The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to act on cases asking it to end the Voting Rights Act’s advance approval requirement. Its reasons are, as always, unknown but the decision was a wise one. As a number of states have demonstrated this year – and have practically bragged about – racial discrimination continues to thrive in the hearts of those who would deny democracy’s fundamental right to millions of Americans.
Those states, including Texas, South Carolina, Florida and even Pennsylvania, enacted voter ID laws that were clearly intended to suppress turnout among African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities that typically vote Democratic.
You would have thought it was still 1965, the year that Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act. The measure was meant to give the federal government an effective tool to thwart the persistent efforts, mainly among Southern states, to prevent African-Americans from voting. The law has worked and, plainly, it needs to continue to work.
The aspect of the law that some hoped, and others feared, the Supreme Court would take up is the requirement that certain states and counties get preclearance from the Justice Department before making changes in the way they hold elections. The court had previously hinted that it was troubled by that aspect of the statute, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts commenting in a 2009 case from Texas that the issue of advance approval “is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today.”
The requirement may be a difficult question in a law school class, but in the real world, it has responded to a vastly more troubling problem: that of rank bigotry by governments intent on disenfranchising voting blocs they despise.
Today’s problem may – may – be more political than racial, with conniving politicians seeking mainly to promote Republican candidates rather than to show their disdain for African-Americans and other minorities, but the effect is the same.
Keep as many minorities from voting as possible and Republican chances improve.
A Pennsylvania judge put that state’s law on hold. Indeed, every voter restriction that has been challenged this year has been either enjoined, blocked or weakened.
Supporters of these maneuvers cloaked them in the garb of democracy – they are merely meant to prevent voter fraud, they said – but there has been none of the kind of fraud that these laws would have prevented.
It didn’t matter. Stopping voter fraud wasn’t the real purpose, and that is why the Supreme Court must not undermine a law that helps to preserve democracy for all Americans.