The Supreme Court has rightly decided that the Voting Rights Act's 'extraordinary measures' to prevent voting discrimination must be directed toward places where discrimination is going on now, not where it happened nearly 50 years ago.
Racism is the original sin of American history. But acknowledging this should not mean ignoring America’s racial progress since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was enacted to help right this wrong. By striking down a key provision of the act today, the Supreme Court has rightly decided that the act’s “extraordinary measures” to prevent voting discrimination must be directed toward places where discrimination is going on now, not where it happened nearly 50 years ago.
In a 5-4 ruling in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the court upheld the principle that localities with a history of discrimination be subject to approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws. But it struck down as unconstitutional the formula to determine those locations, because that formula is based on “decades-old data,” as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. Unless Congress updates the formula, approval – which has blindly covered 15 states in part or in whole – can’t be applied.
Congress originally passed the Voting Rights Act to enforce the 15th Amendment that bars states from denying citizens the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Willful federal negligence in enforcing the amendment had gone on for a century.
But as even those opposed to the court’s decision today must acknowledge, voting rights in the South, where approval mostly applies, and other parts of the country that were placed under the act’s supervision, are as protected now as they are in any other part of the country. While racism is not extinct, it is no longer sovereign in the South. Indeed, as it was argued before the court, in some ways Mississippi is a better place for voting than Massachusetts.