By gutting the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Supreme Court got some of the facts right, but failed to recognize the reality of continuing discrimination against African American voters.
What the court got inarguably correct was that times have changed since the signature act of the civil rights era was passed in 1965. In the Southern states and the other jurisdictions whose voting practices were put under authority of the federal government, black Americans are no longer blatantly barred from exercising their constitutional right to cast a ballot to choose their leaders. In fact, blacks are holding more elected offices and voting in greater numbers than ever.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the conservative majority on the court reasoned that because the situation had changed so dramatically, there was no longer a justifiable need for the U.S. Justice Department to hold veto power over the way local and state officials in the affected jurisdictions set their rules for voting. To do so would be to discriminate against those states and localities.
What the court majority failed to recognize, or simply ignored, was what the court’s minority of liberals pointed out: There is discrimination at work, but it is not the state and local officials who are the victims of that discrimination; it is still minority voters.
It is a different type of discrimination, and it may be popping up in different places. Before 1965, black voters were kept from voting in many areas of the South and elsewhere simply because of the color of their skin — racism in its purest form. What is happening today is that black voters are having their influence on elections suppressed, not strictly because they are black, but because of the way black people vote: They are overwhelmingly Democrats.
As became evident during the 2012 election campaign, Republican officials in numerous states — not just in the South, but in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania as well — tried to employ various means to discourage blacks and Latinos from voting. New identification requirements were instituted, voting hours and days were curtailed and polling places in minority communities were hard to find, fewer in number and inadequately staffed.
A signature scene of the election was the picture of long lines stretching away from polls in black communities where voters had to wait hour after hour for their chance to vote. Such shamefully long lines were not in evidence in white neighborhoods — not because fewer white people were voting, but because whites were provided more places to vote.
Prior to all of that in states such as Texas, Republican legislatures passed redistricting plans with lines drawn to limit the influence of black and Latino voters and ensure a system that favors white Republican candidates.
All of this may not be pure racism, but it is certainly politically motivated discrimination. Thanks to the court decision, the federal government has lost one big weapon to fight such discrimination. And thanks to the way certain states and localities have manipulated voting rules and district lines, we have a U.S. House controlled by Republicans who have a vested interest in making sure no new voting rights measure ever becomes law.