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February 28, 2013

Voting Rights Act shows SCOTUS' divide

The Daily Star

---- — Conservatives and liberals couldn’t seem to agree Wednesday in Washington.

We’re used to that, of course, when it comes to Congress, but if the public was looking for any relief from partisan differences at the Supreme Court, the public was disappointed.

Whether a key provision of the Voting Rights Act will be struck down by the generally conservative court was the question at hand.

Section 5 addresses “pre-clearance,” requiring jurisdictions in all or part of 16 states to get the OK of the federal government if they want to change any voting procedures. These jurisdictions, mostly in the South, are singled out because of a history of violating the voting rights of minorities.

The Voting Rights Act has been around since 1965. It prevents district lines from being drawn to the disadvantage of minorities and helps discourage such dastardly things as last-minute changes to voting places or hours.

The law has been reauthorized several times, with the last two being signed by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The Supreme Court, for that matter, has upheld it four times.

So, what’s the problem?

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday said that in 2006, the last time the law was renewed, that Congress did not want to change what he said was a “racial entitlement.”

“I think it is attributable, very likely, to a phenomenon that’s called perpetuation of racial entitlement,” Scalia said. “When a society adopts a racial entitlement, they are very difficult to get out of … through the normal political process.”

What he meant was that lawmakers were and are so afraid of being called racist that they would pass the law even if they didn’t think it was the right thing for the country.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan made it a point to mention that Alabama has no black statewide officials.

In 2009, the Chief Justice John Roberts wrote an opinion joined by seven other justices.

“The evil that (Section) 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance,” he wrote. “The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”

That — and the fact that at least five justices seem prepared to strike down the law — does not augur well for its continuence. We confess that while we are not experts on the racial progress on the jurisdictions in question, recent attempts to restrict voting in several states make us nervous about people’s right to vote being jeopardized and equally nervous about this law being struck down.