March 01, 2013

Challenging the Voting Rights Act

This past Wednesday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the pre-clearance process of the Voting Rights Act. The law was first enacted in 1965 and sought to end discriminatory voting practices in 'covered jurisdictions' mainly southern states. The law requires states to submit voting laws and reapportionment proposals to the federal government for approval. A timely article by Politico offers in-depth analysis into the issues at stake. The Voting Rights Act has had a noticeable political impact and in some ways has helped parties to create 'safe' districts,       
However, the actual impact of the law is more murky. There’s no question that it has boosted the number of minority Democrats in Congress. But by encouraging states to create so-called majority minority districts, the Voting Rights Act — as enforced and interpreted by the Justice Department and Congress — tends to increase the percentage of white voters in suburban districts and makes more of them “safe” Republican seats.
The issue of voting rights should not be a political issue, rather it should be about fairness and treating all Americans with equality. Chief Justice Roberts commented on the actual effects of the legislation, 
“Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout?” he asked. “Massachusetts. Do you know what has the best, where African-American turnout actually exceeds white turnout? Mississippi.”
It seems that the states targeted by the legislation have overcome the problem of discriminatory practices, it begs the question why there is still a pre-clearance requirement and why it only effects a few southern states?  

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