During yesterday’s arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court about a provision of the Voting Rights Act, the lack of understanding of the high court’s most conservative justices became apparent.
It is true that since 1965, when the law was enacted, there have been great advancements in minority voter participation. That in itself proves the law’s effectiveness and that of its Section 5, which is at risk in this case.
That provision requires nine states and several counties and municipalities in other states to obtain preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes that affect voting.
That aspect of the law was very useful last year when, thanks to the courts, it blocked part of the redistricting process and allowed the Justice Department to overturn several election laws that were burdensome for minority voters.
In those opportunities, the intent of Republican officials was to discourage minority voters, since they are thought to mostly vote Democratic. The political reason behind the action does not make it less discriminatory in reality.
Therefore, given those recent events, it is outrageous to hear Justice Antonin Scalia call this provision a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” It is also disconcerting that Chief Justice John G. Roberts asked whether people in the South are more racist than the ones in the North.
The answer to these questions and comments comes down to: Section 5 must remain in effect as long as it is necessary. If there is any doubt about its validity, we just need to look at how it helped prevent underhanded electoral actions at the polls four months ago.
The justices, when deciding, must not take refuge in overly elaborate historical interpretations. Rather, they must defend the integrity of the right to vote, including that of minorities, even if it takes additional effort. That is what democracy is all about.