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Hillary Clinton’s Voting-Rights Speech



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Looking forward to her run for president in 2016 and in an effort to bolster her bona fides with key parts of the Democratic base, Hillary Clinton gave a speech earlier this week on voting rights. In it she made two points, both wrong.

Her first claim was that the Supreme Court erred in its ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, in which it struck down the coverage formula that is used for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That formula is used to determine which state and local jurisdictions have to go through the extraordinary and constitutionally dubious process of getting advance approval from the federal government whenever they make any change in a voting-related practice or procedure. 

The principal use of Section 5 has been to mandate racially gerrymandered and segregated voting districts, which is hardly a noble end, and indeed is flatly inconsistent with the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement.  And the formula is based on data from elections in the Sixties and early Seventies, with Congress refusing to update it when it reauthorized Section 5 in 2006 (had it done so, no state except perhaps Hawaii (!) would have been covered). Congress, moreover, was warned by the Court in 2009 about the problems with its approach, and did nothing about it. The Court’s decision, then, was perfectly reasonable.

Secretary Clinton’s second claim was that voter-ID laws will, as a result of the Court’s action, be adopted by states, and that the antifraud justification for these laws is phony and the real motivation is to keep racial minorities and others from voting. This claim is unpersuasive for a number of reasons. 

To begin with, voter fraud is hardly a chimera, as John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky, among others, have persuasively documented and as the Supreme Court has recognized in upholding a voter-ID law. The lead opinion in that decision, by the way, was written by a liberal justice, John Paul Stevens, who — being from Chicago — knew that there actually is such a thing as voter fraud.

What’s more, if a state did pass or apply a voter-ID law with racial intent, there are plenty of other provisions in the Voting Rights Act that can be used to prevent such discrimination — provided, of course, the discrimination can actually be proved, in the same way that any other claim of racial discrimination (in employment, housing, etc.) must be proved. For example, a recently enacted law in North Carolina is being challenged; I doubt that the challenge is meritorious, but the point is that nothing in the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision will prevent justice from being done there, or in Texas, or anywhere else.

This month will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington that culminated in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. When one observes the gap between today’s racial rhetoric and our racial reality in 2013, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. 

Secretary Clinton’s speech is typical of the rhetoric we are hearing and which will build to crescendo later this month, with a refusal to let go of the race card, whether the context is racial profiling, criminal sentencing, home loans, criminal background checks by employers, school discipline, or voting rights. 

The reality is quite different. Racism (among all racial groups, by the way) can still be found and always will be, but it is nothing like it was in 1863 or 1963, and indeed it is legally proscribed in practically any public transaction, as well as being socially unacceptable. Opportunities are boundless for all, regardless of skin color, in any walk of life. Just ask our president. It’s not just that the glass is half full: Our cup runneth over.

Sad to say, the principal reason for the remaining racial disparities — and, consequently, for the racism that still exists — is the implosion of the black family. The resulting “tangle of pathology” was identified by Daniel Patrick Moynihan just two years after Dr. King spoke and when it was less virulent; believing that working and studying hard is “acting white” would have insulted Dr. King; I doubt he would have thought much of gangsta culture and its liberal enablers either, since he expected his children to be “judged by the content of their character.” It would be nice if Hillary Clinton gave a speech about all that, but I’m not holding my breath.

— Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

 



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