the third-largest economy of the eurozone keeps tumbling, it could take the whole bloc with it. Developments in Italy, though a consolation to EU skeptics in Greece, Spain and Portugal, have placed basic assumptions into question: for example, whether Europe can be reformed, how fundamental sustainable solidarity is, and whether the political union even makes sense. Is European Union drifting apart?
Many Kenyans will go to the polls on 4 March 2013 with a sense of trepidation. Three of the country’s four elections since 1992 have been accompanied by significant violence, with 2002 the exception. On each occasion politicians used local grievances over land and inequality to label supporters of rival candidates as ethnic “outsiders”. Militias were then used to force those same voters from their homes. Thousands of people were killed in violence around the 1992, 1997 and 2007 elections and tens of thousands more fled. Some of these supposed “outsiders” never returned to places where their families had lived for decades. No wonder, then, that many Kenyans see elections as something to endure rather than to celebrate. In light of this history, anyone of a nervous disposition might have hoped that this would be a straightforward election with a clear result. That looks unlikely, as on the eve of the vote the final result is too close to call. President Mwai Kibaki is retiring after two terms in office, and prime minister Raila Odinga is the frontrunner. But Odinga’s lead in the opinion polls is narrow, and he will almost certainly be denied an outright majority; in that case a run-off will be held in a few weeks’ time.
Editorials: America Is One Step Closer to Neutering the Voting Rights Act | Andrew Cohen/The Atlantic
You could say that the call was made even before the polls closed. It was made with great clarity before the end of the scheduled hour of oral argument at the United States Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holderby the folks at Scotusblog, the most popular and prestigious website covering the Court. It was presented in 140 characters or less to the world in the form of a Tweet: “Update from argument: VRA Sec 5 almost sure to be invalidated 5-4. Congress will have to reconsider the preclearance formula.” There are some instances where oral argument is useless in determining how a case will turn out. This does not figure to be one of those times. There look to be five votes to strike down the section of the law that requires officials in some jurisdictions to prove to the satisfaction of federal officials that their voting laws and redistricting rules do not discriminate against minority voters. We can be reasonably certain about this not just because of the questions and the answers offered up Wednesday but also because of the history of the Roberts Court and the Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Roberts, who campaigned against the law 30 years ago as a young Justice Department official, isn’t going to save the statute the way he saved the Affordable Care Act last June. Justice Clarence Thomas declared four years ago that it had to go. Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday declared the most successful anti-discrimination law in American history the perpetuation of a “racial entitlement.” Justice Samuel Alito echoed on Wednesday many of the same concerns he expressed during argument four years ago in a Section 5 case out of Texas. That’s four votes. The fifth would be Justice Anthony Kennedy, the least conservative of the five Republican appointees. Lyle Denniston, a reporter who has daily covered the Supreme Court since before the passage of the 1965 law, wrote Wednesday of some wiggle room he perceived in a comment Justice Kennedy made about how the plaintiff in the case — Shelby County, Alabama — may not be in proper position to challenge Section 5 (or the preclearance coverage formula of Section 4) because of its past record of voting discrimination.
Sometimes, in a Supreme Court argument, a single phrase can speak volumes. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the one member of the Court who bore the most watching because the other eight seemed clearly to divide evenly, used the phrase “trusteeship of the United States government” as a shorthand way to describe how he views the regime set up by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 works. Of course, he meant it as a denunciation. If Kennedy believes that there is no way to justify any longer that kind of oversight of nine states that have to do the most to obey the 1965 law, that law may well be doomed. But it also was Kennedy who left the impression that he might be willing to go along with a potential way to short-circuit the case of Shelby County v. Holder, and allow the law to survive for some time more. The argument Wednesday in one of the most important cases of the Court’s current Term — a hearing that ran seventeen minutes longer than the allotted hour — left no doubt that four of the Justices (and maybe Kennedy with them) are just as troubled as they were four years ago when they last lambasted the selective enforcement approach mandated by history’s most successful civil rights law. Equally, there was no doubt that four Justices — including the two newest members — were prepared to let Congress have its way with the twenty-five-year extension of the law.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act remains one of this country’s foremost accomplishments. Constitutional amendments following the Civil War barred states and localities from abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, yet for the better part of a century, white racists managed to stay a step ahead of the federal government’s enforcement of these protections. The Voting Rights Act was designed to stamp out the varied and shifting strategies local officials used to prevent African Americans from voting. On Wednesday the Supreme Court will consider whether the Voting Rights Act has worked so well that its toughest rules have now outlived their time. Provisions of the act require certain states and localities with a history of discrimination to clear any proposed change in voting rules with the federal government. Shelby County, Alabama, claims that immense progress since 1965 in rooting out official discrimination renders pre-clearance an unwarranted burden on those jurisdictions that must comply, unjustifiably subjecting some states to unequal treatment and violating their constitutional prerogative to regulate elections within their borders.
