June 28, 2013

Regarding the June 26 front-page article “Court blocks key part of Voting Rights Act”:

The Supreme Court majority in the voting rights decision has forgotten some bitter history. In the 1890s, “redeemer” movements managed to cancel the protections of the 15th Amendment and to disenfranchise voters whose right to vote is protected by it. That sweeping counter-movement, featuring literacy tests, poll taxes and other obstructive devices, was heralded — and licensed — by a similarly improvident Supreme Court decision. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the majority of that day held, airily, that “separate but equal” signified racial inferiority only insofar as those disadvantaged by the doctrine perceived it that way.

Justice John Marshall Harlan, a Kentuckian and former Confederate officer, dissented. He knew his history and understood the dangers and potential mischief that could take many decades to correct. He saw that the court had fastened a “badge of inferiority” on black people.

Speaking of the 15th Amendment, many will wonder how the Roberts court could hold unconstitutional what the Constitution itself empowers Congress to do by “appropriate legislation.” Is this court a better judge of what is constitutionally appropriate than Congress? That is the paramount question this foolish decision raises. Judicial arrogance can hardly go further.

Edwin M. Yoder Jr., Alexandria

In combination with Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s decision invalidating a critical portion of the Voting Rights Act has cemented its already well-deserved reputation for politically inspired jurisprudence and callous disregard for the effect of its decisions on what remains of the fabric of our democracy. Now, multiple state legislatures throughout the South are moving to ratchet up voter suppression efforts that would have been clearly unsustainable before Tuesday’s decision.

Steve Botts, Earlysville, Va.