Do conservatives have a lot more to be happy about today than yesterday? Yes. Today, the Supreme Court struck down the most onerous element of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Shelby County v. Holder. The Act had required several states and localities, almost all in the southern states of the confederacy, to seek permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing any electoral procedure. This included the drawing of electoral districts. A separate provision, still in force after Shelby, prohibits individual measures to block access to the ballot on the grounds of race.
The Act made sense in 1965, when Jim Crow still prevented blacks from registering and voting in the South. But it doesn’t anymore. One chart of voting registration by race, found on page 15 of Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion, says it all:
I became a lawyer so I wouldn’t have to work with numbers. But even I get it. After 40 years of the Voting Rights Act, in the original Jim Crow southern states African-American voting registration is actually the same or higher than that of whites. In the last election, African-American turnout was higher than white turnout in five of these six states, and in the sixth state the gap was less than 0.5 percent.
Shelby shows that the Court — albeit by a 5-4 majority — finally came to grips with reality. The Voting Rights Act worked. But it was an extraordinary remedy that intruded on state sovereignty over elections. And like all extraordinary remedies, it was only for unusual times. Those times have come to an end.