Supreme Court Voting Rights Act: To See Where Voting Rights Are Going, Keep An Eye On Texas

On June 25 the Supreme Court radically altered the legal framework on which a large part of America bases its voting laws. In nullifying Section 5 of The Voting Rights Act of 1965, the court ruled that nine states which had been required to "preclear" any changes to voting laws with the federal government were no longer required to do so. The decision will immediately affect a large part of America’s South, which once employed practices such as literacy tests and poll taxes to prevent African Americans from voting. However, the social and political implications reach far beyond the borders of in the states to which the ruling specifically pertains.

In ruling that Section 5 no longer has legal standing, the Supreme Court made a statement on the very fabric of our country. It implies that racism is not what it once was, and that the law must adapt to recognize this change. Those in favor of the ruling support the notion that the federal restrictions of Section 5 are antiquated and obsolete, belonging to another time. Those who’ve come out in opposition claim that racism is alive and well, and the door has now been opened for the rebuilding of structures of political inequality. Enter Texas.

Immediately after the SCOTUS ruling Texas declared its intention to introduce stricter voter identification laws. Given the nature of racial tensions in Texas, the initiative has created a controversy, even though many states already have photo ID voting laws on the books. This is where Section 3 of the act comes into play, in allowing for a jurisdiction to be "bailed in" to federal oversight if a court finds it to be acting with racist intent. 

While the SCOTUS ruling seems to subscribe to the notion that institutional racism does not function as it once did, in reality the court's decision has changed the discourse on institutional racism, not eliminated it altogether. The question now up for discussion is not one of outdated regional stereotypes, but one of intent. What the Supreme Court did to eliminate one specific structure of inequality between states has created an entirely new debate on how inequality between individuals and groups is perpetuated today. What appeared at first to be a victory for a handful of Southern states could be a victory for equal rights, if the Voting Rights Act is redesigned by Congress and held up responsibly. As such, the outcome of the Texas initiative could very well demonstrate the new lines of racism that have emerged since 1965. At the very least, it will open the discussion. 

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Julie Price

Graduate Student.

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