Voting Rights Act: Fix It Because It isn’t Broken
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will take on the latest challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It pits Shelby County, Alabama against the Federal Government. Shelby County will ask the Supreme Court to overturn Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, also called Preclearance.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered to be the landmark legislation of the civil rights movement. It was aimed at outlawing discriminatory voting practices that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote.
It is the most far- reaching piece of civil rights legislation in U.S. history. During its 2006 extension, a debate over preclearance requirement has sparked political controversy, including objections by some Republican members of the Congress. Preclearance requires that the states with a history of discriminatory voting practices must obtain the approval of the Department of Justice before implementing any changes that could affect voting. The argument was that the preclearance requirement represented an overreach of federal power, and the states affected by this requirement had long since abandoned the discriminatory practices, which the Act was supposed to eliminate.
The criticisms we hear these days go in that same direction, building around the notion that a lot has changed since the Voting Rights Act was passed. Hence the reason and the justification of the recent lawsuit that was able to reach all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Isn’t this the argument, essentially, for why the Act should stay in place and no portion of it should be changed, in the first place? Doesn’t this tell us that the Act has had the effect that it was intended to have; that the Voting Rights Act actually worked?
But then there is also the stunning and injudicious criticism from the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He recently denounced this critical part of the law as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement”. Unless Justice Scalia just came up with a new definition of what entitlement means, a law that ensures African Americans get an equal chance to vote doesn’t qualify as entitlement. It doesn’t even qualify as equality. As long as we need special laws to grant a basic right to a certain group of people, we do not have the right to utter the word equality, much less the word entitlement.
The argument that we no longer need the Voting Rights Act because circumstances have changed seems illogical as it is dangerous and ill willed. It fails to ask the question why the circumstances have changed. Would the answer to that question possibly make the last mentioned argument shatter like a piece of glass thrown to the floor? Could the answer be that the circumstances changing after the Voting Rights Act came into effect as a result of the Act?
Furthermore, what should outrage the American People and the politicians all around the country is the fact that some U.S. Supreme Court Justices are getting wound up in this topic, in a very injudicious fashion. Instead of having their personal opinion guide their decision making, when it should solely be based on the law itself, some have actually started expressing their very strong and extreme opinions out loud. Whether these things are being said only for an affect, knowing fully well that it is offensive and maybe even racist, or out of inner conviction; it should worry everyone that a person with the power of making final decisions on our laws has these kinds of words coming out of his mouth.
In addition, the highest court of the land is undermining the work of Congress by having this debate out in the open. The congress voted to renew the Voting Rights Act in 2006 . They did it by holding hearings and gathering documents for evidence that the Act was indeed still necessary to ensure the equal chance for African Americans to vote.
Let us remember the reason for which the Voting Rights Act was put in effect. Let us also remember that having this Act work and have the effect it was supposed to have over the last decades is no reason for getting rid of it now, but it is the one and only reason for why this Act has to stay in place, unless the goal is to undue all the progress that was made in the last half a century.