Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it was going to review the federal Voting Rights Act before the summer recess. The announcement came 47 years after passage of the law but only three days after minority voters turned out in record numbers to re-elect President Barack Obama. The announcement itself and the timing raise serious questions about whether politics played a role.
In 1965 at the height of the civil rights movement Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law. That single act is responsible for preserving the right to vote for millions of citizens in the nation especially in the South where Jim Crow laws prevented African-Americans from exercising their right to vote for generations.
At the time the Supreme Court ruled the law was constitutional. It has stood since then without any serious challenge. Suddenly, the Roberts Court has decided the law needs to be reviewed.
The particular provision that seems to concern some on the court is the provision that requires 16 Southern states to get prior approval from the Justice Department before it enacts any laws that would limit access to the ballot or change voter registration laws. Legal experts say that pre-clearance is the most powerful tool in the civil rights arsenal.
The pre-clearance provision known as Section 5 has been used 2,400 times since 1982 to prevent state and local rule changes from going into effect. The Supreme Court saw no reason to intervene in any of those 2,400 times.
The Justice Department used the pre-clearance provision in the law to intervene several times this election because Republicans in those states tried to enact laws that restricted voter registration and access to the ballot. In Florida, Texas, and South Carolina the Justice Department objected to proposed voter suppression laws and in Texas and South Carolina, it prevented laws from taking effect because it found they would put an undue burden on the right of many citizens to vote.
All of the sudden, the Court decided the law needs to be reviewed. Is this their last chance to toss the law out after 47 years? Perhaps. Depending on whether there are retirements in the next four years, new Justices appointed by Obama could end decades of control of the Supreme Court by ultra conservative Justices.
This is not the first time in recent times the Supreme Court has acted in a manner that smells of politics. In 2000, the Court installed George W. Bush in the White House by ordering the recount of ballots in Florida. A recount after the fact proved that Al Gore would have won Florida and the presidency had the Court not made that questionable ruling.
The Roberts Court is responsible for the billions of dollars of Super Pac money that financed all the TV ads that Americans were universally sick of. In its ruling in the infamous Citizens United case the Court ruled that laws limiting the amount a corporation can contribute to campaigns are unconstitutional. This led to the billion dollar TV ad blitz this election.
It will be interesting to see what the Court will do with the law. Will they try and remove that provision to allow Republican voter suppression laws to continue, or will they leave it alone? Odds are they plan on eliminating that last barrier to voter suppression while they have a majority on the Court. We’ll see.
If you like this article share it, Tweet it, or follow me on Facebook.