EDITORIAL: Restoring rights

States are more than secondary taxing districts

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The Supreme Court realized Tuesday that a past wrong can’t be cured by introducing another wrong, and struck down the key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 5 to 4 decision enables the country to move on from a period of past discrimination we’re all happy to leave behind.

The majority in the case, Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, held, in the words of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., that Congress has no right to require nine states to “beseech the Federal Government for permission to implement laws that they would otherwise have the right to enact and execute on their own.”

All states are equal before the Constitution, but Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act set out a formula for determining that some states are less equal than others, and should be treated as wards of the federal government — and all changes in voting law, no matter how minor, be “preapproved” by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The wrong that this law was intended to prevent — the preservation of Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise blacks — no longer exists. “The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years,” Chief Justice Roberts observed.

Despite the remarkable progress the nation has made, the 1965 law was like an insect preserved in amber, reflexively renewed by Congress, largely unchanged. Most recently, the House renewed it in 2006 by a vote of 390 in favor and 33 against. Nobody in the Senate dared vote against a bill containing “voting rights” in the title for fear of being unfairly branded as a racist. Whether the law still served a purpose was unimportant.

Project 21, a leadership network for black conservatives that argued as friends of the court to strike down the “preclearance” requirement, lauded the court for upholding lost principles. “Federalism and state sovereignty are the big winners today — and, once again, Eric Holder’s Justice Department was the loser,” said Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper.

Not everyone wants to move forward. Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and a hero of the civil rights movement, decried the ruling because the law is needed “more than ever before.” The Alabama laws that Mr. Lewis fought in the 1960s were indeed designed to keep blacks away from the ballot box, but such laws are gone with the wind.

Evidence that the bad old days are behind us was writ large and bright in the November election that returned Barack Obama to the White House. Black voters turned out in higher percentages than whites, according to an Associated Press study of the 2012 elections, and Michael P. McDonald, a professor at George Mason University, found that 65 percent of black voters turned out four years earlier, within a percentage point of the white turnout.

The high court did not invalidate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which authorizes the preclearance requirement itself, but without Section 4, the other section is effectively rendered meaningless unless Congress enacts a new law to determine which jurisdictions would be covered for federal tutelage. The self-proclaimed arbiters of civil rights, including Vice President Joe Biden, have hinted they will ask Congress to do so. This was a good day’s work by the Supreme Court, and Congress should not allow itself to be intimidated into attempting to resuscitate a corpse from the past.

The Washington Times

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