Much has changed in America since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was first approved, and we can’t blame those living in the 16 states that must get approval from the Justice Department or a federal court in order to revise their election laws for feeling the weight of history. The Deep South of the 21st century is not the same as the days of poll taxes, literacy tests and assassinated civil rights leaders. But how different is it today from seven years ago? That’s when Congress last renewed one of this country’s most important pieces of civil rights legislation — including the section that places this burden of proof on states with long histories of suppressing minority voters. It wasn’t even close, nor was it partisan. The House and Senate voted 390 to 33 and 98 to 0, respectively, to extend the law by another 25 years, the fourth extension since 1965. More than anything else, that fact should weigh heavily as the Supreme Court on Wednesday considers the case brought by Shelby County, Ala., where officials regard the pre-clearance requirement as an unconstitutional burden. Courts have upheld the Voting Rights Act numerous times over the years (including in the Shelby case), so surely such an argument must turn on the claim that the basic patterns of life in places like Alabama have changed completely. Yet couldn’t the Congress of 2006 somehow have picked up on that?
Editorials: Italy’s election leaves country — and eurozone — on financial high-wire | Louise Cooper/CNN
Brilliant minds across the financial world are still trying to work out the implications of the Italian election result. For the time being, the best answer is that it is probably too soon to tell. After Tuesday’s falls, a little stability has returned to markets, possibly because everyone is still trying to work out what to think. Credit ratings agency Moody’s has warned the election result is negative for Italy — and also negative for other indebted eurozone states. It fears political uncertainty will continue and warns of a “deterioration in the country’s economic prospects or difficulties in implementing reform,” the agency said. For the rest of the eurozone, the result risks “reigniting the euro debt crisis.” Madrid must be looking to Italy with trepidation. If investors decide that Italy is looking risky again and back off from buying its debt, then Spain will be drawn into the firing line too.
What happens when a Supreme Court ostensibly committed to judicial restraint confronts a long-standing civil rights statute that offends its conservative majority’s sense that law should be colorblind, even if the world is not? That question will be front and center when the Court hears arguments Wednesday in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of a central provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The provision, known as Section 5, requires nine states, mostly in the South, and select jurisdictions in seven other states, to obtain federal approval for any change in their voting laws. Congress concluded that this was necessary to ensure equal opportunity in voting. But conservatives in some of the southern states have long complained that the law gives the federal government too much power, and now, Shelby County—a largely white suburb of Birmingham, Alabama found guilty of racial discrimination in voting as recently as 2008—has sued the US government to get it annulled. If the Supreme Court majority exercises restraint, it will acknowledge that Section 5 falls within Congress’s constitutionally assigned authority to enforce rights of equal protection and voting. But if the Court chooses to impose its own view of racial justice—according to which laws should be drafted without regard to race, even if race-conscious efforts are needed to forestall discrimination—it will invalidate a core part of one of the country’s signal civil rights laws. The Court has frequently reviewed the Voting Rights Act since its initial enactment, and has until now always upheld it. But this time around, the result could well be different. It shouldn’t be.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder,challenging the constitutionality of a key part of the Voting Rights Act. But in the wide public debate about this case, we are getting to the point where — as election law scholar Pam Karlanhas noted — everything has been said, but not necessarily by everybody. In addition to this Reuters symposium on “If the Court Strikes Down Section 5,” other symposia, commentaries and op-edshave considered whether the act still serves a vital purpose; whether the court should strike it down; and what should replace it if the court rules that Congress went too far in requiring certain states to continue to get federal permission when making changes in any voting rules until 2031. Even President Barack Obama has weighed in, urging the court to keep the act in place. He said the best way to protect voting rights is by having the federal government review voting changes before they can be implemented, to ensure that changes don’t make protected minority groups worse off. So it is worth taking a step back to look at the larger question of why this is a decision for the Supreme Court to make and not the political branches. After all, even back in 1965, Section 5 was “strong medicine.”
