Commentary Magazine


Topic: Voting Rights Act

Gerrymandering Myths and the Midterms

Democrats have often taken to complaining about how structural deficiencies in American legislative institutions cheat them out of what’s rightly theirs. In the Senate, the complaint is the filibuster (which they finally tossed aside) and lack of proportional representation. In the House, it’s gerrymandering. Liberals have been claiming for some time that the House is rigged in favor of Republicans, and that thanks to gerrymandering they can’t win a majority there. It’s false, of course, and now we have even more data to bust this particular myth.

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Democrats have often taken to complaining about how structural deficiencies in American legislative institutions cheat them out of what’s rightly theirs. In the Senate, the complaint is the filibuster (which they finally tossed aside) and lack of proportional representation. In the House, it’s gerrymandering. Liberals have been claiming for some time that the House is rigged in favor of Republicans, and that thanks to gerrymandering they can’t win a majority there. It’s false, of course, and now we have even more data to bust this particular myth.

Last year, President Obama sat down for an “interview” with his campaign donor, New Republic owner Chris Hughes. During the course of their conversation, the president complained that gerrymandering was behind the political polarization of Congress. I pointed out that, according to political scientist John Sides, who had run the numbers, this was just not true.

But the more basic complaint is less about how Republicans vote when they get to Congress and more about how they get there in the first place. Some, such as the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, still argue, against reality, that Republicans owe their House majority to “extreme gerrymandering,” in Krugman’s words. (Presumably “extreme gerrymandering” is the act of redrawing congressional districts while water skiing, or some such.) But this weekend Krugman’s Times colleague, Nate Cohn, took to the paper’s “Upshot” section to pour more cold water on the complaint.

Cohn writes:

Democrats often blame gerrymandering, but that’s not the whole story. More than ever, the kind of place where Americans live — metropolitan or rural — dictates their political views. The country is increasingly divided between liberal cities and close-in suburbs, on one hand, and conservative exurbs and rural areas, on the other. Even in red states, the counties containing the large cities — like Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Birmingham — lean Democratic.

In presidential races, Democrats used to win by expanding their appeal beyond urban areas, particularly in the South, but Mr. Obama took a different path to victory in 2008 and 2012. He won the nation’s largest cities with more than 80 percent of the vote — margins that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson could only have dreamed of. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, didn’t win the countryside as decisively as Mr. Obama won the big cities.

The gap between staggering Democratic margins in cities and the somewhat smaller Republican margins in the rest of the country allows Democrats to win key states in presidential and Senate elections, like Florida and Michigan. But the expanded Democratic margins in metropolitan areas are all but wasted in the House, since most of these urban districts already voted for Democrats. The result is that Democrats have built national and statewide majorities by making Democratic-leaning congressional districts even more Democratic, not by winning new areas that might turn congressional districts from red to blue.

What about gerrymandering? Certainly it helps Republicans some. Can it be quantified? Cohn cites a couple political scientists who tried:

The political scientists Jowei Chen, of the University of Michigan, and Jonathan Rodden, of Stanford University, estimate that gerrymandering costs Democrats about six to eight seats in the House. Even so, “by far the most important factor contributing to the Republican advantage,” Mr. Chen says, “is the natural geographic factor of Democrats’ being overwhelmingly concentrated in these urban districts, especially in states like Michigan and Florida.”

Offsetting the gerrymandering–something both parties do–wouldn’t deliver Democrats the House. What would? Well, here is where it gets interesting. The Democrats, it turns out, are at least partly to blame for this situation. (Perhaps that explains why they cling so desperately to the gerrymandering argument.)

As Cohn explained, the Obama-era Democrats have been successful at the national level because they have pressed their geographic advantage into larger vote margins. To do that, they’ve followed a very smart playbook–but one with a downside. The Democrats nationally have pushed liberal base issues, such as social issues like the fabricated war on women and restrictions on gun rights, among others. In other words, Obama and the Democrats have moved to the left.

