With truly breathtaking speed, six Southern states are rushing to take full advantage of the Supreme Court’s blow to the Voting Rights Act.
Think Progress notes that in the “5-4 decision, the Court’s five conservative justices ruled Tuesday that the formula, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to “preclear” changes to their voting laws with the Department of Justice or a federal judge before enforcing them, was unconstitutional.” So far only three haven’t rushed to take advantage of ruling.
But the others are making up for (barely lost) time.
Texas: The Lone Star State saw its strict voter ID law and redistricting plan blocked by the DOJ and federal courts last year. Just two hours after Tuesday’s decision came down, the state’s attorney general issued a statement suggesting both laws may go into effect immediately. On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed slightly modified congressional maps into law, apparently deciding not to veto them and reinstate the more blatantly discriminatory maps blocked by the court. These new maps will not be screened by the DOJ. And Thursday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated two federal court decisions that had relied upon the VRA in blocking the voter ID law and redistricting plan.
Mississippi: The state legislature approved a voter ID scheme in 2012, but it has not received DOJ clearance. Despite the restrictions, Mississippi’s secretary of state said Tuesday they would proceed with implementing the voter ID law and that “We’re not the same old Mississippi that our fathers’ fathers were.“
Alabama: In 2011, the state passed a law requiring photo ID to vote, but never cleared it with the DOJ. Both the attorney general and the secretary of state said Tuesday they believed their plans could now be implemented in time for the 2014 elections.
Arkansas: In April, the Arkansas legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto to pass their voter ID legislation. With preclearance out of the way, the state law can now be implemented without DOJ review.
South Carolina: The Palmetto State passed a similar voter ID law in 2012, but DOJ at least succeeded in delaying its implementation. South Carolina’s attorney general issued a statement following the decision, lauding the Court for allowing the preclearance states to “to implement reasonable election reforms, such as voter ID laws similar to South Carolina’s.”
Virginia: Unlike several of the other states, Virginia’s voter ID plan was not scheduled to be implemented until July 2014 anyway. But unless Congress replaces the preclearance formula before then, Virginia will also likely be able to move forward with its plan.
If you cut away all the tiresome spin that everyone knows is spin the bottom line is that, yes, these measures are designed to keep certain kinds of voters The (Republican) Powers That Be in these states want to keep from voting because they fear or know they will vote Democratic.
There are many tragedies about that ruling, but it’s particularly tragic for those of us Baby Boomers who lived through the civil rights struggle era. I was in junior high when three civil rights workers were brutally murdered while working for civil and voting rights. I saw the newscasts of LBJ signing the Voting Rights Act. This was a milestone for America — and now, truly, the clock has been set back.
My rabbi at my reform synagogue was one R.E. Goldburg, who officiated at my bar mitzvah, who was controversial. He spoke out in favor of civil rights repeatedly and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also is the rabbi who coverted Marilyn Monroe when she married Arthur Miller. He invited Dr. King to preach at Mishkan Israel in Hamden, CT in 1961.
The Supreme Court ruling wiped away nearly 50 years of the teeth of a law that was literally attained through the blood, suffering and courageous physical and political acts of many.
You could argue, “No the clock hasn’t be set back. The ruling just says things have changed.”
But then you read the Think Progress list above and see some states virtually scrambling to quickly take advantage of the ruling now that the work of civil rights workers who lived and died and politicians from both parties who took a stand to make sure all citizens were protected turned out to be in vain.
It’s like watching little kids scramble at a birthday party for candy after someone has smashed the pinata.
On the other hand, The National Journal’s Dave Wasserman argues there are some built in constraints.
It’s true that the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Section 4 “coverage formula” – the determinant of which states and counties must submit changes to their voting laws and boundaries to the Justice Department for “preclearance” – likely dooms the federal preclearance process altogether. As Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen has concluded, a GOP-led House and a Democratic Senate won’t ever agree on which states have a past history of voting discrimination and which don’t.
…However, while civil rights advocates should be concerned about the case’s implications for matters such as voter ID laws, early voting hours, and local polling locations, don’t look for immediate practical political implications in the House. There are three reasons the effective end of the Justice Department’s preclearance regime won’t bring about a wholesale redraw of southern congressional districts in time for 2014, 2022, or beyond [TMV will merely list them here…go to the link to read the full explanation]:
1) The Obama Justice Department didn’t really use Section 5 as a means to block southern maps in 2012 anyway…
2) Southern Republican legislatures would never want to dismantle minority-majority districts, because they benefit GOP candidates….
3)3) Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is still in place.
… As Democratic attorney and redistricting expert Jeff Wice tells us, Section 2 claims are typically “long and costly” and can’t immediately block implementation of a discriminatory map like denial of preclearance can. However, Section 2 remains an important deterrent to legislators who might consider splitting up existing minority districts.
Bottom line: Don’t expect today’s Supreme Court decision to dramatically alter the current shape of congressional districts or redistricting in the long term. But on other matters such as voter ID laws, early voting, and polling locations, the effective end of the preclearance era could be a different story.
Which means: YES. These states will find ways to keep people from voting — all using explanations that even a can of salsa on a shelf at Vons on Adams Avenue in San Diego knows are mere cover stories to try and deny that the real intent is to prevent people of certain minority groups from voting for a party that might threaten state Republican parties’ hold on power.
The issue will then become: if Republicans in southern states are now demonstrating such transparency, even if they keep the House will they pay a steeper price in national elections?
But, then, how can they pay a steeper price in national elections if there is a concerted effort to try and keep some Democratic voters away from the polls?
It’s likely to get uglier.