Editorials: Judging the Voting Rights Act – The Supreme Court should not substitute its judgment for Congress’ on voting rights | Los Angeles Times
Rightly regarded as one of the most lustrous legacies of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlaws discrimination in voting nationwide, but it also requires that states with a history of denying minorities the right to vote obtain the approval of a federal court or the U.S. Justice Department before changing election procedures. This “preclearance” provision, contained in Section 5 of the act, has been repeatedly reauthorized by Congress — most recently in 2006, when it was extended for another 25 years by margins of 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate. Between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department used the preclearance process to block the enforcement of more than 2,400 voting changes on the grounds that they would undermine minority voting rights. Yet this proven protection may be on constitutional life support. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case from Alabama that challenges Section 5 and the formula by which nine states, mostly in the South, and parts of seven others (including California) are required to obtain preclearance when they redraw district lines, modify registration procedures or change any other practice that might disadvantage minority voters. Supporters of the Voting Rights Act fear that conservative members of the court — and perhaps not only conservatives — are poised to rule that the law violates the prerogatives of states that no longer practice the sort of blatant discrimination that inspired the original legislation.
Editorials: Alaska state leaders prefer cooked map to protecting Native voters | Shannyn Moore/Anchorage Daily News
The federal Voting Rights Act goes on trial this week. It was enacted in 1965, because some people were working really hard so some other people couldn’t vote (that’s a nice way to say they were “racists”). The federal government finally agreed to make sure that everyone with a constitutional right to vote would be allowed to vote, despite the bigots running state and local governments. In 1975, Alaska’s congressional delegation ensured that we were added to the list of states protected — because Alaska Native voters who didn’t speak or read English were being disenfranchised. Again, in 2006 under Republican rule, the Voting Rights Act was re-authorized by Congress to cover Alaska. Twenty languages spoken by First Alaskans were excluded from the ballot or voting information. Now Shelby County, Ala., is suing to get out from under federal oversight of voting rights. It beat Alaska to the punch. There’s also an Alaska vs. Holder suit pending, filed in August. Our state’s case, which has been stayed, will rise or fall with the decision of the Supreme Court in Shelby vs. Holder.
The phrase, ‘politics of consensus’ (PoC) may sound extremely positive. But it is rarely practiced in current competitive democratic systems throughout the world. In Nepal, it is regarded as a mantra relied upon to resolve the current political crisis. The ‘politics of consensus’ has therefore become both a panacea and a practise riven with contradictions, especially in those localities where consensus is undermined by one of the core values of democracy: ‘majority rule’. This is all the more problematic because of the constitutional vacuum, due to the dissolution of Constituent Assembly (CA) in June 2012, and subsequent problems in power sharing between the political parties. The idea of a PoC was initiated in 2006 in the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) between former rebel-Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M, hereafter Maoists) – and the government of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), to end a decade long civil war. The preamble of Nepal’s Interim Constitution 2007 clearly stated that PoC is one of the core values binding political parties to work together to reconstruct a new Nepal. This is an attempt to circumvent confrontation between parties when it came to re-building a new peaceful and prosperous Nepal, irrespective of divided political ideologies.
Editorials: Voting Rights Act Case Pits the Rights of Humans Against the ‘Sovereignty’ of States | Garrett Epps/The Atlantic
Shelby County v. Holder, the Voting Rights Act case the Supreme Court will hear Wednesday, is a peculiar case. Its oddity is this: no one on either side contests that Congress has the power to enact a provision like § 5, the provision at issue here. And no one on either side questions that § 5 does what it was designed to do: keep the ballot box and the political process open to formerly excluded minority voters. The Act, in other words, isn’t broken. Nonetheless, argue the plaintiffs, this key provision must be scrapped. To understand why, consider this sentence from the Petitioners’ Brief filed on behalf of Shelby County, Alabama: “determining whether the formula is rational in practice is not a substitute for testing it in theory.” “The formula” is the heart of § 5, the so-called “preclearance” provision of the Act. As devised by Congress in 1965, the Act imposes a special requirement on states or parts of states that met two conditions during the 1964 election cycle. First, those jurisdictions employed a “test or device” for voting that had been shown to lead to racial exclusion from the vote; and, second, less than 50 percent of the eligible voters actually voted that year.
