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Opinion: Editorials

Examiner Editorial: No, the Supreme Court did not restore Jim Crow

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Editorial,Judicial Branch,Supreme Court,Voter Registration,Analysis,Race and Diversity

Since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Section Four of the Voting Rights Act, many liberals have gone apoplectic, claiming the court has, in the New York Times' laughable formulation, "eviscerated enforcement" of the law. Such claims are wrong. Section Four created a formula that classified some states as racist and others as not, depending, as the Court noted, "whether a jurisdiction had a voting test in the 1960s or 1970s, and had low voter registration or turnout at that time." Section Four thus froze the relevant states in time, even though, as Chief Justice John Roberts noted, "history did not end in 1965."

The jurisdictions singled out by Section Four were thereby subject to Section Five, which required them to get permission from the federal Department of Justice before changing anything in their voting laws. The Court held the formula unconstitutional and invited Congress to rewrite it. The Court also preserved the Justice Department's authority to file suit against state voting laws it deems illegal.

Conservative pundit George Will wrote that "extraordinary laws that once were constitutional, in spite of being discordant with the nation's constitutional architecture, can become unconstitutional when facts that made the law appropriate change." Indeed, it has been 48 years since the VRA was passed, and when it became law, Sections Four and Five were only supposed to last for five years. Congress, however, repeatedly extended them - for 25 years in 2006 - thus stigmatizing residents and officials in the affected states as irredeemable.

Chief Justice Roberts notably invoked the 10th Amendment, the provision of the Constitution that guarantees the sovereign authority of the states that created the federal union, including the right to govern elections. As Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott noted of the decision, "this is a huge win for the Constitution and for equality in this country. Before today, different states were treated differently under the Constitution. The Voting Rights Act is the only law that was used to impose disparate or different kind of treatment."

Abbot noted that the Court had previously upheld a voter identification requirement implemented by Indiana. But when Texas, which was one of the states subject to Section Four discrimination, approved a virtually identical version of the voter ID measure, the Obama Justice Department cited the VRA to block it. "That just showed that they were using the Voting Rights Act law to treat Texas differently from Indiana, and that was part of the backdrop behind today's decision." Abbott said.

What really agitates liberals now is states are again free to pass voter ID laws, which they view as modern-day Jim Crow measures. As the Times editorial put it: "The real problem with the invalidated formula, in our view, is that it does not cover all the jurisdictions that have imposed or tried to impose techniques like racially discriminatory voter-identification laws." In other words, the liberal objection is that the nation's highest court has recognized the constitutional authority of states to require proof of valid registration from all voters.

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