“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in April. Roberts spoke then for the court’s conservative majority in striking down part of a federal election law so as to allow a wealthy Republican businessman from Alabama to give more money to candidates across the country. The contribution limit restricted the donor’s free speech, Roberts concluded, and the Constitution requires the court to err on the side of safeguarding that cherished 1st Amendment protection. But the right to vote, which is the way most Americans participate in a democracy, has gotten far less protection from the Supreme Court under Roberts. There is no starker example than the high court order early Saturday allowing Texas to enforce a new photo identification law that a federal judge had blocked earlier this month after deciding the law would prevent as many as 5% of the state’s registered voters, or 600,000 people in all, from casting a ballot.
By a 6-3 vote the justices turned aside appeals from lawyers for civil rights groups and the Obama administration, who warned that the new law would hinder voting by blacks and Latinos. The court did not rule on the constitutionality of the law, but cleared the way for the restrictions to take effect for the November election while legal challenges work their way through the courts.
“This is an affront to our democracy,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said in response to the order. “Today’s decision means hundreds of thousands of eligible voters in Texas will be unable to participate in November’s election because Texas has erected an obstacle course designed to discourage voting.”