The Vanquished Voting Rights Act

Congratulations, America! Racial discrimination in voting is now a thing of the past. Or so the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court decided in their ruling issued today, overturning the preclearance formula of the Voting Rights Act, under which states with long histories of discrimination at the voting booth had to get permission from the Justice Department before changing their voting rules. Now they're free to do as they wish, and although one could still challenge blatantly discriminatory rules in court, states like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have been liberated from federal oversight. The National Review—which back in the 1950s opined that "the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally" by preventing black people from voting, because "the White community…for the time being…is the advanced race"—declared today's ruling "a civil rights victory." And they should know.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that these days, African-Americans register and vote at comparable numbers to whites. Since things are going so well, why not cast off the law that keeps it that way? As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her dissent, "Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

Among the more thoughtful political interpretations of the ruling was Joshua Green's argument that it could turn out to be a "poison chalice" for the GOP, as it struggles to cast off its image as a party beholden to its white Southern base. It isn't the decision per se that will produce that problem; it's the likely reaction in the states in question. All nine of the states covered by the VRA have legislatures controlled by Republicans, and eight of the nine also have Republican governors. Now that they no longer need Justice Department approval for voting changes, you can bet they'll move with all deliberate speed to change their rules in ways that cement their party's power. And in those states, that means enhancing the power of white voters at the expense of blacks and Latinos. When that happens, the ensuing controversies will do yet more to solidify the image of a GOP that is actively hostile to minorities.

But that's a little ways down the road. In the meantime, we're likely to see a wave of state laws rewriting voting rules in ways that dilute minority power and make it more difficult for certain kinds of people to vote. To which the conservative justices on the Supreme Court would probably respond, "And what's wrong with that?"

 

SO THEY SAY

"We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society! Sticking your head in the sand may make you feel safer, but it won't keep you safe from the coming storm."

Barack Obama, clarifying his position on the existence of climate change

DAILY MEME: A SCANDAL OF SPECULATION

  • The worst Washington scandal since Watergate," in the words of Peggy Noonan, was discovered to be significantly less scandalous last night when the IRS revealed it had targeted applicants seeking tax-exempt status with words like "Progressive" or "Occupy" in their names. 
  • To rehash a snafu that needs no rehashing, the IRS landed in hot water last May when it announced it singled out conservative groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their names for auditing when they applied for 501(c)(4) status.
  • (501(c)(4) status is reserved for organizations whose primary purpose is to promote social welfare. Various groups have tried to obtain 501(c)(4) status despite being overtly political.)
  • Barack Obama was soon knee-deep in controversy. Some conservative groups alleged the president ordered the audits himself.
  • It turns out the selective audits were performed because there were insufficient resources to audit all applicants. And that the audits affected liberals as well.
  • "The BOLO list in my mind loses this sinister nature," Jeff Trinca, a current lobbyist for Van Scoyoc Associates and former chief of staff on a 1990s IRS restructuring commission, told Businessweek. "And it becomes another way of creating criteria lists to try to deal with the huge volumes that come through the agency."
  • BOLO is short for "be on the lookout." It was a BOLO list that the IRS released last night, used to help employees find "overtly political organizations ... after tax favors."
  • Why did the agency wait so long to release the list and thus kill the controversy? Because officials "had to scrub the be-on-the-lookout lists of taxpayer-specific information before making them public." 
  • It looks like the controversy that was, isn't. Which is embarrassing for Peggy Noonan—who wrote last week that Congress should make investigating the IRS a priority—and for Tea Party leaders who recently compared Barack Obama to Richard Nixon at a rally in front of the Capitol.
  • Now that the brouhaha appears to soon be over with, Congress can begin getting back to bigger matters. Last week, the House killed the once automatically-approved Farm Bill, and this week comprehensive immigration reform is set for a vote—pieces of legislation that directly affect access to food and citizenship for millions of Americans.

 

WHAT WE'RE WRITING

  • Three years ago, Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown to the senate in a run-off election. This time, writes Jamelle Bouie, the Democratic candidate Ed Markey looks to be in control.
  • By gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, writes Scott Lemieux, the Roberts Court continued the American tradition of using “states rights” to overpower human rights.

 

WHAT WE'RE READING

  • Ed Markey's spread in the Massachusetts Senate race today will be anywhere from 8 to 20 points in his favor.
  • Two labor rights cases decided yesterday by the Supreme Court recalled Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's biggest career loss as well as her biggest victory.
  • Job growth has been steady at around 175,000 per month for two years, meaning much of the dip in unemployment during that time was from people stopping their search for work.
  • The president will meet with Republicans this afternoon in an attempt to get comprehensive immigration reform through the House.
  • Rich Yeselson describes "fortress unionism," and the history and future of Taft-Hartley and the labor movement.
  • Extra weight may confer health benefits to some and not harm others at all, which is why we should wait before leaping to label it as a disease.

 

POLL OF THE DAY 

A majority of Americans believe that climate change has already affected their lives, according to a new poll released by Beneson Strategy Group, and 65 percent of them want the president to take “significant steps to address climate change now.” Nearly all Americans (93 percent) believe that this generation has an obligation to preserve the planet for those to come.

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