The Supreme Court’s Threat to the Voting Rights Act

Spitzer
How to Make Government Work
Nov. 15 2012 6:29 PM

The Supreme Court’s Threat to the Voting Rights Act

The Justices of the US Supreme Court sit for their official photograph in 2010.
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Courtin 2010.

Photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images.

We just re-elected our first African-American president. Pretty overwhelming proof that we don't need a Voting Rights Act to protect against discrimination in voting, right?

Wrong. In fact, it is because we have a Voting Rights Act that hundreds of thousands of voters were able to cast the votes necessary to re-elect President Obama. So it is disconcerting to realize that the Supreme Court accepted for review a case that many think will lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 getting struck down. Section 5 of the act in particular is in trouble. It requires a number of states, mostly in the South and all with a history of discrimination, to get permission from the federal government before changing their election procedures.

Advertisement

As Columbia law professor Nathaniel Persily warns in the New York Times, we should begin preparing now for the likelihood that this landmark law will be struck down.

This should be unthinkable, especially given all of the efforts to suppress voting rights over the past year. In June it was Pennsylvania state House Republican Leader Mike Turzai who boasted that the state’s new voter ID law would "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." He didn't say this because there was any evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania. There isn't. But the statute would have permitted hundreds of thousands of voters to be disenfranchised.

This past weekend, it was Wisconsin state Sen. and Romney campaign co-chair Alberta Darling who suggested that Romney would have won Wisconsin if voter ID laws had been in place. Again there is no evidence of voter fraud. Fortunately, courts either delayed or banned enforcement of these statutes. And President Obama won both states by more than 200,000 votes.

Turzai and Darling are two examples of Republican state legislators honest enough in their comments to make clear what underlies this massive effort to enact voter ID laws: Republicans believe that suppressing voting rights is a legitimate campaign strategy. We shouldn't forget that more than 30 states have passed some form of a Voter ID law, and by the next election the number of states with strict photo ID laws will certainly increase. All to combat a problem that we know, and they know, doesn't exist.

That is why the Federal Voting Rights Act is so important. It is that statute that protected the right to vote, led to these unfortunate state laws being overturned, and made it possible to re-elect our first African-American president. Let's hope the Supreme Court realizes this.

Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of the state of New York, hosts Viewpoint on Current TV. Follow @eliotspitzer on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM The Global Millionaires Club Is Booming and Losing Its Exclusivity
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.