The Voting Rights Act remains a constitutional, practical, and moral necessity. The avalanche of attacks on voting rights remain a constant reminder of that fact. That’s why the Supreme Court dropping Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in a decision Tuesday is so troubling.
The justices made the right decision by leaving the cornerstone principles of that Voting Rights Act, Sections 2 and 5, technically untouched in their decision. However, the ruling on Section 4 essentially guts the Section 5 protections, and should been seen as a direct attack on protection and enforcement of voting and civil rights guaranteed to every citizen. During the extensive review by Congress when the VRA was reauthorized, it was determined explicitly that the entirety of the VRA was still needed and the areas of the country it covered—for instance, the 40 counties in North Carolina where I reside.
This partial ruling and split decision of the court on a matter this central to our democracy will provide challenges and deep political fights in the days to come that could place covered districts in limbo, thereby demanding our continued vigilance in order to protect and expand access to one the most sacred parts of our citizenship: voting. Americans of every color and gender must mobilize our fight. We must tell Congress that now that this is in your hands, we want our rights protected with no delay.
Make no mistake: this decision is a step back that summons us all of us to step up. The choice of five justices Tuesday is a denial of the continuing reality of structural racism and discrimination, and will result in the ridding of the tools that allow us to unearth it and expose it to the light of truth and justice.
As I read this decision, a description and denouement rendered by the psalmist against judicial leadership of past came to mind with a new clarity. Psalm 82, from a more idiomatic translation:
God calls the judges into his courtroom, he puts all the judges in the dock. “Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough, you’ve let the wicked get away with murder. You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them.”
Ignorant judges! Head-in-the-sand judges! They haven’t a clue to what’s going on. And now everything’s falling apart, the world’s coming unglued.
“I commissioned you judges, each one of you, deputies of the High God, But you’ve betrayed your commission and now you’re stripped of your rank, busted.”
O God, give them their just deserts! You’ve got the whole world in your hands!
Rev. William Barber is the president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. See host Melissa Harris-Perry’s interview with him about the “Moral Monday” protests here and our Sunday coverage of them below. You can also read an update on this past Monday’s protests here.