In a little more than three weeks, the justices of the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case about the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, the venerated federal law that for the past 48 years has helped eased the sting of official discrimination in the exercise of the most important of all civil rights — the right to vote. It’s the Voting Rights Act that has stopped bigoted state and local officials from ginning up new literacy tests or poll taxes. It’s the Voting Rights Act that has forced cynical legislators to limit (somewhat, anyway limit the scope of their racial gerrymandering. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court has been asked by an aggrieved Alabama county to strike down Section 5 of the statute, the provision which requires certain jurisdictions (like those in Alabama) with long patterns and practices of discrimination in voting to “pre-clear” with the Justice Department their proposed changes to voting laws. It’s a vitally important case for many reasons — not least of which that the court’s conservatives appear poised to strike down the statute just months after it was invoked, successfully and often, in the 2012 election cycle to protect the vote for millions of Americans.
I will have much more to say about the merits of the case later this month. For now, I just want to briefly point out the remarkable array of “friends of the court” briefs which have been filed at the Supreme Court by individuals and organizations who have come to believe that they have a stake in the outcome of the case. So far, the American Bar Association’s website lists 26 such briefs, and so does Scotusblog, but there already are many more, and if you have nothing better to do for the next few hours, some of them are worthy of a closer look. If you don’t have the time, or the inclination, here are some of the highlights.
Remember Representative F. James Sensenbrenner? If you do, it’s probably because you either loved or hated him in the role of manager of the House of Representatives during the relentless Republican pursuit of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But did you know that Rep. Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican, has long played a critical role in helping to ensure civil rights for minority voters? I didn’t know that until I started studying the history of the Voting Rights.