Following the good news from SCOTUS Wednesday, we need to recognize the egregious error they made the day before in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) which invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.
The strangest thing about Roberts’ majority opinion is that he acknowledges not only the success of Section 4 of the VRA (concerning the 6 southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and parts of North and South Carolina) by noting increased minority voter participation, minority office holders and the like, but he even cites the repeated attempts of the southern states in question to erect barriers and dilute minority access to voting in response to the Act.
And because it’s all been so extraordinary and accomplished what it set out to do (he actually writes: “There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act”) that now it’s time to get rid of it.
That’s like saying, “because I plugged the leak 20 years ago and it worked, it’s now time to pull the plug and move on. It’s not 20 years ago, after all.” The logic is as tortured as it is circular.
Worse, he blithely claims that the south just isn’t the same old south that it was once, dismissing outright the dissent’s eloquent list of “second-generation barriers to minority voting” that have come about (and been shot down, thanks to VRA) over the past 50 years.
From Ginsburg’s dissent:
Efforts to reduce the impact of minority votes,in contrast to direct attempts to block access to the ballot, are aptly described as “second-generation barriers” to minority voting. Second-generation barriers come in various forms. One of the blockages is racial gerrymandering…Another is adoption of a system of at-large voting in lieu of district-by-district voting in a city with a sizable black minority…discriminatory annexation by incorporating majority white areas into city limits…”
And so on. Maybe it’s because I live in Georgia, but I can cite very specific examples of each of the above that have played out in just the last few years. We go through it state-wide every ten years because of the Census, and locally, whenever they damn well feel like it. Here in Athens we just went through a very ugly racial gerrymandering of our county commission districts that ended up under DOJ review and in a flood of lawsuits. Now, such remedies won’t be available for review.
The worse thing about the majority’s “reasoning” is the naive and simplistic view they have of race today in the south. There is this head-in-the-sand belief that racial discrimination is a thing of the past (even though Roberts actually says “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that”) and that just because blacks and Hispanics vote and hold office today, it’s all good.
If you think that undoing section 4 of the VRA is not going to be taken advantaged of at every turn going forward, you know nothing about the deep south. This is only the beginning of an intense desire which exists in many, many circles to return to the bad old days of the past and keep “them minorities” in their place (see also: the Paula Deen brouhaha and her vociferous defenders).
I always tell my students that you don’t have to drive too far outside of metro Atlanta, or much more than 10 minutes or so from Athens, and you are entering into a different world…a world where time stopped about a hundred years ago. Here’s a quick excerpt from an AJC expose on Greene County, just minutes from Athens, from 2004:
The civil rights movement was gathering force when Dr. William H. Rhodes Jr., the son of a local druggist, returned home in 1962 to open a family medical practice. The new brick office downtown included a design feature common in the South: a “colored” waiting room accessible by a separate, backdoor entrance.
Today the segregated waiting rooms remain a fixture of Rhodes’ practice — even though, he quickly points out, black patients are free to come in the front door if they choose.
Some do. But a few older patients continue to use the “colored” entrance, as they still call it, just as they did when they were young and had no choice.
“Some of them prefer to come to the back,” Rhodes says.
This is life today in many parts of the rural south. And to assume that Tuesday’s decision won’t make things worse is beyond comprehension. While we have definitely made great improvements in the south over the past 50 years (and how I wish the Chief Justice were right, and it was as simple as “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is stop discriminating on the basis of race”) , the decision in Shelby County will go down as major setback for race relations in this country.
I’ll defer to William Faulkner, who apparently the Chief Justice has never read: “In the south, the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Cross posted to the Power Elite