In the Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder case, the Supreme Court found that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was unconstitutional. Section 4 sets out the formula by which the electoral processes of certain jurisdictions are placed under the purview of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which is further laid out by Section 5 of the VRA. Essentially, those states, counties, cities, and special voting districts (such as water and conservation districts, etc.) who have had a history of discriminating against people of color had to submit any changes in their electoral processes to the DOJ, and changes would only be approved once the DOJ was satisfied that the change did not impair the democratic participation of communities of color.
In the 2012 election cycle alone, Section 4 and Section 5 of the VRA worked in tandem with one another to block restrictive voter ID programs in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Texas. In the South Carolina case, the courts found that thousands of Black voters would have been disenfranchised by the institution of a restrictive form of voter ID. It makes sense; the people who are the least likely to have a valid photo ID on them are the typically poor, students, or the elderly. Even if photo IDs are offered for free, people who do not have them still have to travel to their nearest DMV to obtain them. This puts a burden on those who cannot afford transportation.
The vote in support of repeal came from the usual conservative five (Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Chief Justice John Roberts) versus the usual liberal four (Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor) who voted to uphold Section 4.
With the news of today’s ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has declared that the state’s restrictive voter ID law will take effect immediately. It is a reasonable expectation that Republican-dominated state legislatures will move quickly to pass more restrictive voter ID laws now that they do not have to fear litigation from the DOJ. The sort of measures that caused people like Desiline Victor to have to wait hours in line to vote in Florida will become commonplace in the South.
Needless to say, this is a disappointing day for those who believe in democratic participation for all. I mean, should we not seek to have everyone vote? What are conservatives and Republicans so afraid of? The fact that voter impersonation (the societal ill that would be eliminated by voter ID) is extremely rare undercuts their fraud argument, so what else could it be?
Oh wait….I get it now:
While we will mourn the loss of a key tool in the fight against disenfranchisement today, we must get back up and keep fighting tomorrow. The politics of division, fear, and reaction must not have the last word in the South. We must take a lesson from those in North Carolina and in Texas, and let our elected officials know that Southern progressivism will not go quietly into the good night, and that we will be there to have our voices heard every time our state legislatures take the side of oppression over justice.