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

Hey, remember back when we used to have a Voting Rights Act? June 26, 2013

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.

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