Political Animal

Blog

February 27, 2013 1:04 PM VRA On the Ropes

By Ed Kilgore

It was hardly unexpected, but early reports on today’s oral arguments in the Supreme Court indicate that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires jurisdictions (mostly in the South) with a history of discriminatory actions “preclear” decisions that could dilute minority voting strength with the Justice Department, is indeed on the ropes. Here’s SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein:

Following through on the deep constitutional concerns stated in its prior Northwest Austin decision, a majority of the Court seems committed to invalidating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and requiring Congress to revisit the formula for requiring preclearance of voting changes. The vote seems quite likely to be five to four. The more liberal members pressed both the narrow argument that an Alabama county was not a proper plaintiff because it inevitably would be covered and the broader argument that there was a sufficient record to justify the current formula. But the more conservative majority was plainly not persuaded by either point. It is unlikely that the Court will write an opinion forbidding a preclearance regime. But it may be difficult politically for Congress to enact a new measure.

Adam Liptak of the New York Times adds a bit more color:

A central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 may be in peril, judging from tough questioning on Wednesday from the Supreme Court’s more conservative members.
Justice Antonin Scalia called the provision, which requires nine states, mostly in the South, to get federal permission before changing voting procedures, a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked a skeptical question about whether people in the South are more racist than those in the North. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked how much longer Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.”
The court’s more liberal members, citing data and history, said Congress remained entitled to make the judgment that the provision was still needed in the covered jurisdictions.
“It’s an old disease,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said of efforts to thwart minority voting. “It’s gotten a lot better. A lot better. But it’s still there.”
Four of the nine-member court’s five more conservative members asked largely skeptical questions about the law. The fifth, Justice Clarence Thomas, did not ask a question, as is typical.

There’s not a great deal of doubt where Thomas is coming down on this case.

Goldstein’s reference to future congressional action to “cure” the VRA is one that will become important once the decision comes down, presumably at the end of this Court term. Last time the VRA was up for reauthorization in 2006, Republicans equivocated before largely getting behind the bill with the strong encouragement of the Bush administration. That was the sort of political call that today’s GOP would probably consider emblematic of Bush’s “abandonment of conservative principle,” and was also before the latest wave of voter suppression activity in states, north and south, governed by Republicans. With the sanction of the Court, VRA critics will likely pull the GOP over the brink into active opposition this time around. I doubt residual concerns about the impact on the party’s ability to compete for minority voters will inhibit conservatives much; after all, they’re convinced such voters will soon realize the only racists left are those tending the “plantation” of the Democratic Party.

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.

Comments

  • meady on February 27, 2013 1:20 PM:

    Justice Antonin Scalia called the provision, which requires nine states, mostly in the South, to get federal permission before changing voting procedures, a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

    So let's eliminate the provision so that their is racial entitlement in perpetuity. Why aren't supreme court judges impeached? Also too, perhaps if there is some kind of quantifiable measure of improvement in the South (which is questionable) might that be because of the VRA? Seems to me it's an argument to extend the reach nationwide, not abolish it. We are on a road to ruin...

  • Josef K on February 27, 2013 1:31 PM:

    Justice Antonin Scalia called the provision, which requires nine states, mostly in the South, to get federal permission before changing voting procedures, a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked a skeptical question about whether people in the South are more racist than those in the North. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked how much longer Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.”

    Note the three Justices raising these questions: white, male, well-heeled, products of University education, and secure in their retirements.

    A century and a half ago, all three would have been living on plantations and moaning about the "damn Yankees" interfering in their business.

    Same old, same old (at least until the human race is wiped out).

  • rea on February 27, 2013 1:33 PM:

    How do these supposedly strict constructionist, anti-judicial activist judges think they have any power whatever to decide when preclearance is no longer necessary?

    Text of 15th Amendment:

    Section 1.
    The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

    Section. 2.
    The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

  • Zorro on February 27, 2013 1:44 PM:

    Here's a suggestion: don't drop the pre-clearance requirement for the 9 states that currently require it, place that requirement on all 50 states. After all, many of the states where the GOP is currently trying to game the voting rules- like PA, for instance- aren't currently covered under the pre-clearance requirement, but arguably need it just as badly as any state in the deep south.