The Voting Rights Act has worked for almost 50 years to remove racial discrimination from the electoral process and prevent its return. Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral argument on the constitutionality of Section 5, one of the act’s most powerful provisions. Section 5’s work is done, this argument goes, and the provision has outlived its usefulness. Yet some of Section 5’s most important work lies beyond its technical application. Section 5 requires that jurisdictions with a documented history of racial discrimination in voting seek federal approval for any voting changes. The aim is to ensure that new voting laws will not “retrogress” — or harm — minority voting rights. It subtly and constructively inserts race into electoral decision-making — creating a race consciousness among decision-makers that can often preempt discrimination. This deterrent effect, and its impact on the discourse of race in elections, may be Section 5’s most important — and unfinished — work.
The Washington D.C. lawyer representing the Alabama county that wants to strike down the heart of the most effective civil-rights law in historyspecialize in cases aimed at making voting harder for minorities. William Consovoy also last year argued on behalf of Republican officials in Florida and Ohio, who in both cases were seeking to significantly reduce the days allotted for early voting, which blacks take advantage of more than whites. Consovoy, a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, is a partner at Wiley Rein, a Washington, D.C., law firm that bills itself as the best in the country for election law. Bert Rein, one of the firm’s principals, also is listed on court documents as representing the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in Shelby County v. Holder Wednesday. And the involvement of Consovoy and Rein in the case, which challenges the constitutionality of a key part of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), underlines the extent to which it’s a product of the broader partisan voter suppression campaign pushed by Republicans last year in a failed attempt to defeat President Obama.
I can only hope that the scourge of racism is finally purged from Stewartstown and Pinkham’s Grant. These are two of 10 New Hampshire towns covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires local officials to get permission, or “preclearance,” on any changes to their election laws. Stewartstown has just over a thousand souls in it and is 99% white. In 1970, when it was put under the authority of Section 5, the census listed two blacks out of its 1,008 residents. Pinkham’s Grant boasts nine residents, and it must also beg Washington for permission to make any changes to how it votes. In 1970, New Hampshire required all of its citizens to pass a literacy test to register to vote. But Pinkham’s Grant, Stewartstown and the other eight towns also had low voter participation rates. These two factors — a test of any kind for voting and participation rates under 50% — met the criteria for oversight under Section 5. But after years of onerous preparation, the state filed for a “bailout” from the oversight provisions of Section 5 in November. And although the Justice Department hasn’t taken a whole state off its watch list since the early 1980s, New Hampshire will probably be let off the hook.
A sense of humour in adversity can be attractive, but it is not always useful. Confronted by the worst recession in their country since the 1930s and the possible implosion of Europe’s single currency, the people of Italy have decided to avoid reality. In this week’s election a quarter of the electorate—a post-war record—did not even bother to show up. Of those who did, almost 30% endorsed Silvio Berlusconi, whose ruinous policies as a clownish prime minister are a main cause of Italy’s economic woes. And a further 25% voted for the Five Star Movement, which is led by a genuine comedian, Beppe Grillo. By contrast, Mario Monti, the reform-minded technocrat who has led Italy for the past 15 months and restored much of its battered credibility, got a measly 10%. This result is a disaster for Italy and for Europe. In Rome the centre-left coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani, the pre-election favourite who ended up getting only a whisker more of the vote than Mr Berlusconi, is now struggling to form a government: it is unlikely to be stable or durable (see article). Meanwhile, financial markets across Europe swooned on the news. Share prices fell sharply almost everywhere. Sovereign-bond yields jumped across the Mediterranean countries, to levels touched three months ago, even as they fell in Germany, bringing the euro crisis back to centre-stage.