This was fairly obvious to anyone who wasn’t emotionally invested in the ridiculous idea of Obama as some kind of centrist or pragmatist. But it alienates voters not typically in the geographical liberal strongholds. Obama’s astute, successful campaign strategy was very good for Democrats on a national level and even at times at the state level (though the GOP has made a strong showing in gubernatorial races). But it was very bad for Democrats on a local, district-by-district level.

It was a tradeoff, and one Democrats would almost certainly believe was worth it. But now they’ve decided to complain, in a very liberal style, that there need be no tradeoffs in the real world; they want it, and if they don’t get it they must have been cheated out of it.

There’s one additional element to this as well. As Jonathan Tobin argued here last year, the Democratic complaints about the Supreme Court’s decision that Congress must revise part of the Voting Rights Act were ironic. After all that law, strictly enforced, translates into the creation and maintenance of a number of majority-minority districts. That means these minority voters, traditionally supporters of Democratic candidates, get drained from other districts to make up VRA-compliant districts. That benefits Republicans in nearby districts, but it’s Democrats who demand the law continue as it is.

So Democrats are at a disadvantage in the House. But it’s a geographic disadvantage mostly of their own making.

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Trayvon, Texas, and Voter ID

Attorney General Eric Holder never uttered the words “Trayvon Martin” or “George Zimmerman” in his remarks today at the convention of the Urban League in Philadelphia. But his address, in which he vowed to impose “preclearance” procedures on the state of Texas in order to prevent it from making any changes in voting procedures without the express permission of the Department of Justice, must be viewed in the context of a liberal drive to take advantage of the “conversation” on race that so many on the left have urged upon the country in the aftermath of the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Holder’s actions are primarily a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to reaffirm the Voting Rights Act while mandating that Congress redraw the map that determines which jurisdictions must get advance permission from the DOJ without the latter having to go to court first, rather than merely going by the outdated one drawn up in 1965. But there’s little doubt that Holder and the left are hoping the hysteria that race merchants like Al Sharpton have helped stir up in the last two weeks will help them turn public opinion on the question of voter ID laws that are at the heart of the federal attack on Texas.

The Martin case has been cited by many liberals who have sought to argue that the Court’s majority was somehow wrong to rule that the America of 2013 is nothing like the one that existed in 1965. The tone of much of the commentary from the left, including that of President Obama on the Zimmerman case, has been to insist that for all of the obvious progress made, the death of Martin proves we are essentially no better off in terms of racism that we were in the pre-Voting Rights Act era. But like the post-trial discussion that ignored the actual facts of the trial, Holder’s assertion that voter ID laws are, by definition, proof of discrimination is not only disingenuous; it’s flat out false.

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Attorney General Eric Holder never uttered the words “Trayvon Martin” or “George Zimmerman” in his remarks today at the convention of the Urban League in Philadelphia. But his address, in which he vowed to impose “preclearance” procedures on the state of Texas in order to prevent it from making any changes in voting procedures without the express permission of the Department of Justice, must be viewed in the context of a liberal drive to take advantage of the “conversation” on race that so many on the left have urged upon the country in the aftermath of the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Holder’s actions are primarily a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to reaffirm the Voting Rights Act while mandating that Congress redraw the map that determines which jurisdictions must get advance permission from the DOJ without the latter having to go to court first, rather than merely going by the outdated one drawn up in 1965. But there’s little doubt that Holder and the left are hoping the hysteria that race merchants like Al Sharpton have helped stir up in the last two weeks will help them turn public opinion on the question of voter ID laws that are at the heart of the federal attack on Texas.

The Martin case has been cited by many liberals who have sought to argue that the Court’s majority was somehow wrong to rule that the America of 2013 is nothing like the one that existed in 1965. The tone of much of the commentary from the left, including that of President Obama on the Zimmerman case, has been to insist that for all of the obvious progress made, the death of Martin proves we are essentially no better off in terms of racism that we were in the pre-Voting Rights Act era. But like the post-trial discussion that ignored the actual facts of the trial, Holder’s assertion that voter ID laws are, by definition, proof of discrimination is not only disingenuous; it’s flat out false.

