It is no understatement to say that the U.S. Supreme Court committed a crime of the highest proportion when it decided to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a few days ago. The victory for gay marriage and against DOMA was bittersweet, given a disappointing voting rights decision in the same week.
The lesson learned from the high court’s opinion in Shelby County v. Holder is clear: Don’t look to the federal government to protect your voting rights, which you no longer have, in any case. The extreme majority on the Supreme Court cares little to nothing about you. And as for the states, it’s Jim Crow all over again. States, do what you will. Disenfranchise black voters if that suits you. Give them literacy tests and block their votes. Make them tell you how many bubbles are in a bar of soap in order to register. This was a clear victory for states’ rights and for the Old Confederacy and those who waved and continue to wave the Stars and Bars with prideful glee.
And this was a victory for Bull Connor and the domestic terrorists who killed Medgar Evers and those four little girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. And it was a big win for the murderers of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Cheney in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and those who killed and maimed countless others for the right to vote.
Essentially, the Supreme Court eliminated Section 4 of the Act, which determines which states fall under the preclearance requirement of Section 5. I suppose none of this matters anymore, but under Section 5, certain jurisdictions with a history of voter disenfranchisement against African Americans were required to seek permission from the federal government or a federal court before making changes to their election laws. In recent years, the Voting Rights Act was invoked to put the brakes on voter suppression efforts in South Carolina and Texas. Now, with no more Voting Rights Act, these states are free to pursue their Voter ID schemes with reckless abandon. That goes for other states as well. No need to ask the feds for permission.
The Voting Rights Act covered nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – and numerous other counties and localities across the nation.
It is clear that when you look at map of places covered by the Voting Rights Act, you’re essentially looking at the South. Law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer at the University of California, Davis and the University of Connecticut, respectively, conducted a study on which states exhibit the most anti-black prejudice. Under their study, the professors asked nonblacks to rate blacks and their own racial group concerning work ethic, intelligence and trustworthiness. The professors found that the states requiring preclearance under the Voting Rights Act closely mirror the most racist states under their research. In other words, welcome to Dixie. There’s a little Alabama in places such as Pennsylvania and other “Up South” states, but this is a South-dominated phenomenon.
Known for its culture of violence and dehumanization of people through slavery and segregation, the South is also home for much of the so-called Bible Belt, as well as the Death Belt, where the lion’s share of America’s executions take place. But that’s the subject for another story.
Nevertheless, despite the abundance of evidence pointing to the continued need for the Voting Rights Act – including the protracted nature of racism in this country, and the prolonged threat to the franchise in the land of the free – the Tea Party justices would have you believe that we live in a colorblind society where racism no longer exists. And their evidence is because they said it is so.
Writing for the five justices in the majority – including himself and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito – Chief Justice John Roberts proclaimed that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional because Congress did not revise the formula subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance. And after all, things have changed, right? Look at all the black people who are voting!
“Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically,” wrote Roberts. “In the covered jurisdictions, “[v]oter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels…. The tests and devices that blocked access to the ballot have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years.”
Roberts continued, “There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions. By 2009, ‘the racial gap in voter registration and turnout [was] lower in the States originally covered by section 5 than it [was] nationwide.’”
“Since that time, Census Bureau data indicate that African-American voter turnout has come to exceed white voter turnout in five of the six States originally covered by section 5,with a gap in the sixth State of less than one half of one percent,” he added.
Meanwhile, for proof that voter suppression of people of color and others still exists, just remember all of the states which have enacted or tried to enact voter ID laws. Certainly the Voting Rights Act has protected voters from discrimination at the ballot box, an argument for protecting the law itself. “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent on behalf of Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed.”
Clarence Thomas, that cruel joke of a gift from Poppy Bush that just keeps on giving, wrote in his own concurring opinion that section 5 of the VRA is unconstitutional as well. “As the Court aptly notes:’[N]o one can fairly say that [the record] shows anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that faced Congress in 1965, and that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the Nation at that time.’” Thomas wrote. “Indeed, circumstances in the covered jurisdictions can no longer be characterized as ‘exceptional’ or ‘unique.’ The extensive pattern of discrimination that led the Court to previously uphold section 5 as enforcing the Fifteenth Amendment no longer exists.”
Thomas plays a particularly shameful role in this case and on the Supreme Court in general, as the descendant of slaves who believes that no African American is a victim unless their name is Clarence Thomas, and the venue is a high-tech lynching before the U.S. Senate.
Thomas has shown nothing but contempt for the civil rights establishment and black people in general, and yet he owes so much to the movement that paved the way for him. He is one of the most powerful people in America, selected by the President and confirmed by the Senate, yet he accuses Obama of elitism. He depended on the patronage of white Republicans who took a liking to him, yet he demands that everyone else pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
Justice Thomas was a beneficiary of affirmative action, yet in his concurring opinion in the recent Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case, he condemned programs of inclusion. “Slaveholders argued that slavery was a ‘positive good’ that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life,” Thomas wrote. “A century later, segregationists similarly asserted that segregation was not only benign, but good for black students.”
Most of all, Clarence Thomas is a key player of the destruction of the civil rights legacy of Thurgood Marshall and others. And this small, bitter, wayward man takes glee in gutting a law that came from the blood of peaceful civil rights protestors beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and through the lynching of Viola Liuzzo by the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. His court is in league with the Dred Scott and Plessy courts, and for this he can never be forgiven.
Let’s make it clear: Republicans have been jonesing for a repeal of the VRA for awhile, as they have suppressed the votes of Democratic constituents and redistricted themselves into perpetual rule, despite the demographic browning and blackening of America. They don’t want black and Latino votes and couldn’t win them if they wanted to, so why not change the electorate from the one you cannot win with to the one you can?
Since an African American came to the presidency, conservatives have decided to give this whole voting thing a critical eye.
The pathway to restoring the VRA is leadership from President Obama and action from Congress. However, don’t expect anything from this partisan Tea Party Congress, which in collaboration with SCOTUS have brought us to the end of voting rights in America. And so the crooks have changed the law to justify their own theft.
Ultimately, our only hope is in next year’s midterm election. Vote.
BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor and Columnist, David A. Love, JD, is the Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, a national nonprofit organization that empowers exonerated death row prisoners and their family members to become effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty. He is, is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. and a contributor to The Huffington Post, the Grio, The Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He also blogs at davidalove.com, NewsOne, Daily Kos, and Open Salon