It has been less than six weeks since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark law that for five decades has protected this country’s most basic democratic right. But it is already clear that the decision was a disaster. Freed of the obligation to seek federal approval before making changes in their election practices, some states have moved to introduce or restore policies that will make it harder for racial minorities to vote or will dilute their political influence. Meanwhile, as any student of contemporary politics could have predicted, a divided Congress shows no sign of moving quickly to adopt a new formula for federal “pre-clearance” of state election changes that would meet the Supreme Court’s requirements. Although the Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in voting nationwide, only some states, mostly in the South, had been required to obtain advance approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal judge before they changed their election practices. The problem with that, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, was that the formula for deciding which states had to “pre-clear” changes was rooted in data from the 1960s and ’70s and didn’t reflect “current conditions,” notably dramatic increases in minority turnout in Southern states.
Roberts had a point. When Congress was considering an extension of the pre-clearance system in the early 2000s, it could have started from scratch, scrutinizing evidence of voting discrimination and minority turnout in all 50 states before devising a new formula. Instead, Congress focused on whether pre-clearance was still necessary in states that were guilty of egregious misconduct at the time the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965. It concluded that pre-clearance had been highly successful in blocking or forestalling discriminatory actions.
Extending the old coverage formula made it easier for representatives and senators, including those from the South, to support reauthorization of pre-clearance. In that sense, the decision to retain the formula was a political one, but it was also well within Congress’ authority under the Constitution to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments, which guarantee equal protection of the laws and prohibit racial discrimination in voting. The court was wrong to substitute its judgment for that of Congress. And Roberts demonstrated naivete at best in blithely suggesting that Congress could easily revise the pre-clearance requirement to reflect “current conditions.”
Full Article: The voting rights disaster – latimes.com.