On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Alabama v. Holder about the constitutionality, applicability and relevance of Section 5 of that law. That section required state governments with a history of discrimination to get approval of the Justice Department before they alter their election laws.
While we await the court’s decision, it’s important to note the fallacies in the main arguments that the state of Alabama is making.
“The children of today’s Alabama are not racist and neither is their government,” wrote Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
Such a broad statement is hard to justify. The record in the Shelby County, Ala., case, for instance, demonstrates the continuation of biased practices. Shelby County has had more than 200 discriminatory voting irregularities blocked by Section 5 objections. Shelby’s advocates also pretend that their attack on this law is high minded when in fact it’s about power. It’s about who makes the rules as to who can vote, when they can vote and where they can vote. It’s a fight about turnout — limiting some, enhancing others.
And that fight needs to be put in the present context. In the past two years, we’ve seen 19 states pass measures that make it harder to vote.
The Brennan Center for Justice called these schemes “the biggest rollback in voting rights since the Jim Crow era.” Those measures included voter ID laws that disproportionately impact minority and Democratic Party voters.
Most of the states passing restrictive voter ID laws are in the South and are covered under Section 5. Voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina (as well as in Wisconsin) were struck down by the courts prior to the 2012 elections. Moreover, in Texas a federal court recently refused to clear the state legislature’s redistricting plan, finding “the new lines intentionally discriminated against minorities.” Because of Section 5, Texas was blocked from racial gerrymandering.
Some Republicans have made the intent to discriminate quite clear.
In June 2012, in the midst of a presidential election year, Pennsylvania Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai let the cat out of the bag when he said at a Republican State Committee meeting that the new voter ID law was “going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 for another twenty-five years. The vote was 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.
The U.S. Supreme Court should not overturn the will of the people as expressed so overwhelmingly in Congress, and it should not turn back the clock on racial justice in America.