Perhaps the conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court were living in an alternative universe last year, but when they express doubts about the need for the Voting Rights Act, it is clear they are not in possession of all the facts.
Fact 1: Last year, South Carolina attempted to diminish the turnout of minority voters by enacting a bogus voter identification law that would have done nothing to stem the problem of voter fraud, which is all but nonexistent.
Fact 2: Last year, Texas did the same.
Fact 3: Last year, Florida did the same. It has also limited early voting so that people had to stand in line for hours last November to cast their votes.
These states have larceny in their hearts and so, sadly, does Pennsylvania, which not only passed its own voter ID law, but did so specifically to ensure that Mitt Romney won the state in November’s presidential election. The state’s photo ID law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done,” said Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Uniformly, these laws were passed by states where Republicans held sway, and who were willing to pursue their political ambitions by disenfranchising millions of voters. These were revolting attempts to resurrect Jim Crow, decades after Americans thought he was dead and buried.
What is more, Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 with overwhelming support in the House and unanimity in the Senate. The vote followed extensive congressional testimony that detailed continuing abuses in the states covered by the law, and the measure was enthusiastically signed by President George W. Bush. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia didn’t care about that. It was bad legislation, he said.
But the court’s job is to root out unconstitutionality, not unwise laws. Even then, the painstaking reauthorization of the law in 2006 and the despicable efforts to minimize the votes of minorities well document the need to maintain this law. It is not only wise, but necessary to ensure that the right to vote is safe from those who would molest it.
Scalia and his conservative brethren on the court should reconsider their beliefs. Conservatives like to rail against justices legislating from the bench. Unless it is not constitutionally possible, justices are supposed to defer to the legislature, not substitute their own political judgment for that of elected officials.
That’s what a bare majority of the court did last year with the Affordable Care Act, and it’s what a unanimous court should do this year with the Voting Rights Act.