The most reprehensible aspect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that guts the Voting Rights Act is its clear signal that, as currently constituted, the majority on this arm of American government has no qualms about letting ideological expediency trump historical realities.
It was no surprise to see the veteran civil rights hero John Lewis almost in tears on television as he reacted to the ruling that invalidated Section 4 of the law setting out the criteria which jurisdictions with a tradition of minority disenfranchisement had to meet.
The Georgia congressman is living proof of the struggle which African Americans had to make to wrest from the white majority the most fundamental right in a democratic society, the right to vote. With that right comes the responsibility of those who control the electoral machinery to ensure that voting can take place unfettered.
The court’s ruling is made worse by the fact that Section 4 has had an “opt-out” clause that enabled a covered jurisdiction to petition the Department of Justice to be taken off the list. Some succeeded. Those that did not obviously could not demonstrate over a period of time that changes they proposed to their electoral laws and processes were non-discriminatory. It might be a dated formula, as the court said, but the circumstances are certainly current. The court has shifted the burden of proof from them to minorities, who must now prove they will be harmed by changes in electoral laws, which will not be easy.
The conservative majority on the court said Congress could change the criteria for determining which jurisdictions must obtain prior clearance for electoral changes but there is little chance of anything happening in this polarized arm of government.
Election rigging, by definition, is intended to influence the outcome of voting, as happened in Florida last year with the early voting restrictions. The court has given license to Florida and other states to do just that.
The lesson here is for us to resolve even more firmly now to be proactive in our approach to elections and voting. We must work to elect state and local officials and members of Congress who will not turn back the clock on our progress. We thought some battles were over but these kinds never are. As the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington draws near, our highest court has thumbed its nose at us. Our response must be, as always, eternal vigilance and determination to overcome the odds. Truth, fairness and justice are on our side.