By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I have criticized, and proclaimed the need for, an end of race-based affirmative action programs. So why am I pleased with the decision announced yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court, preserving the Voting Rights Act?
Well, first I like the caveats. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his opinion, the need for the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure fair elections in all or part of 16 states, mostly down South, is fading as the old courthouse gangs die off and are replaced by African-American mayors, sheriffs, and legislators.
"The South has changed," Roberts wrote. "The evil that [the law] is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out.... The statute's coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions."
The decision was a signal to Congress that it must always tread carefully on the issue of discrimination and race. Helping one race, inevitably, means discriminating against others. And the goal of our society, and our Constitution, is to someday be fairly, justly colorblind.
But, unlike diversity quotas for municipal employment or admission to elite graduate schools, voting is an elemental right: the way people or communities translate their wishes and beliefs into political representation. And anyone who has traveled through the rural South, even in the 21st century, knows that there are still large segregated communities where white officials sound and act more enlightened, but may need the federal watchdog for additional time.
And, ultimately, I believe that the justices acted properly in deferring to Congress on this matter. The need for federal protection in this area is better weighed by elected officials from across the country, based on evidence presented in public hearings and debate in committee and on the House and Senate floor, than by activist conservative justices.