The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case challenging the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These arguments revealed the dilemma faced by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who must decide whether to vote with his heart or with his head.
Roberts is a staunch conservative who fought against the Voting Rights Act as a lawyer in President Ronald Reagan‘s administration. At yesterday’s Voting Rights Act arguments, Roberts signaled possible skepticism about the continued need for the Voting Rights Act in its current form, stating that “things have changed in the South.” Roberts’ comments matched statements by his Republican colleagues on the Court. In particular, Justice Antonin Scalia called the Voting Rights Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Fellow Republican Justice Anthony Kennedy also said that “times change” (implying that the same Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 is not necessarily needed today).
Backdrop of Political Reality
However, the Supreme Court challenge to the Voting Rights Act takes place after a 2012 election season in which case after case arose of Republicans allegedly trying to undermine voting by black, Latino and other voters who are known or thought to lean Democratic. These claimed voter suppression efforts took the form of stricter photo i.d. laws, eliminating or curtailing same-day registration and early voting, inadequate number of voting machines, suspicious voting machine mechanical problems, shorter voting hours, long lines, and more. Additionally, the lawyer who brought the Voting Rights Act case before the Court reportedly has ties to alleged Republican voter suppression efforts and even worked as a law clerk for Republican Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Chief Justice Roberts faced a similar dilemma when the Supreme Court, under his leadership, upheld the Affordable Care Act a/k/a “Obamacare” last June: Roberts’ decision upholding the Affordable Care Act under a different constitutional provision than the one primarily put forth by President Barack Obama‘s administration was widely seen as a sign that Roberts had a sense of where America is politically. Specifically, Roberts apparently was aware that Americans could vilify his Republican majority Supreme Court (and possibly his Republican Party) if the Court made a decision that was out of touch with mainstream Americans. Some of those same political considerations will likely come into play as the Court now decides the future of the Voting Rights Act.
© 2013 Matthew Emmer — All Rights Reserved
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