The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Voting Rights Act became law 44 years ago; but it has been repeatedly challenged and repeatedly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Today, it’s back before the justices with a case focused on the usual suspects: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, states with a long and ugly history of discrimination at the voting booth. But Section 5, the section of the law specifically at issue, also covers Alaska and parts of California and New York. In fact, there are a total of 16 states that are required to get approval from the Justice Department before they can change any of their statutory voting procedures.
Some of these states are actually asking the justices to uphold the law as a model of civil rights integrity and enforcement.
But, God love ‘em, Georgia and Alabama, states with the most notorious of histories, are fighting the case tooth and nail. They argue that there is no need for a law rooted in the past, a law passed 25 years ago; and they’re pointing to Barack Obama as proof.
But with all due respect to the president, his election is not proof that racial discrimination is a thing of the past, at the polls or anywhere else. In Alabama, for example, voting is still polarized along racial lines; fewer than 11 percent of white voters there supported Obama. Beyond that, there are hundreds of examples — across the country — of elaborate schemes to suppress the black vote, schemes undone by the requirements of the VRA.
All of this will play out once again in the Supreme Court. But this time the arguments will be held before a new, more conservative Court, including a chief who has long expressed his opposition to the VRA.
Let’s hope the majority can help the Court see its way to justice.
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