Hey, remember back when we used to have a Voting Rights Act?

Well, the 15th Amendment was nice while it lasted. And thanks to the Voting Rights Act, it was actually mostly enforced for almost 50 years.

Not any more though.

Kevin Drum compares the Court’s logic in Shelby to the very different standards and logic it used in Crawford v. Marion County:

If a law is passed on a party-line vote, has no justification in the historical record, and is highly likely to harm black voting, that’s OK as long as the legislature in question can whomp up some kind of neutral-sounding justification. Judicial restraint is the order of the day. But if a law is passed by unanimous vote, is based on a power given to Congress with no strings attached, and is likely to protect black voting, that’s prohibited unless the Supreme Court can be persuaded that Congress’s approach is one they approve of. Judicial restraint is out the window.

Jesse Curtis says the ruling only makes sense if you accept the idea that “unequal treatment of states is to be guarded against more assiduously than unequal treatment of citizens.” An idea, he notes, that goes back to John Calhoun.

Click here to read Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, a document that will outlive the flaccid lack of argument and immorality of Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion.

Scott Lemieux agrees, noting that the 15th Amendment explicitly gives Congress the constitutional right to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. It does indeed. Yet Chief Justice John Roberts’ “opinion, laying out a theory of state sovereignty on voting that justifies his palpable disrespect for Congress, does not mention the 15th Amendment at all.” (Let’s get Tommy Lee Jones back into his Thaddeus Stevens costume so he can pay the chief justice a visit and ask him about this contempt for the vital amendments of America’s hard-won new birth of freedom.)

Paul Campos is not impressed with the legal reasoning of the Court’s decision: “The majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder is the worst SCOTUS opinion I’ve ever read, considered simply as an exercise in formal legal argument,” he writes. “And I’ve read Bush v. Gore.”

Jeff Gauvin tweeted a Life magazine photo from 1965, showing: “Racists in 1965 marching against the Voting Rights Act. They Win.”

• Republican Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona said: “We were being punished by the Voting Rights Act for indiscretions, bad things that took place decades ago, and those don’t take place any longer.” Because Sheriff Joe Arpaio has helped make Maricopa County a post-racial utopia.

• Brewer is pretending to forget that under the VRA, Arizona and any other jurisdiction could have freed itself from “pre-clearance … by simply demonstrating over a ten year period that they’re no longer abusing/discriminating against minority voters in the jurisdiction.” But let’s not pick on Gov. Brewer — five justices just pretended to have forgotten that same thing as well.

The Liar Tony Perkins — who hasn’t been the guest of honor at a white supremacist meeting in years — gets all Birth of a Nation in celebrating the decision: “For too long, states like Alabama, which brought the lawsuit, have been prisoners of history. Instead of punishing them for past mistakes, this ruling finally takes states out from under Washington’s thumb.” I’m not sure if he’s praising Roberts’ decision in Shelby or President Hayes’ decision to end Reconstruction, but he’s clearly pleased with both.

• And here’s Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who fought and bled for the Voting Rights Act:

It is a major setback. We may not have people being beaten today, maybe they’re not being denied the right to participate, to register to vote, they’re not being chased by police dogs or trampled by horses. But in the 11 states of the old Confederacy and even in some of the states outside of the South, there has been a systematic, deliberate attempt to take us back to another period.

And these men that voted to strip the Voting Rights Act of its power, they never stood in unmovable lines, they never had to pass a so-called literacy test. … It took us almost a hundred years to get where we are today. So, will it take another hundred years to fix it, to change it?

• The estimable Mr. Field, esq., takes a dim view of the partisan logic of the partisan Court: “Chief Justice Roberts is hoping for a ‘better future’ because he didn’t like this past election very much. He, and others like him, are hoping that the new schemes that Republican state houses are coming up with to make it harder and harder for poor people and people of color to vote, will make it easier for them to win elections and impose their extreme will on the rest of us.”

Republican attorney general of Texas Greg Abbott rushed to confirm that suspicion. Within hours of the ruling, Abbott said: “The state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. … Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.” Those measures had been blocked by the Voting Rights Act because they will effectively suppress the votes of non-white Texans.

