The NY Times editorial board rips into Chief Justice John Roberts over the 2013 decision that destroyed the Voting Rights Act's "preclearance" formula because the racism of voter suppression simply didn't exist anymore. The truth is far more insidious.
A comprehensive new study by a historian of the Voting Rights Act provides a fresh trove of empirical evidence to refute that assertion. The study by J. Morgan Kousser, a professor of history and social science at the California Institute of Technology, examines more than 4,100 voting-rights cases, Justice Department inquiries, settlements and changes to laws in response to the threat of lawsuits around the country where the final result favored minority voters.
It found that from 1957 until 2013, more than 90 percent of these legal “events” occurred in jurisdictions that were required to preclear their voting changes. The study also provides evidence that the number of successful voting-rights suits has gone down in recent years, not because there is less discrimination, but because several Supreme Court decisions have made them harder to win.
Mr. Kousser acknowledges that the law’s formula, created without the benefit of years of data, was a “blunt tool” that focused on voter turnout and clearly discriminatory practices like literacy tests. Still, he says, the statistics show that for almost a half century it “succeeded in accurately homing in on the counties where the vast majority of violations would take place.”
Members of Congress had seen some of this data in 2006 when, by a near-unanimous vote, they reauthorized the Voting Rights Act for 25 years. In fact, the legislative record contained more than 15,000 pages of evidence documenting the continuation of ever-evolving racially discriminatory voting practices, particularly in the areas covered by the preclearance requirement.
But the Roberts opinion showed no interest in actual data. Nor did it seem to matter that the law was already adapting to current conditions: Every one of the more than 200 jurisdictions that asked to be removed from the preclearance list was successful, because each showed it was not discriminating.
Instead, the court said the coverage formula had to be struck down because it failed to target precisely all areas with voting rights violations in the country.
Quite literally Roberts struck down the formula because it was "antiquated" to the point of reverse discrimination, even though Congress had approved the formula just seven years before. The same Republicans who had no problem with it in 2007 of course would never vote to fix the formula in 2015.
I can't imagine what's different now about America than 1957 to 2007, can you?