Statement by the President on the Supreme Court Ruling on Shelby County v. Holder
I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.
As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.
Just hours after the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that guts parts of the Voting Rights Act, Texas is moving forward with a controversial voter ID law that state Attorney General Greg Abbott hopes to implement right away.
“With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Abbott said in a statement to the Dallas Morning News. “Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
The Texas law requires voters to show photo identification to vote—a measure that was blocked by the Justice Department, arguing the law could discriminate against racial minorities. At the time, Attorney General Eric Holder called the law a “poll tax.”
Although the Justice Department still maintains the right to approve voting-rights laws in counties that have historically implemented discriminatory laws against minorities, Congress now needs to determine those areas.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings next month after the court on Tuesday invalidated the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula, which determines which voting districts must gain pre-approval from the Department of Justice for voting policy and procedure changes.
The court left standing Section 5, which requires states with histories of racial discrimination to seek such approval, only invalidating the formula that determines which districts fall under that provision. Congress last reauthorized the law in 2006.
Now, it’s essentially up to Congress to re-write the formula.
“What it tells me is after 45 years, the Voting Rights Act worked,” Mr. Grassley said, “and that’s the best I can say. It just proves that it worked.”
Representative Melvin Watt, a North Carolina Democrat who favors the preclearance requirements that the Voting Rights Act established, called the court’s decision outrageous. But any remedy from Congress, he added, would be difficult to piece together.
“I don’t think that we would be able to come up with a remedy that would satisfy this Supreme Court,” Mr. Watt said, noting that before Congress reauthorized the act in 2006, it gathered 15,000 pages of evidence demonstrating that racial discrimination was still prevalent enough to justify the law. “Fifteen thousand pages. If that’s not enough, what would be?”…
Across the South, reaction to the decision appeared to be split, largely along racial and partisan lines.
Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, backed the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, arguing formulas from “the 1970s” cannot provide fairness and accountability…
“We are a nation that demands fairness and accountability. Is there a formula from the 1970s that helps us find that today? I don’t believe so,” Scott said in the statement.
“We should strive to ensure that all Americans have access to opportunity and equal protection under the law. But punishing six southern states because of past failures does not help us in the present and certainly does not help find our path to the future. All states should be treated equally, and today’s decision provides for that opportunity,” he added.
The Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate a key provision of the Voting Rights Act is likely to help Republicans alter voting rules and districts in key states, voting rights experts said in the wake of the ruling Tuesday, potentially setting off a string of dominoes that could bolster the GOP’s majority in the House of Representatives for years, or even decades, to come…
The ruling is unlikely to immediately lead to changes in the makeup of the House of Representatives, observers said, because of one section the Court left untouched. Section 2 of the Act protects voting districts in which minority populations exceed 50 percent of the voting age population; the vast majority of Democrats who represent Southern states hold majority-minority districts, and national interest groups like the Democratic Party and the NAACP are likely to bring lawsuits if state legislatures tamper with district lines in an effort to dilute minority voting power. What’s more, packing minority voters into certain districts can make other, neighboring seats lean toward Republicans.
It’s at the local level where the ruling is likely to have the longest-lasting impact. In many Southern states, legislative districts that elect minority candidates don’t cross the 50 percent threshold, said Michael McDonald, a George Mason University political scientist who studies voting rights and statistics. Those districts would have been subject to the protection of the Justice Department under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but not under Section 2.
On its face, this looks like a big victory for Republicans. But is it really? I suspect it will turn out to be a poisoned chalice. Many of the GOP’s current problems stem from the fact that it is overly beholden to its white, Southern base at a time when the country is rapidly becoming more racially diverse. In order to expand its base of power beyond the House of Representatives, the GOP needs to expand its appeal to minority voters. As the ongoing battle over immigration reform demonstrates, that process is going poorly and looks like it will be very difficult.
The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act will make it easier for Republicans to hold and expand their power in those mainly Southern states. That will, in turn, make it easier for them to hold the House. It will also intensify the Southern captivity of the GOP, thereby making it harder for Republicans to broaden their appeal and win back the White House.
Democrats can and probably will, as a result of the measurably increased engagement of their base voters, campaign on the VRA’s evisceration and consolidate their hold on the minority electorate. While this strategy would halt the party’s efforts to engineer a Southern resurgence, it would cement voters’ impression of the Democratic Party as the protectors of the interests of American minorities.
But Republicans could embrace the opportunities presented by the Supreme Court’s decision as well. The GOP could argue for a broader map, not a narrower one, with an emphasis on cities and municipalities. They could make the case that the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has politicized the process of seeking and receiving “bailouts.” In short, the GOP could make a case directly to black voters with an analytical and thoughtful appeal explaining why the VRA was so deeply flawed and how to fix it.
Yes, the Republican Party’s arguments may be rejected by African-American voters, but at least they will have offered good faith, well-reasoned proposals for reform. That approach may not yield dividends with this generation of minority voters, but it may with the next. Given the party’s refusal to play the long game, it is doubtful that the GOP will pursue such a course. If they do not, the lingering damage to the party’s electoral viability will be catastrophic.
Damn, that citizenship thing was so great for awhile.
— Melissa Harris-Perry (@MHarrisPerry) June 25, 2013
Via the Corner.