Republicans in North Carolina’s legislature are also rolling out a Voter ID bill that would not have been permitted under the VRA.

• Same song, same verse in South Carolina too, where Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson celebrated the end of the Voting Rights Act as “an extraordinary intrusion into state sovereignty.”

Jessica Mason Pieklo says we can also expect Mississippi to join the rush to pass voter-suppressing ID laws and racially motivated redistricting schemes.

Josh Marshall adds all that up and sees this decision kicking off “open season on minority voting. And as the Republican party signals a strategic aim of doubling down on maximizing the white vote … the imperative to reduce the minority vote as much as possible only grows greater.”

• Kevin Drum sees this Republican celebration and says the ruling will be a windfall for Republican candidates in 2014. Maybe. That’s true if they succeed in suppressing a significant share of the nonwhite vote. But if you come at the voters, you’d best not miss. Suppressing non-white votes is one way to address the demographic shift threatening the GOP’s future, but it requires them to double-down on their hostility to non-white voters — and that will only exacerbate their problems in the long run. Josh Green describes the potential downside for the GOP:

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.

The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act will make it easier for Republicans to hold and expand their power in those mainly Southern states. That will, in turn, make it easier for them to hold the House. It will also intensify the Southern captivity of the GOP, thereby making it harder for Republicans to broaden their appeal and win back the White House.

• At Wonkblog, Dylan Matthews has a wonky take on “How Congress Could Fix the Voting Rights Act” — much of which is actually about how civil rights groups might use litigation to make up for Congress being unable to do so. It’s an interesting piece, but it focuses more on what might be technically possible than what is probably politically possible.

• I’ll give the last word to Jamelle Bouie:

Reconstruction was a start, and it ended in failure after a decade of Northern frustration and Southern hostility. The Great Society and the civil rights laws of the 1960s constitute the beginnings of a second attempt, and in the case of the Voting Rights Act, it was a significant success.

But that success hasn’t fixed the problem, and many Americans have grown tired of trying to remedy the effects of racism. By striking down Section 4 of the VRA and ignoring the clear words of the Fifteenth Amendment, Roberts is elevating white America’s racial fatigue into constitutional law.

Is this a backlash? I’m not sure. But between the Court’s ruling on the VRA, the ongoing assaults on affirmative action, and the white public’s belief in its own marginalization, I will say that, yet again, we have reached the limits of what this country will do to address the conditions of African Americans. Or, if not that, then we’re taking another break — not a long one, let’s hope — from grappling with the implications of our history.

"Sometimes they need a brace outside."

Unspoken testimony
"Steinle, in SF."

Unspoken testimony
"First the trial."

Unspoken testimony
"That is a humongous pile of lies they're feeding him, right there."

Unspoken testimony

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  • Dan Hetrick

    I have never been more ashamed to live in North Carolina.

  • Veylon

    Is this thing going to end up like the Patriot Act? I can easily envision Republicans – in ten or fifteen years – crying about the evils of the very thing they are championing today.

  • Jessica_R

    And in Texas if you don’t like a mouthy lady person trying to do some Democracy you can let her prattle on for 11 fucking hours, let her actually win, and then say “Whoops you’re a girl! We passed it anyway with magic!” Fuck everything right now.

  • FearlessSon

    Today left the taste of so many legislative and judicial ashes in my mouth.

    I am not a conspiracy theorist who thinks some New World Order is going to take over and assume absolute control by subverting democratic institutions… but damn if today does not tempt me to think so.

  • Emcee, cubed

    I’m terribly curious about how this insistence on “state sovereignty” is going to play out in tomorrow’s ruling about DOMA. It’s going to take some Barnum and Bailey worthy contortionism to say DOMA doesn’t infringe on state sovereignty, but the VRA does…

  • aunursa

    For balance, here are a few responses to the decision from those on the other side of the aisle…

    Breaking: Supreme Court Strikes Down Part of Voting Rights Act

    In other words, the government couldn’t even make an argument that the endemic discrimination that required federal interference in state-level legislative processes still existed. They just argued that because the conditions existed 50 years ago, they might still be a problem today — an argument that lends itself to unlimited exercise. Small wonder the court found this irrational.

