One predicted consequence the Supreme Court’s invalidation of a central portion of the Voting Rights Act this week is already manifesting.
Voting rights activists had warned that the high court’s decision could result in the reintroduction and reenactment of previously blocked restrictive voting laws. On June 27, the Supreme Court threw out lower court rulings which barred a Texas voter ID law and a redistricting plan as discriminatory.
The justices ordered the lower courts to reexamine the case in light of their June 25 decision, which effectively gutted the provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination against minority voters, such as Texas, to obtain federal preapproval before making any changes to the election laws.
Five out of nine justices said Congress needs to recalibrate the formula used to determine eligible jurisdictions to match the evidence of racial progress.
Many activists and political observers doubt, however, whether this deeply divided Congress would have the political will to get it done. And, in the meantime, critics say, American democracy is being eroded.
At least 180 restrictive bills, which would make it harder to vote, were introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states, the Brennan Center for Justice said in a report. Voting rights advocates fought back and many measures were impeded by citizen referendums, court rulings or by the Department of Justice. But now the Supreme Court’s decision handicaps such efforts and reopens the door to vote-stifling measures.
The Supreme Court decision “is a setback to our democracy and the voting rights of real Americans,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a June 27 statement. “We can’t allow discrimination at the ballot box and must prevent minorities from having their votes purged, packed, gerrymandered, and redistricted away. No one should be fooled by the Pollyannaish fantasy that voting discrimination no longer exists…. We urge Congress to act with urgency and on a bipartisan basis to protect voting rights for minorities.”