This week, the Supreme Court handed down two major decisions that whipped talking heads into a frenzy — for two very different reasons. The first verdict struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County vs. Holder, thus ending decades of extra scrutiny for nine states and districts in several others deemed likely to harbor racism.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up with angry statuses as my left-wing friends joined much of the mainstream media in blasting the decision, which admittedly looks a little racist at first glance. I mean, who but a racist would ever oppose an act named the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act?”
However, a closer look reveals that the high court’s ruling actually promotes equality for all American voting districts, despite being decried as a setback by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Section 4 of the VRA stipulates a formula to be used on certain jurisdictions in determining whether or not they need to seek federal government approval to make even the most minor changes in their voting laws, from redistricting to moving a polling station down the street. Nearly 50 years since the VRA was signed, Chief Justice John Roberts writes that ‘things have changed dramatically’ in the South and that Section 4 is ‘based on decades-old data and eradicated practices.’
Indeed, imposing current restrictions based on conditions back when the act was first penned is like imposing current speed limits based on how fast cars could go when they were first invented.
The majority of districts in the nine predominantly southern states perpetually punished under Section 4 have more black registered voters than white. Eight months ago, more blacks voted in the presidential election than whites. And one of the most contentious states in question, Mississippi, actually has more black elected officials than any other state. Citing the act’s ‘substantial federalism costs,’ the court rightly decided that it was time to equalize the voting process for every state in the Union.
The second major SCOTUS decision of the week stuck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages even if they were legalized by the states.
People of every political stripe lauded this popular ruling, and my newsfeed was drenched in rainbows by that afternoon. DOMA prevented same-sex couples from receiving the same tax breaks and federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. In the early days of President Obama’s administration, the Justice Department defended the act in court, but changed its tune in early 2011 when it found the law unconstitutional.
The administration and its Justice Department provided tacit support for DOMA’s repeal by declining to defend its constitutionality before the Supreme Court this spring.
The end of DOMA, much like the end of Section 4 of the VRA, returns power to the states that was once wielded by the Washington elite. Red, blue, and purple voters alike should rejoice in these federalism victories, because despite recently-revealed shenanigans that suggest otherwise, big government got a little bit smaller this week.Published in