    SCOTUS Strikes Down Key Parts of the Voting Rights Act

    Congress used very old voting data when they last reauthorized the VRA in 2006. It seems the Court is saying Congress needs to use better data.

    Expect a big fight on this in Congress and lots of cries of RACISM!

    A Civil-Rights Victory

    Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act forced states that had poor minority registration or turnout numbers in the 1960s to remain in a permanent penalty box from which they were forced to seek Justice Department approval for the most basic of election-law decisions. Its 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.

  • FearlessSon

    In fairness, I can see their argument. Nominally, states are compelled to recognize the laws of other states, which includes the civil institution of marriage. Thus, if you are married in one state, other states are required to recognize that marriage. What DOMA does is put an exception on this requirement, so that states are only compelled to recognize opposite-sex marriages performed in other states and are under no obligation to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. They would claim that striking down DOMA infringes on their states’ rights… to disenfranchise gay couples.

    Granted, it is not a “right” worth maintaining for all the harm it does (for example a married gay couple has to be careful when relocating to another state because their marriage might not be necessarily recognized everywhere) but I can see where they are coming from.

  • Emcee, cubed

    The case before the Court does not concern states recognizing marriages in other states. That would be Section 2, which is not under review. What is under review is Section 3, which says that the federal government can’t recognize same-sex marriages even if a state defines marriage to include it. The federal government is therefore infringing on the rights of states to define marriage as they see fit.

  • SisterCoyote

    They called everyone back in… ah, half an hour ago? And took it back, admitted the bill hadn’t passed. I suspect it’s too little too late, though. The Texas Tribune reports state troopers refusing to arrest protesters, and rumor’s saying some of the Republicans were afraid to leave the chamber for their lives. Which, after defrauding their process in front of hundreds of thousands of people, is more or less as it should be.

  • David S.

    The 15th Amendment gives Congress the broad unfettered power to enforce it. Normally, a law like the 15th Amendment would mean that Supreme Court would have to give broad leeway to Congress, with the question basically being did Congress intend this law to enforce section 1 of the 15th Amendment, to which the answer is clearly yes. With an activist court, however, the Court could feel free to ignore what the Constitution says and rule however it likes.

  • Jessica_R

    Man what a night! Planned to turn in at midnight but then rode a rollercoaster of rage, despair, right back into triumph town. Davis is amazing, and the good guys always win, even in Texas. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tbnC-gLhiw

  • Turcano

    It’s not really a conspiracy theory if they openly state their intent.

  • FearlessSon

    The Texas Tribune reports state troopers refusing to arrest protesters, and rumor’s saying some of the Republicans were afraid to leave the chamber for their lives.

    Considering that they were in the state with the loosest gun laws and broadest rates of gun ownership, in a the city in that state most known for opposing those particular affiliations of senators, over an extremely contentious issue in which thousands show up to protest… I would be surprised if they were not afraid for their lives.

  • Matri

    And the irony is that they were the ones who made it that way, with their rampant deregulation of gun ownership laws.

  • SisterCoyote

    I know. I think part of the reason I’m so angry, restless, and despairing right now is because the last time I stayed up hours past midnight, watching a political scene unfold on livestream in the IRC channel, it was Occupy Wall Street getting broken, and this is just bringing back all those memories.

    But partly, it’s that for quite some time now, my answer to family, acquaintances, anyone who talked about “reverse racism” as if it was a valid argument, was to point out that there are people alive today who remember when they couldn’t vote because they weren’t white. It has failed to make people think, at times, but it has also made people think.

    And our Supreme Court, who we – theoretically – trust to shoot down laws that break our civil rights – just decided they wanted to bring us back to that time.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    My teabagging family members have assured me that there’s no way that this will possibly ever be misused, since “all it does is make sure that the Federal government can’t interfere with the vote in this state.” So it’s all good, guys!

    …yeah, I’m not convinced either.

  • As was said on FB earlier, “Getting rid of this law is like throwing away your umbrella because you’ve never been rained on while you were using it.”

