Saturday, December 31, 2011

US AG Holder’s Voting Rights Gamble - The Supreme Court Voter ID Showdown

During 2011, this blog published many articles about the GOP's push to pass legislation requiring one of a very limited selection of government-issued photo IDs (like a driver’s license, passport or gun permit) to vote.

The new laws require specific identification not carried by a disproportionate portion of certain demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic. These groups include Blacks, Hispanics, the poor, seniors, and the young.

Because such laws do have a disproportionate on certain demographic groups, the U.S. Department of Justice, last Friday, blocked South Carolina's new voter photo ID law. It is widely thought the Justice Dept. will move to also block Texas' new voter photo ID law in the coming weeks.

Two of our articles looked at the pending show down down between the U.S. Department of Justice and the conservative leaning justices on the Supreme Court of the United States overt the voter photo ID laws and possibly the 1965 Voting Rights Act, itself:

On Friday, Slate published an article that also looks at the pending USDOJ v. SCOTUS showdown:

On the Friday before Christmas Day, the Department of Justice formally objected to a new South Carolina law requiring voters to produce an approved form of photo ID in order to vote. That move already has drawn cheers from the left and jeers from the right. The DoJ said South Carolina could not show that its new law would not have an adverse impact on racial minorities, who are less likely to have acceptable forms of identification.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley denounced the DoJ decision blocking the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act: “It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights.” The state’s attorney general vowed to fight the DoJ move in court, and thanks to an odd quirk in the law, the issue could get fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, which could well use it to strike down the Voting Rights Act provision as unconstitutional before the 2012 elections.

The current dispute has an eerie echo. More than 45 years ago in 1966, South Carolina also went to the Supreme Court to complain that Section 5 unconstitutionally intruded on its sovereignty. Under the 1965 Act, states with a history of racial discrimination like South Carolina could not make changes in its voting rules—from major changes like redistricting to changes as minor as moving a polling place across the street—without getting the permission of either the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge court in Washington, D.C. The state had to show the law was not enacted with the purpose, or effect, of making minority voters worse off than they already were.

... In its 1966 South Carolina v. Katzenbach decision, the Supreme Court said the law requiring “preclearance” of voting changes, while an extreme intrusion on states’ rights, was necessary because lesser measures—like federal government suits over each discriminatory voting practice—had not worked. ... Today, Some conservatives argue that Section 5 is no longer constitutional, because the states subject to preclearance don’t present a special danger of racial discrimination.

... If South Carolina argues in court [in 2012] that it is unconstitutional to require it to submit its voter ID law for federal approval, and the three-judge court rejects that argument, it is hard to imagine the Supreme Court conservatives refusing to hear that case.

... Why did the Obama DoJ deny preclearance, knowing it could well set up this massive confrontation and potentially lead to the downfall of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act? There are both principled and political reasons.

First of all, it was the right thing to do. As the DoJ letter explains, South Carolina presented no evidence that its law was necessary to prevent voter fraud, and the evidence was uncontested that minority voters were less likely to have ID

Second, if the Court is going to strike down Section 5, it might be politically better for this to happen before the 2012 elections, so that Obama can run against a Supreme Court, and the possibility that a President Romney could appoint a young version of Justice Scalia to take a retiring Justice Kennedy’s seat on the court, solidifying the court’s conservative majority for a generation.

It’s a gamble, both legally and politically, and no one knows for sure how it will turn out. But South Carolina may fare much better before the Roberts court this spring than it did before the Warren court in 1966.

Read the full article @ Slate.

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