In calling for a rewrite of one of the nation’s most significant civil rights laws , the Supreme Court has demanded that the other two branches of government design a guarantee of racial equality that reflects the realities of the 21st century. But the real question is whether the political system, broken and polarized as it is, still has the capacity to take on such a challenge. The ruling, which said Congress must update the Voting Rights Act of 1965, noted that much has changed for the better since the original formulas were written requiring federal approval of even minor changes in election procedure for some states and jurisdictions. But the court also acknowledged that discrimination still exists and that rectifying it demands vigilance from Washington. Traditionally, voting rights is an area where presidents and lawmakers, mindful of history’s judgment, have proven capable of working together across party lines. The most recent reauthorizations of the Voting Rights Act were signed by Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In 2006, not a single senator voted against the current version, while fewer than three dozen members of the House did.
“Members of both parties have not wanted to break the social contract we made,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “I really believe this Congress will not want to break that compact.”
Seven years later, though, the political landscape is more divided and Congress more gridlocked.
“If the five justices who voted to gut this landmark legislation think that this Congress has the ability to reform this legislation in the current hyper-partisan environment, they are beyond naive,” said Ronnie Musgrove, a former Democratic governor of Mississippi.