  • Carstonio

    Whenever the subject of bigotry comes up, particularly systemic discrimination, some folks will attempt to make the issue about themselves and plead benign intentions. Particularly if they have been accused of saying or doing something bigoted. Often they’ll throw the bigot label back at their accusers, or falsely claim that they’re being held accountable for their tribe, Yesterday’s ruling is the same mentality applied at the state level. It’s all about the mistreated, persecuted states being unjustly forced to prove that they’re not bigoted.

    I hope this decision ends up like Plessy v. Ferguson or preferably Dred Scott v. Sandford, as harshly judged by history and overturned sooner or later.

    If the Court turns around and overturns DOMA and Proposition 8, I might instantly suspect political horse-trading among the justices.

  • Davis will also now be gerrymandered out of her seat, thanks to the repeal of VRA. Her district was one of those that the VRA protected, which will now go into effect, per the Texas AG above.

  • Fanraeth

    I suppose I should have seen this coming when Scalia felt completely comfortable claiming the Voting Rights Act was a racial entitlement during the arguments. I live in the South; if anyone tries to tell me that the South is no longer racist enough to need the Act, I will laugh in their faces and ask them what drugs they’re on.

  • the shepard

    of all the weasel words they use, reverse is the one that pisses me off the most.
    “oh, i am being persecuted by being calles on my bullshit. they’re unjustly using my history of being unjust to others against me.”
    cowboy up, stop whining and show that you’re better than you used to be.

  • friendly reader

    It isn’t a “permanent penalty box.” As noted in one of the links above, plenty of places have gotten free of VRA restrictions by NOT BEING RACIST.

  • the shepard

    yeah, but that strategy is based on the state’s ability to behave in a non-racist manner.

  • the shepard

    while i do beleive that the good guys always win, it would be nice if they didn’t have to fight some of the battles in the first place.

  • DCFem

    Thanks for the Omar paraphrasing because that is what’s going to happen. Being denied the right to vote pisses people off. That’s one lesson republicans in Ohio don’t seem to have learned in spite of the overwhelming turn out of black voters in the face of incredible efforts to suppress their votes. Too many of us grew up hearing the words “people died for the right to vote” to not take voting as a life or death issue. Obviously this is a HUGE setback but we cannot give up.

  • Carstonio

    Your sources are playing the sad violins for the states, which is simply another version of fretting more about accusations of racism then about racism itself. It cannot be stressed enough that racism is about effect, not intent. The motive behind things like Voter ID laws ultimately doesn’t matter – if these have a disproportionate impact on minorities, that alone makes these bad laws.

    The Court seems to believe that Congresssional oversight is sufficient to enforce VRA. At best, that ignores the principle that minority rights should not be subject to majority vote. I doubt that any Congress in any era can be trusted to reliably safeguard those rights.

  • The Left needs to start registering voters now, and raising funds to get people to the polling stations now. Buses, individual car rides, vans, at least something to address the issue. Then, in 2014, hopefully we can have some kind of street theater where food carts bring sandwiches and lemonade to people stuck in a voting line for eleven hours. Get that on the evening news and keep your sense of humor about it, and you can strike an amazing blow or two in the court of public opinion.

  • DCFem

    Racists always believe that they (and the people just like them) have good intentions. It’s those evil “others” who can’t be trusted. Never mind the fact that just last year (2012, not 1912) there were 17 different discriminatory voting laws stopped by the Department of Justice. You don’t need to look to Reconstruction for examples of discrimination to share with your teabagging relatives, though I seriously doubt they will listen to anything you say.

  • Carstonio

    If our society were really over racism, Paula Deen would have felt too ashamed of her beliefs about blacks and the Confederacy to even voice these. It’s encouraging that her statements are provoking revulsion, but it’s not enough.

  • Jessica_R

    Oh totally. I’m just glad that if the assholes will always be with us we have folks like Davis, and back up like Watson, around.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I was on SCOTUSblog when that decision came down.

    I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but I have become very aware in the intervening hours.

    And all I really have to say is Fuck those Justices. They just ensured that the GOTea will continue winning elections.

    What the balls are we gonna do now?