The attorney general’s decision to go to court against Texas gives the lie to much of the fulminations from the administration about the decision in Shelby v. Holder. Far from easing the way toward a new era of Jim Crow, the court reaffirmed the Voting Rights Act’s safeguards against discrimination but merely said that the DOJ could not preempt the judicial process without a necessary re-write of the act based on the realities of contemporary America rather than one based on the situation in 1965. Thus, Holder is perfectly free to sue in federal court to stop Texas from doing anything he deems discriminatory.

But, like the incendiary rhetoric that sought to indict “Stand Your Ground” laws after Zimmerman’s acquittal as being a license for shooting down innocent young black men, Holder’s claim that Texas’s drawing of voter districts discriminates against Hispanics is unfounded. But the big prize here is his bid to prevent any state from requiring voters to identify themselves at the polls.

In an era when it has become easier to register, including at the polls on election days and where mail-in and absentee ballots have become commonplace, voter fraud has become easier, necessitating measures to ensure the integrity of results. The vast majority of Americans, including African-Americans, believe there is nothing wrong, let alone discriminatory, about asking voters to identify themselves in the same manner that they must to conduct virtually any other transaction with the government or business. Voter ID laws are a commonsense measure that are as easy to comply with as it is to register to vote. But liberals and race baiters have sought to make them the lever by which they can convince the country that racism is alive and well.

Like the Martin case, the discussion about voting rights is about assumptions about race that have little to do with facts. Trayvon Martin has been transformed from a troubled youth who died in a confusing fight to a martyr because civil rights groups and others that seek to profit from the focus on race need him to symbolize their effort to persuade America that nothing has changed since 1965. The same is true of Holder’s rant about Texas and voter ID. The courts should dismiss this claim just as decisively as the Zimmerman jury rejected a murder charge.

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Blame Voting Rights Act for Dem Troubles

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled last month that Congress must revise the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, we’ve been getting a steady stream of jeremiads from the left claiming that the restoration of Jim Crow is just around the corner. This is pure bunk since the southern states that were covered by the preclearance map that must be changed have completely abandoned the racial policies that made the act’s adoption in 1965 absolutely necessary. African-Americans are not only not denied the right to exercise their franchise, the large number of black office-holders, especially in the state legislatures that craft the laws that govern voting procedures, testifies to the clout of minority voters.

However, the right to vote and even the vast increase in representation in legislatures and the Congress doesn’t guarantee that those who claim to speak for minority groups will get their way on every issue. Yet that is exactly what liberal writer Thomas B. Edsall seems to be arguing today in the New York Times when he claims that the “damage” done by the court will lead to a further “decline in black power” in the south. Edsall repeats the usual canards about voter ID laws being the new Jim Crow—a blatant lie that ignores not only the facts about voter integrity laws but also the fact that a large majority of African-Americans support such rules. But what’s really dishonest about this Times piece is the way he tries to distort the truth about the impact of the Voting Rights Act.

Edsall isn’t wrong when he notes that the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts that created all those majority-minority enclaves has had a devastating impact on the Democratic Party. But the responsibility for this shouldn’t be placed on the Republicans who have benefited from the draining of likely Democratic black voters from competitive districts in order to manufacture some that are almost guaranteed to elect black politicians. If liberals don’t like the way this formula has boosted the GOP, they should acknowledge that the fault lies with liberal jurists who have consistently interpreted the Voting Rights Act in such a manner as to make this the only possible result.

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Ever since the Supreme Court ruled last month that Congress must revise the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, we’ve been getting a steady stream of jeremiads from the left claiming that the restoration of Jim Crow is just around the corner. This is pure bunk since the southern states that were covered by the preclearance map that must be changed have completely abandoned the racial policies that made the act’s adoption in 1965 absolutely necessary. African-Americans are not only not denied the right to exercise their franchise, the large number of black office-holders, especially in the state legislatures that craft the laws that govern voting procedures, testifies to the clout of minority voters.

However, the right to vote and even the vast increase in representation in legislatures and the Congress doesn’t guarantee that those who claim to speak for minority groups will get their way on every issue. Yet that is exactly what liberal writer Thomas B. Edsall seems to be arguing today in the New York Times when he claims that the “damage” done by the court will lead to a further “decline in black power” in the south. Edsall repeats the usual canards about voter ID laws being the new Jim Crow—a blatant lie that ignores not only the facts about voter integrity laws but also the fact that a large majority of African-Americans support such rules. But what’s really dishonest about this Times piece is the way he tries to distort the truth about the impact of the Voting Rights Act.

