(My blog is a stream-of-consciousness blog. That means I write about whatever I’m thinking about, and I often don’t put a lot of effort into editing or revising. The research I do is consistent with what I would ordinarily do to learn more about a given topic.)
So, naturally, I want to talk today about Supreme Court Decisions. I feel qualified to do so, considering I’ve read at least one John Grisham novel.
The Supreme Court decided yesterday in a 5-4 decision to strike down the coverage formula (Section 4) of the Voting Rights Act. A little background is important here. In 1965, amidst the throes of the Civil Rights Movement, several states and smaller jurisdictions would use voting tests to determine voter eligibility. These tests were used as a way to prevent black voters from reaching the polls, a clear violation of their 15th Amendment rights. That same amendment further gives Congress the power to enforce the voting rights of minority Americans, so enforce it they did, with the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
In essence, what the VRA did was eliminate those tests and prevent a few states and jurisdictions (the biggest offenders by certain criteria) from enacting any new laws or procedures without prior federal approval. Learned readers might be able to identify a problem here: the 10th Amendment gives States all powers not relegated to the Federal government, and that includes the power to regulate their own elections. The VRA and the 10th Amendment were thus at odds, but since the states in question were so flagrantly disregarding the 15th Amendment, it was deemed necessary to temporarily usurp those 10th Amendment rights. That usurpation was only supposed to last five years. With me so far?
The VRA proved effective. In all of the states affected, black voter registration rates achieved parity with the white voter registration rates. The rate of minorities elected to public office rose 1000%. In Mississippi in 1965, only 6.7% of eligible black voters had registered to vote. By 2004, that number was 76.1%, compared to 72.3% of whites.
So, that brings us back round to the decision. What to make of the fact that the Supreme Court struck down section 4, which was the formula which defined which states were subject to these requirements? To me, it all depends on how you see the heart of the problem. Is voter discrimination a problem so endemic to certain parts of the country that as soon as these restrictions are gone we will see 1965 percentages again? Or has the hard work been done, parity been achieved, and those jurisdictions can now govern themselves in fairness and equality? To make a medical analogy (I’m qualified to do so because I’ve watched House), is the illness of voter discrimination chronic or acute?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg clearly thinks it’s the former. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg somewhat sardonically said, “the Court today terminates the remedy that proved to be best suited to block (voter discrimination).” A cast may be the best remedy to assist the healing of a broken leg, but at some point it must come off. But Ginsburg doesn’t see it as a broken leg; she herself goes on to compare the situation to a “vile infection.” The majority justices, on the other hand, clearly see the worst of voter discrimination as having been remedied.
I can’t say with any authority whether the talking heads are onto something. Maybe the majority justices are trying to bring the United States back into a divided and segregated state. Maybe the dissenting justices are trying to preserve federal power over the states. The more likely reading to me is that the majority justices see this situation more optimistically: progress has been made, and it’s time to put away extreme measures.
I can’t make an authoritative claim about the legal merits of this case. So what’s the point of this post? The point is this: go read these opinions yourself. Most people never get further than the CNN, FoxNews, MotherJones, Huffington Post articles about them. They never know what logic or arguments were employed by the justices in order to arrive at their decisions. But these documents are immensely readable and informative. (Everything in this post I got directly from the decision.) So stop letting the ideologically-biased minds tell you what to think. Read the decisions and come to your own conclusion.
The decision can be found (and read!) here: