Barack Obama, America’s first black president, can be credited with many milestones — a comprehensive federal healthcare bill, taking down the world’s most wanted terrorist, signing the Fair Pay Act for gender pay equality, to name a few.
The obliteration of the Voting Rights Act, however, was certainly unintended. Despite the Justice Department’s zealous defense of the act’s constitutionality in Shelby County v. Holder, a divided Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down Section 4, the core of the act, on the grounds that it is not justified by “current needs.” Substituting its judgment for Congress’s, the court ignored a more than 5,000-page record of “current needs” that Congress relied on in 2006 when if reauthorized, with overwhelming support, the act’s challenged provisions.
The Shelby County decision is the latest strike in a multi-front movement to restrict the vote precipitated by Obama’s historic election. In the “post-racial” fog that rolled in with the 2008 elections, there have been sweeping attacks on minority voter participation. Most recently, Texas has waged high-pitched battles defending its discriminatory redistricting plans, Florida passed unprecedented voter registration restrictions and Republican-led state legislatures across the nation have passed a contagion of voter ID laws.
The minority voting power that helped elect Obama, nonetheless, seems to have instigated a willful amnesia among the court’s conservative majority. Despite this flurry of recent voting restrictions, the court found that there is no current justification for the act’s federal oversight of mostly Southern states with histories of virulent racism. Instead, the court ruled Tuesday that the act’s “coverage formula” — which designates which jurisdictions are to be covered by the law — violated the Constitution by treating some states differently than others.