I have a knot in the pit of my stomach today. I haven't felt this knot since November of 2004, when George W. Bush won re-election, and it comes from the same source: my country has upset me to the point of physical illness. Today the Supreme Court's conservative majority, those supposed avatars of judicial restraint, effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act, in my opinion the most important piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in this country.
After the Civil War, the white South had to live with emancipation, but it would not accept social and political equality with freedmen and freedwomen. This necessitated the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. The latter, in 1870, banned restriction of the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or "prior servitude." Of course, Southern governments found ways to keep blacks from voting through other means: all white primaries, the grandfather clause, literacy tests, poll taxes etc. That, coupled with violent intimidation, suppressed the vote to the point that after 1900 there was not a single black representative left in Congress. In the ensuing years, the courts struck down the grandfather clause and the all-white primary, but Southern states and localities were still able to restrict the vote. The Voting Rights Act, which came only after several brave people lost their lives in order to secure it, brought in the federal government to ensure that states and counties with a history of voter suppression could not change voter requirements without federal approval. Only when the federal government was given the power to intervene in the South did things really change. By taking away preclearance, the SCOTUS has effectively destroyed the main tool needed to prevent a repeat of the past. (As the last map on this link shows, the states subject to preclearance are also home to very high levels of prejudice against black people.)
The court's conservative majority claims that it is wrong to single these states out today. There are three pretty clear responses to this. First, there are other states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, where there have been attempts to suppress the votes of blacks and Latinos. We should make preclearance nationwide in that case, since it is necessary all over the country. Second, it isn't the role of the Supreme Court to even act in this case. The justices writing for the majority say that the preclearance measures were necessary in 1965, but no longer. This sounds less like the Court ruling on the constitutionality of the law, and more on whether they like it or not. Congress should be able to decide if the Voting Rights Act is still necessary, not the courts. I can't think of a clearer case of "legislating from the bench," the very thing these conservatives claim to abhor. Third, this decision is based on a ridiculous logical fallacy. Because of the Voting Rights Act, voter suppression has been greatly reduced, which the court is now using to say that the law is now no longer necessary, forgetting why the law was needed in the first place. Let me be more direct. When criminals commit heinous crimes, we don't take them out of prison because their being in prison has prevented them from committing more crimes. The states and localities covered by pre-clearance were guilty of wretched crimes against democracy for a century. It might sound unfair on the surface to hold them to a stricter standard, but murderers, whether of people or of basic human rights, should not be trusted or let off easy.
The behavior of many of the states affected by pre-clearance shows a remarkable tendency towards recidivism. In Texas, long home to an all-white primary system in the bad old days, the legislatiure responded within hours to the decision by immediately drafting legislation that would make it more difficult to vote and redistrict in a way that diminishes the votes of blacks and Latinos. I expect to see much of the same across the country, since the Republican Party has made voter suppression a priority. Voter ID laws are just a repeat of the old strategy where conservatives keep coming up with new devices to limit the vote (like ID) when the old ones (poll taxes and literacy tests) are banned. The Voting Rights Act had powerful provisions to stop this, at least in selected states, and now those protections have been taken away by an out of control, partisan Supreme Court. That is why this decision will live in infamy.
And that is why we must mobilize and fight. Congressional Democrats need to match their Texas Republican rival and speedily draft new legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. We need nation-wide pre-clearance. We at least need the bigoted bastards who want to benefit by suppressing the vote to be forced into the public eye and own up to their guilt. Fot too long they have been allowed to hide behind the ridiculous fig leaf of "voter fraud," something that occurs about as often as Ted Cruz being polite. Right here in New Jersey our celebrity governor vetoed early voting as "too expensive" when he set up an extra special election for a vacant Senate seat to keep Democratic turnout lower in the general election that is costing the state millions of dollars. Conservatives have lost public trust, now they are just trying to manipulate elections to get around that fact. We cannot, we must not allow this to happen. The brave people who faced savage beatings and death to bring about real voting rights shall not have suffered in vain.