Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Roberts Court

From the enhanced enfranchisement of corporate wealth and power in Citizens United to the potential disenfranchisement of many minority voters as a result of Shelby County v. Holder, the trajectory of the Supreme Court’s current majority is increasingly clear. With that latter decision this week, the Court gutted the single greatest legislative achievement of the Civil Rights era - the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which finally made the 15th Amendment a living reality even in those parts of the country which had resisted it for so long. 

Of course, if the Congress had done its job all along and enforced the 15th Amendment (as the Amendment itself prescribed), African-Americans would not have lost the vote with the end of Reconstruction, and politics in the century between the 1860s and 1960s would have been very different indeed!

American politics did finally change radically for the better following the 1965 law. The continued relevance of that law was evident as recently as last year when old strategies of voter suppression appeared in new forms – with “Voter ID” requirements replacing long abolished poll taxes and literacy tests. The demographic direction of the country being by now obvious, voter suppression may be one highly effective way to help preserve a regime of privilege and power based on wealth. The 1965 Voting Rights Act was undoubtedly the strongest weapon in society’s arsenal to move the country in a more egalitarian and democratic direction.

Of course, judicial usurpation of power properly vested in the people’s democratically elected representatives is nothing new. It began, after all, with Marbury v. Madison. But given the explicit language of the 15th Amendment empowering Congress to legislate the enforcement of the right to vote, the Supreme Court’s arrogant substitution of its judgment for that of Congress is truly monumental!

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