How did we go from a Republican Congress easily reauthorizing the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 in 2006 to the likelihood that the Supreme Court would throw out Section 5 of the law in less than seven years?
In his new cover story for The Nation entitled “Why Are Conservatives Trying to Destroy the Voting Rights Act?“, Ari Berman explains that Section 5 is the only remedy for historic discrimination against minority voters that has ever worked.
It obligates certain states and localities where barriers against voting have existed historically to clear any changes in voting with the Justice Department. The areas covered include Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.
This basic provision forced the end of unconstitutional burdens like poll taxes and literacy tests, becoming what Attorney General Eric Holder calls the “keystone of our voting rights.”
Originally designed to expire in 1970 if states could prove they no longer discriminated against minority voters, the VRA has been renewed four times.
Meanwhile, right-wing billionaires including Charles Koch have funded a 25-year long war against race-based government interventions, winning over “intellectuals” on the right, including Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Roberts Court will hear Shelby v. Holder this session and decide if Section 5 of the VRA puts an undue burden on states to protect the rights of minorities.
Berman points out that the widespread acceptance of a strategy of opposing voter rights would likely never have taken over the mainstream of the Republican Party if it hadn’t been for Hurricane Katrina.
Before his administration’s mishandling of that storm, George. W. Bush fared far better with minorities than John McCain and Mitt Romney would. Following Bush’s re-election, the RNC engaged in an unprecedented outreach to minorities in the south. After Katrina, that effort disappeared.
In 2008, President Obama won 80 percent of the minority vote.
When the 2010 election gave the GOP safe majorities in the House of Representatives and legislatures throughout red and purple states, Republicans successfully redistricted an advantage that would last a decade and went about passing “tough new voting restrictions in 38 states.”
But many of those barriers were thrown out in federal courts and the all-out GOP war on voting rights backfired.
Thus, the frontline in the war has now moved to the Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court, thanks to the legal interests funded by Koch and his allies.
And the Supreme Court is where the most damage can be done.
“The disappearance of Section 5 would be a devastating setback for voting rights—akin to the way the Citizens United decision eviscerated campaign finance regulation—and would greenlight the kind of voter suppression attempts that proved so unpopular in 2012,” Berman explains.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais