The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is exactly what progressives and liberals have been looking for going into the 2014 midterm elections — a cause celebre.
Progressive and liberal elected officials and pundits have an opportunity to take this decision and, rather than lament its negative effects, use it as a rallying cry to generate voter enthusiasm and increase voter turnout.
Progressives and liberals can use the decision to remind voters of the suppression tactics used in the 2012 election, to address voter apathy that typically exacerbates during midterm elections, and to illustrate how each election builds on the prior election in order to build a solid coalition of elected officials necessary to influence the configuration of the Supreme Court.
After the 2012 election, Democrats were hopeful they would be able to use President Obama’s amazing ability to win elections in order to build a lasting, engaged coalition. However, this optimism has been greatly damaged by the recent scandals surrounding the administration, from the (now-debunked) IRS scandal to the seizure of AP journalists' records to the NSA's surveillance program. You do not have to be a political wonk to know that this will be front and center as the central theme of the conservative get-out-the-vote effort in 2014.
However, now progressives and liberals have a rallying cry as well. This ruling, by which a do-nothing Congress is being asked to protect the voting rights of minorities, poor, and elderly people, is all that progressives need to generate massive voter turnout in 2014.
Since 2011, Republicans have been systematically trying to suppress voter turnout, using tactics like reducing early voting hours and changing polling places from locations easily accessible by public transportation to out-of-the-way locations requiring other means of transportation. The effort to reduce voter turnout has largely targeted African-Americans. That effort was successfully fought by the Justice Department and the end result was that in 2012 black voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout in a presidential election for the first time in history. The Justice Department’s ability to protect voting rights has been severely hamstrung and the only way to counteract that effect is to increase voter turnout.
Progressives and liberals will be able to use this decision to demonstrate how voter apathy can lead to bad results for civil rights and other important issues such as immigration, re-districting, and responsible gun-control laws. Voter apathy among progressives and liberals contributed to the Republican wave of 2010 that has given us this do-nothing Congress. When you do not vote in your local elections you lose the opportunity to elect officials that also influence who runs for Congress, and Congress has a large influence on who sits on the judicial bench.
In 2014 progressives and liberals have a mission to protect their Senate majority and reduce the Republican majority in the House. Additionally they have to retain the White House in 2016. If progressives and liberals turn out in force they will elect a Congress and president that will shape the Supreme Court for the next 20 years. At least one if not multiple Supreme Court justices will retire in the next four to six years. That is almost a certainty. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 80 years old. Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are 77. Stephen Breyer is 75.
With Shelby, the Supreme Court has given progressives and liberals exactly what they needed to turn what may have been a decided conservative advantage going into 2014 into a fighting chance.