Friday, June 28, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #114 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS guts Voting Rights Act

You know what this is. You know what it's about. It's the Outrage of the Week and how could it have been anything else? Most of the time I like to use this time to bring up something of which you're less likely to be aware, something that hasn't gotten the coverage it should. This time, however, it's something that's been all over the news but is so morally outrageous and ethically repugnant that there is no way I could not address it.

On Tuesday, June 25, a day that will live in its own sort of infamy, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder and effectively gutted enforcement of central provisions of the Voting Rights Act. It did so on the spurious grounds that, quoting, “things have changed dramatically” since the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965.

In other words, the Supreme Court - or, more precisely, the reactionary flakes making up the by-now traditional 5-4 majority - has decided that when it comes to voting, racism, racial discrimination, it just isn't a problem any more. Nope. All fixed, all gone.

At issue were Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 is the part of the law that requires districts with a history of racial discrimination in voting to have any changes in their voting laws approved either by the Justice Department or a special federal court. Section 4 contains the formula for deciding what jurisdictions are subject to Section 5. Most, but not all, of those jurisdictions, which included several whole states and part of some others, were in the South. There were nine states covered, one of which was Alaska. But there were sections of California, Michigan, and New York - among other places - covered as well.

The troglodyte majority of the Court let Section 5 stand but declared that Section 4 is unconstitutional. That is, the Court said the federal government could require areas with a history of discrimination to preclear changes in their voting laws - but left the government with no way to say that any area had such a history - so there's no one, no jurisdictions, to which the law could be applied. They let the law stand but stripped out any means of enforcing it.

This is insane. In the words of civil rights hero and longtime congressman John Lewis, the Court has "put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act."

The opinion was written by John Roberts, whose picture is used to illustrate the word "smug" in the dictionary.

He wrote, quoting, “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. There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process."

In reaching that conclusion, that racial discrimination in voting has been "redressed," the majority looked at only two things: rates of voter registration and rates of voter turnout. The majority quite literally ignored the racial, ethnic, and class impacts of modern voter suppression means, such as voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and reducing voting hours. When Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act in 2006, it did so by overwhelming bipartisan majorities - in fact, it was passed unanimously in the Senate before being signed by George Bush. At the time, Congress produced what was called a mountain of evidence about the continuing need for the Act and the continuing justification for Section 4.

In fact, writing for the minority, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that "the record for the 2006 reauthorization makes abundantly clear [that] second-generation barriers to minority voting rights have emerged in the covered jurisdictions as attempted substitutes for the first-generation barriers that originally triggered preclearance in those jurisdictions." That is, while the barriers to voting were different, the same areas were still erecting them.

None of that evidence figured in the majority's decision.

So go back to Roberts' statement, that the very improvements which the majority claims renders the formula used in Section 4 as obsolete are largely due to the Voting Rights Act. Think about that: The majority is saying that the very improvements that make the law "obsolete" are due to the law. This is exactly, precisely, like saying that "Since we put a traffic light at that intersection, there have been a lot fewer accidents there. So the fact that there are fewer accidents there now proves that we no longer need the light."

Or maybe you'd prefer Ginsburg's version; she said the majority's reasoning was "like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

This decision is insane, it is twisted. It ignores - deliberately ignores, deliberately because it must have been because it's too obvious to have been overlooked - the reality on the ground; ignores even how the Act is still being (or, now, has been) used. Just some recent examples:

- In 2011, Florida attempted to cut early voting hours, but a DOJ objection under Section 5 forced the state into a compromise - and even with that compromise, Florida and scandalously long voter lines became synonymous.

- Just last summer, a Texas redistricting plan was knocked down under Section 5 after a federal court found that, quoting, "the plan was enacted with discriminatory intent” and was designed to protect white incumbents while targeting minority incumbents. The court said that there was "more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.”

- Later that same week, Texas was blocked under Section 5 from implementing a photo ID law by a federal court that found that the law "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty." It was bad enough that Texas's own data said the law would have a disproportionate impact on Hispanics.

- Earlier this year, the DOJ forced South Carolina to accept a very broad interpretation of a provision in a new voter ID law that provides an exception to the requirement that voters have an ID if they provide a reason for not having one.

- A voter photo ID law had been on hold in North Carolina for fear it would run afoul of Section 5. Now there's nothing to prevent it proceeding. Mississippi is doing the same

That's not the only immediate impact of this putrid decision. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already announced that the state's voter ID law, the one with “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor," the one where even the state's own data said it's discriminatory, is going into effect "immediately" and the redistricting maps, the ones with the "discriminatory intent" to protect white incmbents and target minority ones, is following right behind.

The bigots and bozos of the right will tell you "Calm down. Racial and ethnic discrimination in voting is still against the law. Don't get so emotional."

Well, first, racism and bigotry is not something I'm prepared to be unemotional about. But more directly, yeah, sure, it's still illegal. So after the discrimination, after you are prevented from voting, after you're subjected to 8-hour lines to vote, after Texas gerrymanders its minority officials out of office, after the damage has been done, after your rights have been taken away, after that, then you can undertake a years and years long, expensive, draining legal fight with all the burden of proof on you even as your vote and your representation continues to be taken from you the whole time that's going on. That's your answer?

Oh, but wait, but wait! There's another answer! The filthy five, the malevolent majority, also said that Congress could just come up with a different formula for Section 4. The fact that when Congress renewed the Act in 2006 it found the old formula still valid, again, did not even come up in the majority's decision. Beyond that: What do you think are the chances of Congress any time in the forseeable future, any time in the next century, agreeing on a new formula to determine where an historical pattern of discrimination exists?

And do you think for one minute, for one second, that the filthy five don't know that? That they are unaware of the long-term effects of their ruling, that they are unaware of the potential flood of bigoted laws to which they have opened the gates, the stranglehold they have put on means to guarantee racial and ethnic justice in voting?

If you do think that, you're a damn fool. As John Lewis said, they stuck a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act. And they knew exactly what they were doing.

At some point, at some point, after more pain, after more discrimination, after more denials of rights, after more years of struggle that should not have been necessary, at some point, if justice ever does arrive, this decision will be as embarrassing to us as Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott are now.

This decision is, as I said at the top, morally outrageous and ethically repugnant and the filthy five injustices who voted for it - John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarance Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy - are despicable.


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