Ryan Emenaker has an excellent piece over at SCOTUS Blog on the current challenge to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) before the Supreme Court, which lays out a very convincing case for the court to do nothing. I’m naturally of the opinion that we live in a society where Black individuals are effectively prevented from protesting how they are targeted for attacks and murders by an unfortunately large number of police officers. In that context, does it really make sense to suggest that racism is no longer a force in the United States and existing legal protections against discrimination can be rescinded?
(The states in red, counties in blue, and townships in pink must currently clear any changes in voting procedure with the federal Department of Justice before implementation, from here. Click to see enlarged.)
Beyond the retention of the coverage system (which districts can leave after a decade without being found to have violated bans on racial, ethnic, or similar forms of voting discrimination), Emenaker notes that it’s “difficult to argue that Congress’s coverage formula has no rational relation to reducing infringement on minority voting rights.” He expands on that in multiple ways – including how the process deters states and counties from even drafting biased changes to voting systems.
Still, Emenaker explains how in spite of that currently covered districts are far more likely to have suits of racial discrimination brought against them. Missing from his argument, I think, is perhaps a challenge to how widespread indirectly discriminatory changes in voting procedures actually are. Most topically, we should talk about whether barriers to voting (such as new ID requirements) that we think of as independent issues are perhaps having a racially-distinct impact, even if without racist intent.
Perhaps now is not the time to dismantle the existing system, and also not only retain it, but expand it. Emenaker notes, that in the current case “New York, California, and Mississippi […] filed a combined amicus brief arguing that the preclearance requirement should be upheld.” since their covered “jurisdictions receive benefits from coverage; it grants a measure of protection against lawsuits and provides DOJ feedback on proposed election law changes.” Given that political representatives in parts of this country as distinct from each other as California, Mississippi, and New York can see their personal advantages from this bill, and in such a way that overtly benefits people of color who would like to vote without a hassle, why isn’t the conversation about expanding the coverage system and perhaps making it a universal process for all states, counties, and other districts?
What good is it to have laws against racial discrimination if we don’t actually do something about it when it occurs?