Conservative Supreme Court Attacks Voting Rights Act

The Justices ruled in favor of the North Carolina state officials who contended that the Voting Rights Act’s protections did not apply to one of the white bastions in a southeastern area of their state, Pender County, named for an honored son of the Confederacy

[Fleming’s Views]

Having beaten back another assault on the Voting Rights Act by President Bush’s recent extension, veterans of the civil rights struggle celebrated its 44th anniversary with a reenactment of the violent Selma march that compelled Washington to act on its passage.

However, the glee felt about the significant electoral amendment was transformed into frowns when the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back the power of one of its key measures this week by insisting that only election districts in which minorities make up at least half of the voting age population are protected by the Voting Rights Act.

The Republicans are cheering this High Court decision because fewer Black or Hispanic candidates will win in those highly contested districts where the minority political party needed help. The controversial decision will especially bolster the fortunes of Southern Republicans in their effort to trounce the opposition for state and national political offices.

With the 2010 Census looming, the GOP knows how much is at stake with their shaky numbers in the state houses and the U.S. Congress.

Back to the Supreme Court case of Bartlett v. Strickland of North Carolina, the 5-4 ruling by the Justices finally put a magic number to the percentage of minority voters in an electoral district that would qualify for protection under the Voting Rights Act. For the longest time, the Congress would not do it. And the triumphant conservative ruling, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the decision, further spelled out Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to place a working formula on what was legally known as “vote dilution.”

The decision weakened the legislative’s power by altering the demographics of a district in the crucial section of the Act and cutting the number of legally protected districts under the decades-old legislation. It also curtailed any substantial litigation against the now-defined tenets of the new decision from the High Court.

If you can’t beat them one way, do it another way. Minority candidates will be boxed out of certain political areas because it will not be able to count on a “crossover” vote in a truly hostile environment. President Bush and the boys knew exactly what they were doing by stacking a conservative line-up in the U.S. Supreme Court. That is the Bush legacy, a gift which keeps on giving.

The Justices ruled in favor of the North Carolina state officials who contended that the Voting Rights Act’s protections did not apply to one of the white bastions in a southeastern area of their state, Pender County, named for an honored son of the Confederacy. By supporting the hicks masterminding the state litigation, the Supreme Court gave its own spin to Section 2 of the Act.

It reinterpreted that the key section which prohibits practices that “deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the U.S. to vote on account of race and color” applies only when the minority group constitutes “a numerical majority of citizens of voting age.” Furthermore, the High Court decision leaves a reconstituted Pender County as a state district with a 35% Black population and totally neutralizes a future African American political threat.

On one side, there was Justice Anthony Kennedy with his sidekicks Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, who considered 50% a constitutional guide. However, this was the rub. “Section 2 does not guarantee minority votes an electoral advantage,” Kennedy wrote.

Although Kennedy left some wiggle room for minorities to legally contest where their voting clout in many districts had been severely weakened, the most conservative diehards, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas wanted no legal access for minorities in these matters. No legal recourse. In fact, it should be noted that Justice Thomas, an Uncle Tom if there was one, has had the most conservative record on racial matters in the modern court.

In lockstep with the Republican view, Kennedy professed lame lip service to the tarnished electoral tradition of Jim Crow with the commentary that “racial discrimination and racially polarized voting aren’t ancient history. Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions.”

On the other side of the divide, the impotent opposition consisted of Justice David Souter, Justice John Paul Stevens, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Justice Stephen Beyer. They rolled over without a whimper.

With the conservatives and the far right, the issue of states rights remains first and foremost. They have made it a part of an agenda that will strangle the promise of equal opportunity for all American citizens.

The states rights issue is the prime conflict that fed the bloody moral confrontations in the civil rights struggle.  The state legislatures, especially in these highly contested political areas, will decide how to draw new election lines in the 2010 census where they will do the most good.

Where was the Black leadership on this critical voting rights issue? Where was the Black Caucus? Where were the Black civil rights organizations?

They must be a vigilant eye on these all-important matters or the conservatives will nibble away at the hard-won progress made during the civil rights era. The election of President Barack Obama is not a magic elixir to cure all of what ills us in America.  Please be alert!


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