Edsall isn’t wrong when he notes that the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts that created all those majority-minority enclaves has had a devastating impact on the Democratic Party. But the responsibility for this shouldn’t be placed on the Republicans who have benefited from the draining of likely Democratic black voters from competitive districts in order to manufacture some that are almost guaranteed to elect black politicians. If liberals don’t like the way this formula has boosted the GOP, they should acknowledge that the fault lies with liberal jurists who have consistently interpreted the Voting Rights Act in such a manner as to make this the only possible result.

Edsall laments the way the increase in power to black politicians has been accompanied by a consequent decline of southern Democrats. But rather than being honest about the way the 1965 Act led to the empowerment of blacks as individuals, Edsall prefers to heap opprobrium on a Republican Party that has been the unwitting beneficiary of a legal principle created by liberals. It was, after all, a liberal-dominated judiciary that has treated the Voting Rights Act as not merely a mandate to ensure, as it should, that the government see that every citizen’s right to vote is protected, but that district lines must be drawn in order to see to it that minorities would constitute a plurality or majority in as many places as possible. That has led to the creation, not just in the South but in various places around the United States, of districts that are geographic absurdities but which serve to guarantee that blacks and Hispanics can elect one of their one to legislative bodies. Since blacks (and increasingly Hispanics) give a disproportionate percentage of their votes to Democrats, that means Democrats seeking to compete in mixed districts are placed at a disadvantage. That’s bad news for liberals but claiming that this is the work of nefarious Republican strategists is absurd. If Republicans were to redraw district lines in order to prevent the election of minority members, that would be a clear violation of the law as presently understood.

It should be conceded that the ultimate impact of this court-mandated gerrymandering isn’t good for either party or the country. The majority-minority districts have benefited a few politicians and made their communities proud. But it has been this judicial fiat more than partisan impulses that have led to the dramatic decline in competitive House districts around the nation. Republicans would be better off if more of their members had to appeal to a broad cross section of Americans, and so would Democrats.

As for Edsall, he fails to provide a solution to this problem other than to smear the GOP. What, other than creating rules that would make it illegal for people to vote for Republicans, would he suggest to reverse the decline of Southern Democrats who find themselves disadvantaged by court-mandated districts and incapable of appealing to red state voters on the issues? Does he think Democratic attempts to gerrymander in states they control are just as horrible? Given the way the Voting Rights Act has been interpreted, the damage done by this gerrymander mandate is not something any legislature can remedy by constitutional means.

We would all be better off if the parties were not racially polarized, but the left’s determination to demonize Republicans and to wave the bloody shirt of Jim Crow in a feeble attempt to further divide the nation is no answer. 

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Left Lives in the Past on Voting Rights

Listen to the hue and cry from liberals over the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder and you would think the conservative majority had just overturned Brown v. Board of Education or declared discrimination on the basis of race to be legal. Of course, the 5-4 decision on the future of the Voting Rights Act did nothing of the kind. The high court not only reaffirmed the validity of the act but also even left in place Section 5, which created a mechanism that would require pre-clearance by the federal government of any changes in voting procedures in states and localities that were deemed by Congress to be habitual violators of the right to vote. But what it did do was to declare the existing formula stated in Section 4 to be the places where such scrutiny would be carried out to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is so obvious that it barely deserves to be argued: the Jim Crow south that Congress put under the federal microscope five decades ago isn’t the same place today. If there is to be a formula that would require some places to get the government’s prior permission to do anything that affects voting, it should be one based on the current situation, not one crafted to deal with the problems faced by Americans during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country.

