When the United States Supreme Court decides Shelby County v. Holder later this month, it will decide the constitutional limits of federal power over the states. The Court will also determine the integrity of future elections. At issue in Shelby are the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Every change regarding elections in fifteen states, even moving a polling place from school gym to a school library, must be approved in Washington D.C. by the federal government. The mandate was enacted almost a half-century ago as “emergency” legislation in response to Jim Crow. If these “preclearance” provisions, commonly called “Section 5,” are struck down by the court this month, voter fraud will be harder to commit. If the Supreme Court ends Section 5, American elections will be more secure.
During the Eric Holder era, the Justice Department used the preclearance provisions to block a Georgia law which ensured that only American citizens were voting. In Florida, Section 5 was used to prevent election officials from removing illegal aliens from the voter rolls. Unfortunately, multiple illegal aliens had already voted in Florida elections. The Justice Department also used Section 5 to block a South Carolina law requiring photo identification to prove identity to vote.
South Carolina, after spending $3.5 million, eventually won federal court approval for the voter ID law. It didn’t hurt that the state gave out identification cards for free, would drive voters to offices to receive them, and even let anyone cast a ballot who didn’t have photo identification as long as they filled out a hardship form.
Section 5 has also become a partisan weapon cloaked in the noble history of civil rights. In the South Carolina case, Section 5 was a way for the federal government to abuse power for partisan ends. Holder’s objection to the common sense South Carolina law in December 2011 was intended to energize a moribund political base.
The emergency in 2011 was very different than in 1965. In 1965, evil practices kept blacks from voting, and Section 5 solved that. In 2011, the President faced a political emergency. Black voters were unenthused about Obama’s reelection, and a Section 5 objection solved that, at South Carolina’s expense.