The Supreme Court 5-4 decision to repeal the part of the Voting Rights Act that dictates which states must get federal permission before they change their voting laws seems to have been based on the argument that this provision is outdated, that states and cities that have to ask permission before altering their voting laws are being "punished for the sins of many decades ago." But how many decades ago was it that three men were murdered for trying to register black voters—that police beat hundreds of people marching for Civil Rights in Selma, AL?
Five. Five decades. That may seem like a long time, but it's not. Fifty years is not enough time to declare these areas totally free of the institutional racism that had denied marginalized groups basic human rights for centuries. People are alive today who remember being denied the right to vote—you better believe that racist views, practices and policies are still alive as well. The Voting Rights Act "was used to block more than 1,000 proposed changes to voting laws between 1982 and 2006," and last year, it "was invoked to stop a voter identification law in Texas and a Florida law that eliminated early voting days, which would have made it more difficult for hundreds of thousands of minority voters to cast ballots." This provision is not outdated. It is still extremely relevant to our current political culture, and it is necessary to protect the basic rights of countless American citizens.
I share President Obama's disappointment in this ruling, and I am inclined to agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's opinion that “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA." We will see what actions Congress takes from here, but I am not optimistic. This is a sad day for American Civil Rights, which have been an integral part of our legal structure for the last five decades and should remain so for many, many more.