Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion last week when the Supreme Court struck down a major section of the Voting Rights Act, first passed in 1965. Roberts claimed that much had changed in 48 years concerning black voting. He doesn't get out much.
The original Voting Rights Act Section 4 required certain states — mostly in the South, the Old Confederacy, but also areas of northern states — to get federal approval before changing voting laws. The VRA was renewed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote in 2006 and signed by President George W. Bush. The activist Roberts court declared Section 4 unconstitutional but left intact Section 5, which is the enforcement of Section 4.
There are a lot of variables involved in the decision, chief among them Roberts' claim that times have changed and such federal supervision is no longer necessary. It's true that poll taxes, literacy tests and other barriers to the polls are a thing of the past. But there are current limitations on voting that are just as insidious and mostly affect minority voters.
South Carolina and Texas, two states in Section 4, will now proceed with voter ID laws that had been held up by the feds. Other states such as North Carolina (40 of 100 counties in Section 4) have passed laws to limit voting hours and restrict absentee ballot periods.
All of these voting restrictions hit minority voters hardest. Oddly enough, just a few days before the court's demolition of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County, Ala., v. Holder, Arizona lost a case that required proof of citizenship to vote. But isn't that holding a state to federal voting standards, which is what the VRA does?
Roberts also calls on state's rights as a reason to gut the VRA, raising the question of how the Arizona ruling doesn't violate state's rights.