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Listen to the hue and cry from liberals over the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder and you would think the conservative majority had just overturned Brown v. Board of Education or declared discrimination on the basis of race to be legal. Of course, the 5-4 decision on the future of the Voting Rights Act did nothing of the kind. The high court not only reaffirmed the validity of the act but also even left in place Section 5, which created a mechanism that would require pre-clearance by the federal government of any changes in voting procedures in states and localities that were deemed by Congress to be habitual violators of the right to vote. But what it did do was to declare the existing formula stated in Section 4 to be the places where such scrutiny would be carried out to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is so obvious that it barely deserves to be argued: the Jim Crow south that Congress put under the federal microscope five decades ago isn’t the same place today. If there is to be a formula that would require some places to get the government’s prior permission to do anything that affects voting, it should be one based on the current situation, not one crafted to deal with the problems faced by Americans during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country.

The Voting Rights Act was needed in 1965 because for a century the federal government had failed to enforce the 15th Amendment—that guaranteed the right to vote of former slaves and any other American citizen—in the states of the old Confederacy. Though Americans were long taught that the period of “Radical Reconstruction” that followed the Civil War was an abuse that was rightly abandoned, the truth is the attempt to reconstruct the south didn’t go far enough and was ended too soon. What ensued was a Jim Crow regime in the south that was kept in place by a Democratic coalition of northern liberals and southern racists and enabled by apathetic Republicans. That is a sorry chapter of American history, but the achievements of the civil rights era have put it firmly in our past.

The reality of 2013 is that even the left is hard pressed to find anyplace in the country where anyone who is legally entitled to vote and wants to exercise their franchise is being prevented from doing so. Stating that is not to deny that racism still exists in some quarters of American society anymore than any other species of hatred. Nor does it imply that our electoral system is perfect or incapable of betterment. But to leave in place a legal formula that treated some states differently than others solely because of history is not only absurd, it is unconstitutional discrimination. In a country where, as it was argued before the court, Mississippi may have a more healthy voting rights environment in some respects than Massachusetts, preserving the battle lines of the fight against Jim Crow is not only meaningless, it actually hampers efforts to combat illegal practices.

But the main interest of those dedicated to preserving the status quo wasn’t in preventing states from denying a right to vote that is not in question. It was in holding onto their capacity to use federal law to prevent some states from passing voter ID laws that have been wrongly branded as a form of discrimination or voter suppression. The vast majority of Americans—including the members of those groups that civil rights advocates claim will be injured by voter ID laws—think these measures are merely a matter of common sense to ensure the integrity of the election system. But by disingenuously waving the bloody shirt of Jim Crow, the left has sought to brand race-neutral laws like voter ID a form of racism.

Opponents of the majority decision claim this is a judicial usurpation of the prerogative of the legislature since Congress has re-authorized the Voting Rights Act without changing the formula that placed all or parts of 15 states under the Justice Department’s control with regard to voting. But that is due to the fact that the vote to retain the act became a ritual by which members were forced to prove their anti-racist bona fides, not a rational debate about the actual provisions of the law. Congress lacked the courage to face facts on a part of the law that had past its expiration date, so the court was forced to deal with it.

Neither this decision nor the debate that will follow it will affect the ability of Americans to vote because that is a right that is no longer in dispute. What it will do is send a reminder to Americans that we have moved on from our unhappy past and that if we are to protect voting rights, it must be done on the basis of reality rather than sentiment or symbolism. That will make it harder for the left to accuse their opponents of racism without basis. But an American society that has thankfully moved on from this debate will be better off for it.

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Cries of Racism Cloud Real Issues in Court

Liberals are jumping all over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s comment yesterday during an oral hearing in which he asked whether continuing the special enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act in some states was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Many, including his court colleague Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to interpret it as questioning whether the right to vote is itself a “racial entitlement.” For his pains, Scalia was branded a racist. What is left of the aging remnants of the once-vital civil rights movement are hoping that outrage about that remark can galvanize public pressure not just for the continuation of the Voting Rights Act as it currently stands, but against both voter integrity laws and the system of racial majority districts.

