In July the U. S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling in essence that the provision in question was no longer needed.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, issued a statement calling on President Obama and Congress “to move quickly to pass legislation, consistent with the court’s decision, that will ensure the protection of equal voting rights for all Americans.”
In Samuel and the Supreme Court, an essay for our Speaking to the Soul blog , Lora Walsh wrote:
In his own context, Samuel tried to warn people about the dangers of a monarchical form of government. Samuel said that, under a king, the people would experience a heavy tax burden, forced labor, and loss of life and loved ones in the king’s ambitious wars. Far from modeling Samuel’s leadership ethic, a king would be unaccountable, and he would serve his own interests rather than his people. He would never need to invite their testimony against him.
Samuel would probably point out similar perils in our own system of government. Because of two recent Supreme Court decisions, it is all the more difficult to imagine scenarios in the United States in which leaders are held accountable to their constituents. Even without commenting on the specific data or reasoning in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, we can acknowledge the risks to justice that the decision poses. Voting is one of the most basic ways to say to those who hold power, “Yes, I have been defrauded. Yes, I have been oppressed. Now, give us something better.” But now, without key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, elected leaders are less accountable to communities with a long history of being defrauded and oppressed.
Now comes Richard L. Hasen of Slate with the unsurprising news that voter suppression efforts in states once subject to the Voting Rights Act are well underway.
The conservative justices’ decision this past June in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, has already unleashed in North Carolina the most restrictive voting law we’ve seen since the 1965 enactment of the VRA. Texas is restoring its voter ID law which had been blocked (pursuant to the VRA) by the federal government. And more is to come in other states dominated by Republican legislatures.
Substituting their own judgment for that of Congress, the five justices in the Shelby County majority expressed confidence that the act’s “preclearance” provision was no longer necessary, and that there would be ample other tools to fight discrimination in voting. That the conservative justices have already been proven wrong a few scant weeks after the decision came down offers little solace for the voters of North Carolina, who ironically will have to try to fix the problem using the very mechanism of voting—which the North Carolina legislature is inhibiting.
After discussing how difficult it will be for North Carolinians to roll back the voter suppression bill, Hansen concludes:
It’s enough to make one wonder whether the Justices in the Shelby County majority actually thought minority voters would still have effective tools to fight discrimination after the Justices struck Section 5, or if they suspected all along that a stampede of elephants was right around the corner.