March 27, 2013

Regarding Gregory B. Craig’s March 24 Sunday Opinion commentary, “On voting rights, will the court respect history?”:

Mr. Craig made the fundamental mistake of portraying the entire Voting Rights Act as at risk. The case before the Supreme Court is about a single part of the act: Section 5, which requires some states to have their voting laws approved by the federal government before they can go into effect. This provision is an unprecedented limitation on our federalist government structure, but in 1965 it was constitutionally justified by the appalling conditions Mr. Craig described so vividly. However, because it was so extraordinary, it was meant to be temporary, originally set to expire in five years. Now it has been 48 years that the federal government has been supervising the affected states, and Section 5 won’t expire for 18 more. How long is long enough?

Ironically, Mr. Craig’s description of conditions in 1965 demonstrated how much has changed. Today’s America is not like it was then. But no matter how the Supreme Court decides this case, the section that outlaws all voting discrimination, Section 2, will remain in place. Literacy tests, violence, intimidation and the whole range of actions that prevent people from registering and voting still will be illegal under federal law.

Susan Burnell, Vienna

The writer is married to former Federal Election Commission member Hans von Spakovsky, who is a party in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the Voting Rights Act case Shelby County v. ­Holder.