It’s almost unsettling these days to hear that a key issue will fall into the hands of Congress. Look no further than the sequestration cuts and the debt ceiling debate to see how clogged Congress has become.
That’s why we cringed when Chief Justice John Roberts called for Congressional action to revisit Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the part of the law recently deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the court struck down the formula that determined whether states, including South Carolina, should be required to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. The formulas were based, in part, on discrimination in those areas in the 1960s and 1970s.
While erasing that section of the law will allow electoral decisions in South Carolina to be made more quickly, it leaves that process largely absent of the federal oversight it has received for almost 50 years.
According to Roberts, the social changes that have taken place over the past few decades, particularly in the South, warrant giving Section 4 a second look. “The conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions,” Roberts said in his opinion on the Court’s decision.
The Court’s skepticism when it comes to the need to retain Section 4 may be warranted, since the changes in the social structures of the South are evident.
Notable, but perhaps elementary examples, are the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Sen. Tim Scott’s rising-star status in the Republican Party.
While the election of two African-Americans to major political positions is a change from 20 or even 10 years ago, it’s obvious that we don’t live in a prejudice-free world.
The measures deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court may not be as necessary as they were during the Civil Rights movement, but that doesn’t mean they still are not vital.
Unfortunately, it appears it’s the duty of Congress to try to give us a new Voting Rights Act.
Oddly, while the socially-hostile environment of the 1960s made passage of the act difficult then, the politically-hostile environment of today’s Congress may make passage of a revised act even more difficult.
While the Supreme Court’s decision left Section 4 moot in the immediate future, the door remains open for it to be re-examined and ultimately renewed with updated data.
We’re not denying the Act may need revisiting. It’s just nauseating that it falls to such a deeply divided Congress.