Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” -William Pitt the Younger
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its long-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Today’s holding in Shelby County v. Holder, in Plain English: Today the Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. That portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring all state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures, no matter how small. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required. But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.”
In short, the federal government may still require preclearance, but it will now have to devise a formula suited to modern circumstances to do so in modern times. I know, I know—how dare a bunch of unelected judges require our elected federal officials to be responsive to current, real-world circumstances before selectively burdening local officials with cripplingly onerous regulations based on problems from half a century ago! The audacity!
Of course, a more or less bipartisan chorus of people has already begun to address a situation that everybody seems to know: while certainly not impossible, it is not terribly likely that Congress will pass a new standard of teeth for the preemptive Section 5. Accordingly, preclearance will have as much vitality from now on as Charles Xavier’s vegetative brother.
Guess we’ll have to finally treat districts in the littoral South, New York City, New Hampshire, California, and other erstwhile preclearance zones like we do everywhere else in 21st Century America. What a revolutionary change.
But whatever your opinion of the need for preclearance, it should be noted that any reasonable defense of the standard ought to be based in modern considerations. By the same token that labor activists would object to a minimum wage and workplace protections based in 1960s dynamics, every American committed to justice, fairness, and equality should oppose selective restrictions in 2013 based in the world as it was in 1965. My parents didn’t even exist in 1965, blacks voted in higher rates than whites in 2012 (despite the hullabaloo over voter ID laws), and I see no reason why my elected officials should have to waste incalculable human and financial resources answering for crimes they neither committed nor would tolerate.
I can understand the sentiment behind the objection that Congress will never pass another set of preclearance standards, and so Section 4 was the best that could be hoped for; however, the practical result of that sentiment is manifestly unjust. We cannot tolerate unfair and unconstitutional governance simply because some of us like how the results of that legislation make us feel. Thus we cannot expect or allow the Supreme Court to play the caped vigilante overwhelming any and all legal restrictions whenever our duly empowered officials upset us.
As Chief Justice Roberts sagely mused in upholding (most of) Obamacare:
“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”
Personally, I don’t buy the recurring trope that either the South or the Republican Party is particularly racist. But if either myth is true, it should be feasibly enough to write targeted, modern laws demonstrating this effect and re-empower Section 5 accordingly. After all, Congress did overwhelmingly pass the Voting Rights Act again in 2006. This time around, it may take more effort, but what else is new in politics?
If you are unsatisfied with how your elected officials behave, then change your officials. If you disdain how your neighbors’ officials behave, then persuade your neighbors to change their minds and then their officials. If you are unwilling or unable to do any of these things, then I would kindly suggest finding a new set of battles to fight or else abandoning the whole sphere of politics.
If you learned nothing else from George R.R. Martin’s songs of realism and heartache, remember this: life isn’t your fairytale, you aren’t the protagonist, and you won’t always get what you want. Get over it.