A divided Supreme Court turned back American progress, and the victim was a law that served to defend the Constitution for nearly five decades.
In a 5-4 decision vote, the justices struck down the most important provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act - the requirement that 16 states with histories of discrimination against minority voters receive U.S. Justice Department approval before changing their voting laws.
The court’s majority concluded things have changed since the law was enacted. Blatant policies to enforce disenfranchisement of black voters in states such as Mississippi and Alabama have disappeared.
Just because conditions have improved in the 16 states doesn’t mean the provision should be removed. That is especially obvious in view of 31 restrictions that would have abridged minority voting rights the law prevented since it was reauthorized in 2006.
From 1999 to 2005, 153 changes proposed from some of the states required to clear them with Justice Department approval were withdrawn after department officials raised questions about them.
In her scathing dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attacked.
“In the court’s view, the very success of Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy,” Ginsburg wrote. “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.
“The Voting Rights Act became one of the most consequential, efficacious and amply justified exercises of federal legislative power in our nation’s history. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.”
Ginsburg was right to rebuke the court’s majority. For the thinnest of reasons, it did away with a provision of the Voting Rights Act that should have stood. Moreover, if there was cause to amend it, Congress, not the court, should make such a decision.
The ruling stands in stark contrast to the court’s ruling against Arizona’s attempt to require voters to prove their citizenship before they cast their ballots. The court said only Congress has that power.
In this case, the court appears to be trying to do Congress’ job - and that’s a mistake. The Voting Rights Act served an important historic role. It helped America live up to equality.
The court’s meddling is a blow to that ideal and a setback for our nation.
The Times Herald, Port Huron