With the Voting Rights Act hanging in the balance

With the Voting Rights Act hanging in the balance
With the Voting Rights Act hanging in the balance
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Almost exactly a year ago, Josh Gerstein noted, “In a political system where even the most trivial issues trigger partisan rancor, the Voting Rights Act has stood for several decades as a rare point of bipartisan consensus. Until now.”

Quite right. As recently as 2006 – hardly ancient history – the Republican-led House and Republican-led Senate reauthorized the Voting Rights Act with overwhelming support. Then-President George W. Bush celebrated the law’s extension with a high-profile signing ceremony.

But as the Republican Party has grown increasingly radicalized, the bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Act has quickly evaporated – Attorney General Eric Holder recently noted that there have been more conservative legal challenges to the Section 5 of the VRA over the past two years than during the previous four decades. All of this is culminating in a critical Supreme Court showdown, with oral arguments set to begin two weeks from tomorrow.

Ari Berman reports in The Nation on what’s at stake, and who’s driving the fight.

Last November, three days after a presidential election in which voter suppression played a starring role, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Section 5 of the VRA, which compels parts or all of sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to clear election-related changes with the federal government….The lawsuit, originating in Shelby County, Alabama, is backed by leading operatives and funders in the conservative movement, along with Republican attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. Shelby County’s brief claims that “Section 5’s federalism cost is too great” and that the statute has “accomplished [its] mission.”

The current campaign against the VRA is the result of three key factors: a whiter, more Southern, more conservative GOP that has responded to demographic change by trying to suppress an increasingly diverse electorate; a twenty-five-year effort to gut the VRA by conservative intellectuals, who in recent years have received millions of dollars from top right-wing funders, including Charles Koch; and a reactionary Supreme Court that does not support remedies to racial discrimination.

The timing of the right’s campaign against the VRA is important to understand in context.

Indeed, the fact that aggressive Republican challenges to the Voting Rights Act have occurred over the last two years is not a coincidence – GOP policymakers nationwide launched an ambitious “war on voting,” deliberately creating longer voting lines, closing early-voting windows, addressing imaginary voter fraud through punitive voter-ID laws, restricting voter-registration drives, and overseeing an anti-voting campaign unlike anything seen in the United States since the days of Jim Crow.

And that was before the 2012 elections. Since then, Republicans have picked up where they left off, expanding these efforts and even considering a scheme to rig the system through which presidential electoral votes are allocated.

In other words, there’s a larger effort underway, the elements are not unrelated. Republicans believe they’ll lose if they compete on a level playing field … so they restrict voting rights … which is illegal in several states under the Voting Rights Act … so they target the VRA for elimination.

Berman’s piece details the history of the law and the players gearing up behind the scenes to destroy it, and it’s well worth your time. The larger takeaway is obvious: more so than at any point in recent memory, the Voting Rights Act is needed, and the Republican campaign to crush the law deserves to be a national scandal.