In the old days, the U.S. Supreme Court took strong steps to protect the right of ordinary citizens to vote. But culminating in the recent Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder decision that struck down the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court in the past decade has turned its back on protecting the franchise, especially for the poor and minority groups. In 1915, the court struck down the notorious grandfather clause established in many Southern states, which allowed persons to vote only if their grandfathers could. That was a crude device to disenfranchise the descendants of black slaves, who, of course, could never vote. In the 1940s and 1950s, the court held that the Democratic Party in the Southern states could not treat its primaries as a private affair, open only to white voters. In 1964, the court established the one-person, one-vote rule, so that states could not apportion districts in a manner that allowed rural voters to have 50 times the voting strength of their urban counterparts. In 1966, the court first upheld the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, which established federal control over states and other political entities that had used one or another blatantly discriminatory devices to prevent African-Americans and other minority voters from casting ballots. In the same year, it struck down a Virginia poll tax law that required state residents to pay $1.50 a year for the right to vote in state elections. (The 24th Amendment, adopted in 1964, prohibited poll taxes for federal elections.)
Each of these discriminatory devices was imposed by existing political power groups to limit the franchise to those who supported them — and to keep minorities and the poor from challenging their authority. The court saw through the excuses offered by those who defended each discriminatory system and insisted that everyone should have the right to vote and to have his vote count equally.
Then, beginning in 2000, something changed. First came Bush v. Gore, which stopped the efforts of Florida canvassing boards to recount about 60,000 undervotes statewide (votes where the counting machines failed to record the actual choice made on the ballot). The court held that the differing standards used by the canvassing board to count or not count a ballot somehow violated the equal protection clause. A later recanvassing of the votes by various news organizations showed that if rejected votes statewide had been counted (as opposed to only the four counties that were the immediate focus of the decision), Al Gore would have won the presidency. Bush v. Gore w as unlike any of the court’s 20th century voting decisions. Not only did it announce a rule that benefited a particular party and candidate — and fractured the court on seemingly partisan lines — but it accomplished this result by ordering that lawfully cast ballots not be counted.
Full Article: The Supreme Court vs. the Voter.