    -Z

  • smartalek on February 27, 2013 1:54 PM:

    Once again, my favorite oxymoron of all time:
    "Justice Clarence Thomas."

  • Peter C on February 27, 2013 2:38 PM:

    So Scalia has a problem with a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” to VOTE??? Why is being entitled to vote a problem, exactly? What a vile human being!

  • Peter C on February 27, 2013 2:44 PM:

    Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked how much longer Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.”

    I'd let Shirley Sherrod judge when racism was no longer a factor in society, personally.

  • James E. Powell on February 27, 2013 8:16 PM:

    Before we start shaking about the predictions of these writers, could we go back and check if they were in the "Obamacare is doooooomed!!!" group of Supreme Court experts?

  • they adhere to limbaugh and hannity on February 27, 2013 9:19 PM:

    Rachel Maddow had a video of LBJ speaking of voting rights and that should be played for the court

  • AJAY JAIN on March 02, 2013 3:41 AM:

    The Voting Rights Act (VRA) must be upheld by the supreme court: Discrimination is alive today unfortunately; Liberty and justice for all is openly sabotaged and the Supreme Court is inviting trouble of great magnitudnal proportions if it dares to fail its ultimate mandate: to uphold everyone's constitutional rights. The entire nation will speak against it because the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is not about political parties; the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is about individual rights protection. Bank on it! it is time to review; the Supreme Court's "entitlements" as, it is no longer acting as an unbiased institution and that, your magistrates , can be amended. get up and do your job or we will make it happen! count on it! Now Even if you are dumb enough to believe that all is OK with the world and there are no reasons to have the voting rights law on the books. Then why are the the parties at opposite end's on this ? Why are the Republicans in America trying to keep people from the poles ? Well I will tell you what I think. I think there may be a dozen or two, man and women in America that have the means to buy the power it wants to call all shots in this Country. The only way they can obtain this right now is get the people they went in office. To buy them so to say. But they know they can be stopped at the voting polls.They know the more that get out and vote there chances are reduced substantially. George Will knows this and should be ashamed. He say 47 years old. Is that old ? I don't think so. Look at the constitution, at that II Amendment a lot older right. SS, Medicare, still very new in the big picture. But look at who wants to change them. Not working men and women, no the big bosses. They do not like to mach payments that is what this is all about. They did not like it back in the 1930s and they do not like it now. So Americans do not be fooled and all of you older people that now have this little benefit fight like h--- to keep it just as it is. It just might be all there is between eating and striving !!

  • AJAY JAIN on March 02, 2013 3:42 AM:

    All the republicans crapping about Voting Rights Act (VRA) on this board and the likes of you in the REPUBLICAN House should move aside in 2014 because the REPUBLICANS are the crux of the problem. President Obama won the elections of 2008 AND 2012 fair and square but the REPUBLICANS are not allowing him to govern though their rule of RECORD number of filibusters in the Senate and the HOUSE of REPUBLICANS has achieved nothing since it came to power in 2010. In 2014 its the REPUBLICAN's time to go and let OBAMA our democratically elected PRESIDENT rule the country and leave a legacy behind like the achievements of the 2008-2010 years when DEMOCRATS had the House Senate and the Presidency. We want the obstructionist REPUBLICANS out of the way in 2014. We want our House and Senate back in the DEMOCRATIC hands so we can govern and achieve something. All these doomsday deadlines that REPUBLICANS keep pushing on the country will haunt them in 2014!! Mark my words. March 1st 2013. Vote Democratic always!

  • AJAY JAIN on March 02, 2013 3:45 AM:

    BIBLE the mini-series coming from Mark Burnett has got to be really good. It is on HISTORY Channel starting on 3/3/13 on Sundays 7 pm CT Channel 55 on TWC Time Warner Cable. We NEED more publicity HISTORY channel! Wake up HISTORY channel before it is too late! Check out the latest Bible trailer by going here: http://histv.co/XZmj4s What are you most looking forward to watching in the series premiere on 3.3.13 at 8/7c? On HISTORY channel 55 on Time Warner Cable (TWC).