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Monday, July 1, 2013

Please chill out about the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court did not overturn the Voting Rights Act last week, but from the outcry one might think differently. I refer you to this post and another post from the UNC School of Government for details. In short, there were two parts of the Voting Rights Act. One of them called "Section 2" applies nationwide and is still in effect. The other, called "Section 5", from its inception applied to only a portion of the U.S. population. The Court did not nullify Section 5, either; it simply forced the U.S. Congress to recalculate which parts of the country Section 5 applies to. The last recalculation was in 1972. Think of how much demographics have changed since then.

Note that if you live in Wake County, Durham County, Mecklenburg County, or Guilford County -- four counties in North Carolina that have large numbers of African-American citizens -- Section 5 did not protect you. Under the 1972 math, only 40 of North Carolina's 100 counties were subject to Section 5.

Voting rights are important. I'm from Alabama, so nobody has to tell me how voting rights have been systematically denied to some citizens over the years. I happened to be in Dallas, Texas recently where I took this photograph in a museum:

We must not return to the bad old days, even if some Republicans believe they could get a political advantage by discouraging votes by certain minorities.

Congress now faces an update to the formula that drives Section 5. They will also have the opportunity to consider threats to voting rights that have emerged since the adoption of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. I agree with centrist voices like NC Spin's Tom Campbell that the Supreme Court decision is reasonable in context. Even Dan Blue, this state's first African-American Speaker of the House, agrees.

Meanwhile I find it fascinating that liberals who excoriated the Court for its ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder acclaimed its rulings in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry (the two gay marriage cases). It's the same nine people, operating under the same structure and using the same processes. Railing at the Court might make you feel better, but it's fundamentally useless. If you don't like the law as it stands or if you don't like the composition of the Court, then work to get different people elected to Congress and the White House. If you don't like the way that the Court interprets the U.S. Constitution, then propose a constitutional amendment. Otherwise, save your energy for the next Senate hearing on a nominee to the Court. Justices Breyer, Kennedy, Scalia, and Ginsburg are ages 74, 76, 77, and 80.