George Will: In a rut on Voting Rights Act
The question concerning which the Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month was whether Section 5 of the VRA is still constitutional, given the disappearance of the conditions that once made it acceptable as a temporary and emergency truncation of states' sovereignty under federalism.
In 2008, two years after the fourth renewal of the act, Barack Obama won a higher percentage of the white vote than did Al Gore and John Kerry in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Today Mississippi has more black elected officials - not more per capita, more - than any other state. Yet defenders of the continuing necessity of Section 5 merely shrug about the fact that race is no longer a barrier to either the nation's highest office or to state and local offices in what once was the state most emblematic of resistance to racial equality.
Last month, Chief Justice John Roberts, noting that Massachusetts has the worst rate of white turnout compared with that of blacks, and that Mississippi has the best, asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli: "Is it the government's submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?" Verrilli said no. His answer was obviously false. Otherwise, the administration would favor extending Section 5 to the entire nation.
Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Verrilli why the government, which purports to believe both that the VRA remains necessary and that there are not regional differences in racism, does not want to make the VRA universally applicable. Verrilli replied that "history remains relevant" and Congress considered it "prudent" in 2006 to maintain Section 5's "deterrent and constraining effect." It was prudent, and history is relevant, only if the citizens of the South remain more racist than the citizens of the North.
Verrilli did not deny that Section 5 takes a toll on federalism. Kennedy, whose vote is apt to be decisive, described the toll disapprovingly as a federal "trusteeship" over the covered states and jurisdictions. Citing the Marshall Plan and other excellent laws that were not necessary forever, Kennedy said: "Times change."
Not for progressives, they don't. Section 5 was enacted as a temporary response to many measures employed, primarily in the South, to disenfranchise minorities.
It requires nine states and some jurisdictions in others to get federal permission - "pre-clearance" - for even minor changes in voting procedures. It has been extended four times, most recently in 2006 for 25 years. The 2006 House vote was 390-33, the Senate vote was 98-0; obviously, the political class's piety about the act has extinguished thought about its necessity. But one reason for judicial review - for active judicial engagement in the protection of constitutional rights and arrangements - is that the political class, with its majoritarian temptations, cannot be trusted to do so.
In 1982, Section 2 of the VRA was amended to say that the act is violated whenever nomination and election processes "are not equally open to participation" by minority voters. And equality of participation is said to be denied whenever minority voters "have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to . elect representatives of their choice." And representatives "of their choice" has been construed to mean representatives who are members of the same minority. This expresses two tenets of progressivism's racialism. One is identity politics: Your race is your political identity.
he other is categorical representation: Members of a race can be understood and represented only by members of this race. By this reasoning the VRA has become an instrument for what Roberts has hitherto called "a sordid business, this divvying us up by race."
Each renewal of the 1965 act should have involved sifting the most recent voting results, but the most recent data used in 2006 was from 1972. By 2031, this data will be 59 years old. Unless the court now stops this pernicious silliness, in 2031 Section 5 will no doubt be renewed a fifth time, perhaps for 34 years, through the centennial of this temporary measure.
George Will is a columnist for Newsweek in Washington, D.C., and a commentator for ABC News.
READER COMMENTS: 0
- Pat Buchanan: A rogue President remakes America - 1
- Another View -- Max Boot: Six steps to a better strategy for defeating ISIS - 1
- Jonah Goldberg: Wait, when did we finish talking about Gruber? - 3
- Charles Krauthammer: The climate pact swindle - 0
- Roger Simon: So why don't the media report better news? - 0
- George Will: Required reading on a Rockefeller - 0
- Deroy Murdock: The silence of the colored people - 2
- John Stossel: Don't put control freaks in control of your government - 4
- Kayla Bullwinkel: Schools must go after cyber bullies while respecting the First Amendment - 4
READER COMMENTS: 0
- Monarchs Scouting Report: Nick Shore - 0
- Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: It took a while, but now they're on Wright track - 0
- Newmarket blacksmith has forged a career shaping the elementsof steel - 0
- Kathy Sullivan: We need to rethink some of our county government positions - 4
- Pipes and plans: A chance to show up Mass. - 5
- H.S. Football Power Poll: No doubt - Astros finish on top - 0
- College Hockey: Wildcats home to RPI on Tuesday night - 0
- Manchester school board OK's contract for driver’s ed program - 1
- Unrest erupts after grand jury decides against charges in Ferguson, Mo., shooting - 10
Sources say former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card to be tapped as Franklin Pierce president
Clinton has 'historic' lead in poll
Pipes and plans: A chance to show up Mass.