The Supreme Court’s decision today to overturn a small part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is actually a victory for civil rights. As the court noted, what made sense both in moral and practical terms almost a half century ago has to be approached anew.
Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act forced states that had poor minority registration or turnout numbers in the 1960s to remain in a permanent penalty box from which they were forced to seek Justice Department approval for the most basic of election-law decisions. Its consideration of state requests for election changes was often arbitrary and partisan, as witnessed by the recent smackdown that the DOJ got from a federal court when it tried to block South Carolina’s voter ID law.
The rest of the Voting Rights Act remains in place and will be used to ensure minority voting rights. Congress is free to come up with a different, updated coverage formula for pre-clearance, but given the DOJ’s current stained reputation Congressional action looks unlikely in the near future.
Clint Bolick, director of litigation for the conservative Goldwater Institute in Arizona, says the demise of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will also reduce the balkanization of racial gerrymandering that has become so popular lately. “Voting districts drawn on racial or ethnic lines divide Americans,” he says. “This decision helps move us toward the day in which racial gerrymandering becomes a relic of the past.”