Another day, another Supreme Court decision. Today the Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain states to get preclearance if they change their voting procedures. Technically, they didn’t rule that preclearance was unconstitutional, only that the particular formula used in the VRA is unconstitutional. This is something that’s long been a hobbyhorse of Chief Justice John Roberts, who believes it’s implausible that the original set of states covered in 1965 should be the exact same set covered today. He wants Congress to revisit the issue and actively decide which states require preclearance and which ones don’t.
Four other justices agreed with him this time, so preclearance is dead. And given the current partisan makeup of Congress, it’s vanishingly unlikely that they’ll agree to a new formula.
Ten years ago I might have had a smidgen of hope that this would turn out OK. There would be abuses, but maybe not horrible, systematic ones. Today I have little of that hope left. The Republican Party has made it crystal clear that suppressing minority voting is now part of its long-term strategy, and I have little doubt that this will now include hundreds of changes to voting laws around the country that just coincidentally happen to disproportionately benefit whites. There will still be challenges to these laws, but I suspect that the number of cases will be overwhelming and progress will be molasses slow. This ruling is plainly a gift to the GOP for 2014.
UPDATE: The dominant reaction on my Twitter feed is that this decision might actually help Democrats in the short run. There might not be enough time to substantially change voting laws in time for 2014, but the fight could galvanize minority voters and produce higher Democratic turnout rates. This is pretty much what happened in 2012 in reaction to all the GOP’s voter suppression laws.
This is plausible. But even if it’s true, I suspect it just means this ruling is a gift for 2016 instead of 2014.