Bringing the Voting Rights Act Back to Life: Texas May Be Back on the "Pre-Clearance" List

Last June, the four movement conservatives on the Supreme Court, joined by Anthony Kennedy, held that the Voting Rights Act's "pre-clearance" procedure was a relic of the past--the South, and society in general, had changed, the High Court told us. No longer did states and jurisdictions that had a history of discriminatory practices when it came to disenfranchising minorities need to have the federal government check their homework each time they wanted to pass a bill related to voting rights. The Court explicitly stated that "current conditions" made that part of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

This pronouncement turned out to be more aspirational than reality reflected. The Court's vision of the South, and the country as a whole, turned out to be quite wrong. No sooner did the case (Shelby County v. Holder) come down, when seven states quickly moved to restrict the franchise. These states included Texas (whose law, only a year before Shelby County, a federal court had called the most stringent in the nation), North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi. Moreover, we also know that "voter fraud," the canard the GOP trots out in order to have some plausible deniability for their legislative machinations, is complete and utter [fill in your favorite pejorative term here]:

In an effort to bring empirical clarity and epistemological standards to what has been a deeply-charged, partisan, and frequently anecdotal debate, we use multiple specialized regression approaches to examine factors associated with both the proposal and adoption of restrictive voter access legislation from 2006-2011. Our results indicate that proposal and passage are highly partisan, strategic, and racialized affairs.

To quote one commentator: what's so changed about that?

So, the Supreme Court was wrong, and badly so. But encouraging news: a bi-partisan group of congressmen are working to pass legislation which will right the Court's wrong. The proposed legislation doesn't go as far as it could--for example, while Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi would all be back on the pre-clearance list, but Alabama and South Carolina would be free and clear. However, the perfect may be the enemy of the good in this case. The Supreme Court's conservatives made a serious error in (politicized) judgment, and Congress (!) might help remedy that.

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