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TEXAS VIEW: Voting Rights Act still needed - Odessa American: Views

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TEXAS VIEW: Voting Rights Act still needed

THE POINT — Various states, including Texas, still pursuing laws that may hinder participation.

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 7:05 pm

It is the misfortune of Shelby County, Ala., to challenge a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, following an election when political partisans tried new, more subtle ways of suppressing minority voting participation.

Voter surveys showed Republicans trailing badly among blacks and Hispanics, a gap that could potentially cost them the election, and ultimately, combined with disparate support for the Democrats among women and the young, did.

Certain Republican-run jurisdictions tried a number of tactics to hold down minority voting: unnecessarily strict voter-ID laws, restrictions on early voting, bans on same-day voter registration, or understaffed or inconveniently located polling places that led to frustratingly long lines.

Indeed, one Pennsylvania GOP official boasted — prematurely and mistakenly, as it turned out — that the state’s new voter-ID law had handed the election to Mitt Romney.

Shelby County was seeking to get out from under the 1965 law’s requirement that nine states and parts of seven others with egregious histories of denying or hindering the minority right to vote get pre-approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws.

The jurisdictions seeking to overturn the law argued before the Supreme Court that it unfairly impinged on their sovereignty and, further, that race relations had evolved to the point where the law was no longer needed. Judging from the questioning at oral arguments, the court’s conservative bloc seems inclined to go along.

Among the worst offenders in this new post-Jim Crow era of voter suppression were a number of the nine states, including Texas. The fact that states not covered by the law were also serious offenders would argue for expanding, not scrapping, the law, as the Supreme Court suggested when it last heard a challenge to the law in 2009.

Chief Justice John Roberts has often indicated that, all things being equal, the high court should defer to the will of the legislature.

The most recent legislative vote on the law came in 2006, in a Republican Congress under a Republican president. The Senate voted 98-0 and the House 390-33 to extend it by 25 years. Those lopsided margins certainly bespeak a definite legislative intent.

In the current case, Justice Antonin Scalia raised a number of objections verging on the bizarre. One was that voting rights “was not a question you can leave to Congress,” even though the legislature passed the law 47 years ago and has reauthorized it four times. Apparently, Congress doesn’t agree.

And Scalia said that the name “Voting Rights Act” was so politically appealing that no senator dared vote against it: “Who’s going to vote against it in the future?”

Nobody, we hope, including the conservatives on the court. It has been a remarkably effective law and should be allowed to stand.

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