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Life After Shelby County

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Chief-Justice-John-Roberts

“Instead, the Court strikes §4(b)’s coverage provision because, in its view, the provision is not based on “current conditions.”  It discounts, however, that one such condition was the preclearance remedy in place in the covered jurisdictions, a remedy Congress designed both to catch discrimination before it causes harm, and to guard against return to old ways. Volumes of evidence supported Congress’ determination that the prospect of retrogression was real. Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Shelby County v. Holder (Ginsburg, J., dissenting.)

This year marks the first presidential election in 50 years without a functioning Voting Rights Act — and it’s not going well.

Republican lawmakers have been devising efforts to make it harder for Americans to vote for many years, since the GOP took over statehouses across the country in 2010. Those efforts culminated in 2013 with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down key portions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), a formerly untouchable cornerstone of civil rights. For the past three years, states and jurisdictions have no longer had to clear potentially discriminatory laws with the Department of Justice — at least not as long as a Congress controlled by radical, right-wing factions continues to sit on the rewrite of the VRA.

Meanwhile, emboldened by that Supreme Court victory, other Republican-controlled states have accelerated their efforts to disenfranchise low-income, minority voters, whether it’s through photo identification requirements or limiting the number of polling locations. In 2016, 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election.

While Republican lawmakers like to claim that the laws are not suppressing votes, stories from across the country speak for themselves. In Arizona, voters waited up to five hours in line in order to cast ballots. In South Carolina, people were given misleading information about the state’s voter ID law. And in Wisconsin, students were disenfranchised because polling places refused to accept their out-of-state IDs.

Ginsburg’s dissent is and remains unanswerable, but the problem is that the majority wanted a hard rain after they threw away the umbrella.

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