Ideology Trumps Reality in Voting Rights Act Decision

Written by Common Cause Interns on June 25, 2013

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Written by Ben Resnik

Today, ideology trumped reality.

For decades, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act has laid out a formula to determine which historically discriminatory jurisdictions were required to prove they were not disenfranchising voters on account of their race before changing voting laws. But today, in Shelby County v. Holder, it was overturned by the Supreme Court on an ideological 5-4 vote. The argument was that the formula used to decide which counties deserved this special scrutiny was outdated and unfair.

But in practice, this decision threatens the rights of millions upon millions of minority voters. The 2012 election cycle saw shameful and blatant attempts to keep the poor and minorities away from the ballot box with voter ID laws in many states" including Alabama, which contains the county whose lawsuit brought about today's decision in the first place" but the Voting Rights Act, in place since 1965 and reauthorized nearly unanimously in Congress in 2006, prevented the most heinous and far-reaching of these discriminatory practices from seeing the light of day.

Make no mistake: Today's decision by the Supreme Court guts that protection and offers officials who would discriminate a host of new ways to muzzle the voice of the people. It's the definition of blind id

The danger here isn't the return of Jim Crow" it's a more subtle, creeping kind of discrimination in which racial minorities' voting power is muted with malicious and disempowering election laws. It's the worst kind of gerrymandering, removing victims' capacity to respond powerfully at the ballot box even as they are mistreated.

The problem with this decision, as with so many cases of government misconduct, is that it removes yet another layer of oversight and accountability in a complex and vital biology of our government. In the pure ideology of the five justices who gutted the Voting Rights Act today, that lack of oversight is a good thing" if the best government is the smallest government, then even this assault on voter equality is in the best interests of the country.

But this is not the end of the conversation. What the Supreme Court did today was challenge a divided and dysfunctional Congress to unite and undo the damage of the day. Congress has already proven that the prevention of racial discrimination is a bipartisan cause by reaffirming the Voting Rights Act in 2006. This is a different Congress and a new time, but the challenge remains the same as before: to look past short-term political advantage for the good of the country. Their test is the same one that the Supreme Court failed today.

  • Read our statement on the Supreme Court's decision.
  • Read more from Common Cause on today's Supreme Court decision
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  • Office: Common Cause National

    Issues: Voting and Elections

    Tags: Voting Rights

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