The problem with the critique of Scalia is pretty much the same as that with the defense of the legal status quo. What is at stake in this debate and the legal case in question–Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder–is not the right to vote, which Scalia supports as much as any liberal. There is no evidence that anyone in Shelby County is trying to reinstate Jim Crow laws or prevent African Americans or other minorities from exercising their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Nor is there any evidence that this is true anywhere else in the states and counties that remain under direct federal supervision as a result of the 1965 law. The entitlement in question is rather the ability of the Justice Department to act as a national elections commission in certain areas that were once strongholds of racial hatred, even though the country has changed markedly in the last half century. Instead of promoting the false charge that Scalia is a segregationist, the focus should be on who benefits from the continuation of Section Five of the Act. The answer is: a class of political elites that benefit from the creation of racial majority districts.

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Liberals are jumping all over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s comment yesterday during an oral hearing in which he asked whether continuing the special enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act in some states was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Many, including his court colleague Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to interpret it as questioning whether the right to vote is itself a “racial entitlement.” For his pains, Scalia was branded a racist. What is left of the aging remnants of the once-vital civil rights movement are hoping that outrage about that remark can galvanize public pressure not just for the continuation of the Voting Rights Act as it currently stands, but against both voter integrity laws and the system of racial majority districts.

The problem with the critique of Scalia is pretty much the same as that with the defense of the legal status quo. What is at stake in this debate and the legal case in question–Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder–is not the right to vote, which Scalia supports as much as any liberal. There is no evidence that anyone in Shelby County is trying to reinstate Jim Crow laws or prevent African Americans or other minorities from exercising their constitutionally protected right to cast a ballot. Nor is there any evidence that this is true anywhere else in the states and counties that remain under direct federal supervision as a result of the 1965 law. The entitlement in question is rather the ability of the Justice Department to act as a national elections commission in certain areas that were once strongholds of racial hatred, even though the country has changed markedly in the last half century. Instead of promoting the false charge that Scalia is a segregationist, the focus should be on who benefits from the continuation of Section Five of the Act. The answer is: a class of political elites that benefit from the creation of racial majority districts.

As both the plaintiffs and some of the justices pointed out yesterday, the problem that that provision of the law was designed to address has been solved. Voter turnout of blacks is actually higher in the nine states covered by the Act than in the rest of the country. The continuation of Section Five–in which certain areas must prove they are not discriminating against minorities rather than forcing the government to prove that they are–does, however, hamper the ability of legislatures to redraw districts or to pass voter integrity laws that liberals falsely allege are directed against minorities.

It must be understood that once the detritus of segregation and other laws intended to prevent blacks from voting were swept away, the main point of the law has been to create a system that enshrined racial gerrymandering as the norm. Since it was assumed that whites would never vote for an African American, the courts mandated that congressional and legislative districts be drawn so as to ensure that blacks and in some cases Hispanics would be able to elect one of their own.

This led to a vast expansion of the number of blacks in Congress and in state legislatures, but ironically also hurt the party that most of them supported. The districts created by this racial gerrymander were often bizarrely drawn and had little to do with geography or history. But the main point is that they drained black Democratic voters from other districts that ensured the engineering of a few safe Democratic seats. Yet they also made the remaining districts much whiter and, ironically, far more likely to be Republican.

That was good for the few black politicians who were in possession of these safe Democratic and racially homogeneous seats, and for the Republican Party that cleaned up everywhere else. Whether that is actually good for the country or for African American voters, who have little influence on the composition of Congress and whose representatives are the products of petty one-party autocracies, is another matter entirely.

Just as crucial to understanding the impact of this case is the way the Civil Rights Act has become a weapon to use against voter integrity laws. What is left of the civil rights movement has embraced the cause of stopping voter ID laws as a way of reviving their influence. Minorities are no less capable of getting the same photo ID that is needed to conduct just about any transaction in the modern commercial world or to interact with government than anyone else. But the left attempts to argue that opposition to them is indistinguishable from that of racial justice. This is absurd, and it is opposed by what polls have consistently showed to be the vast majority of Americans—including minorities—who think laws that seek to prevent electoral cheating are inherently reasonable.

The current interpretation of the Voting Rights Act gives Attorney General Eric Holder the right to oppose these laws and to brand them as racist. As the president’s mention of the issue in his State of the Union showed, this is an attempt to play the racial card for partisan purposes. It also gives aging rights groups who have outlived their usefulness a new lease on life. But all this also undermines any notion that what is at stake in the Shelby case is anything remotely connected to the original intent of the 1965 law.

