Justice Scalia said a bunch of dumb things last week during the Supreme Court’s hearing on striking down part of the Voting Rights Act; most notably saying reauthorization of Section 5 was a “perpetuation of a racial entitlement.” That section makes states and regions with a history of racial discrimination submit any changes to their voting laws to the Justice Department for approval before they’re implemented, AKA “preclearance.”
Opponents of Section 5 claim it puts an unfair burden on the states and regions it applies to. But most have glossed over the fact that there is already a process to get out of Section 5 called “bail out.”
Almost ignored by the justices, however, was that the Voting Rights Act has a provision that allows states to “bail out” of Section 5 coverage if they go a long time without proposing discriminatory voting changes. Almost 200 jurisdictions have bailed out of Section 5 since 1982, at a cost of about $5,000 each. Shelby County, Alabama, can’t do that, though, because in 2006 local officials redistricted the only black lawmaker in the city of Calera out of his seat.
Essentially Section 5 has its own sunset built-in. When racial discrimination in voting laws is eliminated in every American jurisdiction, and they all bail out of Section 5, it will be rendered moot. Striking the section before its time will ensure discriminatory shenanigans like Voter ID laws, gerrymandering and reducing voting hours in majority-minority precincts will continue well into the 21st century.
However, there are obvious problems with Section 5, especially that it mostly applies only to the South. This allows states elsewhere (And ALWAYS GOP-led) to enact bullshit laws designed to reduce minority turnout (who ALWAYS vote overwhelmingly for Democrats) in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. This could be easily fixed by placing the entire Republican Party under the jurisdiction of Section 5 until they stop being racist, or in practical terms, forever.
Lastly, Justice Roberts screwed up when he cited my state of Massachusetts as being more discriminatory than Mississippi. I’m not saying it’s free of racism, just that its large population of racist Irish drunks (As a progressive Irish drunk, I can say this.) don’t exert much influence on our voting laws.