We forgot to care

Losing the preclearance formula enumerated in the Voting Rights Act is awful; our apathy about it is worse.

by Matthew Hoy

On Tuesday, June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 5-4. The majority argued the act was written in a different social climate and therefore is no longer appropriate.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

In an odd sort of catch-22, the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a comprehensive anti-discrimination law indicates the VRA and other such measures are just as necessary now as they were in the ’60s. Abolishing such measures might allow modern incarnations of voter suppression, such as voter ID laws, to enable precisely the racial discrimination that the conservative justices claim to find unacceptable.

I want to be clear: I am not asserting that the justices who represented the majority opinion were driven by racism, like some who share my opinion about this decision. Claiming that Justice Clarence Thomas favors racial discrimination is a pathetic argument at best.

But to ignore the negative consequences that this decision allows for is to mistake intent for effect.

It doesn’t matter whether the justices are racists. What matters is that a powerful bastion of defense against voter disenfranchisement is gone.

The voter ID laws that captured the dreams of the GOP last year disproportionately affect minorities and, generally speaking, suppress millions of votes to deal with voter fraud, a problem less prevalent than UFO sightings. In 2008, for instance, 2.2 million voters were unable to vote because they lacked the proper form of identification. This is a major problem that has already been amplified by the decision. Within 24 hours of the Court striking down the VRA, five states previously required to submit voting law changes to the federal government moved forward with voter ID laws, some of which had already been rejected as discriminatory under the act. The response from the punditry has been predictable, one of ad hominem attacks and personal offense. But lost amid the justified outrage is the fact that this issue should have been higher on our list of priorities before the Supreme Court did away with it.

Before the decision on Tuesday, discussion of voter ID laws had dwindled and faded behind the juicy scandals of the Internal Revenue Service, the National Security Association and Benghazi. The biggest outcries about the encroachment of rights were coming from the National Rifle Association, which was busy applauding politicians who blocked the passing of moderate, common-sense gun control laws. Kimye’s baby was mistaken for the messiah by at least 100 news outlets after live-tweeting its own birth. All was well.

And now there are a bunch of angry people, calling the majority justices racist, calling the South the “Michael Jordan of racism” and claiming that this proves that a bunch of old people who can’t get fired shouldn’t be so influential.

The only thing this proves is that we need to keep talking about unfashionable issues.