Are Supreme Court decisions legitimately valid for all Americans, or are they authoritarian mandates from a remote, impersonal, and out-of-touch legislative body?
When the Supreme Court made its two recent rulings about equality—one in regards to voting rights and the other in regard to marriage—I initially found the rulings contradictory. After all, the court in one sense seemed to rule for marriage equality (pro-people) in one decision and then against voting equality (anti-people) in another. Then, it soon dawned on me that the common thread in both decisions was the “rights” of the States over the power of the federal government.
The striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) recognized all same-sex marriages on a federal level and entitled these couples to all the rights and benefits which married opposite-sex couples enjoy. At the same time, all those States which do not currently recognize or allow same-sex marriages are allowed to maintain such laws.
The Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act now “frees” certain States (mostly in the South) with a history of racial discrimination in terms of voting from federal oversight when they seek to change their own election laws. Some may view this as an abomination, erasing a landmark piece of legislation from the civil rights era, whereas others may view it as an appropriate response to times that have indeed changed. Others may also make the salient point that times have indeed changed because of entities like the Voting Rights Act. But the question which I ask is: is it lawful now, in 2013, to judge States on what happened 50 years ago? (Should someone aged in their 60s still be held accountable for what they did/what they were like in college if they have changed now?) Back in the 1960s, institutional barriers existed on many levels that prevented lawful citizens from voting. This was blatantly wrong, and States willfully denied people their right to vote. Good, moral action was taken to amend these wrongs, but that was in 1965. Have the same institutions fundamentally changed now?
Is treating certain States differently a form of state prejudice, a type of bigotry that the initial voting rights act was designed to prevent?
Let’s not fool ourselves: racism still exists, nor is it a thing of the past. What the Court’s decision essentially is trying to say is that prejudice is not specific to the South, nor is it necessarily more prevalent there.
Take, for example, a real-life scenario: the State of Indiana (a State not covered by the Voting Rights Act) enforced a voter ID law. Their legislature passed this law without any form of federal intervention. Before the Supreme Court’s decision, South Carolina (a State covered by the Act) tried to do the same thing but was denied. Same law, different results. This allows different groups doing the same thing to be treated differently—the mantra of bigotry and discrimination worldwide. Certain States are being penalized for what was not what is.
Furthermore, by the way, if a State requires all its voters to have a form of voter ID, and does not in any way, shape or form attempt to prevent or discourage select groups from voting, how is this discriminatory? After all, is it wise to “take someone’s word for it” when voting, or is something as simple as a Driver’s License or a passport sufficient? If given adequate prep time, is asking a person to obtain a photo ID an overly burdensome task?
Racial discrimination equals racial discrimination, period. It doesn’t matter where it happens, the penalty should still be universal. In Indiana, black voters are actually less likely to vote and also less likely to be registered to vote.
In 1965, fewer than 10% of Mississippi’s black population was registered to vote; today that number is greater than 75%, compared to 72.3% for whites. Do you know which State now has the highest discrepancy between black and white voters? Massachusetts. Yes, that State in the Northeast.
Could the original Voting Rights Act have been the dam that held back the floodwaters of racial discrimination in the first place? Of course. The sheer existence of the large volume of water necessitates the dam, and in an ideal scenario there would be no “racist water” and thus no need of a dam.
Although the law had good intentions (and marvelous effects) basing its existence on a world 50 years ago, it ignores our current reality. And what I don’t read much about is that fact that African-Americans make up the largest group of people moving to the South, while Latinos are the fastest growing group in the South. This fact of our new and changing reality means an updated law originally built to protect blacks in the 1960s would also have to recognize that Latinos will be (in terms of sheer numbers) the biggest target for minority discrimination in the upcoming future. That is, until the middle of this century, when being white will mean you will be in the minority. Times are changing indeed.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal