If you had any doubts that the opposition to the preclearance provisions in the VRA is politically motivated, consider these flip-flopping states:
The Supreme Court in 2009 dodged the preclearance question, but the issue is back this year in a challenge brought by Shelby County, Ala. And this time seven states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas — are asking the court to strike down the law. Of the seven, Arizona has made the most noticeable switch between 2009 and 2013. In 2009, Arizona joined a brief supporting the law, along with North Carolina, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and New York.
Back then, Arizona and the other states said that the preclearance section of the law was “not onerous,” and that indeed, preclearance had offered “some benefits,” for example, protecting them from expensive litigation. The states supporting the law said that although some of them had expressed initial resistance to the preclearance process when the Voting Rights Act was originally adopted, “by 2006 the process for seeking preclearance had become painless and routine.” Today, however, Arizona is on the other side of the debate, saying something very different. The preclearance requirement, it now argues, is “arbitrary and burdensome,” and unconstitutional.
Four other states — Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas — also seem to have changed their tune since 2009. Back then, Louisiana supported the law, while Alaska, South Carolina and Texas were silent on the issue, taking no position. This time, Louisiana is silent, while Alaska, South Carolina and Texas are urging the Supreme Court to strike down the preclearance provision.
I’ve been locally active in voting rights and process since about 2005-06, so I obviously care about voting. However, I am not an African-American or a member of the other racial or ethnic minorites who have historically been disenfranchised (although I’m female, of course) and I did not truly “get” how deeply and personally the struggle for voting rights resonates still, to this day, until I went to a voting rights hearing at a federal court in Cleveland in 2012. Dick Durbin and Sherrod Brown held the hearing. I was just blown away, listening, by how deep this goes. I didn’t really get it, but I get it better now. Durbin and Brown, as Democrats from Illinois and Ohio who rely on AA leaders and voters to get elected, knew it already.
That’s my admission of how incredibly thick even a well-intentioned person can be on this issue. I can read a lot of case law and focus obsessively on the details of state statutes and numbers on provisional balloting or nit-picky process and completely miss the historical and moral grounding of the issue, what it means to certain people, which is exactly what I did. Voting rights are expressed as a set or rules and state and federal laws but voting rights are much more than that to a large group of politically engaged people in this country who either took part in the civil rights movement or grew up within or around that history. The VRA is a hard-fought victory that they are enormously (and rightly) proud of and they’ve been ardently defending that victory ever since the law passed.
The VRA was renewed in Congress in 2006. It passed with big bipartisan majorities, and former President Bush signed it surrounded by civil rights leaders:
The congressional vote in 2006 was overwhelmingly and astonishingly bipartisan, with the Senate voting unanimously to extend the law and the House voting 390-33.”What the 12,000 pages of hearing [testimony] showed” is that for many of the jurisdictions, “there still was pervasive discrimination,” says Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who led weeks of hearings in the House as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
No elected Republican wanted to be held politically accountable for gutting historic civil rights legislation in 2006. Instead they renewed the law in Congress and then took it to the Supreme Court, where they believe they need to persuade only five voters. They’re wrong. That end run around political accountability isn’t going to fly. No one who feels strongly about voting rights will be persuaded by lofty, abstract libertarian legal theories grounded in some privileged fantasy of post-racial America. If conservatives gut this law with a court order, it will be huge, politically.
This is John Lewis making his factual case on why the entire VRA should be upheld, so go ahead and read his argument because it’s great:
Evidence proves there are forces in this country that willfully and intentionally trample on the voting rights of millions of Americans. That is why every president and every Congress, regardless of politics or party, has reauthorized Section 5.
But that’s only half his argument. This is the other half:
The right to vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy. I risked my life defending that right. Some died in the struggle.
Republicans really couldn’t have come up with a better method to inspire to their political opponents to organize around voting rights if they had set out deliberately to do just that.