Political Animal


November 15, 2012 9:52 AM Did Conservatives Foil Their Own Plan To Gut Voting Rights?

By Ed Kilgore

The irony of the U.S. Supreme Court accepting a challenge to the necessity for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act two days after an election characterized by blatant voter suppression efforts aimed at minorities has been widely noted.

But the New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse thinks the coincidence could actually affect the court’s ruling on Section 5:

Given the open cynicism of the Republican-driven efforts at vote suppression this year, and the withering scrutiny of federal judges across the ideological spectrum, the question coming out of the 2012 election season is whether the optics of the voting rights issue have changed sufficiently to bring the Roberts court back from the brink to which it was surely headed. When the subject of voting rights felt like yesterday’s news, a quaint page from a fading history, using the Shelby County case to eviscerate Section 5 looked easy. With voting rights the stuff of today’s headlines, I’m no longer so sure.

It’s hard to say. As Greenhouse notes, it was the Chief Justice who cited the empirical record of the South’s good behavior in recent years in a 2009 decision that essentially put Congress on notice that it needed to modify the VRA to reduce its scope. And the opinion in that case was written by the only other Justice you’d figure was a “swing vote” on this topic, Justice Kennedy. So there’s a lot militating against any last-minute reconsideration of what has looked like an almost certain path to invalidation of Section 5. But you do have to wonder if conservatives realize they have damaged their own case for the anachronistic nature of voting rights protections.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Crissa on November 15, 2012 10:08 AM:

    I'm sure the Justices argument will go this way: If gutting voting rights happens anywhere, why do some of the places have special rules against them?

  • Memekiller on November 15, 2012 10:10 AM:

    Ironically, it has again probably put Roberts in the position of choosing between protecting Court's legitimacy and naked partisan politics, as in ACA. Good thing the right attacked him for his epilepsy.

  • c u n d gulag on November 15, 2012 10:13 AM:

    I certainly hope that the SCOTUS takes into consideration the recent voter suppression efforts in so many states.

    Conservatives: Hoist by their own retards!*

    It appears that we need to include some new states in the VRA.

    Why not just extend the VRA to all 50 states?
    Oh, yeah, right - the Republicans in the House and Senate!

    *My apologies for using the "r" word - or, rather, the not, "Republican 'R'", word.

  • Peter C on November 15, 2012 10:21 AM:

    I don't trust Robert, Alito, Thomas and Scalia; that's the bottom line. I feel they are ideologues installed to implement changes to the law through the judiciary, and not jurists judging cases based upon evidence. I don't have any idea what they will do.

  • BillFromPA on November 15, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Wingnuts always over reach, whatever the issue. Sometimes they actually grab the distant prize to the detriment of the country, but often enough they screw themselves. Enough is never enough when your goal is to turn the clock back to the early 1900s, and I agree that they've shot themselves in the foot this time.

  • stormskies on November 15, 2012 10:34 AM:

    I agree with Peter C. And would add that given that Obama won this time because of all the 'minorities' who voted in mass to reelect him versus the stupid whites who managed, yet again, to vote against their own self interest, that the Repiglicans on the Court may in fact vote in order to enhance what's left of the white majority in our country.

  • Mimikatz on November 15, 2012 10:49 AM:

    It is hard to believe that Roberts, as opposed to Scalia or Alito, wants to go down in history as the 21st century Roger Taney (author of Dred Scott) after his decision on the ACA. Of course they can always say that voter suppression efforts are self-correcting because they provoke a backlash, citing this year's election, but disenfranchising voters with complex voter ID laws was struck down repeatedly by state and federal judges. Without that it might have been different.

    And what about Florida's sorry performance? It must have inconvenienced all those poll workers to have to stay until 11:00 pm to let all the people in line vote. You'd think they would dump their election officials, but clearly someone likes them being a quadrennial spectacle. Ditto Arizona.

  • Josef K on November 15, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Am I the only one who finds it a little ironic that Clarence Thomas is a surefire vote to toss Section 5, given what said bit of legalese was designed to do? Wonder if he'll actually ask a question during oral arguments this time.