EDITORIAL: Voters still need full protection from efforts to suppress ballots

The Fresno BeeJune 27, 2013 

To justify gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court declared Tuesday that a key provision is outdated and unfairly penalizes states for sins long ago.

Tell that to voters in the 2012 presidential election who -- if not for the safeguards in the act -- would have been blocked from registering, had less time to cast ballots, and been forced to get specific ID cards.

Attempts to stop racial minorities from voting are not consigned to history. Sadly, they are part of the present -- but voters have less protection after the 5-4 decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts and supported by the court's frequent swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has become more vocal as leader of the court's liberal wing, put it plainly in a dissent: "Voting discrimination still exists -- no one doubts that. But the court today terminates the remedy that proved to be best suited to block that discrimination."

The ruling keeps Section 5, which requires places with a history of discrimination against minority voters to get approval from the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court before redrawing election districts or changing voting procedures. That pre-clearance requirement covers nine states, mostly in the South, and parts of seven others, including Kings, Monterey and most of Yuba counties in California.

The court majority, however, undermined the law by ruling unconstitutional Section 4, which sets the formula used to decide which jurisdictions must comply, saying that it violated the guarantee of equality among the states. Unless Congress updates the formula, Section 5 cannot be enforced. The justices had to know how unlikely it is that lawmakers will do so quickly.

And what harm would there be in continuing with existing law? The court majority couldn't really cite any Tuesday, other than failing to recognize "progress." It seems to have forgotten that in 2009 it changed the law to allow local and state governments to get off the Section 5 list by proving they had not discriminated for at least 10 years.

That approach makes far more sense than the blanket amnesty granted by Tuesday's ruling, which ignores efforts to suppress voting.

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