Amy Howe puts today’s SCOTUS decision, which struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, “in plain English.” Dylan Matthews talks to election law expert Rick Pildes, who thinks some reactions to the voting rights law are “hyperbolic”:
After the oral arguments in March, he noted that the home page of the Huffington Post Web site featured the headline “Back to 1964?” Nonsense, he argued. “No one in their right mind can think that there’s a risk that we’re on the verge of going back to the world that existed before 1965.”
So, what is the risk, if there is one? Pildes notes that the Justice Department has come to use section 5 more as a tool to that ensure minority populations are represented in legislative bodies than a way to tackle “ballot box” issues, like voter ID, wait times at the voting booth, and so forth. “For several decades now, it’s been far more significant in terms of redistricting issues than it has in ‘access to the ballotbox’ issues,” he says. “We like to talk about first generation versus second generation claims. First generation claims are about access to the ballot box. Second generation claims are about the representativeness of districts and how they are constructed.”
Ten years ago I might have had a smidgen of hope that this would turn out OK. There would be abuses, but maybe not horrible, systematic ones. Today I have little of that hope left. The Republican Party has made it crystal clear that suppressing minority voting is now part of its long-term strategy, and I have little doubt that this will now include hundreds of changes to voting laws around the country that just coincidentally happen to disproportionately benefit whites. There will still be challenges to these laws, but I suspect that the number of cases will be overwhelming and progress will be molasses slow. This ruling is plainly a gift to the GOP for 2014.
John Fund spikes the football, calling it “actually a victory for civil rights”:
[Section 4’s] consideration of state requests for election changes was often arbitrary and partisan, as witnessed by the recent smackdown that the DOJ got from a federal court when it tried to block South Carolina’s voter ID law. The rest of the Voting Rights Act remains in place and will be used to ensure minority voting rights. Congress is free to come up with a different, updated coverage formula for pre-clearance, but given the DOJ’s current stained reputation Congressional action looks unlikely in the near future.
Clint Bolick, director of litigation for the conservative Goldwater Institute in Arizona, says the demise of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will also reduce the balkanization of racial gerrymandering that has become so popular lately. “Voting districts drawn on racial or ethnic lines divide Americans,” he says. “This decision helps move us toward the day in which racial gerrymandering becomes a relic of the past.”
Josh Marshall ponders short- and long-term consequences:
I still remain generally hopeful, over the medium term, certainly the long term that the changing nature of the electorate will prove too strong to be bridled by Republican voter suppression efforts which will undoubtedly redouble in response to this wildly activist ruling by the Supreme Court. In the short term, it’s not so clear, though, particularly with regards to 2014. Indeed, the 2012 election and this decision fit together like two pieces of a puzzle.
Republican state governments pushed through numerous laws to thin the electorate and particularly to reduce minority voting. It wasn’t totally successful because of a mix of energized minority voters who turned out in droves in response to these attacks and also because a small band of civil rights and voting rights attorneys who fought the laws across the country, making ample use of the Voting Rights Act.
Josh Green’s perspective:
On its face, this looks like a big victory for Republicans. But is it really? I suspect it will turn out to be a poisoned chalice. Many of the GOP’s current problems stem from the fact that it is overly beholden to its white, Southern base, at a time when the country is rapidly becoming more racially diverse. In order to expand its base of power beyond the House of Representatives, the GOP needs to expand its appeal to minority voters. As the ongoing battle over immigration reform demonstrates, that process is going poorly and looks like it will be very difficult.
Tim Murphy thinks Justice Roberts is relying on bad data:
The basis for Roberts’ argument is that the formula for determining which states, counties, and municipalities warrant special scrutiny under the VRA is outdated. Racism doesn’t exist along a North-South axis as it did in 1965, and Congress is relying on outdated information, Roberts argued. The formula that governs which parts of the country are covered “that Congress reauthorized in 2006 ignores these developments, keeping the focus on decades-old data relevant to decades-old problems, rather than current data reflecting current needs,” Roberts contended. But Roberts, who during oral arguments relied on bungled Census data to assert that Massachusetts has a worse record on voting rights than Mississippi, doesn’t appear to have paid close attention to the data.
In May, political scientists at the University of California-Davis and the University of Connecticut published a study that seemed to anticipate Roberts’ critique, maintaining that “the geography of anti-black prejudice” in the United States closely tracks with the geography of the Voting Rights Act. That is, the states and districts that receive special attention under the VRA because of their histories of discrimination remain the problem areas. (Here’s a handy map from the New York Times that breaks the similarities down.)
And Derek Thompson flags the above chart, from Roberts’ own opinion, showing the effect of the VRA:
Buried deep in Roberts’ opinion, on page 15, is this remarkable chart comparing voter registration numbers from 1965 to 2004. The influence of the VRA in increasing black registration percentages appears extraordinary and undeniable.