These hasty moves were unseemly but entirely predictable, proving that Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion in the case will become a Magna Carta for voter suppression. Without having to worry about “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department, legislators can go about their business of making it more difficult for voters who would throw them out of office to reach the polls — and of drawing racially gerrymandered districts that prolong their tenure. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg understood a logic here that escaped Roberts. “A governing political coalition,” she wrote in her dissent, “has an incentive to prevent changes in the existing balance of voting power.”
This in turn means that when a political party fares poorly with minority voters, it will try to turn them away from the polling booths. That’s what segregationist Southern Democrats did in the past. Many Republican-controlled legislatures are doing it now.
Holder announced he was using Section 3, a different part of the Voting Rights Act that was left standing, to ask a federal court to re-subject Texas to pre-clearance. It is a less efficient way to achieve what the pre-gutted act allowed automatically, but it is the best that can be done for now. It would be better still if Congress reinstated a revised version of Section 4. In the meantime, the hope is to limit the damage of the high court’s folly — and perhaps give other states pause before they rush into new discriminatory schemes.
“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the [Supreme Court] decision, but it will not be our last,” Holder declared. His department is likely to move this week against the Texas voter-identification law and eventually to go to court against other states that pass comparable statutes.
To get a sense of how bad these laws are, consider the bill, which should be called the Omnibus Voter Suppression Act of 2013, that Republicans recently rushed through both houses of North Carolina’s legislature. It reads like a parody written for Stephen Colbert’s show with its cornucopia of provisions that would make it as hard as possible for African Americans, Latinos and young people to vote.