PostScript: Will and changing the Voting Rights Act

Supreme Court

People line up to hear the Voting Rights Act challenge in the Supreme Court (Evan Vucci / AP)

George Will’s Sunday column, which went online Friday night, is still getting serious comment action today, a rare-enough occurrence that PostScript wants to take a closer look.

Will argues that a “progressive” measure, the Voting Rights Act, was meant to be temporary and thus it’s silly to say the law is still necessary at a time when “race is no longer a barrier to either the nation’s highest office” or to, for example, local offices in Mississippi, which “once was the state most emblematic of resistance to racial equality.”

In question is the act’s Section 5, which uses history as a guide. In states with a documented history of racial discrimination in voting laws, Section 5 gives the Justice Department the preemptive right to strike down new voting regulations. Civil rights have changed so enormously in the past 50 years, Will says, that the Voting Rights Act should, too.

brianb1 says the act, as reauthorized in 2006, in fact does allow for reform and adaptation in response to societal change. The upgrades are necessary but built-in:

The regulation checks on each county that has a bad record. If the county has improved, it is dropped from the “bad” list. There is proof positive that every county that remains on the list STILL tramples on minority voting rights.

edbyronadams sees discrimination in Section 5 against those states singled out:

The question before the court is whether the southern states get treated like everyone else or whether they need to wear a scarlet R forever.

njglea sees a fix for that problem — expand Section 5:

We should ADD Massachusetts and other states where Republicans are trying to restrict access to voting, not strike down laws passed repeatedly since 1965 to protect voting rights.

jmquillian agrees:

Extending Section 5 to the entire country would address the problem with Section 5, and as Will noted, justices questioned why the government did not want to do just that to settle the issue. Regardless of what happens to Section 5, the DOJ will still have the authority to sue and prevent any infringement of voting rights in any state – just as it does now.

TomfromNJ1 argues that contemporary discriminatory voting policies, even when they aren’t overtly about race or in Southern states, can be similarly insidious regarding disenfranchisement:

They are not gone — check governors in states like PA where they want to change the rules for allocating electoral college votes because Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have the large number of people and they are less white than the sparsely populated rural areas. Look at what was done (or attempted) by governors in OH, VA, WI, etc.

sfarley2 similarly sees discrimination not covered by the Voting Rights Act:

Voter suppression is not ALL about race, it’s also about economics.

The felicitously named hipshot thinks it’s an economic question as well — and a political one, too, in which President Obama needs a bogeyman and chooses institutional racism:

A community organizer organizes a community of “have nots” and shakes down the “haves” on the premise that the “have nots” are victims. The community organizer has to keep investing in the identification and production of victims to maintain his job description.

Despite the fact that nearly everyone agreed with Will that Section 5 needs an upgrade/reform, we still can end on a note of vast conspiracies and overheated rhetoric.

Is there a lesson in all this? PostScript thinks she sees one. We shall overcome but sure haven’t yet.

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