The South has transcended its tragic past and is no more nor less racist than any other part of the country. But given the inability of so many in Congress on both sides of the aisle to rise above their own self-interest on this issue, the court is the only venue that can talk sense and end a practice that now does more mischief than good. Protecting the right to vote is a sacred cause that deserves the support of all Americans. But the preservation of this outmoded system, or wrongly branding Scalia a racist, has nothing to with that.

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Texas Voter ID Case Determined by Past, Not Present Discrimination

The Obama administration won a victory today in their campaign to strike down voter ID laws. Only days after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated Texas’s new congressional and legislative districts, the same court struck down the state’s voter ID law. The court accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that the bill placed an undue burden on poor and minority voters. Texas has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and its attorney general says he can prevail there because the court has previously ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional. State courts have upheld a voter ID law in Pennsylvania but Texas’ problem is that because of its past history of racial discrimination, it must get federal approval for anything relating to voting rights. But those looking for the Supremes to reinforce their previous decision on voter ID may be disappointed. The issue at stake in the Texas case will be the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act that gives Washington the power to oversee the state’s laws rather than voter ID itself.

In states not affected by the Voting Rights Act, courts can weigh efforts to prevent fraud on their own merits. The overwhelming majority of Americans back voter ID laws because they are inherently reasonable. If you need a picture ID to board an airplane, an Amtrak train, conduct even the most simple transaction with the government or a bank as well as buy a beer, most people rightly think that you should have to do as much to vote. Given that, contrary to fallacious Democratic talking points, voter fraud has always been a concern in American politics; the courts have upheld such laws as both prudent and obviously constitutional.

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The Obama administration won a victory today in their campaign to strike down voter ID laws. Only days after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated Texas’s new congressional and legislative districts, the same court struck down the state’s voter ID law. The court accepted the Justice Department’s arguments that the bill placed an undue burden on poor and minority voters. Texas has said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and its attorney general says he can prevail there because the court has previously ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional. State courts have upheld a voter ID law in Pennsylvania but Texas’ problem is that because of its past history of racial discrimination, it must get federal approval for anything relating to voting rights. But those looking for the Supremes to reinforce their previous decision on voter ID may be disappointed. The issue at stake in the Texas case will be the constitutionality of the federal Voting Rights Act that gives Washington the power to oversee the state’s laws rather than voter ID itself.

In states not affected by the Voting Rights Act, courts can weigh efforts to prevent fraud on their own merits. The overwhelming majority of Americans back voter ID laws because they are inherently reasonable. If you need a picture ID to board an airplane, an Amtrak train, conduct even the most simple transaction with the government or a bank as well as buy a beer, most people rightly think that you should have to do as much to vote. Given that, contrary to fallacious Democratic talking points, voter fraud has always been a concern in American politics; the courts have upheld such laws as both prudent and obviously constitutional.

But under the Voting Rights Act, anything that even inadvertently affects minority voters, even if the purpose is constitutional and the impact incidental can be construed as a violation of the law. Thus, attorneys for Texas were given the impossible task of being forced to defend their state against a hypothetical assertion that could not be definitively disproved. Only a Supreme Court decision striking down the entire Voting Rights Act can prevent the Obama administration from stopping voter ID in Texas.

Proponents of voter ID can rightly assert that any comparison such as that made by Attorney General Holder that these bills are “Jim Crow laws” is an outrageous distortion of the truth. Minority voters are just as capable of getting themselves a free state ID card, as are whites. Anyone capable of registering to vote can do so. Unless opponents of these laws are prepared to argue that officials have no right to ask a prospective voter to prove his identity or even his citizenship, the charge of discrimination doesn’t hold water.

But the bottom line in the Texas case is that since it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will strike down the entire Voting Rights Act, the administration will be able to stop voter ID in the Lone Star State. Though Holder claimed the state was discriminating against minorities the case was determined by past injustices, not proof of present day bias. A true test of the constitutionality of such laws will have to wait for other challenges to make their way to the high court.

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