By Bill Crawford
The 1965 Voting Rights Act changed Mississippi.
In the oral arguments leading up to the recent Supreme Court decision gutting Section 4 of the Act, Chief Justice John Roberts noted those changes in an exchange with U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli, Jr.:
“Roberts: Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout?
“Verrilli: I do not.
“Roberts: Massachusetts. Do you know what has the best?
“Verrilli: As to—
“Roberts: Where African-American turnout actually exceeds white turnout? Mississippi.
“Verrilli: Yes, Mr. Chief Justice, but Congress recognized that expressly in the findings when it reauthorized the act in 2006. It said that the first-generation problems had been largely dealt with, but there persisted significant–
“Roberts: Which state has the greatest disparity in registration between white and African-American?
“Verrilli: I do not know that. But–
“Roberts: Massachusetts. Third is Mississippi, where, again, the African-American registration rate is higher than the white registration rate.”
The Supreme Court found Section 4 of the Act to be outdated and therefore unconstitutional. The effect of this decision is two-fold. First, it removes the requirement for Mississippi, eight other states, and some jurisdictions to get pre-clearance to any change to election law or procedure. Second, it places the burden of proof regarding voter discrimination back on those claiming discrimination.
Will this, as opponents to the decision claim, allow states like Mississippi to backslide? They point to voting district gerrymandering and voter ID laws as current examples of legalized voter suppression and fear other tactics will now arise.
Don’t be surprised to see, eh, interesting tactics proposed. Inexorable African-American and Hispanic population trends are threatening to some.
The rise of such tactics, though, would be offset by a similar rise in litigation. The Supreme Court did not throw out the whole Voting Rights Act, simply the pre-clearance section. If local and/or state officials adopt rules that appear to suppress voters, plenty of lawyers will head to court to file challenges.
Should Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and the other jurisdictions now removed from pre-clearance see a huge surge in litigation, Congress could well decide to update Section 4 and put it back into play.
We just celebrated July 4th, the day America declared its independence from oppressive government. From this emerged our Constitution and Bill of Rights, which grant us our freedoms through a democratic republic that relies on elections to function.
The existence of Amendments 15, 19, 24, and 26 to the Constitution evidences our enduring struggle to make absolutely clear the constitutional duty to provide all citizens’ access to voting.
As the nation and Justice Roberts watch, hopefully our local and state jurisdictions will simply enjoy the freedom to operate without tedious federal oversight, and not backslide.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. His emal address is firstname.lastname@example.org.