Tuesday, June 25, 2013

SCOTUS Fatally Wounds The 1965 Voting Right Act

Today the GOP's War on Voting was extended to the Supreme Court, when the 5 Republican justices (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy) voted to effectively kill one of the most significant federal civil rights statutes in the United States, the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Just as the words "fatally wounded" are are used to deliberately obfuscate people from understanding that the subject has been killed, so did the majority opinion fatally wound the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Shelby County v Holder. All attention was on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, so the opinion upheld that section of the law but struck down Section 4 of the law. However, Section 5 can not be implemented without Section 4.

NBC News reports:
The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the map that determines which states must get federal permission before they change their voting laws. The ruling, a 5-4 decision by Chief Justice John Roberts, leaves the future of the law deeply uncertain because it will be up to a sharply divided Congress to redraw the map. 
“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” Roberts wrote for the court. Under the law, nine mostly Southern states must get permission from the Justice Department or a special panel of three federal judges before they make changes. The rule also applies to 12 cities and 57 counties elsewhere.

Basically, despite the fact the VRA was reauthorized nearly unanimously by Congress in 2006 (it passed 98-0 in the Senate) the Supreme Court GOP majority struck down the current formula found in VRA Section 4 that the Justice Department uses to determine which jurisdictions need to have their election laws "pre-cleared" before they can go into effect. Without that formula, the Justice Department will not be able to challenge provisions it suspects are being issued (primarily by Republican politicians) to dilute the voting rights of people of color throughout the United States. In the 2012 election the bizarre laws and procedures GOP governors and Secretaries of State attempted to enact to prevent racial and ethnic minorities from voting became increasingly obvious and resulted in a huge voter turnout by those groups, aiding President Obama's re-election  in the end.

This is a huge loss for people who believe in civil rights and an America where all citizens have equal rights. Chief Justice John Roberts knows that by giving this Congress the option to pass a new federal law with a formula to give the the federal government the right to intervene in elections where a majority of Republican House members represent is simply not going to happen any time soon. Most definitely not before the 2014 midterm elections, and probably not before the 2016 presidential election. (Note that the next Congress will most likely be even more hostile to the civil rights of racial and ethnic minorities and actions by the federal government to protect those rights than the current Congress is, and that's saying a lot!) So, basically the Court has killed the VRA while "keeping their fingerprints off the murder weapon" as MSNBC's Chris Hayes said on TV today.

Happily, the LGBT rights community is stepping up to the plate and denouncing the Supreme Court's actions in Shelby County with a joint statement:
We, America’s leading LGBT advocacy organizations, join civil rights organizations – and indeed, all Americans whom this law has served to protect – in expressing acute dismay at today’s ruling. Not only had Congress repeatedly reaffirmed the need for this bedrock civil rights protection, but authoritative voices from across America had filed amicus briefs urging the court not to undermine the law: the NAACP; the American Bar Association; the Navajo Nation; the states of New York, California, Mississippi and North Carolina; numerous former Justice Department officials charged with protecting voting rights; dozens of U.S. senators and representatives; and many others. 
These varied and powerful voices attest to the self-evident reality that racial protections are still needed in voting in this country. As recently as last year’s elections, political partisans resorted to voter suppression laws and tactics aimed at reducing the votes of people of color.  Voting rights protections, which have long served our nation’s commitment to equality and justice, should not be cast aside now. The court has done America a grave disservice, and we will work with our coalition partners to undo the damage inflicted by this retrogressive ruling.
The statement was signed by the usual suspects: The Task Force, HRC, Pride at Work, Immigration Equality, Lambda Legal, Freedom To Marry, National Center for Lesbian Rights,  GMHC, GLAD, National Black Justice Coalition, Family Equality Council, PFLAG, and others.

The graphic at the top of this post is from the Williams Institute analysis of where African-American same-sex couples live throughout the United States. So, a diminution of the electoral rights and concomitant political power of racial and ethnic minorities does impact the LGBT community, because the LGBT community encompasses all racial and ethnic minorities.

Hat/tip to Joe.My.God

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