On “Bloody Sunday,” nearly 50 years ago, Hosea Williams and I led 600 peaceful, nonviolent protesters attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights protection in Alabama. As we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we were attacked by state troopers who tear-gassed, clubbed and whipped us and trampled us with horses. I was hit in the head with a nightstick and suffered a concussion on the bridge. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized that day. In response, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act and later signed it into law. We have come a great distance since then, in large part thanks to the act, but efforts to undermine the voting power of minorities did not end after 1965. They still persist today. This week the Supreme Court will hear one of the most important cases in our generation, Shelby County v. Holder. At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires all or parts of 16 “covered” states with long histories and contemporary records of voting discrimination to seek approval from the federal government for voting changes. The court is questioning whether Section 5 remains a necessary remedy for ongoing discrimination.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case from Shelby County, Ala., challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, our nation’s most effective tool in combating racial discrimination in voting. The importance of this case can’t be overstated. At stake is the future of our democracy. The protections in the Voting Rights Act affect millions of African-American, Latino, Asian-American and American Indian citizens, who depend on it to ensure they can participate in our elections and have a voice in our democracy. Section 5 requires those states and local jurisdictions proved to have the most egregious history of racial and ethnic voting discrimination to receive preapproval – or “preclearance” – from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court before making any election-related change, such as passing restrictive voter ID laws, limiting hours for early voting, moving a polling place or redrawing city council districts.
The 2012 presidential election was about as bad as it gets for voting, in too many states. It is unfathomable, not to mention deeply embarrassing, that the world’s most modern democracy would have voters standing in line for hours on end to exercise this fundamental franchise. Television images of the lines in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida (among other states) were shown around the world. While the problems causing the long voting lines were not uniform, more often than not the situation was traceable to calculated efforts by Republican officials who deliberately changed (or administered) the law to make it difficult for predominately Democratic voters, hoping to discourage their voting. The good news is that it did not work. Because the problem was well-publicized, inconvenienced Democrats defied the efforts to disenfranchise them, and waited for however long was required to cast their ballot. President Obama commented on the lines and problems on Election Night; he mentioned them again in his Inaugural Address; and most recently, they also played a role in his State of the Union speech, poignantly highlighting the plight of Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old Florida woman seated in the Galley of the House of Representatives’ chamber during the speech, as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama. The President explained that Ms. Victor had been forced to stand in line for three hours at her local library in North Miami to cast her ballot. Most everyone in the Chamber literally gasped at the awful situation, but that doesn’t mean Republicans will do anything to solve it.
Of all the things that deserve the federal government’s focus right now, the last is the reform of election laws. Yes, it’s shameful that 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami faced a six-hour-long line when she showed up to vote last November. Indeed, as many as 201,000 frustrated Floridians left the polls before voting that day, according to an analysis by an Ohio State researcher for the Orlando Sentinel. So on election night, President Obama was right to say “we have to fix that.” But during his State of the Union address, at which Victor was an invited guest, the president was wrong to suggest a federal fix for standardizing how elections are held across the country. A one-size-fits-all formula is not the most effective and efficient way to manage elections from Miami, which experienced long lines, to Milton in Florida’s Panhandle, which did not.
Editorials: Voting Rights Act Deserves More Judicial Deference than Indiana ID | Spencer Overton/ACS
Many who assert the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder should uphold the preclearance and coverage provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act disagree with the Court’s 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion County Bd. of Elections that upheld Indiana’s photo identification requirement. On the other hand, those who oppose Section 5 cite Crawford as a reason Section 5 is allegedly unconstitutional. An honest reading of Crawford, however, provides five reasons the Court should now defer to Congress’s determinations regarding the coverage and preclearance provisions of Section 5. In Crawford, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Indiana ID requirement did not unconstitutionally burden the right to vote (the Court did not address whether ID discriminated on the basis of race). The plaintiff in Shelby County seeks to undermine Congress’s authority under the 14th and 15th Amendments by making the novel claim that the coverage provision violates a “principle of state equality” — but the U.S. Constitution contains no such requirement.