  • Fusina

    As I told my then toddler daughter, women fought and were jailed to get us the right to vote, therefore even when the choice is between dumb and dumber I will vote. I have a franchise and I will Not give it up.

    And I am coming to the conclusion that just as in other careers, there needs to be a retirement age for justices. In Scalia’s case, I think it should have been before he got his law degree. He makes me embarrassed to be Italian.

  • Michael Pullmann

    The closest thing to a silver lining here is Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion, which absolutely savages both the majority opinion and the BS spin surrounding it (see aunursa’s post above for examples; every word in the quotes he posted is a pants-on-fire lie). Justice willing, it will serve as the basis for a better decision in the future.
    In the immediate, though, it falls upon Congress to quickly pass a new formula to replace section 4(b) and nip these new Jim Crow laws in the bud. (Not that that’s likely to happen, but I can dream…)

  • Carstonio

    Although Baby Raptor may be right that the goal was perpetuating GOP power, ultimately this isn’t a Left versus Right issue. It’s about making sure that majorities cannot impede the voting rights of minorities, no matter how either type of group is constituted. Hundreds of years from now, the ethnic groups in the US could be very different, but the principle would still apply.

  • Michael Pullmann

    Those quotes would be quite damning, if only every word of them wasn’t a damned lie. As the Congressional record that Chief Justice Roberts didn’t even deign to read shows.

  • Ross Thompson

    It’s worth noting that Texas, having been freed from this unfair penalty box, lasted all of five minutes before passing legislation explicitly designed to stop minorities from voting. Yay judicial activism!

  • Eric Boersma

    That’s actually a quote from Jus. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the fantastic dissent on this terrible, terrible ruling.

  • Eric Boersma

    Personally, I have heard, and am fond of, the idea that Justices should be constrained to 18 year terms staggered every four years and not eligible for repetition. This would mean that every presidential election would have the same consequence in terms of appointment, instead of certain Presidents getting five and the next one geting none.

    It also means that we’re not stuck with folks like Scalia for decades but instead can have a Supreme Court that even remotely reflects the attitudes of the times.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    “Fraud” is the only word for what the Republicans tried to do in Texas. They should be arrested for what they did.

    I hope Fred writes about the battle over abortion in Texas. I’d love to read his opinions about it.

  • Ben English

    If they can’t do that in 2013, then I say make them permanently subject to VRA laws.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    That’s what Matt Taibbi has been saying for years whenever someone accuses him of issuing “conspiracy theories” about Wall Street’s control over our government. Everything Wall Street has done has been open and above board; there’s no need for fevered speculation and theorizing. They blatantly control Congress and the Senate through their lobbyists, and anyone who takes any time at all to investigate it will see that it’s true.

  • That’s true, but in 2013 (and in 1965) it was the conservative Right trying to annihilate the rights of people who tended to vote Left.

  • Ben English

    Honestly, I think congress should just say, fine, every state is now subject to review of voting policies.

  • Jessica_R


  • AliciaB

    The most amusing aspect of this ruling is that it calls on Congress to come up with a new formula to enforce section 5 of the VRA. This is the same Congress that routinely fails to pass a budget and blames President Obama for not twisting their arms quite hard enough as if he is their father or their nanny rather than their partner.

    You can’t really blame the Court for that though; if Congress is defective, it’s because voters choose defective people for office on a routine basis. (See also – the case in Texas where the woman rep was filibustering yet another abortion restriction and the legislators tried to play a trick apparently after they failed to stop her.)

  • chrisalgoo

    Hey! Hey everyone! DOMA’s done! It’s a tiny ray of light amidst all the judicial and legistlative @#$#.


    The evangelical tears will be delicious.

  • chrisalgoo

    Has there ever been a case where Leftists suppressed votes?

  • Carstonio

    Offhand I don’t know of any. My point is that any group in a position of power, no matter what its political philosophy or composition, is capable of abusing that power. This would apply if leftists had a majority and rightists didn’t. The principles in the Constitution have to apply equally to all citizens for them to have any meaning.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    This just in: The Supreme Court has affirmed the lower court’s ruling against California’s Proposition 8!

  • I have never been more ashamed to live in the United States.