The internet is holding a funeral for the Voting Rights Act this morning, the result of SCOTUS's decision to suspend a key provision of the law until Congress acts. And admittedly, the ruling is dreadful: The conservative majority seems to believe that racist voter suppression isn't real. It is real. The decision also kicks open the door for states, counties, and cities with racist histories to rewrite rules without any federal oversight. And finally, as we'll get to down below, it could give the GOP more opportunity to gerrymander. But even though I'm not a lawyer (true story), I'm not ready to shovel dirt on the VRA's corpse quite yet.
Section 2 remains active, and that's the portion that bans discrimination in elections. Section 2 is admittedly no replacement for other sections that were cut down or hamstrung, but it allows certain challenges to proceed in federal court. I think that Congress—even though the current assembly can't even pass a simple Farm Bill—will eventually feel enough heat to reach a majority decision in the next several years to address the court's ruling. The NYT succinctly describes how Congress, responding to today's decision, must make new rules based on current information:
Chief Justice Roberts said that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. When the law was last renewed, in 2006, Congress relied on data from decades before.
Amassing data for the new law could take many years. And even if the data is plain, simple math problems are notoriously complicated inside the Beltway—and it could take years before Congress could act. So the question is: What the hell will these racist southern states and scattered smaller jurisdictions (here's a list of them) do in the meanwhile?
I've always enjoyed Chris Cillizza—aka The Fix—and here he is hypothesizing at WaPo that this could lead to gerrymandering:
One potential change could be the unspooling of majority-minority districts, which had led to a significant increase in the number of black and Hispanic lawmakers serving in Congress. In states covered by the VRA, line-drawers were required to maintain the number of majority-minority districts or run afoul of pre-clearance. With Section 5 not currently enforceable, states might consider undoing some of those districts — moving reliably Democratic black and Hispanic voters into other more Republican-leaning seats and in some states making it less likely that those seats would elect Democrats.If there's one thing conservative America has done well these last decades, it's manipulate political boundaries to secure a white, Republican majority in the House of Representatives. The fact that we have a majority of Americans voting for a Democratic president and predominantly Democratic senate is proof we're a nation leaning slightly left. The fact that the House is nonetheless dominated by Republicans is evidence enough for me that they've rigged the districts—and that they will have zero compunction about rigging the system more while this window is open, thereby further limiting the influence of minority voters. My hope is that the window will shut soon.
Perhaps I'm too optimistic about a future Congress's ability to rethread the VRA. But I'm banking on a few things things to expedite action—at least in future Congresses over the next decade: (1) The current data still compels a need for federal oversight; (2) the left will have permission to openly call the GOP racist if it obstructs this; and (3) the GOP is afraid enough of longterm irrelevance—the fear of alienating all nonwhite voters—that it's motivated to guard its political flanks as a form of self preservation.