A setback for hard-won civil rights
Congress had little doubt in 2006 about the need for maintaining the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It reauthorized the law, for 25 years, by an overwhelming combined House-Senate vote of 488-22.
That extension included crucial Section 5 of the law, by which states with histories of racial discrimination in voting laws must obtain clearance from the Justice Department before enacting any voting changes.
But the conservative Roberts majority of the Supreme Court saw no need Monday to defer to the clear will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives in Congress. By the usual 5-4 vote, the court eviscerated the key section of the Voting Rights Act, offering a wink and a nod about political reality.
The decision preserves Section 5 but invalidates the formula by which Congress arrived at the decision to extend its protections. But Congress, said the majority, can change the formula as it wishes, knowing that amid the current political polarization across the street in the Capitol, that isn't going to happen.
So the section is in suspension, leaving open the door for fresh attempts to suppress voting in states with histories of doing just that. The Justice Department used it several times in 2012 alone, blocking a Voter identification law in Texas aimed at suppressing minority votes, for example.
The decision is a setback for hard-won civil rights that could well lead to more of the same, especially since it prevents the Justice Department from blocking gerrymandering aimed at dividing and diminishing minority voting.
Congress can indeed rectify the injustice but, as the court well knows, that isn't likely soon.