The Supreme Court defined the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with a 5 to 4 decision against Section 4. This particular clause allowed the Department of Justice to apply extra federal supervision to deep southern states due to their past racism.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was originally implemented to prevent any kind of state and municipal racial discrimination in voting. It established two prongs to boost black voter registration. One was that all kinds of poll taxes, literary qualifications, or moral character requirements were made illegal. The Supreme Court left this intact in Shelby County v. Holder. The other, however, proves more problematic.
Section 5 of the 1965 law used national census data to target states where either less than 50 percent of the population voted in the 1964 presidential election or less than 50 percent of the population registered to vote.
The law successfully changed the electorate in states where the black population could not vote such as Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama. Black turnout is now at an all time high in these states. The numbers speak for themselves: blacks are now the most active racial group that votes in the country. The law won, and racism lost.
The times have changed. In four out of the five southern states that the law targeted, black voting numbers exceed those of the white population. In fact, the black population is a stronghold in formulating public policy. They defeated Mississippi’s attempt to adopt a new voting law that would require voters to present a government identification document at voting places.
The Supreme Court couldn’t be more right in declaring Section 4 unconstitutional. The justices stated that there is no reason to apply extra scrutiny on these southern states like the law used to do since the deep south is no longer under-registering blacks. They believe that the law should be applied equally throughout the nation instead of more exclusively in the deep south. Chief Justice Roberts believes that Congress must draw a new map or a different set of criteria to determine which states require federal enforcement for more voter registration. After all, the 1964 numbers are not the same as 2013’s.
Roberts writes that “Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy [racial difference in voting] speaks to current conditions.” It is not up to the Supreme Court to draw a new map; that job is up to Congress.
But critics like the Reverend Al Sharpton are still stuck in the 1964 mentality. They believe to this day that there is racial discrimination in voting laws. Sharpton appeared on Morning Joe equating new ID voting laws that requires photos identification to racial discrimination prior to 1965.
There are two main problems with this assertion. One is that these new Photo ID laws are not exclusively implemented in the south. Most southern states targeted by the 1965 law do not require a photo. States like Michigan, Idaho, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Indiana have new photo ID laws. All of those states enacted the new laws and do not fall under the 1965 template.
The other problem is the issue of racism in current laws. With all due respect to Mr. Sharpton, asking someone to show a picture at a voting place is not racism. It is common sense. It prevents individuals from stealing a person’s identity when voting. Chicago is a great example of voter fraud where, as everyone knows, dead people vote. The Pew Center found in 2012 that 1.8 million dead people are considered active voters and 2.8 million are registered in more than one state. Photo ID laws would help prevent this fraud and protect the right to vote.
This is not about racism, Mr. Sharpton. This is about a stagnant mentality of “us versus them.” People like Sharpton can’t accept the fact that our culture has advanced in the right direction where racism is dissipating. Racial issues are still important, and it would be inadequate to say that our country has no racism. But laws should be updated because people have changed. In this case, once formerly racist southern states changed they proved they should no longer be targeted in any special way.
The bottom line is that racism is not geographic. All states should be equally scrutinized and once-effective laws should not be taken for granted because of some state’s history. Activists like Sharpton need to take a deep breath and stop dramatizing this issue.
This is not Armageddon. This is a mere update of the law.
Alex Uzarowicz | Knox College | @AUzarowicz