That sound you hear from Portland East to Portland West (all you bluegrass fans) is my teeth grinding. I made the mistake of reading Jeffrey Toobin’s lead editorial in the 3/2/09 issue of The New Yorker.
Toobin’s writing about a case to be argued before the Supreme Court this spring, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District 1 v. Holder. The district is arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is “improper and/or unconstitutional.” Section 5 names states and counties that were found to be restricting the voting of black citizens in some way (literacy tests, etc.) back in 1964. It requires those locations to get permission from the Justice Department for even the teeniest change to their voting procedures — moving the location of a polling place, for example. Plaintiffs argue that with the election of Obama, the issue of voting rights is moot, and DoJ supervision of these districts named in Section 5 is no longer necessary.
Toobin isn’t buying it.
Barack Obama won the Presidency, but voting patterns in the Deep South suggest that race remains a major factor in American political life.
Is it only in the Deep South that “race remains a major factor in American political life”? How did John McCain do among black voters in, say, New York?
Obama received forty-seven percent of the white vote in states that are not covered under Section 5 but won only twenty-six percent of the white vote in covered states … Race seems like the best explanation for this difference.
So if a black candidate receives a smaller proportion of the white vote in state A than in state B, that proves that voting procedures in state A need the close supervision of the Justice Department? How does it prove that?
Toobin takes a detour into Florida 2000 and “the nonexistent problem of voter fraud,” stitched up by Republicans out of whole cloth as a scheme to prevent minorities from voting. Then:
In the Court’s great affirmative-action case of 2003, in which it upheld racial preference in admissions at the University of Michigan Law School, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion suggested that by 2028 such measures should no longer be necessary.
For goodness’ sake, how many times have those goal-posts been moved? Thurgood Marshall, arguing for the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, said it would take five years to attain full school integration nationwide. How’d that work out? Arnold Rose, co-author with Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal in the tremendously influential 1944 book An American Dilemma, offered the opinion in 1962 that black-white friction would be inconsequential — “in the minor order of Catholic-Protestant prejudice” — by 1992. 1992, huh? Etc., etc., etc., …
The Voting Rights Act expires in 2031. Thanks in part to the election of Barack Obama, it is now plausible to believe that the day will come when the act, too, will no longer be necessary.
I find it more plausible to believe that for liberals of the Toobin stripe, that day will never come.