Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reactions to Yesterday's SCOTUS Ruling on Voting Acts: Hubris, Hard Falls, Poisoned Chalices, and Long Games

Reactions to yesterday's Supreme Court decision (i.e., Justice Roberts's decision) to gut the Voting Rights act:

Bill Blum at Truthdig sees Roberts's decision as "a constitutional train wreck of historic proportions":

The Roberts court has now gone where Congress has dared not. No matter how the justices rule on other issues during this or any other subsequent term, this court will be remembered for callously and decisively turning its back on the most basic principle of democracy—the right to vote. 

Party like it's 1877! Republicans across the Old Confederacy prep voter ID bills and other voting restrictions in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.

Over the past quarter century I’ve read a lot of SCOTUS opinions as a matter of professional obligation. The majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder is the worst SCOTUS opinion I’ve ever read, considered simply as an exercise in formal legal argument. And I’ve read Bush v. Gore.

Today’s opinion by the Roberts Court was the most radical since Citizens United v. FEC and the worst voting rights decision in a century, since the Court upheld poll taxes and literacy tests in Giles v. Harris in 1903. “The Court’s opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decisionmaking,” wrote Ginsburg. “Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.” Just as the Citizens United decision led to an explosion of unregulated dark money spending in US elections, so too will the loss of Section 5 encourage many more of the shadowy voter suppression attempts that we saw in 2012.

Much to Powell's [i.e., Lewis Powell, former Supreme Court justice appointed by Richard Nixon] glee, I'm sure, there are now five justices on the Supreme Court who put the interests of corporations over those of ordinary citizens, and who have a distaste for government that far outweighs any concern about inequality, unfairness or injustice for any non-wealthy Americans, especially minorities.

On its face, this looks like a big victory for Republicans. But is it really? I suspect it will turn out to be a poisoned chalice. Many of the GOP’s current problems stem from the fact that it is overly beholden to its white, Southern base at a time when the country is rapidly becoming more racially diverse. In order to expand its base of power beyond the House of Representatives, the GOP needs to expand its appeal to minority voters. As the ongoing battle over immigration reform demonstrates, that process is going poorly and looks like it will be very difficult.

Ten years ago I might have had a smidgen of hope that this would turn out OK. There would be abuses, but maybe not horrible, systematic ones. Today I have little of that hope left. The Republican Party has made it crystal clear that suppressing minority voting is now part of its long-term strategy, and I have little doubt that this will now include hundreds of changes to voting laws around the country that just coincidentally happen to disproportionately benefit whites. There will still be challenges to these laws, but I suspect that the number of cases will be overwhelming and progress will be molasses slow. This ruling is plainly a gift to the GOP for 2014.

In the Shelby decision, we see a somewhat more open version of a pattern that is characteristic of the Roberts court, in which the conservative justices tee up major constitutional issues for dramatic reversal. First the court wrecked campaign finance law in Citizens United. On Tuesday it took away a crown jewel of the civil rights movement. And as we saw in Monday’s Fisher case, affirmative action is next in line, even if the court wants to wait another year or two to pull the trigger. Imagine striking down affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act in the same week!

In her fiery dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg slammed Justice Roberts's hubris while Justice Samuel Alito rolled his eyes. If I remember my courses in ancient Greek drama correctly, hubris sets us up for a very bad fall, because it blinds us. One moment, we think we're on the top of the world, invulnerable, able to trample little people down due to our empowerment.

The next, we find ourselves bruised and fallen. Our blind arrogance has created the conditions for our downfall. The very nobodies on whom we have stepped to prove our excellence have somehow figured in our dramatic fall--and we find ourselves now dependent on those we have used and despised to inflate our self-importance.

From the mouths of the ancient Greeks and Justice Ginsburg to God's ears, in the case of this SCOTUS ruling.

P.S. I'm indebted to Fred Clark at Slacktivist and Andrew Sullivan at The Dish for some of the preceding links. 

The graphic: Steve Sack for Cagle Cartoons in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, by way of Truthdig.

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