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Shelby: A Good Decision



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The Supreme Court today struck down the coverage formula used by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 is the part of the act that requires some jurisdictions — mostly, but not exclusively, in the South — to get special permission beforehand from the federal government before changing any practice or procedure having anything to do with voting.

This is an eminently sensible opinion, since that coverage formula is based on obsolete data from decades ago. The Court unanimously pointed out to Congress the problems with this formula a few years ago in another decision, but Congress ignored the warning. Turns out that the Court wasn’t kidding.

There will be much complaining that today’s decision was “activist,” which is not true; and few will point out that the main use to which Section 5 has been put in recent years is forcing covered jurisdictions to draw racially gerrymandered and segregated voting districts. But you can read all about it here.

In any event, now the ball is back in Congress’s court. The sensible thing for Congress to do would be nothing. The Court was right, and the other provisions of the voting laws — all left intact by today’s decision — are more than adequate to fight racial discrimination in voting.

But Congressional Democrats — and the special-interest lobbyists from the various civil-rights groups — are no doubt calling for new legislation, even as I type these words. The honest approach, which the Court explicitly left open today, would be to try to update the coverage formula. The trouble is that, if that is done honestly, there will be very, very few jurisdictions that merit the treatment given to the deep south a half-century ago. That, of course, is a good thing, but unlikely to make the Left happy.

The other, more likely tactic will be to come up with a wish-list of voting-related “reforms” — for example, a ban or strict limitation on voter-identification laws — and claim that these must now all be passed immediately in light of today’s decision by the evil Supreme Court. Any Republican who refuses to sign on will be pilloried as a racist who wants to turn back the clock. Here’s hoping the ruse doesn’t work.



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