As you watch the Italian election results come in this weekend, ponder the following seemingly contradictory statement: for some Italians in some regions of the country, the vote that is most likely to lead to the policies they most prefer being enacted by the new government would involve voting for their preferred party in the elections to the lower house of the Italian Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies) but for their preferred party’s worst enemy – the party of Silvio Berlusconi – in the upper house (Senate) elections. How could this be? The answer lies in what political scientists call “strategic voting”. To understand strategic voting, it is first necessary to understand “sincere voting”. A sincere voter ranks the parties or candidates, and then casts his vote for his top ranked party: the vote is a “sincere” reflection of the voter’s top preference. A strategic voter, however, asks some sort of additional question before deciding whether or not to cast his vote for his top choice. Usually this question is “will my vote be wasted”? The easiest way to waste a vote is to cast it for a candidate who has no chance of winning: think a vote cast for Ralph Nader, for example, in the 2000 US Presidential elections. Occasionally, a vote can also be wasted by casting it for a party that has already won an election, but needs a coalition partner to get above a minimum threshold in order to govern. Strategic voting then might dictate voting not for your preferred party, but for its needed coalition partner; such behaviour is said to explain the unexpectedly strong performance of the Free Democrats in the recent German regional election in Lower Saxony. But there is another type of strategic voting, trying to influence policy outcomes. Social scientists Howard Rosenthal and Alberto Alesina have demonstrated how it can be perfectly rational for Americans to vote for one party in a presidential election and another party in legislative elections if one’s policy preferences are located between the two parties. The current Italian elections, however, take this form of strategic voting to a whole new level, as they provide a set of incentives for voters to vote for and against the same party in one set of legislative elections to pick a single government. Here’s how.
Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Threat to the Voting Rights Act: A History | Andrew Cohen/The Atlantic
At 10 a.m. next Wednesday, the justices of the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case styled Shelby County v. Holder, one of the most anticipated of the current Term. Agreeing to review an argument made by an Alabama county that it ought finally to be free from one of the key requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the justices will have an opportunity both to lead and to follow the nation as it roils anew in political and legal battle over the rights of the poor, the ill, the young, the car-less, the black, the Hispanic, and the Native American to vote. Nearing its 50th birthday, the act has become a part of our national lore. One of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement (and of the Johnson Administration), it was designed by its creators to finally give meaningful legal remedies to minority citizens — blacks, mostly, but not exclusively — who for generations had been precluded from voting (or from having their votes fairly counted) by a dizzying flurry of discriminatory state practices. The act didn’t just expand the scope of existing federal civil rights laws. It completely changed the dynamic between voters and state and local governments. And the results are indisputable: There is far less discrimination in voting today than there was half a century ago — and many millions more minority voters.
Editorials: McCutcheon case could give Citizens United a run for its money in Supreme Court | The Washington Post
McCutcheon could be the new Citizens United. The Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to hear a campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, in its next term gives the justices a chance to continue their dismantling of restrictions on money in politics, most notably with the landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision of early 2010. With the new case, the court could strike a blow against fundraising limits for federal candidates and political parties. The case does not challenge the $2,600 cap on donations to a single candidate’s campaign but rather the overall limit — $123,000 — that one person can give over a two-year election cycle. Removing that ceiling would allow a single donor to give the maximum amount to more candidates and, crucially, to political parties such as the Republican National Committee, which brought the lawsuit along with Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman and conservative activist. The court decided decades ago that the government is constitutionally permitted to limit donations to candidates with the goal of fighting corruption. But the RNC argues that there’s no constitutional rationale for limiting how much one donor can give to many candidates. The thinking goes that because each candidate receives only $2,600, none of them ends up corrupted.
The announcement of this year’s Best Picture winner on Sunday will culminate an experiment unprecedented in the 85-year history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For the first time, Oscar winners will be determined largely by votes cast online. At a time when New Jersey and other states are considering holding more consequential elections over the internet, we should ask: How did the Oscar experiment go? Unfortunately, it went poorly, for reasons that shed light on the inherent difficulty of conducting secure, accessible, credible elections online. Problems for Oscar voters began at the beginning: logging in. Voters were required to create special, complex passwords, but when they tried to log in to the Oscar website, many found their passwords rejected. After re-entering passwords several times, voters were locked out of the site entirely and forced to call a help line. Many then had to wait for new passwords, delivered by snail-mail. Even relatively young and tech-savvy voters weren’t immune. As 42-year-old documentarian Morgan Spurloch told the Hollywood Reporter, “There’s even some young farts like myself that are having problems.”
There are enormous stakes for the country in the campaign finance case the Supreme Court agreed to review this week. If the Supreme Court strikes down the existing limits on the aggregate amount an individual can give to all federal candidates and all party committees in a two-year election cycle, the Justices will create a system of legalized bribery in Washington. Such a decision by the Court would be a gold mine for big donors interested in buying government decisions and would wreak havoc on the interests of ordinary Americans. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the case to be considered by the Supreme Court, involves a challenge by Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee to the constitutionality of the federal aggregate contribution limits, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo.