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June 25, 2013 12:20 PM Throwing Away the Umbrella

By Ed Kilgore

Before moving along from today’s retrogressive landmark decision by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, you should read Justice Ginsburg’s dissent (in which Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joined). It makes a powerful case for judicial restraint (which used to be considered a conservative constitutional doctrine) in every case involving Congress’ power to enforce the Civil Rights Amendents, given their massive and unrepentant violation for a century by the very states for which today’s Court majority is so solicitous. And Ginsburg saves her most quotable line for a rebuke to the breezy confidence of the Chief Justice that racial discrimination in voting is mainly a thing of the past:

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.

And that kind of sums up the wildly different reactions we are likely to hear from Left and Right on this decision. The same conservatives who think the only racism worth noticing today is the “racism” of race-conscious remedies for discrimination will quite obviously cheer the vitiation of the Voting Rights Act as a long-overdue “reform.” Meanwhile, most liberals, particularly those with some practical experience in the Deep South, will look at the long history of voter discrimination and the current “rainstorm” of voter suppression efforts there and elsewhere and conclude it’s hardly the time to throw away the umbrella, particularly by a judicial edict that will consign a “repair” of Section 4 to the dustbin of initiatives blocked by today’s congressional Republicans, many of whom still think the original opponents of the Voting Rights Act were right.

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.

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