On Wednesday, Representative Hank Johnson, (D-Ga.) made a startling comparison: he said that African-American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's "offense is worse" than NSA hacker Edward Snowden for voting to strike down a crucial part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
But is he right? In the short run, possibly. The consequences for weakening one of the most successful provisions of the Voting Rights Act are more immediate compared to Snowden's alleged betrayal, which has kicked up tons of speculation among talking heads. Yet, his Russian-exiled narrative is gradually becoming downplayed.
While Johnson still finds Snowden's leaking to be in the wrong, he believes Snowden was "mistaken" about NSA activities, versus Thomas, who understood the full ramifications behind his vote. Johnson described Thomas's conservatism as "harmful" towards members of the black community.
"Everybody knows it's a deep tragedy," Johnson said.
Section 4 of the 1964 Voting Rights Act was a provision that certain states with a history of discrimination to report to the federal government for clearance before making changes to their voter laws. Chief Justice John Roberts made the ruling, while justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy all voted for it in the 5-4 ruling. The justices found that Section 4 of the Act was unconstitutional, and had no place in 2013, where times have changed dramatically. Reasons that have been cited in favor of these changes include the rise in black voter turnout and the election of African-American leaders in in government positions, highlighting two-term President Barack Obama.
Still, the death of Section 4 may welcome disenfranchisement towards minority voters through the introduction of laws that may make voting more difficult. After the decision, Texas announced that a voter ID law previously blocked would go into effect immediately and redistricting maps would no longer require federal approval. Changes to early voting procedures, among others, were vowed to be taken advantage of. Controversy surrounding voter ID laws was seen last year, most notably in Pennsylvania. Proponents of such laws claimed that they were necessary to detect voter fraud, despite the fact that in-person voter fraud is extremely rare. Critics also say that voter ID laws have the ability to decrease voter turnout among minorities, the elderly, and the poor, who are less likely to own photo IDs (which can be difficult to obtain).
Edward Snowden, on the other hand, is still hiding somewhere inside of an airport in Moscow. His chance at asylum in Ecuador may also not be possible for months. He has committed a crime that he believes served the best interests of the American public. With shaky U.S. acquaintances China and Russia failing to extradite Snowden, many have suggested that he perhaps leaked U.S. secrets to overseas enemies. However, that remains uncertain, with more news certain to come in the future.
That being said, the "immediacy" factor may give Johnson's comparison a valid point.
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