What The Supreme Court Got Right When They Removed the Pre-Clearance Requirement From The Voting Rights Act of 1965
It Wasn’t Just Nine States That Were Racist But The Whole Damn Country.
The 2013 decision by the Supreme Court that invalidated the enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 didn’t accomplish anything good. It opened the floodgates for multiple states that previously had to seek pre-clearance before making changes in voting laws to ensure they weren’t discriminatory. The Act declared that nine states and many counties and cities across the country had so abused the process that they had to ask permission first before making changes because they couldn’t be trusted. Those states were; Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. It was the same thing as saying these nine states were racist, but the rest of the country, except for a few pockets, was okay. In truth, the whole nation was racist, and in 2021, forty-three of the nation's fifty states are trying to restrict voting rights, primarily of minorities and young people.
SCOTUS got one part right because it was unfair to single out certain states for punishment when they all were guilty. Why was Florida excluded when they repeatedly conspired to block minorities from voting. While the current push to suppress votes is led by Republicans. In 1920 it was Democrats who had a statewide plan to suppress Black votes which included burning crosses, literacy tests, threats of Black leaders, and murder. The entire Black population of Ocoee, Florida, was either killed or burned out after two Black men tried to vote. Former police officials and the Klan led the effort to stop them; the headline in the Orlando Sentinel, still, the paper of record, had the following headline:
“RACE TROUBLE AT OCOEE CLAIMS 2 WHITE VICTIMS”
How was Tennessee left out? In the same year (1867), the Tennessee General Assembly granted Black men the right to vote. The new Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, went right to work to suppress them using threats and violence as the means. Statues and monuments of the first Grand Dragon still exist in Tennessee, including a bust located in the Capitol. A vote did take place to move the bust to the Tennessee State Museum in March of 2021, but as of this writing, the Bust still stands. Cases could have been made for including North Carolina and Kentucky but could just as easily been made for almost every other state. Pinning racism on nine states gave a pass to all the rest that didn’t deserve it.
The Supreme Court (by a narrow 5–4 margin) tried to tell us that racism and voter suppression was a thing of the past. Chief Justice John Roberts, long an advocate of voter suppression, told us how much better America is doing with a straight face.
Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
The current coverage system is based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”
Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot simply rely on the past.
What Roberts got right is that singling out jurisdictions is not the best way to weed out voter suppression. It allows for false comparisons like one currently making the rounds. Georgia’s voter suppression bill must not be racist because it provides more early voting days than New York. The Bronx and Manhattan were included in the jurisdictions requiring pre-clearance. Being better than New York in one area doesn’t mean Georgia is forgiven; it means New York is sorry as well, which many New Yorkers can attest to. Besides New York, many areas in notoriously liberal California were required to seek pre-clearance and parts of Wisconsin, Washington, and Utah. Among the forty-three states currently seeking to change their laws, many were never considered in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but would deserve their place today.
The truth is, every jurisdiction in America should have to seek pre-clearance to make major and even some minor changes in their voting laws. Who among them is without guilt that they should be presumed non-racist until after the fact of passing racist laws? While it is just a Republican thing at present, it was once just a Democratic thing. Power corrupts, and both sides have proven capable of using it to use tactics based on race to steal elections. Any new voting rights provisions should be universal because nowhere in America has shown it can be trusted to hold fair elections without seeking an edge based on race.
Section Two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 said the following:
‘No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
Just do that, but don’t try to pick and choose to whom it applies. This should be true across the nation, and until we can do that, Let’s stop pretending that voter suppression doesn’t exist. It’s running rampant throughout the land.